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Saturday, February 24, 2018

Sick Change

Posted by fxckfeelings on April 27, 2015

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Of the many things out there that people can be afraid of—spiders, heights, gays—the one thing that truly scares the shit out of all of us is change. Whether it’s good or bad, change is unfamiliar, and unfamiliar is inherently frightening. Sometimes, particularly when it’s forced on us, we think change will turn out badly and it doesn’t, but when we really don’t want change, we try to prevent it, and that can be at our own peril. Don’t let neediness or fear control your view of the future (or marriage). Whether you’re facing or adapting to change, think through what’s good for you, and you’ll become better at forecasting its impact and taking pride in your brave response.
Dr. Lastname

After hip surgery, I felt like I was in a fog…it wasn’t just the physical adjustment, but there was a freak complication during the procedure, and my brain might have lost oxygen for a bit. I came out of it with no energy, and my memory was shot. The doctor said that was normal, but now it’s a year later and I still don’t have the energy or mental sharpness that I used to depend on. My husband says I’m different but that he likes the new me just as much as the old one, if not more, because he thinks I’m calmer and a better listener. I think he’s just being sweet, so I’m still afraid to spend time with old friends or co-workers so I don’t frighten them and humiliate myself since I just feel slow and stupid. My goal is to get my old self back and stop being a pale imitation of the smart go-getter I used to be.

When you lose something great about yourself, whether it’s the ability to strike out the side in the big leagues or make it as a supermodel or just remember the names of everyone at the party, it’s hard not to dwell on everything you’ve lost and search desperately for a way to get it back.

Unfortunately, change is inevitable with age and it’s always uncomfortable, even when it’s welcomed. You can find the courage to withstand a career-salvaging Tommy John or Tummy Tuck. When the changes are more mental than physical, however, there’s almost nothing you can do, even though you’d give anything to turn back time.

You’re right to try to get back to your old self, at least at first; that’s what rehabilitation is about, for a limited time. Almost always, however, when there’s a permanent component to an injury, your goal needs to shift from total recovery to management of a permanent impairment. That’s when you transition to becoming a sportscaster, a trophy wife, or, in your case, someone slightly different. WAIT! There is more to read… read on »

He Dread, She Dread

Posted by fxckfeelings on December 22, 2014

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Freaking out is good for your health in the moment if you’re facing a lion, zombie, or Beyonce, but if the moment passes and the freak-out doesn’t, then you’ve got problems. Some people then freak out about freaking out and see nothing but dark clouds sweeping in, while others shut the world out entirely and create a darkness of their own. In either case, if you don’t want fear to run your life, learn to assess your real risks and actual strengths. Then you can face anything from scary thoughts to American royalty without freaking out too much and feeling like your life is over.
Dr. Lastname

Over the last few years, my panic attacks have been getting worse and nothing seems to work. So far, I’ve been able to hold it together and do my job, but I often have to hide in the bathroom for short periods in order to catch my breath and talk myself off the ledge. Valium helps a bit, but I have to be careful not to take it regularly or I’ll get addicted, which I’m very frightened of happening because addiction runs in my family. Other medication hasn’t helped, nor have changes to my diet and exercise routine, so I’m getting scared and desperate. My goal is to find a psychiatrist who can help me before anxiety ruins my life.

When you’re prone to experiencing random episodes of intense, meaningless fear that make your heart race, your throat close up, and your brain tell you the world is ending, it’s hard to be optimistic. They don’t call them panic attacks because they make you freak out about how great your future will be.

On top of that, panic attacks have no cure and, as you get older, anxiety tends to get worse. So, while it’s not surprising if you see the light at the end of the tunnel as either a train, a laser cannon, or the fires of hell itself, you have good reason for hope. WAIT! There is more to read… read on »

‘Nuff Love

Posted by fxckfeelings on July 28, 2014

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Tough love is always a tricky option; it’s never clear when it’s appropriate, if it’s ever appropriate, or when you’re so fed up that you’ve actually crossed the line into “easy dislike.” This is especially true when you can’t seem to get through to a troubled loved one and aren’t sure whether you need to do more or “toughen up” and do less. Instead of letting fear or frustration control your involvement, ask yourself what prevents him or her from getting help, then try different strategies, and observe what happens. Sometimes more is more and sometimes more is less, but you can be sure, no matter how helpful you can be, that you’re doing your best with what in unquestionably a tough situation.
Dr. Lastname

Please Note: After this Thursday, we are taking time off to finish our book and won’t have a new post until 9/4. Please have a fun and problematic August, and we’ll be back to help in September.

My brother is sinking into an economic mess and he won’t let me help him. He’s a good guy who’s worked for years at the kind of manufacturing jobs that are now being shipped overseas, and his last position was just eliminated. I’m good at managing problems like this and discussed his options—selling his place, cutting back on expenses, getting employment counseling—but he doesn’t follow through, or even seem to pay attention. Sometimes I think he’s got some brain issues or something, because he invited me over to dinner recently and when I showed up he was asleep on the couch after eating fast food. He’s depressed, but he can laugh and enjoy himself, so it’s more that he spaces out whenever he has to do something complicated. My goal is to get him to get moving before he goes deep into debt and can’t pay his bills.

Some people don’t respond to good advice because they’re stubborn or lazy, while others appear stubborn or lazy because their brains are failing to process information normally. There’s a big difference between having a damaged personality and a damaged brain.

The fact that your brother forgot he invited you to dinner suggests he’s having trouble with attention and maybe memory. The bad news is that he might have some serious cognitive issues, but the good news is that, with a little time and effort, you might be able to help him with his financial situation after all. WAIT! There is more to read… read on »

Mock the Line

Posted by fxckfeelings on March 31, 2014

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Sometimes those who are responsible for nurturing others don’t know how to crack the whip, and those who are responsible for whipping people into shape don’t know to drop the whip because they’ve cracked a little themselves. In any case, before you wield any weapon or argument, know where your responsibilities end and others’ begin. Once you know those boundaries, you’ll have no guilt about expecting others to do their job or letting yourself off the hook for jobs that aren’t yours, and find that you’ve whipped your priorities into shape.
Dr. Lastname

I know my husband can’t help being mentally ill with depression and I think it’s important for family to stick together, particularly for the kids, but the latest crap he and my son are pulling is driving me crazy. While my husband was driving my son to work (my husband never works, which is another story), they get into a terrible fight over nothing (not unusual, they both have bad tempers). My son then grabs the wheel, so my husband, convinced our son was trying to kill him, has our son arrested without telling me. Now, remember, my son is the one who is working and doesn’t get into trouble, and my husband is the guy who does nothing but see his doctor and sit on the couch watching TV, but if I tell him he’s caused us a lot of trouble and expense that we can’t deal with and that he should have spoken to me first before going to the police, he’ll tell me I don’t know how to set limits on our son, and I just don’t want to hear it. I’m ready to kill both of them, particularly my husband, but before I do that I have to figure out whether my son will need a lawyer and how we’re going to afford it. My goal is to figure out how to survive with such a crazy, fucked-up family.

There’s a sort of physics to marriage; with every aggressive, crazy (or morbidly obese, or nasty) partner there is an equally sane, passive (or stick thin, or sweet) partner. While congrats are in order for being the sane one, the passive part means you seem too willing to accept helplessness than to consider your options.

No, you can’t change your husband or persuade him to work, think or consult you before he acts, or control his temper, but you have the power that accrues to functional, responsible people over time. If you learn to use it, the laws of science won’t be disrupted, and nobody will have to call the law itself. WAIT! There is more to read… read on »

Help Reviews

Posted by fxckfeelings on January 20, 2014

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We often warn readers about the dangers of being too helpful, but for every person who gives without thinking, there are plenty of others who want to help someone they love but are too paralyzed to act. Whether someone you love rejects your help or asks for it, your ability to be helpful doesn’t depend entirely on their motivation or yours, but also on the nature of their problem and what kind of help, if any, is likely to be effective. So don’t make it your business to push or provide help until you know more about their problem. Then you’ll have a better idea of how to focus your efforts and limit your responsibility to providing what will actually work. That way you can find the right balance of helping, which involves doing the most good with the least harm to everyone involved.
Dr. Lastname

My sister got arrested last weekend for dealing drugs, and even though I wasn’t surprised, it brought back all my angry, helpless memories of the many times when we were growing up that she would get into trouble and then get into treatment, tell everybody she was feeling better and going straight, and then fuck up again. This time she’ll probably go away for 10 years and the state will take custody of her kids. My parents are devastated and wonder where they went wrong, and I’m also thinking hard about whether I was a good brother. A few months ago, after she stole from our parents, I told her I’d never trust her again and I wonder whether that caused her to give up hope. I can’t stop thinking about her and I can’t sleep or focus. My goal is to figure out how to get over these feelings so I don’t ruin my life as well.

When people we love do bad things, we usually give them two options: punishment or help, with help sometimes coming in the form of punishment, and vice versa. Even when intentions are good, good is not what necessarily results.

Unfortunately, some lack the ability to respond to either; neither additional help nor punishment will give them the self-control, moral compass, or whatever it takes to stop themselves from doing bad things. What they do deserve, and won’t get, is better genetic luck, and what their families deserve is protection from their bad behavior. WAIT! There is more to read… read on »

Couple Vision

Posted by fxckfeelings on October 3, 2013

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Whenever the topic of healthy relationships comes up, you’ll inevitably hear about compromise, balance, putting your socks in the hamper and not somewhere on the ground near the hamper, etc. Unfortunately, emphasis is rarely put on the importance of maintaining your own autonomy and remembering not to put your partner’s feelings and judgments ahead of your own. Any strong bond can suck you in—love, sex, and/or fear can do it—and if you’re too far gone, you don’t see your own options, just the way your overly significant other would feel. If you feel trapped then, don’t believe it. You will always find you have more choices than you think if you can create a little breathing room, remember who you are, and think for (and thoughtfully clean up after) yourself.
Dr. Lastname

My friend has been in a potentially harmful relationship for a long time. I won’t go into details, but the people around her and especially herself could get hurt because there is illegality involved. Somehow, my friend is completely oblivious to the dangers and sheer shady and depraved aspects of it. The two met and started a relationship over text, and that’s how they mainly communicate because he lives in another state. They meet every few months and shack up in a hotel for a weekend in secret. I’ve been conflicted between being her friend and trying to protect her. I feel like I can’t protect her, because she’ll do what she wants, but I tell her I worry about her and when I do, I feel like an asshole. She thinks that when I tell her I worry about her, I’m judging her, and when she thinks that, she lies to me. It’s confusing because I don’t know how to be the “everything’s fine, fuck the law” type because I know it’s wrong and not just because it’s against the law. I just don’t know what to think or do or feel about it at all.

Sometimes you can’t help worrying about someone else’s danger, but expressing your worry can often trigger more risk-taking, probably because you’re making someone else responsible for your feelings, just as you’re taking responsibility for theirs. In other words, when you feel worry, she gets it in her head she doesn’t have to.

So accept the fact that you’re worried for good reason, but shut up about it. Instead, express your concern in a way that’s positive, unemotional, and focused on your friend’s self-management. WAIT! There is more to read… read on »

Sh*tty Counsel

Posted by fxckfeelings on December 27, 2012

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Giving advice is like taking your pants off in front of someone; there better be some sort of invitation or context, or things are going to get weird. That doesn’t mean giving unsolicited advice isn’t the right thing to do, or that there isn’t a right way to do it; you just have to be prepared to control your emotions, particularly anger, fear, and helplessness, and only speak up when you think it’s necessary, if you wish to prevent harm or enmity. Using the proper procedures for advice giving, you can do right by the ones you wish to help, even if you can’t control or guarantee the results. If you can’t keep your negativity to yourself, however, or you know speaking up will do more harm than good, better to keep your proverbial pants on.
Dr. Lastname

Please Note: We’re off again on Monday for New Year’s Eve. Here’s to a great f*cking 2013!

I talked to my cousin about her son’s guns & isolation, and now she tells me her family is “devastated.” How can I remain at peace with myself? I feel strong at the moment but feel a vague fear that a slow degradation of my strength may occur over time. Her family has been self-devastated for a long time. She divorced years ago. The oldest, adult son has never worked a meaningful job and has developed an intense focus on guns over the past couple of years. He shoots small rodents in their suburban back yard, then cooks and eats them (he uses just a pellet gun for this but with a home-made silencer, which must be illegal). The other son was within one semester of a college degree when he began using heavy drugs. His parents invested a fortune in the best rehab available but the son dropped out with two weeks to go. Start big and quit is one of the family’s MOs—a deeply ingrained pattern. I have often thought they all need “tough love” but now that I’ve provided some, I seem to be a catalyst for further dysfunction. My conscience is clear but I feel sad at what I have set in motion (other sane people encouraged me to raise the warning so I did not operate in a vacuum). Of course, it was heavily influenced by the occasion of the CT school shooting.

When someone you care about appears to be stumbling into deep trouble and letting things get out-of-control, scary, and/or armed, it’s hard not to get scared shitless on their behalf and offer them a piece of your mind.

After all, if they can’t figure out where to draw the line, you figure you can be the one to show them, even though you can’t imagine how a parent could ever, ever allow dangerous behavior to go so far. You want to help your cousin by stopping her from doing something wrong, but telling her that is the wrongest way to go about it.

When someone in trouble doesn’t ask for your help, it’s usually because they’re already worried that they’ve done something wrong and are afraid you’ll think the same. If you confirm their fear of being judged, then they’ll devote their energy away from actually confronting the problem and towards defending themselves against their new problem, you.

You were certainly right to share your worries with her about her weird gun-toting, varmint-eating son, and right to voice your concerns about dangers she may be ignoring. What you shouldn’t do, however, is imply criticism with the words “tough love,” which usually imply that a parent’s over-permissiveness has created a spoiled brat. Even assuming it’s true—which may not be the case if her son is a paranoid schizophrenic—there’s nothing like knocking someone’s parenting to cause a negative, defensive reaction (and nothing like comparing their son to a mass murderer to lay them especially low).

Try starting over, if you can, by telling your cousin what you admire about her parenting and her kids’ good qualities. After all, the older child was obviously hard-working and capable until drug addiction stopped him cold, and, since you don’t describe the younger son as a brat, there’s reason to think he may have been doing well until something went wrong, as well. Tell her you’re sorry if she felt your were criticizing her or her boys, but you just want to be sure she’s safe and offer any help you can.

Then, if she’s receptive, ask her about her older son’s behavior in concrete, specific terms. Don’t ask why he’s changed—that implies that she should have an answer that she obviously doesn’t have and that may not exist—and don’t imply that he’s behaving badly, because you don’t know how much he controls himself. Just ask for the facts, particularly about whatever he’s said or done that’s dangerous or shows his brain isn’t working right. Ask about threats, punches, voices in the head, silence when she asks questions, lost hygiene, and ideas about the FBI or Virgin Mary (it’s funny how they fall into the same category in the psychotic mind).

Whatever facts you uncover, don’t let your fears prompt you to tell her what to do; instead, find out what options she’s tried. If she seems to be ignoring a threat, ask her to consider her reasons for not being more worried. If she seems to be discounting the possibility of mental illness, ask her to read up on the signs and symptoms and consider what to do if they seem to fit.

You can’t tell your cousin how to straighten out her fucked-up family—it would be nice if you could, and even nicer if there was a way she could actually do it—but you can remind her that there are many good parents who can’t stop their families from being fucked up, and many ways of being helpful to your fucked-up kids if you don’t feel like a failure.

Offering help when it isn’t asked for is always tricky, but if you make the tone of the conversation constructive instead of critical, she might not be able to change her family, but she may be able to change her approach. And if she doesn’t, or can’t, you’ll still know you did the right thing, and you did it the right way.

“I feel like my cousin’s son could go postal while she pretends there’s nothing wrong, but I know these things don’t happen because of bad parenting. I will try to make her feel respected before inviting her to share what she knows about her son. If I have an opportunity to advise her, I will encourage her to make rational decisions about what she knows rather than following her emotions. I will not let my helplessness force me to become impatient and critical.”

My 22-year-old daughter is a good kid and deserves to be treated as an adult, but she’s been living at home since graduating college because she needs to save money, and I can’t help but notice how many guys she dates and spends the night with. She often seems disappointed when they don’t call her again, and then seems too eager to respond when someone new asks her out. I know if I use words like “bad choices” or “low self-esteem” she’ll stop listening, and maybe I shouldn’t offer advice unless it’s invited, but I sure wish I could help steer her in a better direction.

There’s an obvious danger to giving unsolicited advice (see above), and don’t think the danger is much less when people pay a shrink for it. All you need do is imply they’re doing something morally wrong and you’ve either crushed their confidence or stirred them to crush yours. Unlike the woman above, however, your concern comes from observations, not suspicion, and it regards behavior that is far more within her own control. You know of what you speak, and as long as you speak carefully, a conversation is not impossible.

Fortunately, you can often engage people in willing discussions about their dating problems if you keep the discussion positive, refrain from showing negative emotion (no matter what you really feel) and focus on the kind of thinking you want someone to do, rather than actions you want them to take. So don’t show fear or disapproval, or do the psychobabble equivalent by talking about low self-esteem.

Instead, tell her you respect her achieving her degree, saving money, and taking on the search for a good relationship. Then let her know that, if she’s interested, you’ve got some good ideas for how she can search for a partner while protecting her heart.

It’s true, you may be unacquainted with online dating or be one of those lucky individuals who stumbled into a good partnership without first having had many bad dates and a first marriage. Nevertheless, you can draw on other life experiences, like hiring someone for a job or working out a business partnership.

In the non-emotional, business-like manner of a professional matchmaker, ask her what sort of person she’s looking for and what criteria she uses to screen out deadbeats, heartbreakers, and baggage-bearers. Find out how she gathers factual information about a person’s reliability, work, credit card debt, and dumped-girlfriend history so she can head off trouble before she starts to feel attached. Discuss methods for keeping her distance while doing research.

If she feels unattractive, remind her that making herself more beautiful may get her more candidates, but also requires more careful, tougher screening. Help her list her strengths, which you know well.

If you respect the privacy of her heart while offering to coach her on a head-hunt, you can talk frankly without making her feel threatened. Then she can benefit from your wisdom while you enjoy the pleasure of being her friend (and avoid the mess of accidentally become a grandma).

“I hate to see my daughter expose herself to rejection and self-doubt as she looks for love, but I know that criticism of her poor choices will add to her self-blame. She has good values, many strengths, and much to offer. By inviting her to think about search tactics and techniques, rather than about feelings of wanting, needing, and being dumped, I will make my love and experience available to her in a way that she can use.”

Me Myself and Oy

Posted by fxckfeelings on October 18, 2012

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Assessing one’s self-esteem is like checking for Puxatony Phil’s shadow on Groundhog Day; while we have a long tradition of caring about its status, the results are fairly meaningless. After all, some people with strong characters don’t like themselves because they don’t measure up to high standards, and other people are madder at life’s unfairness than they are at themselves and underperform, not because they don’t like themselves, but because they care more about feeling good than getting strong. And of course, sometimes, it’s just cloudy. In general, it’s better to have a strong character, even if makes you kick yourself, than to see yourself as a deserving, entitled victim in order to break out of the rut of bad decisions and get out of Puxatony once and for all.
Dr. Lastname

My 14-year-old son seems to care about his schoolwork but he’s unusually stubborn (the psychiatrist says he has Asperger’s syndrome) and he never does his schoolwork the way his teachers want him to. When they ask him to show his work in Math, he refuses, but he often gets the answers right anyway, just without any proof. When they ask him to do a draft of an essay, he just won’t do it, but then the final version he writes at the last minute is fairly reasonable. My son always feels guilty and angry, both for not being understood and not being able to do it correctly, and I’m worried that they’re not teaching him right, in a way that caters to his specific needs. My goal is to get them to give him better help.

You’ve been trying for many years to get your son to show his Math work and finish his preliminary drafts on time, and it just doesn’t happen. He’s had many teachers work with him and no one has found the answer. You’ve made an effort, and after showing your work, it’s fair to conclude “the answer” doesn’t exist.

In addition, telling teachers they need to improve is bound to make things worse since they already have the government telling them they’re responsible for their class’ performance, regardless of what those kids and their families are like. Holding them accountable for not getting results—the “show your work” of the teaching world—isn’t quite fair since you know it’s an impossible job.

Once you add your own personal “no child left behind” intervention, don’t be surprised if the teachers start to find fault with both you and your son in order to defray blame. Whatever happens next, it won’t involve praise or more positive results for anyone. WAIT! There is more to read… read on »

Damaged Control

Posted by fxckfeelings on September 24, 2012

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Coping with the mental illness of a family member can be agonizing, and when you can’t stop destructive behavior, it feels like defeat. Trying to defeat the symptoms of mental illness, however, is like trying to win a war on weight-gain or terror—difficult, endless, and resulting in gains that are easily lost. If you learn to accept setbacks as part of the process, rather than attack them as tests of your love and will, you’ll do more to sustain morale, including yours and your family’s. Take pride in your willingness to endure a difficult, painful, and sometimes frightening relationship; you won’t win or lose a war, but you’ll gain peace.
Dr. Lastname

I’ve got an adult daughter whom I know is mentally ill—she thinks people are plotting against her, including her very nice husband—and, for the last few years, without my own husband’s help, I’ve desperately tried to persuade her to get treatment before her marriage fell apart and she got arrested for doing something violent and stupid. The harder I tried, however, the more she suspected I was part of the conspiracy. There was a ray of hope 6 months ago when she had a screaming fit one night and got locked up in a mental hospital, but the medication made no difference, and she came out more certain than ever that her husband was her worst enemy, so she left him. My husband says I’m part of the problem because I never take my daughter’s side, but my goal is to restore her to sanity, and I know my husband is in fantasyland if he thinks she’s sane and has a “side” based in reality. I’m getting nowhere, though, and my own marriage is under pressure. What do I do now?

Unfortunately, while there is no surefire cure for paranoia, pushing a paranoid person to get help is a reliable way to make it worse. After all, if somebody thinks the world is against them, disagreeing with that person only confirms their delusions. Call it the paranoia-dox.

If your daughter’s paranoia can’t be helped—and it seems you’ve tried very hard to help her—then I’m sorry, but your husband has the right idea, even if it’s for the wrong reason. By not challenging her feelings of being victimized, your husband avoids the paranoia-dox, which makes it an approach worth trying. WAIT! There is more to read… read on »

Critical Condition

Posted by fxckfeelings on August 20, 2012

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Maybe you can’t help feeling guilty when someone tells you that you’ve destroyed their self-esteem, particularly when you’re critical of something they’ve done, no matter how much you know they’re overreacting. If, however, you remember how little control you have over anyone’s self-esteem, including your own, and have expressed your criticism positively, you can arm yourself against guilt and stand by whatever you’ve said. It’s not your fault if they’re hypersensitive (or hyperbolic).
Dr. Lastname

I’m going to kill my kid if she doesn’t kill herself first. She’s a drug user and chronic fuckup, on probation for a DUI, and she just can’t stay out of trouble. Last week she stole my checkbook and went on a spending spree at Best Buy. A month ago she got restless, took my keys, and went out for a midnight drive without a license. I don’t think it’s just because she’s depressed. I think I’ve failed her, probably because I’m an alcoholic and wasn’t sober during her first ten years. It’s so hard for me to feel compassion for her, though, because I’ve managed to get sober and put the work in to stay that way. When I confront her about how stupid she’s being, she says “I want to die, you’re right, I’m an awful person,” and puts a handful of pills in her mouth. That’s when I really want to kill her, while I’m driving her to the hospital. She’ll only go to AA meetings if I drag her along, and she doesn’t get anything from them, so maybe she just has to hit bottom first, although I can’t imagine how low she’d have to go. My goal is to stay away from her before I do something I regret.

It’s horrible to have a kid whose fuck-ups are fearsome, persistent, in your face, dangerous, and expensive. You give her an inch, she takes a mile of rope and hangs both of you.

Even more horrible, however, is letting your anger loose on such a kid, then watching her declare you’ve made her hate herself so much that she does something risky and dies. Losing a kid is terrible, but losing a kid after so many words you can’t take back is worse.

While you’re the first to call her a fuckup, you’re the last to actually believe it. It’s true that some fuckups can see the light, try to get better and learn how to hit the breaks on their urge to partake in fuckuppery, but that’s their call, not yours. WAIT! There is more to read… read on »

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