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Life is unfair.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Plague of Focus

Posted by fxckfeelings on November 20, 2014

If focus exists on a spectrum from oblivious to obsessed, you’d be surprised how hard it is to find a happy medium, and how impossible it is to budge your brain if it tends to work at either extreme. So don’t blame your mind for paying attention in a way you don’t want or need. Once you accept the way it works, you will become better at making it work for you, no matter what its preferred setting.
-Dr. Lastname

I hate some of the sounds people make. Chewing, mouth breathing, loud repetitive nose breathing, even excessive coughing if I’m in bad mood. I know it’s ridiculous, because I make these noises too; they’re human noises. It’s not that I hate everyone’s noises, like my friends’ chewing is fine, but my dad’s annoys me. I hate myself for this. I hate myself because I can’t control my facial expressions, I try really hard to, but people still notice; my whole body language changes when someone is making a sound annoying to me. I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, because I know they can’t help it, but I can’t help it, either. My stepmother makes a lot of noises. She has nose issues so she chews, drinks, and breathes loudly, all the time. I love her, and I try so hard to keep myself in check, but it’s not working. My reactions, subtle or not, are causing friction. My goal is to control my issue.

The problem with fixations like these is that the effort you make to ignore body noises just makes you notice them even more, which just leaves you more irritated and more determined to ignore them, and so on. You grimace because you can’t scream, and want to scream because you can’t just staple their mouths shut.

In these situations, it’s easy to blame people who irritate you for driving you nuts, but you seem to accept the fact that what’s happening is nobody’s fault. You don’t expect them to breathe or chew more quietly simply because those sounds disgust you. You just wish you could control your reaction, or at least your sourpuss. WAIT! There is more to read… read on »

The Fault Setting

Posted by fxckfeelings on November 17, 2014

No matter what the talking heads say, a bleeding heart is not a partisan trait, nor is it always a negative one. You don’t even have to be a registered voter to be a good, caring person, and party affiliation doesn’t determine whether you’ll care too much and take responsibility for problems that you can’t really help. Learn how to assess your responsibilities realistically, whether you embrace or reject the problem at hand. Then, when a problem comes within range of your heart, you’ll be able to decide what to do without having to blindly follow any party line.
-Dr. Lastname

My girlfriend’s father is a widower in his mid-eighties who is still physically fit and able to drive. He is a difficult man, socially awkward and uneasy in company. He fills his days by going round thrift shops and yard sales buying old books and large quantities of stuff which he does not need or use. He used to sell it, but the dealers he supplied have died or long been retired so it just mounts up, particularly since his wife died. Now his house is a mess and a lot of living space is now uninhabitable. He cannot bathe or shower as the tubs are used to store stuff. My girlfriend feels guilty and stressed, but is too busy to do anything about it. I wonder whether I can move in with her if this is a family trait. I find this sort of lifestyle depressing and off putting. She is a kind and reliable person with many good qualities. My goal is to work out a coping strategy.

Caring about other people’s problems is a good trait if you can do something to help them, but otherwise it’s a good way to cause yourself trouble you don’t need. It’s just like hoarding, except with anxiety instead of expired food and dead cats.

Before taking on responsibility for an unsolvable problem, ask yourself whether that problem is likely to cause you trouble, or whether there’s anything that really needs to be done about it. Unless your girlfriend’s father wants to use your house as a storage unit, living with his hoarder status might not be too much for you to bear. WAIT! There is more to read… read on »

Forced Perceptive

Posted by fxckfeelings on November 13, 2014

“Sensitive,” like “funny,” “nice,” and “enjoys long walks on the beach,” is one of the many superficially-bland-yet-possibly-dangerous qualities women say they look for in a mate (even the beach thing, since that long walk may be to his kill-room). Since sensitivity basically means “is comfortable talking about feelings,” it’s not surprising that we don’t value it, but even objectively, it can be problematic; being in a healthy long-term relationship depends on supportive actions as well as the freedom for two people to go about their business without always feeling close or grateful. So don’t overrate words or even helpfulness. Look for a guy who enjoys spending time with you, on the beach or elsewhere, but isn’t hurt when you want time to yourself.
-Dr. Lastname

My boyfriend is absolutely reliable and adores me in his quiet way, but he never seems that interested in what I’m doing and has little to say about himself. I know he always likes to see me and that he cares about me a lot, but he never wants to talk or suggest fun things to do, so I wind up sharing and doing more information with people I hardly know, or do know, but who aren’t as important to me as he is. He’s a great, reliable guy, but he’s also kind of boring and closed off. My goal is to figure out what kind of future I have with someone who seems so uninterested in finding out more about me, and yet also seems to love me.

Most of us warm to attention and feel better when someone shows an interest in how we think and what we ate for lunch; if we’re needy or in pain, the absence of such attention may feel like neglect. The need to share thoughts and lunch are why Facebook is so successful, but it’s not what should drive a relationship.

It’s easy to forget that attention is cheap and that supportive actions are more important than encouraging words. It’s like the difference between a friend and a “Friend;” the former shows you he cares by what he does, the latter “cares,” and often doesn’t remember who you are. WAIT! There is more to read… read on »

Rout of Character

Posted by fxckfeelings on November 10, 2014

If illness is a painful condition that you don’t choose to bring on yourself, then being an Asshole™ is probably an illness, at least for those born with bad tempers, quick impulses, and no ability to see consequences ahead of time. Depression definitely is an illness, and one that often tricks the sufferer into believing he’s an Asshole™, even though real Asshole™s are incapable of self-awareness. Either way, Assholes™ usually blame others for what’s happening to them, whereas depressed people blame themselves, and neither group can get anywhere unless they can see their problem as a condition, rather than a fault. Then they can take responsibility for managing it without blaming themselves or others; a tall order for Asshole™s, a challenging one for depressives, but a worthy move for anyone.
-Dr. Lastname

I think my husband is sick, but he thinks he’s normal. After the last time he got drunk and threw things, he got carted away by the police and hospitalized, but he says the doctors at the psych hospital didn’t think he was depressed and there was nothing they could do to help him. He doesn’t drink every night, and he never hits anyone, but he can be a mean drunk. Even when he’s not drunk, he’s prone to quarrel with authorities, whether it’s a cop giving him a ticket or a waiter. I never know when his evil side will come out, and his mother told me he always had a wicked temper. My goal is to persuade him or his doctors that he has an illness and needs help, before he gets into major trouble.

All too often, either out of fear, denial, or both, people refuse to see symptoms of mental illness for what they are. If someone has wild mood swings, it just means she has an artistic temperament, and crippling phobias means he’s nervous, and hallucinating makes her fun at parties.

Sometimes, however, bad or self-destructive behavior has nothing to do with mental illness, or at least not the kind a doctor can do much about. A lawyer, maybe. Or an exorcist.

Two things might be wrong with your husband, both of which are not his fault, but they differ in the amount of responsibility he can or should take for managing them. It all depends on whether his anger is a symptom of illness, or a sucky part of his personality. WAIT! There is more to read… read on »

Doubt on the Town

Posted by fxckfeelings on November 6, 2014

The sad irony behind most stupid decisions is how much careful, intelligent thinking goes into convincing ourselves that the moronic, often-fearful choice we’re about to make is somehow the right thing to do. This is never truer than when it comes to relationships, when we can talk ourselves out of the game entirely or into a commitment that we’re bound to lose. So don’t waste needed brainpower to substantiate the feelings that tell you whether you should start going out or finish by tying the knot. Look at your basic abilities, decide to do what’s meaningful, and you’ll wind up making the smart choice.
-Dr. Lastname

I’m pretty good at being an independent lady but I do get lonely sometimes. I’ve thought of making more of an effort to date, but I’m not in great shape right now—I messed up my foot last year, so I went from not-thin to just fat—and it really bothers me that I haven’t take good care of myself and lost the weight when it’s really my responsibility. I feel I can’t expect to get together with a healthy guy if I’m not healthy myself, because I can’t get someone to love me if I don’t love myself, and it’s visibly obvious that I don’t. My goal is to figure out a way to get healthy so I can start dating without shame.

If your main concern is showing the world you take care of yourself, then being an Asshole to yourself is not a great way to start.

Taking care of yourself means being a good friend to yourself, and right now, you’re being the kind of friend who’s in high school, evil, and telling you, for your own good, that you’re like The Even Biggest Loser. You could do better in high school, and you can do better by yourself now.

After all, your basic values about mutual respect don’t depend on health, but on character. So, unless you’re about to bungee jump or enter a crowded elevator, don’t pay attention to any so-called weight requirement. WAIT! There is more to read… read on »

Fie, Anxiety!

Posted by fxckfeelings on November 3, 2014

Sometimes anxiety and depression are not illnesses, though they may feel like it; they’re part of every human’s normal alarm system, warning you that something painful or soon-to-be-dangerous needs your attention. When anxiety and depression randomly tell you that the world sucks, however, that’s when you cross the line from normal to unnecessary, requiring attention. Either way, never rush to discount what anxiety and depression have to tell you about the world, but never believe them until you’ve assessed the alarm and reached your own conclusion.
-Dr. Lastname

My anxiety has been better lately, but it kicked up last weekend after my roommate’s friends broke a window in our apartment while they were tossing around a football. My roommate’s a nice guy, but he doesn’t want to pay for the window because he says the landlord doesn’t take good care of our apartment in a bunch of other ways. Now I’m starting to worry about what will happen when the landlord sees the damage and whether it will come out of my security deposit, which seems unfair, since I wasn’t even here. Anyway, my goal is to figure out whether I should up my medication because the stress from this whole thing is really hard to take.

Anxiety, like tiredness or anger, isn’t inherently problematic; if we never felt these things, it would be a big problem, and a probable sign of drug use, lobotomy, or being dead.

The issue, of course, comes with feeling anxious too much, or tired all the time, or angry at trees for being lazy. The current anxiety you’re feeling is the regular kind; it’s your response to your roommate’s actions that need rethinking. WAIT! There is more to read… read on »

Tricking Your Battles

Posted by fxckfeelings on October 30, 2014

War might be hell, but the decision whether or not to take on a fight can make you feel, at the very least, like you’re Satan’s upstairs neighbor. Sometimes you want to avoid taking necessary action in order to avoid (marital) bloodshed, and other times, even if you’re not in American government, you’re eager to take on a fight without realizing there’s no hope for real victory. In any case, never let anger or fear get in the way of your own analysis of the facts behind the conflict. Keeping the peace may mean that you have to stand up for an opposing point of view or just feel angry, but a little personal purgatory still beats the alternative.
-Dr. Lastname

My wife and I never argued about money until recently, when she retired and started spending large amounts on her new hobbies. We have more than enough to live on, thanks to the money I got when I sold my company, but I can’t help resenting the way she spends large sums without talking it over or checking to see how much we have left. If I share my resentment, she’ll feel I’m trying to control her, but I just want her to control her credit card. My goal is to get a handle on our finances without starting a fight that will just cause us both to feel bad and then probably prompt more spending.

Talking to your spouse about her spending is as difficult as talking about her drinking or eating, or even her skipping and gum-chewing. This is because, at the heart of it, trying to talk to someone about their actions sounds a lot like you’re trying to tell them what to do. And nobody outside of the military or the bowels of Craigslist’s sex ads wants to be told what to do, especially by the person who’s supposed to be on their side.

Because they feel like scoldings, discussions like this immediately create a quasi-parent/child dynamic, which is why things quickly devolve into eye-rolling, finger-pointing, name-calling. Ultimately, if you’re lucky, your shared tantrum will result in temporary cutbacks, resentment, and the beginning of a running, perhaps-infinite “I told you so” contest that no one will ever win.

So never communicate money worries until first reviewing your anticipated income, expenses, assets, and areas of control. Consult an accountant or a simple book or website on budgeting. Pretend you’re a corporate manager who must find out how much your department—not just this one employee—can spend next year without depleting your assets, and how much will be left after covering necessities.

Then compose a memo describing your conclusions, decisions about the spending you control, and recommendations about the spending you don’t. Edit out criticism, fear, or defensiveness; your job is to provide good information and solid decisions that reflect your values and your family’s shared need for a financial plan, not to make your wife happy.

Before sharing your report, prepare for unfair personal criticism by composing positive, fact-filled answers. If you’re accused of being a control freak, invite her to offer better solutions that don’t break the budget. Regret the fact that you can’t always agree on priorities, but don’t budge from the facts, and avoid getting emotional.

It’s too bad that you and your wife’s spending instincts are not as naturally compatible as they have been, but it’s not unusual to have disagreements when life enters a new phase. You may not be able to make her happy or end those disagreements, but you can come up with a budget you believe in, refuse to let the disagreement become personal, and stay positive about the future security you’re creating by endorsing spending limits, even when she doesn’t agree.

If you sit down to talk about the nuts and bolts of your finances, not to take apart her spending habits, you can have a real discussion that could result in a budget instead of a brawl.

STATEMENT:
“I hate for my wife to feel deprived or over-ruled, but I will not express fears or argue about spending until I’ve put together a budget and tried to engage her positively in defining what’s necessary and making tough decisions. We may not wind up agreeing, but I will keep our differences to a minimum and not express fear or personal criticism.”

When my son decided to leave for college, we all thought he’d have a great time because he’s gregarious, likeable, and well motivated. Unfortunately, he somehow got depressed almost immediately upon starting school, and the whole year was a struggle with grades that were OK, but a disappointment. Then, after coming home and immediately feeling like his old self, he decided he had the problem licked and would have no trouble going back. After returning to school and another two months of depression, however, he’s ready to call it quits and transfer to another college. I don’t like the idea of his quitting and wasting time, but I can’t talk him out of it. I’m angry, which just means he doesn’t listen to me. My goal is to give him advice he will listen to and save him from making a mistake.

Assuming you’re right about your son’s depression, and that he can’t help it, you have more reason to be proud of his efforts to make school work than you have to be ashamed of his desire to quit and come back home. After all, you don’t see him as fundamentally immature or dependent, just prone to an away-from-home depression that he can’t shake. That doesn’t mean that college has to be torturous for him, even if it can’t be an average experience.

Homesick-triggered depression doesn’t seem to have been studied objectively, but it happens to some very solid kids and is just one of those problems that usually gets better as we get older. It shouldn’t be surprising that some people have reflexes in their brains that keep them at home, at least when they’re younger, and some are born to go roving; genes are probably important and, in a Darwinian process, circumstances sometimes favor the survival of the stay-at-homes and sometimes the wanderers.

In any case, the fact that your son finds himself burdened and partially impaired by homesickness doesn’t mean he has failed or that he has to leave home, unless leaving home is really necessary, which it does not appear to be.

Instead of assuming that he needs to complete his studies at Homesickness U., ask him to consider the pros and cons of transferring to a local college by leading him through the risk/benefit analysis. Ask him to find out what transfers are possible and whether transferring will cost him any course credits or special opportunities.

Ignore his expression of disappointment and regret over how much better he could have done if he hadn’t gotten depressed; tell him that depression isn’t something you control and that it often happens in this situation. He’s been enrolled in Depression 101, a mandatory part of the Core Curriculum, and from your point of view, he’s done well with it.

Meanwhile, if it hasn’t happened already, ask you son whether therapy with a good, positive coach could help him fight the negative thoughts that depression puts in his head and whether, if it’s impairing his ability to learn, he should see a psychiatrist and try medication.

You’re sorry he had to go through this painful experience, but remind him and yourself that he went to college to learn, not necessarily to be happy, and you’re impressed that he’s learning a lot.

STATEMENT:
“I hate to see my son feel like a loser, but he’s done nothing to make himself depressed and he’s learning how to manage it. I’ll keep on coaching him through this experience.”

Re: Liable Source

Posted by fxckfeelings on October 27, 2014

Along with avoiding conflict, favoring calm, and having taste that’s too sophisticated to tolerate Michael Bay, human beings are also notoriously bad at correctly placing blame or finding the true source of an issue. We punish ourselves for problems that we have no control over and indict others for creating trouble that it’s our job to prevent. Instead of rushing to judgment, we should ignore our thoughts, dreams, and tempers and consult our values first. Then we can decide whether we’ve really done wrong and need to do better, or whether someone else has erred. Either way, we’ll know where the blame truly lies and be able to buck our nature to calmly find a solution.
-Dr. Lastname

I have done a pretty good job of keeping things together through a very tough few years. I have mostly come to terms with the break up of a long and unhappy marriage and become a stronger person as a result. In my waking life I have learned to choose my thoughts and control my feelings and behavior to good effect. The trouble is my dreams, which are frequent and often disturbing. In dream-life I am still very emotional and out of control and tied to past experiences. I will dream I am dancing with my ex or that we have reconciled happily and wake up feeling sad. Or I dream that my new partner is cheating or being an asshole when he has given me no cause to doubt him. Sometimes I wake up in a state of distress after reliving painful events without the benefit of rational thinking and wish I could sleep without being invaded by the bizarre and the uninvited. Are dreams just random or a result of what lurks in the subconscious mind? My goal is to have faith that I have coped quite well with very difficult circumstances and to understand the message behind my restless nights.

It’s a good thing we can’t be held legally responsible for our thoughts or dreams, or we’d all be in jail, riddled with STDs, or kicked out of school due to failing exams we didn’t know we had or excessive public nudity. If the law can’t punish you for your dreams, there’s no reason to punish yourself.

We also know that depression floods us with irrational, negative thoughts, causing us to blame ourselves for everything that has gone wrong and assume that everything will go wrong in the future. So making a big deal about dreams seems like a sure way to magnify the impact of negative thoughts and self-doubts that we neither deserve nor control. WAIT! There is more to read… read on »

Moral Exam

Posted by fxckfeelings on October 23, 2014

We’ve said many times that the worst relationships teach the best lessons, from what to look for in your next partner to what you need in a good lawyer. Knowing how much you’ve actually learned from the lessons, however, can sometimes be tricky; sometimes you get so connected with someone that breaking up makes you underestimate how much you’ve learned, and sometimes your connection is so superficial and one-sided that you wind up feeling you’ve learned more than you really have. In any case, don’t judge what you’ve learned from a relationship by your emotional reaction. If you’re honest with yourself and give or take credit where it’s due, you should’ve learned enough to ace the next test.
-Dr. Lastname

I always knew deep down that my relationship with my college boyfriend was never going to work out—he was restless, attractive, and hated the idea of settling down, and I wanted to get married—but I loved him and couldn’t let go. We stuck together for eight years until he finally had an affair, I broke up with him, and now, five years later, I’m happily married. I would have told you I had no complaints until I was recently invited to a big party by an old friend, who told me my old flame would be there, which bothers me more than I thought. I don’t know who he’ll be with or what has happened to him, and I’m afraid to find out, mostly because I’m so eager to find out. I hate the idea of still having feelings for him, particularly since I’m married. My goal is to figure out what’s wrong with me and why I can’t move on and forget about him.

If you’re looking for someone to tell you whether/how/why your feelings for your ex are important or dangerous, you’re obviously looking in the wrong place. You shouldn’t expect to control having feelings, just to control what you do with them, like not obsessing over them in the first place.

You finally did what was necessary after recognizing that your old college boyfriend would never make a good life partner, but only after he had an affair. Still, that affair was a teachable moment, not just about your future together (or lack thereof), but about your tendency to let uncertainty bind you to things for longer than necessary. WAIT! There is more to read… read on »

Focus Pocus

Posted by fxckfeelings on October 20, 2014

In this day and age, it’s almost impossible not to know what Attention Deficit Disorder is (or to not have a direct connection to someone who has it, or to not have an opinion on it, just because). On the other hand, very few people are aware of Attention Surfeit Disorder, which is when people habitually get so perfectly focused on the problems that grab them that they can’t see why anything else matters, even if it’s a looming disaster. Whether you can’t focus on any one thing or focus far too much on one thing exactly, be aware that our brains have different ways of focusing, and that each has its own strength and weakness. Then, whether you have a fun diagnosis or not, you’ll be better at managing your priorities instead of following whatever captures your attention.
-Dr. Lastname

I’m curious to your thoughts on subclinical anorexia. I was (voluntarily) hospitalized with anorexia nervosa last year. Since then I’ve managed to keep my weight out of the danger zone, but not up to where my physicians would like it. Honestly, I don’t see the point. Even at my lowest weight I completed an MPH at Hopkins (my third post-graduate degree), I’m in the “healthy” BMI range, technically, and I hold a full time job in addition to teaching science at a local University two nights a week. Who the hell cares if I don’t hit my target weight? My goal is to continue to achieve excellence without worrying too much about what doctors tell me about my weight.

When you focus too much on perfection in one particular aspect of your life, be it in terms of appearance or professional achievement, it’s like searching for a house based on the quality of the faucets; you become so fixated on the gleaming chrome that you don’t notice the lack of square footage, light, or even plumbing.

Obsessional, single-minded focus is always unhealthy when it gets you to disregard whatever else is truly important in your life, like your health and friendships. You tell yourself it’s good to work harder to make yourself better…while losing track of the fact that what you’re sacrificing is worth more than the excellence you’re driven to achieve. WAIT! There is more to read… read on »

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