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Worried About Something? (10/11/06)

Dear Zelda Readers,

Thank you so much for the outpouring of thoughtful emails and cards last week wishing my owner, Carol, a speedy recovery. Just to fill you in a bit, she unfortunately had a fall early last week and fractured her neck, but she's okay, thankfully she has full and total use of her arms and legs, and she's hoping to keep it that way. She wanted me to let everyone know that although she's still in the hospital she'll be out soon, and that she has newfound respect for something I've always said, "Life is Tough... Wear a Helmet." If only she'd listened! Personally, I think she was just jealous that I was the only one who got to wear a collar around here. Most importantly, she did want me to say thank you to everyone for all your kind words, and for continuing to read and enjoy the column and to support us here. We love you all!

Zelda

Dear Zelda,

I work in a large office and have many friends at work, but I'm worried about two of my friends and fellow workers. They are like oil and water, and they each share negative stories about each other with me. For example, last week one came to me saying the other had cheated on her expense account. There is constant back-stabbing and bickering. I like both of them but feel like I'm constantly caught in the middle. There are days I don't even want to go to work. What can I do?

Middle Manager

Dear Middle Manager,

I hang out with a lot of cantankerous critters, and over the years I've learned that there is a simple solution to these sticky situations... you don't have to join every fight you're invited to. If I stepped in every time Zoe and ZeeZee started bickering over bones or clashing over clothes (it happens, believe me), I wouldn't last long in this house. Don't even get me started about the time Zoe thought ZeeZee was peeing on her bed... let's just say there were a lot of sleepless nights. It's hard when you are friends with people on both sides of a dispute, because part of your role as a friend is to be a shoulder to lean on, and a receptive ear to complain to, when someone needs to blow off some steam. It sounds like you're really skilled at making friends, so you must already be good at playing this role. But it also sounds like you may not be quite as good about setting boundaries for yourself in your friendships, and letting your friends know what works for you and what doesn't. It's natural to want to be liked by people, but this impulse can also be limiting. With all that hard work being friendly and nice and always being a receptive ear for the hardships of others, it's easy to forget what YOU wanted or hoped for out of the friendship in the first place, other than feeling good that you are such a likable person and have so many friends. Don't get me wrong, I do think it's great that you have a lot of friends at the office, and having that natural ability to make people feel at ease is a wonderful gift. But I also think it's important to remember that friendships come at a cost, and you have to define your own needs and desires from the friendship, particularly in difficult situations like this. You've been tolerating your friends' escalating intra-office arms race for a while now, and it's time for you to be a little more assertive about your own boundaries, and time for you to realize the cost of trying to make everybody else happy.

Bottom line: keep it simple, and stay out of these cat fights. Let your two friends know that you don't take sides, that you ARE friends with both of them, and that you are not going to be their referee. Further, let them know that while you'd be happy to act as a friendly ear, you also need them to know that their constant bickering is making your life extremely unpleasant. Make sure they both know you appreciate their friendship, but also get across that you're going to need to set some boundaries for those relationships. Don't get stuck in the middle again and again and again; it's time to turn this "no win" situation into a "know when" situation. Be happy...don't fiddle with the middle.

Zelda

Dear Zelda,

I'm worried about my mother. Dad died last year at age 59 and Mom, who's 57, just can't get over it. All she does it sit at home, watch television and cry. She looks back at the old scrap books and at their wedding photos. She won't sell their home and won't even donate Dad's clothes to charity. Do you have some advice for me?

Distressed Daughter

Dear Distressed Daughter,

Love is indeed a "many-splendor'd thing," and when your mother lost your father she lost not only the love of her life, but a whole half of her identity. She needs time to work through that grief as she begins building her own identity, and of course grief is a normal and natural response to loss. The question is, at what point does healthy grieving turn into an unhealthy and obsessive fixation on the past and impede one's ability to move on? All of us sometimes use healthy coping mechanisms to work through emotional loss and suffering, while at other times we find less productive outlets for our grief that may slow or hinder the process. Your role in all of this is not just to reduce your Mom's suffering by showing her love and affection, but to redirect that grieving energy into more productive directions.

Of course, it's okay for your mother to feel grief for months and even years. And as a caring and empathetic daughter, and someone who probably knew your Dad as well as she did, you can be, first of all, an invaluable source of emotional support. If your mother is comfortable talking to you about her loss, be sure you take time to listen. You might even try to prompt some conversations about what she's feeling, or bring her a journal where she could write her thoughts and process things at her own pace. Encourage her to exercise and eat well. Whenever you can, suggest taking walks together. During this time together, it also might be helpful if you were willing to share any of your own feelings of loss and sadness. Although you might feel the need to "put on a brave face" to prevent your mom from sliding into depression, showing your own emotions during your times together is likely to have just the opposite effect, allowing her to open up and talk through her feelings in a way she may not otherwise allow herself in front of you. By opening up this communication, you can also begin discussing how to move forward from there.

In addition to providing her with emotional support, it's worth finding other things for your mom to live for. Put her to work! If you've got children of your own, figure out a way for her to have a more active role in their lives, and give her responsibilities like coming over and watching them once or a few times a week. If you don't have kids, try to find ways to make her feel more necessary in your own life. If nothing else, try just going to her for advice about some issue in your own life (as long as that issue isn't her!), and get her to help you talk through it. And if possible, force her to get involved in some activity outside the house, whether it's joining a bridge club or volunteering at a local shelter.

Of course knowing me, you had to expect I'd also recommend that your mother thinks about getting a dog. We make great therapists, we are unconditional love-givers, and we also give people an important sense of purpose in caring for us. Zoe, for example, spends a lot of time with my owner's dad, and you should see the sparkle in his eyes when she's around (and vice versa!). Don't underestimate the power of having a few responsibilities... it can be incredibly useful in reorienting one's life to have to be accountable to someone or something else. Besides, having another source of unconditional love in this world is never a bad thing.

You're a loving and a well-meaning daughter, and I know you want your mother to be happy. That alone gives me confidence that she'll pull through this difficult time. With time and the loving support of family and friends, your mother will be able to cope with even her deepest loss. Licks and lots of love...

Zelda

Dear Zelda,

I just moved to a new city and have been looking for an apartment. Why is it that most apartments won't rent to people who own dogs? My little "mutt" only weighs twelve pounds and is a lot neater than a young child, yet apartments allow children. I have yet to find a nice apartment where dogs are allowed and I'm worried. Any suggestions?

Restrained Renter

Dear Restrained Renter,

While I don't know where you live, I can tell you that pet owners everywhere face this problem, and it is truly such an uphill battle. Unless you can convince the landlord-to-be that Fido is actually just your extremely malnourished and hirsute son, finding dog-friendly digs can be daunting. Often, finding a decent apartment in a new city is hard enough by itself, let alone one of the few that will actually let you in the door with a dog. Probably the most useful piece of advice I can offer you is to tell you about a great website, www.PeopleWithPets.com. During my meandering course through their website I located several places I'd like to live... Palm Beach was just one of them. The site gives important information on the listed apartments and homes like, "We are conveniently located near a pet-friendly park," and they list all of the non-canine amenities as well, irrelevant though they are.

Another simple method for finding pet-friendly apartments is to search the massive database of listings on Craigslist, at www.craigslist.org. Under the search criteria, you can specifically select "dogs" in the check-box, and only screen for dog-friendly places. Finally, if things are getting grim, you might take out an ad in the local newspaper, or put notices on grocery store and church bulletin boards. You could even end up finding someone who wants a house-sitter for a few months or a year. If there are any colleges in the area, professors often take sabbaticals. Depending where you live, you might find a home with a yard for very reasonable rent.

The other thing you should mention up front when calling about apartment rentals is that your dog weighs only twelve pounds. Many apartments allow dogs under fifty pounds, which leaves plenty of leeway for your puppy to really let himself go. And some apartments that claim they won't allow dogs are willing to bend their rules a little bit if the dog is as tiny and as well-behaved as yours seems to be. Sad to say, but there are fewer apartments or homes available for us Super-Sized Canines. I'm still on the South Beach diet just so I can get under fifty pounds and go live in South Beach.

All you need is some of that dogged determination, because there are a lot of ways to go about looking for and finding a good "dog house." The more you look, the more you will find. Keep looking, and keep licking.

Zelda