Carolyn Hax Live: Life in the time of coronavirus

Mar 13, 2020

Advice columnist Carolyn Hax took your comments about her current advice column and questions about the strange train we call life. Her answers may appear online or in an upcoming column.

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Hi everybody, happy to see you (not actually) here. I'm grateful today that we got this whole social distancing thing down in 1998.

Dear Carolyn, I understand these are uncertain and terrible times. But I would very much appreciate a space where the discussion is on something besides Covid. There are a million places dedicated to that discussion. I think it might actually help people, I know it would help me, to calm down and talk about something else for a bit. It would be really nice if this space could stick to being an advice column and leave current events elsewhere. I am not sticking my head in the sand about this very important public health issue, I just don’t it in my face every second of every day.

I understand--especially since I already agreed to do exactly that a year or three ago with politics, for the same reason.

I think, though, that circumstances are weird enough and new enough this week that avoiding the topic altogether is akin to group denial. There are people who have legitimate relationship-advice questions stemming from current events, so I'm not going to skip those. I promise I won't make it a mass anxiety attack. In fact, I hope we can help each other have the opposite effect.

Caveat: Really...not any of my business! Questions: How often does one of our letters break your heart? How often does one of our letters either reaffirm or make you question your faith in humanity?

At least once a day; at least once a day; at least once a day. When I'm reading my mail, I laugh out loud, I cry, I yell at LWs, I flip off my screen, and generally appear unhinged. All by myself in my home office. Enjoy.

Dear Carolyn, I'd been on four really nice dates with a guy I met online when the social distancing mandates and office closures started raining down. I'm working from home and have canceled most of my plans for the time being; I'm not in an at-risk group, but I have loved ones who are. My new guy has not done the same--he's still going to work and playing neighborhood sports on a regular basis. We are so new that I don't really feel entitled to ask him to change his behavior, but I also don't feel comfortable seeing him in person for the time being. Does that mean this relationship is dead in the water?

No, it just means you have to tell him you won't go on dates with him because you believe it is your moral and social duty to stay home as asked. 

He will either use this information to reconsider his choice, or he won't; whether you and he reconsider each other over this can certainly wait. No rush.

It's your prerogative to see him as irresponsible and your prerogative to decide what is and isn't a deal-breaker for you. I won't try to talk you into or out of any opinions on that. I do think, though, people are having their "aha" moments on a rolling basis. Just look at, say, the different way local school districts are choosing to handle the crisis. These are (I think we can assume, in general) socially responsible, well-intentioned people, and they are coming to different conclusions on how much to do, for how long. 

My older sister (26 yo) is a trans woman, MtF, and she started transitioning last summer. She is happier than I’ve ever known her to be and I fully support her in making this journey. Growing up and since leaving home I have always been much closer to my religious parents and I guess this is why. My sister finally told our parents last fall and they went ballistic, called my sister mentally ill, accused her of transitioning as a way of attention seeking, and told her point blank that she is just lying to herself about her gender identity. My mother especially sees my sister as an embarrassment, and has threatened to disown her if she continued with her transition. Yesterday things came to a head. My mother messaged the family chat saying that, regarding the big family reunion in April, she wants reassurance that my sister won't "embarrass her". She said my sister should come dressed as a man, accepting her dead name or stay away. I don't know what to do. I've been through bad times in the past few years, and my mother supported by me through all of it. I’m not sure I should go to the reunion if they keep treating my sister this way though. I know how vulnerable trans people are, the ridicule, violence and hatred they face just for being who they are, and I really want to support my sister. Do I have to skip the family reunion and ultimately cut my parents out to do it?

Your mother supported you not because she is a loving or generous person, but because you, for no reason you could control, fell into the acceptable range of humanity according to her biases. You affirm her sense of self-worth. Her reacting to your sister mainly as a matter of how a transgender child reflects on *her* proves this to the degree of certainty you need. Beyond.

So your mom's attention to you during your bad times is not a good enough reason to give her a pass (or let's call it a condemnation discount) for her hateful treatment of your sister.

If your sister is not welcome, then you skip the reunion and say exactly why.


Thank you!! After a fairly heavy discussion with DH, we have decided that I'm skipping Easter with his family this year. Neither of us like it, or like the likely fallout that will come (there's very complicated family dynamics involved, specifically that his family thinks that we favor my family... and we honestly kind of do).

To address some of the other points: I actually am in therapy dealing with my anger issues because I refuse to raise my kids how I was raised. I 100% know where my anger comes from (middleman in a family where my mom was aligned w/me, my brothers and dad were aligned with each other); I was often the only one who was on speaking terms with everyone for months at a time (it's fun to be a 1st grader who has to "tell mom that [brothers] need their report card signed by both parents," "tell dad that I will sign it if I feel like it" while both mom and dad are in the same room). I was never abused but witnessed a fair amount of emotional/probably could be called physical abuse; I was also oftentimes in the car when my mom decided she HAD to leave and would drive 80+ mph on residential streets because she was so angry.

And at the end of the day they are still my family and I love them more than anything and know that they would do anything for me in a heartbeat. It's weird, but my parents are MUCH better parents to adult children than they were to us as kids, and there has never been a doubt in my mind that they love us more than anything. And I know the screaming/yelling/hitting dynamic is unhealthy, and it's one I refuse to have with my DH or our kids, but I also know that it's what they both grew up with, and back then they didn't have therapy to help them figure out alternatives.

DH and I actually have fairly healthy ways of dealing with our conflict that we've negotiated over the course of our relationship; it hasn't been easy but we both agree that we don't like how either of our sets of parents deal with issues, so we have to do things differently. So, we tell each other when we're starting to get annoyed about something before we get really angry about it; if we are really angry we don't expect the other person to magically know why and tell them the reason instead; and we do not put up with the other person snapping at us just because they are in a bad mood about something else (this was my rule for the DH; his dad has the TERRIBLE habit of snapping at everyone around him when he's annoyed about anything).

I think I may have overblown my anger issues in my initial post (therapist tells me all the time that I'm more scared of my anger than I should be). I haven't had an explosion or screaming session or anything since I was in my early 20s (early 30s now). I also saw a LOT of the chatters mention that they didn't have those hormonal experiences on IVF, and that makes me so relieved to hear (I've been inundated with horror stories, like the sweetest person I know screaming at her husband that she couldn't wear her favorite blue sweater because she already wore it that week).

Still, at the end of the day, your advice to take out the win or lose was so helpful, it's what I did, and so there will be no Easter hoot from me at least. :) (Unless, of course, you would like to hear the Hoot story of the ritualistic passing/touching of a creepy doll head my family does at every family gathering for absolutely no good reason other than that we're weirdos... but that at least would be funny, not sad. :) )

We'll take funny! Please, more funny.

Glad to hear you've sorted so much of this out, and are working with an emotional tutor.

There's a lot here, and I'm sure I read past some important things, but this jumped out at me: "It's weird, but my parents are MUCH better parents to adult children than they were to us as kids." That's not weird to me at all.

As we've teased out here in a thousand different questions and a thousand different ways, raising children is a difficult business and puts significant pressure on parents. It's emotional, so people who struggle with emotional management will often lose their handle on things; parents who are a little wobbly as a couple will feel those bonds start to strain or snap; parents who aren't mature and/or sure of themselves will struggle with boundaries and too often live through their kids; etc. So much going on at once. When the kids become adults, though, a huge amount of that pressure is suddenly off. Not all, but a lot--and without that pressure, it's easier to behave better. To be slower to anger, to be less enmeshed. And people will definitely have fewer arguments over dividing a workload that is manageable, vs one that's overwhelming.

Anyway. Thanks so much for the update.

How would you recommend balancing social distancing with living life? Such as, many folks will be celebrating St. Patrick's Day at their favorite watering hole this weekend as a Guinness tastes much better out of a tap then it does a bottle or can. Can I, in good consciousness, spend an hour or two in what may prove to be a crowded bar or restaurant?

No. You can't. They can't either.

We need to do this right. And doing it means giving things up that are really, achingly important to us--the very things that make life so great.

College seniors lost their farewell springtimes. Pro leagues shut down. These were my dope slap. If anyone else needs one, help yourself to mine--I won't get possessive about it.

Hi Carolyn- I've been seeing my individual therapist, "Kate", for 2.5 years. She's great and incredibly helpful and I adore her as my therapist. I've also been going to group therapy for 1 year, which is led by another therapist, "Sally." Kate and Sally are colleagues and often consult together; Kate recommended Sally's group to me. Kate was out for a month and I saw Sally for my individual therapy. It was helpful and equally effective as Kate's therapy. Kate is 30 m. from my home, and doesn't take insurance. Sally is less than 1/2 a mile from my home, takes my insurance, and has a more direct manner than Kate - not that I like that better, just a different style of therapy, and I like her equally. I'd like to see if I can switch to Sally for my therapy, but worried how this would play out. How do you recommend I do this? Talk with Sally and see if she even has space in her schedule for me? Tell Kate I'm thinking about switching, but if it doesn't happen, no hard feelings? FWIW, one reason I chose Kate is she has a certification in working with a specific problem area I have (think non-traditional lifestyle). Sally doesn't have the same certification, but has worked well with me on these issues. Thanks for your help.

Ask Sally if she has room, and say you plan to talk to Kate but are checking with her first to make sure it's even possible. If Sally can take you on, then tell Kate you've been really happy with her, but the insurance issue is one you can't just brush aside.

Kate is a professional, and a professional will get it.

My only child and spouse are expecting a baby. I live in Fairfax they live downtown. Every time I ask if I can stop by for a few minutes the answer is invariably how busy they are, they’ll let me know. I never hear back. I’m only invited on Christmas, Thanksgiving Mother’s Day and (sometimes) my birthday. Those aren’t necessarily guaranteed. I’ve tried everything. I don’t stay long. I’m not intrusive. I’m as pleasant as I know how to be. But they just don’t want/need/are too busy for my company, or to come here. Their father alienated them from me following a divorce that’s 20 years old. I struggled with issues that made me a less than great parent; now medicated. But it’s too late. I’m beginning to understand I just need to accept this. But I can’t sleep anymore. do you do you have any words of advice?

You say you're medicated; is there a talk therapy component there? If not, then I urge you to add one. In general treatment outcomes are better with the two combined than they are with either treatment alone.

That is for the history part of your problem. It sounds so complicated, and "I struggled with issues that made me a less than great parent" is so broad in its possibilities, that I'm going to let the therapy referral do all of the advising for me.

For the "I just need to accept this" part, I can make a suggestion: Dedicate yourself to something that doesn't involve your child, or seeing your child, or fixing things with your child. Choose something totally independent that you care about or enjoy or just think you might care about or enjoy. The first part of this new project can be entirely about finding something that fulfills you. 

Once you choose something (or -things, plural), build your knowledge of it, attention to it, investment in it--slowly at first, so you can see whether it's a fit, and then let it tell you what to do next. 

I know you want your focus to be on your family. But when our first choice isn't happening, and when the not-happening starts to feel like torture, then that's our mind's cue to find something else to occupy it. Brains are greedy; they want to be fed constantly with things to work on, things to look forward to, opportunities to feel useful and productive. Please start deliberately feeding yours with something new, something uplifting, something within your control.


Readers stuck at home with nothing to do might consider taking up writing. Many great works of literature were produced during epidemics and pandemics, from the Canterbury Tales to Jane Eyre.

Or just enjoy the great works themselves, many of which are a commitment. 

That's a tough sell for my kids,but they're adapting. One just rewatched the whole "Hunger Games" series, feeling those dystopian blues.

How do you learn to love (or even just accept) yourself when you feel like you don’t deserve that love?

Why don't you?

And, who does, by your standards?

If I don't hear back from you, then I'll leave you with this: When I have felt at my lowest, I try to do Good Deeds. Concrete, literal, measurable actions to make something or someone else better. Even if you're really struggling with something you've done, some terrible regret, or some trait you don't like in yourself, it's hard to stay at bottom while someone is measurably better for your existence. It's not a permanent solution, it's more of a jump start--but once you feel a little better, then you can start to think more clearly about the (new) direction you want your life to take. 

I hope this helps. I also hope you'll get screened for depression, if you haven't already. NAMI can get you started (

Hi Carolyn, Sometimes I'm not sure if your article is real. But mostly, the comments are way off-base, and seem to revel in seeing how far they can go off-topic. Am I missing some in-joke? Many Thanks!

My article is real, except when it's a column, and the letters are real unless someone's passing off a fake, which I don't care about as long as it's about something potentially useful.

What I think you're missing is the "hide off-topic" button. It's at the top of the comments, where you select how you'd like them displayed.

I doubt my question is different from many others...but I'll ask it anyway! In the past 24-48 hours I've gone from being relatively calm about the outbreak to being RIDDLED with anxiety about the unknown. How long will I work from home? Will my job continue for the duration of the outbreak? Will my spouse and I kill each other? I was already feeling some social separation that I first named about a week ago, and social distancing isn't going to do anything to help that. Not to mention my parents who are of a mature age (they don't feel elderly to me, despite the fact that they're 81 and 76) and are at a higher risk. Any suggestions on how to tamp down the feeling in the pit of my stomach that the world as we know it is ending? (I know, not a big ask!)

No no, we've got this.

Here's what I'm thinking these days.

Since we don't have a choice, this is the best time possible to find value in slowing down. You can't know whether or when or how long, so, okay. Here's today. What can you do with today? What can you do, bake, read. Whom can you call who has gotten nothing from you but texts. What pile hasn't been sorted through because you've been too busy.

What changes can you plan to make now, to apply whenever you're out and about again, to alleviate your concerns about feeling separate.

Your parents will have to worry about your parents. You, just enjoy them. Call, write, Facetime/Skype. Decide to watch the same show so you can talk about it later. 

And, if you're like me, you can remind yourself 12 x per day that this happened in the streaming era, so the world as we know it can wait.

If trans sister cannot go to the family reunion, she should still reach out to relatives to get together individually or as a group on other times! Their mother cannot dictate how everyone feels or control every familial relationship. She can only let people know when she will be predicatively a PITA.

I was at a Jewish baby naming several years ago where the rabbi said that this baby is a person of infinite value, as we ALL are. It really struck me, because I have no problem recognizing that babies and children have infinite value, but I have a much harder time seeing that in myself. I have gotten in the habit of reminding myself of my own infinite value when I am depressed, and I have taken great comfort in remembering the infinite value of all people. Each of us is an entire universe contained in one person. You are deserving!

Love this, thank you.

I always thought being a parent was just plainly hard. But in the last few months, a number of people have said things casually like, "Yeah, and you don't have easy kids," or commented that they thought my daughter was autistic, ADHD, or any other number of things. While I don't take offense (having wondered these things myself) we have seen a number of specialists for varying issues over the years. We continue to re-evaluate a few times a year. My daughter is almost 6, in Kindergarten, and I often just find her difficult. Really unreasonable, extremely loud (happy and angry) and yes we've had her hearing tested a number of times, lots of big emotions and has trouble socializing with her peers. She's just loud and weird, and a lot of them are much more normal for a variety of reasons (older siblings' influence, more media exposure ie my daughter knows nothing about pop culture). Do you think therapy is ever useful for kids this young? We are an outdoorsy family and with 7 hours a day in school I've always been reluctant to sign up for more indoor stuff... I just don't know how to help her. It often takes HOURS for her to be ready to talk about something so we can together find a solution. It's exhausting. Yes, I have my own therapist.

I know your question is whether therapy would be useful, but as I read this I kept thinking, more activity would be useful. It's great you're outdoorsy; that's a huge natural advantage, to have "gross motor" options for family time. Don't rule out "indoor stuff," though, if it also involves a lot of big motion. Seven hours is a long time to be cooped up in school--so, is she cooped up? How long and how often do they get recess? Is there another school nearby that offers more recess, more hands-on learning, less of a 1st grade curriculum? (Ask long-timers about the shift in kindergarten emphasis from play to academic desk-work.)

This is tied to the idea of her being "ready to talk." There is an established link between being active and being able to process and articulate our feelings. (It's not a big subset, but there are therapists who will run or walk with their patients, which can be especially useful for treating children, who often struggle with speaking up just because they're not mature enough to yet. That's if therapy is warranted, which it may or may not be; that's above my credential level.)

And even if you don't get any real benefits on that front, there are benefits to be had just from giving kids time and space to run hard and tire themselves out.

Certainly the way you describe your daughter fits with some things professionals look for in making an ADHD or autism diagnosis--but that doesn't mean you're there. Could be something else entirely, too, or ultimately nothing serious. Nervous systems have their own maturity timetables, just like kids themselves do, so a diagnosis can be a longer process than you might expect going in. Make sure you have a pediatrician who is plugged in to your area's network of specialists, who is up to date (look for affiliation with a teaching hospital), and who is talking and advising you through the various possibilities. 

Good for you, by the way, for not getting defensive about people's observations. Some kids aren't getting a closer diagnostic look who would benefit from it, just because their parents take offense at the suggestion there might be something else going on.


Sorry, that was too big a bite for a chat. Didn't mean to go quiet for so long.

Thank you for taking my question. I do indeed have depression (also anxiety and have recovered mostly from an eating disorder), so I recognize that that plays a role in how I feel about myself. I have been on depression/anxiety meds for several years and it has definitely helped. But I still haven’t been able to shake the belief that there is something inherently wrong with me that makes me unworthy. I like your answer about doing Good Deeds, and that is what I want to do, but I know that my anxiety especially is holding me back from putting myself out there and doing those things, and then I just feel even worse about myself for not doing them. It feels like a vicious cycle. I honestly believe that every human is worthy of love but I can always find some reason why that doesn’t apply to me. And even though I recognize that that’s what I’m doing, I find it hard to stop doing it. (Hope this makes sense. Sorry for such a long reply!)

Depression means your brain is lying to you about you. Keep that handy to remind yourself when you need it.

And maybe this is too cynical for a chat like today's, but it can also be useful to look around you at the rich human tapestry, either of people you know or of public figures, and pick out the ones who make it perfectly justifiable to say: "Wow. Okay. I guess I'm not so bad." (Don't dwell on any one of these individuals, though, or you'll get newly depressed.)

And to tie together some threads, which you're about to see is a wretched pun: Assuming you're on some sort of self-imposed home confinement like the rest of us, consider looking for ways to be generous or useful that don't involve your anxiety. For example, knitting blankets for nursing home residents or NICU babies is 100 percent act of human kindness with 0 percent "putting myself out there." That's just one example, so dedicate some time to finding others if that's not your thing.

Yes. I took my son at almost 3 when he was biting at daycare. The process and goals are different than for a child with a more complex set of verbal skills. The therapy we (and I mean we - I was there in the room with him for every session) was invaluable. It helped us figure out what was going on in his classroom as well as at home. We took him again at 9, and the same therapist figured out immediately what was going on. I can't thank her enough.

Just wanted to chime in with a relative's experience. Therapy saved her and her husband and their first daughter, who was an incredible handful. Relative's husband is a surgeon so they were plugged into the medical resource system, and a team was formed: a psychiatrist to prescribe medication, a yoga-like personal "trainer" in self-calming, and a psychologist to oversee the whole treatment. Diagnosis was OCD with a splash of sensory processing disorder. She's now a wonderful college graduate who does stand-up in her spare time (all that energy being directed). It's great to hear that the OP has regular evaluations done, and yes, therapy can definitely be added to the mix.

One thing I see overlooked is that many us older (I'm 74) feel that we have had a long fulfilling life and that death is not a tragedy as when we were younger and had duties. Leaving aside the idea that kids and friends don't want us to go away, perhaps we are willing to take more risks in the name of social interaction and exercise. Not that we aren't willing to wash our hands and keep a distance, but expecting all of us to be anxious is not correct.

Ah. A couple of things here.

I agree utterly with the idea that each of us gets to make our own risk-reward calculations. If you're feeling as if your age makes your death less of a tragedy, then I admire that, and agree you don't have to sign up for anyone else's anxiety.

I don't agree, though, that your risk-reward calculations alone are the only factor in your taking on more risk. You are, like the rest of us, risking others' health "in the name of social interaction and exercise." I'm not staying home (just) to keep from infecting Grandma and Grandpa, though that's part of it. I'm staying home because rapid spread of the virus will lead to a spike in illness that will overwhelm our under-prepared health system. I want you to be fit and social and happy, of course, but I want more for you and everyone else to be part of the effort to slow the spread down as much as possible, and to stop this as quickly as possible. 

Think of it this way: You can decide at 74 for that your death isn't a tragedy, but that doesn't make it okay for you to drive 120 mph amid other cars on the highway. The former is a matter of personal choice, the latter is a matter of public health.

And so I'm staying home not because I'm "anxious," but because I realize the only way to "flatten the curve" (Google it, please) is for as many of us as possible to stop circulating as soon as possible. 

We took my daughter in for anxiety when she was four. Now we have what she calls our "summer tradition" of a few sessions each summer before school starts. She's seven and is on a fairly even emotional keep AND her dad and I have a lot more confidence in working with her on our own thanks to her therapist.


I'm getting a lot of these, and posting them gratefully, but I want to point out: If it wasn't clear in my original answer, I saw the OP's issue as one of figuring out what's up with her daughter; I wasn't questioning whether therapy would -ever- be effective for a young child. It is, of course, appropriate in many situations.

The effectiveness of therapy is largely about the match between condition and treatment, and patient and therapist. 

Boy I can relate. My "weird" 9 year old was diagnosed with ADHD in Kindergarten and is currently being evaluated for autism. First, no it is not too early for therapy if you think she needs it. Talk to your pediatrician about it, and also talk about getting ADHD and autism evaluations. If your pediatrician blows off your concerns, get a new one. Second, does she have friends at school? If so be proactive about setting up playdates and supervise them, don't just let them loose alone in her room or something. Social skills won't get better if she can't practice. Last, hey, there may not be anything to diagnose that is non-neurotypical about her. She may just need more time to get this whole social skills/formal education/friend thing. Kindergarten is a hard time. It sounds like you are tuned in to her needs, which is great. Hang in there!

Thank you for your replies. I really appreciate you taking the time for me (and the other chatters). I will look into what you suggest about finding ways to help that don’t make me feel anxious. Hopefully that will be a good start. :) Thank you!

You're welcome. 

Feeling unworthy is rooted in shame. I read John Bradshaw's book, Healing the Shame That Binds You" and it changed my life.

The book is new to me so can't vouch for it, but I agree on shame as the root. Thanks.

If you haven’t tried therapy, you might benefit from a feminist/post-modern therapist who focuses on empowerment. I do this kind of work and depending on your personal needs/history, it can be really helpful to see a professional who will look you in the eyes and say “you are valuable. You deserve to feel valuable.” If you didn’t get enough encouraging words earlier in life to integrate into your self-talk, you can find someone to say them until you learn to say them to yourself.

Just another vote for kid therapy. My daughter had a lot of compulsive behaviors as a young child and through a chain of referrals got sent to a CBT therapist who stopped the OCD in its tracks. It was an amazing transformation in her behavior and quality of life. But the first couple people evaluating couldn't help. Sometimes it takes a bit until you find the right person.

Your anxiety could have developed into OCD, which specializes in compulsive thoughts.

A possible option is to just skip over the loving yourself part. Ask yourself: why is self-love important? Why is this something I want to develop? Fill in the blank: "I need self-love in order to [X]" Then, once you've pinpointed that, work on achieving [X], without worrying about what emotions you're experiencing about yourself along the way.

You know what I could have used most? A parent who said "I love you just as you are and it's safe to be you here."

Before ruling out therapy, look for reputable children's therapists who specialize in play therapy. It's indoors, yes, but it's also movement and imagination to help your daughter process things.

The simplest and best advice I've gotten (and used!) when feeing bad about myself is what I'd say to a friend who felt that way about themselves. How much kinder and forgiving I'd be to that friend than I am with me. It's amazing that we'd never talk to a good friend or loved one the way we speak to ourselves.

For me it's the slowing down that is causing anxiety. As an article I read just stated - social distancing is great for public health but bad for business. Some of us are worried about having jobs at the end of this thing as well as being worried about loved ones.

Absolutely. I should have said upfront that the slowing down was bad for us, horribly timed, and took away some things we will never get back--and put us in an awkward, possibly even dangerous position in at least one respect. It's not all homemade soup and movies.

So that's the preamble to the "okay, I guess I have to find some value in slowing down." Because it's there, it's done, and here we are. And it will go a whole lot better if I keep the frame around the good parts I can manage instead of the bad parts I can't.

If there are people out there who aren't worried about loved ones or a scary financial impact of some kind, then I don't know any of them personally. The costs will be immense, and we all will bear them. I just hope the response is quick and decisive on providing relief. I realize it doesn't lighten the burden you carry, but you're not alone in carrying it.

I know they can be annoying, but they really are the most fun! It harkens back to internet days-of-yore when we had chat rooms and AIM. And some of us are just a bit chattier than others. Please join us!

Carolyn, I'm hoping you can squeeze in a plea for readers to do what they can to support small businesses during our "social distancing" period. I saw a great suggestion - if you're not going to your normal hangouts (coffee shops, restaurants, bars, etc.) buy a gift certificate in the amount you'd normally spend. If you're going to get groceries delivered, go through your local grocery instead of Amazon. If you're going out shopping, go to your local stores, instead of big national stores. The big boxes will survive this, local businesses may not. Thanks!

I love the gift cert idea, thanks.

This was possibly the most helpful thing I’ve ever come across (after years and years of therapy and other attempts at feeling better about myself)

Posting on faith, thanks.

I know I'm being gaslighted and worse. Everything from a Mosaic threat assessment to talking to professionals, family, and others says I'm not safe, but I still don't feel I can leave (mostly b/c the best exit option involves taking money from family of origin, which has its own price, but overt action to obtain a firearm does not portend a good ending here in any case).

You can leave. Take the money, since the price presumably doesn't involve your FOO obtaining a firearm.

You believe everyone else. Now believe yourself, that your life is at risk.

Call 1-800-799-SAFE to make a plan first--your risk will spike when you leave. Call now. Maybe the planner on the hotline can even help you find a way out that doesn't involve cash from a compromised source.

Check back in please? to let us know you got out?

Related to the prior case of the childless friend wanting to schedule personal time with a new mother. I have a slightly different issue. One friend who has three adult daughters often brings up issues she has with her kids when we get together. (I know all her daughters.) When I offer a comment or suggestion in response to what she says, she often responds "you don't know because you don't have kids!". I know I don't have kids. Thanks for the constant reminder. I'm not sure what she expects from me. If I don't respond, then I am unfeeling. Anyway, I asked a mutual friend (who is very discreet), if she had any suggestions for when this situation comes up. Her idea was to respond so: "Yes, I know I don't have kids. But, I am familiar with mother-daughter relationships and how they can sometimes be quite difficult." I am hopeful that this will work. What do you think?

That's a good suggestion.

You have a good one, too, though: "I know I don't have kids. I'm not sure what you expect from me." There's something to be said for laying it out there that she keeps putting you in this position, and then slapping you down for it.

And, to be clear, your friend is acting like a jerk. (And I'm a jerk, so I know firsthand what it's like.)  

I say this as gently as I can - I appreciate that the parent changed and I appreciate that there was an illness, but the trauma I went through with an absentee parent will never - not never ever - be worth it to me to have my parent back in my life. A bit here and there is manageable for me, but that is it. Many people look at my parent and think they are pretty great now and yay for them. But they weren't great for me growing up and it had a big impact on me and I am the one who has to live with that. I don't know if this is the case for the OP, but please consider that. A letter may help (it might help for me depending), but I will never trust my parent again so I can't have them be a big part of my life.

Thank you for telling this side of it.

shame is often the first button that a dysfunctional parent installs in their kids. Being constantly told that you're not worthy, that any need you express makes you selfish, that others will always come before you -- that's some serious damage. Not that the OP is in this situation, but the source of the shame/unworthiness is worth exploring.

"shame is often the first button that a dysfunctional parent installs in their kids. "


I'm 55 and I'm still a loud and weird kid. And you know what? I like me this way.

[loud-and-weird-50-something secret no-skin-contact handshake]

You advised readers to Google "flatten the curve" but the Post has an excellent article that explains it really well:

Thank you! I was trying to speed things up.

Wow! This sounds to me like a possible sign of clinical depression. Perhaps the OP might want to seek out a therapist to see if they could benefit from professional treatment.

Does it? I see it as refreshingly frank. Hm.

Taken from someone else's social media post: "'s really an act of amazing social solidarity. We're sacrificing so we can give nurses, doctors and hospitals a fighting chance. Start from there and we can hopefully figure out the rest."

Nice, thanks. Sorry not to credit the source.

This is a very important thing to keep in mind, especially for those of us frustrated that people we know don't seem to get how serious this is/could get. What seems reasonable one day starts looking iffy the next and downright dangerous the day after that. Things have been changing so fast. I've been watching this thing looming like an ongoing cold front for weeks, but even so, it wasn't clear to me at what point to do X or to not do Y. I've been preparing gradually just in case, but I've had the luxury of the time and attention to do that. Not everyone has. Be kind in your estimation of how people wrap their minds around something so unprecedented and potentially life changing.

Thanks for speaking to this firsthand. I'm getting so many questions about whether it's okay to do X or not do Y, most of them more complicated than "can I go to a crowded bar,"* and therefore the purview of an epidemiologist or public health expert. I've asked Yu to consider producing a chat like that. Stay tuned. 


*reminder: no.

Since we've all been through a lot today:

There's always the more literal response: "Oh, dear. That sounds stressful. I'll just go to your 2nd wedding."

That's it for today. Thanks everybody. This was supposed to be my last chat before a week of vacation, but I canceled my trip and so, blah. I am going to do some planning for keeping us all from going out of our minds (Kenny and kids' spring training was canceled, too), but if I see a good opening I'll do a midweek chat or two. 

Bye, hang in there, type to you soon.

In This Chat
Carolyn Hax
Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997 as a weekly feature for The Washington Post, accompanied by the work of "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis. The column has since gone daily and into syndication, where it appears in over 200 newspapers. Carolyn joined The Post in 1992 as a copy editor in Style, and became a news editor before turning to writing full-time. She is the author of "Tell Me About It" (Miramax, 2001), and the host of a live online discussion on Fridays at noon on She lives in New England with her husband and their three boys.
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