Baggage Check: Is it an actual risk, or just anxiety?

Oct 22, 2019

Licensed clinical psychologist Dr. Andrea Bonior was online to take your questions about relationships, family, mental health, motivation, work-life balance, well-being, and more. Read past Baggage Check columns here.

Get mental health tips and an early glimpse at Dr. Andrea's next book "Detox Your Thoughts" by following Dr. Andrea on Facebook or Instagram.

Important disclaimer: this chat should not be considered a substitute for one-on-one psychotherapy, and is for general informational purposes only. (Dr. Andrea's advice on 80s song lyrics and snacking, however, is completely official.)

Welcome, all. I am so glad you are here today.

You may notice that the chat title is now a little longer. We've added clarification to our name, so that fewer people will think that this chat is about the TSA, proper suitcase organization techniques, and how much toothpaste you can pack in your carry-on. What do you think?

Speaking of Baggage Check as a "brand" (blech!), unfortunately there is still no sign that the column itself will be back anytime soon-- I hear you in your frustration, and I share it. But because I know there is an appetite for more content, I have now committed to a daily regimen of posting mental health techniques/advice on Facebook and Instagram. I am still mourning being able to post Ben's drawings, but I'm excited to be able to use the forums in this way. And yes, my book publicity overlords will also be happy that I am expanding my efforts beyond taking photos of Buster (though he will most definitely still make an appearance!)

Alright, enough with that. Whatcha got for me today?

My father is widowed (6 years) and since then has become more and more manipulative, mean, giving silent treatments, and at times emotionally abusive. This was going on before my mom passed but has since gotten worse. Both myself and brother have tried talking to him and each time we get "scolded" and then are given the silent treatment. We've tried to encourage him to see a therapist however he insists nothing is wrong with him and flat out refuses. If my father in law comes to visit my dad makes snide remarks and then gives me the silent treatment. I've stopped inviting him out for a visit (we live 900 miles away) because I can't deal with it and his attitude anymore. He also doesn't leave the house - he's retired and apart for the little family we have he doesn't have friends. Brother and I have tried to talk to him about getting a part time job or to volunteer, really anything to get him out of the house yet he won't. If he sends me an email/text and I respond he thinks it's a nasty response even though I've told him time and time again you can't decifier someone's tone in email/text so what he thinks is a mean response really isn't. When we go back to visit for the holiday's it's to the point I don't want to spend time there because of how he talks to people. He says he has problems with anxiety but won't get help. He won't talk to the family doctor, he won't talk to a therapist (say's they're a waste of time even though he's never gone) and quite frankly won't change his ways. How do you deal with someone like this? He's said some really mean things about my husband for absolutely no reason and he took "joy" in doing it and then stopped talking to me for well over a couple months when I told him I didn't appreciate what he said. When my husband was around him for the holiday's dad literally ignored him the entire time (a slap in the face to me).

Oh, this is heartbreaking.

Because you can just imagine the pain your father is in-- he's anxious, he's isolated, he's grieving (yes, even still after 6 years I would bet)-- and yet he doesn't know what at all to do with it except to try to make other people feel some of it with him.

But it is not your job to be the receptacle of his hurt when he refuses to do anything to mitigate it.

You (and your husband) deserve better. You have your own family to protect, and his behavior-- though we can have compassion for his pain-- is simply not acceptable.

So, you give yourself permission to set the boundaries that you need to set for your own well-being and that of your marriage. And you announce your intention to set those boundaries. Whether it means not seeing him, not emailing with him, or just limiting those things-- it is you who gets to make the choice.

You can't force him to get help. But you can create basic expectations and conditions for his treatment of you and those you love.

"Dad, what you said/did was hurtful. That's not the kind of interaction I want to have with someone I love. You've said that you struggle with anxiety and yet you refuse to do anything about it, and you seem to expect that Husband and I should continue to be punished for this. We can't, and won't. It is not healthy. I will be doing/not doing XYZ until you can commit to either getting some help or treating us in a more civil way."

Well, I guess there isn't one, is there? Have you ever thought about following your chatmate Gene Weingarten's example and starting your chat with a poll? Today he asked about embarrassing secret thoughts. You of all people could ask some really interesting questions, and get what I'll bet could be really interesting results.

I've always loved Gene's polls.

I've definitely thought about it. The odds of it got a little less once I started flying solo, though. Part of me worries that even the addition of one extra technological feature  exponentially heightens the chance that with one wrong keystroke I will, say, accidentally post a live stream of me singing "Eternal Flame" to Buster the Dog.

But the more I get comfortable with producing this chat myself, the more I will consider it! Thanks for the suggestion.

If anyone does have an embarrassing secret that they feel will be helpful to unburden here, though, I (we!) are all ears.

My husband passed away four weeks ago. I am functioning, okay alone, in fact can only be around people for limited time periods. I miss him so much. I used to roll my eyes when people said you could die of a broken heart....but now I am not so sure.

Oh, I am just so, so sorry.

It is true. And one thing that I think a lot of people don't get about grief who haven't been through an intense version of it is that it really can literally feel like your heart is breaking. True pain in your chest that feels like an assault. It can be debilitating in its own right, on top of everything else. I have no doubt that's part of where the concept of a broken heart originated.

There will be waves, as you know. Sometimes they will threaten to knock you over. When you feel up for it, it could be worth exploring some grief groups-- online or in person. Nothing forced if it doesn't feel right for you, but I really have seen the sense of connection that comes from being with people who get it-- and who don't expect you to put on your "Normal Daily Life and Social Niceties Hat"-- be very helpful for people.

Like what I wrote about in IG/FB, this loss isn't meant to be "gotten over" but rather carried with you in ways that help you grow and give you a sense of meaning. It can happen in time, even though those days probably feel hard to imagine.

In the meantime, we are here. And sending you some hope and light on this rainy Tuesday.

My sister is, to put it mildly, self-centered. My fiancé and I are getting married in May and have had the venue and date booked since April. My sister just told me that she's expecting her first child -- wait for it -- eight days before the wedding. I am absolutely thrilled for her and her husband and amazed that they're already pregnant, having just started trying in June. The problem here is that she is demanding (literally stomping her feet, screaming at our parents, yet not talking to me at all) that I push my wedding back *at least* a few months so she and her newborn can attend as the Guests of Honor. My fiancé and I have a very limited window to get married: active duty military and moving in June, graduating from grad school the weekend between the wedding and moving across the country. For those reasons alone we don't feel comfortable changing our date. Not to mention that we started planning well in advance, we have most vendors booked, we would lose a lot of money by changing every detail, and have told all family and friends the date. For all of the selfish things she has done in her life, I feel that this reaches new heights. I'm trying to laugh about this situation, but I find myself dwelling on it and becoming sad. I'm resigned to the fact that my sister is not going to change. So how do I change my perspective so I do not (a) resent my sister, and (b) become bummed about the wedding planning process (which has been wonderful up until now)?

Well, I'm a little unclear about your parents' role here.

They're choosing to tell you about her foot-stomping when she's not actually directing any of this at you? If she's demanding of your PARENTS that you push the wedding back, well, that's not really demanding to push the wedding back, right?

Unless you're marrying you parents.

Look, I get it-- any tantrum-ing itself is frustrating and disappointing and may tell you something about her. But I also don't see why your parents have to convey it to you. They should be shutting it down themselves, not flinging it onto your plate. Of course you're not going to postpone the wedding. But of course you will also be understanding if she has to curtail her role in whatever form that may take (right?)

I wonder if your history with her is muddling things. After all, is she literally asking you to be some sort of Guest of Honor? No. (Again, she's not literally asking you anything.)

She's newly pregnant, she's overwhelmed, she's hormonal. She may be letting everything hang out and venting to your parents. And again, her ask is not realistic or reasonable. For sanity's sake, though, I think that your parents should be the gatekeepers if it's their gate that she's banging at (or setting on fire.)

That doesn't mean that you can't or won't be disappointed in her. Or that everything will automatically be hunky-dory.

But right now there is a fire that needs to be left alone to flame out on its own-- not spread with kerosene.

I know this wasn't likely the direction you expected me to go, but I'm trying first and foremost to be a firefighter with this one. You won't be able to come to terms with anything while things are still so actively burning.

Sometimes it is easy to determine that the voice in my head saying "no" is just anxiety. There is a practically nil chance of me getting hit in to a bad accident on my way to the grocery store. Take that anxiety! But when it is about staying in a job or taking a new job? My inner voices are fighting about how much risk there is at staying at my current job vs taking a new one. "This company is still a startup, things could go south tomorrow" "That new job may be miserable on a daily basis because you had a bad professional experience with someone who would now be a daily co-worker". Not to mention the inner voice that says "you are a key employee and the success of the startup doesn't depend entirely on you, but it will struggle a LOT more without you" fighting with "If they can't survive without you, they won't survive with you" At the end of the battling, another inner voice pipes up with "quit it all and go live off the grid so you don't have to deal with it"

Well, what if there is no right answer?

What if neither of those voices are correct, or incorrect?

What if whatever path you choose is by definition the right one, because you commit to making the most of it and remaining clear-eyed about what you need, and whether those needs are being met?

I get where you are coming from, of course. And I would usually use this as an opportunity to talk about the cognitive distortion of "stakes versus odds" (our anxious brain overvalues the stakes of something bad happening, so is unable to clearly assess the odds of it actually doing so) but I almost feel that is beside the point here.

Because some decisions really could go either way. And if your inner voices are duking it out that much, then ironically, this decision could be one where it really is closer to 50/50.

And that's okay.

There may not be a perfect choice to reveal itself. But if you commit yourself to fully engaging with whatever choice you DO make-- embracing it with open arms, but also assessing it with open eyes-- then you can't really go wrong, can you?

Family member displaying signs - memory issues, continued train of thought, loss of most any simple math. What is the right type of professional to help diagnose and treat? Thanks

I am sorry.

I would recommend starting with a neuropsychologist who specializes in what are called Neurocognitive Disorders (this is the new DSM category that encompasses various types of dementia) and get a full neuropsychological assessment.

You sound so reasonable and methodical about your decisionmaking. That is a huge asset in coping with unreasonable behavior. Just remind yourself that none of this is about you. This is your sister, acting in a way that's consistent with her behavior. There's no need to be more or less upset with her than you have been in the past. Enjoy your life.

Nicely put. It is information, plain and simple, that OP has the option to devote-- or NOT devote-- mental space to. It's OP's choice.

Thanks.

I like 80s music and I love snacking, but I RARELY snack while listening to 80s music. However, I do admit to getting hungry when watching the video to Weird Al's "Eat It" ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t2mU6USTBRE ) , based on Michael Jackson's "Beat It". Is this normal?? :)

ha! It would be abnormal to NOT get hungry when viewing that profound work of artistic genius!

What do we actually owe our obnoxious adult relatives? If a parent or an adult child or a sibling is behaving in ways that we would never tolerate from a "friend" or co-worker or a stranger on the bus, what is our obligation to maintain the relationship? When do we get to say "You are out of my life. Have somebody give me a call when you die."

Ouch, that last line probably changes the metrics a bit-- I'd argue that no matter what, you "owe" someone a slightly more rounded edge-- but I do think that many times we tolerate uncivil treatment from family over a much longer period of time, and at much more severe levels, than we should. And ironically, it often hurts everyone-- because by letting the aggressor get away with it, we are leading them to believe that it is acceptable and remove the potential motivation to change their behavior.

Every case is different, of course. The bonds of shared history can go a long way, and I do believe that people can change-- if they want to. There is no one right calculation here, in my mind, as long as concerns have been expressed clearly, giving the person a chance to change, and the person is trying their hardest to empathize with underlying issues and at least treat the aggressor with the respect that they want shown to themselves.

My son was talked into relationship counseling by his fiance. She has been in therapy for years for an eating disorder and abandonment issues. Her bio dad left the family hen she was 3 or 4 y/o. They went to her therapist for this counseling. My son has cheated on her on several occasions and I'm not sure if he really loves her as much as he hates confrontation. was her therapist the right person to offer couples counseling considering she has seen this person for years.

Yeah, this is too murky for my liking.

Relationship counseling/couples counseling is a different entity than someone sitting in or participating in the individual therapy sessions of their partner. I know that different therapists may feel differently about this (clearly!) but I believe that once a one-on-one therapy relationship has been established, then it's too complicated for that person to be the couples counselor as well. (This doesn't preclude a couples therapy seeing individual members of the couple by themselves, though, equally.)

It sounds like there are enough challenges within this relationship that they need all the help that they can get, so I'm hesitant to automatically condemn an arrangement where at least there is a professional in the room, though.

Is Adderall a gateway drug?

I think that the concept of a "gateway drug" is oversimplified in our culture, and often used in fearmongering, personally.

That said, I think the risks of recreational Adderall use are greatly underestimated, though. It's a stimulant that, when used in nontherapeutic doses, often shows tolerance and withdrawal effects in the same way that substances more widely understood to be problematic do. That's a major concern.

Have I seen recreational Adderall use be the start of a serious and longstanding struggle with addiction?

Absolutely.

Another thing your sister cannot control: when her baby is born. She may deliver on the day of your wedding, or a month before. If you were to change your date, baby may come late, or she may have complications that prevent her traveling around your new date as well. In other words, listen to Dr. Andrea and do nothing about this, except maybe tell your parents that you are changing nothing and to please stop relaying your sister's tantrums to you.

Thank you. Well said, and it's exactly why OP has to be flexible as well if she ends up not being able to make the wedding.

I coined the term "co-mother-in-law" to describe my daughter's mother-in-law. We've become great friends, and this seems to honor the extra dimension of our friendship: we're co-mothers-in-law. So glad this column is continuing!

From last week's discussion. This is sweet on so many levels. Thank you!

A friend, who’s twice divorced from addicted spouses, brings up her dead brother, dead mother, or dead dogs nearly every time we meet. She volunteers at the local hospice and at a summer grief camp for children. She’s seen a grief counselor, but her obsession with death hasn’t waned. Is there anything her friends can do? She’s in her 50’s with a live-in companion we think is an alcoholic.

Well, do we know for sure that her "obsession" is actually getting in her way?

Perhaps it is helping her heal.

Perhaps it is just meant to be her thing.

Perhaps it is part of her spirituality, or the way that she thinks she can give something back to the universe.

The live-in companion who may be following the pattern of addicted spouses is another thing entirely, and one worth gently expressing your concerns about. But in terms of the death piece, are there more tangible ways that it is a problem?

how do you let go of old nasty, "well, I really thought you were a bit of a loser" thoughts that my brain ascribe either from people I used to know, or what I imagined them saying? haven't seen some of these folks in decades.

So, just to make sure I am getting this right, you've got these voices coming from people you used to know? And are they condemning you for past mistakes that you have yet to get over, or being carried around as judgment about how you are living your life now?

My answer could change, depending on that. But ultimately, the answer lies in what we call cognitive defusion-- being able to label your thoughts as separate from you and coexist with them while stripping them of their power. There are a lot of different ways to help do this, but they all boil down to viewing the thoughts as a separate entity, an unreliable narrator, a scratchy and distorted lens that you don't have to look through, a heckler in your mental audience... you get the picture. Disempower them by turning them into a visual, or hearing them in a funny voice, or watching them as leaves on a stream that pass you by.

But again, I could say more with more specifics. Are you out there still?

A work up with primary care could be helpful too, to rule out dehydration, nutrition imbalances, etc. (But be prepared to advocate for a neuropsych work up if PCP declares that everything is "fine.")

Excellent point. Thank you for making it.

Hi Dr. Andrea, I am so glad you are here! I saw your post about grief (FB/IG) and I screen grabbed that thought. I am divorced, and our split happened almost 4 years ago (in the coming week or so). I was doing a web search yesterday (for a little dog for my current partner) and ran across my ex on a website in a photo. Totally random. Unexpected. I actually almost fell off of my chair. We did not have children, and I last spoke to him almost 2 years ago. (Together 20, married 13). Yes, I am still in therapy ;) I feel awful. My heart raced all day. I didn’t sleep. I was just feeling happy again, letting things be ok. I’ve been with my current guy for close to 2 years, and it is such a great relationship. He is so great, understands I get sad from time to time and let’s me be Why does this still hurt? I really thought I would feel better and this would not happen anymore. Thank you.

I can imagine it really did throw you for a loop.

But you have the choice whether to turn this inward as a condemnation of yourself-- This shouldn't affect me/ What is wrong with me/ I should be totally over this-- or to view those thoughts as unreliable narrators that don't deserve to be engaged with. Ironically, by getting down on yourself with the "shoulds" of how you should totally be able to unexpectedly stumble across a pic of the man you were committed to for 20 years and not care a whip-- well, by condemning yourself for not meeting those unrealistic expectations, you are going to guarantee that you'll be down and hurt for a longer period of time!

It was a shock to your system. By definition, shocks to the system have effects. This doesn't have to mean anything about your current relationship, your progress in moving past the divorce, or your strength as a human being. It means you were hit by something and you felt it.

Can you show yourself some compassion? If not, why not?

I feel as though I could have written the first poster's comment, except that my own father hasn't suffered the loss of a partner. He has, however, become a completely different person since retiring (almost ten years ago!). He is clearly depressed, speaks often about what a waste his life has been, doesn't leave the house, and doesn't really do anything but read and watch television. We've begged, argued, you name it for him to see a doctor - any doctor - but he refuses. We had him admitted against his will which resulted in a 30-day inpatient stay, and things if anything were worse after that - more mistrust of doctors, of his family, etc. I guess my question is, other than continuing to help him meet his basic needs, is it time for me to let go of any hope of recovery or improvement? It's heartbreaking (and infuriating sometimees) to watch someone spend his life this way, but nothing we do makes any difference. I'm tired of being angry or crying after every visit.

I am so sorry.

Ultimately, you do need to accept your limitations here. You are in a situation that has gone even farther than most, given the inpatient stay-- and yet that has not spurred an internal shift, sadly.

There is only so much you can do.

You do need to protect yourself. Ironically, sometimes the readjustment of expectations-- even if it temporarily lessens your sense of hope a bit-- is the path to emotional freedom. It can truly stink to accept that things may never change and you have no control, ultimately, over what he chooses to do or not-- but, it also may lessen the every-visit-beating-your-head-against-the-wall. Letting go of your fantasy for the ups can also protect you from the crashing downs.

Hi Andrea. Do you have any advice about how to get over a crush quickly? Met somebody from another department at work who I've got to know fairly well and she seems almost perfect for me except she's married. So nothing romantic can happen, but because it's at work I can't avoid seeing her a few times each week, but she can't help continuing to be attractive. We are sometimes assigned to the same projects and work on documents together, etc. When someone is single you can ask them out and even if they say no that rejection helps kill the crush and helps you move on faster, but when the situation is such that you can't say anything to anyone except anonymously here...

I've got it: picture her prattling on about her great and unmatched wisdom.

Did that help?

Seriously, sexual attraction-- or even just a romantic, fuzzy crush-- is hard to voluntarily turn off, and the more you try to quash it, the more it might have the paradoxical effect of becoming the forbidden fruit that is even more alluring. So your goal shouldn't be to totally erase your attraction to her.

Your goal should be to channel that energy in ways that take you in the direction you want to go. Do these feelings remind you that you'd like to be with someone in a relationship? Then up your energy on the dating front. Do they give you a little extra pep in your step, and fill you with adrenaline? Then put some of that extra energy into a good workout. Do they make you worry that you'd potentially cross a line if she were to send signals back? Then use it as an opportunity to strengthen your boundaries and remind yourself of your values. Do they make you more alert at work? Then channel that into increased productivity and engagement with your career.

In other words, I think you're trying to put the cart before the horse. You can't just make yourself stop liking her. But you can make sure to do something with the feelings that is positive and helps you be who you want to be. In time, when you are focused on being that person, you're likely to move past this because you're fulfilled in other areas of your life-- perhaps involving a new someone.

I imagine people who were nasty to me decades ago saying 'current' nasty things about how I don't have what they have, blah blah.

Got it. So they are still creating a running commentary of your present life, rather than it being a rumination about something that already happened in the past.

So those same cognitive defusion techniques are a start, but I do also wonder on a deeper level the question of how and why this is happening. Who are these people? How have they become so ingrained within your mental yardstick? Why do they have such power? Does it say something about where you are right now in your life, and maybe some dissatisfaction with the path that you are on, that is worth exploring? Does it say something about unfinished business with them?

The fact that they are specific people, rather than the general standards of society's expectations, is telling to me-- and worth exploring.

Dr. Bonior, thank you for all you do! I'm so glad you get to remain in this space to help us sort out our lives. I have done a lot of self-work over the years to address a lot of the crud in my psyche, and these days I would consider myself fairly well-adjusted. However, one thing keeps coming up again and again that I don't know how to work through: the feeling that what I say and do doesn't really matter, or that it doesn't have much value. It doesn't stop me from saying and doing things, in general, because I can push the feeling down into some little nook in my brain and ignore it. But, I used to live a somewhat creative life, and every time I think I want to pick up some creative endeavor, I get stuck on the why. It feels so self-indulgent to do it just for myself, especially because it would mean making a real effort to find the time to do it regularly. Plus, with so much access to so many other people's creative works in the world via the internet, I feel like I would be just adding to the noise. This feeling also keeps me from stepping up into leadership positions because I'm not comfortable being in the spotlight, again due to the fact that I feel like I don't really matter. This probably sounds a lot like depression, but if so, it's something that I'm not conscious of, because I don't feel depressed, and I have other hobbies and interests that I'm excited about. If I want help from a professional to sort through this issue and take some steps to move past it, what kind of therapy should I be seeking out? I don't want someone who will just listen and nod, I want someone who can help me get to the root of it and offer some advice so I can start to vanquish this demon.

I think what you're talking about is more common than people like to admit. And I think you're very wise to recognize how it is holding you back. Honestly, being willing to acknowledge that that little voice is there-- and not just have the knee-jerk reaction to try to repress it-- is a very positive sign.

It could most definitely be a symptom of depression, but I think for you it may be even more nuanced (and indeed you may not be depressed.) I think what we're talking about is a sense of a lack of meaning. And for you it may be combined with a low sense of self-efficacy (my creative endeavors aren't worth anything to the world at large; if I try hard I might still fail; I don't deserve to be in the spotlight.... not all of these might ring totally true to you but I can't help but think that they are part of that voice.)

Ultimately, it will come down to this: do you believe that art/creative endeavors has a meaningful place in the universe? Do you believe that doing something for the sake of doing it is valuable in and of itself? Do you believe that sometimes the most meaningful answer to "Why" is because the act itself is far better than doing nothing?

Part of this may bump up against your sense of spirituality-- does any of this really matter, in the long term? There are many reasons to say that it doesn't, but I truly believe there are far more to conclude that it DOES. I personally believe that putting yourself out there in the world in creative ways can give you a deeper sense of understanding of yourself and also a deeper connection and empathy to others. I've seen it happen over and over again.

If this rings false to you, it's time to figure out why.

So, yes, therapy could be helpful. You might go a little beyond the typical CBT offerings and look for someone who identifies also as using existential therapy techniques or logotherapy. ACT therapists who place a heavy emphasis on the values piece can also be helpful.

But to be clear, there is nothing wrong with you. I think you just have to be able to gain insight into how you may be keeping yourself on a leash.

Let me fix that for the OP: "For all of the selfish things she has done in her life, I feel that this reaches new DEPTHS."

ha! Why do I feel like I am back in trigonometry class, staring at axes and parabolas?

Without knowing the background on previous selfish behavior, the sister complaining to her parents and not mentioning it to her sister COULD be venting out of frustration rather than truly expecting a date change. I have a cousin whom I am extremely close with (lived with her for 2 years) who lives abroad. For years I had always planned to attend her wedding, but then her wedding conflicted with my due date. My parents, siblings, etc., all flew to wedding and enjoyed a massive family reunion. 15 years later I am still bummed to have missed out, but I never asked her to change the date of her wedding (nor did she suggest a new due date for me) since that wasn't reasonable. However I was a little grumpy about the bad timing and may have complained to my family then that I wished her wedding were a few months later. Maybe that's the case here? Probably not.

It's a very valid point. There's a potential degree of distortion here given that the parents are the middlemen/middlewomen, like in a bad game of telephone. (And again, why are they choosing that role when they could be the endmen/endwomen?) Thanks.

Generally, the best way that I know to get over an office crush it to get to know the spouse. If possible.

Hmm. I am typing this with a smile on my face but I want some data before endorsing this!

What if spouse turns out to be an unlikeable lout and OP just knows they would be a better match?

I feel this way too. Would welcome some hints on overcoming this particular bit of thinking.

It is getting late in the chat for me to totally give the thought that this answer deserves, but I should mention that my gut instinct is where does the "noise" label come from? Why that level of judgment, about not only what's out there, but about what you-- or OP-- can bring to the table? And is the act of creating not a worthwhile activity in itself? Who sets the standard of what the finished product needs to measure up to?

(Yeah, I probably slightly lessened my credibility here by referring to Weird Al's staggering genius.)

Try imagining this person in unflattering ways: imagine she is a raging fan of your favorite team's traditional opponent (Ohio State or Michigan?) (Patriots or anyone else?) that she totally disagrees with some of your favorite things? Hates your favorite ice cream: pistachio anyone? The point is not to find out if that is true but rather to take the edge off the new and the best of a never-never relationship.

I like it!

Though I do wonder, if OP knows those things aren't true, if that could create a paradoxical effect ("She isn't really this person... in fact, she must be perfect!")

Algebra 2 and pre-calc, not trig. So there.

Hmm I believe you are right! Though I have a distinct memory of the classes being combined back in my day. "Algebra 2/Trigonometry." Hence the confusion.

But, okay, so then what the heck IS trigonometry?

(I hope my mathematician father isn't reading this!)

Grief isn't something you ever get over; rather, it's something we learn to cope with over time. Also, I think we tend to focus on the pain of the day we lost the loved one, but perhaps trying to refocus our thoughts on the wonderful things the person brought to our lives during the time they were alive may help us cope.

Yes, thank you.

Or-- in one of my favorite ways of thinking about it, which I attribute to David Kessler-- the goal becomes to remember the person with more love than pain.

I... must disagree. I've had my share of past crushes (happily married now) and when ever I did meet the spouse/sig other, it always brought overwhelming feelings of "I can treat you so much better."

Yes, that was my fear! Thanks.

went through this, alas. Just know that sometimes it can go the other way. A physical/mental workup (if the person agrees) is crucial. Beyond that, and it is easier to say than do, boundaries are important.

Yes indeed. Thanks.

I have struggled with depression and OCD for more than 8 years. I have been on cipralex for almost 2 years now. And for the past few months I have been on Pristiq. I was in therapy for almost a year and a half, on and off. With little success. Everything is hard for me to do. I can barely take a shower, I can't prepare food. Thus, I only eat fast food or cereal. And I rarely get out of my room. I have seen little improvement form the MEDs I have been taking. As a doctor, what do you think would be the best medication for someone with moderate depression?

To be clear, I am a clinical psychologist, so by definition, I am not doing the prescribing.

I am so sorry to hear of this, though. And of course I cannot give official medical advice, but I do wonder about some next lines of defense: additional types of meds (perhaps tricyclics or MAOIs?) Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation? Psilocybin? I know the FDA recently approved nasal administration of ketamine for treatment-resistant depression. I also wonder if you should be on an additional separate regimen for the OCD part, and to what extent that is exacerbating the depression. (And I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the possibility of ACT therapy, which can be particularly helpful for intrusive thoughts. "The Happiness Trap" is a very good introduction to this.)

But beyond the specifics, please know, there is hope. I would recommend seeing a psychiatrist who truly specializes in treatment-resistant depression.

Please do stay in touch with this chat.

Sine, cosine, tangent, etc.

Ahhh! Yes, indeed. Those are different than parabolas, even though my teacher-- and my traumatic memories-- are the same!

Thanks.

But Weird Al is a staggering genius!

Yes, I definitely have over-revealed something about my own standards here.

Hasn't happened yet. Inevitably Spouse, perhaps sensing my feelings somehow, proceeds to share blisteringly embarassing/annoying/turn-offy information about Crush that makes Crush seem far less interesting.

I am glad that for once horribly annoying information could be used for good rather than for evil!

Love your chats (and columns-hoping they come back)! I’m having a really hard time dealing with my mom. In the past few weeks her behavior got so out of hand that I had an epiphany about our long, tortured mother-daughter history and realized she’s emotionally abusive and consistently gaslights me. I am embarrassed it took me nearly 40 years to figure this out. She is not yet aware of my epiphany as she’s out of the country for a few weeks. I am not sure how to handle her when she gets back. I have been very accommodating in the past, despite it never being enough no matter what I do, and I just can’t do it anymore. But my epiphany will be a surprise to her, and she is still recovering from a major illness so I feel like I owe her a grace period of keeping things the way they were. I have three wonderful young kids and a very supportive spouse. Our normally calm and drama-free life only flares up when my mom is around. But I suffer from immense guilt with her, even writing this out makes me feel like I am betraying her. What do I do with my mom who I love but cannot have regularly blowing up my life and making me feel like an awful person?

First, congratulations on your epiphany.

But you don't have to suddenly change everything dramatically if you don't want to-- in fact, that would be yet another way of letting her control your emotional well-being, calling the shots when she doesn't deserve to.

I would start by focusing on actions. Don't get bogged down by imagining how she would respond to your epiphany, or whether it's a betrayal (it's not!) Instead, establish-- maybe with the help of your wonderful spouse-- what basic guidelines for behavior are. Yes, it could be as simple as "Respecting the other person's feelings" or "Saying what you mean" or "Stopping saying something when someone else tells you that it is hurtful." Then, when she runs afoul of this, you have something very specific and concrete to point to-- it is not about 40 years of baggage, it is about the fact that "Mom, that felt hurtful, and I've told you that. I am ending this conversation now." She can respond-- or not-- how she wishes, but with every single instance of his, you are flexing your boundary-building muscle.

Ultimately, it's those boundaries-- and your actions-- that will build a new structure for your relationship.

"Generally, the best way that I know to get over an office crush it to get to know the spouse. If possible." That immediately brought to *my* mind the song "Ironic" by Alanis Morissette, with the line "It's meeting the man of my dreams/And then meeting his beautiful wife." But given that the song is from the 90s, I shouldn't have expected you to quote it. :)

Ah, yes!

Yeah, we can be equal opportunity here-- because I remember 1980s Alanis from "You Can't Do That on Television!"

What degree/certification would you need to do so, out of curiosity?

So, I have a PhD and licensure. Psychiatrists have MDs. Some PhD psychologists, with some additional training, can get prescription privileges, but only in certain states.

(Though to be clear that's not something I'd pursue even if it was available in ye old Maryland.)

I had an office crush a few months ago. We are both married, so it was a bit different. I told a close friend (I can't keep secrets!) and she recommended that every time I thought about the crush guy, I should send my husband an email or text or otherwise send him some love. OP could divert crush thoughts to updating a dating profile, signing up for hobby-related classes or group outings, etc. Similar to what Dr. Bonior was saying!

I like it! It really is all about the rechanneling. Thanks!

The only time I think of my "sister" is when I see someone struggling with a toxic family member. I cut her out of my life 30 years ago, she had crossed too many lines too many times. So much more peaceful without her. You don't owe anything to family members who hurt you and those you love.

Thank you for this.

The data on estrangement is surprising in that it's a lot less dire than people assume-- it sometimes really is not only necessary and justifiable but very emotional healing. Thanks.

And as DJs always pointed out when the song was hot, NONE of the situations in the song are ironies.

It's true.

That song is a lit major's worst nightmare.

I remember reading somewhere that he graduated high school at 16 and was valedictorian. So maybe don't undersell your assumption of staggering genius? If true it's a positive start

I CANNOT BELIEVE THAT I AM LUCKY ENOUGH TO HAVE WEIRD AL YANKOVIC WRITING IN TO THIS CHAT!

Hi Dr. Bonior, Thanks so much for taking my question! Your response certainly gave me some good jumping off points with my husband. He's aware of his state, but disagrees with labeling it (or basically anything as related to illness/healthcare). What can I say, he's a first generation German-American Engineer's Engineer. Aside from that, once I was able to explain to him that I'm attempting to build the vocabulary to bridge our gap, he was more receptive to talking about it. So I'm taking it slow, etc. As to the LW who asked why I fell in love with him, because it seemed like it would be more trouble than it was worth, I laughed out loud in a barrel laugh that lasted for a few minutes. I think lots of posters gave great answers, but aside from the fact that love comes in all flavors, what draws me to him is the remarkable balance we bring to each other, and how easy it is for me to relax around him, since I'm a highly sensitive person, and have feelings for days. I think it works for us for the most part. Also, it wouldn't work if I was looking for him to fulfill every part of my life, but I have amazing friends who will bend an empathetic ear if I need it. And I'm a nurse, so my coworkers are also amazing. (So emotional validation present and accounted for!) I see how he is as the reason I love him, not the reason to not love him. It just is a little harder to connect in some ways, but because he loves me, if I just say out loud, "Can you please just let me vent, give me a hug, and leave me alone for the evening?" he'll do it, in exactly that order! But thank you again, and I'll let you know how it goes!

Thank you so much for this update!

The love you have for your husband is so clear, and I think that will take you so far in this process. And it is an excellent sign that he was receptive to the way you framed things. Here's to taking it slow and steady!

My daughter’s parents in law are my co-grandparents!

Another great moniker. Thanks!

Keep this in mind: She probably is well aware of your crush on her. Whenever I got up the gusto to admit my feelings in past crushes, the response was always some version of "Yes, I know. It's been pretty obvious."

Thanks. But I do think this varies by person!

(And to be clear, I don't think anyone's recommending that OP serenade his coworker with their feelings.)

Hi, I'm the writer who was afraid she'd offended her best friend by criticizing her husband instead of listening to her venting without comment as has been our norm. Thank you for your input. I've told myself to resume empathetic listening without comment unless specifically asked. She seems to have warmed up. I still think she needs to see a lawyer, but she'll find her way to one when if and when she's had enough, and I don't need to push it. And thank you for your sane and cogent comments on TV.

And thank you for this update! I am glad that she has warmed up, and hope that you can remain comfortable with the empathetic listening.

Thank you for your Facebook post about grieving on Monday. It so perfectly described grief. I feel like so often I've been told it's a process and implied that it should end when it's just not true. Loss imopacted my life and I'm learning to live with it.

And thank you for this kind note.

I am so glad it resonated with you-- and that you are making progress forward.

A mortal SIN...

Oh my goodness!

Love it. (See? And who says that people creating things on the Internet is just noise!)

As usual, I have drastically overstayed my welcome. Thanks so much for being here. I am already looking forward to next week.

And remember, if you're looking for a daily thought detox in the social media space, connect with me on Facebook or Instagram.

Until next time, be well and take good care.

In This Chat
Dr. Andrea Bonior
Dr. Andrea Bonior is a licensed clinical psychologist and the voice behind Baggage Check since its start in 2005. She serves on the faculty of Georgetown University, and is the author of two books in addition to the upcoming "Detox Your Thoughts: Quit Negative Self-Talk for Good and Discover The Life You've Always Wanted."
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