Baggage Check Live: A little too close to a movie montage

Jun 04, 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.

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

Follow Dr. Andrea on Facebook here.

Hi, all!

What is on your minds today?

On mine is Lori Gottlieb's book — I just finished it and was blown away. I have so many thoughts and am counting the days until she's with us in this chat next week. So, please, if you have a question for her (and you probably do, as approximately three trillion people have read the book by now) you can go ahead and send it in to next week's chat already!

I am thrilled to have Briana today as our substitute producer, filling in for Rachel who is away for a very happy reason. (See note below.) Warmest of welcomes, Briana!

So, in today's column, we have a LW who is wondering about Wife's amount of "me time" — and whether that will start getting really old when they eventually have a baby. And in L2, we've got someone struggling with oversensitivity to criticism (not uncommon to hear on the therapy couch!)

What've you got for me today?

Let's begin!

From Rachel:

Hi chatters! My colleague Briana is filling in for me today producing this chat. You all are in good hands while I am away on my honeymoon. 

Last week, some folks asked how the upcoming registration wall will affect subscribers. I've been told that it won't. Subscribers (or even non-subscribers who are logged into their account) won’t see any changes. A prompt to sign in will show up only for users not logged in.

Your first question set off alarm bells for me. Self-care isn't a universal, quantifiable thing. Everyone needs different things in different amounts. By asking "How much self care *can* one person need?," it sounds like you are invalidating your wife's "me-time" needs (as she articulates them), bean-counting her self-care activities, and looking for an outsider opinion to say that you're right. She needs a lot. You have needs as well. How can you both work to balance them for each other (and a potential kid)?

Your last three sentences are really key here, I'm thinking.

What stuck me as well is that maybe — just maybe — between the lines here is a real fear on LW's part not just about the amount of self-care that Wife may need, but about how personality itself may adjust to being a mother.

I have so many questions for you. What is your real concern here — time spent? Money spent? That it's all ineffective? That she's overstating wants as needs? Do you feel you don't get enough "you time" or "us time" because she's taking a lot of "me time?" Do you expect your wife to give up all her self-care needs when she becomes a mother? Do you feel like she should automatically take on more childcare as the mother? You say that you will feel "forced" into childcare responsibilities (for you own child!), so what does that look like to you? Are you OK taking on more childcare, but feel it won't be equal? What do you think parental equality looks like? Are you worried that you won't get any "me time" yourself once you have kids? My concern is that your question seems to border on "Don't you think that a mom should be taking care of the kids instead of getting massages?" when, in fact, some massages, gym time, and therapy might help her be the best parent she can and carte blanche removal of all of those as luxuries might do more harm than good.

I agree with a lot of this, for sure. Very good questions.

Again, I don't want to assume gender role issues that aren't automatically there, though — in my recollection there was nothing in the letter (even the extended one pre-editing) to indicate that LW was necessarily a man.

Reading today's first letter made me wonder about what WASN'T written. He may be a caring and loving husband, but on the other hand I have to wonder — what does the letter writer do with his time now that he's afraid of losing out on? Will a child cut down on his time alone in his man cave? Will it keep him from the golf course with his buddies on the weekend? Will he not be able to stop off after work for a couple of brewskis with the gang? Again, his concerns may be legitimate, or maybe not. I agree with what YOU wrote, and hope they can communicate BEFORE they have a child together.

hahah!

I just so appreciate the word "brewskis" — one of those words that keeps life interesting.

It's a very good question. I think it's quite possible that LW's concerns are totally legitimate and there really is an imbalance of "me" time, but there's also the possibility that they are not being realistic about the things that they do themselves and the amount of time that they take up.

(For what it's worth, I didn't necessarily think that LW was a man — but no matter what the gender, it's a reasonable question!)

I'm the OP from the Critical of Friends question you posted in the live chat last week. You asked for an update and I do have something of an update. What prompted me to write in originally was that I had made a new friend, but there were a few things about her that felt like possible red flags and I wasn't sure if I was just overthinking it. I do tend to have unrealistic expectations of people (like you suggested). However, she started repeatedly bailing out of our plans by either going incommunicado or "forgetting" plans we had just made the day before, and offered no real explanation. As she was a new friend and thus had bailed more times than we had actually hung out, I decided to cut my losses and end the friendship. I later found out she had lied to me about numerous things both large and small. So in the end, I am still left to figure out some things but your response has helped me pinpoint why I have had a string of unsatisfying friendships. All of this has also helped me recognize that I do have several very positive, supportive friendships I could be putting more effort (and appreciation) into. You were right: not ALL of my friends annoy me. I do think I have been trying to fit in friendships of convenience with people I don't particularly like just for the sake of putting more social engagements on my calendar. I have a few theories as to why that is, but for the sake of brevity, I'll close by saying thank you for helping me start thinking about this constructively and I already feel like I'm headed in the right direction.

Thanks so much for this. It makes me really glad that you are able to see some patterns here that could help you move forward, and even more so that you do have some solid relationships that have very strong potential. When you're really willing to look at patterns and be honest with yourself, it goes so far!

A few years ago, we built a guest house on our property so that we could help care for an ill relative in his final years. "Bob" had an on again/off again relationship with his ex-wife. As his health failed, they grew closer and his ex was a frequent overnight guest. We had no issues with this while he was still here. However, now that Bob has passed, we have a challenge. Bob's ex expects to be able to stay our guest house whenever she wants — including during annual gatherings we host that tend to last late into the night. Bob's ex doesn't really join the festivities on the whole. She'd rather be by herself in the guest house. Meanwhile, we have other family members who would appreciate actually being able to sleep in a bed when they stay over instead of having to use tents or sleep on sofas —particularly the couple who has agreed to help with the ongoing maintenance and upkeep costs on this dwelling. Logically, we should just be able to tell Bob's ex that the house isn't her property. However, emotions are still a bit raw for us all and we're trying to be kind. Nothing precludes Bob's wife from visiting us for a bit and then driving back to her own home. I think she's just trying to keep operating the way she did when Bob was still here. Any advice on how to start the "This isn't your house" conversation?

You sound like a really kind person, so first I want to commend where people who aren't sensitive or generous-hearted tend to wonder "What even is the problem here?" So, bravo that you are wanting to keep the spirit of generosity and patience in the world and consider other people's feelings, even when they are not necessarily making it easy.

It's a little odd to me that she doesn't really come to the festivities of this event and yet insists on that particular time to stay over rather than others. (Are these big family reunions where she feels obligated to be there?) But I think that is part of your opening. "Trudy, we were hoping to talk to you about something. We know that emotions are still a bit raw for all of us after the loss of Bob, and so this feels difficult to bring up, but we've found ourselves in a tricky situation. When Don and Betty come for the party, it makes sense for them to be able to stay in the guest house instead of in a tent or on a sofa. We'd like to be able to offer that to them. I think we need to talk about the big picture. We always want you to feel welcome here, but we need more communication and planning about how the house is used, so that we can make sure we can take care of everyone's needs as well as possible."

Thoughts?

It always surprises me how many couples decide to have a baby seemingly without fully discussing and agreeing on issues like childcare and budgets. OK, the LW and their wife are only at the stage of “considering having a child,” but it sounds like they would benefit from talking sensibly about childcare, eg. if wife currently goes to the gym 5 times a week after work (bearing in mind this will stop for a few weeks/months before and after birth, so wouldn’t be an issue for the crazy exhausting newborn weeks), could the wife take the morning childcare shift so the LW could have some me-time before work? What else can they balance to make it fair, or at least acceptable to both? Can they make a draft budget that prioritizes diapers, formula, health care, and perhaps some paid childcare, whilst also allowing some leeway for each parent’s chosen self-care activities? It does seem like the LW is storing up potential resentment for something that hasn’t actually happened yet, and hopefully this could be headed off by calmly discussing how they both envision pregnancy and parenthood for their family.

Yes. Well said. Communication is key here, especially for when "considering having a child" turns into "trying to have a child" or most definitely when it's "Oops! We are having a child." 

Anyone else feeling some core problems in this relationship? It doesn't sound like OP really respects their wife. Or trusts her to be a good partner when it comes to childcare/household labor distribution. If you think someone is not too effectively balance her needs with the needs of her spouse and children (which is what I'm getting here), you should not be having children with her. Not necessarily because she's selfish, but because if you're thinking that then your relationship is not in the right place for you be thinking about kids ...

I am a bit more hopeful for them — I'm banking on LW just wanting a reality check, and worrying about the toll that kids may take on a spouse who already may have higher needs than average — but I agree that deeper questions need to be reckoned with.

Hello! I wrote in super late last week, so writing again in hopes it makes it to the top of the queue. About 18 months ago, my husband and I moved to a new city, going from living in the urban center in original city, to living in the suburbs in new city. We are in our 30s, with no kids and a dog. I have really struggled to make friends in my new city. Some additional details: I go to the same boutique gym at the same time every day. My job is the type where people are friendly in the office but everyone just does the job and goes home, so not a lot of opportunity there. We joined a wine club that meets monthly. I've joined a professional networking group. Anytime I'm invited to an event with this group or with someone I meet, I say yes. I know I have RBF and am not a naturally outgoing person, but I try to be positive and open when I'm at these events. Where I think I'm running into issues is I can have great interactions with people and I guess I don't know how to follow up. Am I missing something big? Should I be just striking up random conversations with people in the gym lobby and ask them if they want to get a drink sometime? I mean how do people do this! I would love tips or ideas or something because I'm feeling really down on myself that I haven't been able to connect with anyone.

Addendum:

I'm the friend person. I wanted to delete the last paragraph as I think it's not actually my issue. The issue seems to be — I find I can have friendly and great conversations at wine club or a networking event, etc., but how do I move from that to more plans? Should I just ask people for their number? How do you go from one time casual conversation to trying to meet up again and build a potential friendship? If this were dating, I'd tell someone "just ask them out again!" but for some reason in friendship that feels weird to me?

I can't tell you how much I've heard your quandary — so much so that I wrote a book (with a radioactive pink cover!) on this very topic.

For so many people, it's not meeting friends that is the problem. It's taking them from acquaintances into that friendship category. Add in a new city and take away some of the ways that people naturally interact socially with others with a bit less effort (through kids and a dog) and it gets even harder.

Here's the thing though — the abridged book version — it's a numbers game that requires effort and risk. Yes, it can be even more awkward than dating because people have different priorities and different numbers of friends and different needs for types of friends. And it can feel incredibly weird to "ask someone out" platonically, and yet that's what you must do. We also put so much pressure on ourselves friendship-wise —assuming that if a friendship doesn't take off, it means there's something wrong with us — whereas we would never automatically assume that if we didn't marry the first person we ever dated, that that meant there was something wrong with us.

At networking events, you should be golden — you should absolutely ask for people's numbers, because that's what those events are for and it would be very expected. At the gym, if you see the same person over and over, then try to build on the chit-chat to the point where you aren't starting fresh each time but instead following up and deepening the conversation. Reveal more of yourself. And yes, just stick your neck out. "I'm going for coffee/smoothie/a bagel after this workout — wanna join?" You can even make reference to the awkwardness of it in a humorous way, or tell people how you are new to the area and wanting to know more people.

You really have nothing to lose here, and everything to gain. There's freedom in that.

Hi, Dr. Bonior! I’m trying to figure out why something bothers me. A few weeks back I was informed by Facebook that my cousin had gotten married! We are close-ish — I used to visit her family a handful of times each year, but between work, school and life we haven’t seen each other for several years now. We mainly keep in touch via text on holidays and birthdays. I’m not super-upset I wasn’t invited to the wedding — I most certainly would've had to RSVP no anyway due to travel costs — but I wasn’t even told about the engagement! Some internet sleuthing strongly suggests they were engaged for several months, so I’m positive this wasn’t a quickie thrown-together wedding. So why am I so bothered that I wasn’t told about the engagement? My benefit-of-the-doubt side says maybe she didn’t want to tell me and have me think she was angling for a gift without a wedding invite. But the rest of me says, wow, she couldn’t have sent a “Hey, how’s it going, guess what, I’m engaged!” text during the past few months? It hurts, but I can’t put my finger on what else about it bothers me. Or is “it hurts to be shut out” enough? Thanks!

I am sure this stings. And I could imagine a million possibilities here, from her being secretly hurt about something you did, to her just having assumed you've grown apart, to this wedding being more complicated or scandal-ridden than meets the Facebook eye, to her having announced her engagement on Facebook and assuming you knew.....any given possibility varies on the spectrum of who is at "fault" here (if anyone!)

It does hurt to be shut out, and it hurts what this represents-- that your life has moved farther away from someone whom you used to be close to. That you don't know her as well as you thought you did. That maybe you don't rank as high for her as you would have assumed. That hurt is understandable.

So, the question becomes, what do you want to do with that hurt? Do you want to use it to inform you that you DO want a close relationship with her still, and so you decide to reach out with a "Hey, many congratulations on your wedding. To be honest, I was a little surprised that I hadn't known it was happening!" Or do you want to just use this as insight in to the fact that people grow apart and that "work, school, and life" sometimes change the trajectory of a relationship-- but you can still mourn what you lost and be grateful for what you had?

I'm dismayed to learn The Washington Post plans to implement mandatory registration for Baggage Check.

Some thoughts: 1) I'm afraid I Do. Not. Believe anonymity will be maintained. Sure, presumably readers will not see the names of those who submit. But it's the work of a moment (less, actually) for The Post's back-office to connect a question containing content such as "I have life-long depression" with the user's registration data. Doubtless The Post will promise not to do so. But it's entirely predictable that those who are naïve enough to believe the promise will never be broken will suffer an inevitable and public re-education.

2) I'm also aggravated by the registration requirement simply to read the chat. What's the benefit to The Post? Put another way, what does The Post believe is the cost of maintaining the existing open access to read it (in real-time or later)?

3) It's disappointing that rather than provide a page with FAQs about the new policy, The Post has put Andrea & Rachel in the unenviable position of being (insufficiently informed by management) messengers. One cannot help thinking that neither the logic nor the implementation has been thought through.

4) Most importantly, I hope Dr. Bonior asks The Post: "Can you provide me with the number of average unique page views per week for Baggage Check for the past year or so? And what does the Post expect the drop-off to be (since the registration requirement will be a deterrent, possibly to many)?" Then —please — follow-up after a few weeks, to determine if the potentially optimistic metric turns out to be flawed in practice: it's well-known that even a free registration requirement can result in a dramatic reduction in engagement. Ultimately, I imagine I am not alone as a reader who has appreciated the chat's many years of intelligent guidance and am sorry no longer to have access to it.

I certainly understand this concern, and even share it. Rachel and I are both worried about how this will affect our audience's ability (and willingness) to access the chat, and — most important — to feel totally comfortable in doing so and rest assured that they have full anonymity.

That said, I do think it's helpful to clear something up — there is no specific registration required for chats, per se. People who already subscribe to The Post have zero change and don't have to register for anything. It is just that for people who don't subscribe to The Post, they'll no longer be able to get freebie access to the chats without registering (at least that is how I understand it.) So the devil's advocate position is that, paying for access to the product has long been part of the model of The Post — their journalists need food as often as everyone else —and so now they are still allowing the free ride but wanting at least something in return, like the ability to market to you via your email address.

But I understand the concerns that brings, again. I really hope we can all weather this together and you can find a way to stay, even though I feel a little shady encouraging ways to work around it!

Hi there, My spouse has battled depression for several years, and lately it seems to be kicking into high gear. He's doing the right things, seeing a psychiatrist for med management, seeing someone for CBT, meditation, attending Al-Anon meetings, and he's got a good support system. But I'm finding that I can't support him well. In the last 6 months, he's quit 3 jobs, just as we bought a house. I am now shouldering our entire financial situation, managing my work, and getting us moved into our new place. He has stressed me out beyond belief, and I'm so angry. We'll be fine financially for a month or two, but he wants to take a break to "find himself." I feel like he's been finding himself by trying out all these jobs that he's quit, and now he just needs to pick something, even part time, and start contributing. I don't have much to say to him anymore, and I don't know how to balance supporting and understanding him while also encouraging.

So, what does "finding himself" or "taking a break" actually mean?

You both need a roof over your head; there's a substantial part of that that's just not negotiable. I assume his taking a break means not getting another job right away, but I'd urge him to ditch the black-and-white thinking here. Could he pick up part-time or gig work while he still makes time for his treatment? Can his treatment include goals to contribute to the family? I am so glad that he is doing all the things that will help him climb out of his depression, but if you guys end up in foreclosure, that certainly won't help matters.

So a new client comes to their first appointment with you, presumably because something in his/her life isn't working, and says "Doc, I got this problem ..." What do you expect from them, and what should they expect from you? How much time should they give you to decide whether the two of your are connecting? And how much time do you give them? Do you ever tell a client "I can't help you. Stop coming." Or more likely, "I don't think I'm the best therapist for you. I'd like you to see Dr. Ross or Dr. House. I think they'd be a better fit."

Therapy can be so intimidating to seek out — so I'm really glad when people ask these types of things to help demystify the process a bit.

Every therapist's process is different, of course, but by the time someone has come into my office for their first appointment, we have had a phone consultation where we have jointly determined that what they are struggling with, their history, their style of what they're hoping for, and what their goals are, are a good match to work with me. Sure, occasionally new nuances come up in that first session that make things more complicated than we had assumed, and if they would benefit from a different provider (perhaps because they need more intense crisis intervention from someone who could be available 24/7, or even in-patient treatment, or someone who specializes in more intensive treatment for eating disorders or PTSD or substance abuse, for instance), then we would determine that there, and I would help them connect with someone new. But that's extremely rare, because usually we would have already long since determined that in the phone consultation and they wouldn't be in my office.

Honestly, if someone doesn't feel a connection with me after both the phone consultation AND the first appointment, I would hope that they wouldn't continue, though that hasn't ever seemed to happen, because I imagine the phone consult serves as their opportunity to screen me out as well. (After the phone consultation I give them some time to think things through and put the onus back on them to confirm with me that they want to continue, so that they won't feel obligated to say "yes" just because they've spilled all their guts to me.) I guess the point I'm driving home is that I screen my clients really carefully, in part because I rarely have openings, but in largest part because I would hate to waste anyone's time.

And I absolutely won't take on a client that I don't think I would be an optimal fit to help. That's not terribly uncommon, but again it's something that usually 20-30 minutes of a phone call can figure out. The most common reasons are the same ones I mentioned above. There are a lot of specialists in the field, and a lot of different options for treatment, and there is no justification EVER for me to thwart someone from finding the best match for their particular situation, even if it's not me.

 

Hi, Dr. Andrea. I've started dating someone who seems to have a high EQ, which is great. We have an enormous amount in common, including a shared sense of humor — we crack each other up — and he's laid-back and a good listener, which are both good for me. But I've started to notice that he's not tuned in to current events, and when I asked, he says he doesn't pay attention to the news. I'm a typical Washington news junkie (not just politics, everything), and my whole family, including teenagers, talks about who and what is in the news. Already I'm making references and he's not getting them, which I suspect will be a problem. Are there practical solutions here, or is this a personality dealbreaker?

So that's the question, then — you suspect it will be a problem, but how big of one? In what ways? To what extent? And (perhaps most important of all) is it something that may be adjusted over time?

Every relationship has its own particular formula for matching. Some couples share virtually all their hobbies and have very similar personalities, other couples have similar personalities but live in different spheres in terms of interests and hobbies, still others are very different people altogether but somehow click in a way that supersedes (or thrives on?) their differences. And everything in between, of course.

So, this is one way that he's very different from you. Over time, it might make you bored with him, or lose respect for him, or fail to connect with him. But you probably can't know that quite yet. For now, there sound like enough positives that it seems reasonable to give it time. (I think the shared sense of humor is particularly important — that seems to indicate that although he's not tuned into news, he's still intellectually somewhere on your wavelength.)

Maybe in time it will become clear why he doesn't pay attention to news (not saying that that's wrong) and whether that will ever change, and what that represents — which is probably a bigger indicator than anything about just whether this will be a dealbreaker for you.

I don't disagree with the advice you gave the husband whose wife spends a lot of time and money on "self-care," but I am not sure you gave him proper support. A lot of the things he lists are really optional, in my opinion, and if the household budget does not support repeated massages, hair changes, and so forth, it could become a real problem. Some women really waste a lot of money on such things. I manage to be presentable and take good care of myself, and have never spent money on these things. I have an acquaintance who actually lost the house her children were growing up on but spent exorbitantly on herself like this, and another acquaintance who spent whatever she wanted with the attitude that her husband should "just make more money" in order to keep up with her. I agree that some tough conversations are long overdue, but I suspect this man and his wife have mismatched value systems, and I feel like his question is coming from a place of real pain and valid panic. I am not sure you gave him enough support for what may become a financially and/or maritally ruinous pattern.

Hmm.

Is this about the self-care letter from today's column? Or something from a previous chat?

Because I don't recall anything about hair or cosmetics or appearance or anything of that nature. 

(Though I know that Ben's brilliant cartoon alluded to that!)

Help me — I'm confused here!

I have an extended family where second and third cousins are treated like first cousins, meaning nearly all of us are very close and enjoy each other's company. One cousin, "Erica" was a triplet and three years younger than me. Erica suffered from mental illness issues beginning as a teen. She self-medicated with drugs and alcohol. She managed to avoid all family get-togethers, like Thanksgiving, with excuses ranging from not setting up a cat-sitter to missing her train. My now-husband one time remarked that he'd never met Erica after eight years together, despite seeing her siblings and parents several times a year. Erica moved to my family's city to be near extended family at the request of my aunt. My parents got her a job and she didn't show up. We invited her to every dinner and she didn't come. For me, the last straw was when she texted two days before my wedding that she couldn't come. Last year, Erica fell out of the third floor of a parking garage and died at age 26. It was initially ruled a suicide but then changed to accidental. She had triple the amount of Ambien she should have in her body and it was middle of the day. The loss for her triplets and parents is unimaginable. The anniversary of her death is coming up and I'm feeling very weird about it. I didn't know Erica, having not seen her in almost a decade. At the time of her death, I was frustrated with her unwillingness to seek actual mental health treatment and putting her immediate family members through so much stress. I feel guilty for feeling sad. I feel guilty for not reaching out. I don't know what I should do.

What you should do?

Let yourself feel.

I know that sounds like some touchy-feely cop-out, some cliched therapist comment that can't really make a difference, but I hear so much resistance in you to just letting yourself have all the complicated, messy reactions to this that humanity basically dictates that you would have.

Sudden deaths are very, very hard. Deaths of someone that our relationship was complicated with are very, very hard. Deaths that leave behind close loved ones are very, very hard. Deaths connected to mental illness and addiction are very, very hard. Deaths that happen at 26 are very, very hard. Anniversaries of deaths of loved ones are very, very hard. Deaths that happen under mysterious circumstances that then are revised and changed are very, very hard. Do you see where I'm going here?

You were a human being who was frustrated with someone you loved — someone who did put her family through a lot of pain, but probably did so as a result of her own pain — and now that person is gone. And so you are having a reaction.

There is no right way to grieve. There is no perfect relationship or perfect people to grieve. There are only human beings — Erica was one, and you are too. Let yourself have feelings. Write about them. Talk about them. I don't know — sing about them or draw about them. Seek help about them if you so desire.

But please don't let yourself tell you that you are wrong to have them.

Honor Erica and carry her with you not because things were neat and tidy, but because they weren't — but that you are willing to acknowledge that love (and its underbelly, grief) can be big and messy and still beautiful.

This is YOUR house. She is taking advantage of you because you let her. You don't have to call her the squatter she is, but for heaven's sake, "Bob's ex, I know this has been a trying time, but we need our guest house back. Please let us know when you'd like to use it and we'll tell you if it's available."

A more direct way to deal with it!

I think OP really wants to give her the benefit of the doubt, so I will to — I don't automatically want to assume that she's consciously taking advantage of anything.

Unfortunately, you may have to go through the eviction process to get rid of her. She might have squatter's rights. Note to self —change the locks on the cabana frequently.

I don't get the vibe that it will come to this — especially because I didn't read it that she was already squatting, just that she was coming and going as she wished (but maintains a home of her own.)

Hi Dr. Andrea! I’m a new fan of your column and I hope you can give me some guidance. I’ve suffered on and off with depression since college. I know when things feel “bad” enough for me to go back on medication, and I’ve had good success with anti-depressants, but I’ve only gone to therapy on a couple occasions. My use of antidepressants has been an issue with husband for few years, because he doesn’t want me to rely on medication long-term, and I agree, to an extent. To him, if I transition off medication, then everything is “all better.” I don’t agree. Last year, I began to feel better and more able to cope, and under normal circumstances, would have begun to lower my dosage or transition off medication. But I was pregnant, and understandably worried about postpartum depression, so I stayed on. I tried to keep an eye on my mental health postpartum, and everything seemed normal until my son was 6 months old. Whether I have PPD or resurgence of depression, something is wrong and I’m addressing it (making plans to attend a PPD support group and find an in-network therapist.) I don’t want to act like I fully have this under control, but I know I need to do SOMETHING for me and for my baby. This is issue 1.

Issue 2 is how to explain to my husband (who apparently has never suffered from depression, and apparently has no imagination as to what it might like) that I need his support and help, not his judgment. Though I took my husband to a few OB appointments so he could ask questions about my medication and its safety, he has become really worried that our son’s happy disposition is due my antidepressant use. I have tried to explain that this is nonsense. I’ve also tried to reiterate that a healthy/happy mom is VERY important in having a healthy/happy baby. He attended our last pediatrician appointment, where I showed signs of PPD on the PPD questionnaire. He seemed totally blindsided, even though I had told him I felt like I was overwhelmed and struggling to hold everything together. I just feel totally unable to explain depression, need for medication, and the overwhelming work of being a new mom while dealing with a mental health issue. Obviously, I am not explaining this clearly to my husband, and consequently I feel really alone.

Oh, man.

Here's an interesting angle I can't help but notice: Your husband is worried that since your baby is happy, then that is somehow a problem that is your "fault" because of your depression and its treatment.

(And he's supposed to be the mentally "healthy" one?)

Sorry. I just couldn't resist, since that right there is such an anxious/dysfunctional thought pattern that I couldn't help but call him out on it.

I am really sorry that he seems so hellbent on denying you empathy, compassion, and support. Yes, I get the concern over antidepressant use, and how underneath it all, he may very well be coming from a place of love. But he is not showing you that, and he is making things worse for you and the baby. Full stop.

I try not to do this that often, but I really think you should show him this cha — even if you don't admit it was you who wrote it. You need help in articulating your feelings to him — but in reality, it might mainly be that he needs help listening to what you are already articulating.

Because it's pretty clear to me, and probably to most everyone reading this.

You struggle with depression at times. Making sure that depression is adequately treated helps everyone.

And as you said yourself, you need his support — not his judgment.

And he needs to understand why his lens is so distorted.

You need continuity from one encounter to the next, so ask for updates: "So. How was your softball game?" "How's your cat doing post-neuter? " "Any news on the house hunting front?"

Continuity is crucial — so true.

It's the difference between two straight years of "Wow, how about this weather?" versus a "Hey, did your air conditioning ever get fixed?" which leads to a texting of a HVAC person's contact info, which leads to a text about something that makes someone laugh, which leads to a coffee gathering, which leads to lifelong friendship.

OK, maybe I oversimplified that a little too close to a movie montage, but it's true — continuity is key!

I, too, city hopped in my early thirties (20 years ago), and it just takes time to create new friend groups. I met a lot of my current friends through my job, but also at live music events (which I love). I think it's important to have some shared "thing" that brings you together. Don't forget your neighbors, who can be a source of friendship. Do you have a community Facebook page? A few years ago a woman moved to my community and created a community book club, for the express purpose of meeting people. I joined (even though it felt slightly awkward at the time) and have met a lot of interesting people in my neighborhood. We get together every few months and catch up ... it's nice. And once you make a few new friends, you'll likely have the opportunity to meet lots of their friends. Keep at it!

Much inspiration here. Thank you!

You have a dog — this should help! But mainly — yes, just ask people out/for their number. Do this with an opt out and preferably with reference something you talked about — enjoyed our chat about Brit mysteries and would love to continue it sometimes. Would you like to exchange numbers and get together for coffee — or are you juggling too many things? Or I really enjoyed or chat about X movie — want to get together and see Y, I think it's playing locally. It is a numbers game, you might get a number and follow up and get radio silence. You might get a gracious no thanks. Keep at it and try not to think of it as personal.

Ah — I had read it that they had no kids and no dog, but I just looked and you are right — they have a dog! That does help somewhat, especially if the dog likes other dogs and pooch playdates can be arranged.

I love this elaboration. Great advice; thanks.

I am in a work group with two other people. One person just started and is transitioning from one position to another, so they are just learning the new job and still partially doing their old job. The other person was on a temporary assignment or on leave for the better part of a year, leaving me to pick up the bulk of the work. As the person with the most experience in this job, I have been taking on a leadership role in my group, which I embraced as a new challenge. My manager has also been trying to get permission to fill the position of the person who previously served as the group lead before they retired; it's clear that I'm next in line for this position. However, now that the other people in my group are back on the job and picking up more of the work, I'm just feeling burned out and not at all interested in serving as a leader anymore. In addition, I am starting some new projects that I previously would have been excited about, and now I just have no interest. Can you suggest some ways to get my enthusiasm back?

Well, I think first you (or I!) need a little more insight about just why it is that you might be starting to feel burned out now, especially as you are starting to get more help, not less. (For most people it's the opposite — they get more burnt out when extra work is dumped on them.)

So, can you take a stab at quantifying what it is that seems to be most grating on you now, or most exhausting, or what the particular spark is that you are missing? Is there something about these particular people coming back? Is there something about you no longer starring in the show? Is there something about the reality of the new potential position being less shiny than the idea of it? 

Might it be time for a change altogether?

In general, you can increase your engagement at work through keeping in mind your purpose, finding deeper meaning in the small steps that you are taking each day (by connecting them more clearly to your values in life or the difference you are making in the world), and deepening your relationships.

And you can decrease your risk of burnout (or its symptoms) by setting appropriate boundaries, having clear goals, improving your communication with others, and taking care of yourself not just via work-life balance but in general.

So my question becomes, which of these areas are the biggest smoking gun in what's going on here?

What troubles me about LW1 today is the negative characterization of Wife's personality. "My wife and I have always had different personalities — she is more dramatic and emotional, gets exhausted more easily and is more sensitive to things." It sounds like LW1 doesn't really respect their wife. And that's a problem with or without kids.

Yeah, you know, I think there are a lot of different ways to interpret that wording. It's really hard knowing exactly the tone in which certain adjectives are delivered when they are just typed out, rather than spoken aloud. I don't think it's out of the question that there's a lack of respect there, like you suggest. But I also think LW could have just been being concise and to-the-point — and that possibly all of those adjectives are objectively true. (After all, it's not like he called her a "nutjob" or something.)

Are you out there, LW? A lot of questions for you today!

I feel a trend coming: pre-parenting seminars!

Ooh, yes!

And within the seminar, we could do an in-vivo simulation to test their stress response: Keep them up for two nights straight, launch nine different unknown fluids projectile-style onto their clothes and carpet, and pipe in the sound of a piercing wail that only stops when they stand up and bounce a wiggling, writhing fifteen-pound mass up and down repeatedly!

The graphic accompanying the column suggested hair care and other expenses not present in the letter, hence the confusion.

Right.

But was it that much to ask that the person have actually read the letter?

I bet that he makes his wife stop the massages and going to the gym. And then 3 months after the baby is born, he will complain that she is fat, lazy and never goes to the gym, and hasn't had a Brazilian wax since before the baby was born. And then leaves her for the next emotionally frail and depressed woman who thinks he is the best thing since Betty White.

OK, this made me laugh loud enough that Buster is wondering what is going on!

It is interesting — I would have not necessarily expected it, but that letter really seems to have brought out a wide range of reactions!

Whenever I read what people write in, I always try to lean toward the benefit of the doubt — because they are writing in. To me, that automatically means they are at least willing to look at things in a slightly more open way than people who would ever write in asking for a different opinion in the first place.

Chatter says LW's wife is spending on optional things. These are the three things listed. I assume nobody would write in to a therapist and suggest that therapy is optional? Gyms and massages can contribute to health. If you can't afford them, that's one thing, but that isn't really what LW is complaining about.

Exactly.

I suspect chatter is not writing back because they realized that they just glanced at the illustration, bothered to read none of the actual situation, and for whatever reason started wading into a needlessly gendered tirade about women and their darn needs.

I was surprised to find that having a newborn is not something that can be equitably split to divide up the labor. I stayed home for a couple of months after my son's birth because I was in possession of the feeding equipment, and my husband continued to work. Now, I'm not big on time-intensive self-care. I've never been a fan of massages or facials or manicures. But I was ASTONISHED by how little time there was for me for the most basic of self-care: going to the toilet uninterrupted, or the most basic of bathing. And because I was home during the day, my husband did automatically expect that I would handle household items like laundry and cleaning and preparing dinner. This would have been reasonable, if most of my time (including overnight) had not been taken up with meeting the needs of a newborn. I don't believe I got more than 3 contiguous hours of sleep for the first 18 months of my son's life. My husband's routine was largely unchanged, even when we "equitably" divided labor. I agree that this couple should take a look at the realistic set of responsibilities a child brings into the family and how to allocate them equitably. But a simple "you take the morning and I'll take the evening" division is, I believe, too simple for a newborn. They should talk to recent parents of an actual newborn and get a realistic sense of the impact to the mother's world, at least during those first 6 months. And most importantly, it seems to me that cutting back on her existing level of "self-care" during the newborn months could make the transition to parenthood all that much harder. It is like nothing I'd ever imagined, and if ever I needed there to be time for someone else to care for me, it was then.

Yes.

I do want to emphasize (sorry, broken record on this) that this couple in the original letter could very well be two women — in fact I don't know why, but that's kind of how I visualized it when I first read it, for whatever reason — with letters I generally never know if my vibes about that are on, or off, so I try not to make assumptions either way when the pronouns aren't clear. (Sometimes I fail at this, where I am always grateful for my column editor Adam to challenge me on this —he unfairly gets no public thank-yous here as he is totally behind the scenes, but Adam, we are grateful for you!)

But you make an excellent point, and that's that nothing should be taken for granted and assumed about how the labor should be divided. Bad precedents are all too easily set that leave one spouse shouldering way more than the other, and tension grows. It needs to be an ongoing and extensive conversation, with both people being willing to look at their blind spots.

Why were you frustrated by her refusal to seek help?  Your paths never crossed in over a decade. how is it any of your business, cousin or not? Erica was socially awkward and chose to stay away from you and many others? Why is it a personal affront to you? Why do we insert ourselves into other peoples' business and feel that we have any say in it?

I do see where you're going with this, but when we watch the ripple effects of people's untreated struggles, and we watch them harm people we love, frustration is definitely an understandable reaction.

Fellow depression sufferer here. It sounds like your husband might think that medication is somehow the "easy" or "lazy" choice and that if you just tried harder you could find a permanent fix within yourself. I want to affirm that you are STRONG and BRAVE and DETERMINED for seeking help, and you are protecting your loved ones by doing so. Maybe he needs to talk to someone whose bipolar spouse is refusing medication or whose self-medicating alcoholic parent destroyed their family to see what the consequences are when someone who is ill goes untreated. I respect your choice to seek treatment, even without a lot of support.

Thank you so much for this.

I bet OP will appreciate it very much as well.

I understand the frustration, BUT — we are provided this service for "free." Without revenue, WaPo doesn't exist. I wish there were a different model too, but it's hard for me to argue that WaPo should provide us things for free. And I really value the chats — I am still mad at the guy who slashed the chats 10 years ago.

Thank you for this.

Yeah, I really am increasingly of two minds on this. On the one hand, I want people to have 100 percent confidence in their ability to be completely untracked in the chats here. That comfort is paramount to me, and the total anonymity of this chat is non-negotiable. And I am as against email marketing as anyone else.

On the other hand, the reality is as you said it — WaPo provides a service, and needs to make revenue to keep providing this service. (And I do occasionally enjoy having breakfast.) If this were 1997, people would either be subscribing to have their newspaper delivered or paying for it in the machine outside the grocery store. They simply wouldn't get to read the advice columns otherwise, so it seems strange that at some point everything should just be expected to be free.

Either way, I thank you for being here and for your support!

He's not hearing you as you say, since he was surprised about the PPD questionnaire. If this continues, I think you should go to marriage counseling because that indicates to me that he needs someone neutral to help translate as and hopefully move him on from hearing what he wants to hear to something more constructive.

Excellent advice. Thanks.

Assume the best — she thought you knew and was crazy with wedding planning. Text her "Hey — so excited you got married. This makes me realize that I haven't caught up with you in ages (eek emoji). After the dust has settled, I'd love schedule in a chat so we can get caught up and I can I hear about the wedding. Congrats again!"

I love the sweet tone of this. If OP wants to take a stab at it, I'm all for it.

them's some high expectations there.

Are they?

What do you suppose self-care should do?

Admittedly I don't buy into some of the shallow Instagram-ready types of "self-care." A sheet mask is great and a fabulous treat, but if you are someone who has emotional difficulties (as OP's wife seems to), a sheet mask isn't gonna do much unless it's truly paired with some bodily or mental relaxation — that do exactly the things that I listed.

then yes, she may well need more self-care when she has a newborn. This is important to explore before having kids.

For sure.

I am a woman and a parent and actually on the side of the LW here. What I get from LW is that even with all the self-care, the self-care spouse is unhappy and needy. I think this is the real issue, that LW does not see spouse actually trying to develop coping skills or find ways to grow. Baby or not-baby is a red herring. LW would be well served doing a session or three with a counselor to sound out what seems to be a lot of unease under the surface.

Thanks.

Yeah, that was what I was hoping to get at — that the biggest question to me is whether the self-care is actually effective in creating the kind of sustainable support that LW's wife needs, and that will presumably need even more of if a baby comes.

I did read the letter. Along with the illustration, one could assume the “etc.” to be hair and other beauty appointments. You are certainly showing your lien in this letter.

What is my "lien"?

One COULD assume that, but I didn't choose to jump to that particular conclusion, and I'm not sure why you did either. I assumed it to be things like yoga and book club and nights out with friends.

Maybe that is my "lien!" (lean? Still confused!)

It's my response to the first letter. He did list massages , and I guess I added in hair and nails in my mind. I see a lot of other people are attacking the spouse for not being supportive enough of her "needs," but I think there is another side of the picture. Their values and support of each other need to match. Reading it again, I do think that gym time and therapy are important self-care activities, when needed.

Thanks for this, though if I have my head on straight, someone else (a wee bit less open-minded) is also claiming to be the person who wrote the first response!

I couldn't agree more that it's all about a good match in the ways that they support each other.

Use that dog! I have struggled making new friends too, and I haven't even changed locations, but the friends I have made recently have pretty much all started with my dog. I got involved in a "dog moms of (location)" group through Instagram and met other folks in my area through there as well. In fact, several are coming to his birthday party this weekend. It is such a hard thing to do, and putting yourself out there stinks. But having a furry friend by your side does help a little.

I love this. Thank you.

(There is hope in Instagram after all!)

Pretty appalling that because it is a man, the term "man cave" was thrown out there as a boo-hoo reason for his concerns. I would love to see somebody get away with blaming a standing mani-pedi appointment without anyone calling them on it. I am a woman by the way. Having had friends of both sexes who were particularly self-focused, having children was very difficult for them to give up their time to focus on the child. Both parents will have to sacrifice; it’s a given. I completely understand that one parent (sex is irrelevant) is very afraid that the other will not pull their weight. That is a legitimate concern no matter what reproductive parts a person may contain.

I agree that there is an underlying concern there that is very legitimate.

And yes, it's very ironic that what I assumed to be a letter about two women is bringing out a bigger gender-dynamic issue than we've seen in a while!

I reserve the right to love the word "brewskis."

I'm starting a Bonior Bingo card — an honor in Adviceland — and the first square is "s\he may have 'squatter's rights.'" Can you tell I'm rolling my eyes?

ha!

I am both terrified and perversely curious what else will appear on that Bingo Card.

(My saying the word "definitely" too much should be the Free Space in the middle.)

Over time, I have tried to learn not to take things personally. So often, whatever's happening has nothing to do with me. In the absence of evidence to the contrary, I try to assume there's some benign reason things happened as they did.

Yup. This can often make it much easier to let go of things. Thanks.

Is this one of those situation where you soldier on and then, when some things are lifted off your shoulders, you go all floppy because your body is telling you that it saw you thought the crunch but now you need to pay attention?

Great question.

I have worked with countless people who have their first panic attack or bout of depression weeks or even months after the "worst" of their stress. And they are always surprised to begin to understand that sometimes the survival instinct gets us through stuff in the short-term, and then we feel like we were hit by a truck when it finally wears off.

You have a happy, healthy baby. I'm sorry your husband doesn't understand how your depression works, but at least give yourself a pat on the back for taking care of yourself so that you can take better care of your baby.

Beautiful. Thank you.

Every time I see/hear someone talking about stopping brain meds, I want to scream. If you needed meds to keep your heart working properly, would you say "OK, it's working — I'll stop taking the meds?"  OF COURSE NOT! Brain meds are no different. If you need them, be happy that they're available! I have a disorder for which I will be taking meds for the rest of my life. My only fear is that they will stop working. You'll take my meds when you pry them from my cold, dead fingers!

ha!

It's true. I don't fault anyone for making the choice to try to wean themselves off their own meds for whatever reason, but when we start telling others that they are somehow less-than for being on them, or urging them to get off, I put up my dukes as well.

I'm falling out of my chair here. MAJOR red flag. Pharmacological Calvinists are some of the most pernicious people out there, for depressives to have to deal with. Can a psychiatrist talk to him or slap him upside the head or something?

I'm hoping that his education will be more compassionate and less startling than a slap upside the head!

Except they might be writing in for validation and not be open to other interpretations.

Yes, but then that's where I get to not give them that validation. And they've at least opened themselves up to that risk!

Regarding registration: at least at present, the Post doesn't require any proof of ID to create an account, just a user name and an active email address. If you don't know how to set up an anonymous email address, ask any 10-year-old. You can be sure that the vast majority of regular commenters are not doing so under their real names. You could also subscribe anonymously if you want to protect your tracking data by paying with a prepaid debit card. It's really dumb and entirely unnecessary to register with your Amazon or Facebook account.

Let me take this opportunity to officially remind everyone that I AM ABSOLUTELY NOT OFFICIALLY SUGGESTING DOING THIS.

I enjoy much of the WaPo content but I am pretty sure I first started subscribing to the digital version in order to read Carolyn Hax ... also maybe Michelle Singletary ... just to point out how important the chats are to folks. I find all WaPo content worth every penny though.

Very kind! Thank you!

Pretend he's a visitor from abroad who's fluent in English, but just needs some brief "footnoting." Example: "Trump's on a state visit to London"; "There was a recent mass shooting in Virginia Beach." The sorts of things a foreigner might not be aware of. Shouldn't be a big deal.

You seem pretty optimistic about it, I'll give you that!

I hope we'll hear back from OP in the future.

I think some people put personal news out on social media and it's just a huge megaphone for them. They don't think about hurt feelings, etc., it's just easy and "word gets around." I've heard about family/friend weddings this way, too, and it doesn't occur to the poster that it's coming out of the blue to some of us. Can't agree, but I think that is where were are these days (for some).

Great point.

My migraines are like that — they occur after the stress has ended. My doctor says that it's due to vasodilation once I relax.

Yes! Migraines are perfect examples.

So ironic and frustrating that it's most common to get one not on your last day of work before vacation, but on your first day of finally being able to actually relax once you're there.

Good lord, please don't send them to Dr. House.

hahah!

I saw that and then was wondering whether Dr. Ross was a certain person.

(Speaking of shows ... did anyone catch my "Mad Men" reference?)

I had some extra time today so couldn't resist going a little long. (Sorry, Briana — but you are a champ!)

Thanks so much to everyone for being here. And I can't wait to welcome you next week with Lori Gottlieb. You can ask her, or me, or both of us questions, and you can do that already at this very moment and they will remain in the queue. 

Until then, take good care!

And I'll see you in the comments and on Facebook or Instagram.

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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