relationships

Plans, changes, anxiety, depression, and conflict

I have anxiety and depression and probably some other shit I get very scared and panicked when someone says “I’ll be right back” and walks away from me and if I’m supposed to meet someone and they are late or don’t show up. I guess it’s abandonment.
So my question is: how do I keep from flipping out on my boyfriend when he accidentally distresses me, like when I’m supposed to pick him up but he finds another way home. His phone is off so he can’t tell me.
And I guess my other question: is it fair for him to get frustrated and angry with me when I tell him that doing this is inconsiderate? He said he thought he’d get home before I left to get him so it wasn’t intentional, but I still feel disrespected.
realsocialskills said:
   
This doesn’t sound to me like it’s just a depression and anxiety problem. It sounds to me like either something is going wrong with your communication with friends, or people aren’t treating you well, or a combination of both. It’s hard for me to tell which from a distance.
   
Having anxiety and depression does not mean that you are wrong every time you are upset about something. Sometimes, you’re going to be upset because something is actually wrong. 
  
It is not unreasonable to want people you make plans with to either show up or let you know that they’re not going to make it. It is not unreasonable to want people to tell you if they are going to be late. It is not unreasonable to want people you’re supposed to pick up to let you know if they found another ride. Those expectations are normal, and not something unusual caused by mental illness. Most people would be upset if others habitually made plans and failed to show up.
 
(It might be unreasonable to expect people to refrain for saying “I’ll be right back” and walking away, depending on the context. For instance, that’s sometimes a euphemism for going to the bathroom. So if you’re, say, eating at a restaurant and someone says that, it’s probably not reasonable to object.  But if they’re, say, leaving you in the middle of a crowded park without any clear plans for how you’re going to reconnect, that’s a problem. There are any number of configurations for that; it’s hard for me to tell just based on the phrase.)
 
It is entirely reasonable to want people to care that they flaked in a way that was distressing. Even if they did it for a reason or thought it would be ok, they should care that they flaked on you and apologize if it caused you distress. They should also be willing to think about how to avoid that problem in the future. In close relationships, people make mistakes from time to time that cause one another inadvertent distress. If someone gets angry and defensive every time you feel upset about something they did, something’s going wrong.
  
That said, it’s not ok to regularly flip out at people close to you for making mistakes. It’s hard for me to tell from your description if that’s what’s happening. Like, I could see a few possibilities:
 
Possibility #1: You’re actually flipping out in a way that’s not reasonable. Eg:
  • You: WTF?! Why didn’t you show up?! You’re a terrible boyfriend. You always do this. Why don’t you respect me?
  • Him: I thought I’d get home first. I’m sorry.
  • You: That’s not good enough. You’re awful. Why can’t you be considerate ever?

If this is what’s going on, you flipping out may well be part of the problem (but not the whole problem, because wanting people to either keep plans or let you know that they’ve changed is entirely reasonable even if the way you react is not.)

If actually flipping out on people is part of the problem, then it’s important to learn how to distinguish between how it feels to have anxiety triggered and what someone actually did. If you’re freaking out, it might be best to hold off on talking about what’s going on until you’ve calmed down. It might also help to say explicitly something like “I’m not rational right now; let’s talk about this in a few minutes.” (This is also the kind of issue that a lot of people find therapy helpful for. I don’t know if you’re someone who would find therapy helpful, but it might be worth looking into.)

But even if you are doing things that look like flipping out, that may be misleading. It’s possible that he’s intentionally provoking you in order to make you look unreasonable to avoid dealing with the problem. That brings us to possibility #2:

Possibility #2: He’s accusing you of flipping out as a way to avoid dealing with the thing you’re complaining about. Eg:

  • You: I went to pick you up and you weren’t there. What gives?
  • Him: Chill. I thought I’d be home by the time you got here. Why are you flipping out on me?
  • You: Can you please call me if plans change?
  • Him: Why are you accusing me of being inconsiderate? I didn’t do anything wrong.

For more on that kind of dynamic, see this post and this post.

Possibility #3: You’re responding to a pattern, he’s insisting that you treat it as an isolated incident, and that’s pissing you off. Eg:

  • You: I went to go pick you up and you weren’t there and didn’t call. Can you please let me know if plans change.
  • Him: Oh, sorry, I thought you’d come home first and see that I was already here.
  • You: Ok, but this happened last week too. Can we figure out how to stop it from happened?
  • Him: That happened last week. That’s over and done with.
  • You (raising your voice): This keeps happening! I need it to stop!
  • Him: Why are you flipping out? I *said* I was sorry.

Possibility #4: You both mean well, but you’re setting off each other’s berserk buttons inadvertently. Eg:

  • You (visibly close to melting down): You weren’t there?! You are here? Why weren’t you there?
  • Him (freaked out by the idea that he did something seriously upsetting, also visibly close to meltdown): I tried to be there! I did! I thought it would be ok!

If that’s the problem, finding an alternate way to communicate about problems might solve the problem. For instance, it might mean that you need to type instead of speaking, or use IM in different rooms, or talk on the phone. Or it might mean that you need ground rules about how to communicate in a conflict without setting each other off. For instance, some people need to explicitly reassure each other that this is about a specific thing and not your judgement of whether they’re a good person (sometimes judging people is appropriate and necessary. This kind of reassurance only help if that really *isn’t* the issue).

This is not an exhaustive list. There are other patterns of interaction that could be going on here. But whatever is going on, it probably isn’t just your depression and anxiety making you unreasonable. It is ok to expect people to either keep plans or let you know when they have changed.

So I fell in love. I had a very clear idea about the temporariness and ubiquity of it. And I liked that version where it’s special because of how it makes you feel but not-so-special because it often reaches an end, nevertheless its memory intact and treasured. Until, I fell in love. The guy lives in an other city and so we tried but he ended it because it was just ‘impractical’; very less chances of us every meeting. I get it. It was the right decision. But I can’t get over it. He is my THE ONE
realsocialskills said:
 
He’s not your The One. He is not yours. He is his, and he does not want to be in a relationship with you.
  
It sounds like you think that this man is the only person you can ever possibly love in that way. I don’t think that’s true. He’s probably not the one exception to your general principle that you should avoid getting too attached. It sounds to me like you found out through getting close to this guy that you actually do like to fall in love and be attached. It sounds like you found out that you want something different than you thought you wanted, but that you’re treating this as something you found out about your ex rather than something you found out about yourself.
    
Breakups are usually awful, and they are particularly painful when you really love someone and wish you could still be with them. It’s normal to feel awful because a relationship ended that you wanted to continue. It doesn’t mean you’ll always feel this bad, or that you can never feel this way about anyone else. This is survivable, and it gets better.
   
Push come to shove, being with someone who doesn’t want you anymore is a lot worse than being alone. It’s corrosive. It wears you down. You can’t make him want to continue the relationship, but you can get past this and find someone else who does want to be with you.
   
You learned something important about yourself from this relationship. You learned that you can fall in love, and value a relationship enough to care about it lasting. That’s a good thing to know about yourself. It will make it much easier in the future.

Trust is never guaranteed

Way to regain trust after losing it?
realsocialskills answered:
First and foremost, you have to accept that you might not get the trust back. When you’ve lost someone’s trust, it’s their decision whether or not they ever want to trust you again.
Nothing you do can guarantee that they will ever trust you again.
But, what you can do is work on being trustworthy. Whether or not this person ever trusts you again, it’s worth doing and will help you to treat others better and maintain good relationships.
Respect that person’s boundaries.
  • If they’ve asked you not to contact them, don’t. (Not even to apologize).
  • If they’ve asked you to avoid particular methods of contact (eg phone), don’t use them
Understand what you did.
  • If the person wants to tell you, listen
  • If they don’t, think about it on your own
  • (Actually, think through it even if they do want to tell you; you have to develop your own understanding; repeating what they say and apologizing isn’t enough.)
  • You can get a lot of understanding by thinking
  • If there are things you can read relevant to what happened, that can also be helpful
Apologize if apologies are welcome.
  • But do not do this if they have told you not to contact them
  • And do not do it with an expectation that this means they will forgive you and trust you again
  • Apologies can be important, but they aren’t magic
  • And they’re particularly not magical incantations which make people trust you
  • What they do is communicate that you know that you did wrong, and that you care about not repeating that mistake
  • That isn’t necessarily going to be enough; whether it is enough is ultimately their decision
  • But it’s still a worthwhile message
  • And knowing that you understand what you did wrong sometimes does make it possible for people to trust you again
If you have personal demons that are making it hard for you to act ways that make it safe for others to trust you, work on addressing that:
  • Do not explain this to the other person in order to deflect criticism or downplay what you did.
  • They are not responsible for helping you to get past the things that are currently making you unsafe for them to be around
  • But do recognize it as a contributing factor and do what you can to fix it
  • Some common examples:
  • Having trouble being honest about your boundaries
  • Being hurt and angry when your friends don’t do what you want them to do
  • Finding it emotionally threatening when your friends have significant bonds with other people
  • Finding criticism and conflict unbearably threatening to your self image
  • Disability shame. If you’re trying to avoid facing your disability or mental illness, it’s hard to accurately predict what you can and can’t do. It can also be hard to be honest with others, and this can cause a lot of relationship problems.
  • None of these things mean you’re doomed, but they might mean you have what to work on

If you have access to a safe and insightful therapist, it might be worth considering getting professional help:

  • Therapy is not a viable option for everyone
  • It is also not a magical solution. Going to therapy will not, in itself, make you trustworthy. It’s one method of support that can help you find ways forward
  • If therapy is not a viable an option for you, you are not doomed; you can still work on learning how to be ok and treat others right
  • But for some people, therapy can make this much, much easier
  • If you think that might be the case for you, look into it

passwords and relationships

is it okay for my boyfriend to demand to know my passwords, and then be upset if i dont give them to him..?
realsocialskills answered:
No, it isn’t. People in a relationship are still two separate people. Some people are ok with sharing passwords with their partners, and some aren’t. It’s not something it’s ok to demand.
Some reasons not to share passwords:
  • A computer is a very, very personal thing for some people. It can effectively be an extension of your mind and body.
  • It’s ok not to want to share that in an unbounded way.
  • Or, in other words: A computer (or a cloud account) can be functionally an extension of your brain, and you don’t actually have to give your partner the ability to read your mind

Also, your correspondence can involve other people’s confidences:

  • Sometimes, friends need to be able to tell you things without that being effectively the same as telling your boyfriend
  • Likewise coworkers
  • Likewise students if you’re teaching
  • Especially if you are in a profession where people often tell you deeply personal things with an expectation of confidentiality

It’s ok not to want to share passwords, and it’s a red flag if someone is demanding it. (Particularly if you’re not at the point of living together, and especially if you’re young. If you are a teenager, no one but you should know the password to your email account and other things that are similarly private.)

I’m going through a breakup and am dealing with pretty crippling anxiety and depression despite the fact that my ex and I didn’t end on bad terms. I am a very socially awkward normally and my ADHD sometimes causes me to act impulsively. I have three questions: 1.) How/when/who is it appropriate for me to discuss my problems with (Like when people ask how I’m doing I normally lie but I think that may not be good for me.) 2.)How long should I wait before spending time with my ex, seeing him is like tearing off a band-aid and 3.) What is a good way for me to cope with my loneliness when my social anxiety prevents me from being able to be around most people?
Realsocialskills answered:
A few thoughts:
First and foremost, there is no one solution to this problem. You’re going to have to slowly find ways of making your life better. You’ll probably feel better if you think of it that way.
I get the sense that you might be thinking of the problem as “How do I get over my ex, stop being so impulsive, not be depressed, not be anxious, and not be so isolated, so that everything will be ok?” That’s a really overwhelming problem, but it’s not actually the problem you have to solve. The problem you have to solve is “What things can I do to start making my life better?”
And there are a lot of things that might be worth trying, and other things worth avoiding. I’ll start with the things I think you should avoid:
Don’t rely on your ex for emotional support:
  • It’s not good for either of you
  • Part of what being broken up means is that you need to separate emotionally and regain your own space
  • Relying on your ex for emotional support makes it damn near impossible to do this
  • Especially if you don’t have much else in the way of support
  • It is not your ex’s responsibility to make your life ok post-breakup
  • It’s probably not a good idea to spend time with your ex until you’re past the point of the breakup feeling like an excruciating loss when you see them

Respect other people’s boundaries:

  • Someone asking you how you are isn’t necessarily an invitation to share
  • “How are you” is usually a fairly meaningless socially greeting.
  • Sometimes people ask because they are concerned and really want to know. These are usually people you are already close to, or people you’re related to.
  • If you’re not sure whether they really want to know or if it’s just social noise, you can say “It’s kind of hard right now” or something similar, and see if they ask follow up questions
  • If they ask follow up questions, it’s usually ok to tell them what’s going on
  • But keep in mind that it’s ok for people to decide they don’t want to be your support system
  • And it’s important to respect that
Meetup.com
  • Meetup.com can bee a good way to meet new people in an unthreatening way
  • It’s easier to talk to new people when you know that you share an interest and are gathering to talk about it or do something
  • It’s also often ok to go and listen to other people talk
  • And it’s ok to leave if you need to

Interacting with people on the internet

  • A lot of people who can’t interact easily in person get a lot of social interactions from Tumblr
  • This counts as social interaction. Don’t devalue it
  • It also might help to seek out some other type of forum, like a message board about your interest/fandom/whatever
  • Email lists can be good too, especially if they’re the kind that don’t have archives that can be googled
  • Even with people you know, it might be easier to interact on chat or Facebook or some other internet based way

Religion

  • If you have a faith tradition, it might help you to go to church/temple/synagogue/mosque/place of worship.
  • If you have a bad experience with the place of worship you grew up with, you might be able to find one that works better for you
  • Most communities have a number of places of worship. Some of them probably have nice people
  • Unitarian Universalist churches work for some people who don’t feel comfortable in the organized forms of the religion they grew up with, but don’t want to reject it either
  • Going to a place of worship can be a way to meet people
  • It can also be a way to be around people without having to interact too much directly
  • For some people, being near people without having much conversation can be a way to feel less lonely without anxiety-inducing pressure
  • There also might be things you can volunteer to help with that aren’t too socially intense
  • There also might be study groups that work for you, because you can talk about the topic or just listen
  • Prayer can also help some people. Talking to God can help, even if you can’t talk to people.
  • Organized religion is not right for everyone, but it can be really good for some people

Reading fiction or watching TV

  • For some people, stories are a good way to cope with loneliness
  • Reading or watching stories is sort of like vicarious social interaction
  • It can also help you to learn a bit more about people and relationships
  • There’s a reason why lonely isolated kids coping with growing up by reading novels is such a pervasive trope
  • This isn’t helpful for everyone. Fiction can be really misleading and not everyone can understand it. But for some people, it can be good.

Therapy is helpful for some people

  • Some people find it helpful to talk to a therapist
  • Sometimes therapists can help people manage social anxiety and depression better
  • Or figure out executive functioning strategies
  • Or learn appropriate boundaries that make friendship easier
  • Therapy is not a good idea for everyone.
  • For some people, it isn’t helpful.
  • For some people, it’s a matter of finding the right therapist
  • For others, it’s actively anti-helpful and damaging.
  • For some people, it’s sort of helpful but not worth the costs
  • Therapy is something that can help some people to get support that helps them to figure out how to improve their life incrementally
  • Only you know whether therapy is a good idea for you (and it’s ok to decide to stop going to therapy if you decide that would be better)
  • In any case, therapy isn’t magic and it’s not a cure. There isn’t actually such a thing as “getting help” and that fixing your life. There’s just trying things and seeing what works.

Medication can be helpful for some people

  • Anxiety, depression, and ADHD are all conditions that some people find easier to manage with medication
  • For some people, medication is useful in the short term even if it’s not good in the long term
  • Some people don’t benefit from being on medications regularly, but do benefit from having medication available for occasional use to control anxiety or panic attacks
  • Medication is not right for everyone.
  • For some people it doesn’t work
  • For some people, it works, but has intolerable side effects
  • For some people, it works, but it takes a lot of experimentation to find the right medications and doses
  • Only you can decide if medication is right for you
  • Medication is not a cure or a way to become a different kind of person. It’s a strategy for managing things that works well for some people
  • If medication doesn’t work for you, that doesn’t imply that you don’t really have depression/ADHD/anxiety.
  • It also doesn’t imply that your condition is mild
  • Or that you’re not serious about making your life better
  • All it means is that medication is not a good strategy for you

Relationships

Hi, would you be able to do a post on relationships at some point if you aren’t too busy?
It’s hard for me to write general posts on relationships because I’m careful to avoid blogging about people I’m dating. That makes writing certain kinds of posts difficult.
I’d probably be more able to answer a more specific question. Is there anything in particular you’re trying to figure out?
ASAN and Autism NOW put out an ebook about relationships and sexuality a while ago that you might find helpful (even if you’re not autistic; it’s ok to learn from people who are different from you). It can be found here: http://autismnow.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/Relationships-and-Sexuality-Tool.pdf
Captain Awkward  writes about romantic and sexual relationships a lot. I don’t agree with her about everything (for instance, I think she overestimates the usefulness of therapy and ignores its dangers), but a lot of her posts are really helpful and insightful.