Short Answer Friday: Happy Monday!

I had family in town this weekend so got behind on these, hopefully you enjoy them! The questions were submitted here, there will be a July session later in the month.

Q1: When I’m walking down the street with friends who love dogs, they love to interrupt our conversations with screams like “OMG LOOK AT THAT DOGGO!” I end up awkwardly replying with something like “oh yes, nice dog” or “wow, it has three colors,” without managing to quite mirror the friend’s enthusiastic tone. Do you have any suggestions for replies that might make these interludes more satisfying without involving totally faking enthusiasm I do not feel? (she/her/hers)

A1: Once I was on the beach with a close friend and we both lost our minds at a scene of family cuteness that was unfolding in front of us and then realized: She was looking at the baby. I was looking at the puppy. Neither of us had really even clocked the other small cute being.

I guess my question is, why do you feel like you need to mirror their enthusiasm or fake it? Your friends can be very excited about dogs, you can be the friend who is not so hyped about dogs and who indulgently waits out Dog Excitement Time. Probably you will forever be slightly annoyed by the interruptions in your conversations, probably you will say nothing about this because the world is hard enough without policing the joy of people who get very excited about dogs. Dogs will be fine without your affirmation, dog-people will stay excited about dogs, so carry on with your dry “Oh, was that a dog?” natural human reactions, there’s no need to pretend!

Q2: I recently split up with my husband of fifteen years. We went to the same writing program in college, and always connected over books, writing, art (etc.). His opinions on same have always been strong and strongly expressed, which made me shrink as an artist & art-lover to fit into whatever space he wasn’t taking up (which wasn’t much). How do I rediscover my own taste and reclaim my former identity as a writer? Thanks! (she/her/hers)

A2: What a necessary and hopefully extremely fun project, truly one of the great rewards of breaking up with someone unsuitable is reconnecting with your own pleasure and tastes. Let me throw a couple of ideas at you, and, while could always take classes and workshops, you might need a real break from that right now, so I’m going to suggest NON-class/writer’s group/formal structure with an authority figure-type-things, ok?

  • Anything you enjoyed and learned from during your time with this person is still yours, you don’t have to disavow all of it if you don’t want to. You get to still have your favorite breakfast place and bar and vacation spot if you want them, too. You were there in your story when you found these things, they aren’t his.
  • Repeat after me: There are no guilty pleasures only pleasures. Read all kinds of genres meant for all kinds of audiences, don’t stick to what you’ve thought of as Important and Prestigious and Serious right now. When teaching first year film students in their very first moviemaking class, I sometimes did an icebreaker where I asked them to list five “desert island” movies, and I didn’t want their “coolest” or “impressive” movies, I wanted to know the ones they watched over and over again, the ones that comforted them when they were sick, the ones that remind them of particular people and memories, the ones they can quote every line, the ones that made them dress up as the characters for Halloween, the ones that will always make them stop if they see it on TV flipping channels. We’d get GREAT lists, the class would know more about each other’s frame of reference, but something important would be discussed, too, which is, there’s a reason you wanted to do this with your life, don’t let anyone talk you out of loving what you love. Hold onto the things you love, and add new things to that love, don’t feel like you have to “upgrade” your personal art friends that got you through to right now.
  • The Artist’s Way is a classic for a reasons, the morning pages, “artist dates,” and thought exercises are a good guide-map to getting unstuck and working out some things. Some people react very badly to the sincerity and “woo” factor but I think that’s part of the magic, like, nope, you’re gonna be a BIG OLD DORK about your art for a while, now make a puppet of your inner critic and tell it to fuck off.
  • Go back in time. What’s the last thing you were reading right before you met your ex? What are some things you loved as a child and very young woman? Revisit them.
  • Go sideways. What are mediums that your ex had no expertise on or interest in? What are things you can experience live where you live (music, dance, theater) and immerse yourself in a room and a performance and a community? Try out a theater subscription, dig through your old mix tapes. Cleansing.
  • Go visual. Part 1: Collect images that speak strongly to you – could be photos (even ads), film stills/screenshots, photos of paintings over the course of a few months. Part 2: Choose your 5 favorite ones, and find a way to print out or cut out color versions of them and hang them on a wall. Part 3: Once you have them up, look at them and see if they have anything in common – common motifs, themes, colors, subject matter, spaces, what do they remind you of, what feelings come up, what senses come up. Repeat this periodically. What’s changing? What’s the same? (I used to do this in groups and have the other students walk around and write what they observed on blank sheets of paper under each group of photos. It always went somewhere very cool, maybe try this with a few artist/writer friends?)
  • No career advice right now, just process. Follow Shaula Evans, ( she gives the best prompts and questions, always something that makes me think and want to revisit my own work. See also Jami Attenberg’s 1,000 words of Summer project, where subscriptions are full but archives are there and you can jump in any time. Or play with The Storymatic. You’re just playing for a while, the stakes are low.
  • Write down a list of 10 art projects you might do, include things that are totally silly and “would never work.” Your wildest dreams. Your pettiest revenge. Your most self-indulgent fantasy. Revisit this often. The “that’s ridiculous” stuff will sound more and more likely the longer you do this, if my personal “ha, nobody will ever make a movie like this!” notebook from grad school is any indication.
  • Take something you wrote before and remake it as something else. Does it have to be a short story or could it be a poem or a radio piece or a play or a puppet show. What changed? What stayed the same?

That should hold you for a while!

Q3. I love my wife a lot, and I love “general” intimacy and being physically close to her. However, I find I’m not as interested in sex with her any more. We are poly and both have a healthy sexual relationship with other partners, but for whatever reason, I’m just not turned on by her like I used to be, and I don’t know what to do about that.

A3: I have a few thoughts:

  1. Has your wife noticed/is she bummed out/also disinterested in the home front and happier to get laid elsewhere for a bit? Has something changed in your overall situation that’s contributing stress? What does she think is going on?
  2. Every person I know in a long-term relationship who is still having good sex on the regular puts it on the calendar in some way. I think we just reach a point where ‘being spontaneous’ or ‘being in the mood,’ just doesn’t carry it (“You’ll still be here tomorrow, right? Maybe I’ll be in the mood then!”) and we have to make a little more effort to make it happen. Are you and your wife getting over-scheduled with other commitments and is this a time/effort/energy thing?
  3. When you do do sexy stuff with your wife, can you try making it “all about her” for now, whatever that means to you? (Getting her off and letting her fall asleep after without any pressure to reciprocate, focusing on things you know she likes, reading/watching sexy stuff you know she likes). Obviously check in with her before you launch some SURPRISE! WE’RE DOING SEX YOUR WAY! campaign, but I would imagine a turned-on lady with a lot of gratitude for being made to feel awesome is probably a pretty exciting lady to be around.

Be gentle with yourself and with her, hopefully that gives you some starting points to figure out if this is a temporary slump or a tectonic shift.

[MODERATOR NOTE: I don’t let polyamorous folks slide into questions about monogamous partnerships run amok with “well, have you heard the good news about polyamory?” so definitely we’re not doing the reverse. If your comment about this was deleted, this is why. Thank you!]

Q4: What’s your advice for “how to be on time” when I have 1) executive functioning problems 2) trouble task-switching 3) the kind of depression that tends to get me “stuck” and ruminating right when I need to leave 4) irrational anxiety about that ONE LAST THING that needs to be done before I go? I know there’s lots of advice on this but not a lot that isn’t shamey + understands mental health.

A4: This is one of my constant struggles, and it’s probably going to be a life-long struggle for me, even with lots of medication and support and self-awareness and life-hacks. First, I hope you’re treating your depression, anxiety, and executive function stuff to the extent you can, and my suggestions are not substitutes for medical care. Second, these aren’t meant to be comprehensive solutions or cover every eventuality, but there are a few things that help me do better with time:

I have magical thinking about time. To fight this, when I put an event in my calendar, like, “Meeting, 3pm” I also calculate the necessary travel time & route & directions & cost (+ add 20-30 minutes to that for good measure), and schedule a separate event called “LEAVE FOR [EVENT]” and set up associated alerts. It’s not perfect but sometimes redefining a thing from “I have an appointment at 3pm” to “If I want to take public transit, I need to be on the 1:55 pm 78 bus ($2.25 + $.25 to transfer), otherwise I have to get a Lyft by 2:30 ($12-$14), hey Siri remind me at 1:30 to get ready” does a better job. It’s harder to do the necessary breakdown when I’m already stressed and worried about being late, so doing it right when I schedule the thing helps break it down and incentivizes the earlier, cheaper departure time.

My laptop is a trap. Do you have a trap? I love my computer, it’s how I know literally all of you, hello! If I am honest with myself, I will not “just’ read a few emails and answer them and oh look, here are some comments to moderate and read. I will get sucked all the way in and task-switching will be very, very hard. So if I’m trying to get out the door at a certain time, especially in the morning, once I start getting ready, I probably can’t flip open my computer. What is the YOU-trap between you and getting ready or between you and heading out the door? Can you recognize it and neutralize it?

What is the “why.” Feelings, especially depressed/anxiety feelings aren’t the BOSS of me, but they are information. If I’m avoiding/dreading/procrastinating about heading out the door for something, why? Why am I going to this thing in the first place? Why am I choosing to go, do I have a choice, what do I hope will happen there, what am I expecting to enjoy, who will I see, what am I afraid of, what am I not looking forward to? Am I over-committed and need to say yes to fewer things? I know for years of dealing with depression and anxiety that sometimes I truly can’t go to a thing but also sometimes it just feels like that and I will be quite glad once I’m there so it’s worth pushing through. I also learned that I should stop saying yes to specifically social events I feel “maybe” about in the first place.

Sometimes making a note of the feeling helps me do the thing anyway. Sometimes reframing “I have to” things as “I want to/I am choosing to” things helps (not always possible, but worth a try, I think). Shame is useless. It really is. I’m not 100% at being on time but I don’t walk into every room pre-apologizing for myself anymore.

[MODERATOR HAT ON: If you are an organized person who does not struggle with timeliness, exactly zero of your “just lay your clothes out the night before and just put your keys in a findable place” are going to help. We know that stuff, that stuff is useful, but for us there is no “just,” it’s still hard. Requesting input from fellow time-strugglers only.]

P.S. A few great people I follow on the topic of #ADHD specifically and executive function generally: Dani Donovan, Eryn Brook, and Elise Kumar.

Q5: I have a friend (Zelda), who goes through one trauma after another (all genuine problems). Nobody wants to say anything to her because she’s having a hard time because of *latest disaster*.
How much leeway can you give someone because of something like this (it’s been YEARS, and it’s always something) and what to do when she e.g. forms a new social media group with all but one member of our friend group? (she/her/hers)

A5: This is one of those questions where I can tell there is a GIANT back-story here. I’m going to try to answer this without judgment of you or Zelda or even trying to guess what’s going on. I think it’s time for you to take stock of a few things:

  • Do you want to be friends with Zelda anymore?
  • Do you specifically want to be in these social media groups with Zelda from now on? (Are you the person who was left out of the new group? Does “Hey, did you intentionally exclude (mutual friend), what’s that about?” get this done?)
  • Assuming you want to stay friends, where would you most prefer to interact with Zelda (online, offline, occasional catch-up lunches or go to the movies, text, phone, sending funny postcards in the mail?)
  • Is Zelda asking people for specific help with these crises or is it background noise – everyone’s sharing what’s going on with them, and this is what’s going on with her? Is it that you’re unsure what she’s asking for/why she’s sharing whatever it is? (“Hey Zelda, are you just venting or is there something specific you need someone to pitch in on today?”) Sometimes it’s hard to ask for help (and people think sharing the problem is the same as asking for help), sometimes it is just venting and the person doesn’t want help or advice, she just wants people to know what’s going on, when in doubt, ask!
  • Is the “Nobody wants to say anything to her” thing a “Nobody wants to say anything to Zelda about [certain specific unwanted/unpleasant behaviors] because she’s usually in the middle of a crisis” problem?

Assuming you come out of that thinking process still wanting to be friends with Zelda, you could try a couple of things:

  1. Maybe these online groups aren’t your jam and you can take a break from them.
  2. If you’re feeling some trauma fatigue, maybe you’re not ‘process trauma’-friend at this time, maybe you’re ‘do gentle nice fun things’-friend right now. If that’s the case, think about what occasional pleasant low-commitment hangouts you might want to invite Zelda to that are within her bandwidth and where the subtext isn’t “you are a disaster and I am here to help you.” Think: lunch, Saturday breakfast, free night at the art museum, a matinée you’ve been wanting to see, the cat cafe, a nice walk outside. Does changing the venue change the vibe?
  3. If there’s some conflict or behavior you need to talk with Zelda about, if “everyone’s” been keeping quiet about it for a long time and getting steadily more annoyed, keep in mind that Zelda doesn’t know it’s a longstanding problem. So be gentle, specific, and treat it like the first offense – one that you quite reasonably expect her to reasonably respond to – and speak for yourself (not the whole group). I’ve observed ____, what’s going on there?”“I need you to ___.” 
  4. Related discussions. Good luck.

Q6: I love your dating profile suggestions! Do you have any wisdom for folks looking for friends on apps like Bumble BFF? (she/her)

A6: Thank you! This is the first I’m hearing of this service, which sounds pretty neat. I’m not sure I have any advice that that would be different from the dating profile suggestions: Be very honest, vivid, and specific about who you are, don’t try to appeal to the widest possible audience (you don’t want ALL POSSIBLE FRIENDS, you want friends who match you), look for reciprocity and matching enthusiasm levels, and seek out the people who make you feel safe and good.

It’s probably harder to reject people who don’t really match you when there isn’t the same obvious”I felt no attraction/spark” answer to fall back on, but friendship has a spark, too, so pay attention to that. You can have a pleasant time with someone and not want to be best friends.

Q7: How do I talk to newer friends about the depressive episode I’m currently working my way out of? I haven’t had one in years and have made new friends in that time. They know intellectually about my depression (I am pretty candid about it) but hadn’t seen it in full flow until this year. I tend to isolate during them and am afraid I scared new friends off. (she/her/hers)

A7: You’ve been here before, which I think will help you think about why do you want your new friends to know (duh, they’re your friends, they’d want to know what’s going on with you) and what do you want them to know (“My depression flared up and I’m in a slump right now, what that looks like for me is ______”) and what do you want them to do (“My tendency is to isolate so I might not be up for big group things or super-keen to make plans, but it helps me when friends do ________.”) Giving your friends something to do and telling them what depression means & looks like specifically for you will help let them know what they’re in for. I hope you start feeling better soon.

Q8: I came out to my family as trans a year ago and they took it poorly but not extremely so, normal I guess. Though they’re using my new name/pronouns they haven’t apologized, it hurts. I avoid phone-calls/meetings and send postcards instead. We were never close – there’s not a good relationship to fall back on. I don’t want to cut them off but this is exhausting. What are my options to try and move on? (he/him/his)

A8: I’m so sorry it went down this way, you deserve better. And the postcards are smart, a way to keep the channel of communication open but not demand any immediate reaction. If you need to stop with the postcards and stop working at this in general, that’s okay, they have choices about what to do here, phones, email, and the post office work both ways, they can reach out to you if they want to. Can you throw your energy into friendships and community who are supportive and accepting and put this burden down for now?

If you want to make a last-ditch try (either now, or after you’ve taken a break from trying), if you’ve never sent them to the PFLAG site for some reading material you might do that (though definitely vet whatever specific links you’re sending yourself), and you might also say, “Hey, I want to be closer to you and figure out how to have an adult relationship, but I’m having a hard time with it. I’m so glad you use my name and pronouns, but I’m still raw from some of our early conversations around coming out. It would mean a lot to me to hear an apology about [be specific], is there a way we can clear the air?” Is it a “real” apology if you have to ask? I don’t know, but if you need it maybe you need it, and maybe they’re also flailing and trying to figure out what to do. Also, it’s come up before, but are there cousins/aunts/uncles who are supportive? Our families can seem like monoliths but they are made of people.

My friend (codename: Lieutentant Trans) wrote a guest post here long ago, and he has some wisdom for you, I think:

“Relationship essence can be boiled down to three qualities: presence, support, and approval. I think we often seek approval first, or even second, but the reality is it almost always comes last, if it all. With my parents, I learned I didn’t need their approval to have a relationship with them: we can still learn to accept each others’ presence and support. Now, the support will be limited during the periods of learning acceptance, so things will still be draining for those of us seeking a close relationship with parents, when one day you will reach a point of exhaustion, you no longer will want to focus on what’s not working, you don’t want to beat your head against the wall any more…

…And while your father might be ignorant about queer counterculture, he knows as well as you that you don’t have a relationship, that you are not close. What you need to determine is if he also wants to go beyond what you currently have. If so, spend time focusing on positive interactions, things you have in common. Talk about food, the weather, start following his favorite sports team, tell him about TV shows you’re watching. I’m not suggesting swallowing or ignoring the bad parts, I’m emphasizing work on building up the good (and mundane) parts with just as much as energy as you use on the bad parts.”

Basically: Find very mundane, non-loaded ways to interact and be present and see if that helps push the fraught history further back in time and gives room for something else to grow. I hope it gets better. But they might never be the parents/family you really needed, and you can definitely stop working at it for a while if you need a break.

Q9: I’m trying to reconnect with some of my busy and/or geographically scattered friends. I could use some words to remind myself that people are unlikely to mind one “hi, I miss you, here’s what I’m doing, how about you?” or “you suggested hot chocolate, how about a week from Thursday?” I started okay, then got stuck after the second person didn’t answer. (she/her/hers)

A9: It’s good that you’re doing this and most likely your friends (who are not a monolith, they are separate people) do not mind this at all and are in fact grateful! Keep trying for a bit, and then stop working at the people who don’t respond (though make allowances for mental health stuff and accessibility), and enthusiastically make plans with the people who do. I especially like your style of inviting people to specific things on a specific day (where they can suggest an alternative if they can’t make that thing), and inviting them along to a thing you’re doing anyway where it would be great if they could join you but it’s not the deciding factor. You can also add gentle RSVP deadlines in – “I’m trying to buy tickets by Monday, can you let me know by Sunday night” – and stack invitations – “[Reliable mutual friend whose attendance you’ve already secured] and I are going to take some books/knitting/crosswords/board games to x centrally-located cafe/bar between y and z o’clock on [date], drop in and have a drink with us if you can?” 

Don’t build your whole schedule around these things happening until you get affirmative commitments, remember that things didn’t get “scattered” overnight and they won’t get un-that way overnight, so I think you’re doing everything right, and it’s just going to take a little while.

P.S. If your friends have small kids, bring the party to them.

Q10: Many forms of self-care for anxiety are distractions from that anxiety (listening to music, etc). But sometimes I’ve found that I’m anxious about a solvable problem, and “distraction” types of self-care end up just being procrastination; I actually feel better after I do the thing I put off. Tips on knowing yourself or your anxiety well enough to know the difference between anxiety you need to just wait out vs act on? (they/them)

A10: I personally hate most meditation and “mindfulness” strategies and other calming down techniques, they only ever stress me out because now I’m probably Breathing Wrong on top of everything else, and I generally feel better when I convert my anxiety into action. (Especially around political stuff, where anxiety is a reasonable reaction to a situation, and “what can I dooooo” a matter of urgency (see the series of Half-Assed Activist posts).

I also (touched on in today’s Q4) started tracking feelings along with tasks and schedule stuff. If a task keeps rolling over from previous day’s to-do lists, or I’m having a hard time motivating to go to a specific thing, what are the feelings going on here? What am I avoiding? Is it something that absolutely has to be done or can I just admit I’m never doing this totally optional thing I thought I was going to do and delete it from my “should” list?

I think distraction works best when you’re stuck somewhere that you can’t leave, or where you can’t take action about whatever it is. You’re stuck in traffic or it’s taking forever to de-plane. You’re at work and obsessing about something happening at home or vice versa, or you can’t get started on the thing that’s making you anxious until you clear some other tasks first. Or, you’re at a party and there’s no house dog or cat to quietly pet in a quiet room. Then yes, breathe differently, listen to music, look at cute animals, brew a cup of tea, play a little Tetris on your phone, repeat “We’re not IN traffic, we ARE traffic,” whatever those temporary calming mechanisms are that work for you, bring it on!

From there, one possible test for you to try with your anxiety, if distraction isn’t working, when you’re in an anxious mood, maybe do a thing (anything) and see if it helps? I know UFYH often suggests setting a timer for 5 minutes and decluttering or cleaning 1 tiny surface as a starting point. There’s also this great post about Breaking The Low Mood Cycle where taking action even when you’re not in the mood can sometimes get you to the mood.

That’s all for this week (though there is now bonus content on schedule + to-do lists + feelings, thanks for the great questions!


220 thoughts on “Short Answer Friday: Happy Monday!

  1. “What is the “why.” — this is such a good piece of advice. I run into the same kinds of blocks, despite lots of therapy. But the therapy has helped me take concrete actions. Anyway, all that to say that I have a little notebook at work and I try to check in with myself when I can feel my stress levels rising and feel myself procrastinating over a thing. I stop, write down how I feel, a few ideas about why I might feel that way, and a reassurance to myself that I will feel much better once the thing is over and done. After doing it, I sometimes write a little note in it telling myself I’m proud of myself. It’s been good for breaking blocks.

    1. YES! – I actually just used this yesterday. My therapist even commented that my coping skills are getting so good, but hearing yourself say the stuff out loud is next level. Why am I procrastinating simple tasks at a brand new job? Because I’m scared. As soon as I say it out loud, I can form a plan for dealing with it.

  2. LW10: I definitely have found that naming and owning feelings is important. Sometimes I write things like ‘what am I angry about today’ or ‘what awesome things did I do yesterday’ in my journal. Youper is a great chat-bot app for general feelings check-ins and mood tracking, plus it can guide you through reframing as well.

    In general, I fall into the camp of ‘I will procrastinate on a 10-minute task for 3 hours and then feel like a crap lazy loser’. I’ve had some success, especially at work, with picking one thing per hour – one small task per hour that I know I can make progress on – then I use a Time Timer (the red clock face is a nice visual) to set a working period of say 40 minutes, then take a 20-minute break.

    You can get a LOT done in 40-minute chunks.

    LW4: I struggle with a lot of what you do but not so much with being late. Setting alarms on my work computer and timers on Alexa/Echo at home are helpful as an interruption reminder, but I give myself a 5-15 minute buffer to do context switching (e.g., my work appointments alert at 15 minutes prior, I ALWAYS snooze until 5 minutes prior, and if I’m not ready by the 5-minute timer, I snooze again until the time of the meeting). Sometimes I’m still late, but this has helped over time. Also, not apologizing.

  3. Q4LW: In addition to what Cap has mentioned (multi-stage calendar entries is a biiiiig one for me, too), one strategy that really helps me is to estimate required times based on how long it took me the last time I did a thing. It keeps me realistic about how much time I need to do things like shower, pick out an outfit, get dressed, etc., instead of guesstimating based on a best-case scenario where everything flows perfectly, I don’t lose track of time, I don’t get distracted, etc.

    Also, for anything that requires packing a bag, I start a list pretty far out. That gives me days (or weeks, or months) to add things I didn’t initially think of. I usually compose the list in my email drafts, so it’s always with me on my phone, and then when I’m actually ready to pack, I send the email. That way, I have my old lists handy to build from, too. (Definitely don’t feel like this is an “only big trips” thing. I’ll do it even when I’m just heading a few miles to my girlfriend’s apartment for the weekend.)

    1. Yes, lists made ahead of time are great! I have two “default lists:”

      1. if I were leaving the country for 2 weeks (travel packing list)
      2. if I were leaving my house at 9am wouldn’t be back until midnight (daily bag-packing list)

      Depending on what I’m doing, I copy one of those defaults and remove stuff / adjust amounts as appropriate. That way I start from a place of “everything I could ever possibly need” and I don’t need to worry about forgetting anything.

      1. Same — I have a “Master Packing List” for travel, and I copy it, retitle it, and add relevant stuff (swimsuit & sandals, etc.) for specific trips/activities.

        I also set myself an alarm that says “TAKE INHALERS AND GET READY” (I don’t like to run out the door when I’m still jittering from albuterol), a good 20 minutes before I actually have to *leave*, which gives me a little extra time for unexpected house-leaving delays.

        1. My husband also has a master list for travel. Every time we go somewhere, he prints a copy, crosses out things not relevant to that particular trip, and packs according to the list, marking things when they’re done. I write a new list every time and often forget something from it, so I’ve thought about making my own permanent master list on the computer too.

          For daily stuff, I also keep the essentials in a bag and move everything if I need another bag. In my most commonly used bag there is a smaller compartment in the front, and normally I always have the same things in that part: phone, keys, wallet, bus card, and a small pack of tissues. That’s five items, so to check that I have the most crucial things I just need to count to five.

        2. Holy guacamole these packing lists are the best thing I’ve ever heard of. I’m the sort of person who will always forget one super important thing but remember five unnecessary things, and procrastinate about packing and be anxious about packing and guh. Going to nab this list idea.

        3. I do that too – I have an excel file for travel – packing lists, itineraries, what specifically goes in which bag, thoughts and plans and things I want to get beforehand… When I get back I do a ‘post-mortem’ list: this worked, this didn’t, I didn’t use this so don’t bother bringing it next time, really could have used that… I add sheets for each new trip, so I can look back over multiple trips. I start listing months in advance, even years sometimes (getting ready for my 2019 trip, but already know where I’m going in 2020). And I absolutely do a smaller-scale version of this for weekends or day trips. It gives me a feeling of control, so I don’t feel scattered and panicky as the date approaches.

        4. I use a Master packing list in Evernote, so I can just copy it into my Journal notebook, update as needed for the specific trip, and check off items while packing. Being electronic it allows me to easily update the template as well as keep a record of what happened last time.

          1. It was liberating to me to realise: YOU ARE ALLOWED TO OWN 2 TOOTHBRUSHES. That way you can pack early and not have anything to remember at the last moment. For toothbrush, substitute whatever stops you packing early.

      2. Yes! In addition with that daily bag-packing: I keep all the basic stuff in a bag. If I change bags, I put everything from Yesterday’s Bag into Today’s Bag. Doesn’t help if yesterday I didn’t go to the gym but today I need gym clothes, but keeps me from futzing about thinking about what I normally pack.

        1. I have a system of pencil cases for putting in my backpack. That way I’m less likely to go down the rabbit-hole of agonizing over every little item, and it’s easy to check that I have everything. When it was physically painful to think, I set them up so which ones I took was based almost entirely on how long I’d be out, and wrote down instructions for picking them.

          Also, I have an excuse to buy the prettiest pencil cases in the dollar store in case one day they’re the exact size I need 😉

          I do the pre-leaving alarm thing too; my alarm for getting shoes on is 15 minutes before I need to leave, because the shoes themselves may only take a minute, but there’s almost always something I remember as I start putting them on, or something I’m in the middle of when the alarm goes off. And then I snooze it instead of turning it off, just in case I get distracted on my way to the door. 🙂

          1. I do a variation of this in my purse. Almost everything is in a little bag/pouch of some sort, sorted by category, and they’re almost all different sizes and fabrics/feels so I can just reach in and know what I’m getting without digging.

          2. My slightly earlier than necessary pre-leaving alarm has actually morphed into the “what did you forget until this morning?” alarm. It’s enough time to do something simple if that’s all I need. But more importantly, if the thing I suddenly remembered is too time consuming or otherwise can’t be completed right now, that alarm is my signal to put the thing on my to do list and set a reminder for when I can complete it. Or even, set a reminder fora time when I can determine when I can complete it.

    2. My version of this is a multi-column Google Sheet (each column is a category like Clothing, Electronics, etc.). It’s got everything I have ever packed on it. When it’s time for the next trip packing, I bold everything on the sheet. If I don’t need something for that particular trip or I’ve packed it, it gets un-bolded. That makes the undone stuff really obvious. Also be really specific on the list. (For example, I learned that underwear needs to be broken out into panties and bras after I went on a trip without any bras beyond the one I was wearing.)

    3. I keep a list of packing essentials taped to my closet mirror, specifically for overnights/planning to crash at a friend’s place after a get-together/etc. and as a starting point for longer trips. I have some executive function struggles and have a really hard time with mentally organizing logistical stuff, and there were far too many “OMG I forgot my meds which I absolutely cannot miss a dose of!”-type crises before I wrote it down in a visible place and made a habit of going down the list while holding my bag and visually confirming that each item was in there.

      I write packing lists in my planner, and also love having old lists handy as a starting point! We’re going on a camping trip in a few weeks and it’s great to know I can just flip through last year’s planner to find my list from the last time we went there.

      1. I also keep backup meds in practically every bag because of having the same “I cannot miss these meds” crisis. They have these little metallic waterproof containers that appeal to my “eeee cute” so I put them everywhere.

    4. My version of this is a multi-column Google Sheet (each column is a category like Clothing, Electronics, etc.). It’s got everything I have ever packed on it. When it’s time for the next trip packing, I bold everything on the sheet. If I don’t need something for that particular trip or I’ve packed it, it gets un-bolded. That makes the undone stuff really obvious. Also be really specific on the list. (For example, I learned that underwear needs to be broken out into panties and bras after I went on a trip without any bras beyond the one I was wearing.)

    5. I track everything big I have to be on time for backwards like this. My house is filled with lists that say 4:00 – arrive 3:30 – leave house 3:00 – pack car. Although, instead of adding 20-30 minutes in at the end for extra time, I add an extra five minutes to every thing I need to do to get out the door. Do I think it will take me ten minutes to get dressed? Put fifteen minutes on the list, because I will decide I need to bring a sweater then need to pick one out. Do I need five minutes to let the dog out? Make it ten, because she will decide she needs to chase a squirrel up a tree and not do her business. And even if you get thorough everything early do not deviate from the list until you are there. If you end up with an extra fifteen minutes, spend those fifteen minutes in the car at the event on your phone, don’t take them at home and rely on good traffic. I like having an extra few minuets to decompress before anything social anyways.

    6. These are all great ideas, and my new thing is that I am giving myself permission to pack bags WAY ahead of time, because I will reliably stress for months before a planned trip about forgetting essentials.

      I have two kinds of trips:

      – rare holidays that last a week or two, and are intimidating because I’m going to have to pack a ton of medical stuff I can’t just buy wherever I’m going
      – occasional hospitalisations (three so far this year), some of which are planned and some of which are emergencies

      Obviously there’ll always be some items that I only have one of, which will have to be packed right before I leave, but I deal by buying multiples of toiletries, pyjamas and underwear in the sales, so that I can afford to have some of each packed at any given time without being short of clean things to wear.

      This way I can tell the part of me that worries about “what if I forget things?” that I’ve already got most things I need packed, and I also have packing checklists for holidays, again made well ahead of time because I know I won’t think of everything in one go.

      1. I have been known to have my medical supply company send stuff directly to my hotel for longish trips where I don’t want to take up luggage space with assorted medical ‘consumables’.

      2. This is what the preppers call a “go bag” (the pre packed hospital kit” and it’s such a good idea. I have one for “we have to leave suddenly” (fire, whatever) with the needed daily medical supplies. It gives me a lot of peace of mind.

    7. I’m not usually late, but I’m not organized by nature.

      I do a small number of things that make leaving the house easier:
      – I have a [i]baise-en-ville[/i]. It’s like a mini Dopp kit, and holds medication, USB cables, toothpaste, perfume, toothbrush. I throw it into my bag if there’s a possibility I won’t be home tonight.
      – A set of keys is attached to my purse. Another set is attached to my running belt. That way I don’t worry about where I put my keys.
      – I have a small glasses case that I can throw into y purse if I will need 2 pairs of glasses (sun and regular)
      – I have two days of meds in a small car in my purse. Just in case.

      The point of the list above is that it calms me. I know I have necessities with me. I can leave the house more easily.

    8. Yes yes yes. Last year, I started setting timers (I used the app on my phone) to time how long it actually takes me to do stuff. I was shocked by how terrible my estimates of time were. (How long will it take me to do my makeup routine??? I guessed: 45 seconds. It was actually: 10 minutes, consistently. Same with everything else – my estimates were WILDLY off base.)

      So yes LW4 – for a week, start timing the things you do. Especially things you do as part of a routine, or things that are a part of your routine before you have to leave somewhere. Start writing down what your guesses were and then how long it actually takes. It can be incredibly helpful.

      Ooh also, re the trouble with task-switching: setting a timer to ding when you need to switch tasks can be really helpful. (If you’re already stuck, set the timer for like 2 minutes and resolve to switch tasks when it dings.)

  4. Just dropping in to say I really enjoy the short answer format! Thanks for doing these, Captain.

  5. For Q4, I get dressed and handle everything I need to do to get ready well before time to walk out the door. We’re talking maybe half an hour to an hour in advance. That way, when it’s time to actually go, the list of tasks is down to 1. grab pile of stuff by door 2. walk out door, which my brain has a much easier time with than 3. put clothes on 4. what am I going to wear??? 5. have I eaten yet? what am I going to do to put food in my mouth? etc.

    1. Similar, except the actually putting-clothes-on step has to be left until almost last because of the incorrigible dog hair on every surface of my home, and of course the hair currently attached to said dogs which they are eager to transfer to my person. I can pick clothes *out* in advance, but they have to stay in a bag by the door so I can change and immediately scoot 🙂

      1. I have to wait to change clothes until the last possible minute, too. Not because of pet hair, but because one of my anxieties is freaking out about whether I am perspiring in my going-out clothes and am going to turn into a sweaty mess, or whether I might accidentally spill something on the going-out clothes and have to change at the last minute. Changing out of comfy, around-the-house wear and back into street clothes adds its own layer of difficulty, but it’s still less anxiety-inducing for me to just put on the clothes as close as possible to departure time!

      2. When my kid was a baby, I got all the way dressed every morning, except for my shirt. If I put my shirt on more than two minutes before walking out the door, the baby was spit up on it, and I’d just have to change it anyway.

  6. I have “homes” for my keys, glasses, purse and so on, and I usually lay out my outfits the night before AND I STILL HAVE ISSUES WITH TIMELINESS. It is, like you note, partially depression stuff and partially executive function stuff, and I, too, do the “multiple alarms in the morning” and “lie to myself about actual time I need to be there” AND the “set clock in car 24 minutes ahead” and none of this really ‘cures’ me from having a problem with time insensitivity.

    Am I BETTER at it, now that I have little tricks like “assigned places” for needful things and setting multiple alarms? A little.
    Has the problem gone away 100%? Definitely not. It is actually really revealing (to me) that, when looking at records of events I do habitually (like getting to work or attending meetings), roughly 40% of the time I end up about five minutes late NO MATTER WHAT TRICKS I USE, 20% of the time I am 10 minutes late or more, and 5% of the time I am early. When it is a one-off and important, like meeting a friend for a movie or a job interview, I am early or precisely on time, but consistency on a daily basis has not yet been managed.

    So, yeah, the little tricks like “planning ahead” work great if you don’t have an underlying time insensitivity issue. But if you do… *shrug emoticon here*

    1. All you have to do is set out your brain on the kitchen table the night before, so you can grab it as you’re leaving! Wait, that’s not right–

    2. THIS. I want to print it out and tape it to the door at my work.

      I’m sure I was the last one to see this, but I get “the buttons don’t appear” EF and it makes SO MUCH SENSE. And then when the deadline looms, ALL the stuff I should have been paying attention to gets pushed as “number one priority.” Eyeliner? U gotta. Reply to blog comments? These people CARE about you, and you’re just fucking off to work. Trash needs to go out, even though it’s been sitting in the same dang spot all weekend and I’ve mucking about with abandonware 90’s video games as if they will solve global warming.

      If I’m lucky, and I’ve taken all my supplements/ meds and EATEN the day before (fasting/ RC enthusiasts, please don’t @ me, I know it improves neurotypical people’s focus, but my disaster body/ brain connection just doesn’t work that way and YES I’ve “tried harder”), I can imagine myself looking up and seeing that I have negative thirty seconds to the absolute last second to get out the door (as happens all too often), then saying “what needs to happen to make this an okay thing? I should probably put pants on. I can pack up as if I am about to leave now, probably.” That and having a “house on fire” protocol/ habit built in: if I show up to work and my door is not locked because I absent-mindedly put my house keys in the medicine cabinet instead of my purse, then forgot I had a medicine cabinet, the consequences are probably minimal, but if I show up to work without my badge, that’s a write-up.

      I mean, it’s not a perfect, but that’s what I can add.

  7. In addition to putting transit time for meetings into the calendar, a strategy I highly endorse, I put weekly tasks in too–things you might not normally see as calendar events. For me it keeps me from looking at a day with 2 appointments and thinking “wow I have a lot of free time” and then way overcommitting. So going to the grocery store is in my calendar as a block of time, and paying bills, and so on. It’s a small thing but it works better than a to-do list for me because it shows me how much of my time is already promised on a given day, and whether I am already mathematically eliminated from being on time to whatever I’ve promised to get to.

    1. Yesss I do this too! I tend to see unscheduled time as time to do not any ONE thing that would take up that amount of time, but EVERY thing that would take up that amount of time somehow simultaneously. I know that’s not how time and existence works but part of me apparently does not know. Putting things on the calendar (even if the calendar event is at an arbitrary time and I’ll end up dragging it earlier or later or to a different day) helps me see that they do take up time and that other things cannot magically happen at the same time.

      (…sometimes I make calendar events that literally overlap but then at least I can see how silly I am being beforehand, and have some chance of course-correcting.)

      1. Yess!!! I do this too, with time and with money. “Oh, I have a free afternoon – I will pressure-wash the deck and paint it after it dries and go for a walk and go to the grocery store and read a novel and study two hours for that test and organize our entire home and and and and…”

  8. Wow, I thought I was the only person who hated meditation! Yes, to me it feels like another failure because I can’t even BREATHE right. LOL Sometimes you save my life by just being open and honest here. Thank you!

    1. It does feel like everyone loves mindfulness these days, doesn’t it?
      Once I realized I was reliably triggering panic attacks with a regularly recommended meditation app, I decided it wasn’t for me.
      Actions work better – I can at least make a list, research my options, clean my area.

      1. I’ve read a couple of pieces now on how for about 2/3rds of people, mindfulness practices will cause negative side effects at one time or another. For about 7%, these negative side effects include panic attacks, sudden onset of depression, increased anxiety, and sometimes even physical pain or numbness.

        1. That’s fascinating to learn, I must look that up. The HR manager in my company thinks mindfulness is amazing and has introduced optional sessions at work. I tried and it did nothing for me and made me worry about breathing wrongly. I came away feeling more stressed. What works for me is actually ballet because I’m focusing on doing the sequence to the best of my ability, so the rest of my mind goes blank and I forget whatever I’m worrying about. I couldn’t tell you why that works for me when mindfulness doesn’t but it’s amazingly effective in my experience.

          1. This actually reminds me of the Circle of Magic series! They try to teach all the young magicians meditation to control their magic, but Daja can’t do it until they try combat/sparring meditation, and then when her body is in motion, her brain can settle down enough to meditate.

          2. I have PTSD, and find playing musical instruments works the same way for me. I think it’s something to do with the focus from doing something creative, and how there’s some sort of different brain waves involved.

          3. @darlingpants I’ve never read the Circle series – I really should, as much as I love the Tortall books – but it’s interesting that that’s a recurring theme for Tamora Pierce (a lot in Wild Magic).

          4. Nesting max: @darlingpants: that book introduced me to the idea of active meditation and made tons of sense for me in explaining to myself why I always struggled with mindfulness/meditation in the therapist’s office, but felt so clear swimming (and later, making jewelry and doing my yarncrafts). Sitting still was so hard for me, but in activity, I could focus on my body and let everything go. I just needed more to pay attention to.

          5. Computer games like Bejewelled where I move things around work like that for me (also, swimming or cycling-not-on-London-roads): by giving the surface part of my brain something to do, the rest of it is available for creative thought.

          6. My two big things for this were:

            – handwriting, then typing up notes when I was doing my PhD. Sounds like a waste of time but actually I did my best thinking and saw patterns and connections and structures when my brain was occupied with copytyping.

            – I tried hypobirthimg when i was pregnant, and the whole “on a beach, or another safe and comfortable place” just infuriated me and made me angry. I remembered when I was a teenager and had lots of orthodontic work done, and how I used to disassociate by imagining myself playing some of my piano pieces, so I downloaded lots of the music I used to play as a teenager. Listening to that and getting my fingers to remember how to play it was *amazing* for managing pain.

        2. I wonder if there’s any correlation between bad reactions to meditation/ADHD. I know for me, “mindfulness”/meditation stuff is a nightmare because it involves stripping away all the stuff that helps my brain settle down. I CAN’T clear my mind, and I don’t mean that in the “whoops, caught myself thinking about something, teehee!” way that’s supposed to be normal in learning how to meditate–I mean, if I do the work of clearing away the thoughts, my brain starts working overtime on anxiety.

          1. There was a series (in Headspace maybe?) where he was very reassuring (and kept talking every once in a while in a very friendly British accent) that it was okay you had thoughts and then you could just watch them float by. Something about it just being okay to watch them go by made it much more tangible as an activity for me and less stressed. Because hey, here they come and you do not have to write them down. Otherwise, no dice.

          2. At least according to the neuropsychiatrist where I got my dx, yes, there is. She recommended active varieties of meditation (for people that were interested in it).

    2. Having a ‘paradoxical reaction to meditation/relaxation’ is a thing! 20 years ago I was in an anxiety/panic support group and there were 6 weekly ‘relaxation’ sessions to ‘help’. I was in a foaming sweat from stress after the end of each class, and felt even more like a loser. I heard about this kind of reaction about 5 years ago but it’s hard to find information online that isn’t about how to power through. No thanks.

      The Captain mentioned she feels the same way about meditation a while ago and I felt instantly validated. Now I boldly spread the word whenever anyone is going on about mindfulness.

      1. Chiming in to add my voice to the chorus of “it’s totally normal to experience anxiety or panic when meditating.”

        My sister is an addiction therapist, so she spends a great deal of time studying and helping people apply mindfulness techniques. When she was studying for her certification, she learned that meditation is a non-starter for a number of people for basic physiological reasons. Breathing is important, so when respiration slows for any reason, our bodies are programmed to flag it, and maybe do something about it. Because maybe something’s wrong! And we’re not getting enough oxygen!! Maybe IT’S AN EMERGENCY AND WE NEED ADRENALINE SO WE CAN BREATHE FASTER AND GET MORE OXYGEN!!!

        My sister’s prof went on to point out that trying to slow our breathing can also be an anxiety trigger because we generally only try to slow our breathing when we’re already struggling to breathe, even if it’s because we’re trying to catch our breath after running up a flight of stairs. Other reasons might be that we’re feeling threatened and are experiencing the freeze response (hi, fellow trauma survivors!) Or the pollen count is really bad (hi, fellow asthma sufferers!). The prof advised her class to be extremely cautious about suggesting meditation, and to regard it as an intermediate or advanced mindfulness practice, only to be recommended for clients who have already attained some stability.

        I felt so, SO validated when she told me this! The last panic attack I ever had was years ago, when I tried meditating as part of a mindfulness-based CBT program for treatment-resistant depression. Like a lot of people with ADHD, I’d often been advised to “just meditate!”, and gotten nowhere. I thought the structure of m/CBT would help. Nope. At the time, my jerkbrain stuck itself on a loop of “I feel like shit, literally don’t even know how to breathe, and I still feel like shit, and this is proof that I’ll never get better, and I’ll always feel like shit, and my only hope is a lobotomy or something, and even then I’ll probably still feel like shit only I won’t notice because of the lobotomy, and even then it’ll probably only be temporary”.

        When my sister explained the physiological stuff to me, I gave myself official permission to Never Meditate Again. I really wish the downsides of mindfulness meditation were more widely known, because it’s a very powerful tool, and like all powerful tools, it has the potential to do a great deal of harm.

    3. I’m told mindfulness can be difficult for some people on the spectrum, which would seem to explain why mindfulness and I have never really hit it off. Those mindfulness meditation audio tracks I’ve tried are basically trying to get me into a state that I’m already in by default thanks to sensory issues, where I hear all the little noises around me and am very conscious of every single thing about my body. It’s no wonder that when I try to do those meditations, I just feel like I’m “doing it wrong” because I’m not having whatever response I’m supposed to.

      1. I’ve had EXACTLY the same response to mindfulness; for me, the revelation of the mindfulness trend has been that, apparently, a lot of people are NOT constantly aware of every sound and bit of motion happening around them and also every tense muscle and digestive smoith muscle contraction and heartbeat and tactile sensation etc. in their own bodies. Who knew? I probably should have connected it to autism before reading this – thanks for the insight! – since sensory processing issues are generally common with autism. It’s helped me be a little kinder in my appraisal of careless allistics, since aparently a lot of them aren’t even thoughtless when they do casually harmful things so much as they are literally unaware of their surroundings and thus the likely impacts of their actions. It’s also made me even more anxious about being on roadways, especially high-speed expressway driving (it does explain why people who hit me with cars seem to think that, “I didn’t see you!” is exculpatory rather than an admission of criminal negligence – perhaps we should consider only licensing autistics to drive if there is a pervasive, significant deficit in allistics’ baseline sensory awareness).

      2. My mind is blown by this! Suddenly so much makes sense about my reactions when I attempt meditation!
        I have far greater clarity when I do something physically active.

      3. Omg, I had the same thought a year or two ago… Yeah, it’s like I *started* with all that awareness people are so eager for, and had to learn to block out enough of it to function. I had to sorta make up my own approach to mindfulness… Opening myself to that flood of information again is not exactly a walk in the park. Actually I made most of my progress working on pain management out of necessity; I had to figure out how to let in just enough of the pain to process it (and get rid of it) without being overwhelmed by it. Now that I’m not in constant pain, I’ve not really been doing that any more (and symptoms have been returning, damnit) because it’s hard work and it sucks and I hate that my body needs it.

    4. I hate it like fire. A lot of the mindfulness stuff that came with CBT echoed the emotional abuse I’d experienced. It felt like I was being told that my feelings were wrong and I should just stop feeling them because they weren’t right. Incredibly stressful.

      1. Ick, that sucks. One of my sorta self-taught mindfulness things is basically the opposite – I sit with my feelings and give them lots of hugs and attention and help them work through whatever it is they’re feeling (and figure out what they need from me, if it’s anything beyond that)

    5. Meditation is tricky for me because so much of it is guided visualizations, which I can’t do (seriously: If you ask me to close my eyes and visualize a peaceful stream I’m going to close my eyes and visualize the backs of my eyelids, if there’s enough light shining through.) Just breathing exercises I’m usually okay with, or whatever the one is where you systematically go through and squeeze a group of muscles and then relax them.

    6. Meditation and mindfulness also stresses me out big time, and as a therapist, everyone around me loves it and I had to do a lot of it in grad school classes. I’ve gotten really into yoga, but I only really enjoy vinyasa flows because each breath is usually a new movement of some kind. Otherwise, I can’t “turn my thoughts off” and just end up feeling like a failure!

  9. Q2: If you’re a procrastinator, pay close attention to the stuff you’re doing when you’re putting off the project you sat down to do. I’m a painter, and it took me a long time to notice that I was far more interested in what was going on on the paint palette than what I’d intended for the canvas. After that realization, I threw representational work over my shoulder and started doing abstract stuff, and my productivity exploded.

    1. That’s really cool! Seems applicable to Q2, in a way: to take another look a writing/literature (almost any creative process) and find what really interests YOU or captures your imagination, versus others’ opinions or ideas.

  10. I think I’ve been Zelda before, always being that person going through some kind of crisis, and I’ve almost definitely lost friends because I caused them trauma fatigue and didn’t even know what that was, let alone realize I’d been doing it. I really wish someone could have given me a heads-up before it was too late. Now I’ve cut back on venting my personal dramas to people, and I still worry that I’ve pushed people away.

    Also, I really echo the idea that sometimes a person is just venting when they state a problem, and they’re not necessarily looking for help, advice, or even inspiration to uplift them. I’m definitely the person who just wants to share what’s going on, and sometimes won’t because I know I’ll get a ton of unsolicited advice and I don’t want it, but I also don’t want to be accused of vaguebooking.

    1. I’ve been a Zelda, too, because I have legitimately had too many bad life events coming at me in too short of a time to recover from the last bombardment of bad life events. I try to see humor in being caught in a quagmire of suckiness, and that helps my friends not get too overwhelmed. I’m also aware to a degree when I have been a Negative Ninny too many days in a row and consciously seek out something else to discuss on social media, even if the only positive thing in my life might be “hey, look at my cute pet ferrets being cute” at that moment. I try also to share even small successes (“hey, i made a food without a recipe and I did not die!” was a recent one, and notable because I am not a great cook and typically rely heavily on recipes rather than instincts) and of course I cheer on my friends’ cute pets and “I got out of bed before noon AND I ate a healthy thing AND–you guys, this is amazing–I TOOK A SHOWER, TOO!!” posts, which, for some of my friends with chronic physical, emotional, &/or mental illnesses, is a Very Big Deal.

      If I look at my life from an outsider’s perspective, I have legitimately had a rough go of it for much of my life. Even when I avoid doing the “well, some people have things a lot worse, I should be grateful I am not dealing with their situations” thing. A lot of it is due to not being diagnosed with certain things, some of it is due to still-undiagnosed personality disorders of other adults in my family, some of it is health-related, some of it is prolonged poverty/low income/no income, and so on. But I also have some good stuff to report, and my habit of not dwelling on the bad stuff once I vent about a temporary bad problem means it usually doesn’t linger after I do something to address it.

      What works for me when my depression kicks in, I introvert, all I see is doom and gloom, and I begin to wallow in some of the shittier aspects of my existence, is to ask me “what’s the best thing you have read / seen / watched / done / heard lately?” as that gets me externalized and away from the wallowing. Don’t know if that would work for Zelda, but if your life is kind of hard, and you’re asked an open-ended question like “how have you been?”, you get into a groove automatically jumping to that “my life is hard” place if someone doesn’t break the groove. Asking questions to solicit positive answers help Zelda focus on positive stuff without ignoring her when she’s having a bad time and being a drag. No one WANTS to be a drag. It’s just hard to see outside of your own cave without a nudge sometimes, and when life is hard, the natural instinct is to go deeper into your cave, not venture out boldly. Sharing in-jokes or funny videos or stories or whatever also helps, if Zelda is in a mood to be receptive and has the energy to click on funny videos (sometimes I just can’t deal with watching something or even taking my phone off “mute.”)

      What doesn’t help, of course, is to get fed up with Zelda being a human raincloud due to real or perceived life suckitude, as that only adds to the list of things going wrong for her if friends bail on her for being a drip. Sometimes you can’t help being a drip. Life is sometimes hard. But bailing is not helpful, and putting up with being dumped on when Zelda has a weight on her mind isn’t good for her friends, either, but sometimes a gear-shifting works. Sometimes going to a small-doses or different-flavor friendship helps, as noted.

      Your instinct is clearly to be kind, while still protecting yourself from the psychological / spiritual contagion a human Eeyore can become. In my book, as an Occasional Zelda, there’s nothing wrong with that.

  11. Q5: As someone who feels a bit like a “Zelda” sometimes, that letter was hard to read!

    (My daughter and I both have a serious, complex chronic illness that lends itself to causing emergencies, our healthcare system is fucked, we often get hit with big unexpected bills as a result, so our life can look more like “lurching from crisis to crisis” than I’d prefer — but it’s our situation, not a lack of planning.)

    I agree with the Captain, though — there’s something else going on. That last part of the question is the key, I think — the social-media group that excludes on person. This sounds like there’s an issue with something Zelda is DOING, a behavior, rather than just her life situation in general.

    Because we’ve only got the info in the letter to go on, I think the Captain gave the best possible advice . . . but if part of the problem is “We are sick of hearing about Zelda’s stressful life,” please consider that Zelda probably isn’t enjoying it much, either!

    You may need to be a small-doses friend, LW, or a distraction-friend, or not someone that Zelda confides in — and that’s okay, if that’s how you need the relationship to be.

    But it’s important to distinguish between the “Bitch Eating Crackers” annoyance of “Oh NO, Zelda’s in the middle of another disaster, and she’s talking about it again!”, and an issue caused by the way Zelda treats *you* (i.e., “I need to talk about something else for a while,” or “Did you leave X out of the social media group on purpose?”) . . . because Zelda isn’t living her life/dealing with trauma *at* you.

    Focus on things that you and Zelda can choose to do to improve your specific relationship, and do her the favor of communicating honestly if you need something to change. Not asking, and then resenting her, is setting her up to fail as your friend.

  12. My sister used to do that all the time – abruptly stop a conversation, whether in person or on the phone, to not only admire a dog, but to chat with the owner. It’s rude any way you want to look at it. There. I said it and I stand by it.

    1. Addressing the rudeness of putting you second to a cute dog (or other distraction) and not getting fixated on the nature of the distraction may be helpful.

      The emphasis goes on the interrupting and ignoring, not on the “at a dog/baby/phone” to ideally avoid “You just hate dogs how DARE” derailing.

      Good luck!

      1. Yes, though like everything, personal preferences > appeal to objectivity:

        “X behavior is objectively rude, please stop” vs. “I know you love seeing cute dogs, but when we’re walking together in the middle of a conversation it’s distracting to me when you interrupt us” is going to go a long way toward making the point with someone who is, presumably, a friend you like.

        If someone told me it bothered them when I tuned out to pay attention to a cute friendly dog, I’d do my best to try to rein it in in their company. I get it, it is distracting esp. if it’s not a shared thing.

        If I got a “rudeness” lecture, I’d be like “guess we don’t take walks then, bye.”

        1. Yep.

          It’s like with grief, where you have one set of people going “Nobody sent me a condolence card or flowers! They haven’t even bothered to acknowledge me! They’re all thoughtless and rude!” and another set of people, often even of the same culture and socionomic class, going “Why are all these people sending me condolence cards or flowers! It’s just trash I have to deal with! They’re all thoughtless and rude!”

          And nobody is right there. Just as there is No One Way to Grieve, there is No One Way to Accept Condolences. The better thing than “how dare they send/not send flowers!” is a) a “please no flowers”/”flowers can be sent to Thanos Funeral Home” and b) when you inevitably get/don’t get flowers, understanding that people are imperfect.

    2. So… cute dog noticer, here.
      Also, squirrel! and red flower!

      Sorry, I guess? I am paying attention to the conversation, really, but dogs playing! flower! squirrel!
      I thought it would get better by the time I finished high school, but my kids are out of high school and here it still is.

      Although I don’t go on and on about it.

    3. Eh, dogs are glorious and better than most humans. If someone is going to talk my ear off and not let me cuddle with a beautiful pup, that’s on them.

  13. So for Question 4, I also have trouble with getting simple things done and having time and executive function and stuff like that.Some stuff in this ADHD channel (esp. this video) has helped me a bit. This one is about how to overcome the Wall of Awful.

    1. Good suggestion! How to ADHD is marvelous and this one is great in particular.

    2. This (and the video right before it) are marvellous, thank you so much for posting them.

      It’ll give me something to DO when I get locked into ‘this thing is hard, I can see no way of tackling it’ because ‘how do I put a door/handholds into this wall’ stops me from locking onto that wall and seeing nothing BUT wall.

    3. Thirding/fourthing this channel and this pair of videos in particular!!

      Important note: you don’t need to actually have ADHD (diagnosed or otherwise) to watch this channel. If you’re experiencing the sorts of behaviors and struggles that often go with ADHD (like you, Q4!), the information and discourse here is likely to be helpful in some way.

  14. Q2: This was me, three years ago. I had been limited for over ten years to the media/hobbies/interests of my ex. Then the doors were opened and the possibilities were at times overwhelming.

    Great suggestions by the Captain, I’d just like to add a trip to your local library. They often have free passes to local museums (great for inspiration), and I have had a lot of fun browsing in sections I never read before. Book clubs are good ways to meet people and read books you wouldn’t normally pick up.

    Now I have a room full of different possible art projects and books, and whenever the creative urge hits they are there for me. Good luck on your journey!

    1. Ages ago, Sluggy Freelance the webcomic introduced me to the concept of “ferret shock”: when there is just too much goodness to process or perform or interact with or whatever. And it’s a phrase I still use with my friends when I’m having trouble deciding or getting started because I’m overwhelmed by my options.

  15. LW4’s struggles with time sound a lot like mine. Their comment about “one last thing” sounded to me like they may also have trouble leaving work on time, which is something I really struggled with recently when depression/anxiety/difficulty staying on task were all hitting me at once. After giving it some thought, I realized it is very hard for me to leave one place/task if I feel guilt or anxiety about it. It’s hard to leave work at five on the dot if you feel bad about what you got done or how you managed your time while you were there! I’d find myself doing illogical things, like spending 15 minutes on the internet at work at the end of my day, instead of leaving and doing that at home, because I just didn’t feel quite ready to leave.

    Rather than working from a to-do list, it helped me a lot to start listing everything I accomplished that day, as I accomplished it. The only criteria for going on the list are: I did it already, and it was important to me. Arriving on time , leaving on time, and returning a single email have all gone on my list. My list has had paragraph-long bullet points where I put into words why something that looks small was a big deal, for me, today.

    I’ve found this a really effective way to notice what in my day is difficult and why– while building myself up, rather than focusing on stuff that still feels impossible. In general, I learned that I was treating many “expensive” tasks that take a lot of time or emotional energy like they were free. Then beating myself up when it turned out they didn’t take zero minutes or zero spoons.

    I also learned, just in general, that the last five minutes before I leave anywhere are a dumping ground for tasks that I imagine take no time. Putting on suncreen, finding my shoes, making sure everything I need is actually in my bag, etc. I now just try to move that stuff as early as I possibly can in my routine, so now when I look at the clock and think, “15 minutes until I need to leave = 15 more minutes to read on the couch,” I’m at least sort of right.

    Finally, a good source for tips that are more mental-health friendly is looking up organization strategies for people with AD/HD. You don’t have to have a diagnosis or diagnose yourself in order to benefit from those! Just think of them as lists for people who are managing a difference, rather than expecting to be “fixed”.

    1. Thank you for this idea, this is brilliant. I am going to start a “done” list.

    2. The done list sounds amazing. I’m really good at beating myself up for feeling exhausted/depressed after doing things that I think shouldn’t take as many spoons as they do *for me*. This is the second list idea I’m going to adopt from this thread today!

    3. I keep a yearly “done” list! I’m the sort of person who is always working on something, and DOES complete them, but since I have such an “on to the next thing” attitude combined with a poor memory, when I look back it feels like I haven’t done anything. So I put anything that feels significant (put out a book! got a tattoo! finally brought my donated goods to the donation place! called my mom!) onto a list so I can reflect on it year-to-year and remind myself that I haven’t actually done nothing even if I can’t remember each individual piece.

      (It’s been my ongoing mission to include more self-care tasks on this list over the years, as previous reflection noted I was only including difficult professional tasks.)

    4. “In general, I learned that I was treating many “expensive” tasks that take a lot of time or emotional energy like they were free. Then beating myself up when it turned out they didn’t take zero minutes or zero spoons.”

      Oh wow, this was a lightbulb moment for me. I have anxiety and when I have to do something that really stirs up my anxiety and is too important to put off any longer, I’ve tended to deal with it by clearing aside enough time to have the feelings and the procrastination between each step, while also setting a hard deadline so that I don’t keep putting it off further. I need to do this with more of the stuff I’m anxious about, just accept that this stuff takes more time and spoons for me and budget for that rather than telling myself that I shouldn’t need that time or those spoons.

  16. Also, a tl;dr from my longer comment in moderation could really just be: acknowledge that there is some emotional work in almost everything you do. LW4 probably has some feelings about their time management, their lateness, or the specific tasks in their routine! Not acknowledging the work something takes, even if only the emotional work, often results in not acknowledging the time it will take.

  17. > I also (touched on in today’s Q4) started tracking feelings along with tasks and schedule stuff. If a task keeps rolling over from previous day’s to-do lists, or I’m having a hard time motivating to go to a specific thing, what are the feelings going on here? What am I avoiding? Is it something that absolutely has to be done or can I just admit I’m never doing this totally optional thing I thought I was going to do and delete it from my “should” list?

    Ooh, Captain, I’d love to hear more about how you do the “tracking feelings” thing. Is it a journal exercise, or some other method?

    I’m moving into a new life phase as the parent of an adult rather than a child, and I’m finding it challenging to DO something with my new time, energy, and freedom, rather than just passively wait for life to use it up for whatever. I think I could learn something from what you’re doing.

      1. Cool! Thanks!

        I hadn’t gotten involved in bullet journaling because I’m very much not a visual artist and the beauty of the pages was super-intimidating to me — so glad your bullet journal experience precisely addressed that issue!

        1. Oh yeah, don’t look for the perfectly calligraphed stuff – messy is ok!

  18. One thing that’s helped me with getting up/out the door/to appointments/to bed at appropriate times (okay not so much with the getting to bed but hey) is doing the whole routine as a ‘dry run’ on a day when I don’t have deadlines, and time each step – including the inevitable dawdling on my phone, and looking for the keys that are in my pocket, and staring into space for three minutes because I can’t remember where I am or what I’m doing, a few minutes for panicking and beating myself up about how I’m really bad at this – add in ten minutes for the things that will always, always go wrong when there IS a deadline, and set a ‘hey, you’re leaving now!’ alarm for deadline minus timed getting-ready-and-traveling time.
    And keeping paper train and bus timetables and maps in my bag so that even if I get stuck with no wifi or coverage, I can still find out how to get to where I need to be.
    And while ‘pack your bag the night before’ is nice, I’d add – make sure the things you know you’ll panic about are in an outside pocket or otherwise very easily accessible! for me that’s keys, phone, access, bus, and credit cards, USB drive, notebook, pen – the things that even if I forgot or mislaid literally everything else, I could still limp on with my day – so I can do the insanity-check while I’m moving and not have to unpack my entire bag to make sure I have them.
    Typing all that out makes me realize – and should probably make you realize – that when you have executive dysfunction issues, being on time or even nearly on time is HARD and we work REALLY HARD for it.

  19. I would rate myself a C in punctuality (passing, but not much above that) and one thing I read on here that’s been really helpful is to just leave even if you’re ready early. Like if I put on my calendar that I need to leave at 12:30 and it’s 12:20 now, I used to feel the need to squeeze one more thing into those last 10 minutes, but I was never good at estimating what a 10 minute activity was, and then I needed to pee, and double back for my sunglasses, and whoops, now I’m running late again.

    Two things that helped me get into the “just leave!” habit:
    1. I carry my journal and book wherever I go, so even if I get somewhere ridiculously early, it feels like a treat because I get to read or write
    2. When I do leave really early, I try to be very present on the way down. I really notice how nice it is to calmly take the bus/trainwithout worrying if I’ll be on time, to look at all my fellow passengers and how beautiful they are, to look at all the places we are passing. Now I find myself thinking “I need to leave early so I can really enjoy my bus ride!” I think this works because I tend to be more motivated by positives “zen bus ride!” than negatives “be on time so no one hates you.”

    1. Oh wow, this is so much me it’s not even funny. I just wanted to say thank you; I never thought about giving myself permission to just leave early but I’m going to try it next time.

  20. Q1: With at least one of my friends I’m the “dog buffer,” as in I, a dog person, interact with the dog, while they, not a dog person, stand around disinterested. This usually keeps overenthusiastic dogs redirected towards me, so that people who don’t want to deal with paws and noses in inappropriate locations can be safely outside of their leash range. If the dog-distraction escalates to actually interacting with dogs, feel free to ask the dog enthusiasts to be a buffer between you and the animals: it might even hurry them along.

    Q2: I’m going to second the recommendation for libraries – a lot of them have book clubs, various lessons, and other events. Mine has a yearly “comic con,” all ages event, and my local museums have multiple events – if you want a little more socialization than just attending, volunteering at one is a good way to meet new people.

    1. Yes but … it’s not actually mandatory to interact with every dog. You non-doggy friends don’t routinely get enthusiastic noses and paws–they just walk on by. Those of us who love dogs can simply keep walking with our non-doggy friends and NOT have dog time with every puppet we see. There will be more dogs tomorrow, but our friends are with us right now.

      1. Also worth bearing in mind – however tempting, the OWNERS of those passing doggos don’t always want to interrupt their walk so you can interact with them. (Over and above, of course, those of the dogs themselves who are shy or stranger-averse.) I try to be courteous about that, not just establishing whether a given dog is okay to pet but watching for cues that the other end of the leash is trying to move on.

        My friends (and, often, hiking buddies) could probably name you my hierarchy of favorite breeds by my reactions while we’re out somewhere. Any jingle of tags or moving furry thing will initially catch my attention, but after that, there’s the ‘head-turn, oh it’s a poodle, smile, move on’ category, the ‘Aw, Rottie! Sorry, you were saying?’ category, and the ‘BEAGLE! gonna powerwalk to catch up to them BRB’ category’.

        I like the Captain’s focus on the behavior over the motivation. I don’t feel that friend-time needs to be constantly-laser-focused-on-the-other-person time – in fact I’d feel super-uncomfortable if it were – so I don’t see anything wrong with reacting to other things in the world, dogs or movie posters or what have you. But if you’re trying to discuss something seriously, and they don’t respect that, or you can NEVER manage to have a full conversation without them redirecting to other stuff, that would be more of a problem.

      2. I have relatives who will ruin family moments by bringing out pictures for everyone to look at. Our extended family is rarely all together, and the last thing anyone wants to do is stop playing with kids/talking with cousins, nieces, nephews, in-laws, elders IN THE PRESENT to review photos of people who aren’t there. It doesn’t help that quite often one of the people in the photos is a sex-offender who can’t be at our family gatherings because he is a sex-offender—and not everyone is cool with this man, regardless of how much he is his parole officer’s favorite and the apple of his mother’s eye. But the other people in the photos are often older people who nobody under 70 remembers, if they ever met them at all. Or distant relatives we never see because none of us wants to see them, but here they are posing dressed up for dinner on a cruise—”oh and this is cousin Ann with Lois, you remember. I think it was her birthday. Let me see, Lois is older than I am, I think she was born in….”. One time it was the wedding of Candy and Andy, one of which was the grand-offspring of an in-law who is actually a pretty big asshole and hard to listen to under any circumstances, but here he was, hosting a wake because he lives close to the family burial plot, passing his albums of Candy and Andy who I have never met, and pointing to each photo, demanding attention with, “and this is Candy and Andy walking into the church, and this is Candy and Andy cutting the cake, and here are Candy and Andy getting in the car.” And here is me, hearing the words Candy and Andy over and over again at a long table in the midwest where the older women of the family have taken up the fad of long, elaborately painted fake nails and a ring on every finger of both hands, all three of them tapping the table for emphasis every time they say anything—so I have to look at the nails and the rings, and I have to look at photos of fucking Candy and Andy and hear their names repeated until I can find a way out, which was to step outside with the smokers, the whiskey drinkers, and the priest.

  21. I’m a Late Person, due to a combination of ADHD and upbringing by a chronically late parent (… who likely has ADHD, and not just for that reason). I’m at the point where I usually do alright later in the day, but mornings are the worst. Ergo, getting to work on time is the worst. I’m lucky to work an office job now where no one has ever said anything, but starting the day with a big ol’ helping of shame and anxiety and hoping the boss hasn’t noticed really… sucks. Here is what I’m slowly coming up with to combat this issue:

    – Try to have a job where it isn’t a huge deal (if you can, obviously many people can’t).

    – Put down the “crack pipe”. As in, I don’t keep devices in my bedroom. Phone and tablet charge in the living room. This means a) I don’t stay up surfing as much late at night, and b) I don’t lie in bed in the morning checking “one more thing” until I’m late. For whatever reason, I’m less compelled to endlessly scroll once I’m already up and standing over the couch.

    – Many alarms. Perhaps an old-fashioned alarm clock, if you have similar phone issues to me. 😉 I use a Google Home Mini in my room, which makes noise until I tell it to shut up, then reads me the daily headlines. Having to physically speak to it to turn it off seems to wake me up better than whacking a button. (I’m also single and can get away with having like 3 alarms. If you have an SO who may start fantasizing about your death by the third alarm each day, perhaps work out something they can deal with too).

    – Carrots/rewards, as opposed to sticks/punishment. If I leave early, I have time to hit the like 9 pokestops around my office building before going in! If I leave early, I have time to swing slightly off my route for Starbucks! If I’m late, morning is less fun! But shaming myself or trying to “punish” myself for lateness has never been effective.

    Is this a perfect system? NOPE, still late a lot! But I’m noticing the devices-in-another-room bit has been particularly helpful for at least getting me out the door *less* late. For awhile my phone charger had “somehow” migrated back to my room, and I essentially relapsed. I’ve just started up again charging it in the living room and no lie, it makes a solid 10-15 minutes difference to my mornings. On top of all this, the usual advice applies about sleep hygiene and not being delusional about how much time you actually need to get out the door on time (a different struggle for me).

    That was a lot of writing just now, but I hope I’ve helped someone with it…

    1. You have (plus you made me laugh because I’m often saying to “put down the crack pipe”) – some of it reminders like devices elsewhere but also CARROT! Carrots work better.

  22. Q9: I generally like the Captain’s link about why someone with a disability might not respond to invites, but I think the last point can be a little tricky: “No matter how often we cancel, keep inviting us—even better, figure out ways we can hang out that are low maintenance and accessible.”

    It’s not that I completely disagree, but I think that it pairs well with Captain’s recent piece about boundaries and friendship. I had a friend who almost completely stopped responding to me due to some tricky mental health stuff, and it was really hard to navigate. For a while, it wasn’t difficult at all to keep reach out/inviting her. Then it got hard, but I pushed through it. Then it started making me anxious either way – I was anxious when I texted her because I was 99% sure she wouldn’t respond and that made me sad, and I was anxious when I hadn’t texted in a while because I felt like a bad friend for finding it hard and harder to keep reaching out regularly.

    I’ve stopped reaching out now, but my last couple texts made it clear that she could reach out at any time and I’d be happy to hear from her. And in retrospect, I wish I’d let myself reach that conclusion sooner instead of torturing myself with guilt for months. It’s AWESOME that you’re reaching out to old friends, but if they don’t respond to you, it’s ok for that to be a dealbreaker, at whatever point that is for you. Some people don’t mind initiating 90% of the time and some people need it to be more even, and it’s ok to look for compatibility along that axis.

    1. This is one I get stuck on a lot too. “Soft no” and “I depressed and I want to but I can’t, please ask again next time and I’ll try” look 99% identical from the outside.

    2. Yes, for me, sending out an invitation to someone takes emotional energy. It’s a modest amount, and I can keep the amount low by inviting folks to similar things over and over (for me, it’s Sunday morning brunch), but it still requires emotional energy. Of course, when I get to hang out having a nice time with folks, that emotional energy is repaid manyfold. There’s a tipping point where the emotional cost of issuing invitations isn’t paid off by the pleasure I get from hanging out — especially if the person generally says no or, worse, just doesn’t respond.

    3. Yeah, the “keep inviting us” thing is a tricky one, for two reasons. One, if someone has ignored your invites umpty times, it’s *possible* that they are not interested in the things you’re suggesting, or you, anymore. Which sucks and hurts, but is a boundary they get to draw. Two, it’s… a lot to ask of other friends. Many of us, with or without mental illness or other cognitive issues, find it painful to be rejected, even implicitly, on the regular. If someone has ignored my contacts for thus-and-such times over the course of this-and-so months… yeah, I’m going to self-protect and stop.

    4. I think that article confused me a bit because I wasn’t sure if the disabled person being invited wasn’t responding at all, or if they were frequently cancelling but keeping in touch with the person who invited them about it, or were responding “not today, but please keep me in mind for next time / for a different activity,” or were ever issuing invitations themselves in response for things they *could* do. Because those are all really different!

      Like, I have a chronic illness and disability, but for me, literally not replying is a soft no, just like it is from well people. It’s like, “I don’t have the spoons to say I only want to be distant / small doses friends with you in words (and I know sometimes that’s a cop-out, sorry) so this is me slow fading by just not replying. Maybe I even blocked your number.”

      It’s kind of annoying if other disabled or chronically ill people are telling their friends to ignore soft no’s from disabled people in general, when frankly it’s just this specific disabled person’s quirk.

      On the other hand, later the writer mentions cancelling plans a lot, which, to me, is a whole different thing. It’s not rejecting the invitation or the inviter, especially if cancelling is said right alongside a proposal to reschedule. Yes, it’s a hassle, but generally my friends are very understanding about this (and the ones who aren’t aren’t close to me anyway). Cancelling and offering to reschedule isn’t something people tend to take personally, whereas repeated rejections / no replies are just going to hit people in the feelings. I know the article writer has really great intentions, but this is definitely an “intentions aren’t magic” situation.

      It’s okay if your invitation is to watch Netflix and eat pizza in your slightly messy house! It doesn’t have to be going out. It just has to show that you like someone and enjoy their company. People like being liked and feeling like their company is valued! For a lot of my friends, at least, that’s more important than whatever the specific hangout activity is.

    5. Yeah, I’ve been the person who kept saying no and my friend eventually did what you did. She didn’t hold it over my head and she was up for getting together when I reached out, but she stopped trying to initiate stuff with me and I didn’t blame her in the slightest. I was genuinely struggling with a demanding job + social anxiety, but she was also a person with needs and limits and I think it’s totally reasonable to eventually hit a limit with this kind of thing.

  23. Q4! Fully endorse the captain’s habit about putting a leave time on the calendar.

    Also, I have alarms set on my phone that go off at HH:28 and HH:58 starting at 6:58 am on weekdays that end at 6:58 pm. They’re on silent/vibrate. They remind me to get back on task if I’ve drifted, and also help me be on time for meetings at work (hence the 2 minutes before the hour thing).

    I also have a couple of dedicated alarms with noise to remind me of regular things – call mom at 6:30 every Monday evening. That kind of thing.

    My last thing isn’t so much advice as an idea that you may be able to morph into something useful – I have a massive problem with going to bed on time in the age of streaming TV. A couple years ago I decided to change my rule from “TV off at 10pm” to “I will not start a new show after 9pm, or a move after 8:30 pm.”

    That worked for me. In fact it worked so well that I began to value my wind-down time in bed reading more than TV and ended up creeping my no-new-show time back by another 30 minutes.

  24. For the writer LW, I highly recommend Anne Lamott’s Bird By Bird. It’s a writing guide and a classic in the field, and one of the only ones with an entire chapter about telling all your critics to fuck the hell off. I love her exercise where she tells you to picture all the people telling you to stop doing your thing as mice. Put them all in a jar (a big mason one) and screw on the lid. This is a magic jar, so you can control the volume.

    Turn up the volume and listen to their squeaky voices shrilling demands, criticism, rage, jealousy–how you won’t give them more money, attention, time, whatever. Listen for a few seconds.

    Then turn it all the way down, watch their frantic scrabbling, turn your back and start typing.

  25. Q2: In addition to the wonderful advice by the Captain & other comments, I’m going to throw in another suggestion for reading! I highly recommend reading the old Dear Sugar column, “Write Like A Motherfucker.” I found this column when I was going through a rough patch and blockage in writing, and it helped me immensely in finding a new voice, letting myself have _fun_ with my work, understand mistakes in art are OK, and taking another look at the work I was putting out into the world:

  26. Q10:

    I used to (sometimes still do, but not as often) get stuck in anxiety spirals that lasted most of the day, where all I would do is fret and catastrophize and build up panicked, elaborate worst-case scenarios in my head. Doing breathing/mindfulness techniques rarely helped, because if I sat quietly for any length of time I would start fretting again. After years of work, I’ve managed to get it down to a really simple kind of stress checklist that I go through when I get into a state. I think whether or not this would help is dependent on a lot of things, everyone has their own sticking points etc., but in case it would help you, this is what I do.

    1. Eat something. It sounds stupid but think of it this way: when a little kid is cranky you immediately think “Oh, they’re tired/thirtsy/hungry” and not “wow they must be struggling with a completely insurmountable problem.” As adults I think we’re kind of used to ignoring our bodies’ demands, but our bodies still get tired/hungry/thirsty and it affects us more than we think. And anyway eating a snack rarely hurts you! So the first thing I do is sit down and eat a small snack (ideally a banana, apple, granola bar, maybe a cookie) and drink a glass of water.

    2. Basically every single time there’s something stressing me out, I think of two things: is there anything I can do that’s simple and concrete and would alleviate or redirect this? And when is the earliest point I can reasonably do it? So for example when I was in uni and was awake at 3am panicking about a project, the actionable task would be to talk to my prof and ask for an extra day or two to get things done, and the most reasonable time would be the next day I was in class. So that helped move it from “THIS IS SOMETHING YOU NEED TO PANIC ABOUT” to “this is something that I have a plan about, and the plan goes into action Monday.” Other points of anxiety/concrete tasks for me would be:

    Omg I need to repair my vehicle and I don’t have the money!!/ok, I’ll ask my friend who knows about cars to talk it out with me and see if this can wait a couple of weeks, I’ll see if I can find a shop that accepts payment in installments, I’ll make a plan to reduce car usage for the foreseeable future.

    Hahaha far right parties are taking over my local government/I’ll make a small (sometimes $5!) donation to a grassroots candidate or find a local pro-my-politics event to put in my calendar and go to.
    Etc. Etc.

    3. If I’ve had my snack and decided that there is no concrete task to be done, thrn I think of it as being brain weather: a storm of bad feelings that mostly just needs to be waited out. So the last thing I do is change my energy state. By that I mean, whatever state I’m in, do the opposite. Have I been alone all day? I’ll try to go somewhere where friends are or see if anyone wants to meet up for a coffee. Have I been surrounded by people? Go home, light a candle, have a bath, treat myself to whatever quiet and relaxing activity I want. Things like going for a walk, the gym if that’s your bag, going to the library, etc. all go here. This is probably where the distractions from anxiety you were talking about live.

    For me, making it a formal 3-step process that I do every single time I get anxious kind of structures it for me and makes it easier to deal with. Sometimes it’s hard to make myself go through it, because my brain will say things like, why bother! This is a problem because of everything, life is a horrible mountain of pain, it is unfixable! Why even try?? But I find if I do this every time I start freaking out, as a matter of routine, it naturally separates the solvable tasks from the more generalized anxiety/brain weather.

    1. This is amazing and I’m so happy you typed it all out and shared it. Thanks

  27. Q5: I feel like in every friend group, someone is having their turn at being Zelda. We have one person in our friend group who has been Zelda for … well.. since 2003. She must have been born under an unlucky star, given everything that’s happened to her: Illness. Bad relationships. Family problems. Financial woes. These are not things I could ever pretend to solve for her, and mostly what she’s looking for are people to vent to and a sympathetic ear (which is what most of us want during tough times).

    The way I prevent exhaustion with her is how a friend prevented it with ME when I was Zelda (she admitted this to me years lager): She’d mute our text conversations and send my emails into a separate folder. And then, once or twice a week or so, she’d check in, skim the most recent messages and respond with, “Sorry, things have been crazy. That sucks about ABC and XYZ! I can’t believe he SAID that! Happy to talk through it via a phone date this week. I can do next Wednesday, does that work for you?” We’d do a phone date, which she’d cap at half an hour and then calmly say she had to go, but to keep her updated. And then she’d return to her once-per-week check-ins on my messages.

    It took me a while to realize this is what she was doing, because I was so busy sending long feelings-screeds and “updates” to her (multiple per day!) that I wasn’t even cognizant that she’d sometimes go a full week without responding to me!

    I’ve implemented this with two Zeldas in my life. As for Zelda creating groups and leaving people out, do you also have a group that everyone’s included in? I feel like, if you post more actively in THAT one, Zelda’s group will kind of go dormant, and that’s fine. If she asks why, you can say, “Well, I wanted to share some updates with the whole gang! If you want something more private, feel free to reach out anytime!”

      1. Your stamp of approval on this technique made my day. I felt like a bit of a jerk implementing it at first, but then I remembered how much I loved my chats with my friend who checked in on me once a week, and how I never thought, “Wow she’s only reaching out to me once a WEEK when I’m writing to her 5 times a DAY, what a jerk!” I was just so grateful for her focussed (even though not constant) attention.

    1. She must have really cared about you. I can’t imagine putting that much work into staying friends with someone.

  28. Time is not one of my challenges, but I’ve noticed something that helps me live more peacefully with time challenged folks, and wonder if it would be something you could do for yourself? So maybe not helpful; just ignore, if so.

    My boss rarely has people meaningfully late to his morning meetings because he broadly advertises the soft start breakfast, with treats and hanging out, and buries the “real” meeting start in the agenda. My holiday dinners got a lot less stressful when I started telling the typically late relatives the “drinks and nibbles” time as an actual time, with hours and minutes, and burying the dinner start time as “and then we’ll start the meal in a half hour or so”.

    Would it sometimes help to just record the “butt in chair” time in your calendar, rather than the curtain time? I have such a vague memory in things I don’t write down, that I probably would forget how much margin I gave myself, if I did that.

  29. For LW3 – I was the “you” in this situation a while ago, where the issue was me working through some personal stuff and also just struggling with time/effort/energy. If you guys communicate and both want something to change – I *wanted* to want sex more often, I just wasn’t getting spontaneous motivation that overcame “that sounds like a lot of work and I’d rather XYZ” – I strongly second the suggestion to put it on the calendar.

    We agreed that weekly was a good baseline and blocked off Tuesday nights, with our only expectation that we would shower & get to bed an hour earlier than usual, set aside screens, and focus on intentional physical intimacy. Sometimes that looks like a fancy backrub where we bust out the scented body oil; we make liberal use of the Captain’s third suggestion; and a lot of the time (MUCH more often than before) it’s good old-fashioned “y’know.” And it’s been really great! We were worried about it feeling awkward/forced, but really the anticipation factor is far more effective than spontaneity ever was.

    1. I’m still struggling with this, as we seem to have stalled at this point in our relationship.
      My wife says that any kind of scheduling around this activity will make her work up performance anxiety(?), but being spontaneous isn’t on the map either because she needs time to wake up her mind to the idea. We often cuddle in the bed in the morning (naked), and we can cuddle on the couch for hours watching TV in our T-shirt and underwear, but if I linger a kiss a split second too long, or even accidentally touch a breast in a way that can seem a bit suggestive, she’ll run to the kitchen for more snacks or start talking ’bout her job.

      When we eventually get around to doing it, she gets a lot of time and attention so she often end up rhetorically asking “That was so good, why don’t we do this more often?”. She says she’s not a person to spontaneously think about sex, so the only advice she offers is that I ask more often. But as she turns me down like 9 out of 10 times or more for asking, I feel this is not a viable path, and at this point I don’t know if she wants to want it more often?

      I’m sorry for ranting, and I’m happy it has worked out for you.

  30. Oh man, there’s so much here that’s great, but I just wanted to say: Magical Thinking About Time!!

    OMG that’s so my significant other and that phrase is so beautiful and I love it forever.

    1. Ditto! I read an article that some people who are chronically late are just Optimists; it took 20 minutes that one time in the middle of the night with no traffic and so lalala, it always will. That’s me – the Magical Thinking Optimistic Unicorn of Seattle…it’s a good thing I work from home now.

      Under the heading of Magical Thinking, if an appointment is far enough out (at least 3 days), I LIE to myself. The acupuncture receptionist says it’s at 5:50 and I repeat back and put in my phone 5:40. It’s a normal time for them, it doesn’t seem odd, when I look at it that day, I get there and I’m either early or…on time.

      (I learned this trick from having a housemate/friend who was perpetually and ALWAYS 25 minutes late. I just started telling her the movie or party was a half an hour earlier than it was. And she NEVER caught on and it almost always worked. /smh)

  31. Q4: I feel you. I have different advice for regular standing events (like getting to work or school) versus occasional one-offs (like a yearly doctor’s visit).

    For the regular ones, the ones that happen daily at the same time, I try to pare down my morning activities to the utter minimum. I eat, dress, pack my tech, put on shoes and sunscreen/coat, out the door. Weirdly, the more time I set aside for getting ready, the more likely I am to get in the weeds, because I think stupid things like “Oh! I should clean the cat box; I have all this extra time!” But I don’t have extra time, and I’m shit at estimating how long things take, so it’s best I do things the exact same way every day and don’t do anything extra.

    For the one-offs, I basically accept that I’m doing nothing useful for the hour before I have to leave. The only things I do are things that have very clear boundaries (like “eat a bowl of cereal” or “brush teeth”). It’s a huge time suck, but it’s the only way I manage it.

    I also agree about avoiding traps. I won’t look at screens in the morning for this reason. The one exception is my phone, which I lock down with Forest after looking at my to-do list and the weather. It has alarms set to keep me moving (there’s one to let me know when to stop dinking around with breakfast and shift into dressing and teeth-brushing mode, for example).

    One thing that I’ve found is super great with travel time is Google maps. If you ask the app for directions to a destination, it tells you when you will arrive. But what you can do is ask for directions like an hour or so before you know you have to leave, and it will keep updating your arrival time. Somehow seeing that if I leave now I’ll arrive at 9:28 gets me moving better than having calculated that I need to leave at 9:00 to get there by 9:30. I’m good at ignoring or discounting departure reminders (“I have time to squeeze one more thing in, right?”) but seeing that if I do something extra I *will* be late is much more motivating.

  32. LW4! I too am also late often. I am now on time for work every day though, due to these things:
    1. A “get ready” alarm that goes off 30 minutes after my regular alarm. This is because if I don’t need to shower, I will spend the morning in an internet hole. The internet hole serves a purpose! It’s me-time! But also it’s difficult to get out of without a LOUD reminder
    2. Over-estimating travel time. I estimate it takes me 30 minutes to get to work, when the actual journey takes 16-20 minutes according to my fitness app. But, with locking and unlocking my bike, running up and down the stairs because I forgot my phone and my jacket and my skirt, and general faffing, it really does take 30 minutes. I can never start thinking it is a 20 minute journey or I am in trouble.
    3. Having something to do if I’m early. When I was bussing, this was catching pokemon. These days I read at my desk. I found that I was scared of being bored (and when waiting for the bus, cold) and this really helped.

    In terms of rumination, the DBT Skills Workbook has really really helped me overcome that. There’s lots of ways in there you can get your brain to do literally anything else (for example, did you know that daydreaming can be a helpful behaviour if it distracts you from ruminating? mind. blown.)

  33. #4 I have executive functioning issues too and am late more often than not. But one thing I did was not put the event time in my calendar but the leave time or the time I had to get up and take a shower. That has helped me not estimate how long I will take right before an event (because I will then estimate that it will only take 10 minutes to get a shower and get somewhere that’s 15 minutes away.

    The other thing is I have a short “absolutely must have it” packing list and I use that checklist religiously when I have a trip. That way, I may forget something dumb but at least have the necessities.

  34. Q1: so… I am not an enthusiastic person, in fact I’ve been conditioned a lot to hide my emotions when I was a kid. And there’s just something about expressive enthusiastic people that seems like they want to draw the same reaction out of you and a lot of them act like it’s weird that you’re not reacting the same way, I hate that “you’re a freak” look people get. It surely isn’t helped by the fact that if I do get excited about something people laugh at me. Navigating the “appropriate” emotional response people expect is so exhausting.

    “oh my god look at the doggie”
    “look how cute he is”
    “yup sure is cute”
    “why aren’t you freaking out over how cute this little guy is?”
    “I dunno”
    “ugh, fine” *rolls eyes*

    1. The perspective from the opposite point of view is that the flat response to enthusiasm can feel like you’re judging them for getting excited about something trivial/silly! It’s difficult from both sides.

  35. Q4: I don’t have adhd, so far as I know, but I’ve been finding the YouTube channel How to ADHD a goldmine of “How to Human” hacks. Being ADHD, the presenter focuses on executive function issues, as well as addressing mood.

  36. Q4, I’ve found that making it clear to myself that the answer to “how long does it take to get there” is totally unrelated to travel time, or how long Google thinks it’ll take me. Like, the drive from my home to my current workplace is about eight minutes. But it takes me an hour to get there, because I start counting the time as soon as I stop what I’m doing to get ready to leave, and end the time when work begins.

    For example, if I have to get to work at 7, I have to finish eating breakfast at 6, pack my lunch (which takes longer than the one minute I budget in my head because whoops I didn’t wash out the container yesterday and also where’s the ladle?), oh-crap-where’s-my-travel-mug, then wait! one last pee, then I have to grab my phone (which room did I leave it in?), and put on my shoes, then get the elevator down sixteen stories, then drive my car up from the underground parking lot (which takes a stupid amount of time), THEN there’s that eight minute drive! And then, I have to find parking, walk over from the parking structure, get my scrubs from the machine (there may be a line!), change, pack my pockets full of stuff, deposit my lunch in the staff fridge, and walk over to the meeting room and arrive ten minutes early, because early is on time and on time is late when you’re relieving people from a night shift.

    When you look at google maps, it’s tempting to think that that’s the amount of time it takes, because that’s the amount of time it SHOULD take, door to door. But I try to budget time to get lost, time to miss the bus, time to forget tampons and have to run back to get them, and so on. Even when I’m more organized, apps don’t see that your elevator is slow. And like someone above said, I find that the threat to me isn’t the threat of being late, but the anxiety I’m going to feel over rushing, and that’s what I use to motivate myself.

    1. “- on time is late when you’re relieving people from a night shift.”

      On behalf of night shift people everywhere, I appreciate that you think of this, although in my case it’s more of a ‘LATE is late, and even two minutes late when you haven’t called means maybe you’ll be there in two more minutes, or maybe you overslept and I need to call and wake you up if I don’t want to spend an extra hour or more here’.

      I think it also makes a difference if you’re *reliably* on time, because thinking ‘Okay, at 7am HannahS will get here and then I can leave!’ feels much different than ‘Okay, at 7am I can start sighing and looking at the clock and wondering when NotHannahS is going to get here, but there’s no sense packing up my stuff and getting ready to go on time because they’re usually some indeterminate quantity of late’.

  37. I guess my question is, why do you feel like you need to mirror their enthusiasm or fake it?

    What was that theme? “Do less”?

    1. Oh, and I’m that friend who likes to stop and pet all the dogs we pass on the street (in NYC, there are lots of them). I try to keep it short when I’m with friends (though usually we’re just strolling, no in a hurry), but one of my friends warned his girlfriend, on our first night out strolling around, “When you’re out with Toots, you’ll have to slow down now and then for dogs, because she pets them all.”

      His tone was amused–as though it was one of the quirks of me that he thought was funny and mildly endearing.

      (I’m thinking these friends might be acting as though they’re expecting you to join them, but just be wryly amused at them instead of focusing on the dog and whether you agree with them. That’s sort of what my friend did, actually.)

  38. Q4: People have given amazing advice for the practical and planning aspects, a lot of which I have used to teach my (ADHD, chronically anxious, small business running) self to become the On Time Friend. I wanted to focus more on the emotional side of it, and how I have engaged in diplomatic relations with the shame demons of lateness.

    1. If you’re going to be late, communicate. This mostly applies in social contexts, but is often successful for work, too. Tell the person you’re meeting with that you’re on your way, and give them an adjusted ETA. This tends to reassure people that they are still your priority, and that even if your body isn’t there yet, your mind is. It will also make you feel better, because now you’ve done something about being late, and because the other person’s response will almost always be, “Sure, see you in 15 minutes, no problem!”

    2. Recognize that your “getting ready” time is inherently longer than other people’s, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I have had a much easier time waking up for morning work obligations since I started waking up half an hour earlier than I “needed” to. It turns out that I need that time to sit in bed and read or play with my phone because I’m not fully awake yet – my partner says I’m a “slow boot” – and I’m much more efficient, focused, and calm about getting ready when I’ve given my brain enough time to load all its background processes. I’ve also scrolled through social media and the news, so I’m less likely to fall down an electronic rabbit hole when I should be out the door. (I also have less digestive trouble when I do this, so I’m convinced it’s broadly physiological.) You might need to do this at the end of your getting ready time – like, wake up, get showered and dressed, and then have a half hour of letting your body catch up to you.

    3. Plan ahead what you’ll do if you’re early. Part of my anxiety used to be about having to fill the unstructured time between getting there and the thing starting. I will map places out in advance so I have a route for a 10-minute walk around the block. I’ll open a brand new fanfic in a browser tab on my phone so it can be waiting for me when I get to the gate at the airport. These can become incentives for getting there early, but be careful of punishing yourself for failing to make time for them – they’re bonuses, not rewards.

    4. Make the journey an appealing event in itself. Sometimes, you can choose a method of transportation that you enjoy more. I am often happy to leave earlier if it means I can walk or take transit instead of driving. Take the pretty route or the less stressful one. Podcasts have helped me with this a lot, because I can focus on them more when I’m driving or on transit. For you, the attraction might be audio books, or an hour with your favorite song on repeat, or blissful silence.

    1. “If you’re going to be late, communicate”

      YES AND…

      Communicate ONCE. “I’m running a bit behind, my adjusted eta is ____. Order yourself a drink/get started without me/save me a seat inside I’ll grab my own ticket, etc.”

      Then, stop texting if at all possible! If something MAJOR changes, yes, but otherwise…let it be!
      Don’t text every excuse & piece of your story & apology. Don’t text every 5 minutes. “On bus now.” etc. If you’re already keeping a person waiting, let them order their drink or give them a minute to read their phone or what have you in peace, without having to manage your whole commuting process.

      I realize this is a suggestion/personal preference and not a rule, but, I am rarely annoyed if someone is running late to meet me. I’m usually the late one, I live in a public transit city, IT HAPPENS, I usually manage stuff so I have my own ticket and nobody is held up waiting for me.

      But I do get very annoyed & catch ambient anxiety if there’s a constant re-negotiation game. Tell me when you’ll be here. I trust you’re doing your best. I don’t need the details or my phone pinging from constant interruptions!

      1. I just posted something like this in another comment above (although in a work context), but I think the key reason communicating is polite (and why, you’re correct, it need only be done once) is confirming for the waitee that the late person is not in fact not coming (schedule miscommunication, overslept, or in the case of newer acquaintances, simply flaked), but is en route and will be there when they can.

        As someone who has spent a LOT of time waiting for people for various reasons before slowly reaching the conclusion they’re not actually going to show up, the sooner I know today will not be one of those days, the happier I’ll be.

        1. Yeah, this is the heart of the issue. Since getting better about being on time, I’m now more often in the position of waiting for others. Knowing that you’re still going to be there, with an adjusted (realistic) ETA is helpful; constant updates distract me from the book I brought to read in case I’m early or you’re late.

          One final thought that just occurred to me: if you’re going to be later for something than the original planned end time of the event, sometimes you’re not late, rather you missed the event. For something like drinks or dinner that has an indeterminate end time, you might be able to push it back half an hour or an hour without issue (try to be honest with yourself and your compatriots if that’s the case); if you’re an hour late for a half-hour meeting (or class), you’re not late, you missed the meeting (and people may have things scheduled after). So, keep that in mind when telling people you’re late – if you’re so late that the thing for which you’re late would have been over already, consider that it might be kinder to cancel and reschedule (I’ve been in situations, plural, where I wound up waiting for over two hours for someone who said ze would be there in fifteen minutes every time ze texted; to the best of your ability, it’s helpful to be realistic rather than aspirational when sending an updated ETA).

          1. Johann that is such a good point! Like for the family Christmas dinner I always host, it’s not uncommon for somebody like my husband’s cousin who lives an hour away to be a little late depending on traffic, and that’s fine. But while I don’t exactly have a hard end date for Christmas dinner, if the invite is for 1pm, my husband and I aim to have the food ready hopefully by 1pm or by 1:30 at the latest so nobody’s sitting around hungry… so the friend who shows up 4 hours late is going to get leftovers from the fridge and miss the main family meal because I’ve got to think of my other hungry guests and the food sitting out. I dunno if I’d have preferred she not show up at all, necessarily, but showing up all offended that I didn’t wait the extra four hours to serve dinner to the dozen other people that were there was not cool.

      2. I try to remember to text with “my estimated time of arrival plus 15 minutes”. Because just as I was wildly optimistic when I thought I could get unshowered and undressed me and two undressed children out of the house in 60 minutes, I’m probably also being wildly optimistic in thinking a 15 minute bus ride and a 15 walk across town with a pushchair and a 4yo on a scooter will take 30 minutes. If by some miracle it does take 30 minutes, but I’ve texted 45 minutes, that’s ok!

      3. Thanks for explaining that, I’ve been kinda guessing at how much information people want there. My current rule of thumb is two messages: one with an approximate ETA as soon as I know I’ll be late, and a second with an exact ETA once I’m past the hilariously-unreliable-bus part of the journey (if applicable).

  39. for Q10:

    The Captain wrote: “when you’re in an anxious mood, maybe do a thing (anything) and see if it helps”

    I had a stressful job once w/ lots of tasks flying in, and a colleague said, “You need to sit and breathe and relax.”

    No, I said–what I need is to DO one of those.

    This is how I chose:
    • Which task can I clear in less than 5 minutes? Do that first.
    • Then, which of the three or four tasks stressing me most will take the least time? Do that second.

    That usually unclogged the anxiety, and it got me moving forward.
    I found that by doing that, I never did need to sit down and do any targeted relaxation–the general stuff I did after work was fine.

    There is NOTHING more powerful than accomplishing a goal, in my opinion.

    1. Yes to this. I get unstuck by picking the easiest tiny bit of a daunting task to get started, like:

      -Having to fill in and send a daunting forrm? Buy some stamps and print the address on the envelope.
      -Need to un-feck garden? Get some tools out of shed and line them up nicely. Maybe buy a cute plant as a pre-reward.
      -Need to call some company to get something done? Find customer number and print it out so I’ve got it handy.

      If I’m still intimidated by the task after I’ve done the tiny thing, that’s fine. I try again later. But I find that, often, doing the tiny thing takes the edge off the dauntingness.

  40. Lw1: I am your dog cooing friend. If it really annoys you I could keep a lid on it. But I don’t mind when my friends just roll their eyes. My parents and my sister will all do it with me when we are together so if my friends think I am crazy that’s fine, I know I am!

    LW4: I am a person with no known braining complications who today managed to – forget her work laptop at home despite putting a calendar reminder in for it – leave her regular glasses in her car and wear her sunglasses all morning because she had too much to do for another trip to the car – forget to grab lunch on the way back from getting her regular glasses from the car – realize she had actually put her calendar reminder on for 7am instead of 7pm.

    Be kind to yourself on your bad days because life is hard sometimes. Trying does matter.

    1. Also furthering my bad day is crappy use of the word crazy in that post when I try not to use that word. I am sorry.

  41. Q2 (reconnecting with old writer-self): I also recommend a book by Twyla Tharp called The Creative Habit. Contains extremely practical advice.

    Also, consider that chafing against a partner who claims all the intellectual space, or whatever else you’ve been dealing with lately, is something your Old Identity As A Writer presumably didn’t include. Totally worthy writing topics include: venting, saying what previously wasn’t allowed to be said, satirizing “what went wrong,” developing your mind’s habitual escape place into a lush fantasy world, and describing the process of self-rediscovery. I’d read it. I also struggle with experiencing my own maturity as a loss of my young self who was driven, creative and full-of-potential. But when I was in art school it seemed obvious that the older students (people returning to school or changing careers after some life experience) were often in a league of their own, saying interesting things and developing ideas with more integrity. Anyway, we’re those older students now. While so much of creativity in youth is driven by messy, breathless energy and experiencing concepts and intellectual territory with First-Time enthusiasm, creative practice over time can be more like athletic practice: you warm up, you keep in shape, and when you’re out of shape you slowly get back in shape, you mark it off your checklist every day before lunch and give yourself a pat on the back.

    For the friend of Zelda, I read that question as, “I’d like to bring up this beef I have with Zelda but I have to handle her with kid gloves because of her crises.” Maybe you don’t have to work around her crises? She apparently has the time and energy to show up to your friend groups, so assuming she doesn’t have time for your issue is really jumping to conclusions. And I can say, having just had the Year From Hell, that it was actually kind of nice to worry about things other than My Big Problems. I’m not saying she’ll appreciate feeling called out for excluding a friend, but that this one issue is not necessarily amplified by other things going on in her life. It might actually be satisfying for Zelda to have a manageable issue she can solve. If others in the group are exercising caution, that’s their business but you don’t need their permission to handle it.

    1. “I also struggle with experiencing my own maturity as a loss of my young self who was driven, creative and full-of-potential. But when I was in art school it seemed obvious that the older students (people returning to school or changing careers after some life experience) were often in a league of their own, saying interesting things and developing ideas with more integrity. Anyway, we’re those older students now.”

      This…hits so many wonderful light-up buttons than just creativity; thank you so much.

  42. Re: chronic tardiness, writer, I hear you! I have struggled with this since high school. I want to second Cap’s advice: for me, my phone is the trap I get stuck in. I also get stuck ruminating just like you, but I have trichotillomania so I’m pulling hair at the same time. That frequently makes me late. Sometimes I have success by having an alarm go off every five minutes. Sometimes I give up and don’t go. I can’t really offer any advice, I’m still trying to figure this out myself, but please know you aren’t alone ♥

  43. Regarding Zelda, I have something to add about reframing. When I have a friend who’s in a prolonged crisis, I feel that I have to be friends for both of us. Meaning, my friend does not have the bandwidth to be a good friend to me, so I have to both be a good friend to her, and also help her be a good friend to me; I take some of the responsibilities of friendship off of her plate.

    So, for example, I lend an ear to her, but I don’t wait for her to remember to ask about me, I just tell her what’s going on, and all she has to do is respond. Or more abstractly, I realize that she’s spread too thin to establish healthy boundaries, so I do it for both of us. It’s not a me-versus-her thing. It’s ultimately not good for our relationship for me to get burnt out and resentful. It’s ultimately not good for her to use me as a substitute for finding other healthy outlets. So by saying things like, “I’m not available to talk right now. Let’s do Wednesday instead” I’m preserving the relationship in a way that is ultimately good for both of us.

    Zelda sounds spread too thin. She’s doing things that are not very friend-like, and she may not have the bandwidth for introspection right now. Telling her, “Hey Zelda, you forgot to include Sharon in the group chat, and I think it would hurt her feelings if she found out. Could you add her in?” is kind. It’s not criticism, and it’s not laying a bunch of emotional work that she can’t handle on her plate. It’s you helping her be a good friend, which she’s struggling with right now.

  44. With the letter about Zelda, I also think the one friend being excluded is a separate problem from trauma fatigue. Does Zelda have a pattern of doing this? If this is out of the blue, try to ask non-judgmentally about it (I like the Captain’s phrasing). It’s possible that person was excluded for a reason. We had someone phased out of a group friend chat a few months ago, and it turned out it was because they’d done some abusive stuff in private. Also entirely possible that they’re just not friends anymore, which is a thing that happens! People drift apart. You can create your own social chat groups that include the excluded person if you want to.

  45. Q3, I’m polyamorous and joyfully married for nearly 20 years. The Captain’s advice is great; here’s my “yes, and”

    1) If scheduling sex feels unromantic, remember that’s what dating *is*! In the early days of a relationship, you set aside specific time to do something special with someone, you get yourself and your place ready, and you accept that sex might or might not happen – and all that anticipation and uncertainty is where the fun butterflies come from. So it’s not old married behavior to schedule opportunities for sex; it’s actually way more like NRE (that’s New Relationship Energy, a common polyam term).

    2) The standard prescription here is for novelty, and especially for people who are enjoying their other partners finding a way to bring novelty to your spouse is likely to help. Some options with broad appeal to consider:
    *A night away, if you can afford it. Sometimes it helps to change the setting to somewhere you’ve never been. Even if you stay in your own city – try those last minute hotel deal sites.
    *Wedge pillows,etc designed to help you try out new positions comfortably.
    *Take a massage class together. You’ll probably find at least one new way to touch each other, and even if not, it’s a nice non-sexual way to be intimate.

    3) Read some romance novels, recently written ones. There has been an explosion in the past decade or so of romance novels with diverse characters from all kinds of backgrounds who like all kinds of things – you don’t mention your gender, but there are lesbian romances and nonbinary romances and trans romances – and settings from the obvious ye olde castles to contemporary cities or small towns to outer space. I bet you can find some that remind you of you and your wife together, and I bet some of them will be pretty sexy and help you see her through fresh eyes. They have all the hot scenes, and all of the happily ever after, and that combination of erotic and committed is hard to find elsewhere and good for a marriage.

  46. L10 – the Captain’s and other advice in this thread has been spot on. This is something I struggle with too. There was a great Tumblr post a few years ago (which I now cannot find to save my life) that walked through strategies for dealing with similar situations. Basically, sit down and make a plan, at least for 1-2 concrete next steps (and maybe for a reward when you complete those steps). THEN do the distracting or calming thing, and let your body release the anxious tension. Finally, start the project in a calmer mode, and reward yourself as appropriate.

    In addition to the Captain’s point about investigating your motivation, if your anxiety is triggered by seeing info in an email or other info source (this happens to me a lot at work) go back and re-read it. I discovered I’d sat on someone’s email for two months thinking that they wanted me to dig up some obscure piece of information (and constantly getting that ping of dread whenever I remembered it), when actually it was a simple Y/N query where I already knew the answer. I tend to get anxious/upset without getting or remembering the whole story, so double-checking or requesting more information can help a lot.

    Accountability also helps. I’ve definitely said “Friend, I really need to make a doctor’s appointment but I keep procrastinating. Can you check in with me at dinner next week to make sure I’ve done it?”

  47. Q1 I feel this! I’m not a super expressive person and neither dogs or babies activate my “squee” button (cats do a bit but people aren’t usually out walking their cats!). I don’t really mind if my friends stop to admire a cute dog/baby every so often, but I do understand the awkward feeling of standing there going “yup it’s a dog” and feeling like you’re destroying their fun by not participating in it. There’s a certain kind of social pressure that exists, more with babies “in real life” and the “pet every doggo” thing that’s more of an online phenomenon and it has definitely led to some “but HOW can you not like dogs/babies!!” or a lecture about how I would get over my (pretty mild as an adult) fear of dogs if I just try, dogs are better than humans and all good boys… and the oft-mentioned criticism of women who don’t want kids. I try not to put that on every enthusiast I meet though – most of my friends are awesome people who aren’t going get on me for being a little less excited! I do think some people feel squelched or criticised for their excitement when others don’t participate in it, but those people and I proooobably won’t be compatible friends.

  48. Re: Q4, I hesitate to say this, because the last time I did in a discussion about ADD + executive dysfunction + lateness, I was told that I must be faking having ADD, which ….. sucked. But it genuinely changed my life so I offer it to you.
    My advice is basically to turn CA’s suggestion up to eleven! I put EVERYTHING in my phone calendar with an alert — even ‘stupid’ stuff (EG: ‘wash face at 7 pm’ or ‘stop to get groceries at 4 pm’). And if I know I’ll likely be doing something engrossing immediately prior to whatever the thing is, I put it as an alarm in my phone. It will seem cluttered and ungainly at first (…. because it is, lol) but if you can make this a habit I promise you it can work. Having my day planned out makes everything in my life run more smoothly and eventually my reaction to my phone’s alarm has become…. almost Pavlovian? I’ve always had trouble pulling myself away from whatever task, but when that alarm goes off I know it is Time To Do This Thing! Anyways, hope that helps!

    1. I don’t have ADD as far as I know, but do have a bad memory and anxiety around getting places on time, and I find a smaller-scale version of this really helpful! If I have a lot planned in a day or if I have something really important to get to, I totally plan out each little task and budget time for it. Even on a regular day, I set alarms for important things like “feed the dog” or for things I’ve said I would do like “do the dishes” or “stop for groceries.” I just feel better if I’m not trying to store all those reminders in my brain.

    2. Same. It got a bit out of hand with medication-induced OCD, but now that I’m doing better I’m able to find a level of detail that works for me, and it’s probably a lot more detail than most people would consider. I’ve removed timestamps from a lot of recurring tasks, but they still have a specific day, and on that day I’ll do a sanity-check on whether they need to be started by a certain time, or done in a specific order (or NOT done in order when ocd is pretending they must be).

      I’m still not great at actually following reminders half the time, though, and I haven’t quite figured out the pattern there…

  49. Q4: Okay, I know the Captain said we all know this already, but as a Chronically Late Person, who is therefore allowed, I’ve gotta say: if you *haven’t* tried setting out your clothes and having a place for your keys, you should, it’s actually super helpful.

    I ignored that kind of advice for a long time because of all kinds of reasons – starting with my parents tried to enforce it when I was small, and it didn’t work – but when I finally decided to try :set out clothes in advance” again as an adult (for reasons unrelated to lateness, actually) it has actually made a huge difference.

    But one thing the non-EF-impaired versions of that advice generally don’t think to mention is that “putting out clothes in advance” and “putting keys in the same spot” are *also* the kind of tasks that are really hard for people like me, so it isn’t “five minutes before bed” or “a really simple change”, it’s *hard work*.

    With the clothes, I do a week’s worth at one time when I’m putting away that week’s laundry. It works way better than doing it the night before, for a bunch of reasons, but one of them is that when I’m doing a week’s worth in one go, it can take me 30-45 minutes, sometimes more if I hit a snag (5-10 minutes a day adds up) and it feels okay for something that takes 45 minutes once a week to be hard and tiring in a way that it doesn’t feel okay for “just get dressed” to be hard and tiring.

    And the same for the keys: “make sure you put the keys in the same place every time” didn’t work when that place was in my bedroom at the back of the house, or a bowl that was always full of other junk, or the bottom of my bag, because that required a bunch of extra tiny distractions to navigate and was just another impossible thing. But then we put a hook on the back of the front door, and they go there immediately as soon as I have closed the door, and nothing else ever goes there, and I don’t even have to think about it, and suddenly that strategy works.

    So, I guess my wider suggestion is to go through every step in “leaving the house” and figure out what you can do, in terms of how you are using your space and your time, to reduce the number of individual small steps involved. Even removing a step like “walk to the other side of the room” can end up making a difference if you have ADHD and/or executive dysfunction. And some of the standard advice can work, you just have to remember that all the helpful strategies *also* need to be reworked for adhd brain.

  50. LW2: I’ve been there (not a writer, but everything else you described).
    Cap’s comment about “Anything you enjoyed and learned from during your time with this person is still yours, you don’t have to disavow all of it if you don’t want to” is spot on.
    If by any chance you’re feeling that after 15 years of taking up the smallest space possible you now need to break yourself right back down to basic elements and start from scratch, please know you don’t need to do that if you don’t want to! You get to keep your knowledge and expertise and love for the things you love. Or you really can go back to basic principles and build up again from there.
    I did a little of Column A, a little of Column B, and it’s still an ongoing process (20+ years married, 8 years gone) but the work is so much easier now and only occasionally needed. With you all the way!
    Jedi Hugs if you need them.

  51. For Q1, I love dogs, but not as much as I hate being interrupted. I tried talking to my friends about it, but it didn’t work out completely. Eventually I just stopped talking when they interrupted me and didn’t start again. I stopped putting so much effort into remembering what I was saying while they talked about the dog, and if they asked me to continue, I’d tell them I forgot what I was going to say. Eventually they started doing it less. It only worked because they genuinely care about what I’m saying and wanted to talk to me, so this isn’t a fix for every situation. People who just like to hear themselves talk probably won’t even notice that anything is different.

  52. Q10 spoke to me. tl;dr if you’ve tried not doing the thing, and it hasn’t helped you feel better, perhaps try doing the thing and seeing what happens?

    A few years back I got in a really bad situation at work where, while I felt like what I was doing should have been “enough,” I constantly felt like crap about the project and my boss was giving me a hard time about it, too. My lovely, well-meaning friends kept telling me that my negative feelings were just imposter syndrome, my boss was being an ass, and that I should just relax and take a hot bath when I was feeling anxious. This — the bad feelings, the negative feedback, me trying to fix it all with “self care” — lasted the better part of a year.

    Well, something snapped in me. I decided that I’d tried a gentle, self-loving approach, and it wasn’t working. I decided to dedicate 60 hours a week to the project. Long-term sustainable? No. Short-term healthy, arguably? Maybe not. My social life suffered, I got less sleep, my hobbies were neglected…


    I gained expertise on my project. I got much, much better at it. I learned a lot and made a lot of progress. My boss noticed, too, and the negative feedback turned to positive feedback. I achieved my big career goal that I’d been chasing for the past eight years.

    My only regret about the situation is that I didn’t kick my own ass sooner.

    1. YES this is such a great point, it’s very hard to figure out when gentle self-love and telling yourself you are doing well at X is the best thing, and when kicking your own ass is the ticket. Like you my friends are lovely, but I really hate the type of encouragement that seems … unrealistic? well meaning but unhelpful, like “of course you’ll get the job!” or “that guy doesn’t know what he was missing by not dating you, what a jerk!” When actually no 50 other people applied too and they are qualified as well, and that guy did nothing wrong by not being into me. It’s definitely true that telling someone else to toughen up/buckle down or that something is unrealistic is often insensitive and uncool but I know for me, sometimes I DO need to hear that

      1. YES indeed! I’ve been thinking a lot about your response about how hard it is to figure out whether gentle self-love or self-ass-kicking is the best. I agree! There are definitely some things in my life where I take pleasure/satisfaction in really striving to self-improve, and other things where I enjoy being… lazy? Whatever a non-pejorative word for “lazy” would be! I guess it’s at least partially about checking in with oneself about whether the status quo is working for oneself or not — and then either applying motivation to fix a non-OK status quo, or mental hygiene to accept when the status quo is really OK.

    2. Dude, that’s awesome!

      It probably doesn’t exactly apply to my situation (I’m LW 10) since usually “do the thing” is, like, “do the slightly uncomfortable but necessary physical therapy thing” or something not really work-related, but like, I kinda want to reach through the screen and give you a high-five. That’s fantastic.

      1. Oh! Physical Therapy! I have thoughts on this.

        Disclaimer: I don’t know you, don’t know your situation, don’t know your injury, don’t know your goals, and I don’t know if what I’m about to say is even remotely related to your problem.

        I *haaaaaaaaate* physical therapy because it’s so boring. So many reps of a little tiny movement that doesn’t matter. It doesn’t feel like work, it feels like tedium. When I have procrastination anxiety around PT, it’s because it’s *so necessary* and *so boring* and I don’t feel any different at the end, just more irritable. So if I do it, I’m annoyed at the waste of time, and if I don’t do it, I’m annoyed at myself for not doing the thing I’m supposed to do.

        Then I had ACL reconstruction and I couldn’t just not do it. So instead, I told my physical therapist that I wanted my sessions to be my workout for the day. I wanted them to make it as hard as possible, use as many muscles as possible, superset functional exercises with some core work, and generally make me sweat. Suddenly, instead of a million reps of some tiny little knee bend exercise, I was doing much harder things, being challenged more, and generally feeling a sense of accomplishment *immediately* instead of a week later.

        My therapists were happy to do this. It breaks up the monotony for them, and most of the ones in my clinic moonlight as personal trainers anyway. It also meant that instead of being told to do movements every day, I was told to do full workouts 3-4 times per week.

        I hope this helps, and good luck with PT! I’ll be with you in spirit during my session this afternoon.

        1. Thanks! My issue is cystic fibrosis so I’ve been doing it since I was a kid, and doing PT for CF focuses on building diaphragm strength and respiratory endurance to, er, cough up mucous before it gets infected.

          And part of it is literally just sitting in a machine that vibrates and opens your lungs for you, so it’s not even like I have to *do* anything for half of the PT time.

          And every study shows that CF patients who adhere to PT regemin have hugely better outcomes in terms of longevity, surviving infections when you do get them, and just overall quality of life (i.e. how far can you walk without getting winded? How many days per month can you breathe comfortably?). I mean, I was once told that adherance to PT is the difference between dying at age 30 and living past 60, and as someone who’s now almost 30 I’m glad that my health is reasonably stable and not, like, “close to dead.”

          But, like you’ve found, PT doesn’t have immediate results, it takes an hour, and it feels slightly uncomfortable or annoying. Plus for me it also has the ghost of a kajillion arguments with my parents as a kid / teen hanging over it, during which one of them I insisted that “I’ll just die young and beautiful like Amy Winehouse!” (I was not a *wise* teen).

          But I do think the ways of making PT my own, bringing in exercise goals that are about my personal wants and choices along with meeting my baseline physical needs is actually really helpful. I’ve sort of done a bit of that to sate my inner teen rebel, drawing on diaphragm building exercises from kung-fu rather than the generic ones prescribed by the therapist, and it does help make it feel more empowering rather than like a chore.

        2. Wow, I have the same struggles with physiotherapy and yeah, next time I might try to take a similar approach to yours, So Many Injuries, So Little Time. Thanks for sharing.
          And LW 10, best wishes for finding ways to persevere in taking care of yourself!

      2. Thank you for the high five :3 Reading your response and others’ response to your question, I think I projected my own stuff A LOT when I read your question, so sorry about that!

  53. Q1: In addition to the Captain’s good advice for making sure you and your priorities are respected, since you asked specifically how to make the DOG!interludes that do happen more satisfying, you could always try asking the friend questions about said dog – what breed or mix they think it is, how do you tell, etc. The same advice that applies when your friend has any other kind of passion you don’t share, be interested by bringing the subject into *your* frame of reference, rather than faking a squee you don’t feel.

  54. Q4: I almost invariably cannot be right on time to things. And I hate being late, and I hate being early.

    So my habit is to PLAN to be early (okay, it starts at 3:30, google maps says half-hour drive in rush hour so let’s call it 45 minutes, and whoops I have to pick up a snack at the grocery store on the way so add 15 minutes for that, which would mean leaving at 2:30, so actually leave at 2 or 2:15).

    Then, since I’m expecting to be there uncomfortably/awkwardly early, I have a backup plan for a place I can sit and read while I wait until it’s appropriate to actually arrive – when the weather’s temperate that’s usually inside my car, but if it’s too hot/cold for that or you’re public transit-ing or Lyft-ing, it might be a library/coffeeshop/random lobby around the corner.

    So that method might help if one of your problems is perfectionist-ly trying to get places at the RIGHT time.


    For your 4), does it often tend to be the same ‘one last thing(s)’? Is there a pattern?

    It might be a ‘crap, did I remember to bring X’ with me? If that happens a lot, could you maybe get an extra X to keep in your vehicle and/or your going-out bag? (Spare dollar-store umbrellas live in just about every containment vessel I own.) Or is it usually a ‘did I let the dogs in/turn all the lights off/shut the window’ sort of issue? Maybe an actual leaving-the-house checklist (on phone or paper) could be a soothing ritual?


    For 3), while I haven’t had it much re: going places, I sometimes end up stuck and dwelling while trying to sleep. The advice I often see offered, and which does help a bit, is to make a ‘worry date’. Sort of an “Okay, self, I can see you have Thoughts about this topic, so let’s block out at least ten minutes during lunch tomorrow where we will do nothing but chew and think about this topic. In the meantime, I’m going to sleep.”

    With the rationale, I think, that ordering yourself to not think about the thing EVER is likely to backfire and lead to more worry or even panic, but putting it on a calendar/list/whatever calms the brainweasels and allows them to release their grip on the present moment.

  55. For LW4: I have a bit of that task-switching trouble, and when possible (read: the tasks involved are real ones with a set completion/mini-completion threshold rather than being the size of the internet), I find that checking in on my progress between discrete tasks or at those mini-completion thresholds (eg rows of knitting) and assessing what I have time for between now and a goal time* is helpful. To facilitate that, maybe adding an alarm or two before your hard stop in order to remind you to start winding down or to not start a new task after this one (oh hi new row) would be effective (adapting a tool I use to wake up since my brain can be very slow to load).
    *For me, this mostly comes up towards the end of my workday as I try to fit “one more task” before I leave the office, at a job where tasks can range from less than a minute to send an email to several hours to sort out a file. So assessing what I have time for and using my schedule to order my task list can start right after lunch and ranges broadly. But, for example, half an hour before I want to leave, I’m not likely to start organizing a file—I can predict it’s going to take too long. But I might start on a task that I expect to take about 20 minutes and then either run a few minutes late finishing or be left deciding between leaving 15 minutes early or risking something else taking longer than expected—at work, it depends on what I have after and whether my schedule makes sense to make it up later, but if I’m headed straight to do something, then it’s definitely time to leave rather than doing something else, or at most, do a five minute task that’s been saved to serve as my “one last thing”.

  56. Hi LW 4

    I struggle with some similar issues. I had a medical issue that caused me to have a bit of damage to my brain. It is much better, and I can walk and talk and everything now, but I still have a hard time with executive functioning issues. I also just get involved in something and I am distracted from my need to get out the door, so I don’t do any of those distraction-trap activities before an important-to-be-on-time event. So, for me, that means no reading or games. None at all for at least 3 hours before the time I have to leave my house. I spend that time before I need to get ready doing things I don’t really want to do, like dishes or vacuuming. Activities that I will be glad to stop. This means that my house is much cleaner every time I have to go to a wedding or a party or whatever. So, at least some good can come from it. Plus, it helps with the post-event stress if I come home to a cleanish house.

    I too schedule event prep time into my calendar. I also check how long it will take me to get there and what route I will take, and how much gas is in the car the day before the event, and include any relevant info in the calendar.

    I look for my outfit at least a couple of days before. Like, I find all the parts of my outfit and any other items I will bring with me. Even which underwear and socks and shoes. All of it. Then, I put it in one place where it will be easy to see and not get messed up. That might be obvious to many people, but it really was something I needed to learn over time as an adult. I don’t ever want a repeat of that one time I was going to a wedding and found that my dress had been lost in the back of the closet, fell on the floor, and turned into a nifty cat bed/hairball receptacle. Ok, maybe it wasn’t just the one time. Now, I schedule this in my calendar a few days before the event, and the notification keeps it in my mind.

    I also set lots of alarms, all with different sounds/songs. So, I have my get up in 30 minutes alarm, my get up now alarm, my remember to eat alarm, the take a shower alarm, the get out of the shower alarm, the leave in 30 minutes alarm, and about 5 other alarms for each event.

    I put a note on my phone or alarm clock, so that I will see it when I hear the alarm. Otherwise, I might forget about the event entirely. Like, just forget that I have a bachelorette party to attend or an interview to go to. Yes, I have done this. More than once. I also put a note on my keys or my purse, reminding me that I have this event at x o’clock, so don’t go hiking or skydiving or swimming with sharks or whatever thing I think will “just take a minute” but actually takes half a day. Also, a note on the computer screen/s helps, too, so I don’t sit down to play a game or look at email or whatever without thinking about the time. I sometimes put a note on the bathroom mirror. Otherwise, when I am just fucking exhausted from taking a shower (don’t ya love depression?) I will try to lie down just for a minute which turns into hours.

    Reading over this, it sounds like a huge, ridiculous ordeal. Actually, I have most of my alarms programmed into my phone already, and the rest just becomes a habit I don’t even really think about. I am less stressed when I have all of these contingency plans and notes and technological assistants backing me up.

    It also helps if I give myself a break. Rather than feeling ashamed of my difficulties, I just try to work with what I have. I know that I am not great with deadlines and scheduling and social events, especially when I am stressed or depressed, but there are alarms and calendars and notes to back me up. Sometimes you may have more energy available to deal with executive functioning issues, and at other times you will really have to rely on calendars and alarms and whatever stuff works for you to help. Either way, you are doing what you can. That is still a step forward and action taken.

  57. Hey LW4: the other thing that gets me personally to places on time is the absolute-last-notice alarm. For meetings in the office for me it’s just 2min before: finish your sentence, grab your notebook and leave *now* or you’re late. I found with a 10min-before alarm, I would just get caught up in something new and never make it up from my desk – reminding myself too early made me late. It was worth having to drop a task in the middle, in order to have the reminder come at the moment I had to take immediate action instead.

    Maybe there’s an equivalent known-minimum-time-to-door for you? I realize this is the opposite of the usual advice, but figured I’d put it out there anyways.

  58. Re being late: other people have given many great suggestions for how to get around it. I would also like to add one of my favorites. I have personally decided to realize that I am just the kind of person who will often be late, and pick things in my life where that is okay. I know you won’t have this option all the time, but I have a job where I can arrive between 7-9 and leave 8 1/2 hours later and any time in that range is “on time”; a regular weekly social event where I need to show up in a half hour range, get-togethers with friends that have a relaxed start time, etc. I found that my life was much nicer once I cut out as many “must be there on the dot” events and could be comfortable being a bit late. Again, this won’t always be an option but if you can manage it that might help.

    I have a very good friend who loves punctuality and at first we had a hard time negotiating this. What we’ve found works is that we will set an approximate time (for example, “Sunday afternoon”) and then I will text her when I am leaving my house. She knows about how long it takes me to get there (20 min or so), and knows that until she hears from me that I’m leaving she can keep doing whatever she wants (and that includes things like grocery store visits and such since she’s a 5 min drive from one so can check out and get home before I get there). It works for both of us, and that way I only expend “being on time energy” aiming for an exact time when we have an event we are attending.

  59. Q4, I’m a fellow time-struggler! (I have ADHD). Sometimes I don’t want to get out the door on time because I’ll think I’ll end up being there “early” and therefore waste time! I’m not sure if this applies to you, but if it does, it helps me to have some things in my backpack, like my bullet journal, my pens, a book, etc so that if I’m early, I can use the spare time productively. This almost never happens, because my perception of how long it takes me to get places is so out of whack that even if I start out “too early” I barely make it there on time. But being prepared for it makes me okay with leaving the house “too early” aka on time.
    Another thing I’ve done is pack a bunch of things into a small pouch. For instance, earphones, emergency cash, tissues, chocolate bar, mints, menstrual cup, sunscreen, some medicine. I do not ever take these things out of the pouch when I am home, I never use the earphones at home because I know if I do that they will never go back in the pouch and when I am out next time I will not have earphones with me. I just own two earphones! I resisted this for a while because it seemed ridiculous, but if you can afford to have doubles or minis of things for your go-out pouch, it will really help. (Who cares if it’s ridiculous, this is what works.) The pouch itself almost never leaves my bag, but I still like having it in a pouch because it keeps the inside of my larger bag neat, and sometimes when I need to use a different backpack, it’s simple to take the pouch out and throw it in the new bag.
    Hope this helps.

  60. Does anyone have a good read on “mindfulness is not a silver bullet for anxiety”? Psychologists keep pushing it on me and I can’t make them understand that it’s doesn’t do to me what they think it should.

    1. For google/bing

      Guardian link, 2017, in my ‘website’, title “Is mindfulness making us ill? ”
      Mental Health Daily, 2015, title “When Meditation Worsens Depression or Anxiety”
      Vice 2018, “Meditation Is a Powerful Mental Tool—and For Some People It Goes Terribly Wrong”

  61. I suppose one of the things about having a Zelda friend is that it’s difficult to have a friend where, hm. Where you feel like you are always the kind listener/shoulder to cry on/person to help physically move boxes becasue of the latest crisis. In other words: where you are always expending the emotional labor.

    I have two Zeldas who I love and value very much but who are net drains on my energy. That’s not a criticism of them, it’s just fact. I know that when I call them they will need me to provide massive emotional labor to them because of their crises, and sometimes they need physical labor as well. They are genuinely ill, they are genuinely in crisis, I love them, and I have no desire to leave them. But I know that dealing with them will cost me significant energy points.

    I have other friends who have great emotional needs but who, hm, pay those needs back, generally, over time. They might need two months of a shoulder to cry on and maybe boxes-moving… but when I have a problem, they’ll be there too.

    I love my Zeldas *so much*. But I don’t, myself, have energy to have any more Zelda-friends. Two is all I can handle. I do have energy for more “I’ll absorb your stress and you’ll absorb mine” friends. Not at a 1:1 mercantile level, but just… genuinely.

    I don’t know if this makes sense, but I think the major factor is whether everything we do together is circled around Thing. If we can’t ever talk about my stuff, or neutral stuff, or whatever…. or even if we can maybe have a token ten minutes out of sixty about my stuff/token stuff… then it starts to feel Zelda-ish. My Zeldas have had very little that they are capable of giving… and while I am very sorry that that is the case, I only have

  62. #4: I used to have a huge problem being on time due to many similar/some of the same reasons. What helped me:

    1) Severely limit the things for which I needed to be on time/there at a specific time – and committing to things in general, as CA suggests – to literally only those things that were truly necessary (e.g. work, a laser tag session that starts at a specific time). Otherwise, for social activities, meet people at their dwellings with a large window for what’s considered “on time” (up to several hours in advance in some cases) so that they can get on with whatever diversions they have at home rather than sitting around at my house waiting for me to get ready or at a venue waiting for me to show up, and if I’m there early, we can sit and chat one-on-one (or play a quick game of Smash Bros. or watch an episode of a TV show or whatever) until it’s time to leave for the thing or meet other people.

    2) Plan to get to everything early (with the amount of time early relative to the total estimated prep time), and bring a book to sit and read while waiting if I actually did get someplace early. When I was doing this for work, I’d go to a coffee shop to have a coffee and breakfast and read on the higher-functioning days (which was a nice way to start the day) and still be just on time on the lower-functioning days.

    3) Multiple alarms/event reminders, similar to CA’s suggestion. First one is to remind me to start getting ready, second is to remind me that I need to stop doing whatever I was distracted by and continue getting ready, third-and-final one is GET YOUR SHIT TOGETHER JOHN, YOU ONLY HAVE A FEW MINUTES TO SORT OUT WHAT IS ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY AND GET OUT THE DOOR.

    4) Make being on time my absolute priority. I mean that literally – I’m worried the house will burn down because I left a candle lit? Oh well, that’s what insurance is for. Cat’s low on food or water or has excriment in the litter box? He’ll survive for two/eight/twelve hours (especially since I leave the toilet seat up so he can get water from the toilet in an emergency). I’m stressing out because I can’t find my phone charger cable and I know I won’t be able to relax until I’ve located it? Too bad, I’m just going to be extra stressed; anatomically modern humans survived for at least 50,000 years without powered cell phones, and I can, too, for a night/weekend/vacation (and my phone may even have enough charge already). I made a conscious decision that keeping my appointments was more important than anything else my brain might decide because it impacts other people, and they’re already doing their own logistical labor to plan around the time that was set. I couldn’t ever really motivate myslf to care about promptness for my own benefit (including my social reputation), but if I framed it as something I owed other people, I was able to make it the priority. (I’ve always been better at motivating myself to do things on others’ behalfs than my own behalf; if that’s not true of you, this reframing may not help much or at all.)

    Since adopting these strategies, it’s actually become easier for me to be on time without trying as hard; I’ve internalized the “be early” mentality, and I’ve gotten better at focusing on getting ready without distractions and estimating my actual preparation and transit time. I still set my three-phased alarms, but I’m now usually killing time waiting to leave when the third one goes off, and I use that as my prompt to actually leave in case there are unforeseen transit delays (and if not, I have my book to read while I wait for fifteen minutes). I’m still not perfect, but my lateness rate is at or below the median.

  63. Interesting re meditation. I have been told to meditate to improve my motivation and wellbeing but dislike the idea of just sitting down and doing meditation adds to the list of Things I’m Not Doing That I Should Be That I Feel Vaguely Bad About.
    I don’t like making lists except for when I really want to get to grips with something but that feels like another chore to procrastinate on. :-9

    1. LW 4 I have a lot of executive function problems and getting some place on time has always been hard. It’s taken me a long time to get better at it but here are some things that helped me.

      I also was always losing my keys which added to the panic and me being late. A therapist helped me with this and , I’m not kidding, it took probably 6 months or a year for this to finally stick. A big part of it was being mindful, not in a meditation kind of way, but in a very active way. When I was driving home and getting close I would start thinking “I’m getting close to home . My keys are in the ignition. I’m going to put them on the bookcase by the door.” And then it would progress to “I’m turning off the car, the keys are in my hand, I’m unlocking thr door the keys are in my hand, I’m going to put them on the bookcase. I’m putting my keys on the bookcase” and having to redirect myself when I got distracted which happened a lot.

      But I’ve taken this mindful internal monologue approach to being aware of the time. “I have to get ready at 2:30, it’s 12:00, I have 2.5 hours before I need to (x,y,z)” or “I only have 24 mins before I have to get ready, I need to stop (whatever I’m doing) now”

      Instead of thinking “I have to be there at 3 so I have to leave at 2:30” I think “I have to leave at 2:30 so I have to start getting ready at 2”.

      Unlike most people I use timers instead of alarms. I find it easier to ignore alarms, timers help me become better aware of how much time is passing etc. So if I have to get ready at 2 and it’s noon I’ll set a timer for an hour. And once the timer goes off I can reset it for how much time I need. Maybe by the time I’ve turned off the timer and thought about things I realize I need to set it for 40 mins. Then I can have 20 mins between what I’m doing and getting ready.

      I also try to work in transition time during the day and be aware of what I’m doing so I can factor that in. I work in retail so when I clock out I often will sit in the breakroom for a few minutes or check my phone or something before I go to my car. Or if the weather is nice I might sit in my car for a few minutes before I head home. I try to leave early enough for work I can sit down in the breakroom for a few minutes before I clock in.

      Or if I’m going someplace I may do something similar (get to an appointment early, sit in my car after) to give myself time. This also helps me figure out how much time it takes me to get someplace because I add that few minutes into what time I need to leave to get someplace on time.

      I find myself now tending to get ready too early or arrive too early ,not by alot, but enough that I end up with time to kill which often means I’m prepared for whatever it is mentally and don’t feel the jolt of switching gears. But it has taken me years to get to this point amd set backs.

      I don’t have a great routine day to day and it would probably help me but it takes me so long to establish routines that things change and then I have to readjust everything.

    2. For the past six months I’ve been doing a daily tarot card pull, and it’s coinciding with the most productive period I’ve had in a long time, so maybe that’s something to try? I have several decks that make me smile whatever picture I draw (Steampunk! Cats! Pirates!) and I take a few minutes every morning to draw a card, think about how it links to my life (King of Cups: don’t get swept away by creative passions – do the stuff that needs doing. It encouraged me to run a [boring] errand. Seven of Wands: Stand up for your convictions. This reminded me to sign up for an activist thing. Some days I just go ‘huh’, but I still enjoy the pretty pictures.)

      You could even do that with Inspirobot memes, it doesn’t have to be tarot, but I find the combination of ‘there is a system in general’ and ‘every deck puts its own spin on it’ reassuring – there’s a framework that lets me know what to expect, and an element of surprise.

      And part of why this works is deflection: when my brainweasels try to jump onto the hamster wheel of ‘must obsess over something’ I can – at least some of the time – deflect them by going ‘so, that card I pulled this morning…’

      I very deliberately *don’t* journal this. I don’t want to run statistics on which cards turn up how often and what does it mean – this is just a transient thing for me. I want to live _in the moment_ and then let go, and I want this to remain a treat rather than a chore.

    3. What really irritates me is, in Buddhism, there are five kinds of meditation: mindfulness meditation, tranquility meditation, insight meditation, compassion meditation, and love / kindness meditation. To be spiritually well, according to actually practicing Buddhists, you need to do all five.

      According to this Buddhist monk, writing way back in 2011, doing mindfulness meditation in isolation, without the other kinds, is bound to cause panic attacks and so on– in fact, most Buddhist parents only teach their children love / kindness meditation and compassion meditation first, for years, before moving into mindfulness meditation.

      He finds the corporate / app-based / non-Buddhist kinds of mindfulness either dangerous, coercive, or just pointless. Coercive because if you attempt to teach total control over one’s body before you teach compassion, you are creating, essentially, robot workers who think it’s wise to ignore their own pain. Which really isn’t what Buddhism is about.

      But, of course, if you taught compassion meditation first, your employees might all, I dunno, form a union in order to practice compassionate unity, or all quit their jobs because they realize the nature of their work is fundamentally unimportant or destructive.

      I’m not even a Buddhist, and I don’t believe in Buddhist cosmology, but I feel like an actual monk should get a say in whether or not “McMindfulness” is harmful (this goes to a link to a .PDF file of his fairly long essay):

      1. That’s great – thanks for the link…I did meditation in the morning for 5 minutes only to sort of get going or something but this makes so much more sense to me as to why I couldn’t get any further!

  64. LW4 – Hi! Another person with anxiety and executive functioning issues here. One thing that I’ve been working on lately is re-framing for myself that sometimes being a little late is… okay? When I was growing up, my father was MILITANT about being on time to things (literally, because he had been in the military). Thus, I developed a ton of shame and anxiety about being even a few minutes late to anything, ever. I used to rush around and enter every event apologizing for myself–but finally, I am starting to learn that it doesn’t always matter. Drinks with a friend? She will probably not even notice if I am 5 minutes late. Heading to a therapy appointment? In a choice between driving safely to get there 5 minutes late or driving recklessly to get there on time, she would definitely pick me getting there late. This + the Captain’s advice — especially the part about fighting any “magical thinking” or “optimism” related to time — have been the biggest things that helped me.

  65. Q4, routine helps me A LOT. It took some serious time in my retail job to get the kind of seniority where I have basically the same schedule every week, but now I do, and it’s great. I don’t know what kind of science there is on consistent sleep schedules helping with executive function but it sure seems to with me. I have developed a fairly elaborate system of phone alarms to get me out the door on time in the morning. I have a tendency to hit snooze at least 3 or 4 times so my wake-up alarm is set an hour earlier than I strictly speaking need to be up, and I have a second one a half hour later in case I accidentally turn the first one off for some reason. There’s an extra one in the winter that I have turned off right now for “go warm up the car”. Then fifteen minutes before I have to leave there’s an alarm labeled “head for the door”, at which point I wrap up whatever makeup I’m still putting on, fill my water bottle, pack a snack and/or lunch, double check that everything I need for the day is in my purse and/or pockets, and leave.

    I do as much stuff the night before as possible. If I’m taking a lunch I put it in the containers I will need to pack into my lunch box. I have a coffee maker with an automatic timer synced up to my first wake-up alarm, so there’s coffee by the time the dog and I stumble out into the kitchen. I try to remember to plan an outfit and find the pieces of said outfit before I go to bed, because nothing slows me down in the morning like digging through the clean laundry pile to find the other sock or the last clean pair of underwear. I have pared down my makeup routine to the bare essentials – most of my shifts begin three or four hours before the store opens, so anything that doesn’t need my magnifying mirror I do on my first break.

    It helps that I enjoy my job and the people I work with, and I enjoy being able to listen to my headphones while the store is still closed. I look forward to getting to work in the morning. It also helps that I have found a sense of pride in going from someone whose yearly evaluation always included a chat about lateness to someone who is usually the first one into the parking lot.

  66. Dear Q4,

    I used to have a similar problem with cleanliness. It has taken me a good long while to figure things out but once I did manage to clean a little piece of my kitchen I began feeling much better. The thought “you are a failure, you can’t even keep the sink clean” was replaced by “Look how cool your sink looks!” This mindset has begun to come back to me more and more as I get the little things done and it makes me try bigger things.

    So I suggest the following: Try getting out to an event you truly look forward to, like a walk or meeting friends. Try to aim for one punctual event a week or so. If you allow yourself to be proud of making that appointment you have a real shot at getting better.

    In any case I wish you the best of luck in dealing with this.

    Love, Shi

    1. Content note: feelings of low self-worth, negative self-talk, magical thinking “woo” solution.

      Re: cleanliness: a small piece of the puzzle for me was the internalized monologue that I was a worthless person and creating an environment that felt nice *strictly for my own benefit* was considered a dessert-style privilege and selfishly and pridefully somehow stating that I felt like I deserved better than a homeless person’s pallet, and even with the best crutches (UFYH app, Habitica, and Flylady for me, although YMMV) only got me so far when there wasn’t a “reason” to clean in the form of another person. I finally started thinking of “future the Awe Ritual” as a different person and cleaning for _her_. (Because it’s not okay, as a woman, to do things just because they feel nice. Sigh.) It’s so nice to come home to a peaceful, orderly, not-perfect-but-better-than-last-week house and say, “Thank you, past the Awe Ritual!”

  67. Sitting meditation makes my brain busier instead of quieter. It’s not so much worry about doing it wrong. The more I try not to think about something, the more I think about it!

    I can’t visualize. I used to be able to, in color and 3D like my dreams. I lost my “mind’s eye” around puberty, which I have read is common for girls. So, all of the “visualize x” instructions are useless and frustrating.

    Mindfulness “notice/ observe the emotion you are feeling” makes me dissociate. It takes me back to when I experienced trauma and was punished for showing any negative emotions.

  68. As a dedicated doggo-spotter myself, I can confirm that you honestly don’t need to reply with anything more than “yes” before carrying on with whatever you were originally saying. We get that not everyone shares our enthusiasm, just as we find ourselves unable to lower our own levels of enthusiasm. Don’t worry about it.

  69. I personally hate most meditation and “mindfulness” strategies and other calming down techniques, they only ever stress me out because now I’m probably Breathing Wrong on top of everything else

    I feel so seen! I literally can’t do meditation because when I focus on my breathing, I start thinking “Am I *actually* breathing? Or do I just *think* I’m breathing and I’m actually slowly drowning?”

    But I find I can reach that meditative mental state while gaming or showering.

    1. Knitting and other repetitive tasks like it can cause relaxation similar to meditation, but without having to actually meditate. I tell this to my one mindfulness evangelist friend every time she harasses me about needing to meditate. She thinks meditation and mindfulness can cure any ailment.

      Meditation makes me irritable, but knitting basic sock and sweater patterns, especially the kind I have made before and dont have to constantly check the pattern for, relaxes me. Plus, I get nifty new socks and sweaters.

      1. I’m just so happy that I’m not the only one who finds mindfulness and meditation impossible but gets the same feeling from other activities. A lot of people at my work think mindfulness is amazing so I feel like the odd one out. Embroidery and swimming both work for me but ballet works best of all.

        1. I hate to break it to you, but if it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and can produce fertile offspring with other ducks of the appropriate arrangement of reproductive organs…

          I grew up in a religion where daily meditation was mandatory. My spiritual leaders would stifle a giggle, then look very concerned, at the idea of one way to meditate that works for everyone. That would be like using a hammer for ALL your tool use needs. Sure, a hammer is brilliant if you need to pry out a nail, but if the task at hand is taking a casserole out of the oven, maybe get an oven mitt. There are SO MANY ways to meditate, and ONE of them is sitting meditation. Karate kata. Getting chores done (I understand the tradition of zen literally has a practice called “chop wood, carry water). Working into a state of “flow.” Singing rounds. Looking into the mirror for extended periods and watching until your face falls off and reforms. Reading a children’s book out loud that you’ve read so many times that it’s part of your soul. Making art.

          Which sounds like I am saying “oh, there are so many ways to meditate! You just need to find the right one! But no. I’m just saying if it brings your anxiety to drive the brain, instead of connecting you to your truest self, then fuck that bullshit and do something you like, instead.

          1. Or I could avoid thinking about religion or meditation at all and just knit some socks. I find that more relaxing than thinking of my hobby as being a form of meditation. Otherwise, it is as if my happy time has been hijacked in order for someone to say, “see! Meditation and mindfulness works!” Knitting is relaxing when it is a hobby. When it is a form of meditation as recognized by someone else’s religion, it becomes less relaxing. Sort of like it would be less enjoyable if I were to knit things as a job. It takes the fun out of it.

          2. Ran out of nest, but I am sorry to have said it because it made you unhappy, Salymander, and co-opted your comment. I should not have said it. I do not have the power to take it down, although I see how it’s a derail and maybe the mods will be helpful there?

  70. When I was waiting to be screened for ADHD, I started researching executive function. I figured even if I didn’t have it, there might be useful tools and strategies. Medication held, but pills aren’t magical. I still had to consciously change.

    Some things that help are routines and habits, once they get into the equivalent of muscle memory. I used to struggle to get through a course of antibiotics. Now, I always take my medicine around the same time each day ) I have an alarm as backup), and they’re laid out in the same place.

    I keep my keys attached to my purse so I can see them without rummaging. I have a backpack with a change of clothes/shoes, otc medicine, water, snacks, toiletries, etc. that “lives” in my car.

    Putting things in color coded subcategories in Google Calendar, set for earlier than they actually are, with alerts for when I need to get ready and when I need to leave is amazing. Recurring chores, errands, and appointments get set up right away. I used to be “the friend you can always rely on – but to be reliably a half hour late.”

    For more involved projects that need to be broken down into smaller pieces with different deadlines, I like Trello. It integrates with Google calendar, has subtask and recurring options, allows for photos and attachments, etc.

    I had to actively break my “one more thing” habit. I try to get there extra early, so I can reward myself by doing something fun first. This especially helps when the appointment is something boring or invasive or upsetting.

    ADD Magazine has lots of recommended apps. I tried a bunch to see what worked best for me.

  71. Hi LW6! I’m deep in “How do I make friends?” land after a new move and have been using BumbleBFF to connect with people I might want to hang out with. A few things I’ve noticed that have been helpful for me in making sure I match with people that seem like they could be a good fit:

    -They’re specific about why they’re on the app. “I’m in my 30s and most of my friends have kids but that life isn’t for me, so I’m looking to add cool people into my life,” is pretty much my target demographic, so when people put it out there it instantly checks a box for me. “I’m new in town and looking for people to explore with,” is also a great thing for me to know. A bunch of random pictures with no information is less than helpful to me.

    -They have pictures of them doing the things they like to do so I know what a fun time looks like for them. If you’re into tabletop games, maybe a game night photo. If you’re into hiking, you posing in front of a waterfall looks great.

    -They’re descriptive about their personalities. This one is probably a little trickier, but think about the things that your friends love about you and focus on those – they’re the things that have attracted people that care about you, odds are they’re going to keep attracting cool people into your life. Think about the things you love about yourself and put those out there. Be your truest self, not your best self. Be the person they’ll actually meet. (My profile says “I’m a super extroverted travel junkie slash book nerd with a dash of wannabe mixologist thrown in just for fun. I am not quite the human golden retriever that makes me sound (I joke that I’m actually a cat in a person’s body), but my overall life goal is do all the things & see all the places.” – It probably sounds EXHAUSTING to homebodies, but the version of me I like most and embrace most fully is also exhausting to homebodies. I’d be a small doses friend AT BEST for somebody like that, so I’m gonna put that out there.)

    So far I’ve matched with some really interesting women who want to do things like go to writing meetups together and go see random castles in the middle of our state and check out new cocktail bars, so it seems like it’s working. As with dating apps, it’s exactly like the Captain says – it’s not about getting the most matches, it’s about getting the best ones for you.

  72. LW10: I found ‘CBASP – Cognitive Behavioral Analysis System of Psychotherapy’ very helpful to distinguish actionable things from things better left alone. Unfortunately I don’t know any english books, but I guess google?
    My personal experience was that if something is actionable taking the action helps against anxiety (in the long term). And it very much helped me to remind me that new behavoir feels dreadful in the beginning until I get used to it.

  73. What fantastic answer to Q.2. I’m in my mid-40’s and while generally happy about my life I do feel like I’ve ‘lost the plot’ in some respects and this is amazing stuff to reconnect and re-prioritize.

    L.W I’m so excited for you.

  74. Q4: I’m not the LW but I’ve gotten a lot of good advice from the Captain’s response and the commenters (especially scheduling the time to get ready and leave into your calendar, and planning what you’ll do when you get there early so that it seems ok to be early); thank you!

    I have two things to share that help me:

    1. Separate “deciding how to do the thing” and “doing the thing”. For me, these are two separate tasks, even if they are ABOUT the same task, and there’s a real task-switching cost to go between them. This can look lots of ways; for lateness, this often looks like writing down everything I’m going to pack, or everything I have to do in the morning, IN ADVANCE, perhaps the day before–and then not lifting a finger to actually do any of it at the time. Later, in the morning or whenever, I can just follow past-vanadiumoxide’s instructions and trust that she knew what she was doing; then I don’t get caught up rethinking things. (I mean, sometimes I still do, but sometimes I don’t, and that’s an improvement!)

    2. When possible, stack appointments such that you have enough time to go between them but not enough time to fall in a trap (like the computer) between them. For instance, I’ve recently been doing weekly talk therapy and weekly physical therapy, both of which have set start and end times. The talk therapy is at the same time every week, but the PT I get to pick a time every week. The places are closer to each other than either is to my house or my work, so if I can, I’ll set one to end half an hour before the next one starts. That doesn’t leave me enough time to go home, or to settle into a coffee shop to try to get a task done (especially if the first appointment ran late because I was definitely late to it…) so I’ll probably end up deciding I might as well go straight to the next appointment–and then I’m there on time!

    1. Your 1. point is a really great observation. From my experience lot of my trouble comes from deciding how/when/if to do the thing. This is why I’m turning into a big believer in routines because routines remove that question all together.

      Do I do laundry? Yes Thursday evening.

      When do I clean? Tuesday when you get home.

      Should I cook? Yes, Sunday you pick up groceries after your done with morning routines and then you cook.

      Where did I leave my glasses? Oh yeah, they’re on my nightstand in the front left corner.

      I used to hate routines because I thought they were stifling but I’m coming to realize that actually they free me to do all the stuff I love without worrying about the mundane stuff.

      1. I think of some routines as “reducing it to a solved problem,” but it could also be “let my past self take care of me.” Past Vicki might not be smarter than me, but she’s as smart, and she already did the work of thinking about this bit of my day or week. It doesn’t matter whether I brush my teeth before or after I shower–but doing them in the same order every time helps me remember to brush my teeth.

        1. Letting your past self take care of you is a good metaphor.

          I don’t have as tidy an explanation but I tend to think of it as investing a bit more mental effort beforehand so I don’t have to expend it again and again each time I do the thing.

          This is a thing that’s very topical for me as I only got diagnosed last year and so I’m kind of learning a new frame of reference and I’m trying to really purposefully build up a bunch of routines so my everyday life wouldn’t be as taxing.

  75. “Requesting input from fellow time-strugglers only.” — Thanks for this Captain. I have spent my life feeling like I was the worst at time and could never give anyone advice. The idea that my struggles put me in a _better_ position to advise other people who are struggling – that’s a revelation. I feel so seen.

  76. Think of dog-spotting like being in a fandom. Your friend is in the Dog Fandom and will shout excitedly every time they spot one of the superstars of Dog Fandom in public. (All dogs are superstars of Dog Fandom.) You are not in Dog Fandom, and you are not expected to express high excitement when you see dogs, any more than you would be if you spotted a member of a band whose music you had never listened to before. You can just be happy that your friend saw someone famous, and maybe….scratched them behind their ears or let them lick their hand? This metaphor is breaking down

    1. I mean, plenty of people would be excited if the superstar they’re a huge fan of licked their hand…

  77. Q4.
    Tldr: Indentify things that consistently make your life difficult, figure out solutions that work for YOU and are sustainable. Use resources available to you to support you in figuring out those solutions. Split the solutions into the smallest piece possible. Implement the solutions by building them into routines. Use rewards, first for effort later for success to reinforce the routines. Reframe discussion to ways that work FOR YOU and away from generalized solutions/expectations. And try to build everything in your life that’s mundane and repetitive into a big chain of stuff.

    Like if you have trouble remembering to take your meds in the morning, figure out a sequence of events that you do each morning and link taking meds into that chain. My mourning routine goes: wake up, take meds/vitamins, shower, brush teeth, prep hair, get dressed, eat something, finish hair, pack stuff, leave. Either I do it this way or I WILL forget something.

    Also build one habit at a time or it will all come crashing down.

    I’ve found a lot of the same methods for being on time that captain has and they work pretty well. I’d like to add that never put it off for later. I do those things (read try to because let’s face it there’s always the 10% cases where there’s an inconvenient distraction) right after I schedule the event, also for friends I try to agree on something I can put in the calendar so I have a time to get ready for. I love the idea of let’s just figure it out on the fly and if I’m on the move it’ll work but if I’m at home and have no time to be ready for, I’m not going to be ready.

    One thing that I’ve found useful to avoid the panic before leaving of not knowing where you put the stuff is to have necessary items like glasses and keys always in the same place. This is a habit I built by accident but it works. The first things I do when I get home, whenever I get home is to put my keys back in my pocket and my glasses on a specific spot on a specific table. I’m not saying adopting this would be easy or that it won’t take time but identifying your stuff that’s lost when you’re leaving the house and figuring out how to always know where they are is something that’s worthwhile to put effort into in my view. For me having keys in my pant pocket is essential because they’re either in my pants pocket or I’ve just left them in my home and it’s going to cost me 30-60€ to get back in.

    Here’s a great video on creating habits and while it’s aimed at people who have ADHD I think it’s a useful tool for anyone but especially someone who has executive function challenges I also recommend the whole channel even if you don’t specifically have ADHD.

    Something that’s also helped me a ton in dealing with people who have trouble understanding my issues is framing the issue around ways that work for me and channeling offers of support into those. For this I owe a huge thank you to our esteemed Captain who has taught me how to establish boundaries in the first place and how to ask for support in ways that actually help. I’m lucky and privileged enough that my parents are able to support me financially (turning 34 here so hello to all the people who require support from your parents after “you’re not supposed to”. It’s not our fault society is built in a way that it often actively hinders our efforts to succeed) but it used to come with a big side dose of shaming. Basically just now I’ve been able to say that if they wish to support me I welcome and appreciate it but I require that said support come shame free. I understand that this is also a question of privilege and if your safety requires that you put up with shaming that’s OK.

    To give a concrete example of this:

    I’m going to start my 4th round of studies this fall. First two fell through because of depression and ADHD (that only got diagnosed last year) the third one I’m actually going to complete once my teacher comes back from summer break so we can finalize paper work \o/ yay me!

    So I’ve been poor for a long time. During this year I was able to work and thus didn’t require support but during the fall I’m going to once again because managing my spending and my chores in general is a huge challenge for me. And I only found out the means that actually work during the last year or so.

    But the difference now is the fact that I now have an idea of how I can manage to better handle running my everyday life. Thanks to my great friends, the Captain, HowToADHD channel on YouTube that I linked and having a context around which I could build my own efforts.

    So during like the last week I’ve been talking with my parents about the fall and how I’ve got trouble running my life and how I fear that will once again impact my studies. This time though when they’ve gone into “why can’t you and/or just do the thing” mode I’ve been able to redirect that into

    a) A brief here’s why that doesn’t work for me. I’ve also tried explaining this through a book that’s titled (in Finnish) “Survival guide for ADHD adults” so they have a resource different from me that illustrates why these things are difficult for me. Again you may not have ADHD but the executive function challenges are pretty similar for a lot of us.

    b) Suggest ways that would work. For example for money I told them that while I require support if I have to dread asking because I know there will be shame associated it undermines the whole idea.

    My father has also for forever been suggesting I make a budget. My instinct says this is a horrible idea, I hate it and I wouldn’t be able to stick to one anyways. However now I have a context that tells me I dread it because I have trouble making long term plans, any plans that extend a month into the future terrify me and are not real to my brain and I haven’t been able to stick to one because I haven’t built a routine around it and haven’t reinforced that routine in a way that works for me (i.e. concrete rewards)

    So instead of rejecting the idea of a budget which has always, rightfully, frustrated my dad. I could say here’s what I require so that I can build and stick to a budget, can you support me in this.

    Same with cleaning. Instead of saying that it’s just difficult for me to clean. I can now say “here’s how cleaning will work for me” can you support me in this. The way being that I have a cleaning day that’s set and never varies, in practice it will change especially at first but it helps me that I’m postponing something concrete, when I start cleaning as soon as I come home. And that when I’ve cleaned, especially at first this is if I’ve cleaned anything, I get an immediate reward.

    I don’t mean to say any of this is easy and it will take time but I think it’s worth it. Because the other option for me is a constant struggle to get anything done and related shame. When I’ve had a strong foundation of routines I’ve had just so much more energy to do stuff I love and so much less struggle with money and like having clean clothes and stuff XD

  78. I have found the best way for me to get out the door in time… ish, is to pad my list of things to do with optional things. Like putting away a load of laundry, dishes- stuff that needs to be done, but isn’t essential to the task of getting out the door. Such items get cut from the to-do list as time gets shorter, and it releases stress a bit.

  79. For #1, I agree with the Captain’s assessment that there’s no need to pretend.

    However, if you do, for whatever reason, feel it’s necessary to express something, here are a few options that don’t require much in the way of acting skills:

    1. Make a surprised noise. “Oh!” will do the job, no need to come up with words or messaging.
    2. Repeat the word “DOGGO!” in your friend’s exact tone and delivery. No need to say anything else. Their enthusiasm will carry you both.
    3. Make an “Aw, cute!” sort of vocalization. Again, no need to come up with words or messaging, just “Aww!”

  80. For #4, one thing I find useful to prevent myself from being late is to make a plan for if I’m early.

    This is because part of the psychological root of my chronic lateness is that my parents are chronically early, and the first half of my life was spent being embarrassingly, inconveniently early to things as a result of my parents’ proclivities, and being constantly mocked by my peers for this. (Examples: showing up to extracurriculars before the school was unlocked, showing up to a dinner party when the hostess’s hair was still wet and the host was still in the shower.)

    So, in addition to scheduling myself plenty of leeway and organizing things so I have no tasks that morning not directly related to getting out the door, I make a plan for if everything goes amazingly and I’m so early I’m embarrassed to show my face.

    Example: “It would be embarrassing to arrive before 1, so if I get off the subway before 12:45 I’ll go browse the nearby clothing store. Then at 12:45 I’ll go into the office building, go to the bathroom and check my appearance, and then head towards the meeting room.”

    I very rarely have to use this plan, but it saves me from self-sabotaging my way into lateness as a result of my personal baggage about being early.

  81. For Q3, here are my suggestions for what has worked for me as far as keeping sexual interest in a long term relationship.

    One is to make sure you’re both still making an effort at showing each other your best selves – whatever that means for you! For me, I’m not really fashionable at all, and I don’t care to change that, but there are still things I wear and do in order to put my best foot forward. This is the side of me seen by job interviewers, clients at work, first dates, and anybody I’m trying to impress. It’s important for long term partners to show that to each other from time to time. Even if your partner just saw you in old pyjamas an hour ago, and will see you in old pyjamas again later tonight. Let them have a moment in between, where they see you at your best. And “best” doesn’t just mean appearance. Be attentive in the conversation. Ask questions and listen to the answers.

    Speaking of questions, be mutually curious about each other. It’s so easy to think you know your partner inside and out. But people can always grow and change – including in the bedroom. It’s rare that one human can completely understand the erotic imagination of another. Let yourself feel curious about each other. You don’t have to be always asking questions. (That could be annoying!) Just be open to the fact that the unknown exists in your partner, and be open to learning new things when the opportunity arises.

    Once in a while, intentionally do dopamine stimulating activities together. It’s not going to recreate the intensity of that heady “new relationship energy” but it keep you feeling like you’re on an adventure together. “Dopamine stimulating activities” don’t have to be something wild and crazy. Anything new and interesting stimulates dopamine. When I go to a new type of live entertainment with my partner, or even just go for a walk in a new part of town, it doesn’t *directly* make me feel more lustful for him. But it helps me see him as somebody who’s open to new and interesting experiences, which affects how I see him in all aspects of life.

  82. I have a thought about Question 8 and the meta-question of “Is it a real apology if you have to ask for it?”

    I wonder what would happen if you the LW went to each person who had reacted badly and said, “I’m still upset/hurt/angry/other feelings about some of the conversations we had when I first told you I was trans. When you said [specific thing they said] I felt [upset/hurt/dismissed/etc]. How do you feel about that conversation, looking back on it now?”

    If someone has treated me badly and I ask them to say they’re sorry and they do…I don’t always trust that they really are. What if they’re saying it for some other reason, like to keep the peace in the family, or because they feel awkward and don’t know how else to end the interaction?

    What I really want to know when someone’s treated me badly is how they feel about it. Do they feel like it was okay for them to treat me that way? When I say that my feelings were hurt, how do they feel about that?

    I think there’s something really powerful about asking people about their feelings, rather than asking them to tell you that they feel a specific feeling when they might not.

    1. I think asking about their feelings might be not the ideal thing either: I can think of a number of situations when I felt bad the other person was feeling bad but thought that I was right to do what I did. Ultimately the decision of engage/not engage should be made by the asker: if a perceived probability of gaining good relationships overweights the perceived probability of being discomforted by confronting painful for him views/memories engage, otherwise don’t. There is no such things as closure in real life , so it seems to me that both asker and the family are wise in maintaining respectful distance (that is I assume that the family is not being intrusive and does not try to aggressively push the asker, based on the way the question is worded)

      1. “I can think of a number of situations when I felt bad the other person was feeling bad but thought that I was right to do what I did.”

        If someone has treated me badly, I want to know whether they regret it. I want to know whether they care that they hurt me. If they don’t care that they hurt me, and/or if they feel that how they behaved was acceptable…well, that hurts. But I would rather know that they feel that way, so that I can take that under consideration as I decide whether I want stay in contact with this person and how vulnerable I want to make myself to them in the future.

        When someone has treated me badly, I need to know whether it was a fluke or whether that’s who they are. You’re correct that my questions are designed to find that out, because that’s what I think I’d want in the LW’s shoes.

        1. I guess the question is, is this distinction important: that is if feeling bad but justified vs. not feeling bad is the same thing. For some people it is, for others it is not, it is also connected to different people relationships with their foundational believes (people get hurt more the more important the issue is to them)

          I might be coming from a different communication culture and might be wrong as a result but this description reads to me as “We (conditionally) accept your choice but have a different conception of what is going on and choose to distant ourselves as a result” from the family and “I am ok now, but there is this thing that is still bothering me about what happened but I don’t want to risk the status quo too much because it’s dangerous/emotionally exhausting ” from the asker.

          I have no idea what happened and how bad was the thing the poster feels they should be apologizing for but it is quite clear the family either don’t see what happened as an issue or see it as an issue but don’t want to have a confrontation (probably for the same reason the asker doesn’t: confrontations are emotionally exhausting and rarely provide anything positive ).

          I have never seen either type of situation resolved by a direct confrontation: asker said they have never been close, said he wants to move on and doesn’t want to cut off the relationships completely: given those 3 I feel like continuing postcard fade and squishing the inner impulse to confront them about what happened is the best thing to do.

  83. Doggo person here. Doggos are thrilling to me, better than cake and champagne and being noticed by my secret crush. I see a doggo, I get excited. It’s really hard for me to stop before I get too excited to say “Ooh doggo!” because it is more like an emotion sneeze than a thought.

    I do try to rein it in, and realize not everyone wants a doggo alert. I’ve been known to say ‘oh, sorry, I saw a husky, didn’t mean to interrupt’. It is good for the doggo-normal person to let me know seeing a doggo is not the high point of their day, and they will not be telling their friends about the details of its appearance and what it was doing. Eyerolling, “oh god”, and suchlike are perfectly fine responses to the Doggo Alert. My friend, please be understanding, I am intentionally cutting off my verbal and physical dog response in respect for you, please indulge this happiness of mine.

  84. Q4, I don’t have ADHD, but I AM chronically late when I’m in the throes of depression. It’s usually just me, sitting on my bed, unable to persuade myself to move until I’m going to be laughably late. And then that of course triggers my anxiety, and it’s off to the races!

    The one thing that’s helped me is framing it as a promise to future me. “If you get up off the bed and go to this party, then you’ve bought yourself enough ‘good friend credits’ to say no to the next party without guilt.” Knowing that attending the event = one future cancel helps motivatesme to get off the bed and out the door.

    I realize it sounds kind of mercenary to think in terms of “good friend credits” but it helps me to quantify the ways in which I’m showing up for my friends. If my depressed brain had its way, I wouldn’t be showing up at ALL, so I need a running list of what I’ve done/not done to make sure I’m not completely isolating myself and abandoning my friendships.

    Obviously this is a small part of the problem for you. But if you find yourself struggling with depression-induced lateness, maybe this will help.

  85. Tim Urban (who wrote THE manifesto on procrastination) has a great, compassionate, non-shaming, funny article on being always late:

    It’s very comforting, yet realistic, and it doesn’t start with lots of well-meant advice. Perhaps the most important part of it is the distinction he makes between “okay lateness” and “not okay lateness”. When I was at my worst, I could never see this distinction, and that made everything worse. Learning to see it (the article explains) helped me get over some hurdles that were in the way of doing better. Good luck!!

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