Dear Amy:

I have a somewhat strange (although I'm sure that term is relative) problem.

I'm a 17-year-old girl, pretty bright and pretty world-aware. And many times (at least two or three nights a week) I find myself lying awake at night, terrified that an intruder is in or around my house trying to break in.

I live in a safe neighborhood, in a safe part of a fairly safe small town. No one has ever broken into my house or any of the neighbors' houses, and we always lock our doors, but two nights ago I stayed up so late that I heard my dad wake up at 4 a.m. to get ready to go into work.

Any advice?

Scared

I read your letter to Dr. Theodore Polonus, a clinical psychologist at Northwestern Medical School in Chicago who specializes in anxiety disorders.

Actually, night terrors such as you describe are a pretty common problem. Studies suggest that some 2 million to 3 million people report this sort of anxiety every year.

It's good that you understand that these fears are irrational, even though it's perfectly normal to worry about your and your family's safety.

Polonus and I agree with you that your nighttime hours would be much better spent in sleep. Obviously, you should tell your parents about your fears. They might want you to see a counselor, and I think that's a good idea. An extremely high percentage of people who seek treatment for anxiety (upward of 85 percent) get better, so the odds are good that you could get to the bottom of this and even teach yourself some techniques to battle anxiety when you feel it coming on. Polonus suggests that breathing techniques can work very well for people facing anxiety or panic. This is where you concentrate on keeping your breathing regular, deep and steady, unlike the shallow type of breathing you feel when you are frightened.

You are a smart and sensitive young person. You should avoid watching any "Law & Order SVU" or "Cold Case Files"-type television shows because these programs can introduce frightening thoughts into anyone's late-night mind -- even we parents of teens get scared.

Talk about your fears, and let others help you to feel better.

Dear Amy:

My husband and I have been separated for several months, and I am having a hard time dealing with it. He told me when he left that he wanted a divorce, so I went ahead and got an attorney and had the divorce papers drawn up. Not too long ago, he said that he wanted to try to work things out, but I haven't heard from him since.

I really don't want the divorce, but I feel that I don't have a choice. We have an infant and he left while I was still pregnant.

Is it normal for me to feel this way or am I just trying to hold on to something that I shouldn't hold on to?

Miss Him

It's completely natural to feel bad about the breakup of your marriage, even though this guy sounds like an extremely poor excuse for a husband and father.

At this point you need to marshal your strength for the sake of your child. You should make absolutely sure that your separation agreement is official and that all of its terms benefit your child.

Your lawyer could help set up some sessions with a mediator, where you and your husband can talk about issues relating to your future, including whether you want to reconcile.

I hope that in these sessions you see your ex for what he is. He sounds like a bad bet, and even though saying goodbye to even a bad bet can be hard, the sooner you do so, the sooner you can start the rest of your life, which is full of promise.

Write to Amy Dickinson at askamy@tribune.com or Ask Amy, Chicago Tribune, TT500, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, Ill. 60611.

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