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health

Time for the monthly tradition where we answer the things people typed into search engines as if they are questions.

Before we get to it, it’s Pledge Drive Time! Twice a year, winter and summer, I interrupt our usual programming to remind folks that fun stuff like the Search Terms posts and the Friday short answers are funded by my kind and generous patrons and readers who support the site via PayPal and other ways. These donations allow me to keep the blog ad-free, invest substantial time in maintaining the community, reading the mailbox, and moderating comments, devote time to answering questions and writing new content, pay guest writers, and keep us functioning as an independent site. This year I’m trying to pull back on teaching and be a full-time writer, and your support is necessary and much appreciated for the care and feeding of me & my family. Please make a donation or become a patron if you can. Every little bit helps. (If you can’t afford to, don’t worry ’bout a thing, I’m glad you are here and reading.)

As is traditional, let’s begin with a song to set the mood. Lyrics here :

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Dear Captain,

This problem is tough to describe without getting perilously close to breaking the “no diet talk” rule, but I’m hoping I’m describing it neutrally enough that you can still help: my mother (almost 60) has a lifelong obsession with “health”, and it’s getting worse, and I’m worried what will happen if I don’t try to get her to stop.

What I mean is that she maintains a near-constant focus on exercise, severe calorie restrictions, and self-imposed rules around what foods she won’t eat. [Additional details available, but I don’t want to get sidetracked with diagnostics.] In the past, I’ve tried not to worry — she’s an adult and she gets to decide what she puts in her body. But the last few years, things have gotten more intense:

1) She externalizes it A LOT. “Health” is all she talks about. She uses her restrictions to dictate what my father eats, and where and what we can eat whenever we’re together. Holidays are really stressful — trying to meet her requirements, hold these constant conversations, AND eat any actual food myself (I have no dietary restrictions) makes meals absolutely exhausting. (And, OF COURSE, meals are the focal point for my family’s socializing.)

2) Her ideas about health are increasingly fringe. She reads pseudoscience blogs, and is constantly repeating “facts” she’s found (“Actually, skipping meals occasionally is good for you”). Recently she switched to a naturopathic “doctor” who ran a barrage of unnecessary blood tests in order to sell her his line of supplements. This feels like REALLY dangerous territory to me — financially, physically, mentally.

I have two younger siblings (we’re all early 30s), and they’re also concerned. We’ve tried, over the years, to enlist my father’s help, but he refuses to hear any “criticism” of her. We’ve tried to talk directly to Mom about it, but — well, we’re not good at confrontation (conflict TERRIFIES ME, because even the slightest wrinkle can turn into a blowout), so we just end up hinting and laughing nervously (“Maybe you shouldn’t listen to EVERYTHING that doctor says, haha!”) before changing the subject.

To be clear: she has no allergies, no sensitivities, no chronic illnesses. Anxiety runs deep in the family, but she refuses to see a therapist (I suggest it frequently, as a good hygiene practice). I’m sure her behavior is coming from a desperate fear of aging, and I feel for her. But I’m worried about how this obsession will play out as she gets older and her health DOES change.

I guess I’m writing you now because a holiday visit is looming and I’m either going to spend it miserably, silently tamping down my frustration yet again, or completely losing my shit. How do I get her to see that her “interest” is actually an unhealthy obsession?

Signed,
Please Mom Just Eat Something
(she/her)

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Dear Captain Awkward,

It’s been two years since my diagnosis with a very aggressive form of breast cancer, and eighteen months since my double mastectomy. The type of cancer (IBC) ruled out immediate reconstruction with implants (which I would have declined anyway, because not for me).

It used to be that women with IBC didn’t get reconstruction, because TBH we usually didn’t live all that long. Nowadays after a waiting period of two years or so one can have a DIEP flap where skin, fat and blood vessels are taken from the stomach and grafted onto one’s chest.

I’ve completed treatment, there’s currently no sign of cancer, and I’m doing well. I’m trying to move forward and get on with my life as much as possible.

But here’s my problem: medical folk keep pestering me to get reconstruction and don’t seem to understand that I DON’T WANT IT.

I’ve made a list of the pros and cons and–while it’s fine for others, it’s not fine for me, right now, under these particular circumstances.
I’m a smart person with a supportive partner, friends and family. Yes, the things surgeons can do are amazing. I know all about my options. If I want more information I know how to get it.

But..the continual unasked-for conversations from presumedly well-meaning medical providers are irritating at best and at worst can send me into a days-long depressive spiral.

Because I was trained to be a people-pleaser and discount my own ideas and opinions, and when I hear, “Have you considered reconstruction? We can do amazing things and by the way, you basically get a free tummy tuck..”

..my brain translates it into, “You are not okay the way you are, and your choice is not a valid one and your appearance is not acceptable. You are BROKEN. Let us fix you.”

What none of my medical providers seem to understand is that I want to maximize my physical activities and minimize my time spent in hospitals to the greatest extent possible, and for the most part I don’t give a rat’s behind whether I meet society’s expectations of how a female should look.

I’ve always been large-breasted and very self-conscious about it, and at the same time considered myself a bit of a “tomboy”.

It turns out I’m more at home in my body without breasts, have less back and neck pain, don’t miss bras or boob sweat, and enjoy wearing button-down shirts I buy from the men’s department.

My sex life is just fine.

I identify with others in the “flattie” community far more than anyone else in Breast Cancer Land.

But when doctors start pushing reconstruction, I feel as if my choice to remain flat is being questioned, and it affects my mental health when my efforts to explain and/or justify my choice seemingly fall on deaf ears.

Is there a script to politely shut this down? I’d be grateful for any suggestions.

Her/She pronouns, and just sign me “Flat and (Mostly) Happy”

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Dear Captain Awkward,

So, I live in a small home with my boyfriend and one of our mutual friends. Before we moved in with said friend, we thought she was far cleaner than she actually is, as she often complained about her parents’ cleanliness and messiness when she lived with them.

Turns out, that is not the case.

She doesn’t clean up after herself. Dirty dishes remain in the sink, or in her room, for days, and when she went away for a week on a trip, she dumped all the dirty dishes from her room into the sink before peacing on out, leaving us to deal with it. When she cleans up her cat’s poop on the carpet, she just picks it up and doesn’t spray anything on the carpet itself to actually deal with the bacteria left behind, saying “it’s okay, it was dry!” She leaves splatters all over the stove and counters, grit all over the floors, crumbs all over, and her hair all over the bathroom floor.

And now there are the bugs.

We got fruit flies everywhere one day. Upstairs where our rooms are, swarming in the bathroom, and downstairs in the kitchen. I cleaned like crazy and set up natural fruit fly traps to deal with the issue, but the flies just weren’t diminishing even after killing literally hundreds.

After dealing with them actually coming into mine and my boyfriend’s room, I had enough. I did investigating and followed the trail of flies…to my roommate’s room. (She never closes the door.) Her trashcan is overflowing, trash all over the floor, and full of fruit flies, and she has ants all over her bedside table swarming over left behind food. There is food in her bed.

The ants and food are STILL THERE. Days later. She has to have noticed. It’s right by her bed, where she sets everything.

Captain, how do I even broach this conversation? I don’t care what she does in her room, but this is affecting us all, the flies are already everywhere and I don’t want those ants to come our way next. Or for us to get roaches or rats or other pests.

That, and I feel like me and my boyfriend are constantly cleaning. It’s exhausting, since again, her one contribution is to maybe take out the trash every now and then. We do all the bathroom cleaning, mopping, vacuuming, cleaning the kitchen…everything. And most of it is cleaning up her messes, as both of us are kind of neat freaks who clean up after ourselves as we go. Just. What do. I love my friend, but her lack of cleanliness is driving me crazy.

Signed,
I am not your maid.

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Dear Captain Awkward,

I’ve been reading your blog for awhile and just love it! Your answers and the community here are both awesome. So thanks. My question is really tough and I’m afraid your answer is going to be “there is no actual compromise possible here.” But I’m going to try.

My husband and I were both raised as extremely religious Catholics. When we were dating (courting??) we both agreed that we wanted to have lots of kids, like a dozen, and homeschool them all. Over eight years of marriage, we’ve both changed a lot. We’re both a lot more liberal and our kids are going to public school. After the third kid, we both agreed that we no longer wanted to have any more kids. But, being Catholic, there are only two allowed solutions: NFP (natural family planning, also known as Vatican Roulette), and total abstinence. We did that for a miserable year and a half and then, predictably, got pregnant with our fourth.

I cannot describe how horrible this has all been to me. Four kids is A LOT OF KIDS, especially given that the oldest is only seven. I loathe being pregnant with the fiery heat of a thousand suns. All of them have been high needs. I haven’t slept well since 2009. My husband is exhausted too; he cried like a baby when he found out we were having the fourth and I believe he is still depressed about it four months after she was born.

And I no longer see any point to this punishingly difficult lifestyle since I am no longer Catholic. Between kid 3 and kid 4, I did a lot of studying and am now entirely agnostic. My husband was really upset by my deconversion and mostly prefers not to talk about it at all. He’s become a lot more skeptical about his faith, but he does think it’s true and it worries him to think I might be going to hell. Meanwhile I now think that birth control is definitely the greatest thing since indoor plumbing.

Our birth control method now, given that NFP so obviously does not work, is abstinence. Every couple of weeks my husband can’t stand it anymore so we have non-PIV sex. Only there is zero communication about this. I think his perspective is that, if he’s got to “sin,” at least he’s not going to make it worse by premeditating it. The problem is that it’s obvious both of us want to take it further and I know from experience how hard it is to think clearly when you’re horny. I am terrified that sooner or later we’re going to get pregnant again. I cannot, CANNOT go through pregnancy again; I get the shakes just thinking about it. Meanwhile our sex life is completely screwed up from the NFP and then the whatever-this-is we’re doing now, so that neither of us is really enjoying it that much and we both kinda feel like roommates. It sucks and the thought of doing this till menopause is awful.

I want to go on birth control. He doesn’t even want to discuss it. He told me some time ago that if I did go on birth control, he’d continue to feel obligated to never have sex again because contracepted sex is a sin. I don’t want to do something unilaterally if it truly would upset him, but on the other hand I feel like his religion will make it impossible for him ever to agree to it, even if he WERE okay with it, because that would implicate him in the “sin.” So I can’t find out how he really feels about it. And then there’s the money issue … we don’t have insurance and all the really effective birth control methods are pretty expensive. With his cooperation we could easily save up the money for it in a couple of months, but since I’m a full-time carer for the kids, I don’t have much in the way of my own separate money. And it’s not like a couple thousand dollars are sitting around in the bank right now for me to just take and use … even if I would feel okay unilaterally spending that amount of money, given that normally all major purchases have to be okayed by both of us. And I have almost no one in my life who isn’t fanatically Catholic, certainly no one I could call on to drive me home from getting my tubes tied.

What, dear Captain, would you do? Can you help me come up with a script for “seriously, we need to actually TALK about what we’re doing and your Catholic guilt and denial are not helping”? I have been quietly waiting for the past two years or so for him to come around, but he hasn’t, and I feel our disastrous fourth pregnancy is my fault for agreeing to rely on the broken fire escape that is NFP instead of going behind his back and somehow getting an IUD. Yet I still hesitate to make such a big decision unilaterally; I’m equally scared to tell him (and face his hurt feelings) or not tell him (and have a big whopping secret looming over my head). And of course there are the practical issues.

Thanks for reading my lengthy novel,

Offred (Just Kidding) (Mostly)

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Hello Captain and fellow Awkward travelers,

My husband and I, along with our 16-month-old daughter, moved to a new city on Saturday. The reason for our move is that I just finished medical school and will be beginning residency in June.

Husband woke up this morning and said he’s not sure he can stay in our new rental because his allergies have been worse. He feels like he can’t breathe or sleep. He has a long list of tasks he wants me to do to banish all possible allergens from our home, but says there’s a possibility that he’ll want to move anyway. I’m now so stressed thinking about the financial and logistical costs of a second move that I can barely put words together.

That’s the short version. Here is some other relevant information, in no very thoughtful order:

  • There was nothing about this rental that would have indicated it was a hotbed of allergens before we signed the 12-month lease. It’s about 15 years old, appears well-kept, and by the landlord’s report was previously occupied by a non-pet-owner.
  • There’s no reason to expect another place would be a better bet from an allergy perspective unless it were a brand new construction, which is quite expensive in our area.
  • We have no savings.
  • Husband has a number of chronic, uncomfortable-but-not-life-threatening physical health issues that require considerable effort on his part to manage.
  • He also has (and acknowledges that he has) anxiety that presents as and amplifies physical symptoms. He’s been doing much better from this perspective over the past few months, but during my pregnancy and maternity leave, he was basically in a sustained crisis (frequent visits to the ER and different kinds of specialists; lots of money spent on vitamins and supplements; multiple restrictive diets attempted; physical activity, including things like preparing his own food or holding the baby, extremely limited). 
  • He also is in recovery from dependence on prescription drugs, to which he attributes the bulk of his ongoing health problems; because of this, he has a deep distrust of physicians.
  • During my pregnancy, we moved into a brand new apartment and then broke our lease after a month because there was loud construction noise that worsened his symptoms. We fought a lot about that decision, and I found it pretty traumatizing.
  • The division of domestic labor that was established when I was on leave and husband was incapable of holding the baby has proved distressingly stable. To put it bluntly, I don’t feel I can rely on him to do more than occasional daycare drop-offs and pickups, and even with those I expect a lot of complaining.
  • When people hear that I have a young toddler and am finishing medical school, they often assume I’m extremely competent and type-A, but in fact I’m pretty limited by anxiety, lack of energy, and attention problems. Most days I’m home I find it hard to do anything other than feed, clean up after, and play with my daughter.
  • Most of the time I’m utterly incapable of applying my medical curiosity or compassion to my husband’s suffering. If I’m honest, what I truly feel, deep in my body, is that I wish he would just suck it up. Sometimes I’m so unmoored by this feeling that I worry I’ll be a bad doctor.
  • I certainly don’t want to move, but I’d much rather move now than after I start work. I’m stressed out dealing with my husband, but I’m not done with the relationship, and I need even the limited help with parenting that he gives

Captain, I’m well aware of the codependency that screams from every sentence in my letter – but that seems like something that it takes years to get free of, and I need to get these things sorted now. What do I do?

-Desperate for Roots (she/her pronouns)

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