Baggage Check Live with Nora McInerny

May 14, 2019

Licensed clinical psychologist Dr. Andrea Bonior will be 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.

She’ll discuss her recent columns and answer any questions you may have about relationships, work, family, mental health and more.

This week, Dr. Andrea will be joined by Nora McInerny, host of the "Terrible, Thanks for Asking" podcast and author of the recently released "No Happy Endings."

Waiting for the chat to go live? Read Baggage Check columns.

Follow Dr. Andrea on Facebook here.

Welcome, all! It's going to be quite the chat today, and not just because I already have a lunch stain on my shirt (a full 20 minutes ahead of schedule!).

But, first things first — this week's print Baggage. If you're "still" not over an ex after a year, is that too long? And in L2, what happens when you face an empty nest with your husband — and he's thrilled, while you're terrified?

But now, for the very best part — joining us at 1:30pm will be Nora McInerny, host of the wildly popular "Terrible, Thanks for Asking" podcast and best-selling author of the recent "No Happy Endings" and "It's Okay To Laugh (Crying Is Cool Too.)" She has contributed to publications like Time, Slate, and Vox, lending emotional nuance and humor to complex topics, and sharing the depth of her own staggering experience with grief.

I am a humongous fan of her words and the TTFA podcast, and I know there are lots of you out there who are as well. So, don't be shy — send her some questions or comments or reactions or whatever you'd like, starting now — it will be waiting for her when she comes on.

(Oh, and apparently she is very tall! So let's celebrate the fact that today, your hosts must average out to a normal person's height!)

Alright, let's get this thing started!

My daughter was accused of cheating on a college course final. She states she didn't do it. The evidence is damning but not conclusive (a record of her accessing a class website during the test). My daughter claims she was studying on her cell until the test started and then stuck her phone in her back pocket during the test and perhaps inadvertently re-opened the site. She wants to fight the charge, and I said I would support her whatever she chose to do. She also talks about her frustration with the teacher not believing her. I told her we can't blame him, because he doesn't know my daughter well, and has to look at the evidence in front of him. My daughter then asks me if I believe him, and that's where my problem starts. To be honest, I don't know. She's not a habitual liar or cheater, but I can envision a scenario of her being overwhelmed by college pressure and taking an 'easy' way out. My problem is that there were 7 children in my family when I was growing up, and I was close to the bottom. I got blamed for a lot of stuff I didn't do by my older brothers and sisters, and my stepmother would usually just accept that I was at fault and punish me without listening to me. To do her justice, I think she was just too tired to figure out who was really to blame unless there was proof. Anyway, I promised myself I would always trust my children unless they gave me a concrete reason not to. On top of that, I'm a single mother and the father is long gone. It's always felt like the kids and me against the world, and the oldest two got into school due to great grades and scholarships. I want to have her back. However, now I'm wondering if I'm doing my daughter a disservice by blindly supporting her. On one hand, when we discuss this, she seems to desperately need someone to believe in her - tears in her eyes, talk of dropping out - and she's not a dramatic, passionate person as a rule. I don't want to yank away my support from her, both due to the small chance that she may be telling the truth, and my belief that everyone needs someone to believe in them. I also don't want her to think cheating is okay, or something I condone or she can get away with. Because she's bringing so much understandable emotion to this, I don't even feel like I can say "I don't know whether to believe you or not - the evidence does seem conclusive, but I hope you wouldn't lie to me", because I'm afraid she would see it as a betrayal and be even more despairing. What if she didn't do it? Any advice on how to best support her?

Oh, so many hats I could wear here!

I'm a college professor (whose final exam was just last week, for that matter.) I'm a Mom. I'm a psychologist who believes strongly that life is messy and taking ownership of the mess is one of the most important things we can do for ourselves and loved ones.

There is no right answer here, but let's establish an unassailable truth as I see it: you cannot know 100 percent for certain either way. No one can except her.

Some parents would say, then you extend your faith in her precisely because she is telling you that she didn't do it, and that should be enough. That if your parent doesn't have your back, then who does?

Others would say that part of having your kids' back is being a reality check in preparing them for the world, and that it does a disservice to them to totally remove skepticism and accountability if your gut tells you those are warranted. (And goodness knows, I could fill a years' worth of chats with people whose parents gave them blind faith against their better judgment ... and it totally led them astray.)

Others would say it's a simple cost-benefit analysis — which is the greater risk, not believing her when she's telling the truth, or believing her when she's lying? (I would say the former, even though it looks to be the less likely scenario.)

This comes down to your personality and your relationship and your history. No two parents would treat this the same way, and that's okay. In my own personal opinion, I think there's reason to give her the benefit of the doubt given what you describe of her history and her behavior. (But I also say, the whole "my rear end accessed the course site" doesn't inspire the highest of confidence — though it's not out of the question there was a mistake in the professor's records.)

My hedge: "I will support you in this, whatever you choose to do. I will choose to believe you because this is what you are telling me, and our trust is very important to me. I also know that life is complicated and I hope you know I love you no matter what. I am always going to be here, no matter what happens, and I hope we can have the kind of relationship where even in the complications, we can get through them together and trust each other."

For the last several years, I've felt a decreasing connection with a group of women that I had originally brought together for a book club in 2004. We would meet about 5-6 times a year for lunch and an afternoon of discussion. By 2010, we no longer read and discussed books (too many difficulties selecting them), so we evolved to a lunch bunch in one another's homes. One member died in 2014, and another retired to FL the next year. Of the 5 women remaining, I am the most distant, being 35-45 miles (one way) from the rest. We meet for a restaurant lunch at a half-way point about twice a year. We are all in our 70's and have various chronic medical issues. But the larger problem for me is the fact that our political and religious differences seem to be bigger barriers to maintaining our connection. BTW, I am the only one with a husband since 2 are widows and 2 are divorced. My question — should I just stop participating? One recently called me to say she couldn't find the time to email me b/c she was so busy with her real estate work. That was off-putting since she and I had been close for 30 plus years. Sigh...

I know you are asking me if you should stop participating, but there really is no "should" in what to do next. It is totally up to you — friendships fade and reinvigorate and fade again, book clubs gain and lose momentum, and sometimes become a lifeline and sometimes aren't about the book at all, but then sometimes life gets in the way. And that is all okay. 

As for your close friend of 30 years, though, as off-putting as that comment could have been, I wouldn't consider it a impeachable offense for a 3-decade friendship. Maybe this is a lull, maybe not — but she called you and that's something!

It all boils down to what you want. The only "should" is to treat people with respect and kindness if you do try to disentangle yourself.

I'm still in love with my ex, but I'm starting to develop feelings for another person. Is that possible? To still be in love with someone AND start developing feelings for someone else at the same time?

Life is full of ANDs, as I've loved hearing Nora talk about in her own path as well.

It is most definitely possible, of course, many times over. In your case, it sounds like a gift, as it may allow you to keep moving forward after your breakup, and build something new with someone who could be a better fit for you.

All too often, the "AND" refers to still being in a relationship with one person with the addition of feelings for another. The fact that this is an ex in this situation makes this one of the least hairy (hairless?) questions I've gotten in a while. Embrace it!

Hi Dr. Bonior. I am a college student, and my father experienced a traumatic brain injury 5.5 years ago. He has severe aphasia and is disabled, but he has been extremely stable the past year. Small victories have felt huge, and I've come to establish a new normal and fulfilling relationship with him granted his state at this point. My question to you is, what is the best approach I can take in order to maximize my limited visits over breaks? His memory and language are severely impaired, so what is the best way for me to connect with him?

I am sure this must be incredibly challenging for you, but I am so glad to hear how he has stabilized.

I really can't overstate how important it is to just be there.

Your physical, engaged, presence. Talking about your life, even when he cannot respond. Maybe having conversations with others that he is part of as a listener and someone physically connected in the room, even if he cannot respond. Eye contact. Loving tones. Making him feel that you still see him, despite his disabilities.

What kinds of things seem to feel good to him in passing the time? Are there games or activities that resonate with him, whether it's doodling or coloring or reading to him or checkers or watching certain shows together? I am not sure his level of cognitive disability given the TBI — there could be a big range there, even given the memory issues. But those are some thoughts off the bat. Honestly, your mindset about the whole thing tells me you are probably already doing quite a lot toward making the connection a fulfilling one.

Chatters? Any suggestions?

For the last 10 years I have been in a series of relationships that have each started right when the previous one has ended. I am now single for the first time in my adult life and I have been doing a lot of reflecting on my past and the relationships I have been in. It seems to me that I have chosen each relationships as a kind of shelter, valuing the closeness of another person more than considering our actual compatibility. This makes me very doubtful of my own skills to choose a relationships in the future. How can I avoid getting it wrong again? Or will it forever be a case of trial and error?

It will always be a case of trial and error, sure — that's kind of what we signed up for with this whole "life" thing — but I would argue that your errors will get less significant, and your trials more mindful and insightful, over time.

Case in point — you know more now than you did before about your habits after a breakup. You understand now that you have a tendency to seek companionship then, at the expense of checking for true compatibility.

This makes you more doubtful of your skills — when I actually think the opposite should be true. You are learning and will be thinking more about that the next time this happens. You'll be looking more for compatibility. You'll be better able to keep those "Warm body! Warm body!" urges in check because you can label them and see them for what they are, not getting as blinded by them.

I'm biased as heck, of course, but a therapist could also help you refine your road map in this!

Man oh man oh man is this a message from me in my 20s? Because yeah, most of my early romantic life was spent hopping from boy to boy to man to man like being alone was hot lava and if I touched it for even a moment I would be incinerated on contact. 

A lot of people are like that. And I don’t think it’s necessarily bad to NEVER be single, but that the value is in reflecting not on the what, but on the why. 

Also, all of our relationships teach us SOMETHING. Think about that. Seriously think about it. What did you learn from there, and from your selection process? Why did you pick them, or did you even?

I’m pretty jealous of all the self-discovery you’re about to embark on.

I found it very hurtful to read last week's chat about the husband who refuses to wear his hearing aids. The OP said that the husband "has hearing aids which were specifically and personally fitted to be comfortable for him, but he refuses to wear them." You characterized the husband's refusal disparagingly as "he no wanna wear them."Another chatter, talking about a different deaf person, said that the person "had started turning on closed captioning" as if that were a bad thing. Obviously, I cannot know the personal circumstances of either of these deaf people, but I can tell you with 100% certainty that for some of us who have been prescribed hearing aids, THEY ARE PAINFUL TO WEAR, despite supposedly being "personally fitted to be comfortable." Also, for many of us, they simply don't do much to improve our understanding of speech. I no longer wear hearing aids, after decades of misery wearing them (and many thousands of dollars spent on audiologists and hearing aids), and it is deeply hurtful to see comments suggesting that people like me are just being difficult for no good reason. I'm grateful to my family for being kinder and more sympathetic, and joining me in learning sign language. With sign language, we have been able to enjoy many long conversations, and no one is frustrated or miserable. Sign language may not work for everyone, and for some it may be better to explore speech-to-text software or other options. Closed captioning obviously won't help with conversations, but is a huge help with understanding TV and is well worth turning on. What won't work is disparaging people who have given hearing aids a try and found them to be a nightmare.

Thank you for this, and it definitely lends an added perspective. I am sorry if I came off as unempathetic, but I think it's worth repeating that in OP's case, he was refusing to wear them without expressing a single peep about discomfort. Not saying they were painful, not suggesting the family learn sign language, not saying he needed time or another solution, etc.... not even acknowledging there was a problem. He was choosing to blame his family and almost gaslight them into believing that THEY were doing something wrong by finding it hard to communicate with him.

That doesn't sound like your situation at all, so I really hope you don't truly take it as a slam of accusing "people like you" being difficult for no reason. Granted, I'm sure OP's husband has reasons, but he needs to express them. If he doesn't, and continues blaming them, then it sure does seem like "I no wanna," does it not?

That said, hearing about how uncomfortable they can be is helpful to me. I can't even wear typical earbuds because of what must be some sort of moon-man irregularity in my ear shape.... so this certainly makes sense to me. I am glad you have such a supportive family!

Replying to Diagnoses are Bad question from two weeks ago primarily because I thought everybody missed the point. Everybody responded as if the husband had refused to accommodate his wife’s needs because he did not see the diagnosis as “legitimate.” That is not what I took away at all. What I read was that the husband did take her needs seriously – but simply did not take the need to “diagnose a condition” seriously. My personal read is that the LW was using the article to basically say “see my condition is real” not because her husband was not taking her needs into account, but because she fell self-conscious/insecure about these needs and felt she needed extra “evidence” to make her request legitimate. The husband was apathetic about that extra information as he did not care about justifying the accommodation – he has already done this and moved on. Something very important to the wife is simply not that important to the husband and that is OK – provided the husband realizes that it IS important to his wife. Then things moved into unfortunate space as the husband has a bug-a-boo about diagnosing as conditions what was once considered part of the normal range of human behavior and the wife is already defensive about her condition. That combination with a bit of miscommunication just creates hurt feelings, misunderstandings and resentment. The husband deserves most of the blame here as he should have been aware that this was really important to his wife and his tactlessness just made things much worse. I have a bit of that bug-a-boo yourself about diagnosing conditions to explain normal behavior. This bugaboo is perfectly reasonable if you understand people have a wide range of behavior and accommodate the individual, perfectly stupid if this attitude makes you assume most people fit some stereotype of “normal”. Do not get me wrong – a diagnosis is a great as it reassures you that your behavior is reasonable, it tells you what you need and allows you to get effective help. A diagnosis can also be an excuse to justify poor behavior and not trying. Labels can hide/disguise variation as much as they can help explain it.

I certainly see where you are coming from — and you are preaching to the choir here in many senses, as I am not quick to focus on diagnosis and I think there are a lot of drawbacks to a categorical system that labels and pathologizes and puts human behavior into boxes.

But I think you're leaving out something crucial here. It wasn't just that he didn't believe in the label.

He seemed to be dismissive of the treatment for the various ranges of human behavior as well.

That brings it more into the invalidating category, as I see it. It's the opposite of supporting the individual. And OP had a right to be concerned about how that would play out over the course of raising kids.

And I think for something like misophonia, in particular, if someone doesn't buy into the actual diagnosis, then they are more likely to view it as just a quirk that doesn't "really" bother the person as much as they say it does. So it's particularly invalidating. Like the person who thinks "We all are sad sometimes" when being told about someone needing treatment for depression.

I grew up with parents who very obviously were not in love, but stayed together for "the kids." They lived entirely separate lives, slept on separate floors of the house, had different friends, and only talked when necessary for bills/figuring out childcare. Anyways, flash forward to today, I'm 26, they're finally getting divorced, and I'm realizing I never learned proper relationship communication. My partner asked me to make a very big sacrifice so that he could do something that made him happy and I declined. This led to a lot of argument and us now taking a break. Now I wonder if I made a mistake in focusing so much on only my career and what I want, and I fear I will never be able to compromise with a partner because I was never taught how to do so. How do you know where those lines should be drawn in a relationship? I don't want to be miserable and give up everything for someone else and then resent them for it. But right now instead I'm ending up alone.

So many people have trouble finding their own line that works for them, even if they grew up with a better visual from their parents than you did. So you are not alone!

And everyone's line is different. And you are allowed to draw a line and then realize you drew it too close or too far or too thick or too thin. That is how you recalibrate.

I know you want to frame this as a general question, but I want to ask you — do you regret where you drew the line in this particular relationship?

Do you want to revisit that with your ex? (Is ex the proper term here? Not sure what box to check for "break.")

If so, do. You don't have to have the answers — you have to be willing to ask the questions. If you think you may have made a mistake, talk about it. Communicate to them what you communicated here. Express your doubts. Experiment with different scenarios. Observe your feelings.

None of us — no matter what role models we had — are necessarily nailing big decisions on the first try. But that's how you make better decisions in the future. With this one — do you want a do-over? If so, why not communicate it?

I grew up very close to my parents, but when they got divorced when I was just out of college, something flipped and my mom became a lot more irritable/demanding/etc. While she still feels very close to me, I feel less close to her which makes me sad. I now have two young kids whom she adores and wants to spend a lot of time with. My husband and I feel so lucky that she wants to do that which gives us time to ourselves. However, when she has them, she can be very strict with them, she doesn't follow our schedule (mainly for bedtime and meal time), insists that she knows what's best for them, etc. It drives me crazy (and my son is not fan of it either), but if I try to bring it up to her, she just shuts down. I struggle with how to talk about it with her in a way that will get through to her without everything just blowing up.

To me, part of the question is what does it mean "when she has them."

If she's watching them at your house when you and your husband go out to dinner, for instance, it makes sense you want a pretty firm boundary about the routine and schedule.

But is this a situation where she has them at her house for days at a time? I can't tell. But if so, at that end of the spectrum I do think it's realistic to let her have more say in how she's running the day. No, that doesn't mean she feeds them Funyuns for every meal if your family values wholesome food, but it does mean that if she wants to serve lunch at 1:15 pm instead of 12:30pm because that's how she always does lunch and it's her own house and she's got your kid for 72 hours and needs some breathing room, I think leeway is warranted.

But I am guessing the bigger problem is the "very strict" and "insists she knows what's best" and the big cahuna, the shutting down when you try to talk to her about it. If you haven't already chosen relaxed, private times for these conversations, and used lots of "I" statements, and expressed empathy and gratitude and love, then try again with those in mind.

If you've already tried all that and nothing has changed, then it becomes a questions for you.

Is the babysitting still worth it? Your call. But you can't force the child care to be something it's not — nor can you force her to change, either.

I know I'm late to the party, but I can't resist chiming in with my favorite quote: Allow yourself to think, Let yourself understand, Free yourself to feel. As much as the heart shapes the deed, The deed can also shape the heart. -Saurabh Dalal And as a transportation planner, I like this one because it's clever and applicable to more than just driving a car: Always pay the most attention to the driver of the vehicle immediately behind the one in front of you. I wish very much that I knew who to attribute it to!

Love it! It took me a moment with the last one. Thankfully I wasn't driving as my brain chewed on it for a second!

Hello! A little bit of  back-story here, Dr. Andrea has put out a request for any quotes that speak to you about life in general, or thoughts and feelings. Please send them in! 

A question for Nora: For your guest! My son died recently. I feel like I have become an advocate for bereaved parents in our relentlessly happy culture, meaning that I am comfortable speaking up. But there are some elusive questions. Like: if I really want to answer "terrible, thanks for asking," to a friend who keeps starting phone conversations with "how are you?" I have tried to convey my discomfort with being asked this question and I genuinely don't know if it is a real question or that tic that people use as a grating. But I dread it and I really want to answer with the title of your podcast. My other question: I have accepted a fundamental fact about grieving, that one loses friends and gains or strengthens new and old ones. I have cut loose (in my mind) my very oldest friend who decided to not be here for me (for whatever reasons). I think of our friendship as a boat that has become unmoored and drifted away forever. Maybe she will bring it back and then I can decide what to do but otherwise, gone. But I have a nagging urge to tell her that she has been a terrible friend. Not in a nasty way but just here is a sour fact. The more time that passes, the less important this is but it still makes me disappointed and angry. Just keep letting it go or say something? (Therapist recommended letting it go and that is my inclination, yet...)

1) How are you?

 

2) JOKING AND I AM SORRY PEOPLE KEEP ON ASKING THAT INANE QUESTION!

 

I feel strongly that we owe it to the people around us who do care to teach them how to care for us. Why do we have to be responsible not only for suffering but making sure more people don’t hurt us further?  Telling people “I’m really not well. Can you start asking me {more useful question} instead?” Is going to give them pause, because “how are you?” Is a tic. It’s rote small talk. And what people don’t know until they experience a deep and transformative loss is that  you don’t NEED or want small talk anymore. 

Now, friendship. Loss begets loss. Every grieving person knows that the deaths as just the beginning. That people fall away from us for all kinds of reasons, which are unknowable to us. I spent this morning crying over the friends I no longer have, feeling like it’s been too long for me to pick up the phone and say all the things I wish I’d said. But some of those friends were not meant to last longer than they did. They did serve their purpose for a time in my life. 

 

I also wish that I had taken the time to kindly explain that to some of those friends. Because I think everyone is doing their best, and that sometimes, their best just isn’t that good. 

It’s all very hard, and very crappy, and I feel you. And I agree with your therapist...wish them well, let them go. Holding this is burning only you. 

 

 

My ex husband and I divorced almost 2 decades ago. He is single and I have been with a wonderful new partner for six years. I don’t have much contact with my ex except by email. We get along cordially when we are in the same room, such as at my daughter’s wedding. Now my other daughter is pregnant and does not want to share this news with her dad. She refuses to discuss it and won’t tell me why she doesn’t want him to know. Of course he’s going to find out at some point, particularly after the baby is born. I feel he’s going to be very hurt by not having this knowledge and it also puts my other daughter and I in an awkward position because we know we are hiding something. For context, I should add that my daughter got along well with her father while the marriage was still intact. As she got older I think she began to resent him for having been out of work for so long and for being so negative. For many years I was the breadwinner and worked my tail off. Any suggestions? I have offered to share the news with him myself but she said no.

There's a long answer and a short answer here.

Short answer: ultimately, even when it hurts, your grown daughter's relationship with your ex (or lack thereof) is not your responsibility.

Long answer: the fact that she "won't tell you why" she doesn't want him to know (yet?) could mean that something specific happened that you are not aware of. Or it could mean that she is struggling with all the feelings that impending motherhood brings, and how to reconcile that with long-simmering hurt about her Dad, and wouldn't know how to put that into words to you. Or it could mean that she has no idea what she's feeling and just doesn't feel like him knowing right away, and needs some time. Or it could mean it just feels private to her. But it's her decision, and her feelings.

I like your support — offering to help when you can. Offering to play devil's advocate or make gentle, loving suggestions. But make sure she knows she can talk to you through this, even if she's making decisions that you don't necessarily agree with.

But you get a pass on this —their relationship is not your responsibility.

I have a friend whose mother recently passed away 5 weeks after being diagnosed with a form of mesothelioma. My friend mentioned to me that in dealing with her death, she has hardly cried, but in her last days with her mother she was able to understand so much about how her mother had dealt with sadness/loss over the years which was really to just push it away and compartmentalize it. While she loves her mother dearly, that often bothered her about her mother, but now she finds herself behaving in a similar way. I think she is feeling like she’d like to change this about herself, but doesn’t know how. Simultaneously, I think she wonders if dealing with sadness and grief in this way is healthy (or not) . Thoughts?

Everyone is sure they are grieving wrong.

Should I be crying more? Less? Should I be angry? Understanding?

Who knows!

Take it easy on yourself. Find a grief counselor. And let it come on it’s own time. Without judging yourself for what you do or do not feel. 

 

Xo

 

Last week chatters were talking about breathing exercises and problems with them. Check out the Headspace app which is all about what Dr Claire Weekes wrote about-not chasing and trying to control your anxiety (which causes more tension and more dumps of cortisol and adrenaline in your body) but "floating" through it to lessen the intensity of your body's response to the anxiety. Dr Weekes' book "Hope and Help for Your Nerves" helped me tremendously, just wish I hadn't had untreated/undiagnosed generalized anxiety for more than 25 years before I read it. The app is very similar in its approach and a good modern way to use the techniques Dr Weekes advocates.

Thanks for this suggestion!

There really is something to the idea of learning to float on the waves rather than desperately trying to swim away from them. It helps a lot of people in conceptualizing this "battle." And I'll have a lot more to say on that in the project-that-still-is-not-quite-officially-ready-to-be-announced-but-you-all-will-be-among-the-first-to-know!

"What other people think of you is none of your business." [As a micro-managing control freak, this just gob-smacked me upside the head.]

Yes!

It's amazing how letting go of needing to control other people's perceptions of you — or the need to adjust THEIR lenses for them — can be very freeing.

Often it takes "hitting a certain age" to make that happen.

I had cancer a few years ago. I feel like the world loves a cheerful cancer patient who is doing three day walks and raising money for research and sporting sassy t-shirts. Everyone sends upbeat messages like you go girlfriend, you're so strong, you got this. I think people truly mean well. But the reality is I having lasting side effects and feel like my body has been taken over by aliens. Yet there is this pressure to be all perky positive and grateful. Of course, I am very grateful to have good health care and be alive. But it's rougher than people know. And I don't know how to respond when people ask how I am because I think they want a fun upbeat answer but all I want is to turn back the clock.

it’s almost like...your experiences in life...stay with you?

There is a big I love called Bright Sided by Barbara Ehrenreich where she talks about this relentless positivity, particularly around cancer. 

I want you to know that you are NOT obligated to make your life or your suffering more palatable for other people, you are NOT obligated to try to find a silver lining or live on the sunny side of the street.

The effects of your illness are not just physical, and they’re not over just because you got a clean scan. You’re allowed to feel more than one thing at once. Your suffering is not at odds with your gratitude. I hope you read this book, and I am here to high-five whatever non-perky answer you give to people. They need to hear it.

"Misery will tire of you eventually" - The Count of Monte Cristo

I know some people will feel like this isn't the case, but it sure is a good thought. Thank you!

Thanks for being on this chat, Nora. I don't think there is enough discussion of grief and mourning in our society. I wondered whether there is a certain "etiquette" in grief groups. I lost my brother suddenly a year ago and really struggle with it still in daily life. Several people have suggested that I try a grief support group and I want to, but I also don't want to talk. I'm not ready to share my story yet. But I know it might be helpful to hear others' and to know I am not alone. If I go to such a group, will I be shunned if I don't open up right away? Is that considered poor form? The last thing I want to do is be seen as an intruder who isn't doing their part. Thanks.

Sibling loss is so intense and specific. I have never been to an IRL grief group (which is why I started the Hot Young Widows Club), but I know that any group you join will take a warming up period. We do have a group through Still Kickin that is based around sibling loss, and is online. You can lurk for awhile, and share your story when you’re ready. You can also go to a real life group somewhere and say, “I’m not ready to talk yet, but being here helps.” If you’re shunned (which I highly doubt would happen), then you know it’s not the group for you, and at least you tried!

I read a lot so there may not be any new tips, but would appreciate any suggestions for self-care. I try to get exercise, healthy food (& some treats), and some social times with friends, but I know I'll need more coming up... I work full time in a demanding job with a long commute (think gone 6-6 most days), my husband stays home with our 6 & 3 year olds, so he needs a break when I get home and the kids want mommy. (3 year old has been in a mommy phase for months so the minute I get home he's at my side as long as he's awake.) I already work, manage our family finances and paperwork/ school/ appointments, manage an elderly relatives' finances long distance (mostly automated now). For the last few years, I've been helping elderly parents 8 hours away with some finances, researching anything they need, and monitoring the health/ appointments/ medications of my dad who has a lot of health conditions. We also visit twice a year when we do any physical work around the place they can't. Now, dad is diagnosed with cancer and has been given a year to live without treatment; he hasn't decided what he wants to do, and his overall health is so bad I don't think he's have much longer even with treatment. So now I'm trying to plan additional visits, when he's up for it, and help my parents work through what he needs and wants. When he passes, my mom will stay where they live, but will require some substantial help at first with a big estate sale for all his stuff, and generally adjusting to life alone. I'll be able to take time off as needed from my job, but getting through day-to-day - what can help as I get through this next year? I got the news about the timeline yesterday (I've known it was cancer for a couple weeks) and yesterday I was upset but functioning. Today I'm barely functioning, and I know things are not going to get easier. Any tips to keep pushing through the busy life with kids and a demanding job, without going into a mental freeze, or breaking down at work?

I am so sorry. It's a lot to handle, emotionally, logistically, and physically-- there's simply no other way to say it.

Usually I err on the side of touchy-feely exploration, but right now my brain is going to logistical solutions-- your family needs more help.

Your husband has long days as a stay-at-home Dad, you have long days at your job, presumably you both have all the shenanigans that go with running a household and you also have significant caregiving duties for the older relatives-- not to mention the emotional challenges of a parent's cancer diagnosis.

So, how do you "push" through? Well, with more support than you're currently getting.

Even something like a "mother's helper" (I hate that name, and it seems especially egregious in a family with a SAHD, but you know what I mean-- an inexpensive neighborhood kid who is not necessarily old enough to babysit unsupervised but who finds 3 and 6 year-olds charming and will play games with them) for a few hours a week. I could imagine such help giving your husband a rest near the end of his 12-hour day so that he could be more of a buffer and give YOU a buffer as soon as you get home, or to give you both an hour to reconnect and exhale once you walk in the door. Or an occasional night out (with an actual babysitter.) Or more help with your parents-- there are people who can be hired to help organize for an estate sale when the time comes, for instance. There are organizations that provide help to seniors and those with cancer. (And is there a "village" organization near where they live?)

You're checking the boxes of self-care with what you have, so my brain really does go to the actual heavy lifting of helping with these significant burdens. You deserve it, and it could go a long way to freeing up just a little bit of the pressure, to help you develop an oasis.

And of course, I know therapy feels like the last thing you want to squeeze in (or pay for)-- but it's a pretty darn good place for creating your own oasis as well.

Sounds scattered to me. Voice calls take more time than e-mails. Just sayin'...

That's true, but I didn't necessarily imagine it as, "Hello, Wendy? Hi. Just wanted to let you know I won't be emailing you. Tootaloo!"

What if it was a "Hi, Wendy-- thought I'd give you a call when I had a moment. I miss you and am sorry I haven't been on top of email lately." Totally wide range of possibilities, no?

I have always been an organized person that writes everything in my planner and makes to-do lists. In the past, they have kept me accountable and helped me get my thoughts and tasks together in an organized fashion. More recently, though, they have been stressing me out. I have noticed I have started to add even the smallest things to my lists, even meals, which makes me think my planning is getting out of control? Sure, it keeps everything I need to do in one place and has in the past kept my anxiety at bay, but now, when I look it it, it just gives me anxiety as it just seems get longer and longer. I recently switched jobs and am moving, so maybe that is playing a part of it? How can I get to a healthy balance?

Might be time to ditch the list.

Or tweak it. Or not micro-manage it so much. Or use larger categories. But if it's causing you extra anxiety, I'd say take a break from it and see how you feel.

Maybe there are other tools you could use? Reminders on your phone for certain things that are crucial? Having one folder (whether digital or paper) that has all your moving to-dos in it? Making a master lists of your lists so that you only access the one you need at any given time? (Hmm. A master list of lists sounds the opposite of taking a break.)

Play with this. Just because something worked for you in the past doesn't mean you have to white-knuckle hanging on to it if it's not working now.

Why do some people feel a compulsion to cheat, whether at games or in their marriage, in business, and other things in like? Why is a need to "win" at all costs (even or especially when they'd otherwise lose) so all-consuming?

So many things. An upbringing that tells them that the appearance of winning is all that matters. A callousness or lack of empathy to others. A sense of entitlement that they deserve everything. A hopelessness that nobody has any morals anyway and that doing the right thing is futile. A fear of being left in the dust if one doesn't do anything they can to get a head. A deep-rooted insecurity that makes the appearance of being a winner the only thing that matters.

Wow, that was uplifting! Sorry.

But all of those things can be counteracted in some ways... or at least prevented.

Hope is the thing with feathers— That perches in the soul— And sings the tune without the words— And never stops at. Emily Dickinson Helped even when I couldn’t believe it. EC

Lovely. So glad it helped you!

Dr. Andrea: After several layoffs in a shrinking field, I went freelance four years ago and have scraped by. My clients like me but they're few, and when I lose one it's hard to replace. Trouble is, I can't get motivated! I stay up late, get up late, I think I'm becoming depressed because so many attempts to find clients and work go nowhere after a lot of good effort. It's tough to work without a boss. The membership association promotes not ever admitting everything isn't $100K and blooming, so it feels like I'm the only one who's failing. Ideas?

Amotivation begets amotivation, for sure. As does staying up late and sleeping late.

Motivation needs a few different components to be in place-- and the one that strikes me most as potentially missing here is the small, specific and concrete steps that you actually need to do next. I'm guessing maybe it's murky ("Find another client" is what I call a big amorphous blob of a goal, overwhelming in its own sake with no sense of what to do to get there). So, un-murky it. And don't look at things long term.

"Tomorrow, Wednesday, I am going to wake up an hour earlier, and I am going to make that call/send that pitch/answer that email". And that's all for one day. Small steps. Because progress begets progress as well — that's the happier part of inertia.

If you can make it happen, some sessions with a very behaviorally-oriented therapist (so, CBT but with a really big metaphorical B) who specializes in motivation and self-sabotage could help you stay accountable.

Please do keep us posted.

My dad has Alzheimer's. This is excruciating. We were always close and I miss him so much. He still knows me, but so many memories are just gone. His warm, kind, caring personality, his wise advice...gone. He's often confused and irritable, and lashes out verbally at the people around him, which is so unlike him. I call and visit when I can but I just feel sad because I know he's not going to get better and I miss him. I'm close to my sister and we talk a lot and support each other. I don't know if it would help to talk to a counselor because what can they do? Maybe I'm just venting. Or wondering if other people have been there and have any ideas about how to handle the day to day feelings of very real loss.

I didn’t go to a counselor when my husband or dad were dying. What were they going to do, tell me I was sad??

Well. Their job is to give you a place to be. A place to be heard. A place to feel. A place to sort out all of this trauma.Because that’s what this is — you’re watching your wonderful dad die a million deaths. Counseling or therapy is a way of caring for yourself and building your emotional reserves. You may have to shop around to find the right person (I love the psychology today.com search engine) but it is very, very worth it. 

There’s a lot of talk about “mental strength” or moving on from loss instead of dwelling on it. Is the prevalence of articles about steps to push through and the resulting cultural push of that mindset harmful to those who are grieving?

I mean, I certainly don’t find it helpful. What is dwelling? What is strength? For me, I know that the losses of my dad and my husband and my second pregnancy are experiences that will stay with me. They formed me. They are things that shape the way I react to the world around me. They are not the center of my life, but they are forever a part of it. So little time is spent on truly grieving, particularly in the US. We have “bereavement leave policies” at work that give us anywhere between 3 and 5 days to get through it and get back to work. Huh? Really? 

We have a hard time being comfortable with the discomfort and grief of others. A grieving person doesn’t need to be told how to be strong, they are strong. A grieving person needs to grieve, the way hungry people need to eat and thirsty people need to drink water and tired people need to sleep. 

My boyfriend is a little over a year into his sobriety, and he's become very involved in AA, which has had a tremendous positive impact on his life. I'm as supportive as I can be about this, because sobriety is his number one priority. However, I'm getting concerned that his commitment to AA is beginning to have a negative impact on his life. He's having difficulty balancing his participation in AA and his normal responsibilities that are a part of being an adult, like cleaning, errands, etc, which is leading to a feeling of being overwhelmed and that everything will take eons to get done, if it gets done at all. I've already pointed out my concerns gently, and suggested therapy. Is this common? Any suggestions?

I would love to hear directly from some of those in the recovery community here — I know this chat is lucky to have a lot of you!

But my gut instinct is to help him better define exactly how he can find a better middle ground — if that is what HE wants. It's important to know here how HE sees the balance. Because part of me hears this and is like, well maybe he wants to put cleaning last on his list for now-- maybe that's what he feels his sobriety demands. So, listen more about what "overwhelmed" actually means, and what he wants his daily life to look like, and what are some of the ways that HE could feel in better balance?

There's definitely something to be said for the fact that that balance is so important to sobriety, but also can be hard-won (because sometimes the only way to get sober in the first place is to put every fiber of your being into it. And it's worth it.)

Since he is a year in, it's time to get more specific about what he sees as his priorities and how he can keep his emotional health at its best, even if it means sometimes not going to every single thing that he can in terms of AA. (Or maybe, again, it feels like he needs to. I think hearing more from him could be a benefit to help you understand how he sees things, which could help refine how you make suggestions.)

Chatters?

Have you been to Al-Anon at all? It’s a companion program to AA, for friends and family members of alcoholics. 

I was wondering if either of you have seen the new Netflix show "Dead to Me"? Seems like it would be right up Nora's ally. I won't go into it too much, but two women meet at a grief support group and, and grief over deaths are a HUGE part of every episode.

Ooh — Nora, I would love to hear if you've watched it!

I am halfway through (so no spoilers!) and I am hooked. It's dark, it's crass, it's inspiring, it's ugly, it's beautiful, it's uncomfortable — it's full of twists and turns — and I don't want it to be over.

I haven’t yet, but literally everyone tells me to watch it!

I have a bulletin board that's decorated with quotes but... My favorite two are: "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent." Eleanor Roosevelt And, "You can't stay in your corner of the forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes." Winnie the Pooh

Wonderful! Thank you.

Why is this lady working and gone from the house 12 hours a day and yet still has to be the one to "manage our family finances and paperwork/school/appointments"? Her husband should be doing that! He's the one dealing with the kids and their daily schedules! Especially since the oldest is probably in school!

Yeah, I think I glossed over that. I had assumed more of a balance.

Hmmm.

(The smell of burning rubber while I rethink my answer.....) I guess it still all points to the same thing, though-- she (they!) need more help!

Read Love You Hard by local author Abby Maslin! Her husband suffered a high-profile attack that resulted in a TBI with aphasia, and she was his primary caretaker. It’s an incredibly uplifting book that delves deeply into TBI’s, how they affect the entire family, and the nature of human relationships in general.

Ah, yes! This is on my list for sure. Great recommendation. Thanks!

The Post wrote a truly excellent article about Abby and her family and recovery earlier this year. It brought me to tears. Here is the link: A brutal attack almost killed her husband. It transformed Abby Maslin into a different person.

No real Q but just wanted to say it's special to me to have you two in one place today. The past couple of years I have been dealing with a separation and a spouse who was not who I thought he was and coming to understand that my life is on a different path than I had assumed it would be. Nora's podcast and Andrea's chat both are things that have helped me through the day many times over. You both have helped me come to a place of valuing my broken heart and my messy life for what it is, not what it is not, or what I thought it was supposed to be. And the sense of community is really something. So I just wanted to say thank you.

And thank you for these kind words. I really value this community — and I think what Nora has built, too, with her work is absolutely stunning. I am so glad that there are places for the human connection to thrive, even when gigabytes and the Interwebs are involved!

Do you still enjoy the content of the work and the clients you have? If so, "scraping by" may be acceptable (Michelle Singletary probably would have ideas on how to make the $ you have go further). Or perhaps it's time to transition--in modest steps--to something different?

Great question.

Hello, My best friend aged 32 died suddenly in March 2018. Since then I’ve been struggling to move forward in my grief and daily life. I have loads I should be grateful for and that I am grateful for: a beautiful wife, two lovely 6 year old kids, and they all need me. But since her death and despite therapy (ongoing), medication for a diagnosed depression and all my reading on the subject, I am not all here and struggle to be happy. I know as Nora says you don’t move on from grief but should move forward, but what about when you can’t? When life throws you such a curveball that nothing seems as it should be and you just don’t know who you are anymore? It’s the first time I experience something that from the second I knew about it I knew deep inside it would forever change me and it’s terrifying.

You are so hard on yourself! 

Your BEST FRIEND died suddenly just a year ago! 

And if I had to bet, your world didn’t stop spinning, did it? You still had to make dinner for the kids and maintain a marriage and try to work and do a good impression of a regular, functional person.

You might be different now. And that’s okay. We are allowed to change, and to be changed by the things that happen to us in life. 

I’m sure you know that it’s okay to change medications and to talk about that with your doctor, but...make sure you do that. I had to change mine twice. 

“A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable, but more useful than a life spent doing nothing.” George Bernard Shaw I’ve always been mortified by my mistakes, but what’s the alternative? Not to try?

Yes indeed!

I really think it's impossible to engage fully with life and not make mistakes. And if you have any hope of being creative or adventurous-- well the mistakes add up even more.

Getting accused of cheating on a college exam can have serious long-term consequences, and colleges have not been known to observe due process in their quasi-judicial proceedings. The first thought I had was that if she had used her phone during the exam, someone else would have seen her. Was there a witness, or is the charge based entirely on a search history? She should talk to a lawyer who specializes in these matters.

Well, the classic move is asking to go to the bathroom. So people try to use their phones there (and even might bring two so that they can "turn one in" if that's what the professor asks for.)

And I do think that lots of people can have things in their laps without people around them being seen — especially if the rows of chairs are spaced out.

Checking access times for course sites is a pretty common thing I've heard of to check for cheating — it's not about checking anyone's search history; it's more of a smoking gun than that since each person has an individual login. But like any technology I can certainly imagine there being errors. 

And I'm not saying she did any of this, of course!

I'm not sure about the generality of the lack of due process, though. Speaking only in my own experience and those I know, it's much more common for professors to have an extremely strong circumstantial case but NOT be able to do anything about it.

For the chatter with the disabled dad — I once had a dear uncle who had suffered a stroke that took, in part, his language center. He learned to say a few things, but his ability to carry on a conversation was definitely limited. However, he was still interested in doing so. When he visited, he would ask, more than once, "How are you?" — one of the things he had relearned to say. I took this as my cue to talk to him, whether or not he could talk back. He wanted to converse with me! He was still interested in what I had to say and in my life. It seems to me that you could be in a similar situation.

This is really helpful support, thank you!

It's true that so many times in these situations, the capacity to receive language and emotion and connection is still very much there, even though the capacity to express it is not.

Your relationship with your uncle sounds really lovely.

Hi! Just wanted your thoughts on family visits/vacations. I've asked my sister and her family to come to visit our lake house. This would allow our father to come visit both families at the same time from both sides of the county (meeting us in the middle). I asked her about two months ago and I followed up with a text to see if she had made any summer plans. If the answer is no, then why does it take so long for her to talk about it?

Is this a pattern with her?

Is it a technology issue — she ignores texts and emails — where a point-blank question posed on a phone call would be better?

Or is there some dynamic with your Dad that makes this a more complicated situation than the typical vacation?

Or are vacations in general more complicated with her?

I think I need more info here, but I would say that you get more direct — you offered an invitation, and now you are calling to hear a yes or no, simple as that. She owes you that much!

Some of us naturally stay and get up late. It doesn't make us unmotivated, in fact, trying to become morning people makes us unmotivated ...

Oh, for sure. But OP seemed to be bringing it up in the context of being a symptom (and also a potential cause) of their own amotivation, no?

Thank you for your response for the friend grieving her mother, and about letting it come as it comes. When my semi-estranged father passed away several years ago, it was not entirely unexpected (he had been having health problems for years, and the perfunctory contact he did have slipped off), and I reacted in a very numb manner. The most painful thing I remember about it was a friend, whom I considered extremely close and who knew of the relationship complications, kept repeating at me "well, I just don't understand how you are taking this so well" because I didn't immediately melt into a blubbering mess like she expected me to. Looking back, it's clear that my emotions were overwhelming my ability to respond outwardly. Did I eventually cry in private? Of course! But the judgy comment from that "friend" stung for far longer.

Yeah, everyone thought I was doing GREAT after Aaron died because 

1) I said I was and 

2) I looked great! I hardly ever cried in front of anyone because I didn’t want to ruin their day. 

It’s just a good reminder that we have no idea how anyone is grieving, but we’re filled with ideas of how they should. Thank you

I'm not the OP, but that's a thoughtful *general* reminder (thank you). And the online support group sounds sensible....

And I’m a doofus and didn’t realize I was supposed to hit “save” and not “publish” so thank you for rolling with me on this! 

No question for you today, just wanted to thank you both for sharing your incredibly compassionate and thoughtful writing over the years. I've been struggling with some deaths in the family and total apathy at my job, and have gotten a lot of inspiration from your Baggage Check column and chat. Nora, the TTFA podcast is just so well done. So glad to hear from you both in one place this week!

Thanks so much for this. I am so glad that we've been helpful for you. I hope your struggle is showing you some sunlight at times, at least!

I'm just on the other side of OP's situation. I started going to therapy expressly because I was stressed out and sometimes angry about the situation. It has helped immensely and I was glad to have that established relationship when the inevitable happened. I'd also encourage OP to discuss FMLA leave with their HR department now to see what options they'll have. I'd also encourage them to find an eldercare social worker where their parents live. That person can help find appropriate care resources.

Beautiful suggestions. Thank you!!

Thank you!!! That last paragraph gave me something I had been searching for that I just couldn't find. The words that say, I've got your back because you deserve it, but I will even if you slip up. I will use what you expressed and feel good about myself as a mother.

Thank you!

I'm glad my hedging and condition-ing and wavering ended up landing somewhere that actually helped! Please do keep us posted.

I read something (I wish I could remember it exactly) along the lines of — we can't wait for motivation to strike because it's unreliable at best. When we can't find the motivation to move forward, we need to just switch to determination."

I like this!

There's something called "mood-independent behavior" — the idea that instead of waiting for the perfect mood to do something, choose to go ahead and do it anyway. And ironically, that can actually improve your mood. Usually our behavior depends on our mood and follows it, but it doesn't have to.

Hope it's not too late to chime in on the hearing loss/hearing aid discussion started last week. I'm a woman in her mid-60s who probably should have gotten hearing aids around age 50, but vanity stopped me. What finally convinced me was a very small thing, but it might help the OP to frame the discussion with her husband. We live out in the country, and every year, without fail, one of the first signs of spring is hearing the spring peepers (tiny frogs for you city folk) singing their hearts out in mid-March. I look forward to it every year. About 10 years ago I noticed that there were fewer and fewer peepers each year. When I mentioned it to my husband, he said, "They're still there like always. You just can't hear them anymore." I got hearing aids the next week — in time to hear the peepers again! Sometimes it's the small things that have the biggest impact.

The small things, indeed. And given what we heard last week about how the longer you wait, the tougher it is to adjust to the hearing aids, in this case I think the peepers (and you husband's response) did you a big favor!

You're right, it was based on a search history. My daughter was in her seat and will ask her neighbors to the right and left and the three TAs monitoring the test to testify when she goes before the student council. She says she knows they didn't see anything because there was nothing to see. The minus is the history shows like 11 hits in 8 minutes, two or three each at maybe three review sessions? (she says she probably left multiple windows open on her phone)

Interesting. The more specifics she can have in fighting this, the better her case will be.

Can you help? I was brought up by an alcoholic parent and an enabler, in a family where no one talked about the violent danger always in the room. Decades of therapy and distance later, I'm a lot healthier. But when I date now, it's hard to explain to a new "normal" guy why I have nothing much to say about my late father and am not all that close to my family. I'm afraid that signals emotional distance, whereas I want to establish myself as me first (nice, fun, etc.), then explain the family later if a relationship develops. How can I do that? Thanks.

I am sure it is hard to explain, and my heart goes out to you for the difficulties you've suffered.

But I also think that you may be giving too much potential power to your imagination about what these "normal" guys may be thinking. (First of all, who's "normal?") People have complicated family histories! People have stories about parents and estrangement and pasts that don't lend themselves easily to a quick answer to a question over shrimp scampi. If you're afraid that something signals emotional distance, recognize it and acknowledge it. ("Things are complicated with my family.... I don't have a typical relationship with them now. I always wonder if that makes me sound disconnected... but I suppose most other people's families aren't simple either.")

You have a right to your story and to be yourself! That's what you're hoping these "normal" guys will actually get to know, right?

What Andrea said. 

Most people have families that are more complicated than their Facebook feeds would suggest.

Most people know that there is no such thing as normal, and are absolutely terrified that whatever they’ve been through is going to freak out any potential partner!

You’re not obligated to sit down on the first date and  launch into a full explanation of what your family was like growing up, or what they’re like now. Also, I don't know if anything signals “emotional intelligence” more than hard-won boundaries and decades of therapy. Relieve yourself from thinking of this as baggage, because it’s really a feature of who you are and what you’re emotionally capable of. 

Xo

For some of us, the horrible question of "How are you?" is a way of acknowledging that we know life is treating you badly, and we don't want to appear like we're ignoring facts. So what's a better, more caring question? Or should we just avoid it completely?

I get it. 

The thing is, that question is the same thing we ask the checkout person at Target or an acquaintance we pass in the hallways at work. When a sincere question has been relegated to small talk, the person answering feels obligated to respond with small talk...with “fine,” with “oh, ya know...”

It’s so hard to know what to say on either end, and then you factor in where you are/where your relationship to this person stands/the weather and we’re all tied around the axels and blur, we just say whoever comes out! Been there. On both ends.

I didn’t want people to ignore it, but I also didn’t want to have an emotional breakdown at the grocery store. I could sense everyone’s discomfort, I could tell they didn’t want to make me sad, and didn’t want to ignore it. “I’m sorry,” says a lot. 

What was helpful for me in the throes of grief was hearing my dead person’s name. Was hearing about him as a person and not just as a loss. That’s an acknowledgement of the loss AND it’s a way for me to respond with more than just a report on my inner self.

What’s also helpful is just to do a thing for a person.To say, “I know life is hard right now. I’m sending you some restaurant gift cards so you can order takeout and not worry about cooking, don’t send a thank you card!”

 

You’re doing your best. We all are. Xo

 

I love this.

As Nora said, I've heard from so many people in particular that hearing the name of the person continues to be so important — and yet others of us are scared to do it. We start using pronouns, as if the person's actual name died with them. And it misses an opportunity to remember them and make the connection to the here and now.

I used to work as a student advisor at a university. Your daughter should definitely appeal the cheating charge. Some profs are stickier than others when it comes to charges of academic dishonesty. There is likely a process to follow for an appeal, which she can get information about from the Office of the Dean. She should assemble whatever support she can find to help her through this process  — likely there is a student assistance office where she could talk to people knowledgeable about the process who could make suggestions. For example, can she remember whether someone writing beside her at the exam might be able to state they did not see her checking her phone? Could she gather any evidence about "butt-dial" events that have happened to others, to show that this might have happened? Was there information on the webpage which would actually have helped her in writing this specific exam, or is the ban against checking the webpage just an overall rule? If worst comes to worst, and they are threatening to fail her in the class, could she offer to re-take the exam to demonstrate that did knows the material and did not need to cheat? Hope this is helpful. And Mom, believe her  — if she actually had cheated, she wouldn't be so upset.

Great considerations from someone in the know. Thank you!

Thanks. I'm staying up too late brooding over losses and denials, then sleep in (I don't function without sleep), which becomes a self-defeating pattern. Without a boss giving assignments, I'm doing my own work, so it's so much more personal when it doesn't work out. So I brood. See, cycle! I love what I do, but maybe I'm a terrible businessperson ....

You sustained a business in the past, and are continuing to do so even at a lesser speed — so you are not a terrible businessperson!

But yeah, thanks for the clarification on the sleep. It did seem to be part of the self-sabotage. But baby steps, again, to stop the cycle!

To the chatter whose boyfriend is in AA, my partner is also in AA and has been sober for six years. In helping new people, he often counsels a higher level of meetings & service positions per week in the first year+ than is sustained afterward. Assuming your boyfriend already has a home group, I would listen to his feedback about the various meetings and service positions that he holds. He may find that home group plus one or two really impactful meetings a week is a sustainable balance. There will always be the random sponsor-sponsee meetings to read, the calls at night and any time (letting those intrude on your time together is another negotiation altogether) and the quarterly or annual conferences or meetings. You don't mention how long you've been together, but unfortunately, as a partner, there's little you can do (or should do) to influence his idea of what the proper 'balance' is. However, you can talk about your needs. Is he not contributing around the house and that's affecting your relationship? Another tradition of AA is that the goal of AA is to allow the alcoholic to live an active and fulfilling life. If he's not showing up for the rest of his life because of his time commitments in the program, you can listen and help him work through what he sees his long-term balance as resembling and go from there.

This is exactly the kind of perspective I was hoping to get — thank you!

Question for Norah: my husband and I are dealing with infertility. I can only get pregnant through medical intervention, and all of those pregnancies have ended in miscarriage. Miscarriage still feels kind of taboo in our society, but those babies were real to me, and I loved them. How do I answer that seemingly innocuous question about whether we have kids? Saying no feels like I can't acknowledge my loss in public. Yes isn't really true either. And honestly, I don't necessarily want the asker to launch into a monologue about how great their own kids are and why we shouldn't wait.

Those babies are real. You love them. And you always will.

You’re not obligated to tell people your entire story. Not everyone deserves it. But EVERYONE NEEDS TO STOP ASKING WOMEN ABOUT KIDS. Is our maternal status the only way to connect with one another?? Sheesh.

If it feels emotionally safe or even just GOOD TO DROP A MIC ON SOMEONE and say, “Actually, I’ve had XX miscarriages. I don’t want to talk about it, tell me about your shoes!” Do that. If it feels right to say, “We’d really like to, but we’ve lost XX babies.” Say that. And if it feels right to say, “Man, can you believe the weather right now? “Do that. 

And for ALL THE REST OF US! Remember that some women are really really struggling with this. And they will tell you about their family, their kids or their loss on their own terms. 

Hi ladies, I love this guest chat idea! I'm hoping one or both of you can weigh in on how I can best support an acquaintance whose preschool-age child has cancer. From a lay perspective, it doesn't look good- it has metastasized to the child's lungs. This is just every parent's nightmare. Any ideas on what to do or say? Or not do or not say? So far all I've got is contributing to the family meal train, keeping our own sick kids away, and sending books and "bed toys" for her child. And in terms of what I've said...just that it's awful, and unfair and I hate that this is happening. But always know that she has a community of people supporting her. Any other thoughts or ideas? #effcancer

You’re doing it. 

You’re an acquaintance— and outer ring person, no offense — your job is to just donate meals, cash, gift cards. Mow a lawn. Be low contact and highly helpful.

Your job is not to have a thing to say, but to show up. And listen. And be kind and empathetic. You’re doing a dang good job.

OP here. Thanks for your input. Regarding the 3 decade friendship, for the first half, my friend and I both worked in "corporate America" and shared the hobby of antiquing together as "friend time." Once she started her career in real estate, her free time was highly scheduled and we didn't do fun activities anymore except with the former book club. I email her about once a month to keep our connection. She'd return email in a few days. That's been the pattern until about a year ago, when return emails take a week or two. Additional context, a few years ago, she asked me to coach her son thru a job search, which I did over the course of 10 weeks, spending an hour or two each week with him via phone. I've also helped an older son with HR advice for his small business (at no charge). Both of these I did willingly b/c we had a friendship. So, the "not impeachable" voice mail, which was basically, "Hi, sorry I don't have time to email you, real estate is crazy catch up with later" (which didn't happen), seemed pretty dismissive to me. I would be inclined to write to her, expressing my disappointment and asking for ideas as to how to re-establish a connection, but having to go to that kind of effort to salvage a friendship makes me feel like I'm begging to be a part of her life. So, maybe the answer I am seeking just became clear. Thanks for responding--I learn a lot from your columns.

Ah..... so it was a voice mail, then, not even an actual connection and phone call. A hit and run, perhaps.

Makes more sense now. Maybe indeed the Friendship Congress is murmuring about impeachment.

It does seem you have some additional clarity now.... and you can always change your mind later as you take some steps and see how you feel.

Thanks for the update, and for the kind words, too.

Sobriety and how you work it is like underwear — there is no one universal style and size. And you may change what you do with time. When you first start attending meetings the push is to go to a meeting everyday - especially if your bottom was really low. As you become more at peace with yourself and not drinking some people really scale back. Some stay in and put a lot of time into helping newcomers. It's really frightening when your head clears and you see how bad you were. He may be playing it safe and putting time in now to avoid a slip. Best of luck to both of you!

Who knew that an underwear analogy could be so nuanced and insightful?

Thank you so much for this!

After the last rehab stint (there were a few) it was like a switch was flipped in my then husband. He went from being addicted to drugs and alcohol to being addicted to AA. Attending a meeting every day, sometimes multiple times a day. That graduated to running meetings. Taking on multiple sponsors. He refused to do *anything* with his family - his sobriety came first. I'm talking about things like going out to dinner together with his kids. Or to the movies. He went to work, he went to AA, and the rest of the time he was on the couch, outside smoking, or on the phone with someone from AA. His idea of family time was to take the kids with him to an AA meeting. We went to a therapist specialized in addiction for almost a year but he refused to see what he was doing to us. I supported him best I could, and I stayed with him through that tentative first year of sobriety but he made it crystal clear that this was his life now, he had no plans on making any changes, and I had to accept it. I didn't, and now he's the ex. He still doesn't do anything with his kids.

I'm so sorry to hear that.

I wonder if at some point, he really truly feels like it's either that or giving in to his addiction. He can't turn off the all-or-none and stay sober, that he has to choose his sobriety over his kids — which in some ways, is still choosing his kids, even if he's a lesser-than-version with them of what he could potentially be.

But I can imagine the disappointment and heartache for you. It doesn't seem at all fair, I am sure.

Our daughter was stillborn 9 months ago. My husband and I attend a bi-weekly support group we have found very helpful. At a recent doctor’s visit, my husband was told by his GP that he is prolonging his grief and we shouldn’t continue to talk about and focus on our loss and our daughter. He compared it to someone who had a traumatic injury and kept showing the scar after it healed. My husband was hurt and angry, and is considering changing doctors. I don’t blame him. Clearly his doctor is dumb about grief, and that isn’t what either of us need right now. But he is a doctor, and I wonder if there is any value in sending him a message. I admit I’m angry, but I also feel like he needs information so he doesn’t do this to other patients during times of crisis. Is this a bad idea?

No, that’s a good idea. That’s a necessary idea. Because that doctor is well-intentioned and also hurtful and NINE MONTHS is basically nothing and you know what? I have a scar from a bike accident that I still show people 17 years later. And I have a dead husband and always will. And you have a dead daughter...AND ALWAYS WILL. That loss is a part of you. And grieving for nine months is not prolonged. Consider this a highly intense hug for you, and write that message.

I am the chatter who had written about a family member who had started turning on closed captioning. I absolutely did not mean that was a bad thing. It was just meant to illustrate how far his hearing loss had advanced. Close captioning is an excellent tool (and not just for those with impaired hearing.) The issue here is that the person refuses to even TRY a hearing aid (or anything else, including ASL) and acts as if the problem is with others who “mumble.” Impaired hearing and refusal to even attempt to address it is leading to impaired ability to function and impaired relationships. I’m gobsmacked that today’s chatterer compares his situation to that of either the OP or to that in my comments last week. Interestingly, his comments this week have led me to reevaluate the dynamics in my relationship with a hard-of-hearing family member and the result is feeling less tolerant and more critical.

Thanks. I agree that the situations were apples and oranges, so that response was an oversimplification.

But I'd hate for that to have made you feel less tolerant and more critical! Your family member didn't do anything....

Not passing any judgment on the actual student, but I'm calling BS on this statement. Sometimes kids get the MOST upset when they've been caught and don't have the proper coping mechanisms but don't want to cop to their actions.

It's true.

And I may have known a child or two in my day where the "tell" of lying was that they were so, so, so outraged to have been accused of it!

I'm the person who wrote about alternatives to hearing aids. You are 100% correct that the OP's husband should express WHY he doesn't want to wear his hearing aids. That could go a long way towards making the OP more sympathetic, and could lead to the entire family discussing other options for communication (perhaps via email to ensure that everyone understands what's being said). I hope the whole family will start communicating about what's going on and what their options are.

Thanks.

Yup, the longer this communication stalemate goes — in every sense of the word — the worse off it will become.

Best thing that happened to me after a traumatic experience with a family member. I bumped into a friend at the grocery store (I really didn't want to see anyone). She knew the details, but looked me in the eye and said, "I am not going to talk to you now. I am going to give you a hug." In my numbness, I think I just sort of nodded. She game a quick but firm hug (we were in the beer/wine aisle), smiled at me and walked away. It was the best thing that could happen to me at the time. I did tell her about a year later how much it meant to me.

There's nothing better than a friend knowing just what to do, in that moment. Lovely.

(But of course, don't let the fear of not knowing exactly what to do drown out the impulse to at least try to do something!)

When I ask people how they are, I really mean it. My best friend lost her child, and we often talked about how she was. And it was never, ever good. 8 years later on the anniversary I still ask, and (as I expect) it isn't good. Sometimes I add —how are you and would you like to talk about it, so that they can decide if they need to talk about their grief, or just want to get their mind off things for a few minutes and talk about cat videos.

Yes!

I often hear people say that hearing "How are you today?" feels more welcoming and understanding and less generic in the face of loss.

Wanted to let you all know that you sent in a lot of really wonderful questions to Nora and they are much appreciated! She couldn't get to all of them (just as I can't ever get to all of mine) and I don't want to step on toes for those of you who were hoping for a response directly from her, but if it is something that you want me to respond to, I am happy to — I'll just ask you to resubmit for next time. That way I'll know that I am not forcing you to have a cheapo substitute for Nora if you didn't want one.

Thanks!

That time is here again, unfortunately!

First, I want to thank Nora so much for taking time out of her life to be here today (and what a busy life it is. In case anyone has not looked, HER LATEST BOOK IS ABSOLUTELY ON FIRE, AS IT SHOULD BE! Check it out!) And for those of you who aren't familiar with "Terrible, Thanks for Asking," definitely give it a listen.

And thanks to all of you today for a sensitive, insightful chat as always — with a spot-on underwear analogy, to boot.

I wish you a relaxing week, and will look forward to seeing you next time. As always, see you in the comments and on Facebook.

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.”
Nora McInerny
Nora McInerny is the best-selling author of the memoirs "It's Okay to Laugh: (Crying Is Cool Too)" and "No Happy Endings." She hosts the podcast "Terrible, Thanks for Asking" and founded the non-profit Still Kickin.
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