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self-care

Dear Captain Awkward:

I’m a grown-ass woman who has been through a few cycles of therapy that have (along with medication) helped my stress, anxiety, and ADHD. I’ve gotten to a point where I am financially self-sufficient, comfortable in my life and community, and blessed with a strong friends network. I’m not in a relationship and have no desire to pursue one. I’m ok.

Now I’m at the point where therapy always screws me up. It’s time to talk about setting long term goals. And…I don’t know what my long term goals are.

I’ve tried career counseling and I run into the same thing. I’d like to make more money. I can list things I’m good at. I don’t understand how to translate those into a better or different job and when I try to articulate this people tell me I have a lot of options and it depends on what I want to do. And there is nowhere to go from there. I have been at the same job for 12 years with no advancement even though as far as I can tell I am dependable and do good work. (I’ve applied for other positions in the same organization and never gotten one, and my precise job description is not one that transfers to another field or organization).

It seems like trying to do something else professionally is within my reach — a general overview of my accomplishments is greeted with ‘oh there are plenty of ways to use that’ but everything misfires at the point of ‘what do you want to do?’ ‘Oh I’m willing to try lots of [soft skills, writing and communicating, etc]’ ‘But what do you want to do?’ Very quickly I feel like a fool.

This doesn’t just apply to my personal life but creative work (writing, blogging) etc. The thing is I’ve been involved in some extremely fun and fulfilling projects and organizations but they always seem to result from serendipity. They’re not things I can ‘complete or ‘sell’ in the long term. Occasionally I’m jealous of people who have creative success or large audiences but generally speaking I don’t want the payoff enough to do it.

Basically, I’ve never had long term goals in my life and I don’t know how to start now. I don’t know WHY to start now, I just know that when I talk to my therapist in a couple weeks, I will cry and feel bad because I don’t have good answers (or I will make some shit up that I don’t really want to do.)

PS this has nothing to do with lockdown, I’m actually less stressed out working from home than I have been for a long time, and even before the economy tanked I felt the same about planning the future.

-Not Ambitious and Why Should I Be
(She/her)

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Hello! It’s Monday!

I wrote a piece for Vice about how to ride out quarantine when it means moving back in with the same people you wrote to me for advice about “surviving” holiday visits with.

It’s a good match for Miss Conduct’s column this week: “My daughter’s ‘useless’ boyfriend is sheltering in place with us: Help!”.

I love Robin’s take:

“Start assigning chores and asking him to pitch in financially. The fact that you didn’t do so before hasn’t created some sort of precedent barring you from ever doing so — a fallacy people often subscribe to. Nor does it mean any blame needs to be placed for past behavior.

And then let. It. Go. Stop thinking of this man as your daughter’s future husband. You will go crazy thinking about the future too much. He’s not your son-in-law right now. He’s a foxhole buddy, hunkered down with people he clearly feels wary of. Your goal should be to create and maintain sufficient structure for all of you to share space and resources equitably for however long this lasts. That’s it. That’s enough.”

Are some people being really bad guests and roommates during lockdown? Oh yeah. However, one person’s “useless” is another person who offered to help and was told “No! You’re a guest!” and didn’t know that there was a magic number of times he had to offer and be refused before he was allowed to help or another person’s “I’m going to go hang out by myself and give everyone some privacy.” As stated earlier, you can wait a long time for someone to both notice what you need and actually do it, so if you need something done, ask and be very, very specific.

My piece is part of Vice’s very good (independent of my own contributions) How To Stay In series, which has everything from how to handle being alone right now, ideas for safe socially-distanced date nights, how to structure your days when time has no meaning, how to talk to a partner about the future of your relationship when the future seems like a nebulous concept, and the excellent “What To Do When Everyone Needs Support But You’re Only One Person” that :checks inbox: NINETEEN of you need to read immediately. ❤ I especially like the concept of a “care budget” where you figure out what you need to be OK and function first and then figure out what you can do for others.

Are your roommates not taking the pandemic seriously? Here’s how to try to talk to them. One thing I’m noticing in the inbox is that if you are the stickler roommate (I would be the stickler roommate) your roommates might be sort of displacing their worry and anger at not being able to go out and do things onto you, like you are the barrier to their enjoyment of life, and I think this sucks a lot and it’s okay to push back. “You can’t go on ‘just a little weekend trip’ to visit your parents because there’s a contagious illness that makes people drown inside their lungs, not because I’m being mean. It’s okay to be mad – I’m angry too – but it’s not okay to take it out on me or blame me!” 

Wondering why video chat therapy kinda sucks and how to make it better? (No lie, I took a break from therapy for a few weeks because I could not handle any more talking about feelings in a format that I baseline find exhausting. I’m back in this week, but I’m glad I took a break to reset).

Looking for ways to hang out with friends on Zoom beyond “how…are…you” or “just catching up”? Several people wrote in about this and the answer is: You might need time limits & structured activities.

I’m going to write about this one more, but I want to put Brandy Jensen’s excellent Ask A Fuck Up answer here while I’m thinking about it: “How Do I Figure Out What I Want In Life When Every Day Feels The Same?” :chef’s kiss:

Finally, who wants to look at cats? Click to enjoy some of Daniel & Henrietta‘s recent antics in Tweet-thread form.

troublemint twins

The Troublemint Twins, who turned TWO YEARS OLD this week.

Comments are open. I’d like to know:

  • What is one link or online resource you have personally found helpful in processing pandemic manners, self-care, and/or interpersonal conflicts this week? (No medical advice or “medical” advice or medical “advice,” please).
  • Please keep it to one link per comment (the spam filter and your moderator’s eyes will be happier) and please tell us a little bit about why you chose it.
  • Not everything will be useful to everybody, but before you start an argument with a fellow poster about why something won’t work or isn’t useful, consider sharing something you personally find useful instead. Thank you!

Hi Captain,

My mother and I have always wanted different frequencies of interaction. After I moved out for university, at a holiday party my mother announced the only gift she ever wanted from me was daily phone calls – even her friends were incredulous. She tends to call any hour of the day, hitting redial up to a dozen times if I don’t answer. Calls can be about anything, from “are you free tonight” to an extended vent session about my father or brother (who still lives at home). No call has ever been an emergency – I found out my father broke his wrist a week after it happened, via Facebook, despite my mother and I talking in-between.

Over the last few years, I’ve become better at enforcing manageable levels of communication – proactively calling her on weekends for a chat, making up vague excuses, explicitly saying I won’t answer/call back unless I’m free. This had the side effect of every conversation starting with how I’m too busy and don’t prioritise family. After the first few hour-long complaints, it’s now usually only a throwaway comment per call.

With COVID-19, we’re all under Shelter-in-Place. Now she knows I’m not busy and she wants the daily calls again. Additionally, she wants to use them to teach me her native language. Even if I didn’t find daily calls with my mother draining – daily phone calls that require homework and family/diaspora guilt?

I know we’re in anxious times and we should all reach out and connect with each other. I am also worried about my parents – my father is likely high risk, my brother maybe so, and my mother is a healthcare worker (not frontline, but still in a hospital).

I’ve tried suggesting using a language app/online course and having weekly conversation practice – no dice. I’ve tried suggesting weekend catch-up calls without the homework, but then comes the guilt. We text occasionally with pictures of the garden, but that doesn’t cut it. Digital game nights and Netflix-parties are also out.

I’m tired and stressed and I want to connect with my mother – but not at the expense of my own mental health. Suggestions? Scripts?

– At home doesn’t mean on-call (she/her)

Thank you

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Do not evict roommates or tenants due to coronavirus fears. Find another way.

Do not call the police – that includes the 311 non-emergency line – on neighbors who you think are insufficiently socially distancing. I don’t care what ordinances your city put in place, if you don’t know quite how to have a conversation with somebody, why do you think someone with a gun and the power to arrest/fine/do indiscriminate violence to them is going to be better at it? If you don’t know your neighbors, there will never be a better time to get to know them. Maybe they could use garbage bags or cookies or fabric softener the next time you go to the store.

That confusing guy from college was probably going to remain confusing and never be your boyfriend, but it’s okay to feel a lot of feelings about having your semester cancelled and never being able to find out for sure where things could go. It’s okay to grieve, it’s okay to still nurse unsuitable crushes, and it’s understandable while all the feelings about everything would get wrapped up in this person. This too will pass. 

To the overwhelmed health care workers writing to me about stress, anxiety, and how to manage teams that don’t have enough of anything: I am so sorry. I am honored that you thought of me and I wish I knew something smart and useful to tell you. I think: Trust your training. Feel your feelings. Be honest with your team and with your patients. Be incredibly gentle with yourself. Find and use whatever small rituals, pleasures, and caring acts that keep you grounded. You are doing the best you can.This isn’t happening because you are too neurodivergent, too introverted, too awkward, not good enough at team-building or morale-boosting, or because you can’t think of the right words at the right time. I’m going to raise all the hell I can to get you what you need (while also staying home). 

I am as scared of dying and of losing people as anyone. But what’s more terrifying to me than any illness is watching people with money and power make selfish, cruel decisions and try to displace their fears onto those they see as disposable. Ask yourself, “who do I want to be, now, and when this is over?” This is the time to engage in mutual aid with our neighbors and  fight eugenics, fascism, xenophobia, and cruelty with the same attention we use to scrub our hands of viruses.

Dear Captain,

I had a friend I first met about 15 years ago. We got on amazingly well: mutual friends called us “one mind in two bodies” because our personalities were so similar. We understood each other almost perfectly and could talk and laugh for hours about things nobody else quite got. We then had an extraordinarily intense romantic relationship: we were ridiculously in love and had an incredibly deep connection. It ended because I was super needy and honestly wasn’t ready for that sort of relationship. We were both heartbroken and intended to get back together one day, but life took us in other directions. We tried to stay friends but I wanted too much from him; he felt he had to keep me at arm’s length. I told him I had too many messy feelings to have a healthy friendship, he begged me not to go, I said I hoped to be back one day, there were tears on both sides and we went our separate ways. This was in 2008. Resolving to take something positive from what happened, I worked hard on myself, addressed the co-dependency issues that had driven ALL my previous partners away, and now I’m married to an awesome guy I’ve been with for 10 years.

This January, we finally got back in touch. I apologised for some hurtful things I’d said when I was in a lot of pain over losing him. I told him how I’d changed for the better. I said if he forgave me for being a jerk I would love to rekindle that awesome friendship if he wanted to, now Other Feelings weren’t an issue any more. He replied to say it was a lot to take in (naturally) but he would answer via email, not to worry if that took him a while and, in the meantime, how was I?

Since then we’ve exchanged several messages but often he takes days, even weeks to reply so we haven’t really got a good conversation going (except one night when we texted about random stuff until 2:15am, which showed we still have that great connection and same weird sense of humour). Because communication has been so sporadic, it’s hard to gauge what sort of friendship we might have if at all. When he does reply he’s warm and affectionate, laughs at my jokes and sends me cool stuff he knows I’ll like. But because of our complicated history I’m unsure how well I can walk the line between “yikes, co-dependent ex-girlfriend is messaging too much!” and not having enough contact to re-establish a friendship.

I’m trying to give it time – maybe he’s just not ready and could be navigating A Swamp of Unexpected Feelings himself. But I feel with this sort of situation it’s important to be honest and open from the start about what you want, like I was in my first message to him. I gently reminded him he said he’d email me and while he didn’t have to, I’d appreciate knowing where things stood between us. He said he was busy but could do it next week… which was several weeks ago now and don’t feel I can ask again. Me badgering him when he needed space was why we stopped being close in the first place.

I’m feeling a bit lost about how to handle this situation. At the moment I’m playing it by ear, replying to messages when they come, trying not to send too many back, giving him space when he doesn’t reply. But while I’m thrilled to be back in touch, there’s this elephant in the room, it’s…uncomfortable, and I don’t believe he’s going to send me that email – it’s been nearly 2 months. How can I figure out what the relationship is between us without making him feel pressured to talk about things he clearly doesn’t want to talk about?

Hopeful Friend

PS I searched for similar letters but the closest I found was you advising not to reach out to an ex for friendship until your feelings reached the point of “oh yeah him, I wonder how he’s doing, would be fun to catch up.” Which is what I did… but now I don’t know what to do next.

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Hi there,

I’m hoping to find some scripts/strategies to employ when I run into someone I’m happy to chat with, like a friend or one of the super friendly baristas at a coffee shop I’m always in, and they ask “so what’s new with you?” or “what have you been up to this week?” when the honest answer is often something like “I managed to leave the house every day” or “Well my house is still messy but I did write 70 thousand words of erotic fanfiction in the past few months” or “I’m sorry but my depression seems to be leaning hard on my memory lately and I have no idea what I did yesterday, let alone last week.”

Sometimes I even have done something I could talk about; there might be a knitting or art project I picked up, I try to take small trips to see friends when I can, and of course plenty of my friends would be happy to talk about the weird fanfic I’ve been writing. But in the moment I rarely remember any of this.

I don’t know if you’ve ever been at a bar and forgotten the name of every cocktail you have ever enjoyed or even heard of the moment you get the bartender’s attention, but that’s what this feels like. I’m a deer in the headlights and can’t think of something that’s even vaguely interesting and not some form of “I’m super depressed so I can’t remember, sorry.” That’s fine to say sometimes, I know, but I don’t want that to be my response every time someone talks to me in person.

I am getting as much mental health support as I can; I have a good therapist and meds that seem to work as well as anything else could (I tried some new ones last year and it was a disaster), but I’m still struggling a bit; I don’t mind being honest about that, in many circumstances, but I feel so dull and boring when these questions come up and at times it impacts my confidence around other people. I’m trying hard right now to get out more and connect with people because I know that’s good for me but I keep hitting this awkward roadblock. Any thoughts?

Thanks,
I Promise I’m Not This Boring, For Real (he/him)

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