Baggage Check Live: Do not Google!

Apr 02, 2019

Licensed clinical psychologist Dr. Andrea Bonior was online to take your comments about her advice column, Baggage Check, and any other questions you might have. These comments may appear in an upcoming column running in Express and online.

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Welcome, all. What is on your minds today?

Last week we bid a tough farewell to Zainab, but I couldn't be more thrilled (and relieved!) to have Rachel beginning today as our new producer. She has filled in here before and it's been wonderful, and I'm so grateful she's willing to subject herself to, I mean take on, this challenge. The warmest of official welcomes, Rachel!

In today's column, we've got anniversary angst-- and a LW who doesn't feel the love from their partner when the date rolls around. And in L2, we've got a teenager struggling with anger. Any support for these folks?

Let's get started!

Thank for the introduction, Andrea! 

I'm very excited to be moderating this chat moving forward. I've been a loyal reader since Day 1, and love the supportive community that has sprouted up here!  - Rachel 

Some people are genuinely bad at things like remembering and celebrating anniversaries (you also mention birthdays), it’s not done out of laziness or malice, it’s just not their particular love language. If your partner is good in every other way, as you say, then maybe you are “asking too much for us to have an anniversary celebration that he actually initiates.” It’s just not how he shows his love for you. Perhaps you could arrange something nice for you both like a meal or drinks and celebrate that way? Then you don’t have to worry about him forgetting and spend the time leading up to it irritated that once again he’s unlikely to arrange something special. If he’s lazy and passive-aggressively forgetful in other areas then that’s another matter, but from the letter, it seems more like he doesn’t express his admiration for you via gifts or celebrations but is a good partner otherwise.

Thanks. Yeah, I found it a little unclear what LW was actually looking for in this situation, as much as I could empathize-- so it was a little tough to see exactly what kind of calculus would be reasonable about what to accept and what not to.

How do you decide when the reason you are reluctant to make a change is a Fear of Change vs the Change is a change for the worse? I've got a potential opportunity to relocate across the country to a city that I like but don't love and wouldn't have asked to move to. The opportunity itself has things I like and things I don't like which is typical of any new opportunity I'm leaning against the position, but I can't tell if it is mostly because of the opportunity's pros and cons or if it is mostly because of the relocation element. And I don't want to be using that as an excuse.

I think it depends on how much you believe that leaning toward or against something-- that that itself is a reason to do something.

In other words, is there a reason why you want to go against your gut? Is there even a reason to second-guess it?

I work with clients on major life decisions quite a lot, and the truth is-- as tough as it is to acknowledge-- there is never really an opportunity to compare two options in reality. Your life's history has no control group. You can choose the "best" option and fall down some stairs the first day of that new path. (I know, how uplifting!) But maybe you didn't realize that with the other option you would have gotten hit by a bus.  I think part of decision-making is accepting that you can either worry about what the "best choice" is ad nauseam, or you can decide to be as educated as you can about it, but once you make the choice, resolve to make it the best choice, by being flexible and open-minded and getting the most out of it possible.

Now, here's where I totally contradict myself. Do you have a history of being uncomfortable with change, to the point where you avoid it and the avoidance gets in your way? Is this an excess-anxiety issue, where there is a black cloud looming over the idea of a move that is blown out of proportion, not helping to see your pros and cons list in a reasonably objective manner?

How do you decide when it is time to break off a relationship with a sibling? I've spent years dealing with some pretty harsh and unkind remarks from the favored child in the family. Parents have heavily supported favored child financially while basically kicking other sib and I out. Third sib no longer speaks to parents or favored child because of the harsh treatment. I'm somewhere in the middle. I guess I was gullible and stupid enough to fall for the 'oh, but we're family, can't you just let it go and be the bigger person?' line from parents. Third sib and I both have good therapists and have gotten to the point of moving on to good jobs and independent lives, but recent events have gotten me to the point of just not wanting to deal with sibling any more (ironically, parents are older and I'm the one who provides the most help). I've tried multiple times over the past 20 years to talk things out with favored child, only to be told repeatedly that what FC said wasn't that bad, I took it the wrong way, and FC is dealing with a lot of stress and doesn't need to deal with my being angry. Of course FC will stop speaking to me if they become upset, and I've realized I feel much more peaceful in the absence of all the critical, judgmental remarks. I just feel as though I should be able to find a way to work it out because we're family. How do you find peace with needing that space when enough is enough? Or do I just need to keep trying even in the face of decades of evidence that parents and FC see all the problems as simply my being too irrational and resentful to appreciate what a special and wonderful person FC is? I'm just at the point where I feel as though 40 years of this is enough.

40 years is most definitely enough.

Honestly, so would have been 20.

Or 10.

I could keep going here.

You may never be 100 percent at ease with this, because there may be something in your emotional make-up that makes you want to take responsibility for trying to fix the situation (undue guilt, the mindset that if you work hard enough you can solve anything, a desire to avoid mourning the loss of what is actually missing and has been for a long time, etc). But you can start to find peace by realizing that you have plenty of objective data that FC will not change, your parents will not see the light, and that it has nothing to do with you. You can choose to spend the rest of your life extending effort to no avail, or you can choose to allow yourself to believe that you deserve the kindness and benefit of the doubt that you have spent decades loaning people who actually aren't really worthy of it. (That pattern makes sense, of course, it was drilled in to you by your parents.)

This is about letting go. Letting go of the family dynamic you would have loved to have, letting go of the idea that you can solve other people's problems, letting go of the duty that you believe you have to keep trying even when it's futile.

I think you are getting there. Keep reminding yourself of it.

Worth noting that this could be related to anxiety. I used to tell my mom stuff like "I am so mad at everything and everybody" and I couldn't figure out why I had such big reactions to small events (or nonevents, even). It wasn't until recently that I figured out I was experiencing extreme anxiety (and moderate depression) and that my anger was the way it manifested.

Great point.

Anger and anxiety are so physiologically similar-- both involving your central nervous system going in to high alert-- that there can be a lot of overlap there.


We have been married for 5 years, all of them long distance. We see each other every 3-4 months or so, I have less vacation time so when I traveled there (5 hour flight-different continent) I can stay for up to week, when he visits he can stay for a month or a little more. For a long time, I have seen that when he drinks he can finish a whole bottle of wine by himself in a very short amount of time, the same goes for beers and even worse, hard liquor. He never drinks out of the house and “carefully” drinks when I’m about to go to sleep. I can’t actually see how much he drinks but I suspect is a lot; when I try talking to him he gets defensive and says he is harming no one. I said that I worry about him and how he is abusing his body; he says he is old enough to manage these things. In his last visits he is even more careful in making sure I don’t see him drinking (I don’t even know where the alcohol comes from!) I’ve seen some clear signs that his body is not dealing well with the excess of alcohol: terrible reflux to the point he cant breath sometimes and vomiting, but again, this happens when I'm sleeping and any of my worries are quickly discarded. We haven’t talked since Sunday because, most likely, he drank so much that when I arrived home yesterday from work, at 4 p.m., he was sleeping and as I left today, he still was. I know that I have to do something but seems that I’m not “strong” enough to make him listen to me. I always try to be calm and objective before I touch the “drinking” subject, but the conversation never goes beyond 2 sentences before he either leaves or cuts the conversation. I feel like he is slowly sinking and that Im not doing anything. He might be frustrated by some business plans we had that haven’t gone the way we wanted, but we are not in a dire position either (no debt or mortgages), in fact we have re-arrange our plans and I’ve seen him very motivated lately. He is awake now and I want to say something when I get back home, I’m thinking that I can just sent him the NIAAA site and say something along the lines “The way you are drinking is affecting our marriage” but I suspect this will go nowhere. Any guidance here is welcome (and your thoughts and prayers as well!)

I am sorry.

Your instincts seem very sound here.

I like your idea of putting it plainly-- that his drinking is affecting your marriage.

And indeed that might go nowhere-- for him. At least for now. Because if he does have a substantial problem with alcohol, that's often part of the very nature of addiction-- denial, refusal to make changes, inability to reckon with how bad things have gotten, etc.

But just because it might go nowhere in terms of his own actions, that doesn't mean you can't decide to move forward in terms of your own ability to deal with this. Have you thought about seeking out an Al-Anon meeting, or even individual therapy? I suspect that if this wall remains firm despite your telling him how much it is affecting you and your relationship, you might have some difficult reality checks of your own to make about just how much damage you are willing to sustain to maintain his denial.

We will all be pulling for you-- please do keep us posted.

There are two young (I think) ladies from the past two chats that have been on my mind for the past few weeks. One who was being harassed / aggressively pursued by a college classmate, and one who was in a controlling relationship (I think from the end of last week). The advice given to both was excellent, but I also want to acknowledge to both that it is HARD. I think most of us know what we SHOULD say in a situation, it's just getting over the difficulty/awkwardness of doing it, especially in the face of a dominating/aggressive jerk. There were a lot of suggestions given, but find one that feels right for you and practice, practice, practice. In front of a mirror, with a friend or trusted family member, to your cat, in your car ... just keep saying it and eventually you'll be able to get it out when you need to. Unfortunately, almost any woman you meet has been there, and most will be willing to lend an ear. Sending strength and love to these ladies and all others going through this kind of stuff (men, non-binary, and all other humans, too!).

I love the supportiveness of this answer.

Do you hear this, OPs?

Lots of us have your back virtually!

Since I was a child, I have been disturbed by sunflowers (but only when the seeds were falling out) and corn cobs after the kernels were eaten. Just seeing them made me nauseous and made the hair stand up on the back of my neck. Many people knew of my aversion to sunflowers, and it was a common joke (which I didn't mind, because it IS odd.) A few months ago, I happened to see a headline about "fear of holes," bwhich I thought was an incredibly odd thing. It turns out it's a common phobia (I forgot the name and don't want to look it up because disturbing - to me - images come up.) Now that I know EXACTLY what I hate (lines of holes) and possibly why (they remind people of insect larvae - which makes me even more nauseous), I would love to get over this phobia, but can't figure out if it can be done (apparently the phobia is very, very common) and who I might see about it. Can you help? (Even typing this out has made me very uncomfortable, and I am usually quite laid back.)


Phew. Sorry. This one hits home for me, and I know way more about this phobia-I'm-not-going-to-name than you can guess. It's an interesting one because it seems to be more associated with disgust than with fear. Probably evolutionarily based, though, like the predisposition to most phobias.

What you need is a very solid behavioral therapist-- so CBT but with a huge, huge B-- who deals specifically with systematic desensitization/exposure therapy for phobias. Ideally they also have experience with this particular one. Because again, there are subtle differences with the disgust reaction rather than the panic reaction, but the basic premise of exposure therapy/systematic desensitization is the same.

At the very least, you can learn some calming techniques and coping mechanisms even if you can't bring yourself to go all the way through some sort of exposure process.

Hang in there!

My mother (almost 60) seems to have deep-rooted issues with her sister. We have a small family so we get together often for birthdays, holidays, etc. At EVERY family gathering, my mother flips out if someone mentions anything nice about her sister, or wants to talk about her at all, to the point where everyone has to cater to her as if she were a child. This applies to when her sister isn't even in attendance and it's just my parents and grandparents. My grandparents are getting older so I really don't have a choice to refrain from holidays, or I definitely would. What is a subtle way to suggest going to therapy to talk through these issues? She holds onto a lot from 45+ years ago and it makes every group situation extremely uncomfortable. She often mentions her mother wasn't lovey-dovey and that's a whole separate issue. I've suggested therapy before but she never takes it seriously.

If you've mentioned it before and she doesn't take it seriously, looking for a "subtle" way to bring it up is a Bridge to Nowheresville, I'm afraid.

She may never take you up on it, but at least you can state your case plainly. Pick a private, relaxed time soon after one of these incidents. And don't even bring up her sister, as that would make it the farthest thing from "relaxed," I'm guessing. How about something empathetic but direct, like this?

"Mom, I really want to talk to you about something. You got so upset yesterday during the family lunch. And it seems to happen so much. It pains me to see you like this. I know you don't want to think about getting help, but with what you've told me about how your mother was and with how unhappy I see you get when certain things come up, it really makes me think that you deserve to feel better. It is hard for me to watch you struggling with some of this stuff. Is there really no chance of you seeing someone to talk things through? I'm not sure you realize how much it affects the rest of us to watch you suffer like this. It's very hard for me to be around, and it doesn't make sense that it has to be this way."

Is it normal for my daughter to be on the phone texting, video chatting or normal phone conversation all the time? For example, she left her boyfriends house tonight and immediately was on the phone with him on her way home. I'll check on her before I leave for work in the morning her video chat is still running and she's asleep and his is as well neither of them will hang up, or if they are talking on the phone they won't hang up with one another they she will just put the phone in her pocket while he still on the other end. I'm concerned that he is controlling her and she doesn't see it or I'm just out of the times with teens.

I think there's not enough data here about the potential for a controlling relationship (though I am hopeful that others can chime in about how typical this sounds in terms of the constant-contact piece.)

But here's the thing-- you've got to initiate the hard conversations with your daughter about how she feels within the relationship. (And for the sake of the big picture, it could also be possible that the boyfriend feels controlled as well.) But you are her parent and she is not yet an adult and it is within your rights to set limits on the contact. Let's get back to basics here-- the level of contact sounds excessive and that it is disruptive, whether it is a controlling relationship or not. You have to empower yourself to set some limits here. And as an added bonus, the limits-- and his and her reaction to them-- will also give you a glimpse into what their dynamic is and who is driving this phone-contact-all-the-damn-time train.

Have the hard conversations. It's your right-- and your responsibility-- to do so.

I left my home country almost 11 years ago and the more time it passes the more difficult I find to connect in meaningful ways with my parents (I’m 35, my parents are over 60). I call them once a week but I struggle trying to find conversation topics that really feel like I'm engaging with them. I don’t feel like we have a lot in common and many times I don’t share their interests or views about life. Many times I end up feeling like I keep our conversations superficial (how is it going, how’s the weather, what did you do this week, etc), and I also catch myself feeling like calling them is a chore. At the end, all this ends up making me feel terribly guilty for not being more motivated to talk to them, for not truly enjoying the opportunity to talk to them, etc. After all, they are not getting any younger, and I know that whatever moments I have with them are a luxury. It also doesn’t help that I’m not really a “phone person” and I start getting anxious after more than 15-20 min on the phone. Any advice on how to deepen the relationship with parents given these circumstances?

Well, first of all, is there any rule that says that your phone calls must be more than 20 minutes?

Might slightly more frequent-- but briefer-- contact be less pressure on you here?

I know that this question represents a deeper issue, though-- the fact that you and your parents don't automatically have a rapport built on mutual interests and shared lives.

And it's hard for me to tell whether it's partly due to a lack of interest on their part. For instance, if you were to talk about meaningful things to you-- from jobs to books to current events to hobbies-- do they ask follow-up questions and seem engaged?

And do you do the same?

If it's just a disconnect (that of course may be heightened by cultural differences at this point) then you can at least try to create more areas of overlap. Do you have any interest/ability in playing online games with them? I'm no expert in those but it seems like there are some fun apps out there that let people connect who otherwise have little in common besides, say, an addiction to Scrabble. Might you bring up random memories that make you think of them? Might you tell them some small goals you are working on, or see if any movies or TV shows are of interest to them as well?

Ultimately it may come down to accepting the limitations of what you've got here-- which again makes me think that maybe 20 minutes is a little much at times.


You have written occasionally about the costs of therapy and the fact that many therapists are in solo practices and don't take insurance. Why is that the model of the profession? Why wouldn't it make business sense for three or four therapists to share office space and the salary of a receptionist/paper processor? Your total costs would probably be lower (one office instead of three or four), you could expand your client base by taking insurance, and you would have colleagues that you could share experiences and concerns with.

Well, in my particular case, it's because I do other things-- teach, write books, talk with you lovely folks, goof off with my husband and kids and dog, etc-- so I actually can't expand my client base unless I give up showering (or cuddling with big ol' Buster. He says hello.)

And I do have plenty of colleagues to share experiences with, thankfully-- we're just not in any kind of financial relationship together. Plus, most therapists in my part-time situation may sublet space and pay only for what they use, already-- so there aren't any benefits to share office space further.

Can't speak for others, though!

I’m really frustrated with my psychiatric medication. I have a bipolar 2 diagnosis that is mostly controlled, but I have never felt 100% well. Currently I’m experiencing pretty severe anxiety. I take 5 different medications (all at low doses due to side effects) and a number of medications like antipsychotics are completely off the table because of bad side effects. When you see a client who is close to exhausting all medication options a psychiatrist has to offer, what do you recommend as a psychologist, particularly for anxiety?

I am sorry to hear of your struggle. Not knowing the medications you are on (and not being an MD, of course, there's that) I can't speak to this for sure, but might the anxiety itself be at least partly related to the medication? Even with low doses, sometimes interactions can be tricky.

That said, therapy could be really beneficial for working with anxiety. There are all kinds of cognitive-behavioral techniques, and also ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) and mindfulness techniques, for dealing with it. It would partly depend on the nature of it-- is it constant? Is it panic-level? Is it triggered by certain things? Where's the physical part in terms of cause/effect, or is the cycle so vicious you can't necessarily tell?

I trust that you've also had a good amount of physical examination to determine if there are any thyroid or vitamin/mineral things going on. And though there's a lot of controversy on the nature of the DNA tests for medication compatibility, and I think the science is far from completely figured out, it could potentially be worth a try if you were into the idea.

But yes, bottom line-- a therapist who specializes in specific treatments for anxiety could most definitely be a help to you. Good luck, and keep us posted.

I have a type of leukemia that has a very mixed prognosis. Time off work and my cost share of treatment has done in my savings but I don't have debt yet. I am really struggling with how much to spend on trips and things that I may never get to do if I don't do them now. Part of me says "go for it while you can and deal with the bills later." If my health improves as I hope I will be saddled with debt that is hard for a single person to pay back. If it doesn't, I may regret that I didn't do more of my "bucket list" while I could.

First, I am sorry to hear of this diagnosis. I can imagine that's got to be stressful to deal with, even beyond the specific question you're posing here.

I don't want this to be a cop-out, but it sticks out to me right away-- that this can't be an all-or-none issue here. That there is a big, beautiful, expansive spectrum between "Saddle myself with debt" and "Don't travel anywhere, and don't go on any adventures that I've wanted to."

Maybe it's a matter of degree within any given trip-- luxe digs versus more modest; jam-packed days full of excursions versus just taking in some scenery. Or maybe it's a matter of degree within the big picture-- two trips in a year rather than four, etc.

In other words, I don't view this as a Yes or No option. Can you choose to go forward in a gray area?

No. People remember what they want to remember. Also, is it that you want to celebrate and he doesn't, or that you want him to take the lead in remembering? Because if the latter, it's not the man's job to initiate, any more. If the former, well, that's more of a problem. If I were you, I'd just go ahead and make reservations at a nice restaurant for the two of you and put it on the calendar that he sees.

Good questions here. Thanks.

In some couples, the partner to whom it's more important carries this weight. I recommend doing so cheerfully yourself, rather than trying to make an issue of it, which can only lead to strife (and it's NOT worth the aggravation). I've been married many decades so know whereof I speak, as the arranger of birthdays and anniversaries.

Yes. I think there's potential for peace in the eventual acceptance of the role of being the one who steers the Anniversary Recognition Ship. Might be more complicated than that in LW's situation, but I'm not yet sure! 

What stuck out at me the most was that the LW's strong desire for celebrating milestones came with the unreasonable expectation that someone else should be planning them for her. No! If a special anniversary date with your spouse is something you want then YOU set it up! Don't sit around waiting for others to give you things you can do for yourself.

Yup, I got tripped up on that as well. It made the whole thing a bit murkier for me.

It's not an excuse if you genuinely don't want to move. It's a perfectly good reason.

Great point. Though I'd add the nuance that there are different levels of "don't want." Some people I work with really want things overall, but are scared in the moment because of anxiety issues that make them "not want" in the immediate, therefore sabotaging themselves.

But OP would certainly have a better idea of that than I would.


One way the OP might evaluate the Change they are considering is to assess their potential future regret. In other words, if you don't take the opportunity do you think you'll regret that? Or spend considerable time second-guessing the decision? At least for me (yeah, I tend to over-analyze problems) it's an approach that abstracts from particulars such as "it's a city I wouldn't have asked to move to."

Helpful perspective-- appreciate it!

She's going through puberty and that can be part of it. I was born without ovaries so I have always taken hormones. In my early twenties I changed GYN. He looked at the HRT / hormone levels and said — you shouldn't be on menopausal dosage at your age. He upped the dosage quite a bit and my emotions — including anger and tears — went off the charts!!! I was an adolescent all over again and had to learn how to channel it. So perhaps part of the anger she's feeling that she's going through puberty. Of course, she should do the things you suggest — but sometimes it's part of life changes too.

Great points here. So glad you were able to learn how to manage that.

For sure, hormones and puberty can throw kerosene onto the emotional experience. Thanks.

May I suggest starting with a visit to your pediatrician? I had a thyroid issue that started about that age that went undiagnosed until I was 19. I had anger issues that were associated with it. I'm not saying that's what it is, but a good physical to rule out a physical issue would be a good start and if everything looks good, your pediatrician can help you with the next step.

Absolutely, a good physical should be part of the process here.


The letter from the angry teen struck a cord with me. I used to have serious anger outbursts when I was younger (although I think it was as a pre-teen). I used to lose my mind when I lost a board game or for a host of other minor reasons. I'd storm into my room and break and tear things and once kicked a hole in the door. I don't know how or why I grew out of it, but I did. I'm one of the most mellow, type-B people you'll ever meet, and no one believes me when I describe what I was like because it is so far removed from who I am today. Not sure where I'm going with this other than to say that things change a lot, who you are at 14 is not who you'll be forever, and things get better.

I think this is a really important, really lovely perspective. And as much as I believe OP could use some help, this potential light at the end of the tunnel and the fact that it's not forever is a very solid reason for hope!

Hope LW is reading today.

Thanks again.

Hi Dr. Andrea, I have worked for my dad for the past 2 years. The problem is, I can't get it out of my head that without him, I would be nothing. I am grateful that he gave me a really good job, but also wonder if I would be happier if I had paved my own path and was doing something I was passionate about. I try to imagine what that would be, but I realized I don't even have something I am passionate enough about to do instead. So I decided I should stick with the job I have and try to do my best and learn to love it. The problem is, I get overwhelmed very easily with it, and I work from home most of the time and make my own schedule, so it is easy for me to get stressed and give up. Also I feel very lonely working from home as a 26 year old. I live alone and do not have a family like most of my counterparts do. I want to learn to do well at this job but my self-sabotoging is keeping me from doing so. I guess I feel stuck even though I know what I want. How do I get out of this? Sincerely, Boss's Daughter

I think some things are worthy of "learning to love," and some aren't.

Now, that is not to say that you shouldn't be grateful for this opportunity, or that you should throw it away and leave yourself in the lurch without another job lined up.

But it most certainly is to say that you are only 26, and the idea of letting inertia keep you in a job that is clearly not a good fit is pretty miserable. Don't know your strengths? Would you consider a career counselor, who can give you some personality assessments and interest inventories and take a look at the big picture of what might be possible interesting directions for you to pursue?

In the short-term, you could also consider finding some sort of co-working space. It might cost you a little money, but isolation from others during the workday may be contributing to those anxious thoughts.

And if the self-doubt is really ingrained, and the Dad dynamic looms large over your overall psyche, it really seems potentially worth it to consider talking to someone in therapy as well.

But please-- don't lock yourself in to anything that you don't have to!

Think of it this way: Your parents have to reason this way, even though it's obviously false, to keep justifying their favoritism. Which is really sad. But you and your other sibling have grown up to be responsible people, which the favored child never will. Cold comfort, perhaps, but worth thinking about.

Very true, thanks.

It reminds me of a mindset shift that is sometimes helpful-- from being frustrated at other's shortcomings to being grateful for your own strengths-- and in this case the strength to live an independent, healthy life that is not mired in toxicity and dysfunction. 

The actress Sarah Paulson has that phobia--she talked about it on a recent episode of The Graham Norton Show.

Good to know, thanks.

But once again may I remind everyone DO NOT GOOGLE.

We have a 16 year old daughter who has had issues with her mood, anxiety, depression and adhd. But now she's knee-deep in her teen years. How can we tell if the annoying things she's doing are neuro-typical or if they're anxiety/adhd?

Well, I would take a step back and say, does the answer really matter?

Of course I see what you are getting at, but either way-- I think you need to figure out how to handle these "annoying things" within your family dynamic, no matter what's causing them. And perhaps if they are caused by her mental health challenges, you can be particularly empathetic and recognize the limits of what you can do with them-- but you still need to find a way to manage them as a family.

And I would argue that if they are caused by "normal" teen behavior, the same applies, really-- finding a way how to manage them with empathy and communication.

I'm probably not articulating this well here, but my main point is this: She does something "annoying." It affects you and/or hurts you. You talk to her about it, conveying your feelings, and trying to figure out a way to be on the same page about it.

Does that make sense?

Get older, not old. Older sounds better. It sounds like it might even last a little longer than old.


I really want to meet the person who IS getting younger. Because I've only ever heard of people who aren't.

I get quite frustrated reading questions like the one today from the person who is upset that her boyfriend doesn't remember or plan for anniversaries. If celebrating the event is so important, why is it incumbent upon her partner to make the plans? I assume she's equally capable of making reservations or other plans for the big day. The underlying issue seems to be that the letter writer is concerned that her partner doesn't care as much about the occasions as she does and by implication doesn't care about her as much as she cares about him. Not that's a problem that should be addressed, but the anniversary issue is a distraction as far as I can see.

Yeah, we've had a lot of these celebration questions lately. And at the time I chose questions several weeks back all in one batch for several columns, it didn't dawn on me that it would be on the heels of Mom'sBirthdayGate!

I do think there's usually a deeper issue here-- birthdays/anniversaries represent something super-meaningful to some folks, and of course when they are partnered with folks for whom that symbolism/importance is not there, it can easily turn into an issue of feeling unloved.

Is Buster your hubby or your dog?

Laughing here!

Buster is our dog, a huge Black Lab-ish goofball.

I've lived overseas on and off for almost 20 years. My parents are interested in the mundane-what the weather is like, what it is like to live here, what I did for the week and I'm interested in the same for them. I also email and send photos. I have kids and a dog and that gives us some more topics to discuss. Even if we aren't having the same experiences in life, we are having experiences to share with each other.

Thanks for this take.

I do think if someone has kids and/or pets there is automatically a bigger bagful of conversational things to draw from. I'm guessing that might not be the case for OP though.

My long term boyfriend (we are college age) was diagnosed with Type II Bipolar disorder earlier this year after many years of evading professional help for mental health issues (whose effects have increased severely over the past year, IMHO).

He's been on mood stabilizing medication (technically, an anticonvulsant) since the end of January and his doctor is working him gradually up to a full dose, which he's not on yet. It seems to be helping in general, but he still has days of serious, heavy depression including suicidal thoughts.

Obviously, I am trying my best to help but the swings (generally short; depressive periods with last a few hours to a few days max) wear me down and worsen my anxiety and I get scared about him hurting himself. Do you have any idea how long it will be before the medication really starts to manage the condition more effectively? I ask because I've heard it said that it can take months for some psychological meds to "kick in." I know bipolar requires lifelong management, but I'm trying to hold out hope that he'll improve in the short term thanks to the therapy & drugs.

I so wish I could answer this for you.

But I can't. It is true that various medications need varying amounts of time for various people. It is always about ranges. There are no hard-and-fast rules.

I would instead guide you toward understanding what you would do with the answer. Is there a point at which you need his depression to be gone? (That sounds like I'm accusing you of something. I assure you I am not. I completely can empathize with the emotional complications of worrying about someone you love hurting themselves, and for you to be wondering whether you can deal with this potentially long-term is not only understandable, but the responsible thing to do.)

Plenty of people have loving, long-term relationships with those who struggle with mood disorders. But I can't offer you any crystal ball of what it might look like for you. I generally don't recommend what could sometimes look like a cesspool-- message boards on the Internet-- but have you considered looking for one that may have messages of support and insight about the Bipolar II experience, and loving someone with that? Or even just the depression experience, since it's the deep depressions that seem more devastating than the hypomania?

Knowledge is power here-- as long as you understand the limits of that knowledge in terms of predicting the exact future. But it will help you find and understand your potential limits and what you are willing to give.

They creep me out particularly with that weird undulating thing they do. Thinking about them makes my skin crawl. Thankfully, I can avoid exposure to them (even photos of them creep me out) without too much trouble. Just saying that most of us probably have one odd phobia so feel no shame about your sunflower/corn cob/hole thing.


Yes, in many years of dealing with anxiety disorders, I can pretty much assure everyone that there is truly no such thing as an "odd" phobia. I think I've seen it all.

And honestly, the seahorse thing sort of makes sense!

Now a seahorse wearing a sunflower ... Crikey!

Just laid my father to rest last week. He loved his grandkids and visited, made them toys, and always remembered their birthdays and Christmas. The service was held and my sisters two college-aged children didn’t attend, my sister stating that it would be “madness” for the one to attend, and that she’d have a battle on her hands, and later, that he had to work - and the other (on spring break) stayed home to watch the dog even though in the past they’ve boarded the dog at a fancy kennel. They were within driving distance. My heart just aches at my loss to begin with, and I am so disappointed that they didn’t attend. I feel like it was so disrespectful and I can’t seem to process this. My father was so kind and decent. I’m sitting here crying again. Also my father leaves behind a widow, my stepmom, and she was disappointed too.

I am so, so sorry.

It is clear that this is so very painful on so many levels, and your reactions make total sense.

But I also think finding peace will eventually mean letting go-- almost in the way that we talked about in the other letter, the person who needed to let go of their expectations for their sibling's behavior.

In this case, you've got two college-aged nieces/nephews whose choices let you down. You can own that hurt, but also know that ultimately-- there could be any number of reasons for their behavior that we're not privy to. Some people feel paralyzed with anxiety and grief when it comes to attending an actual funeral, especially of someone they love. Or it could be they were caught up so much in their own lives that they didn't see the forest for the trees. But the point is the same-- you're not responsible for their choices. And ultimately you can view them with empathy-- look at what they missed out on, getting a symbolic and meaningful chance to say goodbye to their amazing grandfather-- rather than carrying the weight of them.

So let yourself feel, but then eventually let yourself drop the weight of giving their choices power over you. You're not on the same path as them. And if you can spend some extra energy being kind to yourself, you can help release yourself from the burden of their own paths.

Could you explain that a little more? A have a friend who has some similar problems, and I might forward this to her.

Sure. So Acceptance and Commitment Therapy is a mindfulness-based approach that is newer and builds off of classic CBT. A key difference is that it gets away from the challenging of negative automatic thoughts (which works for some people, but not all) and moves more toward helping get them not to stick by accepting their presence but detaching yourself from their meaning. The classic difference between the "Oh my God, oh my God, I'm going to get in a car crash/screw up this presentation/never amount to anything" versus "I'm having the thought that I'm going to get in a car crash/screw up this presentation/never amount to anything, which is my Anxious Voice, Hello there, Anxious Voice, I see you sometimes and know you are an unreliable narrator, and I am going to watch you pass while I breathe through you."

Of course there is a lot more to this-- in fact I can't announce anything yet (!!!) but I might have something more official to offer on this in the future. My Detox Your Thoughts free challenge via Buzzfeed is a start.


I don't think the issue is lack of interest on my parents end. They do ask follow up questions/seem engaged... at times I'm the one that feels uninterested, but I cannot explain why. And it really conflicts me... I try hard to fight the lack of interest but it seems like the more I fight it, the more that talking to them becomes a chore or I end up feeling fake.

Got it.

Well that pattern you describe reminds me a little of the extrinsic/intrinsic motivation problem-- the more you think you are only doing it because you have to, the more it will feel like a chore. Which is why I wonder if the standard is a little too much for you to keep up, because it's conditioning you to dread it even more.

Might it possible to initiate random contact with them at other times, like emailing something that makes you laugh or is of interest to you?

It is good that it's not a lack of interest on their end.

LW, I feel you. I'm this way with root patterns and a very particular type of pumpkin that has a pattern. I also get sick to my stomach. You're not alone out there!

I'm telling you, this is very, very common.

I know this with more certainty than I'd like to!

I think it's a misnomer and misleading to call this a phobia. I've got it too (although not to sunflowers), and as you say, it's not a fear reaction, it's visceral, nauseating disgust. That's a qualitatively different experience than fear of flying, snakes, public speaking, etc. and all the other aversions people have and consider phobias. The DSM needs to find a different way to classify it.

Yes, but in a functional way, it leads to the same types of avoidance and (potential) impairment with daily life. So I think that's part of the conceptualization being the same.

Blood/injury/injection-type phobias also have a different classic reaction, like passing out or even crying-- but the general effects are the same as a situational or animal phobia, and so too can be the treatment. So that's what's behind the DSM's thoughts about it (though it's worth mentioning that this phobia we won't name also doesn't appear by name there, but rather is considered in the "Other" category that the DSM loves so much.)

There is a lot to be said about the mundane superficial calls. It is an expression of love and caring.  If there is something important you want to say or ask, do so.  If not, enjoy the pleasantries. P.s. it is only occasionally that conversations are deeply meaningful. Don't mistake gossip for meaningful.

So true that sometimes even the mundane can feel quite loving.

My wife has a chronic illness. I do my best to care for her and we both work fulltime etc. My problem is, we don't have much, you know, physical time. It's occasional, a couple times a month. I am not upset at her, she's usually tired or worse. I'm in therapy (for other reasons) and I work on this. But any advice on finding acceptance of a level of intimacy that is difficult for me to take even though I don't feel any resentment towards her? It's not her fault and intellectually I understand, but physiologically it's a challenge (albeit a much smaller one than her challenges, so I need to shut up.).

You don't need to shut up. And I hope that you're really talking about this in therapy, rather than feeling guilty about it or finding it awkward.

Without losing our PG-13-ish rating here, how much have you explored/forgiven yourself for figuring out ways to help yourself physiologically? Can a combination of an increased acceptance/frequency of that plus some nonsexual physical contact with her help satisfy some of that craving a little bit more successfully?

I'm older than I've ever been before, but younger than I'll ever be again!


That blew my ever-lovin' mind when I first heard of it.

It's almost like a Rorschach, to see which part of that is more meaningful to people.

Have you noticed that favored children are often stunted in some way? Except in once case, I have seen favoritism be detrimental to the favored, leaving the neglected to grow up strong. Learn from your sibling and ignore the crapshow.

I think there's even data to back this up.

I've helped a lot of non-favored children (now adults) learn to see that sometimes it truly, objectively, is a curse to be that FC.


Hard to know what the real issue is, without more information. Is this a case of the husband with selective memory? Does he have no problem remembering things/events that are important to him? Is there an expectation that the wife also remembers events important to him? Depending on the answer, this question could represent a very different situation…..

Very good points.

Can you arrange to talk less often than once a week? That seems frequent for a 30-something.

Could be.

Or even smaller, but more frequent contact without so much pressure.

I think it depends on how the partner participates; if it's not important but they willingly go along with whatever is planned by the person to whom it is important, then there shouldn't be a problem. If the uncaring partner scoffs at or sulks through any celebration, there's a deeper problem: lack of respect.

That's definitely a deeper problem.

But in that first scenario, I do occasionally see people who say "I want my partner to initiate something." That the initiation itself is key-- it doesn't feel enough for them to just have their partner go along.

Communication and honesty become key no matter what!

In some ways, there is no such thing as an unreasonable expectation in a relationship, nor even a rational explanation of them. An easy way to think of this is sexual kinks — which are in a wide spectrum. The question then becomes, how important is it that your partner shares/indulges this need? Are you able to accept the absence of this? Do other facets of the relationship make up for this lack? And, as others have pointed out, can you (cheerfully) bridge that gap — say by buying yourself the celebration?

I like this general conceptualization, for sure. But I do think some partners can become domineering/steamrolling/controlling to the point where it becomes "unreasonable," especially if their partner has a history of putting up with abusive behavior.

But I think your general point is spot-on and a thoughtful one!

My husband remembers celebration dates, but isn't stellar on the planning or celebrating of them. However, every few years he hits it out of the park and buys the perfect gift or plans the perfect outing and I end up asking where does that guy hide the rest of the time. You either accept the person for who they are or drive yourself nuts trying to change them. I have learned over the years that getting flowers or whatever by reminding him about it aren't much different if than if I had bought or planned it myself.

It does come down to acceptance, ultimately!

Glad yours comes with some out-of-the-park perks every once in a while!

Thank you for your response to “ sadness, anger, and disappointment.” Your answer made me feel so much better and helped me to put this all into perspective.

I am really glad to hear that. And so appreciate your writing back!

Just saw the time. Always a buzzkill!

Thanks so much for being here — lots and lots of comments and questions today and I increasingly feel the need to let you know that I truly am sorry if I couldn't get to yours. But I am very grateful you were here.

See you next week, same time of course — I'll be chatting to you from the wilds of a Pennsylvania hotel after giving a keynote — but I look forward to seeing you in the comments and on Facebook before then!

Take good care.

In This Chat
Dr. Andrea Bonior
Dr. Andrea Bonior is a licensed clinical psychologist and the voice behind Baggage Check since its start in 2005. She serves on the faculty of Georgetown University and is the author of the Publisher's Weekly best-seller "Psychology: Essential Thinkers, Classic Theories, and How They Inform Your World" and "The Friendship Fix.”
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