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Goals, not wishes-- I'm a doctor, not a genie.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Runaway Brain

Posted by fxckfeelings on March 29, 2016

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Some people assume that “fuck feelings,” aside from an excellent book title, is a statement intended to devalue or eliminate feelings, like an emotional “shazam.” In reality, of course, feelings have their own way of telling you that they’re very important, no matter what you chant at them, and that the only way to feel better is to air or obey them. Your best tactic then isn’t to look for a magic word or pill to keep your thoughts or feelings in check but to constantly remind yourself that they aren’t as important as your values and knowledge of right and wrong. Even though you can’t control your feelings, you shouldn’t always believe what they tell you or do what they want you to do (but you should buy and believe books that give advice like this).

-Dr. Lastname

I’ve been reading your book and I’ve made some very positive strides towards accepting myself. However, I have Schizoaffective and Bipolar Disorder and I am wondering why I continue to do weird wacky things, even after I accept that I should f*ck my feelings, they don’t totally go away. My goal is to eventually get better control of my behavior by coming to terms with my illness.

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5 Ways To Figure Out Whether You’re Causing Your Bad Luck

Posted by fxckfeelings on March 24, 2016

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As our reader from earlier this week made clear, it’s sometimes easier to blame yourself for bad luck than accept how little power we have over our luck in the first place. So before needlessly beating yourself up for false mistakes or claiming innocence and blaming fate entirely, take these five steps to evaluate whether you’re causing your bad luck or whether you’re caught being fate’s bitch.

1) Find the Facts

Do the detective work to gather any objective details that connect your actions and responsibilities with what went wrong; facts aren’t based on opinion, so if you hold yourself responsible because you were stupid or lazy, then you aren’t being a smart detective on the case, just a big jerk to yourself. Be specific about what your responsibilities were, what actually happened, when it happened, and how much damage occurred. If the facts show that your actions were, in fact, destructive, then it’s worth looking for larger patterns and help in managing your behavior.

2) Mind Your Motives

It’s easy to tell yourself something bad wouldn’t have happened if you had simply done something differently, e.g., if you’d only left the house ten minutes later or not stayed for that second cup of coffee, you could have prevented all this trouble. Before you go down the black hole of hypotheticals, however, ask yourself whether your choices were intentionally harmful or made you feel good but were thoughtless and potentially dangerous. If the answer is no, then your regrets are pointless, but if you did make knowingly bad choices, you have to work to manage negative impulses.

3) Think In the Third Person

If your friend were in the same situation and asked you whether she had done anything wrong, odds are you wouldn’t judge her as harshly as you judge yourself and blame her for being negligent, stupid or mean; even a stranger would be more willing to give you the benefit of the doubt, with only an enemy rushing to condemn you so unforgivingly. Remember, friends don’t decide whether you’re super-smart or perfect, just whether you made reasonable decisions as an imperfect-but-trying-hard human being. So be a friend to yourself and judge accordingly.

4) Spell Out Your Standards

If you can’t get over a guilty feeling simply because things turned out very badly, ask yourself what specific rule you broke. Pretend you’re writing out five rules for people who have to manage the situation that caused you problems, for posting on the wall in the office kitchen of your mind, right near the sign about labeling your food in the fridge and not putting fish in the microwave. If you can’t spell out a rule that you broke, chances are the only rule you broke was, “don’t have bad luck.”

5) Seek Out Smart Opinions

Don’t let shame stop you from telling your story to a friend or professional, like a therapist or even a lawyer, whom you can trust to be impartial. Don’t choose someone who just wants to make you feel good or someone mean, but someone who likes you but is willing to tell it like it is. Present all the facts, asking whether you should have done things differently and, if so, is there a lesson to learn other than that sometimes life sucks. If, after all your opinion seeking, you find that the blame isn’t yours, it’s your responsibility to find a way to move on. If it becomes clear that there are things you could have done differently, your path forward involves finding ways to manage that behavior so it doesn’t mess with your luck in the future.

Blame Reliever

Posted by fxckfeelings on March 22, 2016

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It’s hard not to feel guilty when things go wrong, and guilty feelings may be particularly bad for just those who deserve them the least, i.e., those who are generally self-critical and insecure. If you’re someone who’s gone through a bad stretch and can’t help but feel bad and responsible for letting it happen, learn how to rely on specific information and common sense to figure out what you should really take responsibility for, if anything, and how to use your conclusions to fight a compulsive sense of having done something wrong. Instead of endless punishment, you deserve a fair assessment of the facts.

-Dr. Lastname

I often find myself on a streak of “wellbeing,” then out of nowhere I manage to fuck up whatever I had going for me, royally. Almost like I have a problem committing to something for too long. Just looking for some realistic advice as to why this may be. My goal is to figure out some realistic systems I could improvise to better cope with this dilemma.

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5 Ways To Kill Those Brokenhearted Statements

Posted by fxckfeelings on March 17, 2016

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Sometimes, as with our reader from earlier this week, our brains can ruminate obsessively after a relationship, despite being told by our heart, gut, and feet that it’s time to move on. Here are five examples of the constant regrets your brain can shoot your way after a broken heart, and how to refute them.

1) “I’ll never find anyone else like him.”

“When I look at my list of requirements for a marital partnership—someone who’s dedicated, open, is accepting with accepting parents—I know that not being with him, or someone like him, is actually a good thing.”

2) “Sex will never be like that again.”

“As hot as the make-up sex was with my ex, it would be easier to be with someone I fought with and made-up with less, even without the passion-driven follow through. Better to be out of that hot-but-going-nowhere relationship and moving towards the future I always wanted.”

3) “If I didn’t ask for too much, we would still be together.”

“If I imagine what life would be like if we had married, I can see that he’d frequently be absent, unwilling to share tasks, and unable to explain how he spent his money. In other words, I’d always be asking for what I deserved, and still not getting it, or getting anything but angry.”

4) “If I knew how much I was going to miss him, I would never have let him go.”

“I also know that I can assign more value to relationships than they deserve, and can certainly get too invested in someone who isn’t as invested in me. So, even though I miss him a lot, that doesn’t mean that what I miss is worth trying to get back. It’s more important to get over missing him by moving forward and finding someone who’s better for me, not sinking backwards.”

5) “If I was a better person/more like the girl he now loves, we wouldn’t have split up.”

“I know my ex didn’t want a committed relationship with me or anyone else prior to our splitting up, so as much as losing him hurts, cutting him loose wasn’t personal. I left him because I knew what I wanted in life and he clearly wanted something different. I know it was the right thing to do even if it broke my heart, and even if I can’t stop feeling wrong about it.”

D’oh Regrets

Posted by fxckfeelings on March 15, 2016

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You can’t stop love from making old flames live in your memory and obsessions, and if you have the kind of brain that tends to make personal connections easily, your ex can feel like a phantom limb that you head and heart still feel long after he’s gone. Instead of waiting forever for the memories to fade before dating again, however, learn how to define the kind of future relationship that you think would be good for you, regardless of how much you long for your ex. There are ways to resume your search, even if your heart isn’t in it and your phantom feelings are.

-Dr. Lastname

Like so many people, I am struggling to get over a serious past relationship whose ghost just won’t go away. My ex-boyfriend and I had a five-year-long relationship that I confidently assumed would lead to a life together. We had a very pleasant daily life, enjoyed frequent activities with a circle of friends and shared values, important life events and love. Unfortunately, he was unable to move past the boyfriend/girlfriend stage, was never able to clearly communicate why to me (although I’m sure his parents’ snobbish disapproval of me had something to do with it), and a year ago we made the decision to end our relationship. This was an painful process that I am still not completely over— I feel rejected, insulted and strung along, not to mention robbed of my future with him for unfair and unfounded reasons. In the midst of and despite this grieving, a platonic friendship of mine transformed into more, and became serious rather quickly. This new person loves me in the way I always wanted my ex to love me— makes me a priority over his job and himself when needed, spends time on our relationship, spends time with me and his family together to make sure they understand who I am and enjoy being around me. It’s just … I pine for my old life with my ex daily. I know in my rational brain that there are very good reasons why I am not with my ex anymore. I just can’t seem to remember them. I actively dread the day when I will run into him in town with the new woman his parents finally approve of. I feel guilty when I have these thoughts, because I know I am very lucky to have found a new person who has an open heart that’s full of love for me, but I also can’t help but wonder if I was too hasty with my ex, if we could have compromised somehow. This conflict is distracting on multiple levels and keeping me from moving forward. My goal is to get over these feelings of rejection and resentment as soon as possible, and begin to fully appreciate the new person in my life the way he deserves.

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5 Ways to Forget Trying To Be A New Person

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.

Character Factor

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.

-Dr. Lastname

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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5 Advantages To Having A Touch of The ‘Tism

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.

5) Opposition

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.

The Great Aspy

Posted by fxckfeelings on March 1, 2016

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Unlike severe autism, autism spectrum disorder is more a collection of differences than a disease. True, there are disabilities and moments of feeling alienated, but some abilities are enhanced, so it’s less like being broken and more like being Batman. So if you have Asperger traits, don’t make it your goal to be “normal.” Recognizing your weaknesses does not oblige you to eliminate them, but to learn how to use your strengths to manage them and be the person you are (and perhaps save Gotham, if you’re so inclined).

-Dr. Lastname

I’m over 60 and have just discovered/realized I am on the autism spectrum (what they used to call Asperger’s). I’ve spent my life trying to fit in to a neurotypical world. I’m also a little over a year divorced from someone who emotionally abused me for almost 20 years. Between these two things, I’m kind of reinventing myself. I’m already saying f*ck to ‘normal’ (neurotypical) and to society’s dictates for women my age, but that doesn’t mean I’m totally comfortable with what’s happening. My goal is to figure out how f*cked I am, and what can I do about it. 

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5 Ways To Build A New Life When Yours Goes To Shit

Posted by fxckfeelings on February 25, 2016

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After experiencing unimaginable injustice, it’s understandable if, like our reader from earlier this week, you also can’t imagine how you can go on with life. If you can accept the reality of your loss, however, you can learn to refocus on what’s important and imagine new possibilities going forward. Here are five ways to build a new life after a general disaster and avoid ruminating about reclaiming what you can’t get back.

1) Restart and Reset

Working hard to ignore the effect your loss has had on your life, remember what your priorities were when you were starting out for the first time, before everything went south. Include financial independence, meaningful work, worthwhile relationships, and everything a normal, moral, not-screwed person would aim for.

2) Edit Your Environment

Since your circumstances have probably forced you to move (or made moving a good idea, to give you a fresh start), fix up your new place the way you like it. It may not be as nice or big as where you used to live, but it’s yours, and making the effort won’t just make it homier, it will create a refuge where you can also feel comfortable hanging out with new friends.

3) Don’t Resist Relying on Relatives

Instead of isolating yourself and sharing pain when you socialize, choose your favorite relatives and re-invest in those relationships; your new friends might not be comfortable hearing you vent, but when it comes to finding an ear for your bitching and moaning, that’s what family is for. Invite yourself to family dinners where you’re welcome, and don’t focus on the family that might not invite you or want you around.

4) Harken Back to Healthy Habits

In the wake of a tragedy, it’s hard to find the time, money, or just the will to keep up your old exercise routine. You don’t need a gym, trainer, or intense training schedule to get in shape, just the determination to set aside some time everyday to stay healthy. And the benefits of working out aren’t just physical; exercise helps fight depression, and setting and sticking to a routine does wonders for one’s peace of mind.

5) Deter Depression

Don’t be surprised if depression creeps into your head, saps your strength, and convinces you that you’re a loser and to blame for everything’s that gone wrong. Do whatever’s necessary (internet research, shrink consultation, friend survey) to decide whether depression is what’s blocking your recovery. If so, there are many treatments that may help, some require no cost or professional intervention, and medication poses little risk, even if finding one that’s effective requires long periods of patient evaluation and some luck.

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