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This is a guest post from a kind Patreon contributor who took on the “Advice Columnist For The Day” mantle. I meant to post it ages ago and never actually hit “Post”, so, apologies for the oversight b/c it’s a very good read.

Hi Captain!

I just graduated college a few months ago and I’m having trouble finding my way into the real world. I have a decent amount of experience for a new grad, I think. I’ve had jobs doing work relevant to my STEM field, I completed a 7-month-long thesis, and I had a leadership role in a club. While my GPA was not amazing (mental illness dragged me down the past two years), it’s definitely not bad and I know for a fact I was good at my major.

All that stuff should make me feel confident about my job search. Instead, I’ve sent out two applications in three months. I am absolutely petrified of job hunting. Clicking on online job postings sends me into a panic spiral. My heart races when I open up my resume.

Over the years, I’ve tried to be kind to myself about not “living up to my potential.” I try to remember it’s not that I suck, but that my depression/anxiety/maybe-ADD/etc. has its thumb on the scale. But that leads to terror that I’ll always be bad at the basic skills I need to survive on my own and I’ll just crash and burn out in the real world. I was a mess at school. What if the stress is too much for me? And my references, who saw me fall apart at school. How do I communicate with them about my job search when I’m still so mortified? Not to mention the nauseating thought of all the emotional, mental, and literal capital I’m going to have to spend up front settling into a new job, a new home, a new city (I’m job searching near some beloved family a state away).Every time I try to think past one issue, another comes up. The whole topic is a big ball of fear in my mind now.

Consistent treatment for my mental health has been difficult due to moving back and forth from school all the time, but I have a great doctor working with me on medication and I’ve finally found a therapist in the area. My question for you and your amazing commenters is: How do you do the terrifying thing? What tools do you use to move forward when you feel paralyzed with fear? And how do you hold off the self-loathing when you struggle with something you “should” be able to do?

Thanks,

Paralyzed

(she/her pronouns)

Dear Paralyzed,

Congratulations on your recent college graduation! I am honoured that the Captain opened the opportunity for recruit awkwardeers to be the advice columnist for a day, and I very much wanted to answer your letter because it really, really speaks to me. I know from my own experience how hard it is to be in college while living with an illness and I am genuinely proud of you.

Often, the questions we ask are not to the answers we are looking for, but I don’t want to neglect your actual questions, so here goes:

*How do you do the terrifying thing?*

There are two ways that work on their own, but best in combination: you make yourself less terrified and you make the thing less terrifying.

*What tools do you use to move forward when you feel paralyzed with fear?*

You wiggle a little if you can. If you can’t, figure out what you need in order to wiggle a little. A snack? A nap? A hug? Go and get the help and support you need to wiggle a little. If you manage to wiggle a little, be really proud of yourself. Next time you feel paralyzed, and wiggling a little is okay and you feel adventurous, wiggle a lot. Great job! Maybe next time around you can move sideways a little, and then you do that, and so on, and then maybe you realize that you can move forward, or maybe you realize moving forward is not what you want at all because there’s a wall ahead, and then you try and find a door, or realize you want nothing to do with that wall and walk around it until you find something that you want to move towards.

*And how do you hold off the self-loathing when you struggle with
something you “should” be able to do?*

You take yourself seriously, you give yourself permission to feel what you feel, and you focus on being kind to yourself and getting better.

Let me start elaborating on the last point, to take yourself seriously. If you’re too sick to find a job right now, you are too sick to find a job right now. It’s okay. It happens. If you feel too scared browse job listings, you *are* too scared. Don’t beat yourself up about it! Take yourself seriously; if you can’t do it, no one can tell you you should be able to do it. Don’t tell yourself that either. Take your experiences and your life seriously. The job you don’t have right now is not “the real world” — your world is very much real. You
live in the real world already! If you aren’t well enough to do what you want to do, your job is to do everything you can do in order to get better. For instance, if you think you should be browsing job offers, and you can’t because it upsets you so much, be actively kind to yourself. Prepare your favourite meal. Go for a walk. Meet a friend. That’s not procrastination; it’s taking care of yourself and it is and will always be your number one job. If you don’t think you will be well enough soon to find a job you like, apply, interview,
start and have a regular income, make a plan for what you will do instead (e.g. stay with family for some time) Having to find a job when you *have* to because the money is running out is a lot more terrifying and less likely to succeed. Recovering from mental illness is a full-time job and while many people don’t have the luxury to treat it as such, there is absolutely no obligation to work full-time while you’re at it if you can avoid it.

Taking good care of yourself also means facing your anxieties. Not overcoming them, not battling or suppressing them, the first step is facing them. What is the ball of fear you’re experiencing made of? You mention settling into a new job, a new home, a new city. Take a big sheet of paper (or, if you have, a journal) and make three columns, one for each category. Are they still one big ball of fear, or three smaller ones? Pick the one that you think will be easiest for you to think about. What issues do you think you will be experiencing? What exactly are they? How do they look like? Can you put them into words? If you can, write them down into that category. If you have any energy left, think about how you might be able to tackle it. (E.g. “I’m afraid I won’t be able to find a place to live that I can afford.” — “I could ask [person I know in city that I want to live in] if they have
an idea in which part of town I could look for something suited to my budget”). The ball of fear consists of strands, that, when untangled, become more definite, and better to approach than an indefinite big knot.

While you’re at giving yourself permission to feel what you feel, give yourself permission to want what you want. (Poetry time! Mary Oliver, “Wild Geese”). What do you want? (If there’s nothing you want but nothingness, it is your job to create the circumstances that the you who went to college and graduated, who worked on the side in STEM-related jobs, and was captain of a club, who did all those amazing things gets the possibility to come back if she wants.)

If you had a guaranteed income that covered all your needs, what would you do? For instance, it took me a year and a half of self-loathing to realize I wasn’t finishing my thesis because I wasn’t remotely as interested in Green Economy in India as I pretended to be, and that graduating with a degree in South Asian studies would not let me be the physician I had never admitted to myself I wanted to be. I don’t have the resources to start anew and go to med school, but I mentioned that to my thesis advisor and she suggested a new topic for my thesis. This new topic let me write a long chapter on the medical aspects of an issue relevant to my subject, and that helped.

If what you want is to find a job and nothing more, try and reframe. Try not to think of it as “I’m job-hunting”; a job is not an elusive animal, the rare quetzal you might hear but rarely see, impossible to keep alive in captivity. A job is like a pair of pants. You might never find the one that fits you perfectly and stays with you until old age. There are those pants that fit quite well, others that are a favourite for some time that you throw out once you’re over them, those that you try on and discard right away, and so on. It’s perfectly fine to get a cheap pair to make do while you shop around for something more durable. It’s perfectly fine to wear corduroy even if you’ve been a jeans type of person all your life. If you can, start to find something that will do for the moment. If on a day you feel well enough to maybe start an application, tell yourself (better, write it down) beforehand what you will do, such as “Today, I will spend ten minutes thinking about how I’m going to list the things I did at previous job that I liked. I will write down two bullet points.” The more specific the better. Set a timer. Don’t even open your CV; write it by hand or into a different file. If that was something you could do: great job! You are done for the day and you can return to your main job of taking care of yourself and recovering. If that’s something you could not do: commend yourself for trying! Return to your main job of taking care of yourself and recovering, and set a smaller goal the next time.

When you start to feel better over time, and more daring, but postings or your CV still petrify you, find something you can do instead. Is there a job fair near the place you
are looking for a job? Could you go and just hang out for a bit? Do you know people who work at companies you’d like to work at that you can ask about how they got that job and what they can recommend? Can you call HR at a place you’re interested in, introduce yourself and ask if you have a shot at applying? Don’t set out to buy the perfect pants. Allow yourself to not go for the one perfect gig. Go window shopping! Find something you might like and try it on. Give yourself time to figure out what you like first, and when that happens — it will, slowly — the terrifiedness will waver and wane. Once you think you’re up for sending out applications that will require communicating to your references, send them a short note. (I’ve never lived in a part of a world where references are a thing, so I’m not completely sure about that; the framework I nicked from https://captainawkward.com/2012/12/20/410-how-do-i-tell-old-professional-contacts-about-my-recent-name-change-now-that-i-need-a-reference/.
Comments welcome).

Dear Reference,

I hope things are well with you! + Some comment about a topic you
talked about, your thesis, your favourite class, a thought you had
etc.

As you may have realized I was not well during my last two years at
school. I am a lot better now and am setting out to apply for jobs. I
will be interviewing for some jobs in [field]. Would it be okay if I
listed you as a professional reference?

Best
Not So Paralyzed Anymore

Lastly, I recently stumbled onto a small project that sifted through the research on what makes a job good for people individually as well as globally. They also evaluated the research on how to get a job, andI like what they came up with.(I am not in any way affiliated with this project). Basically, they recommend that if you apply for a job at a place where you’re not already known, add a “pre-interview project” to your application. A pre-interview project is something that you wrote/designed/came up with that relates to what they do and could be a valuable contribution to their work. If a pre-interview project is something you can see yourself doing, instead of starting with looking at job postings at an organization or company, you could browse through their internet site, read up on their projects/publications/whatever it is they do and think about whether that’s something you’d like to contribute to, and how you’d like to contribute to it, and maybe even sketch your idea. This will give you a better feel for whether it’s worth applying, and gives you an edge if you do apply. If you can’t come up with anything, that might just mean that it’s not something you want to contribute to and that would be alright too, because you’re taking yourself seriously. Keep on doing that, give yourself permission to feel what you feel, and be kind to yourself.

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.

Signed,

Your friendly street medic

Readers, how do you steel yourself to do the hard things?

 

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Dear Captain Awkward,

I’m afraid I might be walking into an Alice situation (a la letter #247). My boyfriend’s family is very conservative and even though he is an adult, he not only lives with them (which is fine) but lives by their rules, curfews, and puts up with their interrogations over who he is spending time with, who his friends are, etc. They don’t know I exist, but he’ll be telling them within a month. He hasn’t so far because due to conservative culture reasons he can’t tell them he has a girlfriend, but rather that there is this girl (me) he wants to marry. And I’m terrified because they’re going to hate me (his mother especially) and I need scripts on how to deal with that when I meet them.

From everything he’s told me (and I take his word for it) I will be considered all wrong because I’m older than him, have been married before, am bisexual (here’s hoping his family needn’t find out, at least initially), am from a different culture (and don’t speak the language he speaks with his family, and his mother doesn’t speak English fluently), I’m not conservative and certainly don’t fit the mould of what a stereotypical wife would be like (I have no intention to just pop out babies, cook and clean, etc., which Boyfriend is fine with but his family won’t be), I’ve already vetoed the idea of us living with his family when we get married, and I’m expecting there to be body shaming.

Boyfriend has said that he expects his family’s displeasure about all of this to be voiced to him, and not to me and I know I can’t force them to like me. Boyfriend is also scared himself about their reaction to his upcoming conversation with them about wanting to marry me. I have tried to direct him to this site so he can read up some great advice about setting boundaries and making it clear what shit he will put up with and what he won’t, but he says that sort of thing is not done in his culture and apparently I just don’t understand (it’s true, I don’t), and while he sees that I’m trying to be helpful, it’s not helping because boundaries is just not the done thing.

How can I support him with this difficult conversation coming up for him (which will be more of an extended series of fights/arguments) while respecting his decision to not have me encourage him to set boundaries, while also being able to set boundaries myself? What am I meant to say to his family when I meet them (and yes, I’m trying to learn the language so I can at least exchange pleasantries with his mother)? (And yes, social anxiety and severe depression is making me overthink all of this, and yes, I am in therapy, but any scripts would help a lot!!).

Any help would be much appreciated,

Scared of future in-laws

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Hello,

Preferred pronouns: they/them

I found out a few weeks ago that my grandmother was in the hospital due to an illness. This surprised me, but I also knew she was getting older. I decided I needed to start thinking if I wanted reconciliation.

When I was around 12 or 13, I purposefully discontinued all contact with her. This was for a lot of reasons. She had never really been involved in the life of my brother or me. She’d drive hours to see my cousins, but would never even call us on our birthdays.

The point of no return for pre-teen me was when I heard she had been speaking badly of my mother (her daughter) over my parents’ divorce (which happened when I was 10). I had heard this a few times, but it hit me especially hard since my mother had finally taken the time to tell me about the physical abuse she’d endured growing up.

My only act of discontinuing contact was to be the one to stop calling. For more than a decade, she has never once called. I had planned on telling her that I no longer wanted to speak to her when she finally called, but it never once came.

Over the years, my mother sought reconciliation and gave forgiveness to my grandmother. I know there’s still issues, but she is grateful for the relationship they have. Still, I’ve never forgiven my grandmother or looked back. Her relationship has, frankly, never been that important to me. It has been important to my brother, he took the time to invite her to his high school graduation and graduation party. She never showed up and it broke his heart.

With the news of her sickness after a particularly bad day in a particularly bad week, I made the mistake of posting a general sort of complaint about my week on social media and added a single sentence of “I found out this week an estranged family member is ill and may need to think about reconciliation”. I was trying to be vague given the sensitive nature of her hospitalization, but my family knows that I haven’t spoken to her since I was young, by choice. (I am not friends with my grandmother on social media.)

I found out a half an hour later that the diagnosis had come: cancer. It didn’t look good, either. Between calling to comfort my mother and brother late into the night, the whole post slipped my mind.

The next morning, my cousin replied very inappropriately and we spoke over messenger about the situation. I knew she was just upset over the diagnosis and tried to be gentle, but firm. I wasn’t going to let her hurt me because she was hurting, but I certainly didn’t want to kick someone who was down. My aunt called my mom later and said she had just been grieving and hadn’t meant to be cruel to me (as I guessed).

During the conversation, however, I realized that actually, I definitely did not want to forgive my grandmother and that I would not regret that decision. I obviously did not vocalize this to my clearly upset cousin, but it struck me then.

Since then, my family has been passive aggressively trying to show me she still cares about my brother and me (such as sending me a photo of my grandmother’s shelf with old photos of us still there and gifts we gave her). I’m worried they told her I was considering calling.

On the one hand, I have never needed her in my life because she’s never tried to be in it. On the other hand, she’s a dying woman who has brought joy and love to at least some of my family and seems to want the comfort of family during what may be the final months of her life. I don’t want to crush any hope she may have for that comfort, but I also don’t want to be insincere or lie.

I know that if I tell my mom, she will communicate my decision to my family (she has always understood my choice and never pushed my brother or me one way or the other). I’m trying to be there for them at a difficult time in their life, but I’m not sure I can be there by coming to some peace with my grandmother that I just do not have (and probably never will).

I’m hoping for advice on how to talk to my cousins about this decision without making their process of grief over the illness of a loved one worse.

Regards,
Not Sorry

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Dear Captain Awkward,

I have a situation that is getting very awkward indeed. In a few months, I will be going on vacation to Tokyo with my best friend. This has been a dream of ours for a long time, so we have a lot of plans. A coworker – with whom I’m friendly, but not very close – heard through the grapevine about my trip and started a conversation about when I was going and what I planned to do.

The week after that, she told me that she was planning a trip on the same dates, and she was so glad to know someone who could ‘show her all the sights’. I was a bit taken aback, but I told her my plans had just included myself and my best friend, and we already have reservations booked for just the two of us for most of the attractions we want to see. She seemed to understand and didn’t mention it again for a while.

However, I later overheard her talking to another coworker about ‘our trip’, and how I had planned everything out for ‘us’ to do. I waited until the other coworker was gone so as not to embarrass her, but this time I told her in no uncertain terms that my plans had not and would not include her. She got upset and said I’d been so enthusiastic about my trip that she’d gotten excited as well, and why was it so difficult for one more person to join us?

Since then, she’s kept talking about ‘our’ trip and what ‘we’ll’ do and all objections I make are completely ignored, even though I’ve stopped being polite and I have told her in front of others that she is in no way involved in my trip. I want to have a great experience with my friend and I absolutely do not want to be stuck playing tour guide to an acquaintance.

Since this is not work-related, I don’t feel like I can bring it up to our managers. I know I can’t stop her from making her vacation plans, even if they coincide with my own, but she already knows the name of my hotel and my rough itinerary from that first conversation, so how can I get it across that my friend and I do not want her with us? I’m concerned that she might have booked at the same hotel or that she’ll show up there, and I don’t want to cause a scene or have to try and avoid her. To my knowledge she’s never done anything like this before, so I’m completely baffled by her behavior. Obviously this problem is a bit different from many of the other letters you get, but I have no idea how to address this situation. Help?

Thank you,
Tokyo Traveller

preferred pronouns she/her

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I’m doing stuff out and about. Join me? Events listed in the order that they’ll happen:

  • Saturday, February 25, 2017: I’m teaching a short smartphone video workshop for beginners  at the Second City Training Center in Chicago. Want to shoot & edit video on your phone? Want to make it look and sound better? Still some spots left! $70.
  • Sunday, March 5, 2017: I’m reading at the final That’s All She Wrote show. 8pm, Great Lakes Tattoo, 1148 W. Grand Avenue, Chicago, Illinois. True stories. Free admission.
  • Saturday,
    cafe-le-jardin-du-petit

    Image of the cafe’s outdoor space (source: TripAdvisor) They have comfier-looking chairs inside, too.

    March 18, 2017: Awkward Meetup in Paris, France. I’ll be at the Cafe Le Jardin Du Petit Palais at 2:00 pm that day, with Mr. Awkward in tow. From what I can tell they have various coffee, tea, and sandwiches in a nice, centrally-located space with free admission. If you know you’ll attend, RSVPs are appreciated so we know to look out for you and how many seats to save.

 

Ahoy Captain!

I am a lesbian in her mid-twenties who grew up in a very religious (and homophobic) environment. In my last year of college, I began dating one of my best friends who lived in another state, and slowly began to come out to my social circle, which at that time was largely composed of friends I met at my religious college. I’ve been extraordinarily lucky and nearly all of the people I’ve told have responded well, but I still have not been able to tell any of my biological family. Her parents are both supportive of us, and paid for us to elope and have a short honeymoon in New York back in December. (Elopement has been on the table for a long time, but we wanted to make it official after the election.) They are also temporarily offering her financial support while she looks for a job here (she moved to be with me and we got an apartment last month). As far as my parents know, the trip to New York was an early Christmas present from her parents that she invited me on because we’re really close, and we’re just roommates.

Neither of my parents have any idea about either my sexuality or my relationship – I lived at home the whole time I was dating my wife, and I was very careful. My mom is the kind of person who would ask me directly if she thought I was gay (she cornered me after marriage equality passed for an hour-long “chat” about it) and my dad and I have never discussed my romantic life even when I thought I was straight. I love my parents and I’m pretty close with them, but they’re both openly homophobic, so I honestly don’t know how they’ll react when they find out about me. Part of me hopes that maybe now that I don’t live with them, it will get easier and I can be more open about my relationship, but I also know they’ll probably be at least upset that I lied to them for years. Do you have any advice about how to broach this topic with them? I’m considering breaking the news that my wife and I are in a relationship to them via email soon, but I worry that somehow they’ll find out that we’re actually married and it will upset them even further. I want to be as kind and respectful to them as I can be, but I love my wife and I won’t apologize for that, or for making choices that make me happy. Thanks, Captain.

-Almost Out of the Closet

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Ahoy Captain and Commentariat!

I feel horrible for writing in with this question because Fiancee and I are supposed to be getting married in roughly 20 days. This was the healthiest relationship I’ve ever been in and the most serious, but I’m so stressed out I’m about to snap.

We met two years ago, started dating formally at the end of 2015, she asked me to marry her in March 2016, I said yes even though it felt a bit rushed.

Problems:

1) Fiancée has a small dog that shits and pisses everywhere in the apartment. When we moved in last June she assured me this would stop now that it was away from her abusive stepdad. NOPE. I’ve told her several times how much it frustrates me and asked her to please clean it up and train the dog, but she just acts frustrated or depressed with me for asking and defensive of Dog. Though she does clean the carpets maybe once a week, Dog is still not housebroken. I am so done dealing with this creature. I want it gone.

2) She acts entitled toward my money (apparently it became “our” money when she moved in), her constant spending has run me $1,000 in debt, and she won’t stop even when I tell her we are out of money and to give me back my cards. (I am the only one currently employed.) I’ve raided my savings account to cover expenses so many times it’s practically empty. I have also brought this up several times to no avail. Her spending habits have me so stressed I have contemplated suicide.

3) She is so messy: dirty clothes all over the bathroom, bedroom, and closet; dirty dishes in the bedroom with moldy food on them; piles of garbage covering her side of the bedroom floor; and dried food left on the kitchen counters and stove after cooking, to name just a few. I have OCD and anxiety, and the mess is driving me insane. I’ve asked her to please clean up after herself several times, but nope. She literally screamed at me last night for bringing it up. She later apologized, but that’s not something I want to deal with forever.

4) We originally planned our wedding for Earth Day 2018, but in January she woke me up in the middle of the night — when she knows I won’t remember anything — and convinced me to bump it up to this coming Feb. 27. When I didn’t remember, she got angry and hurt (at least I think she did; her favorite way of being playful and joking is to act offended by something I did or said, so I have a hard time telling the difference), questioned my commitment when I was hesitant about keeping the new date, and claimed we had to because same-sex couples might not have that right given Trump, and I caved in and agreed.

This is not actually okay with me, but I’m too scared of hurting her feelings (she has a past history of suicide attempts), really dislike emotional confrontations, and don’t know how to deal with the potential fallout, since we live together.

5) I’ve got the feeling more than once that she’s just using the relationship to get out of her stepdad’s house, get more financial aid for when she decided to go back to community college, and to get on my health insurance. But I also have PTSD and depression from past abusive relationships, so this could legit just be paranoia.

6) Finally, she doesn’t have a job, doesn’t go to school, and we don’t have kids, and spends most of her days in bed watching Netflix, outside working on various projects watching Netflix, or playing video games. I’m honestly tired of bankrolling her extended vacation from the real world while I’m stressing out making ends meet and have very little free time.

Despite all this I love her very much and would love to make it work; she is kind, funny, talented, and smart, tells me often how much she loves me, that I’m beautiful, that I’m her muse for art projects and the love of her life, is physically affectionate, and does small things like bring me food when I’m busy or make me gifts from the raw materials I buy.

On the one hand I really want to spend my life with her because the good stuff is so good! But on the other, I often daydream about being single with just my cats in a clean, organized, dog-free home. We love each other a lot, but after almost a year of living together my opinion is that we don’t have compatible living styles.

Aside from breaking her heart and possibly forcing her to move back in with her abusive stepdad, my main concern with breaking up is who will get the kitten we rescued and raised since she was a day old. I honestly think I should get to keep her because I have income and can care for her, plus her step-dad hates cats and her mom is allergic. But Fiancée got to spend more time with Kitten when she was really young because I couldn’t stay up with her all night due to my job.

Can you please give me some scripts to 1) ask that she fix the above problems or I’m gone (without sounding like an asshole), 2) if she agrees, scripts to postpone the wedding to make sure the fixes stick and aren’t just lip service; or, if she doesn’t agree or she does but the problems continue unabated, 3) scripts to call off the wedding and break up?

Thank you in advance!

~Would I be dodging a bullet, or losing the love of my life?

PS: Please, no How to Train Your Dog tips – I do not like Dog and do not want to waste any more of my very limited free time dealing with it more than I already have to.

[She/her pronouns]

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