Chronic Illness

Ask Ada: I Think My Ex- Is Taking Advantage Of My Condition

Plus: what to do when your parents won't take coronavirus seriously.

Send Me More Stories About Chronic Illness

Thank you! We will notify you when there are new stories about this topic.

Welcome to Ask Ada, Folks’ bi-weekly advice column for people impacted by health issues or disability. Want Ada to help you with a problem? Email Ada at or tag @folksstories on Twitter with the #askada hashtag.

I Think My Ex- Is Taking Advantage Of My Condition

Dear Ada,

I recently got out of a long-term relationship with a man who lived in my house with me for the past 8 years. Because of a variety of health conditions, I’m not able to do home improvement projects on my own. It’s completely out of the question, which is fine, because when I bought the house (before our relationship), I knew that I’d also need a budget for a contractor or helper of sorts. 

During our relationship, my former partner took over the household responsibilities, like replacing a drafty window or installing a new faucet. Now that I’m living alone again, there are a few things I need to have done. I mentioned this to my former partner who completely opposed me hiring someone and said he’d be happy to help, which he did. But before he left, he gave me a bill! Yes, a bill for the work he did. I never agreed to paying him, and he never brought up the fact that he wanted to be paid. What should I do? Is he taking advantage of me?


You should pay for any tools or products he purchased in order to complete the repair, but it doesn’t seem fair that you would pay for his time, unless this was discussed previously or implied by his profession. For example, is he an electrician fixing a malfunctioning light switch? If so, he may have considered this a professional job, and may have assumed that you knew he’d be charging, because you obviously know what he does for work. 

However, because you say that cost was never discussed and you didn’t agree to pay, let’s just assume that he’s not a contractor. If the help was implied to be “free” then I’d say that it seems as though you’re off the hook here. That is, except for the items that were purchased to complete the fix. 

Boundaries are blurred here, and blurred boundaries lead to broken relationships.

Have you tried talking with him about the bill? It seems that maybe a conversation with him is the best starting place to resolve the issue. That being said, if he stands firm that you need to pay him for his time, but you didn’t agree to this before the work was completed, it may be time to get legal advice to see if you’re legally responsible for paying (or not).

If you’re able to move past this invoicing situation, I’d consider this an opportunity to set firm boundaries for your relationship moving forward. From the way you described it, it sounds as if he’s still making decisions about the house that should be made by you alone. You can hire anyone you’d like to complete any projects you need in your home — without his approval. If he’s having trouble staying out of these decisions, then it’s up to you to leave him out of the discussions.

Moving forward, it’s more appropriate to hire a professional instead of accepting the help from a former long-term partner. Boundaries are blurred here, and blurred boundaries lead to broken relationships. It’s fine to try and salvage a friendship with someone you cared about and previously shared your life with, but you’ll need to be firm with how he’s allowed to be involved moving forward.

My Grieving, Shopaholic Mom Won’t Take Coronavirus Seriously

Dear Ada,

With businesses opening up around the country, I’m worried at how my mom is taking care of herself. My dad passed away just a little less than a year ago, and I’ve noticed that she started shopping like crazy shortly after his death. But then, everything closed down. Now that stores are reopening, she started shopping again like she’s desperate for the items she’s buying. 

She never seems to have her mask on correctly, and when I ask her if she follows safety protocols like using hand sanitizer or washing her hands when she gets home, she just shrugs and says, “I forget.” We live in a state that hasn’t gotten hit as hard as some of the other U.S. states, but I’m afraid our time is coming and I want her to take better care of herself now. How do I get her to do it?

It seems like you have two problems here: the potential shopping addiction and her lack of self-care for safety measures. Let’s start with the shopping. 

You’re right, it seems as if she’s using retail therapy as a way to deal with her loss. Can you occupy her time so she has less of it to go shopping? 

It sounds like you live nearby. Can you fill her shopping hours by asking her to help you with something — maybe redecorating a room in your home or teaching you a skill that she’s good at, like gardening or helping you to watch your children, if you have any. It could very well be that she doesn’t know how to be home alone now that her partner is no longer there with her. With this in mind, you could also offer to spend more time with her in her house so it feels less empty. The loss of a spouse is difficult for the obvious reasons, but the sudden loneliness that follows a death can feel utterly overwhelming. One of the best ways you can help her move through the grief is simply being more present in her life.

As for not taking safety measures to protect herself — tell her how you feel! If she was previously so invested in caring for your father, she may not have prioritized self care in quite some time. 

When you see her wearing her mask incorrectly, speak up and show her the correct way to wear it. Masks come in many sizes and designs, and the ones she wears may not fit her correctly. Let her indulge in a little shopping here by suggesting she purchase a few different designs and accessories until she can find the one that fits her best.

One of the best ways you can help her move through the grief is simply being more present in her life.

Buy her a travel sanitizer she can clip onto her purse when she’s out and another to keep in the car. There’s no excuse for the hand washing or sanitizing, but remember, it’s a habit, and one that she can learn by doing it over and over again. This may require a little pressing on your part, but the more time you’re with her, the more you’ll be able to remind her how important these activities are.

As a caring daughter, your mother knows that you have her best interest at heart. It sounds like you need to have a frank conversation with her. Tell her you’re worried about her new shopping habit, but more importantly that these safety precautions are vital…you don’t want to lose another parent any time soon. If she sees your concern, she may feel motivated to take better care of herself.

Are you facing a problem that is being complicated by a health condition or disability? Folks’ advice columnist Erin Ollila wants to help. Email and tell us your problem.

Send Me More Stories About Chronic Illness

Thank you! We will notify you when there are new stories about this topic.