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Mental Health

Dear Captain,

I have only one sibling, an older brother. He is in his late thirties and still lives with my parents. He’s never lived on his own, whereas I moved out as soon as I could at 18. He has a BA in Accounting, he works full time, he pays rent to my parents and handles his own laundry, etc, but he still has never wanted to move out. My parents have threatened to make him leave in the past, but they’ve never followed through.

He’s always been socially awkward and a loner, and most of our family suspects he has some variety of mental illness/personality disorder/is somewhere on the autistic spectrum/etc, but after one failed try at family therapy when he was four, my parents have never gotten him professional help. My dad has his head in the sand about it, and mom doesn’t know what to do at this late point in Brother’s life. Brother is in complete denial that he could benefit from therapy or medication or even a diagnosis.

Within the past few years, he’s gotten fixated on politics and turned into a walking uber-conservative caricature. Worse than that, he’s become paranoid, racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic … the list goes on. He’s not quiet about his beliefs, and he is constantly turning every conversation about the most innocuous subjects into a political rant. He spouts hate and vitriol against liberals and everyone who isn’t like him. He doesn’t listen to dissenting opinions, he talks over everyone all the time, and he gets very upset and ragey very quickly. I am a liberal, and I consider myself a feminist and fairly well-read about social justice issues. I am also bisexual, but not out to my family, and have lots of friends in the LGBT+ community. A lot of what he says is extremely hurtful to me, and it’s very difficult for me to listen to without responding. He often gets angry at me for arguing and then turns things personal and belittles my intelligence and life choices. I was in an emotionally abusive relationship for five years, and being called stupid is one of my buttons. Brother knows this.

Whenever I’m around him, I try very hard not to engage, to just ignore his ranting and remind myself that he has serious mental/emotional issues. But I have trouble even talking about neutral subjects, because he seems hellbent on twisting everything into a politically charged fight. He’ll even interrupt the conversations of others. I have walked away many times. I’ve (mostly) accepted that he doesn’t care about me or my feelings (or is incapable of doing so). He ignores conversational boundaries I’ve tried to set. He never asks about me and my life, nor did he show any concern when I was being abused, even though I tried to reach out to him. I’ve never felt like I had a real brother, just some mean asshole who lives with my parents. This makes me incredibly sad, and I feel guilty whenever I snap and say something back to him.

Do you have any advice on how to handle things better? I want to be a good sister, but I honestly don’t know where to start to help him at this point, especially since he has no respect for me. I would just like to be able to be at their house without feeling so constantly insulted and harassed.

Sincerely,
Stressed Sister

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Hello awesome awkward people!

I’m in a poly relationship, my partner (of four years) has a wife of 20 years (her & I have been really close but have grown more distant the last nine months or so) who has really been struggling the last couple years with what she feels is depression (I’m phrasing it that way because there’s no official diagnosis it’s not to invalidate her). We thought it might have been menopause/hormonal but everything with the docs has checked out. She is seeking finding counseling now but more so because things really got to a crisis level. Her husband gave her an ultimatum to go. He ended up rescinding it but being explicit in things are bad and for his own well being if she doesn’t take getting herself better seriously he’ll have to eventually do what it takes to keep himself healthy.

We typically work very well together and in the 20 years of their open marriage they’ve never had issues like they’re experiencing now. About two years ago there were some serious life stressors (job, money, health etc) and she broke up with a very toxic boyfriend just prior/about this time.

We’re coming out of those things and everything is moving forward and looking so promising but she is struggling. We are working VERY hard to be supportive yet set healthy boundaries.

Through all the transitions and upheavals the last couple years I can’t help feel it has almost been a trigger for a midlife crisis type event for her. There’s no doubt she’s a people pleaser. She’s always happily gone in the direction her husband was going. He’s a strong personality but not manipulative or abusive. His friends have always been her friends, his interest and hobbies became her interest and hobbies. I’ve maintained and continue to cultivate life outside of our relationship and he’s always been 1000% supportive in that. He tries to do so with her but she lacks drive/motivation.

He and I were discussing this, the whys etc and he had a lightbulb moment of she’s such a people pleaser and he doesn’t think she even knows what she wants. Today I’ve done sooooo much reading about P-P and it’s so text book! I’m not going to tell her this is what’s happening but I’m wondering if there are healthy ways to help guide her in exploring this concept. I feel like it’s made doubly tricky because of the P-P attitude. More than anything we want to support her. We really want her to have opinions and to KNOW what SHE wants.

We want her to accept and believe we love her and value her because she’s awesome not because she does everything we’re interested in or that we want to do.

We know that ultimately that is on her to realize that but we would like to be supportive as best we can while maintaining healthy boundaries for everyone.

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Captain,

I was wondering if you could help me sort something out with my friend S. My life has gone through the wringer the past 2 years, in terms of friendship dynamics turning scary and unhealthy, being assaulted/ stalked, my emotionally abusive/ homophobic parents, and the basic drama of becoming an adult. My friends have been an incredible support for me, and balance the acts of being there for me and still just hanging out and having fun.

I’ve been in therapy for these issues, and am working really hard on my anxiety and depression. I am working hard to ensure that my stalker (who has a history of violence and threatens harm to himself and others) does not threaten my physical or mental safety. I am proud of how assured I am in how to do self-care and how I am able to doubt myself less. My biggest issue has been trust issues and worrying that the people closest to me don’t believe me.

S. has been there for me, even when we were in different countries this past couple months. Now that we are back in the same place things have gotten… weird. Her new attitude is “question everything”, because she wants to be a teacher and apply that philosophy everywhere. Yet to me, her questions don’t seem to be coming from a place of wanting to know or understand, but to get me to self reflect. She has also said it is important for her to question me so I can “have a better understanding of the larger situation”, especially because I tend to “overreact”. It may sound dramatic, but I feel like I’m being interrogated a lot of the time. I don’t want a life coach that inadvertently victim blames me (which is why I go to my super lovely therapist), I want nerd out with my friend.

I told S. that I love her ability to ask good questions, because it means we have really excellent dialogues, but that sometimes just jumping into questions about my personal issues without starting with validation or support is too much for me, and she responded with “I can’t change who I am.” She also brought up my previous request for verbal affirmation, and told me it was annoying to tell me she loves me all the time.

I love her to pieces. She has been an incredible friend. But this new shift in how she communicates/ treats me is bringing up major trust issues, yet I feel like I am asking for way too much. She has also been talking a lot to my friend G. about me (something she told me, not something I am “overreacting” to), and all of a sudden G. isn’t talking to me. My immediate move has been to step back and let them initiate contact, because managing this group dynamic feels really hard on top of taking care of myself.

I don’t want to change her, but I also want to feel safe hanging out with her. Is this my anxiety/ just my problem? Or do you have any suggestions for scripts that I should use? Are there any paths of action to get my relationships with S. and G. back to mutually healthy places? I really love them and our histories together, regardless of the tensions now.

- Questioning the Questioner

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In which we look at the things people type into search engines to find this blog, and answer them like questions.

1. “My parents are swingers and want me to join them.”

Nope. As in, I suspect this is a fake question/problem.

As in, here is your script: “Nope.”

As in, “Want to come to this swingers party with us?” “Nope!” “You should try swinging with us, I think you’d love it.” “Nope.” Come on, how can you even know you don’t like it  if you haven’t tried it? Once you see how much fun Mom is having, I know you’ll change your mind.” “Nope.”

Or, I think it was RoseFox who mentioned once upon a time in a comment thread here that kink, etc. tends to run in families, so if you are also a swinger, maybe you and your folks have to hash out who has priority in which parts of your scene or work out what to do if you have an awkward “…Dad?” moment.

2. “After our first date he said although I was definitely his type he felt we had more of a friend vibe.” 

“He” may want you to be a friend or an ummfriend (the thing about being his ‘type’), but not a boyfriend or girlfriend. Have fun, if you are having fun in his company, but do not wait by the phone or get super-invested in a romance with this man.

3. “Boyfriend won’t go in public with me.” 4. “Boyfriend won’t tell people about me.”

I’m trying to think of a non-sketchy reason for this. Okay. Hrm. Maybe he’s a Capulet and you’re a Montague and your families are locked in a battle to the death. Or maybe it’s a same-sex relationship in a really conservative place, and homophobia from family, coworkers, church, and the surrounding culture is making your boyfriend afraid to talk about you. Is it a cultural thing (which doesn’t make it less crappy for you, but it’s at least a reason that you can empathize with and talk through to a good solution) or a “you are his secret thing on the side” thing? Trust your instincts, and trust that you’re not selfish for wanting recognition. If something feels sketchy, it probably is.

5. “How to tell somebody politely to be quiet while watching a show.”

There are two methods that come to mind. One is to pause the show (if you can) and give the person your full attention for a few minutes.”What were you asking me?” Have a conversation with them, and then turn back to the show when you’re ready.

The other, more direct and active way is to say, “I really want to focus on this, can we talk later?”

I’ve been the jackass who thought it was a “we’re all going to make fun of this movie together” party when really it was a “we are quietly watching this movie together” party, and I super-appreciated being told directly.

6. “Should I say sorry for creepy behaviour.” 

Maybe. Is the person still talking to you (like, they initiate conversations with you that aren’t “what size would you like for that latte?” when trapped at work) or are they avoiding you? Once someone is avoiding you, and it’s most likely because you did something creepy, the best way to make amends is to show them that you get it and leave them alone. Go forth, and creep no more.

7. “What to be when you grow up and want to do something that involves English and science.”

Write about science, or edit scientific publications/textbooks/journals, or be a scientist who writes wonderful grants and papers are some things that come to mind. Readers, I feel like lots of you have cool jobs that combine these things. Take us to Career Day!

8. “I’m living with my girlfriend, and feel she’s taking financial advantage of me.”

If you think the person is taking advantage deliberately, that sounds like a good reason to end things.

If you think they are just being oblivious or not stepping up as you want them to, the big question I have is, have you ever had a talk about how you will handle finances, or did it just kind of happen along the way that you would do most of the paying? Sometimes people get into a role or a habit of how they spend without really examining it, and it can be hard to switch from Romance! mode to practical mode. It’s also hard to initiate conversations when you’ve been operating under the weight of so many assumptions. It’s so tempting to think that it will all work itself out without anyone having to spell things out, but this is a mistake. If things are unbalanced, or unworkable for you, and you want to stay in the relationship, then it’s time to work things out very explicitly and transparently. Before opening discussions, I suggest that you do some math. What are your expenses like? What do you each contribute? How do you want to handle money in the future?

A good way to start this conversation is: “Girlfriend, let’s talk about how we pay and split the bills. What we are doing right now is not workable for me, and I’d like us to figure out some changes in how we handle our finances together.” :show spreadsheet: “This is how our monthly rent, bills, and expenses look to me – is there anything on here that I missed?” If you invite her to be a partner in figuring this out together rather than starting off by berating and blaming her, you can make her an active player in finding a solution. If she won’t engage honestly with you, that tells you a lot about her (and whether you should stay).

Finding an equitable solution doesn’t necessarily mean splitting everything 50/50. There are lots of successful romantic partnerships where money is pooled, where one person earns all the money and pays for everything and the other partner contributes in other ways, or where people keep their money entirely separate. My parents, married for 47 years, operate by pooling everything, paying out all of the necessities, savings, and things they’ve budgeted for together, and then each taking an allowance for themselves that can be spent without running anything by the other person. After cohabiting for a year and change, for now I pay the rent and the bills up front and my dude reimburses me for his share because that works better around how and when we each get paid. We keep separate bank accounts and alternate paying for groceries and other stuff. I’m sure that will evolve with time, and that’s the biggest piece of advice I’d give to anyone who is figuring out finances with another person: Lay everything out transparently and make sure you build in the opportunity to renegotiate how you do things as your circumstances change. Ooh, one other thing I’ve learned: If you’re the partner who earns more, one challenge is realizing that if you want the other person to pay half of everything y’all do, you need to scale down how you live and what you do to be within what they can afford OR you need to treat them when you want to treat yourself without putting that on their account, so to speak. And you both have to be able to say “Sorry, I can’t afford that right now!” without shame or blame from the other.

9. “How to be a good Facebook stalker.”

In three! easy! steps!

1. Close your computer.

2. Go learn to paint or some shit.

3. In summary: Don’t.

10. “Is meeting her kids a big deal.” 

Short answer: “Signs point to yes.”

Slightly longer answer: “Take your lead and cues from her.”

11. “What is the best thing to do for a loved one who just got out a psych ward.”

I asked people who are in a position to know, and some answers were:

  • “Take them to Uncle Julio’s.” (Substitute the comforting, favorite casual dining venue of your choice here).
  • “Food in the hospital tends to be very bland, so if they like spicy food at all, take them somewhere with spicy food.” 
  • “Let them know you’re there for them without making a big fucking deal about it.” 
  • “If the place they stayed was a good place, they likely came out with some kind of aftercare plan. If you can, offer to help them with the implementation of that – stuff like getting to appointments, filling prescriptions, etc.”

My other suggestions are 1) Seek them out for the pleasure of their company, not solely to help 2) Ask if they want to talk about it and listen without judgment if they do. Respect their choice if they don’t. And remember, they are not there to prove or disprove your impressions of what mental hospitals are like from seeing Girl, Interrupted or One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest 3) Offer hugs if they are hugging sorts and you have a hugging kind of relationship. People get very touch-deprived among strangers. 4) Find a regular way of keeping in touch. People getting out of any kind of hospital get a big surge of “what can I do to help?” at the beginning, but it peters out quickly. Be there consistently.

12. “My husband leaves a brown film on the toilet seat.” 

Is he eating the Bro’det every night?

Is this a new behavior? Is his overall hygiene getting worse? Is this related to illness or aging? Because my first thought is that maybe something is deteriorating about his ability to notice things like this, and a medical checkup might be due.

Alternately, I suggest putting some Clorox wipes (or similar, we’re not brand-loyal) within easy reach and saying, “Can you please wipe down the toilet seat after you use it?” If he’s a person who walks away from toilets without checking to make sure everything is cool, it’s unlikely he will notice on his own or do something without this level of directness, so rip the bandaid off.

13. “How to tell your ex u don’t want to be friends.”

“Ex, I know I said that I’d like to stay friends, but now that some time has passed, I think I need a truly clean break in order to heal and get over things/put the relationship behind me. I’m so sorry, but I don’t think we should stay in touch anymore.” 

If they’ve been contacting you a lot and making you uncomfortable, sometimes you have to be more literal “I need a clean break, which means that I’d like you to stop contacting me.” It’s okay to send all that in an email. End with wishing them well. If they send something back, don’t reply. Hopefully time will do the rest and you’ll both heal and move on.

14. “BF wants me to Skype at 9 pm every day.”

I am guessing that you do not want to Skype at 9pm every day, or you wouldn’t be searching for this.

Is it that every day is too much for you? Is it that having a set time, or having it be that time is inconvenient?

I suggest sitting down and figuring out when it would be good for you to talk, so you can offer something more realistic.

“Boyfriend, I love that you are so attentive to keeping in touch, but 9pm every day isn’t working for me. Can we do [schedule that works for you]?”

15. “It’s only been a few days but i want to break up.”

Do it. Don’t drag this out. “[Name], I am so sorry, but I do not want to be in our relationship anymore and am ending it.”

You could try “I really liked you, so I wanted to give things a chance, but I know now that it isn’t right for me.

Own everything about ending the relationship. Don’t list the other person’s faults, or try for objective reasons. “I don’t feel that way, I’m so sorry.”

It’s gonna suck but you will feel so relieved a few days from now.

16. “Rejected someone but changed my mind.” 

Have a good think first. There was a reason you rejected them. You sure about this?

Okay, try this: “Ever since we talked, I’ve been kicking myself for missing out on my chance with you. Is that offer still open/Would you be willing to give it another try?”

If they say no, be graceful and cool. “Well, you are nifty/keen/cool/super, I had to ask.

Here endeth the lessons. Stay warm out there.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dear Captain Awkward,

So, I’m turning 30, and I don’t know how to interact with people. I think it’s because I’ve had OCD from at least the age of 9—real OCD, with repugnant obsessions about incest and such, not “I color coordinate my sock drawer”—and like a lot of people I kept it a secret. And I had panic disorder, which made me agoraphobic. Also, starting around 12 I felt like I was constantly stuck behind a pane of glass, which according to Wiki might mean I was dissociating, but whatever you call it, it was unpleasant. So to sum up, all the important things in my life were a horrible dark secret, other people didn’t seem real, and I basically couldn’t leave the house without fearing I’d have a panic attack, and frequently having one. It was not conducive to making friends.

In college I was lucky enough to make one super good friend—entirely through her initiative—and several good-ish friends. And then senior year I had a nervous breakdown and scraped through graduation and had more nervous breakdown and went on drugs and into CBT. That was six years ago and I’m much better now. But I don’t know how to deal with people. I didn’t realize this before, because I never wanted to deal with people—I thought I was just introverted and misanthropic, and I liked being that way. Now I don’t know what I am. I don’t think I’m shy. In a crowd I’m not nervous; I’m just nonplussed, like if you walked up and randomly gave me a lathe: I’m like, “Wtf is this for?” I still automatically say no to all social invitations, because even though, so far, I haven’t had real panic attacks on the drugs—and hopefully never will again, knock on wood—my instinct is still to stay home all the time. To my mind you have to have a really, really good reason before you leave the house. And people make me tired. When I have to associate with people, e.g. at work, they apparently like me, and I generally like them; but when getting together is optional, I just… don’t. But I’m lonely.

Romance is particularly a problem; or at least, it’s the problem I mind most acutely. I’d ruled out ever having sex till a few years ago, because repugnant obsessions. (Use your imagination.) Now that I’m better it seems like a possibility, but I feel… well, warped, I guess, like I missed some formative experience and it’s too late for me to be fixed. But dammit, I’d like to have sex, and not just sex, but a relationship. I get filled with hopeless romantic longing on a predictable monthly basis and also any time I see Robert Downey Jr. All my friends are married. I want that shit. But again, I’m almost 30; I don’t have time to replicate all the socializing experiences I should have had when I was 8. What the hell do I do with this lathe?

More Awkward Than You Are

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Hey Captain and Crew,

I’ve got… well, let’s say I’ve got some guilt on how I handled a situation, and I could really use an objective perspective. I’m a master of the JerkBrain Guilt-stravaganza, and I can’t tell if I should tell my brain to shut up or if it’s on point.

I’ve been working at a job I dislike for a long time (almost 10 years). It was relatively steady work and in the economy no one else seemed to want me. This past spring I took additional education, in the hopes of that making me more viable. Since July I’ve been actively (read desperately) hunting for a new job. Yesterday I was contacted by a headhunter I’ve been working with. She had a “possible” with the catch of having to start immediately.

I’d gotten nothing but rejections, and things have been so bad here at the office I was considering just leaving anyway. I told her to put me forward thinking it would go nowhere. That same day she came back with a positive response. I’ve been offered a temp-to-perm opportunity for more money and while not the position I was hoping for, it’s at least in the industry I just trained for.

I didn’t think, not for more than a moment. I accepted, and felt the bottom fall out of my world. I told all my bosses that Friday is my last day. They’ve been resigned and more or less gracious about my sudden departure. There have been a few barbed comments about how I probably owed them better after so many years. Captain, I’m a creature made of guilt right now. It’s never been a secret I was actively trying to leave, but this isn’t how I wanted the final farewell to go.

I guess I wanted someone else’ opinion- how much of the guilt I’m feeling is appropriate? Did I just act like a total jerk to people I’ve known a decade? I’m already so overwhelmed trying to wrap up everything at my old job, and mentally prepare for my new one that this guilt-monster is just, exhausting and beginning to convince me I’m a bad person who was nasty to people who’ve been more or less good to her.

What do you think Captain? Any insight would be appreciated.

Thanks,
Job Jumping

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