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Disability

Hello everyone! How are you? ICYMI, I wrote a non-spoilery (since I haven’t even watched the episode yet) piece about Doctor Who and friendship that’s up at Indiewire. Special thanks to TV editor Liz Shannon Miller, who should probably edit every single thing I write, and who constantly turns me onto cool things to watch and like. In other good news, the short film Meet In A Public Place has just been accepted into the Oakland Underground Film Festival. Oakland! I won’t make it out there for the fest, but let us hope that it is merely the first stage in world domination and travel.

And now, a question.

Hello Captain

I have an awesome boyfriend. We’ve been together for five years now. Next year both of us will have finished our educations and will be taking the Big Step into the World of the Working.

He still lives with his (equally awesome) mother, while I live full time on a boarding room. I will lose my room and therefore home once I graduate. We’ve agreed that we’d like to start living together officially once that happens. We’ve been living together half and half for the past three years: either he stays at my place or I stay at his, we alternate.

I’d love to rent an apartment together during our first years, while saving up for a proper home. He however thinks rent is a waste of money and wants me to move in with him and his mother until we can afford to buy our own place. His mother agrees with him.

I want to move in with him in our own place, not with him and his mother in their parental home. I get along well with his mother, that’s not the problem. I’m used to living independent and don’t want to go back to being mothered in a place I have no say about whatsoever. Living at his place feels like staying at a hotel instead of being home. Moving in with them would also mean that I would be dependent on either them having time to drive me to places or on the terrible local bus connection, since I’m not legally allowed to drive due to medical issues.

I don’t think I’m being unreasonable when I say I want to be able to go to job interviews on my own, that I want some say in what happens to the space I live in or even that I want a say in minor things like what I eat or where my stuff is.

My boyfriend, who has never lived on his own before, does not understand this. How can I make him understand?

Greetings

A frustrated student

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Dear Captain, 

I need scripts, and I need them ASAP.

I have 24 years of reasons (emotional abuse and toxic family environment) to hide why I am on antidepressants from my parents, and I have been doing so successfully for a year, paying for them out of pocket, because I am on a medication where I can afford that, though I am not in a position where I can yet go off my parents’ (very good) health insurance for my other (costly) health problems. My SSRIs have been great for me-I respond well to them and I am getting through grad school very well with thousands of miles of distance from my abusive parents, plenty of therapy, and at long last, medication I probably needed years ago! (medicate those brain weasels, plus learning weasel-charming techniques!)

But. I just found out that some no-doubt well-meaning person at my pharmacy put my most recent refill on my insurance, which my medical-trained mother goes through line by line every month.

I am desperately hoping she does not tell my dad, because that would make things a thousand times worse. As it is, she is probably going to corner me with the “But why didn’t you tellllll ME” and “You didn’t say anything about how you feel to me BECAUSE I’M A BAD MOM” and “You obviously don’t think that I AM TRUSTWORTHY ENOUGH” and make it her, her, her and I am just….I don’t have any scripts for this. And I’m going to be visiting them for the next month, starting tomorrow. (Dad is a “Only the weak use medication” and “Try exercise” and “Drink St John’s Wort tea because they’re all placebos anyway” type.)

Please, Captain. I need your help. The last time something like this happened, Mom and I had a huge fight because I didn’t tell her about a panic attack I had-I didn’t want to tell her about it because she made it all about her feelings about it, but I wound up telling her that I was just too ashamed of it too tell her in order to get her to shut up, because she would not let me leave. I’ve already spent weeks psyching myself up to deal with how self-centered she is most of the time, and knowing that she’s going to be reviewing my insurance statement line by line and then making it all about her feelings about it has made that psych-up all but useless.

(I can’t cancel the trip, either. One of my best friends is getting married and I spent a month’s rent.)

~Forced Out Of The Antidepressant Closet

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Dear sifters of potentially-answerable awkwardness,

I’ve had a lover of the very best kind for the past ~9 months, healthiest relationship I’ve ever been in, and we both had started to talk about, you know… we could see us together for a long time. I feel respected and heard and loved and the sex is incredible.

We both have a history of depression, but in many ways sharing that made it easier for us to relate and be supportive of each other.

7/9ths of this time has been long distance; we started seeing one another just before I finished graduate school and moved from the heartland to a well-paid technical job on the left coast. Lover has a BFA and has struggled with unemployment most of his adult life. We’d talked about him moving here as I am in a position to support him, and would be happy to for him to pursue his art. But fears and feelings of dependency and uselessness are what his depression eats and breathes.

A month ago, I was visiting, and Lover said he doesn’t know who he is right now, and needs to focus on his own mental health and knows that it breaks my heart and breaks his too, but he needs some time for himself, for self care and therapy. I told him if space was the only thing he needed that I could give him right now, I would give that to him, and we both cried ALL the tears. I love him and I want him to be well. He said how much he loves me, too and let’s call it not a break up for now, but a break.

The radio silence we’d agreed on has passed and we’ve talked. He is still not well (a month is not a long time), is maybe possibly in the beginning stages of starting to climb out? But we can’t be together as we were. We also still love each other, very much.

We don’t want to drop out of each other’s lives. We said let’s talk on the phone sometimes, not just fb/instagram, and we both thought about once a week sounded good. (We used to talk every day, usually multiple times.) We talked about how neither of us really is that interested in dating anyone else right now. We said goodnights with “I love you.”

Captain does “can’t be in a relationship right now” always mean “with you”? Can it ever be legit? I don’t want to get over this. I love the boy with sparkles I’ve never had, including in my 5 year marriage in my early 20s. He clearly still loves me. I don’t want to ‘put my life on hold’ but neither do I really want to put a ton of effort into ‘getting over’ him.

-Feeling too many things

Dear Feeling:

“I can’t don’t want to be in a relationship right now with you” can be the ambivalent or uninterested person’s soft rejection, or it can exist alongside all the feelings of connection in the world.

I advocate replacing “can’t” with “don’t want to” because while it’s painful, it’s useful to remind yourself that when someone breaks off a relationship for any reason, they are making a choice. The decision can really be more about timing, logistics, health, etc. than it is about feelings, i.e., the “don’t want to” can have a lot of genuine “can’t” embedded in it, but the choice is the choice. “If circumstances were different, I’d be all about you, but they are what they are, so I’m making this decision that the relationship is not where I want to focus my energies.”

When you fixate on the “can’t” part of it, when you stay focused on the circumstances at the expense of the choice, it keeps you invested in solving the problems in a relationship that someone just told you they don’t want to be in. When you’re in love with someone like you’re in love with this person, the Wishful Thinking Translator is very powerful. “He said he can’t be with me right now because _______” = “If I solve for _______, he will be with me! Let’s roll up our sleeves and fix this motherfucker!”

And the devil of it is, that might actually sorta be true, in your case? Like, if your partner weren’t feeling so depressed and shitty right now, you’d probably actually be rolling along like you used to be. So, there’s a problem, and your loving, delightful, smart intelligent human brain is ready to find the solutions because that’s what our miraculous brains do when someone we love has a problem.

Proposed Solution 1: Fix the depression.

If you figure out how to solve someone else’s depression so that they can finally become the partner you want them to be, DEFINITELY CALL ME ABOUT GUEST POSTING OPPORTUNITIES THX.

Proposed Solution 2: Adapt the relationship into something that is more “workable.”

Like, pulling back daily, constant interaction to once/week. Like calling it a break, not a breakup. Like reaffirming your feelings in spite of the shitty situational stuff, and remaining hopeful. (YOU ARE HERE.)

If this level of contact is enjoyable and sustainable for you, and agreeable to him, then why the hell not wait it out for a while and see if things get any better? You get to decide what you do with your heart and for how long.

One pitfall of this, of course, is that you don’t actually want to talk only once a week. You want a boyfriend, not an occasional pen pal. And the longer you pour yourself into the shape of the world’s most supportive and accommodating girlfriend — oops! supportive friend with absolutely no agenda whatsoever! — the more your own needs are going to disappear inside his immediate & overwhelming ones. “I need a boyfriend who pays a lot of attention to me and is very present, even if it’s from a distance. I want a boyfriend who will make a plan to actually move to where I’m living. But you know, X is very depressed right now, and until he deals with that, this is okay, too…I guess…I mean, I know what it’s like to have depression, and I want to be fair about that.” His needs are more acute right now, but now long before they take over and the relationship runs only on his terms? You have radio silence (that you don’t want) when he needs it, you have occasional contact (less than you want) when he needs that…when are you allowed to have needs again?

Proposed Solution #3: Believe and honor his choice.

The circumstances – mental illness that no one asked for – are shitty and heartbreaking. And I am so, so very sorry.

But your lover’s choice, to pull back from the relationship and focus 100% on his own recovery, is actually pretty legit. I have a lot of side-eye for the “I’m breaking up with you for your own good, you shouldn’t have to be saddled with poor me” breakup, but someone who says “I have energy only for myself right now, sorry” is being brave and honest.

This is why I encourage people who are being broken up with to pull back from sifting through the reasons and look at facts. Reasons matter, of course they do, but the fact is: He ended your romantic relationship. He chose Not You, or, only a Little Bit Of You In Small Manageable Doses On His Terms, For Now.

He could have said “I love you, hang in there with me, we will be together someday I promise, but I need a few months to pull my mental health together and focus on that.

He could have said “I’m moving to where you are, will you take care of me like you offered while I do therapy and get myself together, I would really like you by my side while I work these things out.

My grandparents got married and then my Grandpa went back to the war and they didn’t see each other except occasionally for the next four years, and since he stayed in the service they had many long periods of separation and relocation for the next decade or so. While times and expectations about marriage were different then, they did not actually know for sure that they’d still be in love when they were finally able to reunite. They had no guarantees that they’d be the same people, or they’d still be compatible. They had to re-learn each other, and re-decide to stay and make it work. They were very much in love, it turns out, and they did stay together for the next 60 years, but day to day during their separations the most they ever had to go on was “If we both survive this, I promise to try really hard to still love you” because that’s all anyone has ever had to go on. For a less dramatic example, for some couples, “I got into this neat grad program that means I’ll be moving very far away ” means “let’s break up, that’s too hard” and for others it means “Let’s get hitched before you go so the health insurance will all be cool while we figure out the rest.” 

Saying “I love you” when you hang up the phone, not being interested in dating anyone else, being regretful, missing the other person a lot, liking someone more than you’ve ever liked anyone else, honestly loving someone and really wanting it to work out are all reasons to be sad about the way this is ending. You’re throwing them out there, as signs, as evidence, like we’re proving a geometry theorem, but they aren’t proof. There is no substitute for “I. Choose. You.” 

When you’re in a situation like this, it’s tempting to grab onto the narrative about how “good love just takes work!” and wrap it around you like a big comfy blanket. Work! It’s something you can DO. It’s something you can CONTROL.Work Ethic, meet Feelings! Feelings, roll up your sleeves and meet this Plucky Can-Do Attitude!

Healthy relationships do take work in the sense of figuring out “Where will we live and who will do the dishes there?

I will distract you while we wait for the doctor to call with the news.” “I will be the sociable buffer while we visit your difficult family.”I will clean up the cat barf so you don’t have to look at it or smell it.” “I will work on managing my mental health issues so I can more fully present as your partner.”

This kind of work can be hard and draining as hell, depending on the circumstances (fist-bumps to all the new parents and the caregivers out there!), but if you know for sure that you’re in this thing together and the division of labor feels fair and reciprocal, it’s not bad work.

The bad kind of work is the stuff that romantic dramas are made of. “You are a stalker and literally a vampire, sure, let’s date! Let’s break up and get back together 10,000 times. Love triangle, heeeeeeeyyyyyyyy! OK I will let you bite our terrifying deathbaby out of my womb.” It’s very intense and sexy and words like “destiny” or “meant to be” get thrown around a lot, with massive amounts of energy expended on the question “Should we actually be together? Do I actually want this? Does the other person actually want this?” The higher the stakes, the harder the struggle, the more it proves that the relationship is worth it, in Storyland.

My opinion is that high-conflict situations are compelling to read about and watch, but draining to live, and that “this totally sucks!”/”ok just work at it harder” is a damaging, toxic message when people try to translate it from stories to life. In fact, I am working on a theory that goes like this:

The more times someone mentions “destiny”, “soulmate”, “it was meant to be,” “I felt like it was fate”, “I just know in my heart that we are meant to be together” “I think that if we just worked at it…” in either a TV show or a letter, the more likely I will find myself throwing metaphorical popcorn and yelling “you know you could just break up, right?” in the direction of the cat. When it’s working, it doesn’t need to be “meant to be;” it just works.

My other opinion that there is no amount of work that you can do to preserve a relationship if the other person isn’t on the same page. Logistics can be worked out. Brainweasels can be managed. Hard times can be lived through. But “I want to sail in this boat with you, wherever it takes us” is not negotiable. You’ve got to choose each other, and if both people aren’t fully doing that, all the work (and all the love/pantsfeelings/hopes/wishes/sense of connection/signs/green flags) in the world won’t fix it.

You say in the opening of your letter that this is by far the healthiest relationship you’ve ever been in. Let’s add some words onto the end of that sentence, like we did with “…with you”:

This is the healthiest relationship you’ve ever been in so far.

Either this relationship is going to get healthier because your partner works on his stuff, feels better, and makes a strong, clear, unequivocal move back in your direction, or you are going to meet someone else who will have all the great stuff this person does + some other great stuff that you don’t even know about + that person will fully choose you as hard as you choose them. 

I know it is not what you want to hear, but my honest suggestion is that you either decide together that you want to make a go of it, or you make a cleaner, longer break (3-6 months, no contact) before you do any more work or try anything resembling being friends. This limbo is not healing him and it’s not serving you.

Dear Captain Awkward,

I’m a 25-year-old living at home with my parents; I received a BA in English/Creative Writing about two years ago, and I haven’t done much of anything since then. I’ve been struggling with depression and anxiety (especially social anxiety) for practically my whole life, and a couple months ago I was also diagnosed with Asperger’s. On top of that, I have some physical health problems: tons of food allergies that cause a lot of digestion issues and Fibromyalgia. These all make my daily life pretty difficult. I’ve been seeing a therapist for about a year, but I feel like I haven’t made any progress.

I have very little energy to do anything; I sleep late every day no matter what time I set my alarm clock for, and every day I take naps for two hours or more even if I set an alarm to try and force myself to get up sooner. Most days I stay at home, but on days when I have to leave the house, I come back home later completely exhausted for the rest of the day – sometimes for more than one day. So it’s really difficult for me to find the energy to force myself to do things, not to mention the motivation.

I haven’t written anything since I graduated, and I can’t get myself to draw anything either (I took plenty of drawing classes as well and for a while I thought about starting a webcomic, but I just don’t have the energy or the motivation to keep up with something like that). I also don’t have any social life, because I never made any real friends while I was in college, and I’ve lost contact with all of the friends I had in high school, so I’m pretty socially isolated.

I’ve been working on getting a driver’s license, but it’s slow going. For the past month and a half, I’ve tried doing yoga for about ten minutes a day, but I don’t think it’s made any difference in my health. My primary care doctor doesn’t have any other suggestions.

With all of this, I don’t know if I could handle holding down a job. I can’t imagine ever having the energy to work for five hours or more at a time. My parents want me to try and apply for disability to help pay for my college loans, because they’re paying for them right now and it’s hard on them. But my parents have always been very overprotective, and I worry that they’re not pushing me as hard as they could be to do better. I want to someday be able to live independently, but I’m not sure what kind of job I could work or how I could make that possible.

I guess this is my question: How do you know the difference between being completely unable to do something (like get a job) and being scared or finding it difficult?

Thanks,

Exhausted

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Hi Captain et al,

Like a number of commenters here, I have a chronic, incurable (not deadly) illness. I am really quite ill, it has a huge effect on my life and, advances in medical science notwithstanding, I will be very ill for the REST OF MY LIFE.

But I get on with it, because there’s nothing else to do. My life is painful and exhausting and full of social security bureaucracy, medical appointments, social care, mobility aids and limits to what I can do. I can accept that and most of my friends have adapted with me to fit around what I can and can’t do and to help out when they can.

What’s upsetting me are a few friends who keep sharing pictures and statuses along the lines of “Share if you know someone with [illness]” or “Show your support for people with [illness] by putting this on your facebook wall for one hour” etc
And… those things don’t make me feel supported or cared for. At all. If anything, they remind me that those people never call or text, that they’ve never asked how they could help. It’s like… they want me to see that they’re thinking of me but don’t actually want to put in the effort to contact me or find out what I need?

How best can I say “I know this is scary but if you want to support me, actually fucking talk to me about it?” Or should I perhaps leave the issue of “stop posting things on facebook that remind me you’re not actually helping” alone and go to the effort of finding things to ask them to do? They clearly want to *feel* useful but I’m scared that maybe they just want to feel like they’re doing something and don’t actually want the inconvenience of me saying “The practical things you can do to help include making an effort to come to see me, to keep in touch with me, to take me out of the house some time and/or fix your own drinks and food if you visit me at mine. Sometimes I need people to make phone calls, to accompany me to appointments or to help buy equipment I need. There are things you can practically do to help but all of them require time, effort and money”.

I want to know what people are actually prepared to do to help but I’m scared of asking in case the answer really is: “I care about you and want to do whatever I can to help but I don’t want to do anything that takes time, effort or money”

Too Ill For This
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Dear Captain Awkward,

Recently, an old friend began messaging me on social media to tell me that he had cancer. Initially, I was shocked to hear that he’d been diagnosed with (an unspecified) form of cancer. He’s the same age as I am (24) and, from what I’d seen when we were closer, led an active healthy life. I kept my replies polite and concerned. As the conversation progressed, he added more details about hospital visits, damage to his spine, how he was unable to walk and about how his parents were helping him with very basic functions. This was a lot more detail than I was comfortable with and the tone was beginning to shift to wanting me to pity him or to come back into his life.

To add some context, this is a friend who I spent time with during my first year of university, when I was 18. We dated briefly (maybe two months), but I chose to end the relationship and our friendship fizzled afterwards. Since the break-up, he has only initiated contact with me when he knows that I am single.

In our conversations, this friend has given me a lot of detail about how the cancer has impacted his life, but very few details on what type of cancer it is or what the prognosis is. He has told me that he doesn’t want to know how long he has to live and I respect his position. He has hinted that he wants us to meet and perhaps to restart some romantic activity. I’d be willing to meet, as a friend, to help support him, but I’m really uncomfortable with being asked on a date. With respect to the large amount of detail given to an old acquaintance, I understand that he’s facing a terrifying and traumatic life event and he’s looking for all of the support he can get.

What I’m asking is: is there a way to (very gently) sway him from passing along so much information and from trying to curry pity? I don’t really understand why he’s chosen to re-initiate contact after so many years, and with a very intimate level of detail. Also, am I completely insensitive for feeling awkward and uncomfortable with his messages? I mean, he has cancer. That certainly trumps my awkwardness, right?

Any scripts or tips?

Thank you very much,

Feeling Cancer Shamed

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