Hi Captain!

I am hoping you can give me some scripts and tips regarding an incredibly awkward work trip that is approaching in about a month. I have been with my company for many years, but have obtained a promotion a year ago and am now remotely supervised. My boss also has another employee is in the same office as her, they have worked together longer, and seem to have a tight relationship, whereas I have only met my supervisor face to face three times. My former supervisor always gave me a lot of encouragement and feedback, but since my current supervisor is so far away, and she doesn’t give me much feedback, I feel like I have no read on how she feels about me or if she approves of my work.

My supervisor has worked hard to obtain a scholarship for an amazing multi-day training conference across the country for all three of us. She has also mentioned how important it is to develop relationships as a team during this time. It is possible that my co-worker’s sister, who works in the same field, may join us. My supervisor has let me know that due to funding restrictions, I will definitely be sharing a room with her, and all four of us may have to share a room. My supervisor is aware that I am an introvert and has joked that I should get as much alone time as possible before, since we may be all crammed into one room.

On top of this, I am terrified of flying and this is going to be a long trip and I can’t sleep on planes even with the anti-anxiety prescription I take when I fly. I tend to need more sleep than many people (nine to ten hours), and if I don’t sleep, I often get physically sick. The thought of the exhaustion of being with other people 24/7, being the odd one out when everyone else has established relationships, and trying to establish a professional relationships with everyone has sent my anxiety about this trip through the roof.

So I am asking advice on (1) how to recharge/complete self-care when there might not be any alone time, (2) good scripts to develop professional relationships, and (3) any tips on how to not completely break down physically and emotionally while traveling, since this is a professional trip and I really want to make a good impression. On the bright side, both my supervisor and co-worker seem like genuinely nice, kind human beings, so I expect them to be forgiving, but I still want to remain professional.
(she/her pronouns)

Sincerely,

Terrified of Trip

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Dear Captain,

I have been retraining/job searching for at least 2 years.

My psychiatrist expressed that it would great if I could help with filing and organization. This is something my previous job (that I RAN from, as to develop other skills) utilized my talent to the point of burnout.

In the past few months our office visits have been… bizarre. All of the regular staff is gone, and patients that I recognize are manning the desk.

While I have no problem with that at all (I have things to work out, no reason I can not be an admin) I am beginning to worry.

Last time I visited her as a patient my psychiatrist was the only person present, and has unofficially made texting our main form of communication.When I came in to speak about about job responsibilities (which we scheduled via text) my psychiatrist was disheveled and definitely not dressed for either visitors or a professional interaction. Her office is in her home, and she had probably just woken up, but it still took me aback.

I continue to receive text messages that I cannot make heads or tails of. Typically they are accusations or word salads that I cannot understand. I have mentioned that these messages scare me and think that whatever is happening sound more like a police matter.

I know something is up, but I care for my Psychiatrist because of the help they provided in my darker times.

What can I do to help? I don’t want to judge but this is causing me tons of anxiety.

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Dear Captain & Crew,

This is a question about Xmas boundaries + the ever-awkward subject of money. I know, it’s completely ridiculous to be worrying about Xmas in July… I don’t want to think about Xmas before Turkey Day! However, Husband’s family starts planning Xmas far in advance, and they’ve started poking us about Xmas plans alread. Cue holiday anxiety!

After a blow-up at Xmas time 5 years ago by MIL (who is generally very sweet and kind), I have become very anxious about holiday plans with Husband’s mother and his extended family. MIL insists on spending waaaaay too much money on us, especially at Xmas time. For last year’s extended family visit, MIL bought our plane tickets ($2K+) before I’d agreed to the dates, paid for the rental car Husband and I used ($500+), insisted on paying for all the meals, and bought everyone a ton of gifts.

MIL’s trend of insisting on covering all expenses makes me very uncomfortable and anxious. 3 years ago, we all agreed on a Secret-Santa arrangement for Husband’s family, and set a spending limit of $40. Although MIL agreed, she bought gifts for everyone and blew right past the $40 spending limit per person.

I am increasingly uncomfortable with how much money MIL is spending on me. While it’s her money (and her choice to spend it), I really dislike how she insists on paying for everything whenever we see her. I really want to speak up about it. However, because of my own “I want them to like me!” issues, I feel like my mouth is glued shut & can’t speak up in the moment. I also know that my Husband really doesn’t want me to “rock the boat” by contradicting his mother.

I’m reaching my wits’ end in this situation, and I’m hoping you can offer me some scripts. I want to find my voice again and have agency in this relationship.

My questions:
1) After setting spending-limit boundaries in advance, how do I enforce those boundaries in the moment when everyone (but me) is all “yay, gifts!” on Xmas day?

2) If I can’t speak up to MIL in the moment about #1, what can I say to her after the fact to gently+firmly express that all the money she’s spending on me is making me really really uncomfortable?

3) What can I say when we go out to eat and MIL insists on paying? (Saying “we’ll get the next one” doesn’t work because she stubbornly insists on paying at every meal).

4) What do I say to Husband when he pressures me to keep quiet about Xmas/general over-spending?

Signed,
Stressing and Exhausted about the Holidays Months in Advance (DAMMIT)

(she/her pronouns)

Hi Stressing,

I’m sorry, I don’t have good answers or scripts to your specific questions. You are already doing & saying the right things. I think your best choices going forward are:

Go. And go knowing what you’re in for, including too much money spent on you, awkward gifts, & her picking up every check. Go wholeheartedly and try to enjoy what there is to enjoy about your in-laws and the way they celebrate. After this many years, you are not going to change your Mother-In-Law. She already knows how you feel. You can refuse to accept the gifts, fight every restaurant check, make a point, etc. but she is still gonna roll how she rolls. Choose your battles (like, making travel arrangements around YOUR schedule). Let your husband take the lead in all interactions, bring a really good book with you, stick to your own spending limits, and peace out of looking for middle ground where there is none. When you feel uncomfortable, go for a walk or go to bed early to read or go to the movies by yourself for a little while and give yourself some space.

Vs.

Don’t go. Celebrate the holidays your way, according to your preferences & values. Create a holiday tradition of your own with just you and your husband. Be low-key and thrifty and quiet and relaxed. Visit your In-Laws another, less-gifty time of year. In the meantime, let the guilt-trips and the “It just won’t be Christmas without you!” furor and the prospect of too-expensive gifts sent in the mail wash over you for the next half a year.

My recommendation would be “Go sometimes as a gift to your spouse, don’t go sometimes as a gift to your own well-being.” Reminding yourself that it’s a choice will hopefully give you more feeling of control. You went last year, so this seems like a good year to respond to the questions about your plans with “We’re planning to stay put this year and do Christmas with y’all every other year.” This is your husband’s family, yes? Then let him be the one to deliver the news and sail his non-rocky vessel through the guilt-storms.

P.S. “It’s July, I haven’t decided yet/I’ll let you know when that changes” is a perfectly fine answer to all winter holiday inquiries btw. Leave out “It’s fucking July, WTF fam?” part for best results.:)

 

 

Hi Captain & Goat Lady,

My husband is a wonderful, smart, well-educated and hard working man.
We both have careers and make about the same amount of money at
separate jobs, but it might be worth it to note that I used some
connections to help him get the job he has today. He used to enjoy his
job very much, but over the last two years has come to loathe it
thanks to a terrible boss.

The problem is that he doesn’t think he can find another job. He’s not
very confident in himself and keeps pointing to how I “had to” help
him get this job in the first place. Yet he’s been promoted twice and
is clearly an asset to the company.

He’s hardly applied to anywhere, and the last time he sent out
applications he declined 2 of the interviews he got because he really
just wants to stay where he is, but have it get better.

It’s not getting better.

I love my husband and admire how dedicated he is to his work, but now
his hostility toward his job has become toxic. Every day he complains
about it, and I’m getting to the point where I don’t want to hear the
same things over and over again.

I want him to quit, to find something else — ANYTHING that will make
him happy. Even if it’s staying home for a while and job hunting. But
I know he feels a lot of pressure to contribute to the household,
while I’d rather tighten our belt for a while and make everyone happy.

He brings his negative attitude home, and it’s becoming difficult to
be around him sometimes. I’ve suggested therapy, but he shot that
down. I feel like I’m at the end of my rope.

How do I show my husband what a great person/worker he is? How can I
handle the constant negativity?

Thanks!

It’s awful that your husband is in this situation and it is also okay for you to hit your limit of how much you can be listener/cheerleader/career-coach around this one topic. Your husband doesn’t have to go to therapy, but he does have to find an outlet that is “not you” to deliver the daily download of complaints & process his feelings about his work situation. Whether that’s calling a friend, writing a diary made of Strongly Worded Letters that he never sends, a career coach, an online community where he get anonymous peer support, a daily run or swim or bike ride or after-work kickboxing session where he pounds out his frustrations, a hobby totally unrelated to work, or a daily session of cathartic blowing things up with a gaming controller is totally up to him. I don’t know what will make him feel better, but we do know that telling you about it all day every day is not making the situation at work better and it is also draining the life out of the time you spend at home.

Nothing’s going to happen overnight. It’s going to take a couple of serious talks and then some day-to-day boundary-setting  & reminders (& the ongoing discomfort that goes with that) before it gets better.

You’ve had Serious Talk #1, but if you want to try it again, it might look something like this:

You: “[Husband], you are so competent and talented & I believe in you utterly. I know you feel very stuck and frustrated by work, and I want you to know that if you need to [leave your job and take some time to regroup][work with a career coach][take a class to upgrade your skills][have some more time, space, & resources to pursue a hobby or side project] I will do anything I can to make that happen, including carrying the financial responsibilities for a while. In fact, let’s cut back on [expenses] for the next month or so and build up a financial cushion so that we have some peace of mind if you end up taking some time off later this year.

 

Husband:You are so good to me but in fact I suck also if I could just figure out how to to [change the thing that’s obviously not changing] it would be so perfect” (In other words, he will start to cycle through his current grievances and reservations in an all-too-familiar way).

You: [interrupting the cycle before it gets going]Okay, I just want you to know that the offer is open. Can you put some time into thinking about it? 

Serious Talk #2: 

The way this has gone down in my house in the past couple years only less coherent and with a lot of crying:

Me, to him:Babe. BABE. Did you realize that you come home every day and rant for hours about work, sometimes using the exact same words in the exact same order as the day before? I have never seen you so unhappy and also the ranting is freaking me out and making me super anxious – I DON’T EVEN WORK THERE, WHY DO I HAVE TO HATE EVERY SECOND OF YOUR JOB WITH YOU? I can’t take it. You have GOT TO find someone else to talk to about this and another way to manage it, because I CANNOT listen to this every single night.

Him, to me:I don’t care what you do next, but you have GOT to quit that job. I have been listening to the same rants about adjuncting for 4+ years now and it’s not going to get better. It grinds you down and makes you crazy and you have to stop. Just stop.” 

He has long since quit that job and I’m still an adjunct professor so the end results have been mixed here obviously but the message WAS delivered that there is a limit to how much we can each listen to the same exact cycle of complaints about work. Either change the situation or find a way to put up with the situation; whatever you decide, find another outlet for processing the situation.

If you want to adapt this in a less “freaked out/at wits end/YELLING!” way, try this:

You:[Husband], I know work is terrible lately and I’m sorry your day/week/sleep was ruined by [AssBoss] again. But right now, we’re not at work, we’re at home, and I need us to set some limits on how much we talk about work at home. Is there [a friend you could call][ a way you could write down your frustrations and try to get them out of your system?]” 

Or: “[Husband], that sounds really frustrating, I’m so sorry you’re dealing with that. I’m going to stop you there, though, because you’ve told me all of this before and you already know what I’m going to say. I’m so sorry, but I’m out of bandwidth for talking about work stuff today.”

After you say stuff like this, it will very likely be awkward for a little while. You will have just violated the unwritten rule that partners should be each other’s sounding boards, and you will have disrupted a ritual that has become “normal” in your marriage. It might provoke a shame cycle [I am not good at anything/why are you even with me/I can’t do anything without you] or a why-can’t-you-be-more-supportive cycle [I listen to YOUR work issues/sorry if I’m boring you with my LIFE/you are being selfish].

Try to ride out whatever the immediate reaction is without getting drawn deeper into a discussion about work you don’t want to be having – by which I mean do not argue the specific points that he brings up, even if they are really unfair or problematic. Picking a fight about a side issue, or being manipulated into hearing about work YET AGAIN because you want to prove you’re not “selfish” or reassure him of his value is the thing we are trying to avoid. So if he comes back with “You’re so selfish! Can’t you see I’m hurting?” or “You’ll probably leave me because I’m not good at anything, ” try to de-escalate:

You: Sweetheart, I know that’s not the answer/support/response you wanted from me today, but I want to [watch some dumb TV with you][go for a walk together][read quietly and unwind from my hard day alone for a little bit][have sex with you][beat you at Soul Calibur]. I’m not saying I don’t care about you, or the situation, but I am saying I need a break from processing every work detail with you at the end of every day.

In other words: “I’m sorry you are hurting/frustrated, you’re not doing anything wrong by wanting to tell me about it. You need someone to talk to!  Totally fair! But I need a break from hearing about it/I need a break from spending every evening & weekend talking about this/I need this to not be the central thing we talk about when we spend time together.”

That’s a fair request, made lovingly. You can’t control whether he’ll get a new job or how he feels about himself at work or in his career. You can’t control whether he goes to a therapist. But you can say, “Hon, I’ve reached my limit for the day” and “My dear, I really think you’d benefit from talking to someone besides me about this. I know you’ve vetoed a therapist, but can you call your brother/a friend/your work’s EAP support line/your D&D group/your old mentor from grad school and get a good sounding board?” and “Hey, we said ‘no work talk’ remember?” + [plays “zombies” on a triple word score].

I hope it gets better soon.

 

Hi Captain and Goat Lady:

I love my sister but she has a tendency to be negative and critical. I’ve tried to address these issues directly in the past (“e.g., when you nitpick me I don’t want to be around you”), so she’s started using her five year old son to side-step my boundaries. This allows her to disown any comments “he” makes and allows her to get angry under the guise of protecting him if I try to talk to her about it.

For example, one weekend I canceled plans with my sister and her son because I had a migraine. She told me that her son was worried I didn’t love him anymore. She will also tell me he has said things like “Aunt Anon got an apartment too far away” or “Aunt Anon is too fat” which directly mirrors what she likes to pick at me about. I’m certain he doesn’t actually say these things, but if he *does* say them it’s not a huge deal and she should be able to explain to him that yes, Aunt Anon does love him and it’s unfortunate she had to get an apartment so far away. How can I talk to her about this without inciting any protective outrage?

Thanks.

(She/her please).

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Dear Captain:

My parents get along pretty well with my father-in-law, let’s call him Peter. He is a widower so they usually invite each other to visit, my husband and I included. We usually have lunch, some bottles of wine and everyone has fun. Last time my parents visited Peter my mother stumbled across an old newspaper. It had a eulogy for my mother-in-law (let’s call her Nora). She was a great woman, a social worker and activist. Unfortunately, she passed away before I met my husband.

After my mom read it, Peter came back with some printed documents and handed them to my parents. They were some poems written by Nora, that he found after her death. My mom started immediately to read them and after finishing the first page said if I wanted to read them too.

Peter and Nora had had problems during their marriage. By the time of her death, they barely speak to each other, and were practically divorced. For that reason I think Peter probably didn’t know what Nora wanted to do with her writings.

So I said “Thanks, but I don’t want to, it makes me feel uncomfortable.” And everyone asked why. So I said “well, because I don’t really know if Nora wanted them to be public. Maybe is personal stuff, and it feels wrong.”

Awkward silence ensued and then they replied the following:
Mom: “It’s no big deal sweetie, I’m sure Nora wouldn’t mind”.
Peter: “Well, it doesn’t matter much because she’s dead”
Dad: “But the only reason people write poems is to be published, isn’t’ it?”

They insisted, but I kept firm and refused to read anything. But as my parents read them and I didn’t, I was the one that ended up feeling out of place. (In case you wonder, my husband was taking a nap and missed the conversation.)

I’m super defensive about my privacy and the idea of being exposed terrifies me. My mom and I used to have big arguments about this topic. Some of the things she did include: Throw away T-shirts claiming that they made me look fat. Open bank slips with my name on it. Go to my University and asked my teachers about my grades. She finally stopped doing these things long time ago, but I still feel threatened when she starts asking me personal stuff or comments on photos or personal things I have around in my house.

And I also used to write a lot during my twenties. I have at least a dozen handwritten notebooks, with tons of personal stuff: poetry, therapy tasks, ideas, cooking recipes, drawings, rants about people, etc. I really would hate if someone reads them but I don’t have the courage to toss them.

So, I honestly don’t know if I did the right thing or if I just got defensive and missed a chance to get to know Nora better. Would you please give me your advice and opinions? And also, what can I do with my notebooks? Any ideas?

Thanks a lot.

Privacy Champion.
(she/her pronouns)

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Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre, SE1 8XX near Waterloo station, 16th July , 11am onwards.

Colouring in time! Please bring copyright free images to colour, pens and pencils etc, or just come and chat.

The venue sell food in a cafe (standard sandwiches etc.), but they also don’t mind people bringing food in from outside. There are several other local places where you can buy stuff as well. The excellent food market outside has loads of different food options, which can fit most food requirements, or you can also bring a packed lunch.
Meet on the fourth floor, outside the Blue Bar (go up in the JCB lift, lift 7, which is bright yellow and quite musical). I have tried to check with the centre to make sure the Blue Bar is free, but if not I will update this post and in the Facebook group to say where we are – or email me if you’re lost…

Here is the internal map of the Royal Festival Hall: http://www.southbankcentre.co.uk/sites/default/files/documents/RFH_map.pdf

I will have my Cthulhu with me, which looks like this: http://forbiddenplanet.com/3950-cthulhu-baby-plush/  One time I forgot it but I will do my best this time, however if I forget again I will put up a sign. I have long brown hair and glasses.

The venue is accessible via a lift, and has accessible toilets.  Waterloo tube station has step free access on the Jubilee line but not on the Northern line.

The London Awkward group has a Facebook page, which is here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/549571375087294/.  There is also a thread in the new forums for saying hello.

My email is Kate DOT Towner AT Gmail DOT com

(August meetup will be on the 20th.  Also there will be another one if you happen to be at Nine Worlds, on the Friday.)

Cheers,
Kate

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