DEAR MISS MANNERS: Today I was going through paperwork, arranging it for tax purposes.
It's necessary to point out that I am 10 years delinquent in contending with filing, due to PTSD, and have not been able to open so much as a bill (most things are paid out of my accounts direct) unless it is very easy to identify.
Much of the year I've worked with a therapist in preparing to overcome this. At first, mere mention would create an emotional and physical response that was rather out of context. I would be gridlocked for days at an e-mail talking about needing to do it. We got to the point I could handle this year's, which would still avoid the most painful of the paperwork, and help me develop a routine in simply working with any paperwork. The catalyst is my son is going into college, and I don't want my impairments to impair him from getting financial help.
A friend came over today to "help" and happened upon a social security document that was very personal inside. He laughed upon opening and reading it, though there had been no need because the front was clearly marked and could therefore be properly filed without personal information being read. It was my yearly statement about lifelong contributions.
It was a clear setback. My heart raced (and I had a heart attack two weeks ago), breathing became difficult, and I wasn't able to continue. I told him that felt very inappropriate and went to my room to be alone.
My therapist friend recommended I write to you and ask how that could have better been navigated had I had the presence of mind to be forthright, a prepared statement, so to speak. Perhaps with your insights I could handle that better myself should it come again.
GENTLE READER: Uh, wait. That seems the least of your problems. Miss Manners would like to respect your fragile condition but doubts that the government will be so delicate in dealing with your 10 years delinquency in paying taxes.
Nor can she summon up much indignation against your friend. By asking him to help you with your taxes, you made him privy to a great deal of information about your finances, and it is not always easy, when ploughing through mounds of paper, to distinguish what is relevant and what is not.
The only possible transgression was the laugh, but surely a close friend should be given the benefit of the doubt. Had you asked, "What's so funny?" you might have received an acceptable explanation.
In any case, Miss Manners wishes you luck with your physical, emotional and legal problems. They will not be lessened by your targeting a friend who was trying to help.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: We are having a surprise 50th birthday party for my mother. We would like to do just appetizers and bite-size desserts. The party starts at 7 p.m. Is this OK, or should be serve a buffet-style dinner?
GENTLE READER: What you have proposed serving is the menu for a tea party. Serve it at 7 and your guests will think it paltry. Serve it at 4 and Miss Manners assures you that they will think it lavish.