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Do not go to anyone who works from a booth. (Photo by Kevin Dooley; click for Flickr original.)

Do not go to anyone who works from a booth. (Photo by Kevin Dooley; click for Flickr original.)

Hello Captain Awkward and Awkward Army,

I have been in and out of therapy off and on for the last decade or so. I don’t want to give my entire life history, but I will summarize by saying that I have clinical depression, and have anxiety that hasn’t been formally diagnosed yet but which has been plaguing me for years now, and my siblings and I were raised in a one mostly normal parent and one parent with unacknowledged Borderline Personality Disorder household.

In the past, I’ve had some relatively good-for-me therapists, and some less-good-for-me therapists. I am trying to figure out what makes a good therapist overall, and how to tell sooner than several sessions in whether or not they will work well with me. My mostly normal parent has agreed to help me pay for said therapy for the foreseeable future, so I don’t necessarily have to stick with whoever my (crappy) insurance will allow. I’m VERY good at subconsciously and consciously steering away from uncomfortable topics, so a big important thing for me in therapy is a therapist who will help me not get off track, and who will ask me questions.

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Old Miller High Life ad "It's Miller Time" with Miller crossed out and "Therapy" added.Hi,

Well, I’m just out of the worst part of a nasty emotional crash and into the ‘ok what the fuck do I do’ section of it. Also the ‘I need a nap’ section of it (stress makes me sleepy).

On New Year’s Eve, I invited some friends over. These are my boyfriend (pseudonym: Kitty), and two friends (pseudonyms: Peaches and Fingers). Kitty, Peaches and I played/assisted/made snarky comments about a particular video game, and we all watched a film together. I thought the evening had gone pretty well.

Additional note: I have been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, and Kitty and Peaches are strongly suspected to have it, although they do not have a formal diagnosis. Fingers doesn’t have Asperger’s syndrome, but he does have a history of depression. Athough to be honest all of us have more issues than the Times newspaper individually.

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Graphic for The Brady Bunch.

I'm pretty sure the Bradys handled emotional crises by having Alice put Quaaludes in all of their food. Not recommended if you're trying to raise functional members of society.

Dear Captain Awkward,

 This is our family:

  • My partner, divorced & single dad for 7 years.
  • His daughter, 9 years old, who sees her mother only on the weekends.
  • My son, 7 years old, whose father lives on the other side of the planet (we’re fine with that!).
  • Then there’s our baby, two months old.
  •  Well, and me, the trying-not-to-be-evil stepmother. So you see, there’s a lot of potential for drama.

 I truly love my stepdaughter, and she likes me, too, and often confides in me or asks me for guidance or comfort. But most of the time, handling her is really exhausting. The divorce of her parents was a dirty mess and even now, their relationship is problematic at best but mostly an absolute disaster. So the girl bears the brunt of it and naturally, acts out since she knows no other way of coping. She shows early signs of self-harm (scratching, aggression, self-endangering behaviour) and gets sick a lot (psychosomatic illnesses).

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A big bowl of self-esteem

Chow down.

Dear Captain,

My question is two-pronged: I have serious self-esteem issues, in particular concerning my looks. I just don’t think I’m very pretty. My hair is frizzy and awkward and takes a considerable amount of styling to look even remotely presentable, my skin is greasy and tired-looking, I had a tooth smashed when I was small and, even with the best replacement money can buy, something still looks off about my smile, and the rest of my features don’t really shine through either. To the extent that I’ve been able to delve into the psychological origins of my anxiety over this (and I get *very* anxious over my looks) I think it’s (predictably) related to my up-bringing: my old psychologist (who was marvellous and I loved) had suggested that I didn’t get enough attention to build up my confidence in my early teens (which is totally true as my mother was battling a drinking problem at the time, that also absorbed most of my father’s energy and time). Anyway, my hair and skin are also practical concerns for me, in that they are very difficult to live in/with: instead of being the carefree girl who jumps out of the shower/swimming pool/sea, flips her hair back and looks, if not amazing, then at least, you know, presentable, I’m the girl who puts on her grumpy face as soon as a drop of rain lands on her, because she knows it’s frizz/greaseball onslaught time. It doesn’t help that I now live in the Netherlands (not where I grew up) where a) it rains a lot and b) everybody is gorgeous (like seriously, it’s scary and disconcerting and *very* bad for my self-confidence). Also, generally speaking, my whole family (or at least the family members that it makes sense to compare myself to, i.e. my mother and sister and female cousins, not my old bald uncle) are all of the “effortlessly pretty” persuasion and I feel like the ugly duckling/black sheep.

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Morrissey and these tiny kittens will not judge your sadness.

Dear Capt. Awkward,

I feel like I’m an inveterate fuck-up. Everything I touch eventually falls apart, and I make decisions rashly and avoid the fallout by never peering too closely at myself. My most recent debacle started when a guy I was sleeping with in another city introduced me to his friends in this new city I just moved to, with the warning that I was not allowed to sleep with two of his closest friends in the group. So, of course, I made out with one of the guys the very night I met him, and eventually ended up sleeping with both of them. I wonder sometimes if I’m a sociopath; sure, the first boy probably shouldn’t have made such an irrational demand, but in the long run it comes down to my knowing that doing something would hurt someone I cared about and doing it anyway.

I’m not exactly suicidal, but I feel sincerely like it wouldn’t matter if I died. I’ve moved 13 times since 1997, and while I have friends, I mostly communicate with them over IM or Facebook. I place way too much importance in what other people think of me, and a large measure of my (mostly non-existent) self-esteem comes from how many people IM me first, or invite me along with them to whatever they’re doing at the time.

I am aware that I would probably benefit substantially from therapy; I grew up with a bipolar mother who was only diagnosed a few years ago (my comment upon being told that she was diagnosed? “Wow, that makes my childhood make so much more sense.”) She was emotionally abusive and neglectful and at 12 told me she didn’t want me and sent me to live with my father and stepmother, who also mostly didn’t want me. I crave being wanted. Unfortunately, I’m unemployed and have no money to spend on therapy. Oh, that’s another issue. I think I might be depressed and deliberately (though unconsciously) sabotaging my life. I’ve been in this new city for a month, and haven’t applied for any jobs. If I can’t make rent in three months I honestly don’t know what I’ll do, but that doesn’t seem to motivate me to actually search for a real job. I don’t know what’s wrong with me, I don’t know how to fix it, and just jumping off a bridge sometimes seems like the only option that will actually solve everything.

There are so many personal details in this that anyone who read it and knows me will immediately identify me. I feel like I should care, that I should hide my issues and keep pretending, but maybe it’s just that self-destructive side of me coming out again and pressing send.

Sign me,
I don’t have issues, I have subscriptions

Dear Issues,

Would you mind letting me know (confidentially) what city you’re in, maybe I can look up some mental health services there and at least get you started.

Dear Captain:

I’m in [MAJOR CITY]- I feel sure that if there’s anywhere in the country that would have free mental health care it would be here, but I’m 31, straight, white, cis and otherwise average. I also have the problem that my mother took me to a shrink when I was a kid and having issues with lying and stealing. The shrink who was supposed to help me was useless, and as a result I have absolutely no faith in the mental health establishment. There’s also kind of this stigma — I may be crazy, but at least I’m not *going to a shrink* crazy, you know? (Even though clearly I am going to a shrink crazy.)

I have this feeling that if I just did one thing right, everything else would fall into place. Like, if I met that perfect boy I would magically get an awesome job and have an apartment where I don’t have 5 roommates and my hair would cooperate. But boys ignore me and my resumes are apparently sent into space and I still have five roommates and frizzy hair. There’s got to be more than this, right? Being an kid sucked ass, but I moved out and away…but it still sucks. I can’t move out of my head, I guess.

Dear Issues,

I don’t want to practice unlicensed psychiatric care over the internet, but I feel pretty sure that the the feelings you describe (meaninglessness, feeling lost, self-sabotaging behavior, feeling unmotivated, mentioning suicide, having a family history of bipolar disorder) are in the DSM somewhere and I feel comfortable saying that if you did seek out some care that you would tick a lot of boxes on those ticky-box forms they use at intake.

I know this not because I’m a mental health professional (DISCLAIMER:  NOT A MENTAL HEALTH PROFESSIONAL) but because I’ve been alone and new in a strange city where I moved more to flee something than to seek something new, sending my resume into a void, living with sketchy assholes including a man who wore so much cologne that it caused my cat to pee defensively on his things and a dominatrix who used to re-arrange my furniture whenever I went out of town, watching my savings dwindle while I slept with a grotesque series of The Wrong People, including one who I refer to as “A Three-Dimensional Interactive Display Of How Bad I Was Feeling About Myself At The Time” and who old friends reading this will remember by his 1) luxurious ponytail 2) “helpful,” “friendly” offers to have them come over so he could massage their feet. Also, for the record, HE dumped ME for someone else (and if I said something different at the time it was a lie to save face).
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