Baggage Check Live: A flag so red that it's actively aflame

Jun 18, 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.

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Welcome, all! What is on your minds today?

In today's Baggage, we've got someone who wants a break from her family — but what about the ramifications? And in L2, we've got a boyfriend who flakes out on confirming plans for dinner. What do you think?

On another note, I think we have officially gotten into a great groove with our Baggage Check guests — last week's with Lori Gottlieb went beautifully. I will keep you posted on the guest I get next on the schedule — and am of course open to suggestions.

Now, bring it on!

I think details of the fight may be relevant to any discussion here. The letter didn't say if the boyfriend previously agreed to a standing arrangement to have dinner together daily. It didn't say if he agreed to advise if he'll be missing dinner but he keeps forgetting to do so, or if he just plain denies that that is necessary while still expecting the LW to be available whenever he doesn't work late. If the latter he's just a jerk and I'd suggest breaking up. Otherwise, if the relationship is genuinely good otherwise, maybe the LW can tell him that from now on they'll assume dinner together will not happen unless he explicitly confirms it before she makes other plans — not in a huffy way, but just in an "I'd love to see you, but I need to manage my time when you're not available" way. If his response to that is reasonable then problem solved. If his response is unreasonable then I think breaking up would also be problem solved.

It's true — there's a lot of potentially helpful context missing here (a weakness of the print column rather than the back and forth of the chat!)

LW —are you out there?

Could he be passive-aggressively trying to make sure you can’t make plans with friends? Does he dislike you going out without him? I may be WAY off the mark, but this situation resonates with my experience with a controlling ex. He didn’t like me spending time with friends, and also knew I much preferred to plan in advance, so he’d deliberately let me know late on/not at all if he was going to be out, so I didn’t have chance to make alternative plans.

Ouch. It is worth considering — and I am sorry for your experience!

How often does this happen? My spouse was a CPA so Feb-April was chaotic. He honestly was so busy he didn't always think about dinner during the day. I finally realized I had to be proactive. So I called every day, 30 minutes before the take out dinner order had to be placed at work. That would remind spouse to either order dinner or arrange to come home. If you know certain days for your boyfriend are going to be busy (big meetings, project deadline etc) just tell him in the morning that dinner will be his solo responsibility. Then make your own plans. And schedule special dinner dates when you know you can both have a nice dinner together.

Thanks. It sounds like in your case, there was a baseline of communication that helped this to happen — or just the predictability of the busy season for an accountant. I'm not quite sure we have that baseline with LW, but here's hoping!

Hi, my best friend is getting married in Spring 2020 and I’m thrilled for her. I’m the maid of honor. The problem is I’m pregnant and due this coming July and thus can’t physically do much of what she’s asking for — I can’t order a dress with any sort of accurate measurements in the near term, and I also can’t make plans for a far-flung bachelorette, say, eight weeks after childbirth. I’ve tried to indicate to her that I’m super excited but would prefer to make plans in the winter when I’ve recovered a bit given that her wedding isn’t until May! But she’s in a huge hurry to finalize everything and I feel badly for raining on her parade and I think it comes across as selfish when I push back. (I should note that she was a bridesmaid in my wedding but I didn’t ask her to do anything much.) What is fair and how do I talk about this with her? I don’t want my life event to trump hers.

When I first glanced at this question I misunderstood the timing — thinking you'd be pregnant at her wedding or having just given birth. But your situation is even easier. No, she does not need dress measurements eleven months out, and if she claims she does, then you will just need to wear a different dress than everyone else, or (if you are a wee bit more patient than I am in this instance) you just order two sizes up from your normal non-pregnant size and hope for the best. No, a bachelorette party does not need to be finalized nearly a year in advance. What is this shenanigans?

Her expectations are unreasonable, whether they come from anxiety or the Bridal Industrial Complex or a generally controlling personality or what. Keep doing what you are doing — being empathetic and excited, but clear to her that there are certain things you just can't do. You can throw her some bones in working with her to put things in place as basic placeholders — what weekend the bachelorette party will be, for instance, and whether it will involve flying — but to me this is a no-brainer.

Look, I've been a multiple-times-pregnant bridesmaid — including being a maid of honor so far along that it was reasonable to already give a thank-you to people at the reception who happened to be doctors — and somehow that all worked out. And your situation is infinitely less complicated!

I asked a question last week about my SO who always expects me to choose dinner, make plans, and is generally content to basically follow me around and do whatever I want to do, which is annoying, because I'm tired of being the one making all the choices and feeling like a tour guide. Lori called me controlling which I don't understand at all. My SO thinks s/he's being accommodating and laid back, but s/he will also be upset if we don't see each other for awhile because s/he can't be bothered to come up with a plan by her/himself. And s/he doesn't understand why it's becoming so irritating for me, and I'm having trouble explaining why.

Hmm. I certainly don't recall Lori calling you controlling! I believe she introduced that or uptight-ness as a possible perception of you by your SO, if they assume that you want to be in charge of everything. And that that could be part of the reason SO thinks they're being so accommodating, because they assume you like to call the shots?

Regardless, this is a common dilemma and so it shouldn't take on too much mystery as you try to explain it to SO. It's pretty basic, as I see it. If you need to be blunt, be blunt. "I have tried to help you understand this but it doesn't seem to be working. I feel frustrated having to make plans all the time. I'm tired of making all the choices and taking all the initiative. It's a lot of effort. Are you willing to share that effort with me to help me out, or is this dynamic going to continue and make me get more and more frustrated?"

Just wanted to say thanks to you and the chatters for the warm responses to my question. Hearing that others have had a tough time makes my current friend-less status seem less embarrassing. I appreciate the ideas you and chatters provided and am working on "asking people out" to do activities in the hopes that I can develop close friendships in my new city similar to the dear friends I still have back home.

This is great to hear!

So many people are embarrassed by having too few friends, I think because it harkens back to all those horrible lunchroom days when you spent your days constantly surrounded by peers, so if you didn't happen to have friends then, it seemed to raise the question of what was wrong with you. (Which of course, there was not necessarily anything.... but that was the perception.) As an adult, though, you could be an amazing potential friend but simply not have any local friends as a matter of circumstance. So change those circumstances and keep trying! 

From June 4: "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 just explained my life! My mom & dad both got sick and died within 2 years of each other right after I turned 40. Then I bought my first house (with a small inheritance they left me). As soon as I settled in and nothing stressful was happening, I started getting panic attacks. I've always wondered why they happened after all the stress was over. Thanks for the explanation.

I am so glad that was helpful. It really does happen quite a lot, and I hate to think of the people who think that it's a "setback" or that something is wrong with them when they have this reaction because they're "supposed" to be all better. It's all part of the same process.

I hope you have been finding help and/or seeing progress with your panic attacks!

Hi Dr. Bonior, I really liked the term Pharmacological  Calvinist that came up in a previous chat! It completely makes sense that medications can help correct neurological imbalances that are contributing to mental health problems. However, I'm also currently reading Dopesick by Beth Macy, and she argues that one (just one!! there are many others!) factor that may have contributed to the epidemic is Americans' growing enthusiasm for taking pills to correct mood issues (especially ADHD medications for children and teens). How do you decide where to draw the line between recommending therapy and coping strategies vs deciding that medication is also needed to help? (maybe the problem with painkillers was that doctors prescribed them without accompanying "therapy" for pain management?) Also this ties closely to a personal dilemma ... I have a rescue dog who has been increasingly aggressive lately, most likely caused by anxiety. Training has not been super successful, so the vet behaviorist suggested adding anti-anxiety meds as an option, but it's unclear if more intensive training could be just as useful. I know it's kind of a silly question, but I'm honestly curious! Is there any difference between how to approach the decision process for a dog vs. a person? (The money also matters here ... so far in my experience, dog insurance is even worse than human insurance in terms of mental health coverage!)

This is a nuanced issue without an easy right-or-wrong answer, for sure. I do agree that the mindset behind medication matters, and I hate the "Let's just give you a pill and ignore all other components of this problem" perspective as much as anyone, and I don't think it's a stretch to tie it to larger issues within our culture.

In my experience, there are some considerations that help in figuring out the role of medication early on. Sometimes, a person's anxiety or depression is so debilitating that they aren't even in the frame of mind to be able to BEGIN cognitive-behavioral work — so pursuing the possibility of meds right away can be helpful. Other times, there is a clear-cut genetic history of something that runs so strong that it seems likely that a neurophysiological imbalance is a larger part of the equation than in the typical case. Still other times, medication needs to be pursued because therapy just isn't helping move the needle enough or there's been a problematic history there with therapy. No two therapists or clients will be exactly alike in how they look at this.

As for dogs, I've been there too! Certain things are different off the bat: an aggressive dog brings significant risk to others in a way that the average anxious person certainly does not. A dog does not tend to be motivated to work on themselves emotionally and behaviorally, unless there is a sausage waiting for them at the end of it. (Hmm. That sometimes describes humans as well, I guess.) A dog doesn't tend to have a complicated relationship with their own self-efficacy, or risk learned helplessness if they think they can't do anything to treat their anxiety besides take a pill. And on and on. So in my mind, the calculus is different from the start. But yes, dog meds bring financial issues too! I will say, there is one potential mental health treatment for dogs that doesn't tend to work as well for humans (unless we're talking about my own kid humans) — run them absolutely ragged, as much physical exertion as possible!

I am a 7 day home delivery customer, with the added benefit of access to the digital subscriptions. I stay logged in to the Post app on my phone at all times. E.g., never log out of it. However, I don't to log in on my work computer, although the cookies let me access most chats thereon without too much trouble. With the cookies now strictly enforced for your chat, I thought I would try again to access the chats via the app link on my phone. Denied. I hit the same paywall, even though I am logged in to the Washington Post digital app, as well as the Washington Post "classic" app on my phone. I don't begrudge you putting this behind a paywall. But can you fix the link in the app so that paying subscribers can access the chat that way? And yes, I have raised this issue before with your tech people. Their answer seemed to be that I had to stop blocking cookies and tracking IN A COMPLETELY DIFFERENT APP. E.g., there was nothing I could do to settings in the Washington Post apps to allow me access to the chats, but rather I had to allow god-only-knows-what websites to track me via Safari to access the chats. I presume this is bc, even though I never leave the Post app, the chat kicks readers to INSIDE the Post app. Why can't identify that I am signed in to the Post app, when it is accessed within the Post app? Previously it was merely annoying. Now, it feels like I am being denied my access rights as a subscriber.

Yikes! That does sound very frustrating. Fixing this issue, whether it be a bug or something more intentional, is far, far above my pay grade. But I will pass your comment on to publishing support even though it seems they might already be aware of the issue, as you mentioned. Thank you though, for pushing through to be here with us in the chat today! 

I completely disagree that the stepmom should stay out of it. I'm a stepmom to four 20-somethings, and have two kids of my own. For all the kids, we present a united front in terms of expectations. And I completely agree that the mom should be left out of it. I'm in a similar situation, where my stepkids' mother is very communicative when one or more kid is with us — not as toxic, but definitely texts more frequently (this from the kids). We don't address that at all — but in our home, we don't check our phones during dinner, we speak respectfully, etc. This has worked remarkably well. There was a LOT of friction early on — especially as I'm considerably younger than my husband and his ex-wife (15 years) and my children are tweens — but leaving the mother completely out of our discussion of our house has led to many functional holidays. And I think the kids appreciate it too.

Thanks for this. I am glad you have found a solution!

I agree that it is Stepmom's house too, and although she need not insert herself in between stepdaughter and Mom, she has every right to jointly establish expectations for behavior and civility in her own home!

Last month there was a lot of discussion about hearing aids. I'm a 65-year-old woman who got them last year. At first, I was horrified - everything was so loud! My own footsteps! My coworkers talking loudly! I kept the volume turned down. But gradually, I got used to them, and now I keep them turned up, and obviously I am hearing a lot better.

That is great! Seems that when folks can overcome the adjustment, it tends to work out well.

I'm a late 20's woman with some variant of an immune/rhematologic disease — it doesn't fit any disease's boxes perfectly, and I lack any biomarkers like rheumatoid factor, so treatment generally depends on my self report. I've struggled in the past with my perception that doctors don't believe me when I describe my symptoms, to the extent that I sometimes start to doubt myself too. I've come up with strategies to try to minimize this: seek out younger and female physicians, bring a partner or parent to appointments when possible, etc. But my disease is flaring and while my doctor is generally helpful-ish, I'm really caught up with whether they believe my symptoms and pain or are just humoring me. It's becoming a meta cycle — I think they're doubting me so I doubt myself, and then get down on myself for being so miserable. I'm scared that seeking any mental health care for this thought pattern will make my doctor more likely to label me psychosomatic and potentially withhold disease treatment. What do I do?

I can imagine this is difficult, but there's definitely a way through. First of all, any doctor who would label you psychosomatic and withhold treatment just because you seek therapy is guilty of malpractice — therapy is a net benefit for overall health, not a negator of physical conditions. (I also would venture that in most situations, unless you told your doctor that you are seeking therapy, he or she would not automatically know.)

Here's the thing — I think therapy could be helpful NOT because these symptoms are "all in your head" but because they aren't — and you are having trouble reckoning with that. But the stress response is complex, so just because your symptoms are real does not mean that reduced stress, increased coping mechanisms, and a healthier relationship with your thoughts wouldn't be immensely helpful even for the physical aspect of them. The mind-body relationship is strong. It's not a matter of there being two boxes, one for psychological health and one for physical health. Psychological factors influence the way we perceive pain and discomfort, for instance. So it's all related, even when your symptoms are 100 percent true (however you take that to mean!)

I hear from a lot of folks whose doctors make it clear they're not taking them seriously — no "humoring" involved — so my guess is that if your doctor is helpful (or even helpful-ish) then your doubt of whether they believe you is misplaced. But what kind of treatment are you getting? What does "humoring you" look like?

Bottom line, I think adding some psychological support could help on many fronts — not just with the cycle of doubt, but with the overall coping of your symptoms. Please keep us posted.

So, my mom suddenly appears to be super into the thought of grandchildren despite previously being "relieved" that she didn't have any in the past due to all the travel they do. Suddenly, my only sibling appears to really want kids, which is news to me. I have always struggled, in friendships and family, being the non-squeaky wheel. Suddenly my mom is talking abbreviated travel plans if there is a baby and I mean, no one in my family has been out to see me in 5 years. To say my feelings are hurt is putting it lightly. I am planning on talking about this with her but some of my feelings on this are coming up because of a big birthday and being the last single person basically anywhere that I see in my life and I really want to come across as measured even though finally just admitting this and typing this thought is making me upset. I don't even know what to say or what I can ask for. Please help.

It's okay to be upset. And it's even okay to be upset with your Mom. Don't let your tendency to avoid-being-squeaky-wheel-at-all-costs make you feel like your feelings aren't worthy of air and space.

Make sure you get some private time with your Mom and/or Dad for this talk — no audience, especially not your sister-- and that you have enough time to feel relaxed in conveying your feelings, so it doesn't feel rushed. And then give yourself permission to convey them. Not accusing her of wrongdoing, but just opening her up to more of what's going on for you.

"Can I be honest with you about something? These feelings are hard to talk about, but when you mentioned potentially cutting short travel plans if a baby arrives, and when you seem to have changed your mind about how excited you are for grandchildren, it made me think about how no one has been out to see me in 5 years. I'm struggling with this big birthday coming up and reckoning with a lot of things, and I find that I'm hurt. I feel like I tend to be the non-squeaky wheel but it means that I feel pushed aside sometimes. I don't know that there is an easy solution here, but I felt like the first step is to open up to you about it because it's been upsetting and I don't want it to hurt our relationship."

Of course, adjust for your own verbiage and Game of Thrones metaphors ... but that should be a start!

You don't have a notification problem, you have a relationship problem. He's showing you who he is: someone who doesn't give a rip about inconveniencing you despite being asked repeatedly to not do so. And his arguing to defend his childish behavior? That's a definite "get out now."

I was more toward this side of the spectrum, for sure, although you are a wee bit farther than me on it!

Not what LW asked, but is eating alone such a bad thing, that plans have to be made around it? Yes, the communication issues have to be ironed out, and BF may be a jerk, but the idea that LW can't be alone for dinner is worth exploring.

I see where you're coming from, but I don't necessarily assume that's the issue here. Eating alone is one thing, but being unexpectedly made to eat alone when — had you known — you would have used the opportunity to eat with someone else who you may not get to see that often, for instance — that's totally different, to me at least.

So, here's an admittedly random question for you all. 

If you put a Q-tip in your ear (I know, I know, why would anyone ever do that, because it's like letting a woodpecker have a go at your eardrum) and then removed it and noticed that there was no cotton on the end of it, and yet you didn't seem to notice that there was no cotton when you put it in, and your immediate witnesses, when called upon to peek (much to their perverse curiosity), could not see any evidence of cotton in your ear, would you:

1) Assume it was a faulty Q-tip without cotton and forget about it?

2) Assume that there is now cotton in your ear and you are doomed to a certain death?

3) Bribe someone with an otoscope to come put your mind at ease?

4) Wait and see if you see signs of the cotton or a plugged ear canal over time?

5) Run to the ER while screaming like a banshee?

Just curious, of course.

My sister has always been very health-conscious but has taken it to an extreme in the past couple of years. She has rejected all “Western medicine” and is seeing several “healers," nutritionists and others in the wellness field who (after I Googled their names) appear to lack any credentials and promise all kinds of dubious things, like they can cure cancer through supplements. These wellness professionals have diagnosed her with many food allergies and autoimmune conditions and she is now on an extremely restrictive diet (and buying tons of supplements). I’ve been pretty “live and let live” about it so far, but she recently told me that one of these “doctors” (none of them are doctors, but she calls them that anyway) diagnosed her with a serious, progressive neurological disease and encouraged her to buy more supplements. I spoke with a friend who is an actual doctor, and he said that this disease can only be diagnosed through a battery of tests that take months, and that while nutrition is important, this disease is treated through drugs and medical intervention, not supplements. I relayed this to my sister to encourage her to seek a second opinion and she became angry (after she spent a week crying about this neurological disease). She said that she doesn’t need additional testing, that drugs are “toxic” and she would be pursuing a “natural” approach. How do I deal with this? I obviously can’t change her mind, but I can’t stand to hear her woe-is-me about this disease that she may or may not have but has decided she definitely has because the equivalent of a massage therapist told her she did?

This really frightens me. The trauma of being told that you have a serious progressive neurological condition, combined with potentially being extorted to buy things that at best are not necessarily empirically validated for it but at worst may actually cause damage.... ugh, it gives me indigestion.

But you are doing what you can. I feel like this is parallel in some ways to an abusive relationship — you have said your peace, so the harder you push, the more you may push her away into their arms. Keep checking in, but give up the goal (at least in the immediate) of changing her mind. If you can stand it, just let her know you are thinking of her, and try to keep up the relationship in other ways, not even talking about her situation when she's not either. If she does bring it up, you can still stick to your gentle, empathetic mantra: you worry that she is not getting the full picture, and you would love for her to investigate further — but you love her and want to support her however you can.

Chatters? Anyone been there? There are all kinds of situations like this in life — cults bring them about as well.

Among your clients, what is the most common complaint women have about their husbands and boyfriends, and what is the most common complaint men have about their wives and girlfriends?

Ooh, now this is an interesting question. I will have to give it more thought and definitely don't want to overgeneralize. But one thing that comes to mind right away is women feeling taken for granted and men feeling over-criticized. Which —when you think about it — seem like opposing sides (the classic "He doesn't see all I do to keep this house running" and "She nags and picks on me about every little thing") — but in reality they are more similar. Not feeling appreciated, understood, and valued.

#2 and #3. and may wake up in the middle of the night strongly considering #5. note: I am also being treated for anxiety

Thank you! I do feel like anxiety plays a role here. Being that I am less than two weeks away from a book deadline, 5 is not as out of the question as it would be normally.

In order of preference: 3, 4, 5, 1, 2 (in other words, non-random responses to your random question)

Thank you!

Admittedly part of my hope in posing this is that a bunch of chatters would say "Hey, Q-tips come without cotton all the time. Especially for people as cheap as you who probably bought the off-brand ones." Which would lead me to feel better about #3 and #1 as options.

But so far, crickets on that score.

I am tired of people like the previous poster attacking parents of special needs kids. ("epidemic is Americans' growing enthusiasm for taking pills to correct mood issues (especially ADHD medications for children and teens)"). My kid was identified as "frenetic" before age two, with the pediatrician noting we needed to keep an eye on it. We did, and sought early intervention. It didn't work. By elementary school, it had blossomed into full-blown ADHD. In addition to meds from a psychiatrist, the kid gets both one-one therapy, and group therapy with other neuro-atypical kids with executive functioning disorders, and has an IEP at school to deal with concomitant learning disorders. Even with all that help, it is HARD. Stop attacking the parents who are doing the best we can. Not all of us were lucky enough to have perfect children.

I hear you!

Of course, there is no such thing as a perfect child. And the parents who are so busy judging other parents and thinking their own kids are so much better are the ones who are more likely to miss the stuff really going on under that "perfect" surface, until it festers into something even bigger and shocking.

I am sorry for your and your child's struggle. I hope that the path gets smoother soon.

"Training has not been super successful, so the vet behaviorist suggested adding anti-anxiety meds as an option, but it's unclear if more intensive training could be just as useful." Do both. The medication could calm the dog enough to the point that she can fully digest and train, and then once she's behaving well, you can try weaning her off the meds. Lots of dogs have fear and anxiety issues, but once they learn the tools for managing their behavior, they learn the world is not so scary as they think it is. Also, I don't know what type of training you're doing but it might be worth looking into other styles. Not all dogs are the same, just like people. :)

This makes a heck of a lot of sense. Thank you!

I had the same issue. I ended up going to someone who is an MD + Naturopath. People trained in both Eastern and Western medicine tend to be more open-minded if what you're experiencing doesn't fall neatly within a particular category.

Thank you!

(The key here is that this person is combining both Eastern and Western medicine. Don't want to veer too far into Questionable Supplement-ville.)

You are fine. She's being unreasonable for whatever reason. I'm a planner. I had a lot of my wedding stuff sorted way before the wedding — but in no way would I have put pressure on anyone to firm up these things so far in advance. I totally back what Andrea is saying. Also — for the bachelorette, please, please discuss and communicate clearly with bridesmaids / any others who are coming about budgets etc. especially if it's a destination bachelorette and know that some people might not have the budget for it.

A word to the wise. Thank you!

Would it at all something your sister would pay attention to if you found evidence of these people's supplements actually being harmful etc? Can you debunk these people at all ... perhaps there are former clients who were adversely affected who could talk to her? Is that something she'd pay attention to or would it all be Part of the Conspiracy. I'm so sorry — this is really tough for you.

What an empathetic answer.

And it's a great question. She might listen to someone who had actually been in her shoes a little more than someone who has always seemed (to her) to be against the idea.

Which reminds me of yet another parallel-- pyramid schemes.

It wasn't clear whether BF is blowing off an arrangement to have dinner with his GF, or whether it's her expectation that they will have dinner together unless he tells her he's working late: "It’s now less about the actual issue (he doesn’t tell me when he’ll be working late, and I am left with no one to eat dinner with, wishing I had made other plans)" "I am left with no one to eat dinner with" is what made me wonder. I get "Gee, I could have made other plans" but it does seem like it's a possibility that LW has a thing about eating alone. This did ping a little needy to me, again, not excusing the BF.

Yeah, I could see that.

I think so much depends on context. We are all looking at it through our own lenses, me included.

It's always a bummer with the written column questions because a lot of them have been sent weeks and weeks before — so the odds of someone happening to be live in the moment at this very chat to fill us in further are so much slimmer.

Not that I want to encourage impersonators, of course.

3. Well, I'd start with 4, but I'd probably see a doctor within a week or so whether or not I saw any symptoms. Full disclosure: I had two FBs (Tiny particle in eye, piece of stick in foot) that no doctor could find (at first) but I could feel, and I ended up being right.

Oh my goodness.

The "piece of stick in foot" part just might scare the cotton out of my ear on its own accord!! Problem solved!

#4. (After shaking head in the same manner as I would to clear trapped water.) You should be able tell if there's something foreign in your ear canal . . . I'm thinking your ear will let you know if there's a problem.


That was my thought, too, but I also fear that there is a strong psychosomatic component to believing that there is something in your ear! It's like I can't unthink it once I assumed that that was what had happened! I am not an objective judge at this point.

Call your primary care doctor. S/he can look to see if the cotton is in there. Also, if there was no cotton, the ear canal may have been scratched. Do it ASAP please, do not wait until symptoms develop.

Thank you!

Oy, I did not think about the scratching if there was no cotton. Ugh. I will have to let my (ahem!) friend know.

Hi Dr Bonior. I've been trying to find a therapist for a while now, and I have my initial consultation with someone today. She is an LCSW who takes my insurance (!), is very close to my home and work, and specializes in trauma (which is what I want to work on). The problem? As I was reviewing her website today while double-checking the address, I read that she offers many therapy modalities such as CBT, DBT, EMDR, etc, but she also practices Past Life Soul Regression. This really threw me off, because I can't imagine that this is a legitimate therapeutic modality. Now I'm worried that she may not be an effective therapist. So that's my question--do you know of any otherwise very competent therapists who use Past Life Soul Regression therapy? Should this be a red flag? Or is this common?


I am sorry, but that is a flag that is not only red, but is actively aflame and sending out sparks and fire that are harming innocent bystanders.

You could give Tellington Touch a try.

Can't claim familiarity with this, but perhaps it is an avenue to explore. Thanks.

Sweetie, book deadlines were made to be broken, so cut yourself some slack!

Would you mind getting this post notarized and sending it in to my editor?

One of the most valuable things I learned about dog training, especially with fearful and anxious dogs, is that they monitor and react to YOUR behavior. If you see another dog/trigger approaching and you change your behavior by saying "oh no!!", shortening the leash, trying to make the dog sit, yanking him away, the dog is going to think "OH SNAP!! Something bad is happening!! HELP! Barkbarkbark...." My dog's behavior improved a lot when I began making an effort to act like absolutely nothing unusual was happening. Even when my dog started barking and yanking on the leash, I said nothing and did nothing other than continue to walk, even though that sometimes meant dragging him along with me. If you act stressed, your dog will stress out too.

Thank you.

And yeah, Buster is this to a tee. The more he sees me worrying that he will scare the bejeezus out of someone coming up on us quickly on a walk, the more he will decide that he needs to scare the bejeezus out of that person.

Does your sister know that supplements are UNREGULATED??? There could be nothing in those jars but cow dung!! These practitioners are taking advantage of her gullibility to make huge sums of money selling this quackery to her and others like her. Yes, I'm ... direct ... but simpering and hinting only serve to not get the message to register.

I fear that cow dung is actually an ideal scenario here.


May not get posted because this is my second comment today. Yep, it scares the bejesus out of me too. You said your sister is on a very restrictive diet with lots of supplements. #1 a diet deficiency can and will cause medical symptoms. #2 she is rejecting any attempt at common sense from you so yes it does sound cult-like. #3 she doesn't want to hear it but you are correct that a second opinion and tests will confirm a diagnosis. It really sounds like she has a lot of underlying issues and is craving drama/attention. And please to all the gods out there I hope she doesn't have kids that she is raising like this.

Thank you. Great point that her dietary limitations may ironically be making this even worse.

Dr. Andrea and I don't know that it's your second comment of the day ... because your comments are anonymous! I just wanted to point this out because we were talking about anonymity last week. Comment away! 

Well, hypothetically, if this person is really concerned, she might put some earwax removal drops in her ear and then flush it out with the little bulb that comes with the kit. Some of us have also found that using the loop at the wide end of large paper clip, applied gently, is a safe way to remove something from your ear that doesn't belong there.

Oh my goodness, I fear you may have opened the floodgates with even the mention of a paper clip, rounded end or not!

You don't think the drops might just compress the cotton and make it fall in further?

I would address it with the doctor directly. I get a sense that you don't believe what I'm saying. Is that right? why do you think that? And, Could you recommend another specialist in this area from whom I could get a second opinion? Never let anyone, including a doctor, tell you how you feel. IF you don't take their attitude lying down, they'll change it

Yes, good point. If she actually is feeling that from the doctor, it's worth discussing. A doctor who is not invalidating her will want to know that she feels that way and take it seriously. A doctor who IS invalidating her needs to be called out on it. 

Lori's exact words were "From your SO's perspective, they may see you as controlling or uptight." S/he knows I don't want to call the shots all the time because we've talked about it several times and the response is always "I'm okay doing whatever you want to do" or "I'm just happy to be with you, it doesn't matter where we go" which some people would probably see as romantic but in practice, it would be nice if s/he for once said "hey let's go out for sushi tonight!" instead of the usual "what are we doing for dinner?" "I don't know, what are you in the mood for?" "Don't care, whatever you want"....the script sounds helpful though, thanks!

I am glad you found it helpful!

But seriously, I don't think she was calling you controlling or uptight. She was trying to elucidate why SO may behave the way they do. Everybody's got their own lenses and she was offering some potential possibilities for what makes up your SO's.

The OP Might be experiencing what I feel when dealing with a friend who is also content to let me make all the decisions — unwanted responsibility for someone else's happiness. My friend and I have traveled together, and her total lack of input drives me nuts. I'll ask if she wants to do such-and-such, and she'll agree but she never contributes an idea or suggestion, even when I ask point blank. So I end up making all the plans, and, if something doesn't work out/if we don't have a good time, I feel responsible. I am not planning on traveling with her again- too much responsibility!

Yes! You put it so well. It is not just the extra logistical effort, but the emotional labor of being responsible for someone else's happiness, as you put it.

What is the OP referring to?

Rachel came up with "foreign body" and that makes sense to me!

Is there not some overlord who monitors what therapist's practice. The APA, perhaps? Nevertheless, run.

Yeah, I can't really speak to how social work is regulated ... the APA would oversee psychologists, though.

While saying your piece once and then being supportive is probably the best advice, it can also hurt a year or two down the line when saying good-bye. Going through the experience now with a best friend who fought off her breast cancer with diet and prayer and alternative oils etc. Metastasized (of course), lost both breasts, and is now on 'quality of life' chemo. Don't think I could have changed anything by not respecting her choices, but I am constantly full of regret anyway. Do whatever you can to confirm or deny the disease and then make decisions on how forceful you should be.

Oh, this is awful. I am truly so sorry.

Please send yourself some compassion, too. You were being a friend and you did the best you could. We all have our own paths to walk in this life, ultimately.

I give another big vote for lots of exercise, if it's feasible. Few things in life are so satisfying as a (happily) exhausted dog.

So true!

Yes, I am one of those people who sticks the qtip in their ear to clean it, and no, I do not use it to impale my ear drum. It's fine. But I noticed lately that qtips are FLIMSY. They bend instead of staying firm like they used too, which is really annoying, and even name brand qtips are like this now. Argh!! :)

Yes! I have noticed this too.

Ironically, this package that may have failed in terms of the basic job of ACTUALLY CONTAINING COTTON ON EVERY SWAB did not appear to have this problem.

Several people are telling you to just go to your doctor and get checked out. For whom is a visit to a doctor a casual, trivial experience? A large percentage of us don't have regular doctors at all, and even for the rest of us, making an appointment, taking time, etc., etc. is a major production. That would be the last option for most of us. If I had to, I would go to a drugstore "minute clinic" before anything else.

Good point. I think that's what leads me toward putting in the bribe for "friend with otoscope."

You mean I'm NOT the reincarnation of Buddha, the Dalai Lama and Thomas Jefferson? But that doc was so convincing!

Well, of course you are.

But in everyone ELSE'S case.....

Online friend nearly died of alcohol poisoning, yet after a period of sobriety has "fallen off the wagon" and defiantly declares "I choose to drink." How do online friends hold a successful intervention? Informal efforts have all failed thus far. Or do we wash our hands of him and let him drink himself to death?

I am sorry. This can be very hard to witness. Do you know what helped during their sobriety? Did they have a sponsor you can contact? Did they have a doctor who helped with various aspects of treatment? A therapist? A particular 12-step group that made a difference?

Gently encouraging them to revisit some of their old tools could help. But ultimately, you have to know your own limitations. Convey your love and concern, convey how much you want to help, but you cannot force sobriety on someone.

I am sorry. Please keep us posted.

They'll compress the cotton and make it heavier so you can flush it out with warm water.


(I am assuming your credentials are better than Past Life Regressionist.)

Tilt your head with the violated ear downward. Place the heel of your palm over your ear and press as hard as possible, to try to create a vacuum. Then release your hand, and see if the cotton wad pops out.

This is an interesting one! Thanks!

Yes, Q-tip cotton does not come off easily. I would assume it fell/got pulled off enroute (coming or going) and not worry, but 1) pay attention to muffled hearing and 2) keep a weather eye on the floor, hair, inside bra, etc. Also, I'd think the ear is designed to get rid of intruders (wax) and wouldn't worry about it going further in. In summation, I would not contact doctor unless I had a stronger reason than disappearing cotton.

Sounds reasonable. Thank you!

I think you would have felt it immediately if it didn't have cotton on it at all (sorry). Personally, I'd probably poke around in there and make things worse, then I'd go to a doctor so they could remove it.

Hahah! An honest answer. My most immediate instincts were sending me on that path, but I stopped myself.

You're asking for a friend of course. My elderly mother had her ears syringed and out popped the cotton from the top of a q tip. Only the cotton was harmed - we couldn't believe it. I would go to the nurse/doctor to get syringing so that you could pop it out if it is there. They'll be highly amused of course. I don't see it as an emergency as I assume mum had it in her ear for a while. PSA — we are not supposed to put q tips in our ears!!!

Oh my goodness! So it CAN happen. Hmm.

And yup, I might finally start taking the advice about not putting them in in the first place. (But it is so satisfying!)

That's intentional. The idea is that the Qtip will bend BEFORE it impales your ear, or somebody else's, if you're using it on your kid.

Oops. Yeah, that makes some sense.

I have a different experience with this — sometimes it has to come down to the act of making plans and who needs things to be planned. I am quite content to spend a day on travel just wandering with no goal in mind or heading out to dinner and stopping in at a place that looks interesting. I have a lot of friends (and ex- husband) who perceive this unstructured approach as stressful or pointless. Their desire for "plans" is at odds with my desire to explore without an agenda and to do list. So you might reflect a little on the issues of "making plans" and whether that may be a source of stress to begin with. As someone who works in a highly structured environment, it feels deliciously decadent to set out without a map, ton of yelp reviews or a "to do" list.

Yes. This is a great point, and what Lori was getting at in her response last week — when two people involved have different perspectives and different needs about how structured things need to be, it can accentuate the gap and misunderstanding and frustration. Thanks.

You should probably make that "cotton swab" unless you want a legal letter from Johnson & Johnson.

Ooh is that their actual copyrighted brand?

That might actually be a fun letter to get!

Is there another product used so exclusively for a purpose so explicitly prohibited?

Laughing here. You know, that could make for a very interesting question for next week!

That question jogged my memory of this Post article from 2016: The strange life of Q-tips, the most bizarre thing people buy. It looks at the off-label use. 

Reminds me of a story about someone whose child got a googly eye stuck up her nose. When she looked it up online the first thing she saw in Capitals was DO NOT ATTEMPT TO GET IT OUT YOURSELF.


It is still legend around our house that an acquaintance once got a bean stuck in their nose — and the only way anyone ever noticed was that it eventually began to smell so bad that even outsiders could tell that something was wrong!

(This person was a child, it is worth mentioning.)

Bad advice.

Quite possibly. But I appreciated it nonetheless!

Yes, I know the bending is intentional. But good intentions do not make the bendy Qtips less useless, however. They could simply make bendy ones a totally different product and call them Kid QTips or something so people who don't plan to rupture their ear drums can have useful QTips! :)

True. Especially because if you are using a cotton swab legitimately for its intended purpose-- nowhere near your ear-- you probably want it not to bend!

Look at the time. Doh!

Thanks so much for being here, and for forgiving my hypocrisy in asking medical-ish advice from an anonymous group of chatters while meanwhile condemning those who seek supplements from noncredentialed providers. (How did I get away with no one calling me out on that?) Rest assured I will not be sticking a fishing hook into my ear, at least.

I will look forward to seeing you here next week! In the meantime, I'll be poking around in the comments and you can find me on Instagram. Be well!

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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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