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Mental Health

A series of letters from people who are trying to disengage but don’t know how. There’s some really toxic addiction and abusive behavior described in some of the letters, so, know that going in.

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Dear Captain Obvious,

My mom has always been on about how I look, but since I’ve turned 16 it seems to have gotten worse. She got me a fitbit that she makes me use (which I hate because it tells me I eat too many calories a day, even though it’s the recommended amount), made me diet with her, and constantly makes comments on how “I should go to the gym more,” even though I’m a perfectly healthy weight for my height. If i’m about to leave the house with no makeup on, she says “Oh why don’t you put a little foundation and mascara on before you go?” and is visibly embarrassed if she sees m in public wit none on. She also hates me wearing my glasses, as they “cover up my beautiful face” and will make more comments on them if I wear them outside the house instead of my contacts. My boobs aren’t very big, but my thighs are, so she’s always pushing me to wear push up bras and slimming clothes. It’s gotten to the point where I’m embarrassed to not be made up, am starting to obsess over my weight, and am just downright lacking in self-esteem. I’ve tried bringing it up before, but she either plays the victim or pretends like she never did any of that. Any advice on what I can do?

Sincerely,
I’m only 16. I’m not a model.

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It is the return of the Winter Pledge Drive here at Awkward Enterprises, where I rattle the tip jar and invite people to throw in a few $ if you like what we do here. You can contribute via PayPalDwolla, or (new!) cash.me/$CaptainAwkward. Your generous gifts help me keep the site going.

Now to today’s question, which involves some mentions of hoarding behaviors.

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Hello Captain and friends!

This problem has been sitting in my mind, waiting to pounce, for months. Recently it came to the forefront and shocked me a bit.

I’m a 24-year-old graduate student pursuing a career that I’ve wanted since I was a preteen. Grad school has been good overall, especially for my confidence. I have wonderful friends, good family relationships (I live with my parents), and artistic hobbies that I enjoy (although I don’t put much effort into them). I was diagnosed with severe anxiety in 2014, did therapy for a year, and went on medication this summer. Therapy reduced OCD symptoms and negative self-talk, and meds have reduced daily nervousness. I’ve had four part-time jobs in food service, reception, and retail respectively. I always put my best face forward at work, and I make up for school-related procrastination with anxiety-fuelled planning and get really good grades.

But the other day I realized that I’ve never been good at anything, and I’m probably not good enough for my career path. My first boss called me “inefficient”. I made more mistakes at my second job than the newbies, even after four semesters. (Same goes for the campus kung fu club.) I was frequently reprimanded at my third job and got a few serious talking-tos. At my fourth job I often felt overwhelmed and scattered, and they didn’t call me back to work the holiday rush. I’ve never been fired, but I had to quit all of my jobs due to going to/leaving school. I wasn’t very good at my volunteer positions or hobbies, either.

Two days ago I got a performance review at my school internship. My supervisors are excited to ramp things up with me next term. Although my technical skills are at par, I’ve made social blunders due to my habit of acting without thinking when I’m anxious. In general, I don’t have the professional conduct skills to “fit in” at the agency or truly connect with clients. With some wheedling I got one supervisor to indirectly admit that if this had been a job, I’d have been fired by now.

Realizing that I’m bad at the work I value and have wanted to do for so long was awful. And I don’t know why I make so many mistakes. I realize that anxiety sabotages concentration and motivation, but now that I feel less anxious the problems have not gone away. I’m nearly certain that these mistakes were/are due to unchangeable cognitive or personality flaws. I started self-harming this summer to make my self-hatred more concrete.

I just don’t want to be incompetent anymore. I don’t want to let people down.

Regards,

Tomato in the Mirror

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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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