Short Answer Friday – 9/28

Hello! Late start today – Commander Logic & I went out for pancakes.

Here’s the deal:

Patrons can submit questions at this link. 

Anyone can submit a question on Twitter – @CAwkward, #awkwardfriday (please use the hashtag, my mentions are a messsssssssss and I don’t want to lose you).

Since I got a late start, questions close at 1pm instead of noon. I’ll answer as many questions as I can between 1 and 3pm Chicago time.

Comments open when everything is posted.

I posted this on Patreon and I’ll post it here: I am pretty much at my limit with questions & moderating discussions about sexual violence, domestic violence, and emotional abuse. I’ve said most of what I can say in other posts, I don’t really have anything new to add, I do not want to tackle this stuff in this short, rushed format, sprinkled in and among other topics, and I especially can’t do it this week in these United States of America. If you need resources, they are out there. My wall, I have hit it. Thank you so much for understanding. ❤

Here is a kitten:

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Henrietta Pussycat trying to clean my arm.

Here is a pile of kittens:

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Daniel Striped Tiger on top of Henrietta Pussycat, trying to eat her head.

Q1: Hi Captain! Do you listen to podcasts? Any recommendations?

A1: I do not listen to any podcasts. It’s an ADHD thing – I don’t like background noise in general, it’s hard for me to listen to someone talking and I definitely can’t concentrate on anything else if I’m trying to listen to someone talking, and I don’t have time or inclination to set aside *just* to listen to podcasts. These nice folks have a podcast about advice columns.

Mr. Awkward loves Gastropod.

Q2: I work in a typical office environment (roughly 30 people in 2 depts in the same building). We tend to be a share-y group of folks. I would love some scripts for when a coworker is telling you a story about their family member, and you totally are on the family member side (such as clear favoritism among adult children, but the coworker is the parent bitching about their less favored child; or one who told her nephew he shouldn’t turn down a dance date because think how bad he would feel if he were rejected). Unlike voluntary relationships, you can’t opt-out of all conversations with coworkers. I tend to freeze in these conversations. Any advice?

A2: Choose your battles and if you want to engage at all? In the case of the dance date story, I’d straight-up say “Being rejected never feels good, but it’s still okay to say no to dates when you’re not interested!” That is doing your part to change the culture. I’d also jump in if the person gets racist, sexist, ableist, homophobic, etc. In the other case, assume nobody in the history of ever wants you to comment on their parenting, they’re not asking for advice, and nothing you say is going to change the situation. If you freeze you’re just…quiet for a minute, right? It’s not your job to fix the people or the situation, and it’s okay to be quiet when you have nothing to add to a story about people you don’t really care about from someone you don’t really care about, so squeeze out the occasional “hmmmm that sounds like a tough one” and move on with your day. You don’t need to invest emotional energy in every single person you know who is wrong.

Q3: I’ve made a lot of big changes in my life recently and the changes are still coming. All are good changes (moved out of parents house, decided to quit grad school, possibly changing jobs for a pay increase) but telling my anxiety that is difficult. Any suggestions? My usual coping mechanisms aren’t working at the moment.

A3: Are you able to get through your daily list of things you need to do to remain functional and employed and safe and fed? Are you able to convert anxiety into action (self-care action, professional action, political action) to work on & change the things you feel anxious about? In other words, do you need to wrestle intensely with your anxiety (go to therapy, investigate meds, otherwise aggressively treat it) or do you need to tell it “Shut up, Anxiety” and kind of tune it out while you go about getting things done? I imagine my anxiety as sort of like Mr. Clippy from Microsoft Office that keeps interrupting me while I’m trying to get shit done to remind me that I’m probably failing at everything. Sometimes I can dismiss it and just keep going and sometimes I can’t (because the things I’m anxious about can’t be solved right now or solved by me).

Q4: Hi Captain,

I’ve let a lingering incomplete grade hanging over my head in my degree program for far too long. I completed the work, sent it off to my professor (a few years ago now), but never heard anything back. Because I am both a procrastinator and hate thinking about things I’ve left undone, I’ve just put a “I’ll do it later” flag on this for the last few years. In theory, my program is done! I’d love any tips for reaching out to this professor (who may not even remember me) to get this resolved. I’ve always prided myself on being pretty good at written communications with professors, but this has become a knot of avoidance and anxiety that’s difficult for me to untangle. I value your experience as both our Captain and a professor yourself, and would appreciate your help!

A4: Your professor forgot about this long ago and nothing will happen unless they are reminded.

This is a routine problem that many students deal with. This is not some unique to you fuck-up that will forever derail your education.

Important: Do not assume that your professor knows how to actually clear an incomplete grade for you even if they did read your work when you sent it. Resolving Incompletes way after the fact is common enough that it’s not just you, but not common enough that your prof will automatically know the procedure. You have to figure it out & tell them.

You need:

  • The file with the work that you sent (and the original email, if possible).
  • The professor’s email address.
  • Some checking with the registrar in case a) there is a specific form that needs filled out and the process for that (Example of said form) and/or b) did your prof actually send everything in long ago and this has all actually been taken care of all this time.

Process:

Set a timer for 30 minutes. Use that time to research the process for clearing an incomplete grade and find the form (finding my example took less than 1 minute). Use your school’s process to access your unofficial transcript, and check with the registrar by phone or email if you need to confirm anything else about the process.

When the timer goes off, ding! Eat a snack.

Then, if stuff still needs sorting, set a timer for another 30 minutes. Compose an email to the professor with whatever paperwork needs done & the instructions. Script is below. Also, put dates on your calendar that are appointments to check on things – In 2 weeks, in 1 month, in 2 months, etc. You will spend 5 minutes on this every month until it’s resolved.

“Hi Professor ____, it’s ______, from your _______ course in _____ (semester & year). I hope you’re well.

You may remember, I received an incomplete grade for the course, and sent you the work on _____ (another copy is attached). Can you fill out the attached [whatever it is] for me and return it to the registrar with my final grade? And can you copy me on that email or quickly confirm with me when you have, so I can follow up with them?

Apologies, I should have followed up with you long ago.

Many thanks,

Your name

Your contact info”

Congratulations on your upcoming degree. It will take you <2 hours total to resolve this.

Q5: Any tips for writing through an anxiety flare? My focus has gone up in flames.

A5: Maybe it’s okay if we’re not maximally productive right now?

I don’t know. I can’t focus on anything. Here’s what the experts say:

  • Use a timer for short focused bursts, then take breaks.
  • Use “Benchley’s Law” (a person can do almost any amount of work provided it is not the work they are supposed to be doing at the time) to set up a pyramid of procrastination and rewards.
  • What is the bare minimum that you must get done. Do that.

Q6: I’ve just started a taught postgrad degree after a long break from study. Our first module exams start 2 months into the course. I have had 2 separate illnesses for the first 1.5 weeks of term and whilst I am making it to lectures and putting a brave face on it, I am struggling to concentrate and not getting much done in my independent study time [because of all the fever/ill/going to the doctor].
I’m really nervous about falling behind as there’s not a lot of time to make up any gaps. Do you have any scripts for how I can let my advisors know what’s been going on at our first academic meeting next week, without sounding anxious/like I’m overreacting, and any ideas what practical help it’s appropriate to ask them for?

A6: So, are you sure you are actually behind and that your professors have noticed anything about you being behind? Like, is this an actual gap in work/reading/completing assignments or more your nervousness talking because you felt like you should be able to work more? (Like, are you just anxious and overreacting and will it get better if you can focus on feeling better and catching up bit by bit?)

What do you think you need in order to catch up? A note-taker? More time to take exams & turn in assignments? The chance to re-do an assignment with a low grade for a better one? A study group with peers who are really caught up? Some support from student services and/or disability services and/or student mental health services (an outlet for anxiety)? For your advisors to read & assess something you’ve written for your classes so you have an outside opinion on where you are?

This sounds incredibly stressful but it also sounds like you are coping pretty well and doing what you can. Depending on your advisors, I would think about whether the most useful thing you can wrest from them at this time is:

  • Comfort and reassurance about your feelings about falling behind vs.
  • Specific help & support navigating the university’s services to support students with medical issues (“I had some serious medical issues early in the semester. I’m healing well but feel like I’ve lost momentum and my concentration is not where it could be. What resources are there to help students like me get caught up?”) vs.
  • Their comments & feedback on the research & work you are doing.

Figure out the strengths & interests of your advisors and channel them.

Q7: Is it reasonable to expect a therapist to be warm & welcoming? I felt really comfortable with both therapists I saw in grad school, and I always felt like they cared when I showed up. But the therapist I saw this spring told me that expecting her to say “How are you?” or ask me questions when I was silent for a while was unreasonable and meant I was asking other people to manage my anxiety for me. I tried a few sessions with a new therapist recently, and also felt like he didn’t actually give a shit about why I was there and just expected me to talk at him. I want (and need) to find a new therapist, but should I just lower my expectations around actually feeling comfortable with them?

A7: I don’t think it is “expecting too much emotional labor” for a therapist to ask a client “how are you” or “what are you thinking/feeling right now” or otherwise guide the discussion in a session. Like, what is this person even doing in that profession?

So, it’s no wonder you’re looking for a better fit! It’s okay to want someone who is welcoming, interested in what you have to say, and kind. Use those bad experiences to guide initial discussions with the new person, like, “How do you typically like to work with clients?” and “Sometimes I shut down when I talk about my feelings, and I need my therapist to be a little assertive with asking questions.” More here.

Q8: I recently (less than a month ago) finished the PCT which I realize is an exciting accomplishment. When I talk about it, other people are excited and congratulatory, and want to know all about it. The problem is I feel like I’m expected to be really positive and frame any negative experiences around it as a “growth experience” or a worthy challenge, because I chose to be there! I don’t want to complain about a five-month vacation. But honestly? It kind of sucked most of the time. It’s my third intense adventure-travel trip in three years, and I’m broke, depressed and lonely. I only had four months between finishing the 3,100mi CDT and starting the PCT, so I had/still have health problems from overtraining and malnutrition. A creepy dude followed me from town to town for the first 600mi, which was really scary, and then when I lost him I had health and motivation problems from heavy wildfire smoke. I didn’t like the crowded social scene on the PCT so I didn’t make any close friendship connections like I was hoping, and I didn’t meet my athletic goals either. I don’t know how to navigate conversations about the trail because overall it was very disappointing, and I feel like I failed. I don’t want to come across as spoiled or ungrateful for the privilege to do such a trek, and “It was great but I’m tired and still recovering” will only work for so long. I try to accept compliments gracefully but beyond that I don’t know what to say.

A8: PCT = Pacific Crest Trail, yes? How neat. And deeply challenging. I’m assuming you’ve read/seen Wild, so you know that you’re not alone in how much it can suck out there and that’s probably the representation of what it’s like that most people have in their heads. That doesn’t mean you owe people an accounting of it that best suits their expectations, or you owe people every single emotion and thought you have in your head.  “It was great but I’m tired and still recovering” is a totally fine answer. “I’m still processing – it was beautiful and amazing, but there were some creeps and wildfires and other stories I’m not quite sure how to tell yet.”

Your question made me think about this poem by John Updike (whose novels I haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaate, but he can write short things!):

Back From Vacation – John Updike

‘Back from vacation’, the barber announces,
or the postman, or the girl at the drugstore, now tan.
They are amazed to find the workaday world
still in place, their absence having slipped no cogs,
their customers having hardly missed them, and
there being so sparse an audience to tell of the wonders,
the pyramids they have seen, the silken warm seas,
the nighttimes of marimbas, the purchases achieved
in foreign languages, the beggars, the flies,
the hotel luxury, the grandeur of marble cities.
But at Customs the humdrum pressed its claims.
Gray days clicked shut around them; the yoke still fit,
warm as if never shucked. The world is still so small,
the evidence says, though their hearts cry, ‘Not so!’

YOU CHANGED. You did something important to you, and now you’re changed, and you’re not sure what you changed into, but you know you did. But nobody else really notices. You’re overflowing with feelings and the things you’ve seen. Everyone is equally absorbed in their own stuff.

There are people who care a lot about YOU but who don’t really know or care what the PCT is or what it’s like. They want to know how you are (& the truth of that), but they don’t give a crap about your training goals or the details of camping & hiking.

There are people who read Wild and want the dirt on the PCT trail, your goriest creepiest dirtiest burying-your-poopingest tales. They don’t really want to know about you, your goals, your feelings, what you survived. They want The Moth version. Or they’re in the hiker message boards and social media groups because they’ve done the same thing you have or are thinking about doing it, so they want your story as a way to figure out their own story (or as an opening to tell their story).

There are people who are asking “Oh, how was it?” to be polite, the same way they’d ask if you ran a 5k this weekend or redecorated your house. Completing the social circuit means saying “It was great!” or “It was much harder than I thought it was” and then asking a question in turn.

So for you, who are trying to figure out your story of this experience and where it fits into your own bigger story, it can feel overwhelming to figure out which audience you’re talking to at any given time. Maybe when you’re dealing with someone who has more than a passing small talk interest, it’s worth checking in, like, “What level of detail are you looking for? Do you want the inspirational tale or the harrowing one or the one where I don’t know yet?” 

Q9: Do you have any tips for being more emotionally open and vulnerable in a relationship?

A9: I think Brene Brown’s writing & speaking on vulnerability is fascinating, dig into her stuff!

As for how, I really love this thing that Commander Logic wrote about how to get more comfortable saying things out loud and showing affection. One of the best things she wrote is about getting in the habit of opening up to people by sharing enthusiasm/compliments/affectionate statements.

Q10: I’ve searched for answers to the problem of the chatty coworker, but nobody I can see addresses the problem of somebody monopolizing, not just working hours but BREAKTIME. “Cedric” is not a bad guy; he has some legitimately interesting experiences and opinions to share. The problem is that he won’t stop sharing, even at lunch. Sitting in the cube next to his is bad enough but yesterday he stole my entire lunch (30 minutes) from me, and I’m about to lose my mind.

He was finished eating when I came in and everybody else left right then, so I was looking forward to some alone time with my book (Theft by Finding: Diaries 1977-2002 by David Sedaris, if anybody else likes great writing and vicious but subtle humor). Instead he sat awkwardly next to me (I picked that spot because it’s the best at the table and I thought for sure he was leaving) for half an hour, yammering on and on. I didn’t look at him and pawed mildly at my book and said “Hm” as little as I could stand without being terminally awkward, but he did not get it. I need scripts, please, Captain! You’re my only hope. I’m not usually bad at being assertive but my head was filled with violent visions and I could not figure out a way to interrupt, nonviolently, and tell him to shut up.

Note: I don’t think it’s anything personal. He’s like this with everyone.

A10: We have to go way back for a related question, but you’re not alone.

Three things:

  • He will never take a hint. Your “hmmm” looked like polite enthusiastic listening to him. You’re going to have to say, bluntly, “Cedric, I really just want to read my book. Talk to you later” or “Cedric, I need 30 minutes of quiet reading – we’ll talk later.” Then be friendly when you see him later.
  • There’s a greater than 75% chance he’s gonna say “Ok! No problem!” And then keep talking at you, like, about how he needs quiet sometimes, too, or what book are you reading. So you’re going to have to say it again, like, “Cedric. Enough! I really need some quiet at lunchtime to recharge. Please let me read.” You’re going to have to be what will feel mean but is really just assertive.
  • A lunch room or break room or other common area that’s at work carries an expectation of socialization, like, this is the place that it’s okay TO have chit-chat without disturbing people’s work. By wanting to quietly read in there, you are possibly the outlier in your company. So, consider alternatives. Reading in your car or going outside, finding an empty conference room, otherwise heading out for lunch.

Q11: A member of a long-time friend group is constantly suggesting that we all get together, pushing to set a date, then bails shortly before the event (usually cites kid-related conflict) & is put out if the rest of us still go. What’s going on here.

A11: My questions (that you don’t have to answer, but, where my mind went immediately): 1) Is this person the only parent or one of the only parents in the group? Are they a single parent so there is no backup or it costs them an extra $60 every time they want to do anything fun 2) Is this person the one who takes the lead on most of the social planning that brings you all together?

When the person gets “put out” maybe try this:

“Thanks so much for planning! It really sucks that you couldn’t join us! But we all made the time in our schedules, and it didn’t feel right to bail on dinner at that point.”

Or: “Hi! You keep planning awesome stuff! But then you cancel at the last minute! And then you’re mad at us? What is going on? All I wanna do is hang out with you & our friends, let’s figure this out!” 

Maybe you’ll find out that there’s some serious health or childcare stuff going on, and that can be part of the plan for addressing it, like, “Next time we’ll take the party to you so you don’t have to worry about childcare!” 

Q12: I’m job hunting (it’s going pretty well) and one of the things I’m excited about is being able to afford therapy.

But uh, how do people sort that out, since therapists work similar hours to the rest of us?

A12: In my experience, lots of therapists have evening hours at least 1-2 days a week for just this reason, so call around and ask in your search. You might also be able to schedule an appointment right at the beginning or end of your workday and shift your schedule slightly, like, “Can I work 8-4 instead of 9-5 on Thursdays, I have an important evening commitment.”

Q13I’m having a hard time balancing discourse in my classes – I don’t want to talk over people or monopolize time, but I hate letting it go when I feel like people are misunderstanding me. Should try to let it go in classes like this or is it okay to back-and-forth?

A13: Hard to give a blanket “no stop talking” vs. “all discussion is awesome” without knowing the class and how the professor likes to run discussions. Sometimes back and forth is great (it’s better than awkward silence) and sometimes a good moderator can say “ok, let’s hear some other perspectives” and open it back up to the room. You can also restate the person’s points back to them to make sure you are understanding them correctly and build that habit into your discussions with them. You can check in with the professor, too, privately – “[Student] and I keep getting into it, I just want to check in and make sure that we’re not monopolizing the discussion!” 

If someone is missing the point of something you said, and you’re worried about taking up all the air in the room, are you able to catch them at the end of class or outside of class? – “Hey, last week I feel like our conversation went off the rails a bit. Can you help me understand what you were trying to say about x?” Let them talk first! THEN clarify “Oh, ok! But I really think that y is true, so we don’t actually disagree.” 

Q14: How do I politely decline invitations to eat out when I’m short on cash, that saves face?

A14: To the archives! Question #1 and Question #682 and #897 (how NOT to do it) cover this at length.

My general feeling is, there’s absolutely no shame in being on a budget, and “Aw, that sounds awesome but we’re being strict about cooking at home right now. But I’d love to see you, can we try (cheaper/free) thing instead very soon?” is fine. You can also say “Oh, I can’t make that, but I can make [alternative] if you want!” without giving a reason.

Q15: Hi Captain. What’s your preferred method of gift giving? I have urges to give it to them and run off! I usually present it a little bit before it’s time to return home or leave it on their desk or something. Don’t worry, I think I’m good/graceful in this area, but my brain likes to exclaim “abort! abort!” I think I feel this way because I’m not a fan of the spotlight when I’m the one receiving gifts (also my parents were unhappy with my “performance” of thank yous so there’s that) P.S. Thanks for always sharing pics of cuddly KITTENS ♡♡♡

A15: My preferred method of gift-giving is “I got you this surprise for a gift-giving holiday that is months away. Would you like it now?” I am an incredibly excited and enthusiastic gift-giver and I don’t like surprises (in either direction). I think your way is also fine!

KITTENS

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Henrietta Pussycat at almost 5 months, getting so LONG

Q16: I need to call HR about inappropriate comments from an AVP, but she’ll know it’s me and there WILL be consequences. But what she said is so unfair and wrong, and needs to be corrected… I’m terrified, overwhelmed with this decision, and stuck. 

A16: AVP = Associate Vice President? I’m sure Alison has many a thread about this if you need a HR person’s perspective.

My inexpert had-to-google-AVP perspective:

If you’re sure this needs to be done, then do the right thing and let HR do their jobs. Approach this from the perspective of “I am trying to help my company avoid hassle and do the right thing.”

To cushion the anxiety:

  • Document everything.
  • Look up your company’s polices and processes about this, so you’re armed with facts and can tell right away if HR is following their own policies in the conversation.
  • Spend the weekend updating your resume/online presence and looking for other jobs. Probably everything will work out, but if it didn’t, what are your options?
  • Be really nice to yourself for doing a hard thing.

That’s what you can control. The rest is up to other people. You did what you could to take care of the firm and (more importantly) yourself.

Q17: Hi Captain Awkward, what music, silly websites, and activities are helping you feel joyful right now? I’m looking for some ideas to help with feeling hopeful (since there’s so much stressful stuff happening at the moment).

A17: I’m sorry, I know this isn’t what you asked, but I don’t feel joyful right now. I am angry, down to the molecular level. Yesterday I temporarily lost the ability to swallow solid food. If I suddenly developed the anger-fueled ability to levitate and shoot lasers out of my eyes, I wouldn’t even think it was weird. That’s how angry I am. The websites I hang out on are Swing Left and 5 Calls and the VoteWithMe app and literally anything that will let me feel like I am DOING SOMETHING about these motherfuckers.

It’s totally understandable that you would want something fluffy and distracting and it’s totally okay to want to take care of yourself and unplug. We have to pace ourselves, & knowing every single thing about every outrage is not the same as doing something about it.

I do have my comforting stuff, like, someone asked what I’m reading – Allllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllll the T. Kingfisher (Talking animals, brave heroines, witchy crones with humor and wisdom up their sleeves, the occasional sexy paladin). The Good Place is back (Seasons 1-2 are on Netflix). I post kitten photos and Jason Mendoza gifs sometimes. And then it’s back to:

twin-peaks-season-3-the-best-gifs-to-use-in-your-completely-normal-everyday-life-cr-1434873 (1)

The hopefulness I have is: I hope people will convert their anger into action. I hope the people who are doing something will keep doing it, and the rest of us will find our way to contribute and do something. We need all of us.

Q18: Hi Captain. I think I’m ready to leave my husband. He’s a good man, my best friend, we’ve been together for a long time–since my early 20s. Our interests have drifted, and I don’t feel the way I used to. My question–and I know you’ve had similar–is how I detonate my whole life and hurt someone I care so much about. I’m scared to be on my own. I’m not super financially stable on my own–he’s always paid the bills. I’m in the middle of a thesis. Did I mention I care about him a lot? I can’t stay but I can’t get up the courage to go. Is it ethical to hold back on pulling the trigger? How do people ever do this?! (also he’s my main emotional support and I worry about being without someone to talk to about…well…everything) She/her pronouns.

A18: Hi there! Forgive me, but you do not sound at all ready to leave.

(That doesn’t mean you won’t leave or that leaving isn’t ultimately the right choice. I believe you that you want to! And good people can not want to be married to good people anymore!)

But the logistics stuff (how will I pay my bills/where will I live?) and the emotional stuff (how will I tell him, who will I talk to about my life when he’s not here?) are pretty necessary next steps in that decision-making process. You’re pretty sure you want Not Him, but the daydreaming about what life looks like after him and the logistical part of it (spreadsheets, money, real estate, paperwork) are still ahead of you. A counselor might be a good sounding board. A divorce lawyer could talk you through the money stuff where you live. A marriage counselor might be able to help you start having the scary conversations. There are sites that walk you through the process and hook you up with support.

Do some more of that work – and talk to this best friend/good man of yours – as you make this decision. Maybe he’s as unhappy as you are. Maybe there’s a kind, gentle way to disassemble this marriage where nobody goes broke. Either way, you need a plan.

Ok, that’s what we’ve got today. Be excellent to yourselves and each other.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

205 comments
  1. AnotherSarah said:

    LW8: I wonder if “really different than how I expected it would be; I’m still processing!” would also work. People might ask more (different how?) but if you tag a question on the end as the Captain suggests, I imagine that this would be sufficient for a lot of folks.

    • correcthorsebatterystaple said:

      Yes – I recommend this. I went on a perfectly lovely trip to France about 10 years ago with my husband and mother, but I was the main tour guide/interpreter for us, and by the end I was SO DONE with the trip and angry with myself for not doing a better job in my assigned role, and couldn’t figure out a way to talk to people who wanted me to gush about Paris In The Springtime. “Lovely – I’m still reflecting on it” was good for heading off some of the more detailed questions, and then I was able to share pictures later.

      • Leighthal said:

        I am a very honest person and would have no issues saying ‘actually it kind of sucked to be perfectly honest ‘. That doesn’t make you ungrateful for having the time to complete this that other people may not and really, considering the hardships you did go through with the creepy guy and the fires etc, who could blame you for not mega enjoying it.

  2. Dana Lynne said:

    Captain, I just wanted to thank you for the column and respond to your words about how angry you are and how you are at the end of your rope. I know a lot of us are right there with you.

    Thank you for being here and please take care of yourself, whatever that means from moment to moment.

    Your community here has been a great resource and refuge for me. Thanks again.

    • MsMildew said:

      This, seconded. I’ve been an advice column junkie since I discovered Ann Landers in grade school and had no idea whatsoever how to “human” or “people”, and her column was invaluable in helping me to do so. CA’s site has been the greatest resource I’ve found since those days, so many long decades ago.
      Captain, I second this- please take care of yourself, whatever that means. 💙

  3. Anonamoose said:

    YES T. Kingfisher AKA Ursula Vernon writing adult stuff (she writes kid books under her real name). So good. And if you ARE into podcasts, she has one with her husband where they eat terrible, cheap food and banter for 2-3 hours every other week (Kevin and Ursula Eat Cheap, google it if interested). They also have chickens, cats, and dogs that intrude into the podcast at random intervals. I find the podcast very comforting because they will talk about current politics but don’t typically dwell overmuch (they acknowledge the elephant in the room) and even in politics heavy episodes, Ursula can still wrangle a sidebar about some random topic or story that will have you giggling to yourself like a demented loon in public. And since I listen for the banter and not the actual food ratings, I can use it for background noise if necessary.

    • JenniferP said:

      This blog is a pro Ursula Vernon space. ❤

      • bkcrotty said:

        I just wanted to say thank you for this rec! I power read all of Digger over the last two days and now I’m just sitting here feeling things.

      • kitrona said:

        I like you even more.

        I also don’t listen to podcasts except in very specific circumstances, and I never manage to keep up with them, also because ADHD… except for Ursula Vernon’s Hidden Almanac, because each episode is less than 5 minutes long (especially if you skip the credits at the end). I can pay attention for that long, and it’s funny. Well, it’s Ursula, so of course it is.

        (Not trying to push any podcasts on you, I was actually looking for the end of the thread to recommend Hidden Almanac in general, but you mentioned Ursula Vernon, so…)

    • grumpymedievalist said:

      What T. Kingfisher book should I start with? Also — I love N.K. Jemisin, Ann Leckie, and Lois Bujold; for anyone with similar reading profiles, will I like Kingfisher?

      • pixieish blonde said:

        Honestly, my recommendation is that you start with the Digger webcomic. Something about the art just sets the tone for the rest of her works. After that… I love “The Seventh Bride,” but “Clockwork Boys” is another good starting one. There are so many to choose from! She’s a fabulous writer.

        • Jane said:

          yessss. Digger was my first Ursula Vernon, and intrepid wombats still hold a special place in my heart.

        • kitrona said:

          The Seventh Bride is available on Kindle Unlimited, too. Also Summer in Orcus is really good.

      • JenniferP said:

        I never tell people they will like something, but I like all those authors!

        Clockwork Boys = if you want Paladins

        Jackalope Wives & Other Stories if you want short stories. Here’s Levar Burton reading the title story.

        • grumpymedievalist said:

          Thank you! I understand it’s not a guarantee, but I’m glad for the endorsement anyway

        • automaticdoor said:

          OMG I just listened to that a couple of weeks ago! SO GOOD.

      • Sunflower said:

        If you like those authors (I do too!) you may also like Becky Chambers (found families IN SPACE!), Alex Acks (labor rights activists vs union busting corporations, also magic, IN SPACE!), Fox Meadows (YA portal fantasy, AMAZING world building), and/or Karen Lorde (breathtaking prose, amazing world building, layers on layers of plot but not in a hard-to-keep-track-of way.)

    • egl said:

      I also love their other podcast, The Hidden Almanac. It has new episodes Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

      It has plotlines, sometimes, so it really helps to start at the beginning, but the episodes are all under 5 minutes, so it doesn’t take as long as it looks.

    • Absotively said:

      They also have a podcast called The Hidden Almanac, written by Ursula and performed mostly by Kevin, which is weird in many of the same delightful ways as Ursula’s adult books. Plus episodes are only about five minutes long. I generally have many of the same problems with podcasts as the Captain describes, but I mostly manage to keep up with The Hidden Almanac because it’s so short that it’s not a huge commitment for me to take a break from doing other stuff while I listen to it.

    • Convallaria majalis said:

      I am not that into podcasts exactly for the same reasons as The Captain but my husband is and he has been recently speaking in a very enthusiastic way about Kevin and Ursula Eat Cheap. I do love to listen his versions of the highlights of the podcasts and I do trust his taste so I can say that this podcast is clearly great.

    • Polaris said:

      I really loved The Raven and the Reindeer, but I’ve never read a single work of hers that I didn’t enjoy. Her art is also gorgeous!

  4. tommy said:

    the second kitten picture reminds me of that old animation where one cat tries to eat the other’s head. (very safe for work! it’s silly, not horrory.) i think daniel can smell henrietta’s spicy brains.

    http://www.matazone.co.uk/animpages/kitty1.html

  5. Frolicking Elf said:

    Q7 and Q12 and Q18- check out http://www.psychologytoday.com, you can tick-off all the things you are looking for in a therapist, and see their pictures, read their bios and client profiles. Not a bad way to research someone new and check-out who’s available in your areas! Best part is, there are likely quite a few people to choose from on any topic, and you can review their credentials and experience too!

    • Jenesis said:

      Thanks for the tip. I just fired off a barrage of stock emails, which is about as much effort as I’m able to put into this right now.

    • MsMildew said:

      Interesting! Ian with Kaiser, and I wish they had something like this in place for their own therapists & psychiatrists. I haven’t had much luck with my last two therapists (in fact I felt like the last one was minimizing the abuse I’ve dealt with in my marriage, and she was supposed to be a trained DV counselor!) and it’s just the luck of the draw who you get.
      My first therapist & psych were both GREAT, but I’m not in that coverage area anymore (and that psychiatrist has since retired anyway.)

      • MsMildew said:

        I AM WITH, not Ian, DYAC!

  6. LG said:

    Henrietta Pussycat is so long as to be a lesson in foreshortening!

    • Clorinda said:

      She is incredibly sleek and elegant.

    • Convallaria majalis said:

      Both of the cats are so incredibly beautiful. I LOVE the photos of them and seeing them is always so uplifting. Thank you so much, dear Captain! ❤

  7. Geode said:

    Thank you for being a port in the storm, Captain. I’ve learned a lot more about how to assert myself and support others on this website, and when the world is this scary and bad, it helps. Thanks for being so helpful even when the world is so hard to bear.

  8. DameB said:

    Q17 — I don’t feel joy either. I do knit, however. When I feel my brain starting to skid into hopelessness, I knit. If I can’t knit, I read a blog about knitting or listen to a podcast about knitting or, if I can’t do any of those things, I think about knitting. Sometimes I just pet my yarn. I design complicated haps and stitch endless rounds of 3×3 rib, because 2×2 is too damned dainty. I don’t know if that’s helpful.

    • Leighthal said:

      That is so cute that you ‘pet your yarn’. Thinking about it brings a smile to my face.

    • April Driesslein said:

      I hear that. I’ve never been a “I work out when I’m angry” person, but I went to yoga mad at the world Sunday and I was fairly vibrating with rage, grace, and power. I’m hopeful that my incandescent anger set something on fire, and that the something was John Cornyn’s office.

      I used to read political news and analysis during my lunch break, but I’ve started bringing my crochet to work and doing that instead. It’s way better for my blood pressure. And I scroll endlessly through Ravelry looking at patterns and daydreaming about lovely things to make.

  9. I did not previously know about Benchley’s Law but I am definitely a constant prover of it, holy moly.

    • Me too! I keep “weed whip around the house” on a backburner simply to get more stuff done around the house 🙂

      • Funnyletter Who Hates Jokes said:

        My apartment has never been cleaner than immediately before I handed in a draft of my MA thesis.

        • There’s a standing joke that there is nothing cleaner than the grout in in a doctoral candidate’s shower.

          Especially since being in the shower and noticing an imperfect spot on the grout becomes a great reason not to leave the nice, comforting, warm, safe shower.

    • Anonymous Ampersand said:

      How did we not know about this law?! I must tell everyone!!

    • Kelsi said:

      You could always tell when the end of the semester was approaching for my mom growing up–there would be a huge stack of unfinished grading on the dining room table, but the house would be spotless and the laundry would be caught up for the first time since LAST semester.

      Which is to say, I come by it honestly.

  10. The Walrus Said said:

    Jumping down from Q12 to answer: I’m in a job with really strict open/close hours (due to the need for security to be in the building whenever it’s open – special collections library). I was super worried about being able to fit therapy in, since adjusting my schedule like the Cap suggested wasn’t really going to be an option. What I did was went to my work’s EAP head, who told me not to worry about it and accomodating for stuff like that is super normal, and then found me a therapist with a 7:45am slot open. I get to work about half an hour after opening and flex my lunch to cover the time, which I worked out with my supervisor. So even if moving your schedule up or back a whole hour isn’t feasible, there are still ways to carve out the time, and probably someone on hand whose job, at least in part, is to help you work it out. Good luck!

    • I second that.

      When I started teaching, I was working from 7am-9pm M-TH and until 5pm on F with a few 1 to 3 hour breaks during the day so my therapist was willing to meet at 6pm on a Friday night. Other people I’ve known have had appointments at 6 or 7am or therapists who work a half-day on one of the weekend days.

      Therapists get that a lot of people can’t fit the 8-5 time slots and adjust accordingly. On the flip side, when I went back to grad school and stayed home with the Spawn-baby, I picked times during the day to leave early morning and late afternoon slots free.

    • Seeking Second Childhood said:

      When I was at my worst, I was seeing someone with a 6am start of day. They’re rare birds…but they do exist.

    • Blue said:

      I had 11:30 appointments with my last therapist! Her office was close to my work, so it basically just required a long lunch (11:15-12:45 instead of 12-1), which my boss was happy for me to do. The next day, I’d typically take a shorter lunch to make up for it. Worked well for my purposes!

      • Leighthal said:

        The first psychologist I ever saw was on Saturdays. This is in Australia so maybe you don’t have that option at all but it’s worth looking for.

      • H said:

        This is what I do! Our lunch runs 11:45-12:45. My therapist’s office is about ten minutes away- I do noon therapy appointments and am back in the office a little after 1. I then flex the extra 15-30 minutes elsewhere- either at the end of the day or during another day’s lunch. My boss has zero problem with it.

  11. goddessoftransitory said:

    Oh, hey, Q10, we work in the same place!

    I have a coworker whom I dodge regularly because he cannot. shut. up. I spend half of my ten minute break sometimes finding a spot where he isn’t and won’t walk by. If he’s monkey-chattering and my phone rings and I answer it he just keeps right on going even as I turn my back and say to him NO LONGER LISTENING.

    You basically have to say to his face I’m done and walk away. And tell him not to follow you.

    • Thistledown said:

      I had a guy like this at work. One day he playfully “hit” me with some papers and I just decided to overreact to it. I angrily (but not yelling) told him not to hit me and asked to him apologize. I made it A Thing and wouldn’t back down. He stopped chatting to me after that, but interestingly, we never had any problems with profesional communications. I don’t know if there’s a way to manufacture something like that, but it might be worth making yourself not fun to talk to.

      • Myrtle said:

        People joke about their truths. I read your (wonderful) words and had a sudden realization that in your story, I hear you defended yourself against an aggressor who thinks it’s OK to hit, possibly grooming you for abuse. The fact that he has backed off to a professional mode seems to confirm it. As Gavin de Becker says, letting people know you will not be their victim is the best message you can send.

      • Spicy Onion said:

        Lol I regularly use this technique with people I just can’t stomach talking to. The thing is, people who excessively talk and have boundary issues usually find a way to be offensive at one point or another. Haha and when people ask, I say “not everyone has the same experiences with someone, and they know what they did and need to respect the consequences of it” and then never talk about the person. This really hits it home. Its awkward … For them!

  12. canadakate said:

    LW#14: there’s no need to “save face” because there’s nothing shameful about not being able to eat out. I am where you are, and I know how much it sucks, but if you can, just be honest. It’s not a moral failing, it’s a fact of your life, and there’s nothing wrong with sharing that. Good luck!

    • Spicy Onion said:

      One of things I have done has been to say that I have been eating out too much and am just not going to for awhile. Then suggest something else. I do this with people I don’t like discussing my finances with.

    • Leighthal said:

      I totally agree with you canadakate. I also often cannot afford to eat out and it’s usually because I have spent all my spare money on clothes or something so I usually just say something to that effect in a joking way.

  13. stechasaurous said:

    Q7: There are lots of different therapeutic schools of thought that really do discourage therapists from asking questions during a long silence and making small talk chitchat before and after the session. The theory is that inserting one’s self into a client’s therapy or “rescuing” them during an awkward pause is harmful and not helpful to the client. I say this to reassure you that it was likely not personal and not that you were asking for a weird thing or that these therapists didn’t like you, specifically.

    The good news is that there are many other modalities that are specifically about creating warm, collaborative therapeutic relationships. The keywords to look for on therapists’ websites: Rogerian, Person-Centered, Feminist Therapy (unless it also says something about psychoanalytic/psychoanalysis), Multicultural Therapy, or Narrative Therapy. Definitely still have the conversation with potential therapists about how they work as suggested by the Captain, but looking out for these modalities will make sure you’re more likely to be on the same page before you even get to the discussion.

    Good luck!

    • LW7 said:

      Thanks! That’s really helpful for framing this, and those keywords should be helpful for narrowing down online profiles. Much appreciated 🙂

      • Kelsi said:

        It all depends what works for you, but my current therapist’s profile also mentioned that she used a humor-based approach. This was one of the things that made me choose her, because I have a hard time speaking about personal things more seriously, but it’s easier for me to open up with humor?

        She is incredibly warm, but also good at pushing me a little with questions when I try to steer away from things that I need to be confronting. Also, for me, when I go silent ISN’T the time I need pushing–it’s when I’ve run out of things to say about the current topic. That’s the time I need someone to ask me related questions or give me some guidance of what might be useful to discuss next–which she’s also great at.

    • TZ said:

      Gawd, I went to one of those therapist one and a half times and it was THE WORST. It (in my opinion, everyone’s mileage varies) is such a shitty modality. Usually I can conceive how different therapy styles help folks even if they don’t work for me, but this is not one of them. I literally do not understand how this style could help anyone in anyway, but I guess some people are just really not me? It just seems deliberately designed to provoke anxiety and discomfort and prevent the client from feeling safe/comfortable around the therapist. It’s like being on a bad blind date, where your date won’t even pick up a sliver of the emotional labour of keeping a conversation going.

      tl:dr–yeah, you’re not bad at therapy for these therapists not working for you, they are a bad fit for your needs.

      • MsMildew said:

        I hate this style of therapist too. I am too introverted & socially awkward (from an actual disability that causes issues with social interaction very similar to those faced by some people with autism) for it to work. I don’t know where to start, get confused, can’t focus, forget important words, jump back & forth in time, and don’t come across very coherently. I need some guidance here, people!

      • azurelunatic said:

        I know maaaaaaaaaybe two people who I think this style might work for, and both of them are generally reluctant to talk about the super deep stuff without a long, uninterrupted period of reflection beforehand. One of them is a dear friend, and I eventually learned that while he would meet me banter for banter quite happily, if I wanted to hear the more reflective things he had to say I should make space. But it was always comfortable, friendly silence, not awkward silence.

    • I dunno. I’ve only gone to CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) practitioners, and none of them have had a problem with saying “How are you?” or occasionally asking a question. So I’m thinking it’s another YMMV thing and agree that it’s important to address this with an individual that one is going to for therapy. It’s been awhile since I was trained to provide counseling, but I’m really glad I wasn’t taught anything restrictive like that. But I know different things work for different people and all.

    • I agree that this is an accepted modality – and would like to second that it does work for some people.

      My first therapist who I worked with realized that I needed practice pushing into conversations and pushing into discussing emotions. And so….I had to end long silences.

      I hated it. Really hated it – but I learned a lot about speaking up and how speaking up made me feel.

  14. Ainsely Stibribbons said:

    Hi Q5, I have the same problem! Here’s what was helpful: I started writing down my anxiety spells, then looked over my notes to see if there was a pattern. I was amazed at how easy it was to spot the pattern and even theorize some causes, so now I know the time of day I’m likely to get anxious (the afternoon) and what’s likely to make me anxious. (Drinking the night before, or taking ADD medication that morning). So then I could make an ANXIETY FORECAST every day. Just knowing when the spells were likely to occur really helped, and allowed me to deliberately plan anxiety-friendly work for my anxious hours, which freed up other time for writing.

    Sorry to tell you that so far (I’m still working on this) the simplest most high-impact thing I did to improve life was to stop trying to write during my anxious hours.

    • JenniferP said:

      This is so smart!

    • I did this inadvertently after a HUGE breakup and it was the first time living by myself and being just with myself (had gone from relationship to relationship before). I used to get into these bile-black moods where I wanted to do everything but was frustrated because I actually didn’t get up and do ANY of them. I happened to be blogging daily (journaling helped me purge the emotions from the breakup as they came up), so after about six months of this, where my mother suggested that I might be need-a-diagnosis depressed, I looked back through my blog and saw that these moods came up….hey, what do you know? EVERY TWENTY-EIGHT DAYS.

      Once I figured out that my moods corresponded with my hormones and disappeared with my period, it made it so much easier to bear when I knew there was an end in sight.

      • I have a similar thing, and knowing the pattern really is the most important thing. I can self-care all I want, but the biggest thing that takes the weight off my shoulders is knowing that the problem will probably fade away within a few days.

      • I’ve always said I’d rather know a why than be operating in the dark. (I honestly once told my friend I’d rather know for sure I had a brain tumor than go on with “we don’t know why you’re [experiencing symptom].) So this makes perfect sense to me.

    • Spicy Onion said:

      This is something they use in Dialectic cognitive behavioral therapy. The classic book on this has a step by step guide on identifying situations and preparing alternative responses later on. So if you’re not into or simply can’t do the therapy route right now, I highly recommend checking it out as it reads like an exercise book.

  15. Q17: I want to put in a plug for postcardstovoters.org. From their site: “Postcards to Voters are friendly, handwritten reminders from volunteers to targeted voters giving Democrats a winning edge in close, key races coast to coast.”
    They give you the talking points and the addresses, you provide the cards and the stamps. Some people go to town with handcrafted works of art, some people crank out cards that are just this side of legible. It’s all good.

    I find it very calming. I write my 5-10 cards without thinking about it too much (while listening to a podcast), and then I feel like I have Done Something, and can go about the rest of my day with a more tranquil heart.

    • YesVirginia said:

      I just bought postcards and signed up. Thanks, feeling like I can do something is better than feeling helpless! (I am so stupid angry, so channeling it into “write to these voter” rather than “sadly peruse the internet wondering if this is the fall of the nation” is good. Seriously, thank you.)

    • I second your plug. Postcards to Voters has given me a way to feel useful when my anxiety just will not let me make phone calls.

    • Jackalope said:

      I often buy postcards for co-workers when I go on vacation and have a bunch left over. I’m don’t allow myself to keep them all for myself bcs I decided I don’t want to take up all of my apt with postcards. So this could be a great way to use them!

    • Attica said:

      As a recipient of one of these postcards for my recent primary, I can attest to their effectiveness. I learned about a wonderful challenger to a loathed incumbent in a way that yard signs just didn’t manage. I was motivated to vote before, but I felt my enthusiasm climb after getting the card.

    • MsMildew said:

      We got one of these the other day! It actually made me laugh because 5 adults live here and when I checked the mail I thought “wow someone’s getting an exciting post card with lots of writing on it!”

    • Libby said:

      Thank you SO MUCH for sharing this organization! This is a great fit for me and several friends of mine who have been trying to brainstorm ways to help while maintaining our own mental health.

      NB: For those who also really struggle making phone calls, the information I’ve read says that while phone calls are really the best option to make your representatives take notice, voicemail messages count just as much as actually talking to a person since they will still be logged/counted. I personally find it quite a bit easier to leave a message because I can write something beforehand (often activist sites provide you with a script!). I’ve taken to deliberately calling after office hours, which has helped with the phone anxiety a lot.

    • aspen said:

      Thanks for this! Just got signed up and am sending out my first batch of cards, thanks to your comment.

    • Kelsi said:

      That’s so interesting! I got what I assume was one of those awhile ago and, I admit, I thought it was kind of weird–entirely handwritten, on a plain white piece of cardstock, with a simple flower stamped on one side and no other design. I assumed it was some kind of grassroots local thing because the candidate in question is definitely popular with the sorts of folks who are politically active in the city.

      All this said, I definitely do like the candidate and will be voting for them. It just seemed really weird to get a handwritten, unbranded postcard from a stranger with a political message on it. (Before I read it, I honestly expected it to say something like “[Candidate] supports abortion because they want to eat your unborn babies, also [Candidate] supports men being in women’s bathroms!!!1!11” because that’s what most of the political mail I get looks like. Ugh, red states.)

      • Vicki said:

        My first few just went out on plain cardstock, but I may be printing designs on the address side of the next batch. They ask volunteers to use relatively non-controversial postcard designs/images (and provide some, if we want), which include “voting is your super power” (ugh), or picture postcards of pretty geography, or the Statue of Liberty.) Part of why they look generic is that they don’t give the volunteers the names of the people we’re writing to, just addresses: so I can address the card to “Nashville voter” or “Valued voter” but not “Kelsi YourSurname.” This is explained as being to protect everyone’s privacy: all they’re telling me is that there’s at least one registered voter at that address.

        And now I’m going to go write another postcard.

        • sophylou said:

          I just ordered some neutral-image postcards (NASA space photos) to use for this — I’m happy to write these postcards, but I would also find plain cardstock a little weird if I were to receive one. (Though I’d prefer a postcard to a text message, which I’ve gotten before and did find useful but also creepy since I don’t like to give out my phone number). I can’t bring myself to write the cutesy stuff like “Awesome Voter” or “voting is your super power,” though, so I like that there are more subdued wording options 😉

          • KittensMakeEverythingBetter said:

            I wrote postcards with the ACLU and they then addressed them so that there were no privacy issues. The ones I wrote did identify that they were from the ACLU, but not much else. One of their slogans for this campaign is “Vote like your rights depend on it” and several of their suggested paragraphs contained some form of that message which I felt I could endorse.

        • Kelsi said:

          Yeah I mean it wasn’t the not addressing it to me that struck me as weird (I think political mail to me is always addressed some generic way?), it was more the fact that it was just a handwritten piece of cardstock.

          (Now I’m wondering if it was a different org–the address was handwritten too, and appeared to be in the same handwriting as the rest of the note)

  16. Zenfrodo said:

    Your kitties are so adorable! So here’s my cute kitten pic in return (because we all need cute kittens) — our house panther, Luna, shortly after we brought her home:

    • Zenfrodo said:

      hmmm. seems I can’t post pic links. oh well.

      • Leighthal said:

        I have a panther too! He is dark grey rather than black, but still a miniature panther. When you are say lying on a bed and all you can see is his tail standing upright coming towards you, he also reminds me of a great white shark with just its fin showing.

  17. Nanani said:

    Q8 – in my field, the primary meaning of PCT is Patent Cooperation Treaty, so I read your question with a lot of ???s

    Anyway, maybe it would help to rehearse a few canned answers for different interest levels? Both the questioners AND yours! Having a quick canned answer that leads to a natural topic change will be useful when you don’t feel like discussing it right then, or when yoususpect that this particular questioner will Not Get It and you don’t to engage in 101 level talk right now.

  18. Q17 — also not what was asked, but I’ve been reading (and re-reading) a lot of my favorite science fiction series that arch over a period of centuries or millennia.

    For me, it sort of helps me think of current events in a broad perspective. Not in a, “well, in the grand scheme of things, this is insignificant” way, but more in the sense of, “the way this moment, this struggle, fits into the arc of history and the future is complex; it will not be clear how until it’s over, just as historical people’s actions, their battles and struggles and losses and triumphs, seem clear to us looking backwards even though they’re an overwhelming mess to the people in them.”

    That has been keeping me more grounded than taking breaks with completely silly things. So, right, the series I’ve been reading are the Patternist books by Octavia Butler (Wild Seed is the first book), the Hainish Cycle by Ursula K LeGuin (books can be read in any order but The Dispossessed is a good entry point), the Finder series by Carla Speed McNeil, the Terra Ignota quartet by Ada Palmer (Too Like the Lightning is the first book, and her blog is also phenomenal; also, if you are invested in supporting #ownvoices works, she is disabled and writes compelling disabled characters).

    I know the key to my personal mental health has been kind of extreme: In 2013 I got rid of most of my social media accounts, and in 2016 I finally deleted the rest of them (Facebook, mainly). This year I tentatively began using Instagram, blogging, and using Quora to try socializing on the internet, strictly focusing on building interpersonal connection around art and mental health rather than activism or politics.

    I read the news once a week, only via Vox and The Atlantic (ie, long form, neutral toned, liberal learning articles in spaces without comments sections), and I focus on responding– if it’s warranted– thoughtfully and effectively in that time and space. I journal what I process so I don’t vent to other people. If an organization needs help, I donate.

    It helped, also, to give myself permission to not do the phone-your-senator thing. I found that, especially in circumstances where I was repeatedly sent to a full message machine or put on hold, I found that because I had accumulated a lot of anxiety readying myself to make the call, and then was unable to alleviate the stress in the way I’d intended (by talking to the senator or intern), it’d spill out in self destructive ways: panic attacks, insomnia, yelling at people who didn’t deserve it or venting to people who had explicitly set boundaries saying they didn’t want to hear it.

    Instead, I’ve found that, for me, putting in 8-12 hours a week working the phones at my county’s crisis center (RAINN location, suicide helpline, NA hopeline, elderly and disabled adults abuse reporting, and other crises) was far more my skill set. It’s been helpful to have this very tangible thing where I get to know the people in my county (both my coworkers / volunteers, clients, and people at adjacent agencies), so I never feel like anybody’s going it alone, and I can see / hear specific positive results. Like, hey, this person we helped get into a DV shelter last month, she’s now safely living with her friend and finished her LN certification. Or even more short term, at the beginning of this phone call this person was terrified, and now they feel relieved and heard and they have a safety plan in place.

    I strongly recommend, if at all possible, to figure out how to match your skills to fulfill a concrete need in your immediate community. If you’re not conversational at all, or prefer physical labor to emotional labor, maybe something like transporting people, or preparing food, can be more your speed. If you’re good at math and explaining things, maybe volunteer as a math tutor for GED students.

    Just, having that factual thing to push back against your anxiety with, like, “I did this and it helped,” can be a huge relief. That immidiate action, plus the broad view of history / future, has helped settle me a lot. I know I’m in the minority in this, but I’m a lot more well today than I was two years ago. As far as I can tell, this is why.

    Also! As far as fun: I know it’s old news but if you haven’t yet watched Janelle Monae’s video album ‘Dirty Computer,’ it’s friggin amazing.

    • I don’t read the news at all. I also have deleted all social media accounts. Instead, I volunteer and make sure I help others by listening to them and validating them. I do this to resist the forces of divisiveness unleashed by those in power.

      • I’m glad to hear it! I feel sometimes like I’m the only one who left social media. And I do sometimes go for two months without reading the news. I feel a bit defensive sometimes, like it’s somehow cowardly to avoid these obvious sources of stress, but it really isn’t. ❤ Love and support.

      • I mostly avoid it as well. And I’ve been avoiding social media. My professional work has developed several opportunities to provide substantive help to parts of our country and the world facing some ugly problems, so I’ve been putting everything there, instead, much like Igmerriman’s volunteering for RAINN. Putting what energy we can give where it can do the most is both self-care and making what we can give more effective.

        On avoiding anxiety-inducers, for some years now I’ve been following the practice of removing advertising from my life as much as possible. I don’t read magazines except some professional ones where reading the ads is of value to me. I pay for ad-free versions of media and services or I do without. I strip away as many ads as I can from ever reaching me. The few exceptions where there’s no pay option and it’s not something I’m willing to give up wind up as barely noticeable.

        And it’s very freeing. Ads are designed to “create a need” that you don’t have. Which means they’re either trying to create anxiety directly, or to gain your attention for something tempting by using methods that are at stress-inducing levels of distractiveness, which is wearing and creates an unnecessary burden of background stress for someone dealing with anxiety.

        I keep as much of it from entering my home as possible.

        So now I mostly get re-exposed to advertising when I travel, and every time I wind up astonished that people manage to tolerate the onslaught and wonder how I ever did.

        N.B.: There is an ugly gendered component to this — advertising is saturated in tactics to remind all women that we don’t look right and this is some terrible character flaw we should feel horrible about. Getting that crap out of your life is more freeing than you might think.

        • I haven’t watched broadcast TV in years and years, and whenever I accidentally see TV ads (on a TV at a bar or whatever) I’m just appalled. Definitely do get as much of that stuff out of your life as you can.

  19. Queen of the Harpies said:

    LW12: I work in the heart of a large urban business district which means that there are a lot of therapists, including my excellent therapist, within a 10 min walk, so I go on my lunch hour. Something to keep in mind though: you do have to go back to work after. I’m awesome at compartmentalizing my emotions (a little too awesome actually, hence the therapy) so I can usually get it together enough after a session to finish my day adequately. My therapist also keeps this in mind and, if we’re going to do really emotionally tough work, we will schedule it for a day I can take time off.

    Good luck!

  20. Pomodoro Strategem said:

    Q4 – you may want/need to reach out to someone beyond the professor. Not that the professor is necessarily a jerk! But when I was adjuncting, the college shut off my email access any semester I wasn’t teaching, including the summer, but the email system didn’t generally send a bounce-back to the poor person who emailed me. And my name remained up on their website for a good year after I stopped teaching there. So, in other words, the professor may not even know you have tried to reach them.

    Also, T. Kingfisher is awesome.

    • I had almost this exact scenario, only, as the instructor, the student was sending the work in incorrectly. It turned out, the student was misspelling my name in the email address. Apparently, she thought I was mad at her (?) and was taking it out on her by not responding. It was only 6 months later, when I remembered that she owed me a lot of work, that I emailed her. Then she responded and I got the whole story. We managed to get her work in and graded just in time.

      I’m not sure about your school, but at my school, incompletes are time-sensitive. After two semesters, if there isn’t a replacement grade, it automatically turns into an F.

      My advice is to email, but also contact the departmental advisor/coordinator/secretary/chair to see about getting into contact with your former teacher. Good luck!

  21. Stumbles said:

    Hey Q8! Another PCT hiker here and I relate so hard to what you’re saying. I also had mixed feelings about my hike; feeling like I failed because I didn’t meet my athletic goals, dealing with creeps who tainted my memories of the whole experience (my last hitch was a bad hitch) and not really fitting in with the social scene. For some very good reasons, my perspective has changed over the last few years and I look back on it now with a lot of happiness and nostalgia. I even spend a lot of time fantasizing about my next long distance hike (hopefully the CDT! but not for a very long time).

    Anyway, just wanted to let you know that you aren’t the only hiker with complicated feelings. In terms of what to tell people, I usually just went with ‘It was an incredible experience!.’ Then I would redirect the conversation back onto them by asking about their favorite hikes/ whether they’ve ever been to the Sierra. The complicated stuff got saved for my nearest and dearest- my husband doesn’t understand why I miss long distance hiking so much because what he remembers are the tearful phone calls.

    Don’t forget that post-trail depression is real and exercise can help a little! If you want someone to chat with about this stuff, let me know.

  22. Amtelope said:

    LW11: I have a kid with special needs, and for a long time if I was going to something with people, I needed to have a set date (I couldn’t ever do spur-of-the-moment), AND for my friends to accept that I might have to bail at the last minute, AND it was really nice if sometimes they were willing to reschedule when I bailed rather than go on without me.

    That’s a lot, I know, and it was OK if sometimes people did go without me. But it might be great for your friend to make some plans with built-in backup plans, like “Okay, let’s plan to see the movie at 8:00 on Friday. Marissa, if you need to cancel and can let everyone know before 7:00, we’ll reschedule for 8:00 on Saturday. If it’s after that, we’ll need to go ahead without you because we’ll all be in motion toward the theater by then.”

  23. Darthtrina said:

    LW1, think about what you’d like: interviews, advice, comedy, current events? Would you like podcasts from voices you don’t hear very often? What are your interests?

    And ADHD is different for everyone: that’s exactly why I listen to podcasts. Cleaning is too boring by itself, and if I occupy my brain with a podcast or audiobook, the dishes magically get done.

  24. LW7 said:

    Thanks for the answer and the link, Captain! I really appreciate the reassurance that this isn’t just me.

    And thanks for all the kitten pics, they’re the most adorable 🙂

  25. TZ said:

    LW8, one possible script for you is: “It was haaaard!” I think tone is key here, particularly for more casual questioning–i’d be going for “confessional upbeat surprise”. This honours your truth without dumping a lot of baggage at anyone–of course something like that kind of trip was hard!

    I also like it because it works for all three of those different scenarios/levels of conversation, while providing enough hook for other people to follow up with the kinds of questions that are comfortable to them and let you know what their expectations are. The first category of folks might come back with: How are you settling in? Anything you want to talk about? Have you had time to recover? How are you feeling about everything? The second: Oh my god, yeah. But we do it for the challenge right? What was the hardest part? What advice do you have? The third, Ha, I would imagine! What are you doing now? Or how about this total subject change?

    • Inahc said:

      also: “it was… an experience.” or “it was terrible, but, I survived!” 😉

      • owenmontbrun said:

        I recently came back from 3 weeks in France. My phrase: “It was and adventure. Not a ‘Nine-Finger Frodo and the Ring of Doom’ sort of adventure, but came close a few times.”

    • Thistledown said:

      I like “I’m just glad it’s over” said wearily with a redirect. I that effectively conveys that it’s a complicated subject you’d rather not discus. I think for follow-ups you can just say, “It was a lot. I’d rather not discuss it,” with another redirect.

  26. Inahc said:

    Q3: sometimes repetition helps me. anxiety is gonna do what it’s gonna do, so I just keep gently reminding it that these things are okay, and giving it lots of hugs, and it seems like the *next* time I have to do the scary thing it’s a bit less freaked out.

    sometimes I get pissed off at how much work that is, but I try to process those feelings separately and not let them be mean to the anxiety.

    • Texan at Heart said:

      There are a few things that have helped with my anxiety recently and were newish strategies for me after many years of struggling. Everyone is different, but I thought I’d share in case they might be helpful to the LWs:
      – Yoga (I like Yoga with Adrienne, but even 5 mins of any yoga poses and breathing is helpful)
      – Calm App (some free stuff, some paid)
      – Virtual Hope Box (also an app)
      – Happier Podcast, Happier in Hollywood Podcast (great for distraction and some solid tips with an understanding that everyone is different)
      – Dietary things have helped me and are grouped for easy ignoring if that’s not helpful or is triggery: increase water intake, reduce caffeine & sugar intake (for me, it was helpful to start with eliminating them add a tiny bit back). My pros also advised eliminating gluten and dairy, but I found that to be obscenely stressful
      – My therapist and nutritionist separately recommended the following vitamins for anxiety (you’d probably want to run this by your pros first): multivitamin, B complex, omega 3s

      It’s a hard time for anxiety. Kudos to you for reaching out for support. I hope you find some strategies that gives you some relief, and know that you are very loved as you search for what those things might be.

      • Lix H. said:

        For meditation and yoga, I like Down Dog and Insight Timer myself. Insight Timer helps me sleep pretty much every night these days (I listen to yoga nidra guided meditations, usually the same two, though sometimes I’ll branch out), and Down Dog is fun because you can do the same yoga routine every time if you want, but you can also input how long you want to do it and various other things and it’ll give you something new.

  27. Inahc said:

    Q5: if the problem is “I can write, but not about the thing” then my advice is useless, but if the problem is “I freeze up and can’t write at all”, well, my grade 9 teacher had a trick that really helped me: try to write about anything for 5 minutes, and if you start to freeze up, write the word “and” over and over until something else comes out. 🙂

    • First line: “When they/she/he/it/name/I woke up that morning, the sky was orange.”

      Last line: “Then everyone turned purple and exploded.”

      Obviously we would want to delete these two lines when the document is finished, so we don’t end up sending out a manuscript to professor “what’s his nuts.”

      • If you’re trying to start something totally new, there are some pretty great “first line generators” out there. Pretty fun.

      • TootsNYC said:

        When I wrote news and feature stories, or even research papers, in college, I’d have trouble getting started. So I took to starting in the second or third paragraph.

        And I wrote the lead/intro later.

        I found I was better with never starting at the very beginning.

  28. Q1, if you want recommendations for podcasts, hit me up. Seriously. I listen to many across genres (though I do tend to be true crime heavy).

    • ShadowAngel said:

      Can this be the podcast suggestion thread?
      Because I’ve got a list too!
      Heavy on things which are not real or only lightly touch on the real (ghost stories, mythology), but I’ve got a bit of true crime too.

      • Thistledown said:

        I have a feminist sports podcast run by a diverse group of female academics and journalists that I think some Awkwarders would like. It is the best, and I don’t even like sports.

        • Thistledown said:

          By I have, I mean I listen to regularly. I would be wildly unqualified to make a sports podcast.

        • Punkwich said:

          I would love to know the name of that sports podcast!!!

          • MoSaurus said:

            I hope it’s okay to add suggestions here, cause I’m gonna jump in.

            Here’s some I enjoy: 2 Dope Queens (Comedy podcast, often NSFW, but focusing on having POC, LGBTQ+ comedians; the hosts both black women so you won’t hear any misogynist nonsense). Phoebe Robinson (comedian and co-host of 2 Dope Queens) hosts “Soooo Many White Guys”. It is an interview podcast; Phoebe interviews a bunch of people each season and the last guest of the season is the Token White Guy. I also love Reply All, a show about the internet (I recommend the episode “Give Up Already”). “Still Processing” from the NYTimes is a cultural analysis show hosted by two black folks, they get into the weeds but it’s quite fun. Code Switch from NPR talks about diversity stuff, always interesting IMO. For advice podcasts, I LOVE Dear Prudence (advice column show), or Mom and Dad are fighting (parenting show). I also like most of “Unladylike” also – feminist podcast. The episode with Imani Ghandi was a standout (the only episode I’ve disliked so far was about makeup). Finally, “Death Sex and Money” is pretty great – interview show focused on asking questions about more taboo topics.

          • Thistledown said:

            The sports podcast by angry feminists is appropriately called “Burn It All Down.” I love it, but be warned that there’s a lot of analyzing the intersections of sexism, racism, and sports. It’s not something you want to listening to if you’re trying to escape politics.

          • Thistledown said:

            I co-sign the recommendation about 2 Dope Queens. Both those ladies are hilarious.

          • Some of mine: Not for everybody, but History of Philosophy is good for, well, people who are interested in philosophy. The podcastle/escape pod/pseudopod set are good for short stories (fantasy, sci-fi, and horror respectively), or strange horizons for often-creepy/weird fantasy. Someone I know cohosts Bad Fat Broads, a low-key conversation about fat activism. Writing Excuses is great if you want to learn how to write fiction (15 minute episodes, huge back archive.) I also listen to In The Deep by Catherine Ingram, which is a bunch of dharma talks…not sure how to describe them but I like them a lot. They’re less “you need to meditate so you can not get caught up in your thoughts and feelings all the time and become enlightened!” and more “life is what it is, thoughts and feelings are part of life, and also you can not get caught up in them too much.” I listen to the Feeling Good podcast which is about, uh, therapy (it’s aimed at therapists but there’s useful self-help stuff too)…like, take David Burns’ opinions with a grain of salt (for instance he doesn’t think medication works for depression) but there’s a lot of good stuff in there too.

    • Song in my heart said:

      I have rec’s!

      SciFi/Fantasy:
      -Wolf359, an audio drama written for a podcast. It’s over, but it was planned to have just 4 seasons, and they are amazing. Note: I know several of the people involved because we went to college together, but they are immensely talented.
      -NightVale: Quirky “community radio” for the town of NightVale, in which odd things are the normal. Their twitter/fb feed has a quote every week that I find entertaining, usually a subversion of a more popular quote.
      -Alice Isn’t Dead – From the writers of NightVale, this is a much grittier drama that follows a truck drive on a search for her missing wife. Strange creatures and conspiracies abound.
      -Critical Role -by Geek and Sundry- basically they’ve recorded D&D sessions for your enjoyment. I haven’t listened to this one personally, but it’s on my list and comes highly recommended

      News:
      -Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me is usually comedic gold – news quizzes done as comedy. They occasionally overstep the bounds of humor, but are also usually called out for it.
      -Up First, also NPR, gives ~12 minute summary of news from the day before; I’ve stopped listening just because news makes me anxious and I have other outlets, but they’re decently researched and good analytics

      Story-telling:
      -The Moth Radio Hour (podcast or radio)
      -Ear Hustle – Written and produced by prisoners in the US criminal justice system, so it’s audited, but has real (and hard) stories
      -Snap Judgment – storytelling with a beat
      -Levar Burton Reads is awesome. It’s short stories that he happens to find enjoyable or interesting for one reason or another
      -Light Speed Magazine had a podcast reading a story or two from each of their issues. SciFi/fantasy magazine.

      Queer:
      -Dyking Out – Two female comedians host another witty person (usually a queer woman, in the beginning all comedians) to talk about random topics. Note: They can get things wrong; these are white women and aren’t terribly aware of racial issues, for instance.
      -Nancy Podcast – Hosts interview people and put together a story, by queer POC for queer folks
      -Conversations With People Who Hate Me – Dylan Marron host. S1 he reached out to folks who left bad comments on his videos and had real conversations with them. Now he’s branched out to moderate conversations between other people on a similar kind of antagonism. Sensitive topics, and iirc he has trigger warnings when conversations warrant trigger warnings.

      Random:
      -Irish and Celtic Music podcast brings you awesome indie music from anywhere within the genre(s) in the title.
      -History of English podcast is a truly fascinating podcast, but takes a lot of focus to listen to. It literally starts with proto-Indo-European language and how it splits into the different languages of Europe, with a focus on anything that feeds into English. There’s a lot of nifty history woven in, as well as linguistics and regional differences. If you’re an English nerd, you’ll probably enjoy it.

      • I adore Dylan Marron. I’ve been a fan since he started doing voice work as Carlos on WTNV.

        • Song in my heart said:

          I think I discovered him before I started with WTNV, but he’s awesome on there too! I am also a fan.

      • darthtrina said:

        Queery hosted by Cameron Esposito is pretty great too. A friend of mine summed it up as “Like Terry Gross, but everyone is super gay.” (Of course, it’s the full LGBTQIA+ spectrum, it’s just the 10 second soundbyte.)

    • Loosely listed by genre but in no other particular order:

      Fiction:
      Welcome to Night Vale — Someone once described this as if Rod Serling and Neil Gaiman set up Sims and left it running. Mountains are up for debate, Cecil is adorable and terrifying and so is the world he lives in and above all remember: The Dog Park will not harm you (probably).
      Alice Isn’t Dead — Alice’s lover is a long-haul trucker and her world is very weird. By the same people who brought you WTNV and with Jasika Nicole as the voice of the show.
      The Black Tapes Podcast — Not the same sort of weird as the first two, Black Tapes is about Alex Reagan and her investigation into Dr. Richard Strand, paranormal debunker/investigator. But this story goes to potentially world-ending places.
      Limetown — Years ago, an experimental community vanished. Lia Haddock is determined to know what happened to them. S2 coming in 2018.
      Rabbits — What happens when a Game spills into the real world? What does Rabbits mean?
      Tales — Fairy Tales as they were originally told
      Tanis — Is Tanis a place, or a being, or something…else? Join Nic Silver as he explores the myth of Tanis.
      Within the Wires — TBH, I’m not 100% certain what this podcast is about which is why I keep listening.

      Philosophy, kinda?
      Harry Potter and the Sacred Text — Harry Potter, the series, read with attention as if it were a Holy Book. It’s better than I make it sound.
      Nocturne — Exploring the things that happen at night.
      Here be Monsters — Stories about the Unknown. Sometimes esoteric. Sometimes conversational.

      Crime, True Crime, Criminals, and related (The Big List) — A lot of this stuff can be triggery and graphic so please approach with caution
      The Cleaning of John Doe — This podcast is over but if you’ve ever wondered what a professional crime scene cleanup company does, it’s good for that.
      Criminal — Phoebe Judge has a very soothing voice, given that she’s talking about/to murderers, thieves, identity thieves, and people who are more difficult to pigeonhole.
      Cults — Discusses a variety of cults from their rise to their (usual) downfall. A LOT of abuse goes on, so this podcast is kind of Dead Dove, Do Not Eat.
      Detective — So far, the seasons of Detective have each focused on one detective and the jobs he (yes, so far) did, and how his job affected him, etc.
      My Favorite Murder — Karen and Georgia sit down and talk to each other about their favorite murders. This is listed as a humor podcast but if it is the humor is very dark indeed. Also, they have a tendency to ramble so if that’s not your podcast jam skip it.
      Serial Killers — Dramatizations and explanations of serial killers. Less black humor. I’m still on the fence about this one.
      Unsolved Murders — Dramatizations and explanations of what it says on the tin.
      What ***** can teach us about Con Law — A discussion of constitutional law and what the current administration can teach us about it.

      Legends, Myths, and Lore:
      Lore — (obviously 😉 ) Aron Mahnke gives an overview of various myths and legends and lore that surround us in a very storytelling style. He doesn’t get all his facts right all the time, but is entertaining nonetheless.
      Astonishing Legends — Discusses such legends as Dyatlov Pass, The Mothman, and Black-eyed Children; their tag line is sort of “If you believe any of this stuff.” I like the episodes when it’s just the two hosts talking to each other, but they also do interviews with experts in their various fields. Their series on Amelia Earhart was amazing.
      Cabinet of Curiosities — An audio version of a Wunderkammer, by the same guy that does Lore. I’ve only heard one episode so far, so consider this a cautious approval.
      Haunted — Ghost stories
      Haunted Places — Tales of what it says on the tin
      Strange Matters Podcast — covers some of the same stuff as Astonishing Legends

      General History and Learning Schtuff podcasts:
      99% Invisible — The podcast that (after WTNV) got me in to podcasts. Roman Mars, the host, and the rest of the team discuss those little design details that remain invisible to us 99% of the time. It’s really good and very interesting.
      The Allusionist — Teaching linguistics via sarcasm and discussion. Has included an episode on everyone’s favorite f-word, and also one on “Jenga.”
      Liar City — I love this show kind of a lot. They’ve taken on such things as the Satanic Panic of the 80s, Fatty Arbuckle, and the sad story that is Brian Wilson’s life. They look at the lies, where the lies break down, and what we can know of the truth.
      The Memory Palace — (Usually) small stories of interesting people.
      You Must Remember This — The history of Hollywood, looked at through a number of lenses.

      There are also a couple of NPR shows I listen to: Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me, and Ask Me Another, but I don’t listen to either of them very often at the moment.

      And this is just my active list!

  29. Hey Q5, I have an advice blog for writers and just wrote a post about writing while anxious. I hope it’s helpful for you. Click the “anxiety” tag over there for more ideas.

    If the current political situation is part of what’s making you anxious, I have a post specifically about that.

    Keep taking care of yourself. If you need to take a break from writing, it’s okay. The writing will be there when you get back. ❤

  30. Astilbe said:

    Q18, it’s okay to take the time you need to be ready to leave your husband. In retrospect, I probably knew I should have left my boyfriend when I started the last year of my thesis, but I desperately needed the emotional support that year and thought maybe we could patch things up. I showed him my thesis defense presentation the night before I gave it, and he only had criticism for what I’d done. I was so angry I almost didn’t call him the next day, even after my committee gave me an awful time (but not for the presentation part- everyone else loved that!) When I finally did break up with him a few months after finishing, it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done (I still love him in a lot of ways), and I never could have managed to get through that and also finish my thesis on time. It’s important to take the time to make yourself some solid ground. Can you ask him to show you how to pay the bills, or take it upon yourself to do so? Can you take a financial literacy class? How long until you finish your thesis? When you end things with him, everything is gonna get *really* hard for a little while, so you’re going to need to be able to do as much as you can on autopilot. Best of luck and all the hugs.

  31. I’m not sure if my comment got caught in the spam trap or if it just didn’t go through. So, to avoid potentially double posting, I’ll just use this comment to give a shout-out to PRI selected shorts and the Clarkesworld magazine podcast if you like fiction audio things.

    • Myrtle said:

      I like Jonathan Van Ness’ “Getting Curious” podcast for being loopy and silly, though he does have episodes with serious topics and speakers. I also like Pay Flynn’s “Smart Passive Income…” because it’s so optimistic. Roman Mars’ “99 Percent Invisible” is my favorite kind of intelligent curiosity. His recent episode on the build-it-yourself houses sold by Sears made me realize my grandparent’s house was one of these! Much-needed distraction from stress-calling my Assemblyman and writing to a Senator and my city mayor.

  32. PrairieChick said:

    I’m a Canadian woman who appreciates this website . Many of us are mad as hell about the motherfuckery going on currently. Sending virtual hugs and best wishes for strong action to overcome the MFs, and for better days. I have been busy supporting commenters in the New York Times, and encouraging our government to speak out and stay strong under MF pressure.

    Am channeling my disgust and anger into intensive housecleaning. Every weed and every spill has a MF’s face on it!

  33. Frankie said:

    Re: #7: yes, you are asking for some emotional labor. That is literally what you are PAYING THIS PERSON TO DO. It is their JOB to work with you in a way that…well, works for you.

  34. ThreeFlowers said:

    LW18, you’re in such a difficult situation. As a grad student, I wonder how much impact the thesis is having on your decision-making process (e.g., the time you have to think through leaving and the solutions available to you). Some of my grad school milestones completely upended my perspective on life and relationships in addition to creating a lot of general anxiety. A prof a few years older than me described inexplicably falling for a person they’d never have been interested in during their exams. Another thing a good counselor might help you do is sort out your thesis-related anxiety from your desire for change in your home life. Leaving might absolutely be the right thing for you to do, when you’re ready (especially if your partner is being super critical like Astilbe’s)! Living with thesis stress may be showing you stuff about yourself and your partner you didn’t know that ultimately makes you incompatible as a married couple. But I’ve found that the “MAKE IT STOP PLEASE” stress of late-stage school can spread to all kinds of aspects of your life, and it’s helpful to unpack that.

    Not to mention every grad student should be issued free therapy vouchers (and possibly matched with a counselor) at entrance; we would be so much healthier. But that’s another story.

    Best wishes with the thesis!

    • minuteye said:

      Good points all. I just want to point out, also, that as a grad student, you probably have a lot of untapped resources available through your department/university/graduate student union.

      You may have free or discount counseling services, legal aid services, additional funding for students in financial need (if your ability to pay bills goes down suddenly), access to subsidized housing, etc. Often there are people employed by a university whose job (in whole or in part) is to help students navigate difficult practical stuff. And in my experience, those resources are often drastically underused, because students just don’t know about them. The university, your department, your supervisor, and your peers all want you to finish your thesis (and do so with your mental and physical health intact).

      Figuring out what help you have that you aren’t using (and this includes emotional support from your fellow students) can do wonders to making you feel more in control of what’s happening, and more aware of what your choices are.

    • Astilbe said:

      Yes, this is true! I had so many mysterious health problems during grad school/ anxiety about maybe having mysterious health problems/ definitely was not my best self in so many ways. This could be affecting your relationship or your perspective on it! For me, personally, the relationship was not to be for many reasons, but your situation might be different. My school offered a short run of free couple’s counseling (which we did not take advantage of), perhaps yours has something similar?

  35. swarmofbeasts said:

    Q13, do I have a class with you this semester???
    I have a class with a person who tends to get into extended back-and-forths with the professor that kind of suck all the air out of the room, and I think in a situation like that it’s worth exploring whether you’re trying to clear up a genuine misunderstanding or looking for reassurance or validation. There are some people (students and professors) who are just never going to do that conciliatory dance of “I see where you’re coming from, your perspective is valid.” And I think it’s part of the process to learn to live with the discomfort of feeling misunderstood or feeling some kind of friction between what the other person thinks and what you think – and sometimes it can be really useful to cut off a back-and-forth before it becomes a back-and-forth and take some of that time to think through what you’re trying to say and *also* think through some of the social dynamics.

  36. Leah said:

    Thank you so much, Captain, for being there for us and our questions and problems even when the world sucks. Thank you for being honest and rad and for helping us keep things in perspective. I really appreciate it.

  37. EMP said:

    Q8:
    for people you’re actually friends with, or people with similar hobbies, I think “Actually it sucked (but I’m glad I checked it off my bucket list | and I’ll never do it again | maybe one day I’ll forget how bad this one was | I still hurt | insert your feelings here)” will actually go over pretty well. I wound up in an acquaintance group with a lot of marathoners, and many of them have shared similar stories where they feel pressured not to admit how much a big accomplishment (qualifying, making a time, finishing a race, etc) actually sucked – and all of those same people got lots of support, understanding, and sympathy when they did share.
    For those who you really don’t want to elaborate with “I’m just glad it’s over!” in a light tone can carry out the social handshake without a feelings dump or inviting more questions about something you don’t want to talk about.

  38. mh said:

    Q16 when you go to HR, first make your report and then tell them you are concerned about retaliation. Be sure to use the word retaliation. Depending on what was said, HR may have a legal obligation to protect you from the consequences. A professional and ethical HR department will protect you anyway because it’s the right thing to do.

    • Redhead said:

      A lot of the time they take retaliation more seriously than the original offense. It’s often easier to prove, for one. Definitely spend some time on Ask a Manager first though.

  39. songofstorms said:

    Related to Q10, one thing I like about my workplace is that we have two eating areas: a “conversation kitchen” and a “quiet kitchen”. These are explicitly designated as such, so everyone knows that one is a quiet space and the other is a social space. If you’re feeling chatty, you can take lunch in the conversation kitchen. If you just want to eat in peace, you can take lunch in the quiet kitchen with likeminded people who also just want to chill and do their own thing. I tend to alternate between them depending on my mood.

    • Myrtle said:

      I wonder if it was the sitting down next to him that was the problem? Maybe he felt or feels he has to entertain LW. Maybe better to breeze in brandishing the book and say, “Yo dude, you taking off? I’m gonna grab some Me time with my book.” If he’s not leaving, smile, wave the book at him and retreat to a corner. I wouldn’t sit close to where he is until he’s leaving the room.

    • Seeking Second Childhood said:

      That’s a brilliant idea…wish my office admins could see the light. We have multiple big screen TVs in every cafeteria type room. And they’re loud.

  40. Amy said:

    Q8: I’m not a hiker, but I had an experience that I think was sort of similar to what you’re feeling here. For me, it was a semester studying abroad when I was in high school. Study abroad is one of those things that a) is culturally coded as a Tremendous And Wonderful Life-Changing-Experience, and b) requires a good deal of privilege to access (especially in high school; colleges have programs that may have scholarships and other funding, youth programs with that stuff are rarer). So when I got home, of course people wanted to hear all about it, and talk about how great it must have been, and all that. The truth is, it was a miserable semester. I made no friends due to a pretty intense language barrier, my host family wasn’t a stable arrangement (I got shuffled around a couple times, and finally ended up with a family where my host dad was an alcoholic widower–he was nice enough, but clearly struggling to take care of his own kids, I have no idea who thought it was a good idea to add on a lonely exchange student who was still struggling to talk). There were a couple creepy experiences that I really had no support through or way to get help with. It was a lot for a 16 year old to process, is what I’m saying. I don’t exactly regret doing it–I learned a lot, I still love Country, it was a formative experience in my life–but it was also a terrible experience a lot of the time, and my feelings about it are still really complicated even over a decade later.

    So when I came back and everyone asked about how great my trip must have been, how much I must have learned, how great it was that I must have all these friends and this family overseas, how impressive it was that I’d done it, etc….it was really, really hard. I felt like I had failed at the entire thing, and also like I was a terrible spoiled brat for being so miserable about such a special opportunity. But I didn’t feel like I could say that to anyone! After all, I was so lucky to be able to do it at all–and it was supposed to be such a positive experience, and people were so excited to talk with me about it. I felt a lot of the same things that you’re talking about feeling.

    Here’s the bad news: People never stop asking about it. It trails off when it’s no longer the latest thing you’ve done, but it’s a cool-sounding thing, so when it does come up, people still ask the same questions and make the same assumptions.

    But here’s the good news: You don’t actually have to say much. People do make assumptions, and their assumptions are actually pretty narratively complete. I’ve had so many conversations where people basically tell me how they think this trip must have been, and I give noncommittal responses (a nod, an “mm” noise, etc.) to each statement, and they seem pretty satisfied with the conversation. Their image of what I did is probably pretty far off of the reality, but I don’t owe them an accurate story. It’s mine to tell or not tell as I want. If it’s easier for me to let random person #256 assume that it was an idyllic experience than to go into every detail how mentally and emotionally difficult it was, that’s my choice. And that is what I do more often than not. I don’t talk about my actual experience much. I’ve gone into detail with some of my closest friends–support is good–and I talk about the basics (the good and the bad) with kids who are considering doing a similar trip, because I think they deserve to know what they’re signing up for. For everyone else, I have one or two stories of the good moments, and I let them imagine whatever they want from there.

    I don’t think you have to be that tight-lipped if you want to share. You’re allowed to tell it as it really was; you’re allowed to say it was an intense and difficult experience. But you don’t owe anyone that story unless you want to share it!! You can just say that the scenery was beautiful and leave it at that. Or you can just let them talk; they’ll tell their own imagined version, and you can just let it be if you want. Your experience is yours, to process and mull over as you wish; you don’t owe its story to anyone.

    • Jess said:

      I had a parallel experience when I went abroad for a semester in undergrad. I was deeply miserable, my depression was at a low point, I made very few friends — and a thing that was supposed to be a fun fling became a horrible manipulative relationship that properly fucked me up for a long while.

      So when people ask about it — and you’re right, Amy, it never goes away completely — I have a variety of answers in differing depths. The essence is usually a light “Oh actually, it sucked, but I’d like to go back someday/my side trip to Vienna was amazing/so it goes sometimes.” It is also okay to say it was good when it wasn’t, but I find that leaves me uncomfortable because I (personally!! YMMV!!) am a bit desperate to convey some small amount of my truth, which is: It was the worst five months of my life.

      All this to say, even experiences that took a lot of access & privilege to, well, experience — they don’t have to end up great or even ~learning experiences~. They can just suck. They can be complicated. There are a lot of good suggestions in this thread for ways to answer the casual questions about it (and I know that was your actual question), and I also want to hold open a door for you to find a person or two or three that you can tell pieces of the actual story to. It took me a lot of talking (over a couple years) to figure out my own narrative around my Hell Semester. Make space for yourself to figure out this story. Take your time. It’s okay that it’s not the story you wanted it to be. You’ll find the right one.

      • Amy said:

        I’ve heard that story about the ‘fun fling while abroad gone wrong’ from so many people. It really hammers home how vulnerable being in that situation is, I think–it’s so much harder to recognize manipulation, much less resist it, when you’re isolated and lonely and still learning the local language/culture!

        It’s totally valid to want to speak your truth. You don’t owe it to anyone to tell it, if you don’t want to at that moment…but you also don’t owe it to anyone to keep it quiet, even if it’s really different from their assumptions. I’m so glad that you figured out your own narrative around it. That’s such an important thing.

        • Emmers said:

          My fun study abroad fling turned into a stalker. Yay me. Haven’t heard from him in a decade, though, so maybe he grew up.

    • Seeking Second Childhood said:

      Oh boy… summer exchange with a totally mismatched family that apparently was using me to practice their English because I learned NOTHING of their language from them. And their son took pics of himself masturbating–in film camera days, so he was unorepared to have me develop the film there. He completely avoided me the last 2-3 weeks I was there …which was good for not having to deal with a creep, but bad because I had no one else my age around.

      And yeah when I tried to explain my complicated feelings about the program it fell flat. I too developed standard noncomittal phrases … “I never realized how much I liked $HomeState until I was gone for 3 months” really played well with my friends at home.

      • Amy said:

        Why, creepy host family’s son, why???

        It took me a couple years to be able to explain what happened at all–I didn’t have words for it at first, and even when I found them, they were so insufficient (“I didn’t click with my host family,” “I didn’t make friends,”–how can that possibly convey the experience of being a kid in a situation where you’re both completely reliant on others for your basic needs and totally isolated from anyone who knows you well or cares about you? They just sound like a whiny teenager).

        It was especially hard because I don’t think anyone at home expected it to be a difficult experience–I think they were expecting it to be like an extended vacation for me, where I’d be having a great time every day, with some language learning and maybe a little homesickness mixed in. It’s easier to talk about with other people who have studied abroad, because even if you have a really good abroad experience (which I did later on! I did it again in undergrad and it went so much better), you know it’s hard. But pushing through the “So great! Wonderful opportunity! Fun!” narrative that most people at home had was impossible for me at first. Noncommittal phrases were a lifesaver.

        • Jackalope said:

          My experience as an exchange student was mostly wonderful. I enjoyed my time there, learned a lot, and am still in touch with one of my host families over 2 decades later. But…. I specifically chose a program that had you stay in one place for the whole year so I could develop a bond with one family, and then due to a health crisis (on the family’s part, not mine) I had to find myself a new place to live twice while I was there. As a teenager in a foreign country for the first time in my life (or at least for the first extended stay), I had no idea what to do. I mean, I had no family or extended friend group to call on, I couldn’t go out and get a job bcs of my age and my type of visa so I couldn’t just support myself, and I was pretty dependent on the goodwill and charity of strangers. It worked out well (the second family is the one I’m still close to), but it was really hard at the time.

    • anon because work said:

      Okay, I have a lot of weird feelings about this kind of thing because I’m from a professional field where a lot of very nice people work internationally and/or in Very Difficult Situations, and often they are also from an adventure travel background. Perhaps ancillarily, most people are usually from a somewhat different socioeconomic strata than I’m in.

      And personally, I would LOVE if more people just said “you know, I’m grateful that I got to do it, but it sucked sometimes and I’m glad I’m back.” I worked internationally during my first degree and it was honestly really tough and scary. I wasn’t suited to that kind of work, I had very little (basically no) support except for one peer who was as lost as I was, and while I was working in a safe area, getting anything done meant traveling through really dangerous places. (The situation erupted into armed conflict a year or two later – the Peace Corps workers I’d collaborated with got pulled out). But when I came home I felt SO MUCH PRESSURE to flatten everything into an instagram snapshot of how hashtag blessed and inspired I was by this great experience. I actually never talked to anyone about it because I couldn’t give people the story they wanted and I was super young and didn’t know what to do.

      Honestly, I wish more people would push back against the kind of #inspirational #humbling #blessed #adventure framing. The constant push to frame Hardship Travel and Hardship Work as some kind of spiritual growth experience that everyone should do is, you know, how the Your Rich Friend Who Travels thing happens (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WZk1WHJ_fwo). I’m not saying that people who have a nice time shouldn’t feel happy or talk about it! But I am saying the instagram narrative of, er, travel and adventure as a spiritual commodity is actually really pernicious and I wouldn’t resent someone who said “I was lucky to be able to give it a go, but WOW did some parts of it suck.” I would actually be grateful to have someone be real about it for 30 seconds.

      • Amy said:

        I actually agree that it’s good to complicate the narrative. That’s why I make a point of talking it out with people who are thinking about doing something similar; I think it’s important for people to have a balanced idea of what they’re signing up for, instead of the rosy picture that gets painted.

        But especially when I first got back, I really couldn’t do it with everyone. I didn’t have words for it; I hadn’t processed the experience enough to even have a narrative for myself, much less one I could share with others. And even now, when I do have a better sense of it and words for it…it’s so much to explain it to people who have never done or considered doing something similar, because they are caught up in the framing you talk about, and the moment I bring up anything contrary to that narrative, it becomes A Big Thing where they suddenly want to dissect my entire experience in great detail. I don’t owe that to them; I don’t owe it to anyone. This was a kind of traumatic experience for me, and while time and distance and conversations with close friends and a therapist really helped me process it and come to terms with it, digging back into it is still a big ask.

        Basically, my story isn’t anyone else’s ‘learning opportunity’–it’s my personal history, and I don’t owe rehashing it to anyone. OP doesn’t either, especially if they’re not ready to talk about it.

        • anon because work said:

          Oh, we agree about that. I just read OP as feeling like they should be more #grateful since it IS a luxury to be able to take this kind of risk, even if it sucks – but I don’t think it’s #ungrateful to admit that it was hard. It’s been the work of about 10 years for me to wrestle with my own experience to the point where I could reasonably write the post I just did – and since it was related to what I wanted to do professionally it was a big deal on every life level. Nobody’s owed my story, but nobody’s owed my cooperation with the #dare #adventure lifestyle brand either.

      • Agnes said:

        My $0.02 response on the Peace Corps: “I’m really glad I did it, but it wasn’t always fun.” True.

        • Seeking Second Childhood said:

          Succint…I like it.

  41. Malaika Moon said:

    Q10:
    “He will never take a hint.” This, 100%
    As a reader in an open plan office whose (mostly lovely) coworkers have the habit of launching into stories right on my breaks, I learned to just ask people to sum-up/wrap up their story so I can go have lunch/read, and enforce the request by leaving or picking up my book and reading if they continue to ramble, sometimes with an “Okay, cool. Going to read/ go get my food now”.
    To my benefit, I can tune out background noise pretty well and the chatty types tend to leave on their own once they realise I’m *really* not listening to them.

    • You could also tell those people you have to go to the bathroom. Anyone but the creepiest creep will leave you alone after that.

  42. Practical Criticism said:

    LW6: The Captain’s advice us great, you are almost certainly not as behind as you think you are. But if you are in the UK (and I think you might be from terminology) check you university’s extenuating circumstance policies and what you might need to do to apply for these. Doctor’s notes are usually needed so it’s great that you’ve already seen yours. In my experience, most students who apply don’t need adjustments because they do really well anyway but it’s often reassuring to know the you have the paperwork in place. Your academic advisor should be able to advise you on where to look for this stuff and if they can’t, ask to switch advisor. Good luck with your course!

  43. Q17 – I like reddit.com/r/aww which is a home for cute animal photos. Hope it helps you chill and distract.

    Q18: I’ve been in that situation. I lived with my ex for a few years in the end! We got to the point of supporting each other and going for drinks together, as friends. So it is possible but you need to TALK. If you’re at the point of moving things from a romantic to a friendly relationship, TALK. I thought my boyfriend would hate me but he said “you’re right. I’ve been thinking that too” and we cried, and we hugged, at the Sadness that our relationship was done and we were just friends… But it felt better once it was done. As long as you have separate spaces to sleep, it will work. Then you have time to plan a structured separation and move on.

    OK, might not work for you but what you wrote rang a bell, so think about it? Wish you all the best.

  44. Jackalope said:

    Q17: I find it most helpful to do something physical. For me the activity of choice is dancing bcs it’s what I love, and I have a group of dancing friends, one of whom is super close and we can talk about anything, and the others who are casual friends where I can be sure the conversation will be along the lines of, “Oh, how have you enjoyed the weather? So….weathery this week, don’t you think?” The other impt thing is that it gets me out of my mind and into my body. I’m still thinking, but it’s about things like whether my posture is correct and what’s this arm movement from my dance partner communicating and so on. I know a lot of people get freaked out by dancing so if that’s not your thing that’s fine. But if you have an activity that can get you more centered in your physical self rather than mental self, and as a bonus also lead to conversations that are light then it can help a lot.

  45. nocuzzlikeyea said:

    Q17 I feel you. Somehow, I think the news cycle can’t get more painful to watch, and that the gut punches from the people that run the US will somehow soften or stop coming so quickly. Then this week. This is week the news was awful, just awful. Like, fighting back tears at work awful.

  46. notadoctor said:

    LW8, how about just saying “It’s a LOT!” Follow with, “Have you ever hiked a big trail like that?” / “Do you like to take solo trips?” or similar. Their answer to your follow-up question could help you decide how much you want to open up to them.

    LW2, if you want to be share-y you could acknowlege, “I may not be the best person to talk to about that, I’m biased about that kind of thing because [my parents favored my sibling, etc].”

  47. Fishmongers' Daughters said:

    Re: Kitten:

    I think you might be mistaken. That photo looks to me like Henrietta Pussycat is trying to nurse from your arm, not clean it. Which ups the cuteness factor to some level beyond calculation.

  48. Julie said:

    For Q8, and I’m sorry if this is a repeat, but the question reminded me of this article I read about a year ago. This hiker’s situation sounds a bit different from yours, but I think she also struggled with some shame and the feeling that she -should- have liked and appreciated the experience more than she did. So, if you want some commiseration from someone else who was disappointed by their experience, *hands over article*

    http://www.autostraddle.com/the-pacific-crest-trail-has-a-toxic-masculinity-problem-why-i-got-off-trail-after-454-miles-instead-of-walking-all-the-way-to-canada-408954

    • Anonyish said:

      Thanks for linking to that article, it was a fascinating read. I’m in a different branch of outdoor sports and fortunately mine is more accepting (ironically, I think, because most of the people doing it are more ‘conventional’ and thus less invested in their own awesomeness) , but I’m aware this kind of crap goes on and this was a powerful read.

  49. tk said:

    LW4, if you run into difficulty with getting the information you need from the registrar, and you haven’t already done this, you may want to contact the administrator of the department you were in (or that this professor is in). A good administrator (provided they are not already pulled in 5 million too many directions) is likely to be a great resource for helping you navigate bureaucracy.

  50. Friendly Hipposcriff said:

    Q5: One thing I’ve done that’s improved my life tremendously is to cut down on the number of decisions I make each day. Being of an anxious persuasion, I can fret _a lot_ – by making decisions ahead of the time, I cut down on the energy I spend deciding ordinary things. So if you can identify things that eat your spoons, can you simplify them? e.g.:

    – I do the dishes every evening between 9 & 10. I don’t spend my energy trying to find excuses for why they can wait, or how to put them off a little longer, I just do them.
    – I need to finish my evening meal by 9 pm. If I come home too late to cook, I get a takeaway. (*What* I eat depends on hunger/budget, but instead of worrying about cost and whether it’s justifiable, I now have one clear rule I can consult.)
    – I schedule a maximum of one weekday evening event per week, I have a maximum I will pay for a dish at a restaurant, if I visit a bookstore I will buy one book by an author I know, and one I’m taking a chance on, when a T-shirt acquires its third hole, I throw it away… a lot of these are very individual, but they mean I stop agonising over decisions – these are rules that work for me, and my cognitive load is considerably lighter than it was some years ago.

    Q8: Actually, the cognitive load thing applies here, too: It will help if you have a few stock anecdotes/descriptions/answers to hand, along with a couple of pictures on your phone. Instead of wandering what you should tell people from all of the experiences/feelings you have had, you can go ask yourself whether you should give them the one minute ‘I’m still processing’ or the five minutes ‘it was really tough’ spiel. You can practice in the comfort of your own home (or on a nice level trail somewhere), but you no longer have to filter all of your memories and emotions. You can even decide on an intro that gives your listeners a couple of hooks (great landscape! terrible hardships!) and whether they ask about bliss or blisters, you’ll have something to tell them.

    • Dia said:

      Your Q5 comment, woah, what an awesome idea! Thanks!

      • Friendly Hipposcriff said:

        You’re welcome!

        I feel a bit silly jumping up and down shouting ‘use this one simple trick to improve your life’, but whoa, did this make a difference to me. Most of the decisions that take up so many of my braincycles don’t actually matter: or rather, the amount of effort that goes into optimising them & finding ‘the best solution’ stands in no relationship to the potential gain. You’re in a strange town and want to eat lunch: you _could_ run around for an hour and compare prices and menus and read reviews, or you can just walk into the nearest decent-looking place, eat, and get on with your day. Both will, on average, get you a decent lunch, but one is much less stressful than the other. (Also, the amount of self-flagellation you can do for ‘the place looked decent, but the food was meh’ is much less than ‘after all this effort, the food was meh’: by piling on a truckload of expectations, you set yourself up for failure.)

        Decision fatigue is A Thing, and I would suspect that anxious people are more prone to it, because you feel that every choice matters so much, so you need to think it through from every angle. When the choice is choosing a new place to live, that’s not unreasonable. When it’s grabbing lunch, it’s not a good use of my time and energy, even if I could save a couple of quid.

        • Vicki said:

          I phrase some of that to myself as “treat it as a solved problem.” Like, it’s t-shirt weather, I can spend time thinking about which shirt to wear, or I can take the one at the top of the stack. If conditions haven’t changed, I don’t need to keep reanalyzing things like Should I buy a monthly unlimited T pass? or What should I have for lunch?.

          Some of what you’re doing I’ve seen called “satisficing”–I don’t need to find the best restaurant in Boston, I need to eat lunch. My socks aren’t perfect, but they fit. I know that there are certain decisions that I will second-guess, but, oddly, knowing that lets me relax a little, because I know changing my mind wouldn’t help with the fretting. I have no new information, therefore there’s no reason to change the answer.

  51. Emmers said:

    Q7, ” I was asking other people to manage my anxiety for me” – isn’t… Isn’t that literally the job of the therapist?

    • Twitchy said:

      Ideally, they’ll help you learn to manage it yourself.

      • Emmers said:

        True. After I read the rest of the comments I saw that this might be a difference in modality, which makes more sense to me. Like Ask versus Guess culture.

        • LW7 said:

          Yeah, it may have been a difference in modality, but I wish the therapist had *said* that – especially when I pointed out repeatedly that it made me even more anxious.

          • I have a theory that really bad therapists are disproportionately represented among therapists who are easy to find/taking new clients. Kind of like how when you’re looking on Craigslist the really cruddy jobs with horrible turnover are somehow always posting job openings… I mean, maybe that therapist was more “bad fit” than “bad therapist”, but “bad therapist” could be the case too.

          • Emmers said:

            Yeah, if the modality is not working for the client, maybe you fix that?

            Good on you for using your words, or trying to anyway, and good luck finding a better one!

  52. DropTable~DropsMic said:

    To the PCT hiker: your experience reminds me a lot of mine after long bicycle trips. I often feel exhausted and cranky after them. A lot of unpleasant stuff happens and you use up all your mental energy dealing with it.

    A few years later though, I mostly remember the fond memories, and the hard parts I look back on as funny or educational stories. You don’t owe it to anyone to develop a perfectly positive perspective, I’m just saying you’ll probably sort your feelings out about it at some point and feel less conflicted.

    Maybe pick one or two light-hearted or funny or cute stories to share during small talk, and reserve the heavier stuff for people who you trust to take you seriously and listen.

    And congratulations! You did an amazing thing!

  53. FairestCat said:

    Q4: your question and CA’s answer inspired me to finally request a copy of my transcript from the University I failed to graduate from mumblety years ago because I took an incomplete in my last class and then never completed it.

    So, thank you for inspiring me to do a Scary Thing.

    Amusingly, I’m now even less certain what my next move is though, because my transcript is actually wrong, but it’s a beginning. Good luck with your next steps as well!

    • Pam said:

      Reach out to your old department- ask who can help you in this. (In my college, it would be me) Usually, there’s someone who can help you navigate bureaucracy and figure out how to fix your transcript, and, hopefully, graduate.

      You aren’t the only one who’s had this happen. I help at least 25 students in this boat each year.

    • I had spent ten years feeling vaguely guilty that I had been too depressed to send in a bit of paperwork at college that meant my transcripts/diploma didn’t have something on them that they should have, and also so anxious about it that in ten years I had never checked to see if that was actually the case or if it was fixable

      I had a day of intense fuck-its a couple years ago, emailed the head of the most relevant department asking if there was anything to be done, and the next day I had an email saying “everything is now updated, a replacement diploma is in the mail, thanks for catching that” and … that was it.

      So sometimes it really is easy! Good luck with yours (and OP’s)

  54. Sarah said:

    I just want to say many thanks to the good Captain. This blog taught me so much about social skills and relationships. I wouldn’t have made it through teens and college without this. Thank you!

  55. Convallaria majalis said:

    Oh, dear Captain! I wish so much to help you to deal with being angry and frustrated so if there is any way I can – and perhaps this community can – let us be there for you. You have been for years there for us and I am absolutely certain that I am not the only one who cares for you and your wellbeing a lot. You are very dear to us. Big Jedi hugs (if you want them)! If you believe that writing a rant would help, please, go ahead; your rants are the finest ones internet and literature can provide. Seeing pictures of your lovely cats make my heart melt. ❤

    Dear Q10: When I was younger I worked for a web shop entrepreneour for a month and when I began there she stated that she preferred to spend the lunch time in silence, reading and I must say I liked that. There is probably a cultural differency between our cultures, though; I currently reside in a country where silence is deemed completely socially acceptable. Being burdened by noise and/or continuous social interaction in a workplace is indeed a big problem especially for introverts. My husband is one though luckily working in a big museum he has loads of rooms and spaces to choose from. I wonder if the employers could provide silent spaces in the future; at least here in Scandinavia this is a growing thing. Best of luck to you!

  56. LW12: my friend at my previous job was in psychotherapy but did not want to disclose this to our manager. She said she was going to physical therapy and that was the perfect cover. No one can tell there actually is or is not something going on with your knee, you need regular appointments, and those can be scheduled during office hours.
    The only problem was when her shoulder started to bother her, and she said what if I really need physical therapy, what do I say then? 🙂 but thankfully that was not necessary.

    • Lily said:

      Then she can have “physical therapy for her knees and her shoulder” – should still work. “Some stuff with my back” is also a great reason for physio.^^

  57. Pink Wotan said:

    Q3: when we unlearn old (bad) behaviors and try new behaviors it normally feels not very good. You might feel “sick” or something. This is how our brain works. It wants to drive the big highways of the old behavior and steering into the new narrow dirt track will cause a strong reaction. This is normal. And it will take time for the new dirt tracks to be nice paved highways and the old highways to get overgrown. This is normal.
    When I had to unlearn some old behaviors I tried to welcome these feelings of anxiety. I made them some kind of signpost that I’m on the right track.

  58. Flunked_for_Fencing said:

    Re: Q5

    Fun story: I didn’t get to walk at graduation because of an “incomplete” in PE, specifically a fencing course. I had completed the course, with perfect attendance, and taken and passed the written exam (my university required all written exams for PE, and it made as little sense then as it does now), and even not completely embarrassed myself in the final fencing tourney. But the coach/professor still put me down as an incomplete.

    I did the research, filled out the forms, gathered witnesses, got notarized affidavits affirming I was in the class, and finally got a meeting with the coach and the head of the athletics department two days before graduation. I presented my evidence and the department head opened the physical grade book/attendance log. It showed perfect attendance and an “A” grade for that semester, written in the coach’s own handwriting.

    “This must be a mistake,” he said. He picked up a pen from the desk and scratched my name, attendance, and grades for the entire semester, while I watched. When he finished, he declared, “You didn’t finish my class. It’s all there.”

    I looked at the department head. She shrugged and said, “There’s nothing I can do. He says you didn’t finish the class.”

    And that was the end of the meeting.

    The Dean of Students eventually checked their email and I got my degree a few weeks later and managed to not-quite-bluff-but-also-not-just-give-out-information-about-this-shitshow my way into attending grad school on schedule that fall. The coach still teaches fencing.

    • CommanderBanana said:

      WOW.

      Also, fuck that coach. And that department head.

      • TO_On said:

        Yeah, the department head? What? Though I guess if the coach was willing to do it so brazenly in front of the head then he must have known the department head well enough to predict .

    • AndTheRest said:

      This shit needs to stop, but it is so entrenched at so many institutions, I can’t even suggest where to begin. As much as I am pro education and learning in all its forms, maybe it’s time to nuke these departments from orbit… it’s the only way to be sure. (I almost said “universities” instead of “departments”, but realized the wholesale destruction of entire educational institutions is what the MAGA crowd would cheer for. Think I need to find a better movie metaphor.)

  59. DCLite said:

    Q6: Get a note-taker! I was a note-taker all through college and MAN did I rock those courses because I didn’t let a single thing go unwritten. They’re anonymous and think of it as you helping two people – yourself and the person who rocks the courses and gets some cha ching.

  60. individweal said:

    For Q13, I recommend Theo Gilbert’s Compassion in HE site. The thing Gilbert calls ‘compassion’ is primarily about the skill of contributing positively in group discussions at college. It’s really important that he treats it as a *skill* that students can learn (and ideally, that profs can teach). It’s not a moral failing if you’re not already perfect at this. Gilbert is based in the UK (as am I), and some of this stuff may be culturally specific, but I think it may be a useful starting point.

  61. Q17: Register to vote. Vote. Get all your friends to register to vote and then vote. Vote the muf-uhs out.

  62. AndTheRest said:

    Q17: It’s just my personality, I think, but I find more reliable sources of joy in escapist fantasy and just plain weird, funny, and silly stuff. Some of my favorites….

    TV series: Leverage, psych, My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic. Games: Pearl’s Peril, Blendoku, Marvel Puzzle Quest. YouTube: How It Should Have Ended, CrazyRussianHacker, Because Science. Just some of my go-to’s for distracting myself from reality.

    For reality-based stuff that usually makes me feel better, fixing/repairing stuff is good, like gluing back together a ceramic plant pot (victim of playing cats), putting up curtain rods, even replacing my mother’s broken garbage disposal. Don’t know of your location/resources, but I am also fortunate enough to have the means to get out to wilderness areas and away from “civilization” for a bit, usually for a hike. (Caveat: I’ve lived in the western side of North America for basically my entire life, so my concept of nearby is about 50 miles or less.)

  63. Rachel O'Riley said:

    Thank you for the Gordon Cole meme, that which cannot be re-memed too many times.

    Also, as a multiple-decades long adorer of all things Kitten, you may just have the most Fabulous Kittens of All Time.

  64. george011 said:

    Q17 – and especially A17, Captain, who were only looking for consolation in escapes from the all too terrible real world – have you also considered how much the real world has accomplished lately? We just elected a black man as President of the United States, for two terms, and barely missed electing a woman. The most valuable company in the world is headed by an openly gay man. The wealthiest person in the world just 5 years ago was a first generation Lebanese immigrant to Mexico. The person most often called the leader of the free world is a woman who grew up under Communism. The chance of the world ending in a nuclear holocaust, which was a real possibility just a generation ago, is now fairly unlikely. The single largest source of knowledge in human history is publicly editable, accessible, and redistributable for free. The most powerful religious figure in the world is a man from a third world country who grew up working as a janitor and bar bouncer. I mean, there’s more to do, a lot of it, and a very real threat that we could go back if we don’t keep going forward, but don’t discount how much has been done and how far we’ve come. There’s consolation in the real world too. Don’t let the jerks win, but also don’t let the jerkbrain win.

    • JenniferP said:

      “These special exceptional people are thriving (while institutions, safety nets, and laws that protect and lift up everyone are being attacked and destroyed)” is not the optimistic story for me that it is for you.

      • This analogy just came to me, and it was one of those that just clicked in my head. Might be helpful for others.

        Privilege is like a city with a huge wall around it. The wall is climbable, in theory. People do it. But it’s insanely hard, and dangerous, and lots of people fall off (or get pushed off) when they attempt it. Some people (usually after many attempts) make it, and reach down to help other people up. Some people climb it, and look back and go, ‘Why can’t everyone else do the same thing?’ Some people look at that wall and can’t even start climbing it, because they have family, or the wall’s bigger in their section than in other sections, or any number of reasons.

        The fact that people manage to climb the wall at all is pretty amazing. In some cases, climbing the wall can give you a position where you can reach down and help other people up the wall.

        But it doesn’t change the fact that THERE’S A GODDAMN WALL WHERE THERE DOESN’T NEED TO BE ONE and it’s high and dangerous and people get killed on it every year, and the 1 person who makes it doesn’t make up for the 100 people who don’t. There’s also a real danger of looking at the 1 person who does make it and thinking “Oh, if they made it, the wall isn’t really THAT tall or THAT dangerous.”

        • vwolfe said:

          There there are people who were provided a ladder to said wall by sheer circumstance and then there are people who weather they climbed it or had a ladder are throwing stones at others and pouring oil down the sides so others have an even harder time climbing it

      • TO_On said:

        I didn’t read the comment that way – I read it as ‘attitudes have changed somewhat from a generation ago’. Or like ‘yes, the glass is still eighty percent empty but before it was ninety percent empty’ etc. It sounded pretty far from ‘everything’s fine now’.

        Some people don’t find it comforting to look at small improvements that don’t affect very many people, clearly, but I didn’t see anything in the comment to suggest that they are claiming there is no injustice or no barriers… Just some people find it helpful to look at whatever positive thing they can find. Obviously others don’t.

        • JenniferP said:

          Fair. And I said I didn’t personally find it all that inspiring.

  65. thathat said:

    I’m just curious what a “pyramid of procrastination and rewards” would look like? It sounds useful

    • JenniferP said:

      You procrastinate by looking at your giant to-do list, picking one thing as the thing you “should” be doing, and then doing other stuff on the list to rebel.

  66. Britpoptart said:

    Was motivated to be helpful and supportive by several posts above, and thus I was looking for the link to the helpful “just hold on for a week if you’re having a bad time” checklist I have posted in my bathroom, on the mirror, and could not find it, but ran across this list of useful resources and groups instead, which may be of use to someone:
    https://greatist.com/grow/resources-when-you-can-not-afford-therapy

    If I remember the link to the helpful chart (which I suspect I got from here), I will add it. It mostly offers some common sense advice that is all too easy to forget when you’re in a funk or depressive spiral or feeling hopeless (e.g., eat a food if you haven’t done so lately, have you taken your meds? maybe do that, is there something specific going on that might be upsetting you? be extra gentle with yourself if there are extra stressors, interact with / talk to / hug a person / pet / living thing, take a shower, write down what’s bothering you if that helps, write down stuff you derive joy from if that helps, try to move your body a little bit if you can, give yourself permission to rest or sleep if you need it, do a creative thing or fix one small problem or think of a nice thing to say or do for someone else if you can, drink some water if you haven’t done that in a while, etc., etc., but all the ‘don’t give up’ tips are merely suggested, not ordered, and they are suggested with great gentleness and empathy, with the caveat that whatever you CAN do is ENOUGH).

  67. vwolfe said:

    for Question 12 you can call it what it is a standing Dr appt, therapy for your mind is no different than physical therapy for your body
    There are therapists that do see people on weekends as well I had one once upon a time

    For 14 While I am with the captain in saying there is no shame in saying it is not in your budget I know that can be hard. Can you afford to cook? could you maybe say I can’t make this but how about you all come over for lunch/dinner this day I’d love to catch up. You could also suggest possibly meeting up for a picnic/ potluck where everyone either brings their own or a dish to share. Could you possibly afford coffee?
    If the invitation is spontaneous and happening at that moment you can say, assuming you have not spent all day with them, That you have already eaten but you would really love to catch up and would they be upset if you didnt have anything or only had some water or if in your budget a coffee/tea.

    • vanadiumoxide said:

      I have a friend who used to be on a tight budget when most of our mutual friends weren’t (none of us were high-rollers, but most of us wouldn’t think twice over dinner at a cheaper sit-down restaurant a couple times a week). For last-minute “let’s go get dinner at X” gatherings, she would sometimes eat something at home and then come with us and order nothing, or order something tiny, and it was fine. “Saving face” wasn’t part of it, partly because she presented her budget as a simple matter of fact and didn’t bring any shame, etc. into the interaction–and we certainly didn’t shame her for it! It’s also probably relevant that this would be in a group of at least 4 people, so having one person not order food wasn’t awkward for the rest of us or (hopefully) irritating for the restaurant.

  68. Sullen Choirboy said:

    Hello! I save Captain for the weekend, and so a bit late to the party, but wanted to offer some podcast/silly site recs. Podcasts: The Flophouse, in which three woke guys dissect bad movies (two worked for the Daily Show, one works in the new MST3K), The Bechdel Cast (women analyzing films for the Bechdel test), Ask a Manager podcast with Alison Greene, and Stay Tuned with former US prosecutor Preet Bharara.

    Good time-wasting sites: Reductress, a satire of fluffy women’s mags, Awful Library Books, a compendium of books that should be weeded from libraries, TV Tropes, which compiles character and plot tropes of a vast array of movies, tv, novels, manga, games, anime, etc. (warning: serious time suck), and I recommend the new Nancy by Olivia Jaimes on GoComics, and Women’s World, a new webcomic.

  69. No Name Goes Here said:

    Q17: I recently came across some psychology research showing that people largely have two ways of dealing with the current political situation, if they find it upsetting. Some people take external action, like protesting, donating, writing postcards to voters, anything that has a chance of bringing about their desired political outcome. These people tend to feel better after engaging in whichever task(s) they’ve chosen. Other people take internal action, the same kinds of things you’d do for any kind of anxiety even if it isn’t specifically tied to politics. These are things like meditating, going for a run, watching TV, etc. These people also felt better afterwards (although I don’t remember if these strategies were as successful as taking external action), but because they felt better, they then didn’t take any external steps to change the situation. I think this can be a helpful thing to remember for folks who are primarily focusing on the second set of strategies — they’re good strategies on an individual level, and also, using them can further entrench the political status quo unless people are careful to say “okay, I feel a little better, but I’m still going to do X and Y thing externally.”

    It took me a long time to figure out what external actions were my work, and I think if you want to take external action, that’s the first step — figuring out which part of the work is your work. Focusing on that piece can help, because the work overall can seem big and overwhelming, but your specific piece of it can be more manageable. For example, I now register voters, which is a time-limited activity; if I have gone to my shift, I have done what I set out to do. In my area, some voter registration drives have people walking around with clipboards and others have folks sitting at tables waiting for people to come to them; the second kind can be easier if you don’t like approaching strangers or have mobility issues, etc. I also do some volunteer tasks for Get Her Elected: https://www.getherelected.com. I love the postcard idea that someone mentioned above and will probably start doing that too. The key for me is that all of these tasks things are made up of one-time tasks, and some of them I can do whenever I want (like, voter registration drives happen at specific times, but some of the tasks I do for Get Her Elected candidates can be done whenever I feel like it). I can sign up for as many or as few things as I want, which is helpful right now because I can’t commit to a regularly scheduled activity.

    There are also things I thought about doing that I don’t do. I thought about participating in marches and protests, but that was too public for me. I thought about escorting at abortion clinics, but in my area all of those shifts are on Saturday mornings and I’d have to show up every Saturday morning, not just one here and there, and that doesn’t work for my life right now. Not all parts of the work are for everyone, which is why I was saying the first step is figuring out some things that work for you personally.

    Two other things that help me. A, hanging out with people who are also doing part of the work, in person and online. Community is incredibly important as a source of replenishment when you are doing something hard for a prolonged period of time. B … hmm, I’m not sure the best way to express this. I try to stay grounded in eternity. The things of this world are not forever, in part because people are doing the kinds of things I outlined above. Sometimes it helps me to see the current situation in the context of the entire arc of history, where things like this have happened before and will happen again in a different form; that’s a way for me to understand how people got this kind of stuff to stop before and think about how to increase the effectiveness of those strategies so that the terribleness stays stopped for longer this time. I asked my husband once why he thought that God lets people be so terrible to each other, and he said he didn’t know but one way he thinks about it sometimes is that on an individual level, God keeps giving us the same lesson until we learn it. And maybe that’s how it works on a broader level as well — we as humans keep getting the same lesson until we learn it. I like this way of thinking about it because it helps me find God in wearying times, plus, if part of this is about learning a lesson than I can do my part by learning it myself and helping others learn it. Not sure how well that will resonate with you, and if all the God talk isn’t hitting quite right please ignore this part, but I figured I’d put it here in case it helps someone.

    • JenniferP said:

      This comment is great, thank you so much.

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