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Captain Awkward,

I want my parents to get divorced.

There’s been a lot of unexpected changes from their marriage to today, but everything always seemed okay, at least topically.

But a big reason my mother married my father specifically was because he was a Christian. Recently, his views have changed, and he is an atheist. This is partially due to a domino effect from my coming out. I am an atheist as well, and my sister is Christian.

This has sort of put a spilt through family dynamics, because religion is a very large part of my mother and sister’s lives, and, in the case of my mother, recovery and dealing with mental illness. Non-religion is a very large part of my father and I’s lives, and, in my case, recovery and dealing with mental illness.

The atmosphere has been tense for weeks. They’ve been arguing, assuming things about each other, and their already very different personalities have started to seriously clash. I’m not sure my sister notices it, but my father has noticed that I’m noticing, and we’ve talked a little bit. He says he wishes I weren’t so perceptive. Right now I’m inclined to agree.

And it bothers me. More than that, it’s making my anxiety, feelings of guilt, and general mental state get significantly worse.

My father brought up “staying together for you kids”, but that kind of atmosphere is tugging at my seams. It’s stressful to watch, and I want it to stop. But… it’s not my relationship, and even if my father doesn’t feel the marriage is working out and is coming to terms with “the D word”, my mother denies the tension and seems to err on the side of marriage being held super importantly and not getting divorced unless things absolutely implode. Neither of them are faultless in this, not by a long shot, but if this carries on the way it is, to the point where someone breaks down or things and collide?

That implosion would hurt like hell for me. But I feel selfish that I want them to split up, at least partially for my sake. But I don’t want to relapse from stressful second-hand emotions. But it’s, above all, not my relationship.

How can we, as a family, discuss this and come to a solution? I have no idea what to say, or what to do, or if I should even do or say anything.

A Deer’s Divorce Dilemma

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Dear Captain,

I live with my partner of several years. I love her very much. We share a lot of hobbies, including a theater club. My partner is *exceptionally good* at theater – a result of a decade of passion – and most of our friends are theater people. But recently I’ve been discovering that her passion – one of her defining qualities – has been making her relationships within this community harder. 

People have been talking to me for about a year now about her long-standing habit of being incredibly bossy, having incredibly high standards for herself and resenting it when other people don’t live up to them, and making it hard to enjoy this activity at all when she’s there with them. One person we’re close to, he worked with her on a performance a few years ago, before I even met her, and he told me that after that performance, he decided never to work with her again because she made the experience unbearable. As I’ve asked around, others (who she respects deeply) have agreed with me that her behavior is fun-killing all around. People I love are no longer participating in events with us because she lacks empathy when dealing with people in a theater context.

Granted, she’s incredibly empathetic – she’s a teacher by trade – but she feels that when she leaves the classroom, she doesn’t want to have to make so much effort just to, I guess, have friends that value her outside of her intellect. Now she has lupus and is in pain a lot of the time, so most of our friends have sympathy for that. But this seems bigger than just being in chronic pain. (Or is it?) 

I have told her what her friends think of her (well most of it), and have pointed out that most of our friends think her behavior is hurtful, undermining, and steamroll-y. She responds that I need to stop caring about what other people think about her. She’s defensive and tells me to ignore what other people think. 

She’s also bossy about other things in our shared life together. Others have interpreted this as abusive, and one person was shocked to see her apparently bark orders at me. (Granted she was in immense pain at the time.)

I regularly check in with myself – I’m a past victim of abuse – but it doesn’t feel the same. It doesn’t feel like abuse. There’s no emotional put-downs, no manipulation, no threats. We’re highly effective communicators except for this issue. There’s raw anger and frustration, and defensiveness, but missiles are never directed at me as a person. She just underrates the amount of pain she causes others in pursuit of our hobby. 

One or two friends have wanted to stage an intervention. These plans never panned out. I’m not sure whether or not to force the issue. She is in therapy, but I think a couple’s counseling session or two surrounding this would be helpful. I’m not entirely sure what could be done other than me saying ‘You hurt me because you make people feel bad when they’re around us by raising your voice, arguing about the finer points of staging or scriptwriting, and being condescending’ and her being like ‘Well, I’m sorry, but that’s who I am.’ 

Thoughts appreciated.

-Bossed-At

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Hi Captain,

I’m worried about one of my friends, who I think is becoming depressed, a cycle I’ve seen her go through before. One of the things that makes me concerned is that she’s been lashing out at me lately and saying some pointed, personal, hurtful things to me. (Mainly being judgmental and critical about, say, my hobbies, or the way I approach my job, or asking how I am and then being very dismissive of my feelings.) As much as I’m worried, her meanness makes me really not want to talk to her or be around her at the moment. She doesn’t acknowledge the things she’s said as being hurtful, and hasn’t apologised which makes it hard for me to feel very accommodating – but knowing how she thinks, I’m sure she’s dwelling on it and feels awful, and bringing it up to clear the air will just feed the jerkbrain.

And yet, as much as I want to avoid her right now, and avoid the possibility of getting stung again, I’m still really worried. I’ve seen her seriously depressed before and I wouldn’t want her to think that if she’s really, truly desperate then she couldn’t reach out for me to help. I’m just not sure how to be supportive when I’m wary that even a message of caring and support could be met with an attack. Do you have any advice?

I do have advice. Surprise! :)

Call out the behavior as it happens. “Hey, that hurt my feelings.” “Hey, that was really out of line.” “Why did you ask me how I’m doing if all you’re going to do is be mean to me?” “That was rude.” And, I don’t think asking for an apology gets you a GOOD apology, but sometimes the act of asking for an apology can be helpful resolving an awkward conversation, in that it at least tells the person what a next step might look like. “That really hurt my feelings, I’d like you to stop saying things like that and also apologize.”

Being called out on crappy behavior might well start a jerkbrain spiral. Nobody likes hearing they are acting like a shitbeast, and if she’s already feeling terrible about herself, being called out on it won’t feel good. But if she’s acting like this because she’s having a depressive episode, she’s going to feel bad no matter what you say, and you putting up with mean behavior is bad for you and not actually helping her. It doesn’t actually feel good to take all of your filters off and just poop negativity onto everyone around you, and it can be a relief to have someone stop you if you can’t stop yourself. It’s honestly weirder and more alienating to have your bad behavior be totally ignored or coddled…like, “Can’t they even tell something is wrong?

Calling out the behavior is a way into the rest of the conversation, where you say “Friend, you’ve been really snarky and mean at me lately, and I don’t care for it. This kind of thing really isn’t like you, but it is like Depressed You.The only other times I’ve seen you acting like this, it’s been because something is very wrong. What’s really going on with you?” + “Can you check in with a counselor or doctor?”

You can make it clear that you don’t want to subject yourself to mean comments, while also telling her you care about her and are concerned for her well-being. It’s hard to be supportive to someone who doesn’t want your support, and it’s hard to be supportive and present for someone who is mean to you, so cut yourself some slack – if she responds to you with an outburst of mean things, it’s okay to get a little distance from her – give it a couple of weeks and then check back in to see if you get a better response, and then maybe go with short, easy hangouts in small doses or whatever you are comfortable with. Being honest about where your own boundaries lie is part of being a good friend.

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Let’s play the game where we answer the questions people typed into search engines to find this place. Punctuation added. Wording unchanged. 

1. “My bf won’t choose me over his brothers that are rude to me.

I don’t know what the nature of this choice is, like, probably your boyfriend won’t ever cut off or stop talking to his brothers on your behalf, but your boyfriend should definitely stick up for you when and if people in his family are rude to you. 

2. “When he says he doesn’t have time or focus for a relationship.”

Time and focus may in fact be factors, but also, “he” doesn’t want to be in a relationship with you. I’m sorry, that sucks to hear. Move on from this prospect, is my advice. 

3. “How to turn down a friend down politely convincing her you love but can’t engage in a relationship right now.”

This is the wrong way to go about it. If you don’t want to be in a relationship, just tell her “I don’t want to be in a romantic relationship with you, I’m so sorry, but I value you very much as a friend.” Let her heal for a bit and then you can most likely be friends again. If you use the “not right now” excuse you leave her hanging and hoping, and it’s going to be so much worse.

4. “What it means when a girl say she does not think it will work out.” /”What did she mean by saying we can’t cope with each other?”

Most likely translations: “I don’t want to be in a romantic relationship with you, but I’m using neutral language like ‘it won’t’ work’ to try to spare your feelings.”

5. “How to respond to a compliment on your looks.”

From an acquaintance, not delivered with a leer, like, “You look really nice today?” a good answer is “Thank you.” It’s what people expect to hear and will complete the conversational circuit with maximum efficiency. 

Yelled at you from a moving car? It’s not a compliment at that point. 

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Today is a weird, sad day in social medialand and also with various life stuff and brain chemistry stuff and street harassment. To be honest, I have been crying or on the verge of crying off and on for the last 20 hours with occasional breaks for sleep and a much needed breakfast and movie (a movie …that made me cry) with a friend this morning. I almost started crying in the Apple Store a little while ago when I thought I’d have to pay $80 for a new power cable, and then I really cried when it was under warranty and it was free and this big bear of a man was so nice to me and didn’t call attention to the crying and just gently handled my transaction. Crying is good, btw. It’s better than numbness, avoidance. But this question is well-timed.

Dear Captain Awkward,

This has been on my mind a while, but seems a good time to ask. What is the best way to express to someone who is depressed (or isn’t depressed at that moment in time but has depression) that you are there to talk to / for whatever they need? I’ve been trying to find words to express it to a couple of friends but failing – as whenever I feel I’ve drafted the words to make clear it’s not just the polite ‘if you need me, call’, it starts sounding like it’s about me, ‘my need’ to help them – the word ‘I’ crops up a little too often. So I say nothing instead of risking them going dark about their thoughts – the opposite of what I intend.

My wordage fails at two points:

1) Everyone seems to say they’ll be there if a friend needs help, not everyone means it. (And from what one of my depressed friends says, they don’t believe it either way.)

2) One of them says when down, they need to completely introvert and left alone as they recoup their energies. I’d be happy to do this (being an introvert myself and knowing the exhaustion of having to explain why you don’t want to see people to be ‘cheered up’), but I know they’ve had suicidal thoughts in the past. I worry that I can’t tell when they’re isolating themself for recovery, and when they’re isolating themself thinking there aren’t people who care/getting worse.

So, I guess – I’m looking for words on expressing empathy and my attempts at understanding – but also tips on how to know what’s helpful, if it goes against what a person actually says. Or should you never go against what a person says, even if you worry?

They aren’t the closest friends to me, in that I don’t know their families/local friends, which perhaps makes things harder – I can’t plug into the network of others who might support them. But they are friends, and I care and … I don’t know how to express it usefully.

Still too many ‘I’s, eh, Captain?

Self- (and other-) absorbed

This is a complicated thing, because isolating yourself to recover when you’re an introvert and isolating yourself because your brain is trying to kill you look identical, even to the person who is doing the isolating (Hello, Winter 2013-2014). Depression is a liar that tells you that it is normal to be sad and numb, and it makes you hide from other people because they might interfere with its narrative of your life.

I think one thing you can do to help your friends who are depressed is to reach out to them not in the spirit of helping, but in the spirit of liking them and wanting their company. “I’m here to help if you ever need me” is good to know, but hard to act on, especially when you’re in a dark place. Specific, ongoing, pleasure-based invitations are much easier to absorb. “I’m here. Let’s go to the movies. Or stay in and order takeout and watch some dumb TV.” “I’m having a party, it would be really great if you could come for a little while.” Ask them for help with things you know they are good at and like doing, so there is reciprocity and a way for them to contribute. “Will you come over Sunday and help me clear my closet of unfashionable and unflattering items? I trust your eye.” “Will you read this story I wrote and help me fix the dialogue?” “Want to make dinner together? You chop, I’ll assemble.” “I am going glasses shopping and I need another set of eyes.” Remind yourself why you like this person, and in the process, remind them that they are likable and worth your time and interest.

Talk to the parts of the person that aren’t being eaten by the depression. Make it as easy as possible to make and keep plans, if you have the emotional resources to be the initiator and to meet your friends a little more than halfway. If the person turns down a bunch of invitations in a row because (presumably) they don’t have the energy to be social, respect their autonomy by giving it a month or two and then try again. Keep the invitations simple; “Any chance we could have breakfast Saturday?” > “ARE YOU AVOIDING ME BECAUSE YOU’RE DEPRESSED OR BECAUSE YOU HATE ME I AM ONLY TRYING TO HELP YOU.” “I miss you and I want to see you” > “I’m worried about you.” A depressed person is going to have a shame spiral about how their shame is making them avoid you and how that’s giving them more shame, which is making them avoid you no matter what you do. No need for you to call attention to it. Just keep asking. “I want to see you” “Let’s do this thing.” “If you are feeling low, I understand, and I don’t want to impose on you, but I miss your face. Please come have coffee with me.” “Apology accepted. ApologIES accepted. So. Gelato and Outlander?”

If you can set up a weekly or monthly routine, some sacred time when you and your friend hang out (or Skype, if you’re long distance), that can be an anchor in itself, even if you don’t talk about anything particularly deep. I don’t recommend offering or initiating constant, daily contact or becoming someone’s sole source of support or sole outlet, and I don’t recommend making your relationship all about them telling you their problems. If you are a professionally trained counselor, you shouldn’t counsel your friends. If you’re not, it does no one any good if you are like “I am here to help!” and then African Violet them two months later because their exhausting and soulsucking disease has soulsucked you, too. It is okay to have limits on how much and when and how you can be in listening mode, and to redirect friends to professional help. It’s okay to say “I am glad to know what’s going on with you, but limited in my ability to process these thoughts with you, especially when I think they are transmissions directly from your illness. Are you seeing your therapist soon/Please call a therapist/let me call one for you?” “You are scaring me right now, That sounds very scary, and I really think you need to see someone.” Nobody likes being told they are dumping too much on their friends (and it plays into the messages that depression is telling them about how they are tedious and nobody likes them), but you get to set boundaries and then, hopefully, defeat the lies about how they are unworthy of love by still showing up in their lives.

Commander Logic is a sturdy, steady sort of person who does not really get depressed. When I am full in the middle of a spiral, her insistent cheerfulness and optimism and proposing of reasonable, achievable solutions can be downright irritating, and my Jerkbrain will try to logic her out of her pragmatic and healthy worldview and into my shitty perspective Where I Can’t Possibly Because: Reasons. She resists it, though, and when she’s had enough of listening to the Jerkbrain she dismisses it by agreeing with it. “Well, I guess everything is terrible and you just can’t. So, Doug‘s?” And then we go to lunch, as we have for 9 years or so, and we talk of other things, and I eat the sandwich of love and let it save my life. The thing is, we go to lunch when I am in a depression cycle, and we go to lunch when I am not, and we talk about my stuff AND her stuff AND mundane stuff during ALL of those times. I know that she would help me if I needed Capital H Help, and I know that she won’t leave me when my illness makes me hard to take, and I know that because she keeps showing up and she keeps inviting me in and because she talks to me like I’m Jennifer and not my illness or a project.

Time, attention, love, enjoyment > help.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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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