Family therapy?!

DEAR HARRIETTE: I have been sorting through some emotional issues for some time now. I have come to a decision that I am frightened to make: I want to ask my dad and stepmother to join an upcoming group therapy session with me. My therapist recommended that we sit down together, as a lot of my issues stem from the way they treated me when I was younger. I’m very nervous to ask them because I’m sure they have no idea I’m feeling this way. How should I approach this? — Group Therapy

DEAR GROUP THERAPY: Be gentle as you approach your family. If possible, go to see them and bring this up in person. Tell them that you have been going through some challenges and sought therapy to address them. Explain that some sensitive topics have surfaced that include things that happened when you were younger and still living with them. Tell them that your therapist has asked for the three of you to come together to talk through these sensitive topics, and you hope that they will agree.

It is likely that they will try to get you to reveal what the topics are. This is where you would do best to stand your ground. Tell them that it has been difficult for you to get to this point in your healing process. You believe you need the therapist’s professional support to help the three of you examine what comes up. Assure them that this is not an ambush. Instead, coming together with your therapist will present a safe space for you to talk together and sort through whatever comes up. (c) DREAMLEAPERS

Oh dear.

Harriette’s advice is always the same: sit down with [whoever] and share your feelings about [whatever] so that they’ll understand that you feel [however] about [such-and-such situation]. But this is a bad idea.

A long time ago I used to watch a show called Numb3rs. Yeah, it had a cute 3 instead of an E in its name. The show was about two brothers who worked for the FBI. Don, the older brother, was an FBI team leader. His younger brother, Charlie, was a legitimate mathematical genius who consulted for Don’s team but didn’t use a gun or go into scary situations. They’d lost their mother to cancer and were quite close to their dad, who was very fatherly. They were a really nice family.

Don started seeing a therapist. He was insanely jealous of Charlie’s genius-level abilities. What Don didn’t realize was that he, too, was a genius–just more in the FBI sense than the math sense. Hey, if you’re skilled at leading an FBI team, then you’re pretty darned smart in my book. And for seriousness, all of the characters were constantly talking over me, and I never had a clue what they were going on about. Don was highly intelligent.

So Don’s therapist got the idiotic idea for Don to bring his brother to therapy. But the therapy session was awkward, embarrassing, uncomfortable, and cringeworthy, in that order. Nothing got resolved or accomplished. In fact, it set Don and Charlie back in their otherwise solid brotherly relationship.

In my opinion, you can waste time being jealous of your prodigy brother, or you can get over it already and keep working for the FBI.

My therapist recommended that we sit down together, as a lot of my issues stem from the way they treated me when I was younger.

I just think this is a bad idea. I’m having a hard time pinpointing why, but it sounds like a bad idea. We know the letter writer is nervous about it. And Harriette can say it’s not an ambush, but from here, it looks like an ambush.

Assure them that this is not an ambush.

It seems odd that I’m siding with the parents on this, but they willl indeed be walking right into an ambush. Let’s at least be honest about that. Surely the letter writer shouldn’t lie to her parents outright, as Harriette is suggesting!

forest-ambush-randy-steele

HA HA! I made a funny. “It’s not an ambush. It just looks like one.” 😀

It is likely that they will try to get you to reveal what the topics are.

I know I sure would. Am I the only person smart enough to avoid being ambushed by a therapist? I doubt it. Therapists are dreadful creatures.

Assure them that this is not an ambush. Instead, coming together with your therapist will present a safe space for you to talk together and sort through whatever comes up.

Oh, okay, so that’s what prevents it from being an ambush. Mm-hmm. Maybe it’s just me. Maybe I’m jaded. My memoir, which I’ve been working on, has an entire chapter devoted to bad therapists. I was at a low point in my life and, out of desperation, I tried six or seven different therapists. Oh my gosh, it was disastrous.

And there was also something else that came up while penning my memoir. My mom took me to a therapist here in this neighborhood when I was a teenager. I don’t remember what the therapist and I were talking about. (It was just the two of us.) I was mortally offended, and I begged her to change the subject or backpedal or take it back, etc., etc. She flat-out refused and kept pushing me about it (whatever it was). It was sort of like she triggered me, and I begged her to be more sensitive, and she decided to go full-throttle against me. I wound up kicking a hole in her wall and then locking myself in her closet.

The funny thing is that at that point, I think she realized that she was in trouble. I wasn’t coming out, and I was wise enough to know it would make her look bad. She tried every which way to coax me out, and I was having none of it. You know you’re a bad therapist when your teen client would rather stay in the closet.

When my mother showed up to collect me, she was alarmed to find me hiding in the closet, so we fired that therapist and moved onto yet another one.

I only have a BA in psychology, but even I know that if you push too hard, you risk making the whole house of cards collapse. I also know that teenagers should be treated with kid gloves and given the benefit of the doubt about their home lives. Geez. That therapist was in the wrong line of business.

I would urge the letter writer to ask herself this question: will she feel comfortable mentioning the stuff from the past in the therapist’s presence, or will it feel like she’s onstage and about to bomb in the play? If it’s too much confrontation, it’s too much confrontation. I’d urge her to try to get closer to her parents and bring this stuff up gradually.

Confrontation (even the professional kind) can be disastrous. There was another time when I was a teenager that a boy in my class kept sexually harassing me. It got old. I told my mom, who called the (male) guidance counselor, whose office she and I wound up in. Then the guidance counselor called in the boy in question and asked him about it point-blank in front of us. The poor kid turned green. Problem solved, but I still feel sorry for him to this day. And I blame myself! Couldn’t that damned guidance counselor have a man-to-man talk with him instead? Nope, that was hoping for too much.

If the letter writer must go the family-therapy route, there should at least be some sessions of general discussion that will put everyone’s mind at ease. Of course, then, they really won’t suspect the ambush. [Facepalm.]

Grading on a curve?

Dear Annie: My wife of 44 years passed away after a nine-day bout with cancer.

We started dating at 16, went to college together, married at 20 and graduated at 21, when we started our life together for real.

“Sally” passed away two months after her 65th birthday. I will turn 65 in a month. I was to retire in three months, while Sally was already retired. Our house is paid for and sits by a beautiful creek in small-town Georgia, and moving has been suggested. I like it here.

All our plans for traveling and having a life together in retirement disappeared in a matter of days.

We had saved a pile of money to do all we couldn’t do until we retired. Now I don’t know what to do. I was her George Bailey, and she was my Mary Hatch. I never had a wandering eye. I don’t have a long-lost girlfriend from high school. Our circle of close friends is small and mostly live out of town.

My daughter and son are grown and pretty much have their own lives. I refuse to spend the last 20 years alone without female companionship. I liked being married. Single life is not my cup of tea. I know I can’t replace my wife. Some accuse me of that.

She was educated, a retired teacher. She knew who Emily Post was and watched Julia Child. Together, we watched “Jeopardy” nightly. She loved to travel, saying, “Travel feeds the soul.” She played bridge, volunteered at the hospital and church, and sent food to shut-ins. She would watch football with me and enjoy it if I would watch Hallmark movies with her.

During the pandemic, I began teaching myself guitar, and she would let me practice in the bedroom while she sat in bed reading. She remarked, “I would rather have you with me making a racket than somewhere else causing a racket.”

Should I try to forget her now that she is gone and look for another type of person to spend my life with? Should I look for another woman like her? Should I pursue her first cousin with similar qualities who lost her husband last year? Are there women out there like her who are good-hearted and looking for a stable, educated man with whom to have a good time?

How do I connect with them? I can’t go back to the neighborhood front-yard football game again, be tackled by her, injure my shoulder and have her be the first girl to come to my house worried about me, which is how our love affair began. Help! — Lost at Potato Creek (c) Annie Lane @ Creators.com

Hmm. Annie Lane is answering another easy question here. Just off the top of my head, he should get grief counseling through a hospice. And he should understand that no one can ever replace someone, so the idea of pursuing his late wife’s cousin is beyond bad. There’s a good episode of The Golden Girls about that. Also, he’s in no position to date, because he’s trying to recreate his marriage with a stand-in. He needs to just stop and process things. No rush.

Hmm…

  • I’ll give Annie Lane an A if she references hospices as a grief resource.
  • I’ll give her a B if she says not to sell the house (which he alluded to).
  • I’ll give her a C-minus if she urges him to get involved within the community as a way to meet new people.
  • I’ll give her a D if she recommends generic counseling (i.e., not grief counseling or hospice-specific counseling).
  • I’ll give her an F if she waxes poetic with no advice whatsoever, including none of the above.

(Regarding selling his house, when my mom went to grief counseling at the local hospice after her husband died, her counselor told her not to make any major decisions for a year. My mom actually obeyed that, so I’m a believer. And it makes sense because you don’t want to act in haste because of your feelings.)

Well, let’s see how she does here…

Dear Lost: Your love affair sounds like something out of the movies. I am so sorry for your loss. Of course you are lost and confused, and that is understandable. You are not supposed to have all the answers to what the future will look like right now. Find other widowers who can understand what you are going through and help you work through your grief. The healthier you get with your own emotions, the healthier your next relationship will be.

You will never replace your wife. You will now have a new normal, which will look different from your old normal, and that is perfectly natural. Instead of trying to find a replacement for your wife, try to remember all of your beautiful memories, which will live inside you for a lifetime.

Well, she did include this part:

Find other widowers who can understand what you are going through and help you work through your grief.

So she barely passed with a C-minus. (I just burst into laughter, and it triggered a coughing jag.) It was close, though!

Easy pitches for Annie Lane again!

Dear Annie: I am a single mother to my one daughter, who is now 29. She moved from our hometown because that’s where she met her husband, and she now has a son, my grandson, who is 1 1/2 years old. She asked me when she first got pregnant if I would move down to where they live to babysit Monday through Friday for them. Long story short, I did move. I left all my friends and family behind, although they are only two hours away. And now she decided to have him in day care, so I only babysit on an as-needed basis.

It has been and still is very hard for me being in this new city. I don’t know anybody and am still single, having left my companion when I moved down here. And it seems like the only time I see my grandson is when she needs me to babysit him.

Recently, she signed him up for toddler soccer, and I told her that I wanted to go to see him play. This past Saturday, they went, and she never asked me to join them. Her husband sometimes has to work on Saturdays, and it seems like she only invites me to things when he is working and not able to attend. I am feeling kind of hurt about this but don’t want to bring it up to her because I don’t want to start a huge conversation.

I have been lonely and have been living here for a year now. I’m thinking about moving back to my hometown but I’m torn because of not being able to see my grandson as often.

My question is, do you think I am being unreasonable to feel hurt that she doesn’t ask me to attend things when her husband is going? Should I move back to my hometown, which is two hours away, so I can have a social life? — Homesick (c) Annie Lane @ Creators.com

Oh, geez. Annie Lane’s picking the easy questions again. I bet she wrote this letter herself, just because it’s so easy to answer. Look at this part:

I am feeling kind of hurt about this but don’t want to bring it up to her because I don’t want to start a huge conversation.

And what’s the commonsense reaction to that? “You need to start a huge conversation.” I’ll wager anything that Annie Lane emphasizes communicating with her daughter. It’s just such a no-brainer. It reminds me of the suicidal letter writer who Annie Lane urged not to commit suicice. Because which other response is acceptable? “Yeah, go ahead and kill yourself,”? Yeah, right.

Annie Lane will open her advice by sympathizing with the situation and validating the letter writer’s feelings.

Oh. And the question about whether she should move back home is such a no-brainer that I can’t imagine anyone getting it wrong.

All right, Annie Lane, show us what you’ve got…

Dear Homesick: It sounds like freaked-out first-time mom was the one who requested you move to her neighborhood. Now that she’s in the groove of her parenting duties, she no longer needs the extra hands — which doesn’t mean she doesn’t appreciate you but does mean she is preoccupied with her immediate family.

Move back to your hometown and reconnect with your partner. Sitting by the phone waiting for invites does not make for a fulfilling social life.

Wow, I missed the part about how she left her companion. I had to go back and find it. I have to say, though, that I wouldn’t dump someone because I was moving two hours away. (Also, I wouldn’t move two hours away to babysit in the first place.) More evidence that Annie Lane wrote this letter.

Annie Lane’s an idiot. I can’t believe she focused all her advice on justifying the daughter’s actions.

It sounds like freaked-out first-time mom was the one who requested you move to her neighborhood.

Right, Annie Lane. It sounds that way because… wait for it… it’s what she told us. Yes, it was indeedy her daughter who asked her to relocate.

She no longer needs the extra hands — which doesn’t mean she doesn’t appreciate you but does mean she is preoccupied with her immediate family.

Mm-hmm. Assuming these are real people and not just Annie Lane’s creations, the daughter should never have asked her mom to give up her entire life just so the daughter could have free babysitting. How selfish is that?! And Annie Lane’s blaming it on being a freaked-out first-time mom, but come on. The daughter’s married and has a husband, and her mom was a mere two hours away. Mm-hmm.

Dear Annie: My son’s father has recently told me he wants to do everything he can for our son, who is almost 4. However, ever since our son was born, I have barely had any help. All he did was go to work in the morning and come home to play video games.

Our son used to go to his father to spend time with him only to be pushed away and told “no” because his father was busy playing a game. For that, my son is a mama’s boy, which is fine with me.

Now I’m with someone else who sees my worth, and we have a little girl due Dec. 26. We are also engaged.

I’m not sure how I feel about my son’s father suddenly wanting to be in our son’s life and claiming he will do whatever it takes. You don’t choose when you feel like being a parent. Any advice? — Stressed-Out Mom From NY

Another easy answer. It’s a simple matter of legal custody and basic morality: if the dad wants to be more involved in his son’s life, it’s his God-given right.

Dear Stressed-Out Mom: Yes, his paternal instinct is kicking in four years late — but for your son’s sake, it’s better late than never.

He’s already missed out on moments he’ll never get back. But don’t let your resentment toward him prevent your son from ever getting to know his father. An imperfect parent is better than an absent one.

Start small. Invite your son’s father to join your family for dinner once a week. If his commitment to your son is indeed more than just a phase, gradually loosen the reins.

But I think Annie Lane misread the situation. The letter writer doesn’t feel resentment toward the father. It’s more like she’s glad that her kid’s father is a video gamer, because it allows the letter writer to have her son all to herself. And now she doesn’t want to give that up.

Our son used to go to his father to spend time with him only to be pushed away and told “no” because his father was busy playing a game. For that, my son is a mama’s boy, which is fine with me.

That’s seriously one of the most disturbing things I’ve ever read. To clarify, I’m referring to the part about the mama’s boy. Some women, for whatever sick reason, develop these unhealthy relationships with their sons. I dated a guy once who was a total mama’s boy. And his mother hated me! Oh, how she hated me.

But this is what their mother-son relationship went back to: his birth. That’s right. I’m not making this up. When Billy was born, he was deprived of oxygen due to the umbilical cord. He had some developmental delays. He was the baby of the family, and his two older brothers were ten and eleven years older than him. Given those circumstances, Billy’s mom made a conscious decision to make Billy a mama’s boy who’d be forever dependent upon her and tied to her apron strings. How sickening.

This letter writer needs to change her relationship with her four-year-old son before he becomes someone like Billy. She doesn’t feel resentment as Annie Lane posited. Rather, she’s disappointed that her son’s father wants to reenter the picture in a larger way. It will inhinge on her plans for her son to be a mama’s boy!

(Not that I really expected Annie Lane to pick up on that. Once again with her advice, she went the required distance and then stayed in her comfort zone. Geez.)

Idle tongues will wag!

Dear Amy: My partner, “Chas,” and I have been together for 30 years.

My sister “Shelly” introduced us. Shelly and Chas are very old friends; in fact, Chas is her daughter’s godfather.

Chas tends to be quiet and low-key; Shelly is exuberant and loves attention.

All these years, we have shared various family gatherings and holidays. We get along well.

Recently, Shelly invited us to a family dinner. Chas had just had surgery and was not able to attend.

He sent his greetings and regrets, and I went by myself.

We had a very pleasant, lively evening.

Two days later, our brother sent an email to Shelly and me about some other miscellaneous stuff.

Clumsily, he had created his email message on top of an exchange he and Shelly had the day after the recent dinner.

Shelly had enthused about what a great time we all had, “mostly because Chas wasn’t here.”

I was (and am) stunned. I sent a terse reply to both, saying, “I guess I wasn’t aware of how unwelcome Chas is at these gatherings.”

Shelly texted me: “I know that was super unkind and I hope you’ll forgive me.”

I have not responded. I have not breathed a word of this to Chas, who would be blindsided and deeply hurt. Shelly texted again: “Brother gets me going and words just come out. I miss you.”

I don’t even know if I want to fix this.

I have two siblings who share snide remarks about my partner behind my back!

Carrying this on my own is painful.

I need a lot of time and space to get over this and am not confident I have the bandwidth to deal with it. Any thoughts?

— Blindsided

Blindsided: You are justified in feeling wounded, and you did the right thing by calling them out.

My thoughts are: Of course, siblings complain and gossip when they don’t think they’ll be caught!

I assume you and “Shelly” might have occasionally sniped about your brother, spouses or in-laws over the years. There are probably times when you are relieved when somebody’s spouse has to stay home, and you have some solo time with your sibling.

Your sister has known “Chas” longer than you have. She may feel comfortable grousing about him because he is a de facto family member.

She issued a quick and sincere apology. (It was perhaps a little too quick.) She has asked you to forgive her.

What she hasn’t done is explain what was behind her statement, therefore owning her point of view. Nor have you asked her to.

Once you feel more collected, you should sincerely and accurately express how you feel, and ask Shelly to explain herself. (c) Ask Amy

I agree, and I wonder why the letter writer hasn’t asked for clarification. If I were her sister, I’d immediately start backpedaling. This is the time to backpedal! (Assuming you can pull it off with panache.) “I just hate being unable to discuss girl stuff in his presence,” or, “He smells of cigarettes, and I’m sensitive to the scent.” Whatever works.

Shelly has sincerely apologized twice, I think. The problem is that no one, including the letter writer, wants to acknowledge that they’re providing everyone else with gossip fodder. Everyone who’s ever said, “Wow, I’m glad that flatulent Uncle Fred has left already,” has probably worried that someone’s said the same about them. In our own minds, we always shut off that voice that whispers, Some people don’t like you. 

But it’s true. I feel bad for the letter writer, because we all put ourselves into that bubble of being the “us” in “us versus them”. Like, I’m the cool one, and no one ever whines about me behind my back. If only!

Carrying this on my own is painful.

I imagine. This is why her sister should backpedal. Nothing good can come from her sharing this with her husband, who’s recuperating after surgery. Backpedaling is one time when I think lying is 100% okay. Because look at the circumstances: the letter writer wasn’t supposed to know about this in the first place.

Since the sister didn’t ask for advice, this is what I’d advise the letter writer to do: let her sister know that she (the sister) needs to backpedal. “Shelly, I can’t imagine why you don’t like being around Chas, but I’m really hurt. Please tell me that I’m blowing this out of proportion.”

Shelly seems sensitive and caring, so ideally she’d do just that.

Dear Amy: Our daughter died of cancer.

Initially, there were quite a few “I had that kind of cancer, she’ll be fine” supporters. We/she heard all the other well-meaning but not-so-helpful comments.

As the cancer progressed, fewer people had anything to say, until one day, our daughter noted that none of her friends were visiting or even calling anymore.

She gracefully accepted that they probably didn’t know what to say or do and were uncomfortable when visiting, simply because of that.

Except for a few of them. They came anyway.

They sat with her and often said nothing. Sometimes they chatted. Sometimes they shared a meal or took a nap together. Sometimes they just dropped by to say hi and share a quick hug.

They provided a presence that said more than words could have possibly conveyed.

That presence lifted our daughter’s spirit more than anything else, especially toward the end.

Whether it’s a terminal illness, the loss of a loved one or any other unfortunate major life event, people don’t need to know the “right” things to say.

Just showing up, and thereby reassuring the person suffering that they are still loved and are a part of life, a part of the world going on around them, is a greater gift.

— A Grateful Parent

Parent: Thank you so much for sharing this heartbreaking experience. You’ve offered a very deep and important lesson: It’s okay not to know what to say. But life really is about showing up.

Wow, yeah. You can let your fear of awkwardness keep you away, or you can be there for someone. No one ever knows what to say because there’s nothing that could be said. I realized that recently. I also realized that it’s okay to talk as if life is good, even when it isn’t. In this situation, for example, you might fear that the cancer victim wouldn’t want to laugh and tell jokes. And maybe she wouldn’t. But you could follow her lead, because you never know. The cancer victim just might ask you to blow air into a surgical glove and gobble like a turkey. These have been my lost deep thoughts.

Disinherited!

I’ve freakin’ lost weight! I’m down to 195 for the first time in over ten years. Wow! I lost all of that weight (down from 200) because I was having mental problems and quit eating, and then I was fighting off a cold with some zinc tablets and lost my appetite.

So I’ve realized that weight loss requires hunger. There doesn’t seem to be a way around it. Prior to losing the aforementioned weight, I tried to lose weight by eating 1,600 calories a day and burning 500 calories a day at the treadmill, for a net of 1,100 calories a day. I didn’t lose any weight.

Not that I’ll stop doing those things! I think I just need to incorporate some intermittent fasting. I think if I add it to eating healthy and exercising, then I should be golden. So my strategy will be to wait for four hours each day before eating. I woke up at 10:00 today, so I’ll eat at 2:00.

*****

Well, I made it until 1:50. Close enough.

There’s been some family drama. My mom has acknowledged my sister’s evil ways and is disinheriting her. Let me find my favorite comic strip about that…

ea56cb22b5043ca5d3ca933217f8f92f

There we go.

What did Ellen do? She threw a party for Li’l Sweetmeats’ second birthday a week or so before the actual day. She and my mom had been incommunicado, which was my sister’s desire, not my mom’s; and my mom was hoping against hope that they could work it out so that she’d be invited to the party. She bought and wrapped several presents for Li’l Sweets. Then she found out that the party had already happened.

Don’t mess with my mother. Just don’t.

Here’s the thing, though. I’ve got one person in the family who’s on my side of the Ellen issue, and that’s my brother. (Everyone else in the family is in denial about Ellen, or they like her.) He completely agrees with me that Ellen’s sort of a… how to put it… immoral schemer, among many other things. (She’s also violent.)

So this is what’s going to happen. My brother and I both agree on this. Ellen will find out that she’s been disinherited, and her reaction will be to let my mom back into her life for long enough to get added back into the will. And then she might get disinherited again, rinse and repeat. My brother and I know this in our hearts. Or, she might just write our mom off for good. Why? Because apparently, Ellen married rich. Hello. Her in-laws just gave her a new $30,000 vehicle. Thus, it might not be worth Ellen’s while to play nice with our mom.

In other news, my mom wants me to drive her to her bank tomorrow so she can get a valuable ring out of her safe deposit box. It was given to her by her late husband, Jim. But I’ve got this awful fear that the ring won’t be in the box. Because right after my mom had all her health problems almost four years ago in late January, back when she fell down the stairs under mysterious circumstances (cough, cough, Ellen, cough, cough), she kept trying to keep her ring with her, but she wasn’t in a state of mind to properly monitor a super-expensive piece of jewelry, so… if I recall correctly, Ellen was keeping an eye on it for her.

We’ll hope that it’s in the box.

But anyway, everything Ellen does is calculated for what she can get from it. It won’t be hard for her to figure out she’s been disinherited. Several different people know and might tell her. (My dad, for one.)

While I’m not overly invested in whether Ellen manages to get back in my mom’s good graces, there’s one thing that I appreciate. My mom redid her will so that my brother and I won’t have to interact with Ellen while managing my mom’s estate after her death. My mom finally understands why we don’t like her, which means a lot to me. I’ve spent my whole life trying to convince my parents that she’s a bad person, and I’ve gotten nowhere. I feel validated.

Disability!

Dear Annie: Please tell “Ready to Die” that she can get disability payments because she has a mental health disorder. The problem is that people tell the disability examiners how badly they feel. But that is not the examiner’s job to assess. They want to know how dysfunctional your daily life is.

I am writing to offer suggestions to her and others who suffer from mental health issues but do not know how to secure disability benefits.

For instance, let’s take depression and how she might answer questions posed by the examiner: Can you drive yourself to the doctor? No, I can’t drive. Do you keep your house clean? Yes, but it takes me two weeks to vacuum the floor. The dishes pile up until they smell, so I only use paper plates and plastic silverware. Do you go grocery shopping? No, but a neighbor picks up what I need. I don’t eat much.

Here are some examples of how she might address manic phases: Can you drive? Sometimes, but I speed and can’t concentrate on safety. Do you clean your house? Yes, but I stay awake for three days and then fall back into lethargy. Do you dress yourself? Yes, but I throw on anything that’s on the floor. Sometimes, people laugh at me for how I’m dressed.

People with mental illness need someone to practice with them before they are examined. They are focused on their suffering, for good reason.

Find an experienced disability lawyer. They can often help you to prepare for an examiner’s interview. Some attorneys might be sleazy, but there are also some fine, dedicated lawyers. Your case will move forward much more quickly, even if that feels like a long time. Remember that when you do get Social Security Disability Insurance, they will pay from the date of the application, not the date of approval.

Get a case manager or someone to help you through this process. Any psychiatric records are helpful. Do not say you drink, or whatever, to medicate. The way you should frame it is to explain that you have an addiction problem.

So many individuals fail to get the benefits they are entitled to because not even most therapists or psychiatrists understand how this system works. — Ph.D.

Dear Ph.D.: I always love when professionals reach out with advice, including the next letter about finding a psychiatrist and an attorney.

Dear Annie: This is about the unfortunate individual with severe treatment-resistant depression, who will definitely qualify for total and permanent disability.

She should see a competent psychiatrist ASAP, and they will help her with the most modern effective management of depression.

In addition, they will be able to write appropriate letters to the Social Security Administration and other agencies so that she will receive total permanent medical disability, which she richly deserves. — Right to an Attorney

Dear Right: Thank you for sharing your advice. Let’s hope it helps all readers who are suffering from depression and who have, so far, not been able to secure disability payments. (c) Annie Lane @ Creators.com

This is the most idiotic of Annie Lane’s advice columns that I’ve ever read.

The problem is that people tell the disability examiners how badly they feel. But that is not the examiner’s job to assess. They want to know how dysfunctional your daily life is.

There’s nothing wrong with telling the examiner that you feel miserable all the time. What are they going to do, hold it against you? Yes, they need more info, but that’s why they ask you questions.

For instance, let’s take depression and how she might answer questions posed by the examiner: Can you drive yourself to the doctor? No, I can’t drive.

Well, what other answer would someone give but a factual and accurate one? Like this would happen?:

Examiner: Can you drive yourself to the doctor when you’re ill?  

Disabled applicant: I’d rather talk about how I feel all day. 

That’s not even logical. The person would give a straightforward answer. But they needn’t be prepped, because if their answer were incoherent, that would work in their favor:

Examiner: Can you drive yourself to the doctor when you’re ill? 

Disabled applicant: I enjoy painting the floor with grape marmalade. 

Score! You’re disabled. Let’s not prep that person into giving a “normal” answer.

People with mental illness need someone to practice with them before they are examined. They are focused on their suffering, for good reason.

You’ve got to be kidding me. Anyone knows how to answer straightforward questions. Come on. Also, as a disabled person myself, I’m not focused on my suffering. I try to focus on productivity (I’ve been editing my memoir for the past three days around the clock) and gratitude. Way to diss mentally ill people.

(I do believe, though, that my mental illness is less about suffering and more about struggling to interact, and that sort of thing. I’m generally a very happy person… except for when I’m not.)

Find an experienced disability lawyer. They can often help you to prepare for an examiner’s interview.

That sounds unethical. All you need to do is know how to answer questions!

Some attorneys might be sleazy!

Who is this letter writer calling sleazy? Both of my parents are/were ethical lawyers who looked out for their clients (in my dad’s case) or put good research into writing opinions for a judge (in my mom’s case). This letter writer is a total scumbag! How dare they!

Your case will move forward much more quickly [with a lawyer’s help], even if that feels like a long time.

Okay. I never had a disability lawyer myself. My dad, who I live with, didn’t help in any official legal capacity because he doesn’t practice disability law. (He’s a discrimination lawyer.) I applied in late August, and in early December of that year, I was deemed disabled.

Get a case manager or someone to help you through this process.

Nothing wrong with that, but if you go to the social security administration’s website, it’s fairly straightforward.

Any psychiatric records are helpful.

Right… which is why the paperwork asks for your doctor’s contact info, as well as the contact info of other doctors (psychiatrists, specialists, etc.), therapists, counselors, and even your employers. “Hmm… I’m mentally ill, and they want to contact all my doctors. Should I give them the name of my psychiatrist?” said no one ever.

Do not say you drink, or whatever, to medicate. The way you should frame it is to explain that you have an addiction problem.

What the hell, if you drink, you drink. That’s idiotic. “Application rejected! You drink to medicate!”

So many individuals fail to get the benefits they are entitled to because not even most therapists or psychiatrists understand how this system works. — Ph.D.

And yet I, with my BA in psychology (and no higher degrees), seem to have a sound grasp on it. And then from the second letter writer:

[A competent psychiatrist] will be able to write appropriate letters to the Social Security Administration and other agencies so that she will receive total permanent medical disability, which she richly deserves.

I can’t disagree. But if you can’t afford or don’t have a psychiatrist, the government will arrange for you to be evaluated by a psychiatrist free of charge, for purposes of disability determination. So this is all beyond idiotic. I know that applying for disability might induce anxious thoughts of red tape and confusion, but it’s an easy-to-understand process, and it’s all spelled out in the application.

(Or at least, that was my experience back in 2007. I know that everyone’s experience is different, and in a lot of ways, it was pure hell, but I can only speak to my own experiences.)

Further, the brief interview where you meet with an employee of the social security administration is just the stepping stone to applying. My memory of that meeting is hazy at best, but she asked questions, and I answered them. It wasn’t rocket science.

The heart of your application is your doctors’ records, your therapist’s records, and commentary from your recent employers, who are in a position to know whether you can work.

Annie Lane is up to her old tricks. She let those letter writers write her column for her today! AAUGH! So super lame.

Say what?!

Dear Amy: Before the pandemic, I met a wonderful woman and fell in love. The catch? She was from New Zealand and had to return home in November 2019.

She and I made arrangements for me to move there.

Then the pandemic hit and created unending border closures. My flight was canceled by the airline.

We engaged in a long-distance relationship throughout the shutdowns, essentially living on video chat for eight to 10 hours at a stretch every single day for months.

We relied on one another for emotional support. I couldn’t imagine never seeing her again, but wasn’t sure when I would.

She hatched a plan to travel to the United States to fetch me, and we hired an immigration lawyer, who created an itinerary for our undertaking. The paperwork and documents we provided were time-consuming and invasive, but they were worth it if we could be together.

In September 2020, out of nowhere, she sent me an unthinkable text: “I think it’s time to move on from each other. This isn’t going to work, and this border closure could last for years.”

She blocked me on all fronts and forms of social media, and I never heard from her again.

I was utterly destroyed.

It felt like being left at the altar.

More than a year later, I still feel the hurt and abandonment of being so unceremoniously dropped at such a critical time by someone I had come to trust so completely.

It has affected my outlook about relationships and my ability to try again.

Sometimes I feel completely “over it,” but then I’m set back by some triggering behavior or thought.

I used to be a very hopeful, romantic and optimistic person.

Now, whenever I meet someone new, I find myself scanning them for signs of danger and looking around for the exits.

What can I do to cultivate a more trusting and less stymied outlook about romance?

— J, from New Orleans

J: This woman dropped you abruptly and in the worst possible way, without providing any personal justification or explanation. This says a lot about her, because she had the option to part as friends, as painful as that might have been for both of you.

Your reaction now is understandable. People who have been burned instinctively avoid getting too close to the flame in the future, but in avoiding future relationships, you are expecting others to pay for what happened in your own past.

This is the twisted symmetry of your emotional fallout.

We all carry our wounds in different ways. Time and positive experiences will help you to heal from this.

You should strive to be brave enough to have these experiences.

I hope you won’t let this loss change what is best and brightest about you. (c) Ask Amy

Whoa. They video chatted for eight to ten hours a day?! Oh my goodness.

I’m a huge communicator. I get thrilled whenever someone sends me an email. I’m all like, “Oh boy, an email!” I don’t video chat with anyone, though. For one thing, I lack the tech savvy. For another thing, I prefer emails.

Eight to ten hours a day. That’s equal to or greater than having a full-time job. I can’t even handle being on the road for one hour. Driving to visit my mom in Corydon when she lived there was very stressful to my brain. (That was an hour-long trip.)

Eight to ten hours.

Huh. If you’re not in physical proximity to the person you’re dating, maybe you shouldn’t try to pretend you are. Having the cameras rolling for that long seems extreme. “I’m going to the bathroom now… I’m taking out the trash now… Oh boy, Wheel of Fortune came on!… Time to feed the dog!”

There is no one with whom I’d want to interact via tech for eight to ten hours. No one. Okay, maybe Jesus. I’ll make an exception for Jesus. And that’s weird, because I’ve always prayed to have five minutes alone with Jesus. But eight to ten hours?! Oh my heavenly goodness. We’d run out of wine, and where would that leave us? Maybe He could properly part my hair. It’s never parted right. That would take what, like, five minutes? Huh.

For seriousness, if I had to spend eight to ten hours interacting with someone via tech one time, then I’d have to strategize to survive it. I would master shadow puppetry beforehand. I’d find whole books that I could recite. I’d find some karaoke videos. Eight hours’ worth of karaoke videos. [Shrugs.] It’s like when you have to take an eight- or ten-hour flight. You plan ahead, right? You pack entertainment. If you’re traveling internationally, you hope that the plane will have a screen on the back of the seat in front of you. And although the adventure of traveling is fun, you wouldn’t want to repeat it every single day for months unless you’re on the payroll.

Yeah, wow. Anyway, I feel sad for this guy. Perhaps she was his sole emotional support. Emotional support is a beautiful thing, but it’s best when we have more than one person to offer it to us. My best guess is that the letter writer had no one else in his life. I’d urge him to find a cadre of friends.

I used to be a very hopeful, romantic and optimistic person.

Now, whenever I meet someone new, I find myself scanning them for signs of danger and looking around for the exits.

He’s speaking metaphorically, right? Scanning for signs of danger and locating the exits really only makes sense if you’ve escaped a gruesome nightclub fire and lived to tell. I think that would traumatize anyone. Here’s a random tip: don’t follow the crowd to the main exit. You’ll get trampled or left behind. Use your head and find a lesser-known exit. Due to code, there have to be multiple exits.

But I digress. What were we talking about? Oh, right. [Shaking my head to clear it.]

What can I do to cultivate a more trusting and less stymied outlook about romance?

I think he misused stymied, but I’m not sure. Anyway, he just needs to have a support system already in place. He needs friends or family members to be connected to. A romantic interest can’t be your everything. He also needs to accept that his outlook has changed. You can’t magically undo the shift in perspective that experience brings. You just have to deal with it and work with it. He could get a therapist or do some soul-searching, or whatever. There are options.

Wow. Eight to ten hours.

The intention table!

I’ve created an intention table to bring the sort of love I want into my life. It was sort of Sonya’s idea, but she said I should list the qualities of a man and rate those qualities in order of importance. I’ve done a bit of that in my mind, and here’s the first most important thing:

  • He must be single, available, and totally into me.

I haven’t found a way to symbolize that on my intention table yet, but I’m a creative person, so I’m sure I’ll figure something out.

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From left to right, the angel watching over the two children represents divine guidance, meaning that the universe will help me bring the love I want into my life.

The footprints plaque represents my love of Jesus, so if he loves Jesus too, then that’s great!

The tiny transistor radio that actually tells the time was a souvenir from Prague. It makes me think of Sonya, and thus it represents that the man I’ll meet will be thrilled and happy for me that I have so many great friends.

That old-school telephone shows that he’ll love communicating with me. And he’ll want to do it all the time. Never will I be waiting and hoping to get a message. He’ll be a frequent communicator!

I think the two kissing lovebirds are self-explanatory.

The rainbow-lettered magnet says, “Do more of what makes you happy!” He’ll be positive and upbeat and will love having fun.

The next magnet says something about how the caterpillar transforms into a butterfly. Our relationship will transform us into the best versions of ourselves.

The third magnet is the image of a purple cow, sitting in a field of “normal” cows. Yes to individuality and owning who you are!

Above that magnet is a rainbow angel. He’ll share my spirituality or at least love how happy my beliefs make me.

I think the small pillow that says, “Dear Reader, I married him.” is also self-explanatory, but about that: it’s a quote from Jane Eyre, but the pillow makers got it wrong. The first sentence of the last chapter is actually, “Reader, I married him.” Oh well. I still love the sentiment!

Then we have a glass rainbow. I’m a rainbow fanatic, so he may as well be one too. Or, if he’s not a rainbow fanatic, he’ll appreciate how colorful and cheery I am! That alone would make me happy.

Then we have a heart-shaped dreamcatcher. We’ll dream of each other often and love each other.

The little house represents the wonderful life that we’ll build together.

That small lantern has a panel in each rainbow color, in order: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple. You just can’t see in the photos. It shows how he’ll light up my inner rainbow qualities and make me happy and a better version of myself.

The dammit doll, who you’re supposed to beat up when you’re angry, represents that he understands my issues and doesn’t judge me for them.

I still wish I could figure out how to represent that he’s single, available, and totally into me. Oh well. I think it’s implied on the intention table.

Lisa! Geez, girl friend.

Dear Annie: I am a 76-year-old woman who is still not over her teenage friendship troubles.

I should preface this entry by stating that I am by no means stuck in the past. This instance simply comes to mind whenever I face shortcomings in life.

I’ll now set the scene: It was early September of 1962. I had just turned 17, and I was a senior in an all-girls Catholic high school. I was a particularly gifted student with mostly As and the occasional B-plus in history or arithmetic. My parents had a strong sense of pride in my work and thus had very high standards for my test scores.

My literature class proved to be much harder than I had expected, and at the very first test of the year, I flunked. I mean, I totally bombed it. I didn’t want my parents to be upset with me, so I lied to them and said that I had gotten an A-minus.

My best friend at the time, “Lisa,” who was also in this particular class, had gotten a very high score and, to put it nicely, she was not quiet about it. Later on that same week, my parents invited Lisa over for supper. As expected, she was boasting about her score. My parents had mentioned that I had also done well, to which Lisa answered, “What are you talking about? She practically bombed that test.”

My parents found out the truth, and I was grounded until the end of the year. Not only that, I had lost trust in Lisa, although it was not her fault. I did not blame her.

About three months later was the big winter formal, where my school and the brother school down the road would gather for the dance. I, of course, was still grounded, but by a crazy turn of events, my angel of a mother decided to let me go. I hadn’t told anybody I was going — not even Lisa.

When I got to the dance, I was horrified. It was a blast up until I overheard Lisa telling my classmates that I was a liar and a troublemaker. I did not speak to Lisa again after that.

I graduated high school and became a secretary at the front desk of a local office and moved on with life, but every time I experienced hardship, this instance would replay in my mind.

I feel that I am being held back by teenage drama. I feel that I have long moved past Lisa, but the feeling of betrayal I feel will never leave. — Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire! (c) Annie Lane @ Creators.com

I haven’t read Annie Lane’s advice yet, but I know Annie Lane. She’ll feel compelled to sympathize and say that of course the letter writer isn’t over it. And I’m just like… there are people out there whose lives are THAT easy?!

Anyway, before I go on a rant aimed at the letter writer, let me predict Annie Lane’s advice. Along with the sympathizing, Annie Lane will mutter some idiocy about how we’re deeply affected by our teen years, and it’s hard to hear people say bad stuff about us. I can’t even guess beyond that.

Dear Pants on Fire: Despite what you say, it seems to me that a part of you is stuck in the past and continuing to harbor resentment toward Lisa. Sixty years, countless life experiences and surely many friendships later, this incident and Lisa’s betrayal still hold power over you today.

Instead of replaying it in your mind or trying to work through it on your own, seek professional counseling. The help of an experienced therapist could be just what you need to finally free yourself from this recurring nightmare and make peace with your past.

You connect this instance to your “shortcomings,” but do remember, a teenage fib to your parents and a failed test hardly define the person you grew up to become.

Not bad, but certainly not inspired.

Yeah, it just seems really weird to me. The moments that I relive involve graphic physical abuse, and that sort of thing. I can’t imagine having lived a life as easy as the letter writer’s. I hope she’s at least grateful for how easy her life has been!

When I got to the dance, I was horrified. It was a blast up until I overheard Lisa telling my classmates that I was a liar and a troublemaker. I did not speak to Lisa again after that.

So… the letter writer couldn’t interject and say, “Hey, look who’s talking! Lisa here is engaged to her cousin! Now that’s troublesome!” Well, maybe not, since we all come up with witty replies like that one [eyeroll] after the fact. But who cares what Lisa said? Really. A liar and a troublemaker? Ohh, my ears are burning from such harsh gossip. It’s not like Lisa was telling everyone that she was a slutty whore who caught an STD while screwing the driver’s ed teacher. There’s gossip, and then there’s gossip. Calling someone a liar and a troublemaker is gossip, no italics.

It seems as if Lisa took too much pleasure in getting the letter writer in trouble in the first place. I don’t have a high opinion of Lisa. But no one should have to answer for that sort of action performed in 1962. I’m inclined to forgive Lisa already and to let bygones be bygones. And we all know that I can hold a grudge until the cows come home.

Generally when people are bad to me with that specific level of badness, I quit having a relationship with them, but I don’t put them on my “list”. (Okay, maybe they go on a secondary list. Trust me. You don’t want to be on one of my lists.) Mostly, I just forget about them and make a mental note not to trust them in the future, should we cross paths again. The letter writer’s reaction seems to be overkill.

That reminds me. This is funny. While I was insane yesterday, my parents were downstairs celebrating Thanksgiving without me. Today, my dad said that he’d had to reassure my mom that I wasn’t mad at her. We had a good laugh. (If I’m mad at you, you will know it. There will be no examining of the evidence. You will know. If you find yourself saying, “Is it possible that Meg’s mad at me? Hmm…” then the answer is a solid and definitive no.)

I heard from a member of my southern baptist youth group several years ago. We went to church together in high school. She said, “I want to apologize for constantly trash-talking you behind your back. But it was really your own fault. You tended to cry a lot.” (No kidding. I was an emotional train wreck. Take my current emotional problems and multiply them by a million.)

And I was like, “What?! You did what?! What?!”

Yeah. She shouldn’t have apologized. But it did disillusion me about the entire youth group, which was good, because they all hate me now anyway.

Oh. Also, my high school class nominated me for prom queen… AS A JOKE. Yeah. My name was there on the ballot as a joke. I was that girl at the prom dressed in a godawful outfit who said, “Oh cool, I was nominated! I’ll vote for myself please,” while her math teacher tried not to cringe as she tallied the vote, singular. That totally tops the letter writer’s complaint, right? And I’m not even upset by it. I’m just sort of like… well… [eyeroll]… I was a nerd.

Ugh. Yeah, the letter writer needs to do some soul-searching or get some therapy.

Every time I experienced hardship, this instance would replay in my mind.

So strange. Hmm… does she feel incapable of conquering life’s challenges? I can’t fathom it. Oh well.

Oh no! Middle school!

I’ve had a recent dip into insanity, but I’ve managed to resurface after about two whole days of sitting in a pitch-black room doing nothing. I quit eating and drinking, and I was really upset. Then, today, I went to my mom’s condo to visit her, and we went through some old family photos. That was when this throwback to middle school happened:

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And I’m just like, holy bleeding flip. We have:

  • The butt cut, which speaks for itself
  • Unwashed hair
  • Uncombed hair
  • My huge, misshapen head
  • Those huge eyeglasses
  • Braces
  • That come hither grin

At least I had on earrings. I’ve never worn them since middle school. After I got my ears pierced back then, my ears kept getting infected, despite my best efforts. Then, in math class, it happened. A clump of hair (yeah, that dirty, stringy hair in the photo) got stuck to the back of my earring’s stud. When I pulled the earring out of my ear, the hair came through the hole in my ear and stuck out there. After the math teacher got everyone to quit laughing (I was laughing too), she sent me to the bathroom to fix it. That was the end of my piercing days. I let the holes just grow back together.

I’d get them pierced again, but when they were originally pierced, it hurt like hell. After the first ear was done, I shrieked, and I’m not exaggerating. It was pain like I’d never felt. Then, before I could stop her, the woman ran around and did my other ear. More screaming.

Never again. People say that women forget the pain of childbirth so that they can keep procreating. I find this hard to believe. I can promise that I will never get my ears pierced again unless it’s a slow method rather than a piercing gun. Not happening.

Oh my gosh. I’ve been upset because I’ve been feeling ugly and unattractive lately. Now I know I am! But I’ve decided it’s comical to be ugly. So I ought to do standup. I could use that euphemistic new joke of mine about how I’m not schizophrenic, I’m “reality-challenged”. That should bring down the house.

Well… I posted the picture on FB, and my friends are all “loving” it with hearts. It was meant to be funny! 😀 Oh well.

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