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Mental Health

A still of the Hulk in a pile of rubble from The Avengers

“HULK WILL NOT FEEL GOOD ABOUT THIS TOMORROW, HULK CAN TELL.”

Dear Captain Awkward,

One of my friends gets angry a lot. To be more specific: one of my friends gets angry at things that are not me, and vents to me a lot. I don’t mind being available to vent to in the general case, but.

Bruce, let’s call him, gets especially angry when anxious. When he gets angry, it generally takes the form of explosive swearing. Even though I know where he’s coming from, there’s only so much tirade I can handle before getting anxious (in-person anger scares the crap out of me, online anger not directed at me takes a while longer to do that) or exasperated. I don’t feel this is something I want to abandon this friendship over, but I also am pretty sure that I do not need to let him expound on how enraged he is over some mishap with something he’s nervous about for extended lengths of time.

My question is one of diplomacy: How can I ask him to calm down without pissing him off more? I just want a little less freakout time here. (I think he would benefit too, but that’s really not within my control.)

(For the record: This is an online friendship, so I am not getting any of this in person, and I do not feel threatened or unsafe; no threats are even being made, just a lot of directionless swearing. I’m just not especially comfortable with it past a certain point.)

–Frets in the face of Frustration

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Dear Captain Awkward,

I am mentally ill, to date I have spent 23 days on involuntary psych holds. Most of this wasn’t warranted but that is a whole other thing. I am also a stand up comic and when I am hanging out with comedy peers everything is fair game and no one really shrinks from your dark stuff. You’ve been 5150ed me too lets compare notes. I am looking to date through online sites and assume that this dynamic is not universal. I like to get stuff out in the open as quickly as possible but is this something that warrants first date discloser? 2nd Date? 

I haven’t even started replying to posts of people I am interested in yet and panicking over what to do when this comes up. Therapy and medication have helped a lot but being committed had me feeling like I am a piece of shit and not worthy of love for a long time. A large part of me just wants to never bring it up, but that doesn’t seem fair. I have PTSD and I want any potential partner to know why something might suddenly upset me out of the blue or cause me to immediately need to leave a certain environment or situation. 

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Time for (mostly) monthly feature where we answer the things people typed into search engines as if they were questions.

1. “How to tell my parents I’m moving out.”

You have found the place, yes?

You have a way to pay for the place and a way to move your stuff to the place? If you are expecting resistance from your folks around the topic of moving out, having your financial and logistical house in order is a wonderful rebuttal.

Make your plan, and then tell them when the pieces of the plan are in place. “Mom/Dad, Mom/Mom, Dad/Dad, Mom/Dad/Moppa, I found a new place and I’m going to move there on x date. Thanks for putting me up, I really appreciate it.”

If these aren’t the sort of parents who will be happy about this news, don’t bother trying to sell them on the features of this or convince them that it’s a good idea or give reasons or get too far into the details. “I’ve got that handled, thanks for asking!” is a good non-answer for the intrusive.

2. “How to say that you want her but just can’t be together.”

What are you trying to communicate here, and what do you want to happen after you say this? If you can own the decision as a decision (and not throw your hands up to vague “circumstances”) you will put “her” in the best possible position to move on. “I really like you and care about you, but I’ve decided that we shouldn’t be together.” “I am so attracted to you, but I’m sorry, I know that I don’t want to be with you in that kind of relationship.”

3. “My cousin will not speak to me on the phone but will only text am I being avoided.”

Does your cousin text you back promptly, and initiate texting sometimes? Then it’s likely you are not being avoided, but phone conversations are being avoided. Does your cousin not really respond to communications? Then maybe they are avoiding you.

One way to find out/get what you want done: “Cousin, I know you prefer texts, but can we talk on the phone for a few minutes later today? I have some stuff to hash out and it will be quicker that way. Thanks.”

4. “What to say on a suicide hotline.”

“I’m having a rough time and some suicidal thoughts, can I talk to someone about that?” 

Those hotline operators have heard it all, my friend. You aren’t going to weird them out or somehow “do it wrong.” They are waiting for you to call and take a step toward feeling better.

5. “How to quit in a awkward workplace.”

Do it in writing. “Dear Boss, I am leaving my position as of (date). Best wishes,

Two weeks’ notice is usual in the USA. You don’t have to tell them where you are going or why, especially not in the resignation letter.

6. “My ex fiance made it very clear he doesn’t want to hear from me.”

Whatever brought about those circumstances clearly SUCKS, but I hope you’ll take him at his word and let it be a truly clean break for both of you.

7. “My ex wants to talk but I don’t.”

Tell them once: “I want to make this a clean break. Please stop contacting me.”

If you’ve already done so, good. Your next step in both cases is to not respond to any contact from them, no matter what form it takes. Set them to perma-ignore.

8. “What to say to an ex-boyfriend when he still emails you.”

Total silence is good. You can set up a filter so that these messages bypass your inbox completely if you like.

9. “How to deal with guy who says he doesn’t want a relationship with you but with another girl.”

Step 1: Believe his words.

Step 2: Ignore his existence.

Step 3: Go live your awesome life.

10. “What are the reasons for wife to be angry with me while we are in bed.”

This could be so many things. “Wife, I feel like you are angry at me, but I don’t know why. What’s the deal?

11. “My mom hates me and my boyfriend porn.” 

I’m sure it’s out there, because every kind of porn is out there. Seek and ye shall find!

12. “Don’t bother sending kisses to people who ignore someone when they have other things to do and people to see to.”

Solid call.

13. “A girl shows interest in public but ignores my fb msgs.”

She may never check her Facebook messages. Do you have another way to contact her?

What happens if you translate this as “A girl shows kindness/attention when we’re in public, but when I try to contact her more directly she ignores/rebuffs it”?

You’d probably stop sending her messages, is my guess, which is the correct path here. If she wants to message you, she can and she will.

14. “Movie set in New Orleans with African Americans.”

It’s a TV show and not a movie, but I’m partial to HBO’s Treme and the masterful performances by Clarke Peters, Wendell Pierce, Khandi Alexander, and others. Try to keep not dancing while listening to thisTrouble The Water is a powerhouse documentary, told real time during Hurricane Katrina by survivors. Kasi Lemmon’s Eve’s Bayou is set in rural Louisiana and is a freaking masterpiece of acting and directing.

15. “Hot sexy drunk texts.”

“The temperature is very high in here, I am drunk, and you are sexy,” covers most of these bases.

16. “Shit boyfriend and an asshole brother in law.”

The Toast, one of my favorite websites, has many readings that will appeal to you in this time of personal misandry.

17. “My boyfriend said I can’t visit because he is hosting his cousin.”

Don’t…visit?

18. “Had dinner with friends and wanted to let them know we enjoyed their company.”

An email or a text or a handwritten note that says: “It was so nice to see you, let’s do this again soon!” would not go amiss.

19. “How do you get rid of your son’s girlfriend.”

CONTACT THE SPELLCASTER

WIRE $1000 US TO ME BELOVED

Or, realize that who your son dates is not your decision, so chill out and wait. If she’s really as bad as you think, he’ll wake up to it a lot sooner if he doesn’t have to cleave unto her to prove a point to you.

20. “My partner ignores me for days on end to my face. Is this emotional abuse.”

Yes.

21. “Behold the field in which I grow my fucks.”

BEHOLD!

An old timey-sampler that says "Behold the field in which I grow my fuck. Lay thine eyes upon it and see that it is barren."

Hello! 

I’m struggling to find good ways to respond to my boyfriend when he tells me what I should or need to be doing. I’m in therapy to recover and get to a place where I think that I’m good enough & love and trust myself again (after years growing up having that constantly undermined), and therapy has been going very well. 

I believe that my boyfriend (of almost 2.5 years) wants to help me succeed, be better, and do what we both know I’m capable of. The way he goes about it though, is damaging my self-esteem and is a constant source of “you’re not good enough” for me. 

He wants me to exercise more, eat healthier, help out more with the cleaning, and take better care of myself. All good things. But the way he goes about it is “you need to exercise today”. If I tell him I already did, he tells me that walking doesn’t count, that it needs to be more strenuous exercise. He’ll get mad if he thinks that I’m not exercising often enough, or if I stop doing as many “good things” like eating veggies and working out, while he’s out of town. He never lashes out with his anger, he just doesn’t talk much when he’s mad. He says that he still loves me even if I don’t do these things (but it doesn’t feel that way to me). 

We’ve never reached a good resolution about this, and it keeps coming up. I’ve asked him to stop trying to get me to change, that you can’t change other people, but he refuses to accept that, to the point that he says it’s the stupidest thing he’s ever heard. We both are very logic- and reason-focused people, but he’s come to the conclusion that, “if she just does these things, I won’t have to deal with her being depressed.” 

It makes me feel like nothing I do will ever be good enough, that he will always focus on what I’m not doing instead of what I am trying to do. He says I need to do more, try harder, and not let myself be comfortable. Everything I do in therapy has been trying to build confidence, motivation, and self-respect from within and stop relying exclusively on it externally, and then I go home and grapple with someone telling me that I need to do these things to be better.

Is there a chance he will realize that the moods are part of the package, and something I’m trying to work on gradually, not all at once? How can I respond when he gets mad at me for not being good enough? 

Thanks, 

Terrible at Advice Column Nicknames

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Stinkor from He-Man, a humanoid skunk in an orange costume.

This is Stinkor, from He-Man. What would the action figure for Clingor look like?

Dear Captain Awkward:

My partner has told me that he is afraid that he’s boring and that he has an irrational fear that my ‘self-improvement’ means I will leave him for somebody “more exciting”.

A few years ago I was feeling really down, and during that period I decided to really work on myself by changing my lifestyle. I took up a sport, started eating better and got involved in my community. Now I can hardly imagine life before – the improvement in my life and moods has been significant.

It is now to the point where he’s jealous if I have too engaging a conversation with one of his friends, and has insisted that he comes along to anything I do that runs the risk of me so much as talking to men who aren’t related to me. I find this behaviour anywhere from irritating to suffocating.

I am not sure where this fear of his has come from, I don’t think I’m just ignoring my boyfriend and getting annoyed when he wants to spend time with me. I think the problem is that he has low self-esteem and that this feeling of low self-worth has turned into a fear that I’ll leave. In the past he has said he likes me because I ‘make [his] boring life interesting’, which I find extremely concerning. To me it sounds a lot like ‘I am making you responsible for making my life interesting’. Perhaps that is a harsh assessment, but I am frustrated that he has enough free time to latch on to my plans, but apparently not enough to go find something to do by himself.

He is a great guy when he’s not being gnawed on by the hounds of insecurity, but I cannot carry on like this – I don’t have a problem with telling him where I’m going or who I’m with, but sometimes I just want to do things without having to justify why I want to be alone. I am at a loss – what can I do? I’ve suggested therapy and a hobby, but he doesn’t seem to understand that his attempts at keeping me close are pushing me away.

Thanks,
Pushed not pulled

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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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