Mental Health

You’re worried about someone or something. You want to help. What happens if you don’t try to fix whatever it is and take care of yourself instead?

Dear Captain Awkward:

My boyfriend and I have been dating for three years and I dread every interaction with his family. He’s the youngest of five. The eldest brother will ignore my existence entirely. If his mom sees me not right by my bf then she comes over to explain how she wishes he would date his ex from high school because of how much skinnier, prettier, ect…she is. I spend every holiday with them now because if bf goes go with my family they explain how controlling and evil I am. So now my family had just been doing holiday stuff a little bit later or earlier so that both bf and I can attend. They keep trying to convince bf I am controlling him. It started when he became vegetarian after meeting me (I don’t care if other people eat meat; I didn’t care if he ate meat). I don’t make a big deal about eating I just take the things I can eat when we eat with them. They however endless “tease” (it can get mean) over it. I don’t want to just not go because I want to see my boyfriend on the holidays and it helps him withstand the abuse if I’m there to shoulder some. I just wish I knew what I could do to help make it better?

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The question in the subject line is one of the most common questions I get.

Carolyn Hax took a version of it on recently. Hers is not a blanket solution, especially (obviously!) when the relationship has deteriorated to the point where you need to not only be done but AWAY, but in those situations where the romantic part is definitely done but the caring about each other is not, she suggests that you stop pretending. Be honest that your feelings have changed and end the romantic relationship. Offer to be a supportive friend anyway. I would add: Be honest with yourself about what you are really willing and able to do, and don’t over-promise out of guilt. I think her approach is beautiful if you can make it work, and it makes me think fondly of some exes and how we took care of each other after the end of the relationship. One part of the relationship can end but it can still be a love story.

There’s a phrase and a dynamic that comes up over and over in the letters I read about this: “Partner has no one else but me” or “I am Partner’s only support” or “Partner doesn’t have any friends or family, there’s just me.” This factor adds so much guilt and terror to the letter writers’ situations, like, I will leave and this person will fall completely to pieces and there will be no one else to help them and whatever happens to them will be my fault (but I still might have to leave). The question that always comes to my mind (from my safe, cold distance) is, why? Why are you this person’s only person? How did that situation develop?

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Hi Captain

My best friend, “Toby” has been living in my city for about a year now and over that time he’s gone from being homeless and alcoholic to having a sweet flat and ten months of sobriety under his belt. I’m trying to be as engaged in his recovery and support as possible because he doesn’t really have much of a support network around him – the mental health system in this country is a joke and he hasn’t ever received the help he really needs for his STPD, anxiety disorders, alcoholism and BPD, he has only a few other friends in town none of which he knows as well as me and his other closest friend and sister live across the country and overseas, respectively.

He and his sister “Jackie” were raised in a horribly abusive household – less violent than psychological, verbal and financial – rich parents who had children for appearances and ignored them to the point of neglect when they weren’t belittling them or loudly expressing their anger at both children being gay, as well as things such as encouraging the eating disorder that has been dominating his life for a long time and having family pets put down once they began to bond with the kids. Jackie bore the brunt of the abuse and has not talked to them for years and has been written out of their will etc, but Toby was the preferred kid and despite being loudly and aggressively disowned by them last year still says he hasn’t made up his mind about them and brings up things like “well, they bought me a car, so they must love me”.

He’s currently in a psych ward on a short stay and got a call from his parents out of the blue. They want him to come up to his hometown to stay with them for a week next month (with the potential to stay longer) and seem to think that they can play happy families and ignore both a lifetime of abuse and a year of no contact despite hearing second hand about his homelessness (during which time the mother volunteered for the Salvation Army and refused to contact him), alcoholism and a near-death experience at the beginning of the year. During that time they were telling the rest of the family to never mention the fact that they had children and had changed all their phone numbers so Toby and Jackie could not contact them. Now they say that they have changed their names and have distanced themselves from the rest of the family and want to make amends – though their phone call contained no outright apologies and skimmed over the major problems in their relationship with Toby and Jackie.

Recently I was with Toby when he ran into his uncle (his mother’s brother) in a store so we think they may have heard about that from him. He is considering going up to visit but I’m not sure what their motivations are and I’m very worried. These people have shown themselves to have only his worst interests at heart and I’m not sure anyone else other than me is in a good position to give him advice or keep an eye on what happens. He recently got out of a very physically and mentally abusive relationship as well and I’m worried that he will transfer his dependence back to his parents which will undermine his recovery and – generally – stable mental health.

I’d like to give him some scripts to take to his parents once he is up there because we both at least agree that they shouldn’t be allowed to to treat the visit as a Fun Family Getaway if he takes their offer of a plane ticket.

– Worried and suspicious

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WordPress has changed the way that it displays these, but I have remembered to periodically collect the good ones. Let us now answer the search strings that people typed in to find this blog as if they are actual questions in the traditional way.

1) What does “I told you its over between us” mean

Rough translation: It is over between you, and the person would like you to stop doing whatever it is that you’re doing (calling them, hanging about, inviting them to stuff) because they want their relationship with you to be past tense.

2) My UK wife opens the front door naked

Sure she does.

On the off chance that this is a question and not a fantasy, a) does it bug you b) have there been strange consequences, like, with delivery people or neighbors c) have you tried asking why she does it?

3) When he criticizes your dress

“He” is being a jerk.

4) How to seduce a girl with chats

I don’t give seduction advice, but let me try to help you out at least a little bit:

Make friends with spelling and grammar and you will set yourself apart. Remember that dirty talk is fraught with peril and that one person’s sexting is another person’s staged reading of hilarious things out loud to their friends. Pay attention to what that particular girl likes and take your cues from her.

5) He mistreats me but his family loves me what can I do.

Mistreatment is never ok. I hope you can get away from him.

6) Boyfriend trying to make me better

Better, as in, no longer sick with the flu? Or some flavor of “improved” as a person?

One of these is acceptable. Hint: It’s the one that involves rest, broth, and marathoning Slings & Arrows.

7) How can u win a girl u love but have never met

Meet her and get to know her. Tell her you’re interested in her, but hold off on talk of “love” until you actually know her – that’s kind of intense out of the gate and it doesn’t work the way it does in movies. See what she says about that.

8) What does it mean when you only talk to someone when you’re sad

This may not apply to you, but one of the most common letters I get is a version of “Someone I care about is going through something really hard, and I want to be there for them, but I feel like their unpaid 24-7 therapist and it’s way too much for me. But I’m afraid that if I disengage, they will take it very hard because they don’t have anyone else to talk to.” Even people with the best of intentions can fall into unbalanced patterns and habits of communication. It’s great to have willing sounding boards and crying-shoulders who have your back in a crisis, but maybe re-evaluate this dynamic a little bit and call/text/chat/see this person when you are in better spirits sometimes. Seek out a therapist or counselor who is trained to really absorb and work with your sad feelings, or try a daily ritual of dumping your negative thoughts into a journal. See if you can leave some of your problems there so that you can be more present for your friend and have more reciprocity in your relationship with them.

9) My wife like to call me captain

Aye aye

10) Roommate repeatedly enters my room without permission

Animated gif of a girl riding an octopus and saying "nope!"

Install a lock. Say, “I do not want you to ever go into my room.” Start looking for a new roommate if this is not respected.

11) How to reply to a compliment from a friend

“Thank you” is the simplest and the most common/expected response.

“Please don’t compliment my appearance, it makes me uncomfortable” if you’re at work and it makes you uncomfortable.

12) How do you handle someone who invites others to your party without your permission

Tell them bluntly, “It’s not cool for you to invite people to my party without my permission, at least ask me!”

If they apologize and understand why you are upset, issue solved. If they try to explain to you why it’s not a big deal, don’t invite them to things anymore.

13) I’m not interested stranger facebook

If a stranger messages me on Facebook with anything remotely flirtatious –an overabundance of compliments, “I’d love to get to know u”, or most hilariously “hey” (as in, ‘I have done the work by reaching out, now, entertain me, woman!’), I don’t say I’m not interested. I skip straight to “Block.” In my experience, any attempt to say “Hey, do I know you/you’re coming on kinda strong” just leads to an annoying conversation where they get super-mad at me for not wanting to listen to their sales pitch. YMMV.

14) Become ambidextrous

Now you have me Googling this. Science seems to say “don’t.”

15) Sex with my captain

If you are in the armed forces having sex with someone in your chain of command is a very bad idea and could lead to career consequences for both of you.

16) When you see the real person and they are mean and 17) Someone whom always make u feel like shit

Disengage from them. Spend time with people who make you feel good.

Behind a cut for a discussion of suicidal ideation, obsession, and suicide. The post has been edited a bit from its original form thanks to constructive feedback from commenters on ways that word use heightened stigma around mental illness around suicide. I deeply apologize and hope that this draft serves the LW without making the pain of others worse.

Thread closed, 9/22. LW got what they needed and I have other duties and cannot focus on moderation today.

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The Caryatid Porch of the Erechtheion, Athens, 421–407 BC

The Caryatid Porch of the Erechtheion, Athens, 421–407 BC Shared by Thermos, used under a Creative Commons License.

Dear Captain Awkward,

I am currently having issues with a roommate, who is also a friend of many years. We had lived together once before for a short period, and while I had noticed his intense reactions to stressful situations then, I was given the impression he had developed strategies to cope with his anxiety since we first lived together. But now he is in a bit of a tailspin, and has been since our third roommate broke up with him and moved out four months ago. He is also incredibly stressed about work, and is worried about getting fired, and comes home every night with a new bout of anxiety to work out. Unfortunately, this takes the form of his unloading all his anger, disappointment and anxiety onto me as a listener. I understand expression of one’s feeling is super important, and his feelings are one hundred percent valid (work does sound awful and getting dumped blows), but I am feeling incapable of knowing how to help, or perhaps more importantly, how to get time to myself in the apartment. I am a teacher and feel “on” most of the day, so I do not know how to listen and get time to myself at the end of the day.

I feel like we have gotten trapped in a ritual where he will come through the door and tell me every terrible thing about his day for forty-five minutes, and I try to listen, but all I seem to be doing is reinforcing a cycle of negative thoughts. My roommate is feeling very unstable with his life right now, and I don’t want to shut him out, but at some point, it’s probably not good to allow him to fixate so much, yeah? At times, I feel like I am his only outlet for his feelings, and that I have let him take advantage of my listening ear. Often, he will seek me out if I am not in common spaces, not to check in on how my day was, but to unload. He did it just now when he ostensibly knocked on my door to ask if I needed anything from the grocery store, and then ranted at me for thirty minutes, despite knowing it was my writing time. I absolutely should have said, “Yes, it is my writing time, you are correct. I don’t need anything, I will talk to you later,” rather than hand-waving my scheduled time away and listening; I give him permission to do this. But what would be a good script to start a larger conversation?

I don’t know how to talk to him about this issue, given his stress level. I don’t want to give him more anxiety, but I feel this routine we’ve gotten into is creating bad habits. For me, I am not asserting my need for my own space and time. For him … well, it’s almost like he’s treating me as a girlfriend, like giving me all his emotional turmoil as if I am required on a partner level to help him carry it, which isn’t helping him move on or cope on his own? Even in one of my own crises (a cancer scare in my family), he spent all day with me, only to unload an intense amount of anxiety on me at the end of the day (which he had set up as a distracting, “let’s do fun things to get your mind off this cancer scenario” sort of day). This summer, I began dating someone, and my roommate started saying kind of mean jokes in my direction while the new boyfriend was around (though his humor runs more sarcastic generally), and I can’t help but wonder if this happened because I let him lean on me too much in the early days of the break-up and now he’s gotten our relationship parameters confused? He’ll invite me to events these days, and I will say no if I don’t feel like it, or that I have to check my schedule, but then he’ll repeat the invite three times after I have responded. I don’t know. It’s just a lot.

How can I be a good friend and understanding roommate while reinforcing boundaries? Do you have scripts for this, Captain?

Tongue-Tied In A Two-Flat

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