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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I have a problem I can't discuss with my family. I am 45 years old, married for 12 years, and I am in love with my wife's daughter from her first marriage. "Danica" is 24 and married. I have had these feelings for her for quite some time. Danica is fun to be around and very pretty when she smiles. We have talked when she has been over to visit her mother, and she drives me crazy. My wife says I have a crush on her daughter. Thank God she doesn't know how much.

I asked Danica out to dinner one night, just the two of us. It was going well until I spilled my guts and told her how I felt about her. She was shocked. The only thing she said was I was married to her mother and she was married. I asked her if she had anything else to say, and she replied that she didn't know what to say. Needless to say, the rest of the night didn't go well. I took her to her car and told her the offer was always open.

Four days latter, I sent her a dozen red roses with a card that said, "Let's be friends." I tried to call her, but she said she didn't feel comfortable talking to me. Now she treats me like I have the plague. What should I do? Just wait, and pray she'll talk to me? -- SMITTEN IN SAN ANTONIO

DEAR SMITTEN: No. The first thing you should do is take a cold shower and wake up. You have slipped from fantasy into obsession, created a rift in the family and made a fool of yourself. Stop with the calls and roses. You and Danica will never be "friends" now that your inappropriate feelings are out in the open. If you can't let go of this, please talk to a mental health professional.

DEAR ABBY: Please accept my apology for thinking that every time you advise counseling you were "passing the buck." After years of abuse and three nightmare marriages, I am finally finding myself through psychiatric care.

After my husband of 27 years left me, I was shattered -- terrified. I couldn't stop crying. I made a desperate call to a mental health hotline and was advised to go to the nearest emergency hospital. My physician met me there and I admitted myself to their psychiatric ward. It was the beginning of a new life.

Everyone I encountered, from the person in admitting to the doctors and nurses, the staff and other patients, helped me. I started to heal. The classes were extremely helpful. The counselors were truly giving and caring. I signed myself out after five days, but continue going in for weekly counseling. My counselor recently told me I would make a great counselor.

I will soon begin taking courses at my local college to become certified. And now that I am healing, I'm doing volunteer work in mental health care and awareness. My goal is to make the public realize the importance of mental health.

I have learned you can live in fear or reach out for help. There is no reason for anyone to suffer when help is close at hand. There are toll-free hotline numbers for crisis intervention.

Thank you for always being there, Abby. I know you were there for me. -- SUNSHINE IN SOUTH CAROLINA

DEAR SUNSHINE: Thank YOU for sharing your personal success. When you were in crisis, you were wise to recognize it for what it was and get help. There should be no shame in such a positive, life-affirming act.

Another valuable resource for the mentally ill is an organization called the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI). It offers emotional and educational support to people -- and families -- with all the major mental disorders. Its toll-free number is (800) 950-6264. The Web site is � HYPERLINK "http://www.nami.org" ��www.nami.org�.

What teens need to know about sex, drugs, AIDS, and getting along with peers and parents is in "What Every Teen Should Know." To order, send a business-size, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $5 (U.S. funds only) to: Dear Abby, Teen Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

4520 Main St., Kansas City, Mo. 64111; (816) 932-6600