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Hi Captain –

I have a question about keeping yourself sane while trying to get out of a bad situation.

I’m trying to leave my job. Everyone I work with is too. I’m at a very small startup, and the main person in charge is both incredibly demanding and extremely volatile, which makes it virtually impossible to succeed. For a variety of reasons,* I can’t just quit, but I am actively looking and trying as hard as I can to get out.

The problem is that, for me at least, job searching is stressful too, and I’m much better at it when I’m in a good place mentally. Unfortunately, our head honcho makes this really difficult. It’s not just a matter of ignoring or deflecting manipulative or unkind comments; it’s that they’re in touch constantly, with all of us, making it hard to even get the time or space for reflection. They don’t have a lot of family and have devoted the last few years to making the company work, which means that they constantly want engagement and validation (even if they’re berating us), and they won’t stop trying to engage until we cave and give them the answer they’re looking for.

For example: they’ll ask, on a weekend, if a previously-undiscussed deliverable can be done by Monday. If I say it can’t, they’ll ask why we’re not working on the weekend when everyone else is working “like mad.” They’ll then keep messaging me asking what it is that they haven’t explained properly about the opportunities before me, and what they can do differently so that I understand it, and then ask if I’m receiving the messages. If I don’t answer, I’ll receive a talk on Monday asking what it is that can be done to make sure a situation like that, in which we’re unreachable, doesn’t happen in the future. (This is often followed by “I’m tired of arguing with you and want to make this work, but I don’t know what else I can do.”)

So my options boil down to either a) completely acquiesce to all requests, regardless of their merit or any other factors, or b) have a pointless, hour-long conversation that consists mostly of being reprimanded. I should also note that they also want to hang out socially with all of us a lot, and pout if we won’t, which, as you can imagine, also affects the workplace dynamic.

I will be much, much better off if I can stay in this position until I find another one or am in a better financial position to leave. In the meantime, though, I’m so stressed and busy that it’s hard for me to do anything, including look for other jobs. Do you have suggestions for scripts I can use on *myself* here in order to keep myself going? My therapist says just to remind myself constantly that I won’t be here forever and that I am leaving as soon as I can, but the more frustrated I am, the less likely that seems. And I feel like this is a situation that a lot of people get into – cutting toxic people out of your life is necessary, but it’s so complicated.

Sincerely,

Working on Freedom (she/her)

*You can include these reasons if you want, but I left them out for brevity. I’m including them here to indicate that I really have thought about leaving, and really have decided that the best option for the moment is to stay until I get another job. Those reasons are:

– I have < 1 month of rent in my savings account, and am reluctant to borrow from my parents
– My job history has quite a few short stints, mostly due to coincidence and/or bad luck (yearlong grant programs, getting laid off, leaving a part-time job in order to take this one, and, yes, one where I was a bad fit)
– I’m in a weird specialized field where the work I’m doing is actually hugely beneficial to my ability to get a job in the future

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Dear Captain,

Thank you for indulging me by reading my email. I have been a lawyer for the last almost 13 years and been at the firm where I am for the last 5. I was so happy to get this job as I have worked in other firms where my desperation to qualify as a lawyer was ruthlessly exploited in the form of terrible pay, or where I was the only person in the firm doing the area of law I do when I was still in the period where the law required me to be supervised, meaning that I had no-one to discuss cases with and was forbidden from having my own stapler or printer and had to walk down 4 floors to pick up printing, which was massively disruptive. For the first 4 years everything was great. I started the job on the same day as an older lawyer called “Jacob”, and we did the same job ie Big Deal Files With Lots of Money Involved That The Other Side are Fighting and the Court is Involved Which Have Massive Consequences If You Mess Up. Two things happened in 2015 – poor Jacob had a breakdown and messed up a lot of his files and left just after Christmas last year, and also I was ill for a few months with terrible ladies’ problems that caused me to bleed non stop, all over the office, for 4 months. I didn’t take any time off work apart from the day I was actually operated on because I had so many Big Deal Files with deadlines, and if I hadn’t done them they would all have gone to poor Jacob who was already struggling with his own work. So I messed up 2 files by not filing documents in time, because I was distracted by bleeding and/or dazed from meds. Unfortunately, “bleeding all over the office” isn’t a legitimate reason not to file documents in the eyes of the court, I should have made sure someone else did it (although if I’d been well enough to think “this, this and this needs done” rather than “aaaaagh stop bleeding” I would just have done it myself) and the cases got thrown out of court, costing the firm money.

After Jacob had a breakdown and left, I inherited all his files. I am now the only lawyer here who does this type of work (we are a very small firm). For the last 5 months or so, my own mental health has been getting worse and worse. More mistakes are happening, the bosses are reminding me constantly that I am costing the firm money, which makes me more nervous, so more mistakes. I am having multiple panic attacks daily, my hair is falling out, I end up being sick from nerves and I have started cutting myself after over a decade of not doing that. I have been having suicidal ideation since the summer but don’t really want to do it, yet find myself planning how I would. I have seen my doctor and been referred to a psychologist (referral came through last week, one session so far) so I am getting attended to by professionals. My husband and friends think I need to quit and get a new job, or at least have some time off. I don’t know how to get that though – Jacob’s “stress” was met with incredulity (“What does he have to be stressed about? We’re a very lenient firm”) and I can’t even articulate why I am finding everything so difficult that I need time off. My doctor has been trying to sign me off for the last 2 months but I have been fighting him off because I have too much to do. If I wasn’t here nobody else knows how to do this kind of work. The bosses know that my mental health is on a downward slide as I told them in the summer after an embarrassing sobfest in the office, and last week I had a file review where I was found to have not worked on some files and I broke down again, sobbing that I wasn’t well. The bosses squirmed awkwardly at the hysterical woman and said that they were a very lenient firm, and that in other firms I would have been fired after the bleeding disasters. I am worried that they are right and that I am just too useless to be a solicitor. I am also worried that I could make a mistake that causes the firm to be shut down.

One of the bosses, “Adrian” has a tendency to nitpick, and once a mistake is made, goes on and on about it, and will call me in to tell me to do something right away even if I am in the middle of something else. The other two are less inclined to lecture, but I still feel guilty for messing up their business. I am not messing up all my cases, just a tiny proportion, but any mistake on cases like this has massive consequences, in the way that the cases that the bosses and the one other lawyer here deal with don’t.

TL, DR version: I am very depressed and anxious and making mistakes which get me into trouble, then I get more depressed and anxious. Am I unreasonable when the bosses are trying to run a business to want some time off? I already had a week off in September to go away with my husband but the day I came back I was already panicking by 10am. I don’t want to stop being a lawyer, I used to be able to do this job. I don’t hate working here either, it is a nice place to work compared to everywhere else I have been, I just hate that this has spiraled out of control to this point.

Thank you again for reading, sorry so rambling

A once-competent lawyer

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Dear Captain Awkward:

The academic institution where I work has a counseling center, and offers appointments for staff members at a slightly discounted rate (they’re open for the public, not just people connected to my institution). I’d been seeing one of the counselors there for a little over a year, though I’d make appointments week by week; I didn’t set up a standing one or anything. Well, my last appointment was set for mid-November, but she had a sick kid and canceled, and I said I’d get back to her about rescheduling and well, now it’s 10 months later……
I’m not seeing anyone else, and though I think maybe I should it’s just hard to start. and it’s hard to want to go back to my original counselor. [ I’m not sure we had the same goals, and I’m not sure if that’s okay. Like do the client’s goals always trump, or should I be listening to her cause she’s the expert?]

Anyway, all that aside, I see her a few times a week pass my office, and I feel bad for just stopping and not saying anything and it’s not a bridge I want to burn, but maybe it’s fallen down now? Can I send an email? What should it say? Just, “sorry I ghosted, but I’m okay-ish”? Or “I just haven’t been able to make the time/financial/emotional commitment this year”? “i hope you found someone else to make up that income”?
Don’t know how to end
(Female pronouns for both me and my counselor)

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Captain Awkward and the Awkward Army,

I recently accepted a position in a line of work that is brand new for me, exciting, mentally stimulating, and will enable me to finally be financially stable. This is all great.

Except.

Except for one co-worker, a trainee who was hired on at the same time as me and is in the same stage of training.

This co-worker has a bad habit of openly watching me and waiting for me to screw something up. Then she loves to make a big deal about it and “correct” my errors. Laughs loudly and points it out to the senior techs.

I realize that this is not a big deal. But, I have some issues with being watched. Growing up, my mom threatened my siblings and me with hiding cameras in the house to make sure we weren’t “sinning” or doing anything wrong while both parents were gone (we were latchkey kids, and I was the authority on site, as oldest kid). She was just off enough that we believed her. It created an environment of deep suspicion and paranoia growing up.

I was recently diagnosed with Social Anxiety Disorder as well. So being watched with the obvious intent to catch me screwing up + being around strange people in general= a perpetually nervous me. I am very competent and have historically received high reviews on my work… as long as I wasn’t being micro-managed or stared at.

Obviously I don’t want the anxiety she gives me to translate into actual poor performance. I really enjoy this job. It involves animals, who are naturally more receptive to hyper-aroused states in their human handlers. I don’t want my anxiety translating into anxiety for them.

I’m working on the anxiety and self esteem issues with my therapist, as well as dealing with the weird shit left over from my past.

What I need help with is a script or scripts for dealing with this co-worker. Polite requests to allow my trainer to train me and correct any errors have been met with complete brush-offs and stories of what an amazing manager/student/daughter/sister she is, which clearly makes her more qualified to police me.

Help!

Visibly Anxious

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Hi Captain,

I realize my problem isn’t as serious as other letters you’ve answered, but I figured I should try writing anyway since I don’t really have anyone to talk to about it.

I was friends with someone I’ll call “Oakley” from elementary school through high school. It was very rare for my parents to allow me to hang out with friends, so I really only got to spend time with Oakley if I was in one of their classes. The lack of contact outside of school didn’t exactly cultivate a deep friendship, and I didn’t keep in contact with them after graduating even though we only live a few miles apart.

This past weekend, my mother ran into Oakley’s mother at a movie theater, and they talked about getting together for lunch in the near future to catch up. I’m worried this catch-up-lunch is going to end with an obligation for me to hang out with Oakley.

I have nothing against Oakley personally, it’s just that: 1) School wasn’t a nightmare for me, but it wasn’t a great time either, and I imagine it being at least a little painful to have to reconnect with any part of it. 2) While I remember Oakley fondly, they’re essentially a stranger now, so what’s the point? And 3) I have no interest in socializing with *anyone.* (I made more “friends” in college and the following internships/jobs, but I avoided spending time with them outside of those contexts. I do wish I had real friends, but the idea of socializing makes me extremely anxious.)

I already asked my mother not to set up any “play dates” between me and Oakley (she was surprised and said it was a good thing I told her). I’m not sure what else to do or what she could say if Oakley’s mother brings it up. Any thoughts or advice?

(Note: I realize Oakley might not be interested in seeing me at all either. I’m just imagining a worst case scenario where Oakley’s mother tries to reconnect us.)

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It’s been a long time since we’ve looked into the abyssthe internet’s unfiltered Id… the words that people type into their search engine windows in order to find this place. Good news, Patreon contributors met the first monthly goal, and this will be coming back as a monthly feature. Shall we dance?

1. “Colleagues surprised I got promoted.”

And they point out their surprise? To you? Depending on my comfort level & closeness with the people in question and the likelihood that they’d have the grace to be embarrassed, I might say something like “Thanks for that astounding vote of confidence, Marian!” to help everyone laugh off the moment. I might also call no attention to it and pretend I didn’t notice, based on the fact that sometimes people have weird reactions to things when they first find out about them and do better when their first reaction can be private.

Now, if they keep bringing it up after that first announcement, like, “I was so surprised they promoted you and not Andy…” – it’s time for a wicked smile and “And yet…here we are!” (+ subject change).

2. “Can I ask neighbours not to be on my drive.”

Yes? “Please don’t use my drive, thank you.

3. “My mother died without resolving our strained relationship or saying thank you.”

We all die in the middle of something unfinished.That SUCKS and I’m sorry for the loss of your mom and for the loss of the chance to make things right between you. It sucks to be grieving someone when you’re bouncing back and forth between grief and anger and regret.

I hope you will honor your mother’s memory and your own experiences with your mom (the ones that made you need to keep your distance) someday when some more time has gone by. Write her a letter of all the things you wanted to say to her, but didn’t. Write the letter back to yourself that you wish that she would send you, the one where she says, “Thank you” and “I’m sorry” and “I understand.

Be kind to yourself.

4. “Why would a man tell you he will take you out for coffee once in a while, even after breaking up?”

Maybe this man has some idea that you’ll still be friendly. Only he knows for sure, so before you say yes you might ask him: “Hey, was there something in particular you wanted to talk about over coffee?”

Before you go, ask yourself:

Do you want to go out for coffee?

Do you want to stay in contact, or would you benefit from a clean break?

Do you want to go even if it doesn’t really mean anything special about your future together?

5. “People who care about grad school too much.”

Duuuuuuuude. Seriously. What is it with grad school, being all expensive and intense and competitive and interesting and stuff.

(I have no good answer, sorry. Grad school: It’s absorbing.)

6. “She says, ‘Not now, sorry’ when I want to talk with her.”

My best guess is that she is busy and doesn’t want to talk right now.

Try saying, “Ok, let me know when it’s a good time” and then going and doing something else with your time for a while.

In a good [romance][friendship][artistic collaboration] she’ll come find you when she’s ready.

7. “My brother is an insufferable ass.”

You can’t choose your family. Can you limit the amount of time you spend in his company?

8. “If my boyfriend forces me to change my appearance”

Is this one of those fill-in-the-blank scenarios?

“If my boyfriend forces me to change my appearance, and it is not a matter of life and death because we are on the run from an international spy ring, then I should dump him for being a controlling jerk!”

People who “force” you to change important things about yourself are not on your side, Young Googler. Please love yourself enough to get away from this person.

9. “Why is my boyfriend really aggressive about me wearing makeup?”

The simplest explanation is that he does it because he is a controlling asswipe. See #8. He is literally trying to control your face. 

10. If a family member shuns you, do they ever think of you?

Maybe? Sometimes? Without action on their part, it’s hard to know.

11. “I found my grandmother’s sex toys.”

Yes! GET IT, GRANNY!

My best suggestion is: Put them back where you found them and act the way you’d like Nana to act if she stumbled across your sex toys (i.e. “quiet” & ” discreet”).

12. “‘Sorry I can’t date you’ message.”

I like replacing “can’t” with “don’t want to” or “am not interested,” if you feel safe to do so. “Can’t” implies circumstances beyond your control, like, “I would totally date you, but this tornado just spirited me away to the land of Oz, so I can’t.” That little window of ambiguity can send a persistent lover into a tizzy of looking for ruby slippers that will click you back to Kansas when really you just want them to leave you in this Technicolor world where it’s not the Great Depression. Whereas, “It’s nice of you to ask, but I am not interested in dating you” is clearer and more specific.

13. “Are all bad girls confident?”

Marie Claire’s former pillock-in-chief Rich would have it so. I need a better definition of terms. What is a ‘bad girl,’ exactly?

14. “How many times should I invite myself to stay as a house guest?”

This is my personal house-guesting code as a 42-year-old white American lady with a job. It does not have to be your personal house-guesting code.

With a close friend or family member,

Where I have a good history of reciprocity,

And I trust them to say an honest “no” if it’s not a good time or whatever,

And the dates of my travel are pretty well-defined (nobody likes “sometime” hanging over their head) and short (1 night – a few days);

…I may ask once or twice or every now and again. More likely when I know that the hosts have a guest room and a habit of saying “Please come visit, we have a guest room and we’d love for you to stay with us!,” in which case, they have invited me and “inviting myself” is more about suggesting a specific time. Much less likely when there is no guest room or guest bed and I’d be taking up someone’s main living space. Not at all likely when the prospective hosts are brand-new parents of a baby or enmeshed in other big deal life stuff. Definitely not if a suggestion of staying there is met with any hesitation; one may askIs it okay if I stay in your guest room for a few days?” but one must not try to convince the hosts.

This was all more fungible when I was 25 and used words like “crash” and traveled more internationally and AirBnB did not exist.

15. “How to ask friends not to invite themselves over?”

“Hey, friend, I love your company, but when it comes to my space, can you wait until I invite you over? Thank you.”

16. “I don’t want to be friends with ex-boyfriends.”

You don’t have to be!

17. “A message to write to a friend to tell some one they are of value to you even if they have gone broke.”

“Hello, friend, I know times are really hard right now. I just wanted to say that you are important to me and I’m hoping things get better for you. Can I fix you dinner sometime soon? I’d love to see your face.” 

18. “What is Captain in sex?”

If you’re lucky, there’s a recorder solo.

19. “Should teenage boys have sex toys?”

I’m neither a parent nor a legal expert, but my instincts say, “Why the hell shouldn’t all teenagers have access to information & resources to make themselves feel really really good in their own company?” I wish to hell I had grown up with Scarleteen and a waterproof, adjustable-speed vibrator.

20. “Do therapists want to hear how their former patients are doing?”

People in the helping professions sow a lot of seeds without expecting to see the blossoms, so, I say “yes” if you had a good relationship and the information is conveyed in a medium that doesn’t demand work from them. Think of it the way you’d write to a former teacher you wanted to thank in a short note, like, “Dear Therapist, I just wanted to let you know that things are going better at work thanks to your suggestions for managing my time and anxiety better. I hope all is well with you, thank you again for your help. Sincerely, Your former patient.” If you find yourself generating paragraph upon paragraph of text, maybe make an appointment?

21. “Stop meddling and being a matchmaker!” 

Yeah, knock it off, Emma! 

22. “Me and boyfriend break up because we never have sex.”

Breakups are HARD, even when they are the right thing to do. I hope you are both happier with a little time and distance, and may your next partner(s) be more compatible with you in that way.

23. “Should it bother me that my husband wants me to party with alcohol & cocaine knowing I have seizures and interactions with medications could be harmful?”

I find it useful to replace the word “should” in talks I have with myself. When we’re talking about feelings or big decisions, what “should” happen is not so helpful. The better question is “what IS happening?”

“Should it bother you…”

==>

DOES it bother you? It sounds like it bothers you. (It bothers me!) And, since you are the sole boss of what substances you put in your body, you are the sole decider of what risks are unacceptable for you. “Husband, I don’t want to ‘party’ with you. I don’t want to have a seizure or a bad interaction with my meds. Please stop asking me.”

24. “My roommate leaves the bathroom door open when he goes to the bathroom and showers.”

“Dude, close the door!” (+ open the window!)

 25. How to get your boyfriend to look after himself?

Any answer I give is going to generate an automatic “But it’s more complicated than that!” or “But I love him!” response, and rightly so, but I’m going to talk to my younger right now and let everyone listen in. If it’s not applicable then it’s not applicable.

Hey, Young Jennifer, I’m so sorry, the Time Machine did not get me back here in time to stop you from falling in love with [Hot But Troubled Boy]. I had the dial set for 1990, which is why I have all these catalogues for women’s colleges and a bass guitar in here with me, but I can see that I’m a couple years late.

I know you love Boy. His skin feels like magic and when you touch each other it feels like the microscopic space between you is filled with stardust. He smells like two angels fucking. You can stay up all night talking and fixing the world together. You are unstoppable…except for when he is very stoppable.

Boy has a condition called depression. You have it, too, and you should go and get checked out for that. Where I come from you didn’t figure that out for another 5-7 years, and I can’t help but wonder what would be different for me/us if you knew. Depression doesn’t mean you’re unloveable, it just means that it can take medical help and concentrated effort to manage the condition. When Boy hates himself, and stops going to work or class or washing his clothes or wanting to do anything with you, when he has mood swings and gets dark and mean, when he tells you that he doesn’t deserve you and wants you to go away, and then the next day tells you that he’ll die if you leave him,  it’s at least partly a manifestation of an illness. It’s not your fault, it’s not something you are doing wrong or not doing enough of. What that also means is that you cannot love him out of it. You can’t fix him or fix it for him. He’s got to do it himself.

What I know now that you don’t know is that the time you are spending, tidying his space for him, worrying about him, talking to your friends about what to do about him, trying to coax him to eat or shower or go see a movie with you, wondering what he’s thinking about, making sure you always look pretty when you see him, keeping track of his schedule and his deadlines, processing the stuff he says to you in and out of his mood swings, taking care of him, trying to lay your love and your body down into all his cracks and fill them, time spent biting your tongue not wanting to make him sad or angry…this is time that you will never get back. You are stealing these years from yourself and offering them up to him, to no one’s benefit.

I know, you love him. I know.

And I have unfair knowledge, because I know stuff that you can’t know now, that maybe you wouldn’t have ever learned if you didn’t try and fail at this.

But I’m from the future, and if I could tell you what to do right now I’d tell you to have one conversation with him where you ask him to seek help for his troubles and to start being nicer to you. If he does? Great, maybe you can have that love story you’re so sure this is going to be. If he won’t? Especially the part about being nice to you? Then I’d tell you to bail. It’s too late for the women’s colleges, but it’s not too late for the bass. Take it, find some other awesome women, start a terrible punk band, and use all the painful things he’s said to you as material for lyrics. Hold out for someone who is always kind to you, someone who doesn’t need to be fixed or parented.

P.S. In 1997, when your friend I. offers you a chance to work at her internet startup but you’re going to take the job at the non-profit instead? WORK FOR I, FOOL. She’s gonna sell that thing to Yahoo right before the crash in 2000, and you can donate your millions of dollars to the non-profit.

This is Captain Awkward Dot Com Pledge Drive Week, as you know. Ways to contribute:

  • You can become a patron at Patreon. At the next funding goal, I release an e-book of columns once every year, free to patrons, a few $ to download for non-patrons. When/if we hit $2000/month, the blog goes ad-free. 
  • Monthly contributions not your thing? Paypal Cash.me and Dwolla also work. Whatever’s convenient for you!

Thank you so much for reading and for your generosity. It really makes a material difference in my life.

 

 

Hi Captain!

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

Terrified of Trip

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