Posted by fxckfeelings on March 10, 2016
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If, like our reader from earlier this week, you find yourself yearning for a direction in an otherwise meandering, misfit-esque life, it’s not worth trying to get somewhere new by trying to get a new personality or character. Before you try to get on a new track, forget trying to be a new person and take these steps to assess whether and how you need to get your shit together.
1) Figure Out Your Finances
The first step to getting your life in order is figuring out whether you have the funds to stay solvent and stable. It’s not enough to cover each month’s expenses, particularly if you’re using your credit card to do it and have nothing put aside for disasters (e.g., car repairs, months of unemployment, a case of cancer, etc.). Think of worst-case scenarios, figure out what you’ll need, and give yourself an honest earnings target that includes health insurance (see item below and cancer reference above).
2) Get Honest About Your Health
You’ll find it hard to get anywhere if your body isn’t on board, so getting your health assessed is a key part of getting your life straight. Don’t just ask yourself whether you’re eating healthy or are strengthening your immune system; after all, there’s little agreement on how much you should or can use your diet to control your health. What you can do that will have a big impact, however, is to exercise, stop smoking if you haven’t already, stop drinking as much if it interferes with your other important goals, and work at reducing your weight if necessary.
3) Meditate On Your Morals
A moral code can act like a compass that guides you through all of your big life decisions, so figuring one out and sticking to it is necessary if you want to figure out a better way forward. Besides, anybody can act like an asshole if he isn’t careful since all it takes is obliviousness and a few urges that might make you cranky or in need of something belonging to someone else. So ask yourself which qualities you admire in others and would want to emulate yourself, and also ask your nearest and dearest whether you have your inner asshole under adequate control. If you have no nearest and dearest, that might be an answer.
4) Focus on Family
Getting your shit together can’t happen without getting your (ancestral) house in order, so ask yourself what, if anything, you owe your family and what values and relationships you enjoy or not and whether they’re worth holding onto, even if you don’t enjoy them every much. Then score your behavior by how well it matches these goals, giving extra points for participating in family events you don’t necessarily enjoy but believe are necessary for keeping the clan together.
5) Get Real About Your Relationships
If you think you don’t have your shit together because you don’t have a partner, you might have the wrong idea; not everybody is suited for partnership, and there’s no shame in being a hermit if it suits you best. So begin by asking yourself what you want relationships for, i.e., if you’re just looking for some distraction and fun, or if you’re eager for something that involves work, promises, and a tolerance for dirt and unpleasantness. Then rate your efforts to start and maintain such relationships, ignoring what you don’t control, like the behavior and character of others or the feelings they cause. And if you decide that you don’t really care about wanting a relationship, period, then not having one may not be what’s normal, but you can be confident that it’s what’s right for you.
It’s admirable to want to get your shit together, but cleaning up your act doesn’t mean becoming a new, perfect person; your standards for having your shit together should come from your own values and be a reflection of your imperfect self, not what people expect of you. Even so, they aren’t easy to achieve, so be prepared to work hard if there’s a deficiency you decide to work on and give yourself high credit if there isn’t.
Posted by fxckfeelings on March 8, 2016
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While it’s easy to change our outsides—a new haircut here, a gastric bypass there—changing who we are inside can be next to impossible. If you don’t just want to be a better person, but have a different personality altogether, then trying to change yourself can just makes things worse. There are ways, however, to respect yourself even if your personality and personal abilities fall far short of your ideal. You might not be able to change who you are, but you can change your view of who you are and be proud of being a good person, despite your less-than-good nature.
Briefly, I’m a middle-aged guy, have a decent job in marketing, live with my girlfriend, and try to be a good person. I grew up without a father, and maybe having no male role model has made it hard for me to feel like a grown-up. I’m directionless, single, never married, no children. I haven’t really committed to a career, and I’ve spent a lot of time either unemployed or underemployed and trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up. So far so good, but here’s where it gets weird. Every time I see a movie with a strong male lead, I find myself starting to imitate the fictional character. I observe their mannerisms, and begin to emulate them for days, weeks, or even months. I even check out the way they dress—the various accessories like clothes, shoes, and hats that they wear—and then I start to accumulate those things as well. As you might imagine, this can get pretty comical when I start walking around looking like Indiana Jones complete with fedora and leather jacket (no whip, I have my limits). Sometimes I’ll watch a TV show in the morning, emulate that character, then see a movie in the evening and want to be that character. The problem is that I don’t know who I am or what to do (as far as making plans, goals, etc.) when I’m not playing a role, wearing a costume, or planning my next purchase. When I’ve tried not to shop or emulate a character (for a few weeks) I feel anxious and directionless. By contrast, when I do shop or have a character in mind I feel full of purpose, even a little manic. The fictional imaginative character acts like scaffolding for my own personality. But buying accessories has gotten to the point of compulsion, where I don’t feel I cannot not have the item and still be okay. My goal is to be myself and start living a real life, but I’m not sure who the hell that is anymore.
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Posted by fxckfeelings on March 3, 2016
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As we often say in our family, everybody has at least a touch of the ’tism, but if you find yourself dealing with a new diagnosis of a spectrum disorder, like our reader from earlier this week, it can feel like the time for jokey phrases, along with your life as you knew it, is over. It’s important to remember, however, that you’re life hasn’t changed, just your classification, and that having an actual touch of the ’tism t’isn’t the worst thing. Here are five advantages to having an autistic spectrum personality style.
1) Extra Intellectual Ability
Dr. Asperger himself used to refer to kids with his namesake syndrome as “little professors,” and they often grew up to be big professors, or, at the very least, big thinkers in important fields. For people on the spectrum, the tendency to express intellectual interests may have made you a dweeb as a kid, but as an adult, it can help you make a good living.
2) Success Thanks to Social Insensitivity
A lack of awareness of social cues may handicap your ability to make small talk and get dates, which can feel devastating, especially during adolescence. On the other hand, it can also free you to ignore the need to be popular so you can focus on pursuing the things that truly interest you. And as an adult, especially in a world where spectrum disorders are more accepted, it’s easier to find and befriend people who find connecting as hard as you do.
3) Handicapped Communication
It’s not just hard for people with spectrum disorders to read other people’s emotions, but to understand and communicate their own feelings clearly. While it can sometimes be tough to have difficultly conveying how you feel, your intellectual style of communication can help you discuss and clarify abstract ideas that emotionally fluent folks often can’t.
4) Challenged by Change
In school, it drives people with Asperger’s crazy to stop mid-activity and start a new one when the bell rings or have to abandon one class schedule and learn a new one every year or semester. Out of school and into adulthood, the ability to focus for a long time on a single problem without the limits of a bell or class schedule helps those on the spectrum to solve problems that others can’t.
When you’re young, open opposition to stupid statements may win you few friends and bog you down in painful struggles with the parental or educational authorities. Once you’re older, however, and know what you’re doing, it may help you stand up for yourself, negotiate cleverly, and prevent anyone from compromising your basic principles because you need to be liked.
Posted by fxckfeelings on February 4, 2016
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As exemplified by our reader from earlier this week, depressive thoughts can be powerful, persistent, and, above all destructive. Despite that, it’s possible to defuse these thoughts by responding to them and not letting them have the last work. Here are five common depressive thoughts and how to correct them with the truth.
1) “I used to be able to get things done, and now I’m so tired and miserable that I’m just useless.”
Even truly useless items, like VCRs and rollerblades, are only useless to those who aren’t grandpas or capable of shame. Respond to this thought with the following: “I’m doing a lot, given the fact that I can’t help feeling shitty, my brain isn’t working quite right, and all I want to do is stay in bed and think of more reasons to hate myself. As such, I’m actually proud of all that I’m getting done, and I’m not going to waste time putting myself down.”
2) “I still can’t figure out what I did to make her dump me, except be the worst person who ever lived.”
Depression loves to tell you you’re the worst person, and even though you can clear up that accusation with a quick Google search, it’s easy to believe after a particularly tough rejection. Until Google invents an inter-cranial app, however, tell yourself the following: “If I can’t figure out why she dumped me—and Christ have I tried—it’s not because ‘I deserved it’ because of who I am or something stupid I did. I did nothing terribly wrong other than choosing a girlfriend who’s not a steady, faithful friend, and the worst thing about me is that I didn’t know better, which is no longer true.”
3) “I can’t now and will never find anyone to love a turd like me.”
Donald Trump, Billy Cosby, and multiple guilty death row inmates have found true love, so even if you were a turd, it wouldn’t necessary doom you to a life of solitude. Respond to your sad solitude with the following: “Most people find it hard to find a good partner, no matter how hard they try, so I don’t deserve criticism if I’m doing a reasonably good job of trying to date the available candidates, especially given how hard it is to leave the house or even shower or get out of these sweatpants.”
4) “My job (thus, my life) is going nowhere.”
As we always say, there’s a reason they call it work, which is to say, it’s rarely enjoyable, fair, or as rewarding as it should be. If you hate your job, that’s normal, not the end of the world, and a good time to remind yourself of the following: “Since the Constitution doesn’t promise happy employment, the only question is whether I’m doing a good job with the work I’ve got while I make a reasonable effort to pursue something better.”
5) “I can’t see the point in being alive.”
Only very sick depressed people may act on this notion, but odds are, if you’re feeling really down on yourself, the thought at least crosses your mind. Even if you never take it seriously, there’s no reason to take this bullshit, period. When depression questions your very existence, remember the following: “No matter how hard I try to be a good person, life can hurt. It sucks that the world is unfair, but it’s worth remembering that my pain is caused by bad luck and unfairness, not my own shortcomings. And if I can still get out of bed everyday and try to be a good person and make the world a better place that way, then that’s meaningful, no matter what depression says. I deserve to be here as much as anyone else, and I prove my worth everyday by trying to be the kind of person I admire.”
Posted by fxckfeelings on January 28, 2016
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Everybody knows that they should think before they act, but most people ponder whether they should act or not, not why they want to act in the first place. If, like our reader from earlier this week, you’re someone with a natural inclination to keep the peace at any cost, thinking before you act may still tell you that it’s best to placate an aggrieved party, even if doing so causes harm in the long run. So, before you think yourself out of doing anything at all, here are five good, non-feelings reasons for standing up for yourself and taking responsible action.
1) Constant Criticism
Since there will always be nasty, negative people out there (or not-normally- nasty people being negative due to stress or depression), it’s often not worth trying to stop someone from criticizing you, even if when you’ve done nothing wrong. On the other hand, it’s not good to listen to undeserved, repeated criticism indefinitely without giving yourself the right to calmly speak up, declare your self-acquittal, and refuse further discussion.
2) Rampant Risk to Self
When someone’s abusing drugs or alcohol or generally determined to endanger themselves, there isn’t a lot you can do, short of hog-tying them or freezing them in carbonite, to keep them safe. What you can do, however, is coolly voice your concern to them and offer your help. If they refuse it, you’ll know that you’ve tried, at least once, to stop them, and at this point you need to step back and protecting yourself from their destructive impact.
3) Serious Slack
If someone at home or work isn’t doing her share, there’s usually no amount of nudging, nagging, or passive aggressive notes that will get them to step up or even admit they’re not pulling their weight. What you can do, however, is have a reasonable discussion with them about what constitutes a fair contribution, ask them to examine their own actions, and then take whatever protective action you can if they’re still obstinate, e.g., reducing your share or finding someone else to share with, period.
4) Anger and Abuse
Obviously, if you have good reason to believe that someone is abusing their kids, you have a moral (and sometimes legal) obligation to take action. Instead of holding yourself responsible for personally stopping the abusive behavior, however, specify to the abuser what’s intolerable, what you’ll do about it if it continues, and what the repercussions will be for everyone involved.
5) Committing Crime
As a civilian, stopping someone you know from doing bad things and breaking the law isn’t something you should attempt on your own. What you can do is inform the offender what you can and can’t accept and then what you can do to stop being an accomplice or a victim.
Taking a stand doesn’t mean telling someone off, but calmly telling them where you stand, what you’re willing to tolerate, and what the possible consequences are for their bad behavior. You can’t make them stop, but you can make them see where you’re coming from and make things right with your own conscience.
Posted by fxckfeelings on January 26, 2016
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Avoiding conflict is an important part of making a long-term relationship work, but going too far to placate your spouse in order to avoid arguments doesn’t diffuse the conflict so much as internalize it. Not surprisingly, if you keep eating shit in order to keep your partner happy, that’s how you’re going to feel, and it’s what your marriage is going to turn into. It’s important then to know when and how to draw the line on agreeableness without being disagreeable; if you can avoid a big fight without compromising your integrity in order to do it, you can make your relationship last.
Early on in my relationship with my wife I fell into a pattern where almost every time we got into a big fight, I’d end up apologizing and admitting total fault, even if I didn’t feel that it was all my fault, basically because I didn’t want to continue the argument. She can be a dirty fighter who is great at playing on my guilt, but also, I’m not very good at being assertive and dealing with conflict. And now, as we have had more complex problems to sort through in our life, and the stakes have gotten higher (kids, in-laws issues, mortgage, etc.), it’s even harder to break this habit, which has resulted in me feeling resentful towards her and emotionally withdrawing at times, which is not something I want to continue. I do get her to “compromise” at times but often those compromises are still tilted strongly in her favor. I’m not a total doormat, but I’d like to stand a little more upright. My goal is to be more assertive, and not fear the outcome of being more assertive with her, which I imagine (based on many past experiences) is her losing her temper (rage, blame, etc.), sometimes making threats (divorce) and making me the bad guy, until I play by her rules.
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Posted by fxckfeelings on January 21, 2016
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At the start of a new year, you don’t have to be like our reader from earlier this week—someone in an usual career going through an usually hard time—to feel motivated to get your shit together. Here are five easy steps anyone can follow to get back on track no matter how rocky the terrain of your life happens to be.
1) Get A List of Goals
Obviously, if you’re trying to figure out how to get organized and motivated, you need to know what’s important enough to you to work for. Define these goals in terms of values, not results, e.g., include making a living, not making a mint. Think about what’s necessary, healthy, and fun in the long run, not what your wildest dreams are made of.
2) Put Together Your Priorities
The hardest part of prioritizing is learning to both accept the fact that two or three things deserve highest priority and the skill of juggling them all at once. It gets easier over time, and in the process of learning, you also get better at figuring out whether some of your priorities are actually worth dropping or putting aside.
3) Choose a Coach/System
Without a domineering spouse, day job, or ticking bomb in the basement, most people have to develop a system for self-management, particularly when they have to juggle their own obligations on top of their spouse’s, kid’s, dog’s, etc. Since most schools don’t teach you executive functioning skills, take a course and/or hire a coach. It’s amazing how much better you can do with a good to-do list, a set of urgency categories, and an omnipresent schedule.
4) Suss Out a Schedule
Assuming you have lots of responsibilities, limited time, and a strong desire to have fun, you need to create a schedule. A schedule helps you develop habits and shortcuts, so that you can reduce procrastination, deal with top priorities first, and make time for the things you really want to do. Again, don’t hesitate to take a course or use a coach.
5) Learn Your Limits
Many people experience endless feelings of responsibility once they engage in a serious task and those feelings can become consuming, particularly if an outside source (boss, spouse, parent, etc.) believes your share of responsibilities is never big enough. Train yourself to judge your responsibilities objectively by comparing them to your job description, taking into account your resources, and determining what a good person should do. Then you can remain focused on what’s really important, not overextend yourself, and not only get your shit together, but get shit done with a real sense of pride.
Posted by fxckfeelings on January 7, 2016
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If life puts you through the ringer, as described by our reader from earlier this week, it can leave you feeling like every last ounce of hope and joy have been wrung out of you forever. Here are five ways to get through hell with some of your positivity intact.
1) Less Reaction, More Distraction
Keep busy—the more time you spend working, volunteering, cleaning the garage, etc., the less time you have to think, remember, or have any serious talks you aren’t ready for. You’re not running from your feelings or avoiding facing the truth; you’re just working hard to keep these things from taking over.
2) Busy Body, Busy Mind
Exercise isn’t just a distraction, it’s a sort of healthy meditation; it gives you a chance to focus, but it’s active enough so that you can’t just sit and sulk. Running on the treadmill while watching Bravo will give you distraction, fitness, and endorphins all at once.
3) Dare (Not) to Compare
While it’s natural to want to gage your progress, never compare yourself to others, be they non-hell dwellers or hell-ions like yourself, because there’s always someone who’s happier and luckier. Think instead about what you’re doing to cope with hell, including surviving the pain and unusual heat.
4) Count Out A Cure
Don’t expect relief to come until it comes; assuming that a good talk with an old friend or therapist, a long vacation, or just a new pair of jeans will provide all you need to ease your ache will probably disappoint and then discourage. One day, the pain will be bearable, but all you can do is wait and focus on other things in the meantime.
5) Shelf Self-Blame
Never ask yourself what you did wrong to wind up in a feelings hell, or berate yourself for all the mistakes you made; sometimes things hurt even when you did everything right and nothing wrong. Remind yourself about the good things you were doing when everything went bad and the good things you continue to do in spite of the way you feel. It’s hard to be a good person when pain doesn’t stop, but if that’s what you’re doing, be proud of the way you’re surviving life at its worst.
Posted by fxckfeelings on December 24, 2015
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Everyone—not just those who, like our reader from earlier this week, are diagnosed OCD or bipolar—struggles with unwanted impulses from time to time. It’s normal to sometimes fight the urge for a second helping of lasagna, and it’s also common, though more problematic, to crave another shot of whiskey. If you find yourself gripped by unusually strong, possibly scary, urges that are sometimes impossible to control, however, and are wondering whether something not-normal is going on, here are five symptoms of mental illness to look out for that may be hindering your ability to fight addictive behavior.
1) Unusual Obsessing
Rumination is a symptom of OCD that locks your brain in a rut and forces you to think, over and over, about something you want, are afraid of, hate, you name it. Normally, you’d distract yourself by thinking of other things, but OCD won’t let you, even though the obsessive thought may scare you or not be what you actually want at all. Don’t assume that these thoughts mean that you’re a weak or bad person deep down; if you literally can’t get someone or something off your mind, then something’s wrong with your mind, not with you, and you need help.
2) Habit Trap
Repeated rituals are what make OCD obsessions feel a little better, i.e., you can shut up the persistent worry that your family will get murdered if you check that the door is locked exactly ten times before bed. When that ritual is texting a crush to make sure he still doesn’t want to see you, however, the potential for humiliation is worse. Ask yourself whether you’re compulsively texting because it gives you temporary relief, before you find yourself dealing with long-term pain and embarrassment.
3) Needless Neediness
Worthlessness and emptiness are common symptoms of depression, which drive someone to date people who aren’t right for them because they can’t deal with the intense pain that comes from being alone. If you find yourself driven to be with partners who either aren’t that interested or worthwhile, consider whether you have other symptoms of depression, like hating yourself and having trouble tolerating your own company.
4) Undeserving Desire
Lust tends to disappear with depression (along with libido altogether), but it can get extra intense during the manic phase of bipolar illness. Sexual excitement can make an otherwise ho-hum relationship addictive, and a hyperactive sex drive can push you to do, say, and wear things that you know are dangerous. If your sexual desire is stronger than usual and causing you to do things that go against your better judgment, then it’s worth seeking help.
5) Mania Masquerade
Mania makes everything intense, not just your sex drive; it can obliterate self-control, not just in terms of your impulses, but of your limbs and other organs. And while that might seem like a terrifying experience you’d want to avoid, mania feels so amazing and empowering that you don’t just become blind to your lack of control, but intoxicated by it; dangers that you might normally avoid become extra attractive. So if your thoughts are racing, your sexual liaisons have become more dangerous, and your friends seem to be freaking out despite your insistence that you feel great, you might be in danger, and they might have a point.
Whether you’re aware of uncontrollable urges or so sick than you can’t even tell what urges are even good for you anymore, it never hurts to ask for help, explore whether mental illness may be part of your problem, and take whatever steps possible towards getting your impulses under control.
Posted by fxckfeelings on December 3, 2015
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If, like our reader from earlier this week, you have to rely on someone who’s reliably unpleasant, that doesn’t mean you should count on your whole life becoming just as miserable. Here are five ways to build an independent life while dependent on someone you don’t get along with.
1. Inventory Your Incentives
At least once every day, review the good reasons you have for staying together, e.g., for the kids, your health, the wish to avoid bankruptcy and living beneath a bridge, etc. Remind yourself that life is hard and you’re making the best choice you can in a tough situation. Go one step further and take pride in the fact that you’re not a victim; you’re managing what life has given you, at least until something better comes along.
2. Gather Your Goals
Draw up a list of everything you would like to have in your life, aside from a better spouse/live-in caretaker, a clean bill of health, and/or your independence. Include what you think is good for you, like, exercise and education, as well as what gives you pleasure, like seeing friends and going to the movies. Don’t dwell on what you can’t afford or can’t physically accomplish.
3. Seize a Schedule…
Translate those priorities into actual, frequent, regularly scheduled activities, getting coaching from a friend or therapist to help you, if necessary. Don’t shy away from challenging goals (i.e., ones that may be physically demanding), but if they turn out to be too difficult, don’t be ashamed of having to step back and adjust your expectations. Never let feelings of helplessness or failure slow you down or scrap your plans.
4. …And Stick to It
To overcome fatigue and procrastination, put your scheduled activities into an appointment book, app, helper monkey—whatever it takes to put a daily schedule and to-do list on your body in a device that can’t be ignored, lost or forgotten, whether it’s electronic or pre-industrial.
5. Amass New Allies
Look for potential close friends, but don’t get close by sharing woes about your husband or medical problems; don’t confuse becoming someone’s friend with becoming a victim that someone feels compelled to save. Instead, get close by sharing good times and mutual interests. With time, you can have a full life and not see yourself as stuck in a failed marriage, but rather in a highly functional and prosperous partnership, whether your partner appreciates (or just realizes) it or not.