Do I Have An Anxiety Disorder?

I have lived with anxiety most of my life, so when I was first diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), my mind was blown. You mean there are people out there who aren’t constantly worrying? What’s that like?

I have spent a lot of time contemplating what these people think about with all that extra space in their brains. How would I ever fill the time? Would I finally have the mental real estate to learn a new language? Unlock the secret to world peace? Or would I fail to live up to these expectations, proving that it isn’t my anxiety holding me back, but an inherent lack of worth? And now I’m anxious and depressed.

If you can relate, you may now be worrying that you have an anxiety disorder. I am not going to tell you not to worry because that’s probably the least helpful thing you can say to someone who is already worrying (oh, why didn’t I think of that? Everything is better, thank you!).

I will say two things: one, try not to diagnose yourself on the internet. Especially if you are inclined towards anxiety, you have probably already diagnosed yourself with cancer multiple times like I have. The best thing you can do is talk to some sort of healthcare professional who can guide you to the right resources. While anxiety is generally self-diagnosable, the last thing I want is for you to take this blog post as an excuse not to see a medical professional for treatment. I know I have all the symptoms, why would I bother? Because anxiety is a real ailment that impacts your life and wellbeing and should receive equal medical attention as a physical health condition.

Two, try to have hope. Anxiety disorders are the most prevalent mental health disorders in the U.S., affecting around 40 million people, and they are also highly treatable. This means that you’re not alone, and you have options.

Signs You May Need Professional Help for Your Anxiety

You feel out of control.

Does it feel like you have no control over how you think, feel, and/or behave? Maybe you are so consumed with anxious thoughts that you didn’t hear a single thing that went on in that meeting. Perhaps you are feeling so fearful and sad that you cancel all your plans with your friends, leaving them concerned. You might know that you have to go to your property management company to pay rent, but the idea of talking to a stranger makes you so nervous that you can’t make yourself go. If you feel like your anxiety is controlling you, you might benefit from professional help.

You’re feeling physical symptoms of anxiety.

You might be able to identify your anxiety by certain mental symptoms. For instance, you may recognize that you are obsessing over something. But many people don’t realize that even if they aren’t thinking about something that makes them anxious, anxiety can manifest in physical ways.

Remember that your body and mind are not really separate. What you think impacts how your body feels, and what your body feels impacts how you think. Even if you are pushing anxious thoughts down and in denial about how you feel, your body knows, and will tell you in ways you can’t ignore. If you’re experiencing symptoms such as heart palpitations, difficulty breathing, a heavy feeling on your chest, or digestive issues, listen to your body and seek help.

Everyone is getting on your nerves.

Does it seem like everyone is annoying you recently? Chances are, you haven’t suddenly found yourself surrounded by assholes — irritability is actually a symptom of anxiety. This one can be tough to deal with, but I have found it can be a helpful indication that something is going on for me. If my friend is talking and I am finding myself getting annoyed by them for no apparent reason, generally, this is because my anxiety wants my attention too. So I try to pause for a moment and think back to what exactly is distracting me from this conversation.

You can’t sleep.

Again, this could be your body’s way of telling you something is up. I can’t even tell you how many times this has happened: I am exhausted by 6 p.m. I am complaining to everyone I know how tired I am and how much I can’t wait to go to bed. Then bedtime rolls around, and I am doing everything I can to avoid it. Suddenly I have to organize my Tupperware right then or I won’t be able to do anything the next day. I have to make more progress on the book I am reading so that I can return it to my friend in a timely manner so they don’t think I am a slow reader (and maybe they will even call me a fast reader, which is a comment that I find very flattering for some reason). My phone is a fascinating portal that I must fall down for hours instead of sleep.

On my healthiest days, I recognize that I am having some anxiety, take my anxiety med, journal about it, and do my best to set aside my worries for another day. Regardless of what will work for you, talking to a specialist about your anxiety may help you get better sleep.

You avoid social situations.

Sometimes, there is nothing better than the sweet sound of your phone buzzing to let you know that your plans have been cancelled. Wanting alone time, or even preferring it, is not in itself a sign of anxiety.

However, if you’re always dodging Facebook invites out of fear, or you spend social situations analyzing your every movement with a critical eye, you could have social anxiety.

Many people are surprised to learn that I struggle with social anxiety. I have a management position at a 600+ person company and I was the president or my sorority senior year, so I can see why people who don’t know me that well get confused when I say this.

On the outside, I appear very socially easy. I am not trying to brag but, I’m likable. I know how to make people feel good and I am very go-with-the-flow, so I don’t tend to cause much conflict. On the inside of my brain, however, my anxious brain is often going a mile a minute. In times when my social anxiety is really bad, I have felt like I was reading people’s minds, and they were thinking awful things about me.

After years of therapy, I have come to a place where I can identify when my socially anxious thoughts are irrational. I can give myself a mean mirror pep talk at this point. The thoughts are still there, but I just don’t give them the weight that I used to. It has taken a lot of patience and practice, but it’s possible to cope with social anxiety.

If you feel like you can relate to any of these signs, it’s a good idea to talk to someone about them. I personally recommend connecting with a licensed counselor, and if you need help finding one, I have written a guide on how to find a therapist. If you’re experiencing physical symptoms, it’s also wise to consult with your doctor who can help rule out any medical causes of your anxiety.

Anxiety sucks, but it’s manageable once you figure out the right treatment for you. The key is to be patient with yourself and celebrate even the small victories. If you have any tips for getting anxiety treatment, I would love to hear from you in the comments!

What Do I Do If My Partner Doesn’t Change?

Dearest Ginzo,

We all have things that we could work on and change. It’s tough to do, but it’s easier when it’s just us and harder when we’re expecting our loved ones to make the changes. In my example, my partner has been incredibly receptive to my feelings and thoughts about our relationship, and they’ve stated that they’re willing to work on these things to better both themselves and our relationship.

I know that change takes time, and I don’t want to ask too much (nor too little). How do I find the balance of expecting a person to change some of their behaviors? What’s reasonable, what should I look for, and what do I do if change just isn’t happening in the way I want it to?

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes

Dear Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes,

I’m glad that you and your partner are able to talk about your concerns about the relationship, and that they have been open minded. Every relationship faces challenges, but the ones that work out are the ones where both partners are willing to talk about them and weather the storm together.

My therapist once told me, “You can’t change other people, but you can change the way you respond to them.” Clearly, you are aware that you can’t snap your fingers and make your partner change, and you have done the tough work of being honest with them. Now it’s time to focus on how you respond. My main advice? Let go and have faith in the person you love.

This is an analogy that has probably been beaten to death, but human beings are a lot like plants. In order for them to grow, they need to be treated with care. When you’re hoping someone will change, micromanaging or criticizing them is like over-watering them — they’re going to look all withered and sad for a while, then die. Contrary to what many believe, people can and do change — but they need to feel accepted and loved, despite their flaws, to accomplish this. Don’t stand on the sidelines and wait for your partner to fail, or point out where they are not taking your feedback to heart at every opportunity — give them the benefit of the doubt that they will succeed, and root on (hehe, more plant analogies) their best efforts.

That’s not to say that you shouldn’t be honest when a concern comes up. Chances are, this will be an ongoing conversation, and it’s important to keep the lines of communication open. It’s more about where you are placing your attention. I would encourage you to, instead of looking for signs of change in your partner, recognize signs of change in yourself. This not only gives them a little breathing room, it lets you focus on the one thing you can control — you. A great way to see how things have changed for you as a person and in a relationship is tuning into your emotions.

It’s easy to avoid our feelings. Feelings are icky sometimes, and it would (temporarily) feel better to numb out and avoid them. But emotions are one way your body tells you that something needs your attention.

Let’s say you’re trying to fall asleep but you’re distracted by a nagging sense of anxiety. Instead of running away from how you feel by scrolling through your phone for hours (I personally have done this more times that I’d like to admit), get curious about it. Take a minute to explore where this emotion is coming from, and sit with the feeling (or even journal about it). You may come to realize that your partner agreed to start texting you “goodnight” as a way to communicate love, and they didn’t that night. A need isn’t being met, and while this doesn’t mean your relationship is doomed, it’s important information to take note of.

Ultimately, if things in your relationship don’t improve, there is nothing wrong with walking away. Despite our best efforts, a lot of frustrating but totally valid things can get in the way of our relationships succeeding. Whether it’s timing, a fundamental difference in values, or it’s simply more work than you’re willing to put in, you don’t have to stay if you don’t want to. That is a good enough reason to break up even if your partner works very hard to make you happy.

It all comes down to trust. Trust your partner to do the things that you asked of them, and trust yourself to know when you need to move on.

XOXO,
Ginzo

Mental Illness Getting in the Way of Your Resolutions? You’re Not Alone

As someone who is straight up obsessed with self-reflection and growth, I unabashedly love New Year’s. This is a time when everyone is getting a little introspective about what they want out of life, as well as what they have accomplished so far. I love seeing people taking advantage of self-improvement being in the air.

That being said, setting New Year’s resolutions is easier than accomplishing them. Personally, I have started many a year with lofty ambitions, only for December to come with no little-to-no progress made. I have often found myself waging a battle against mental illness to be the best version of myself. Turns out, I’m not alone in this experience.

Anxiety and Depression as Obstacles to New Year’s Resolutions

A recent survey of 500 people by Body Nutrition revealed that mental health may be a significant reason why many people cannot consistently implement the changes they want to make in the new year. Of the respondents, 29 percent said anxiety and depression were the biggest obstacles to making their fitness or wellness resolutions regular habits.

Body Nutrition New Year's Resolutions

These mental health conditions were nearly the most common reason why people struggle to make progress toward their wellness goals. Anyone who has experienced mental illness can relate to this. You might resolve to make more meals at home, but summoning the energy to get out of bed to cook feels impossible. Soon, you’re stuck in a cycle of rumination, beating yourself for not being able to follow through, filling you with shame. This is a common experience for people with depression and/or anxiety, and it may make the new year a time of stress for you rather than optimism. The good news is, there are plenty of resources to help people with anxiety and depression to set goals and achieve them.

Tips for Making New Year’s Resolutions When You Have Anxiety and Depression

I was much more successful with my resolutions this year. While I didn’t accomplish all of them, I’m proud of my progress and what I managed to check off my list. Here are some of the tools that helped me.

Practice Self-Compassion

This is my number-one tip for literally every aspect of life, but particularly goal-setting. Living with anxiety and depression often means having a running monologue in your head of everything you’re doing wrong. With a constant critic whispering in your ear, it’s no wonder you struggle to summon the confidence needed to take risks and make necessary changes. Cutting yourself some slack allows you to approach your resolution with curiosity rather than fear of failure. Let’s say you have resolved to start running, but you end up skipping the second day. You might think something like, “I can’t do this. I can never stick with anything. I’ll never be able to change.” This line of thinking makes it that much more difficult to get back to running. Alternatively, a more compassionate response may be, “I feel the need to rest today, but that’s okay. I will run tomorrow instead.”

Self-compassion is not like flipping a switch. It takes time to adopt a new mindset, so when you have negative thoughts about yourself pop up, don’t be discouraged. Something that has helped me is to think of myself as a child I am taking care of. I would never speak to my adorable baby self the way I tend to now, so it helps me to approach my thoughts with more compassion and less judgment.

Be Realistic

One of the most frustrating parts of depression is feeling like you are capable of so much more than your condition allows. While being depressed doesn’t mean you can’t accomplish great things, it’s important to accommodate your symptoms instead of denying their real impact on your life. For example, let’s say you want to write a novel this year. That’s a great goal, but make sure to give yourself some freedom in this timeline to cope with any depressive symptoms that might pop up. Dedicating two hours every day to writing might not be realistic when some days, just waking up is a major undertaking. Instead, if you give yourself a flexible schedule with realistic expectations, you’re better able to cope when your mental illness decides to pop up and interrupt your plans.

Think Of Your Overall Wellness

Many wellness resolutions are appearance-based. The problem with these resolutions, such as losing weight, is that they focus on what you look like on the outside instead of how you feel inside. More often than not, you end up at war with your body, launching a grenade into your self-worth. Instead of putting your efforts behind aesthetics, I would encourage you to look at your wellness from a holistic perspective, with special attention to your mental health. How could you give yourself more space to heal old emotional wounds and learn new ways to manage your symptoms? How could you go through 2019 with more self-love? What are some things you could do for your health that have nothing to do with what you look like to the outside world? Reflect on these questions while writing your resolutions.

I hope that these tips help you with these common obstacles to sticking with your resolutions. Regardless of what you accomplished last year, I hope that you will give yourself credit for getting through 2018 and facing all the challenges that were thrown your way. Here’s to a great 2019!

XOXO,
Ginzo

How Do I Stop Being My Own Worst Enemy?

Dear Ginzo,

I’m really miserable. I know the things I SHOULD do to be happier/healthier/a better person but they are impossible. Or I do those things like try to lose weight or read more and I always fail. I just can’t seem to get my shit together and it feels like everyone around me is having no problem. I know it’s not true but it’s how it feels. I’m sick of feeling this way but everytime I try to change I end up sabotaging myself. I don’t even really know what the question is but help.

My Own Worst Enemy

Dear My Own Worst Enemy,

I have great news: the best enemy you can have is yourself. If your enemy was a fiendish sorcerer stalking your family, there would be little you could do to make him stop turning your loved ones into toads. When you’re your own worst enemy, you have the ultimate advantage over your nemesis—you have control.

That being said, changing is not as easy as simply deciding to. Every day you have to wake up and choose to do things differently, and after a lifetime of doing things one way, you’re not going to be able to completely change your habits overnight, nor should you. One of the quickest ways to set yourself up for failure in self-improvement is to throw yourself so wholy into it that you lose all of the coping mechanisms you used to know. Pretty soon, your new habits feel like a too-tight turtleneck that is slowly suffocating you. When you cut yourself free and return to those old behaviors, it feels like a sweet release, until that familiar misery creeps back up again.

So sometimes you skip the gym and forget to call your mom. You eat things that you know make you feel sick and you watch more TV than you want and you drink more than you should. It happens. You are human. You don’t have to think less of yourself because you aren’t sucking down kale smoothies and running 10 miles every day and reading classic literature and being the perfect partner/friend/employee/offspring. While self-improvement is something we should all strive for, that doesn’t mean you have to beat yourself up for not sticking to new healthy habits. What is does mean is that your current strategies aren’t working.

If you are going to make changes, they need to be realistic. It’s the difference between vowing to never eat junk food again and limiting your junk food intake to twice a week. If your daily breakfast is Cheetos right now, it’s not fair to expect yourself to never touch them again. It is more reasonable to begin by cutting this habit back by eating a healthy breakfast most days of the week and saving that cheesy indulgence for a once-in-a-while treat.

That being said, it’s hard to be reasonable and fair about your goals if you don’t love yourself. There may be aspects of who you are that you feel a lot of hatred for. Despite your instinct to dropkick these parts, to argue with them, or to shove them down and never let them see the light of day, I encourage you to do the opposite instead. Embrace them. Love them. Don’t judge them. Give them space to breathe and to tell you what they need you to hear.

“People need loving the most when they deserve it the least.” – John Harrigan

When you accept yourself for who you are without any conditions, your worth isn’t reliant on how successfully you are able to stick to your goals. Though change isn’t any easier, it’s worth it. When you love yourself, you want to do what is going to make your happier and healthier. You’re not changing because you think it is something you should do, you’re changing because you want the best for yourself.

It won’t be easy at first, especially if you have been mean to yourself for a long time. Something that helped me combat negative self-talk is seeing a counselor, and you might find it helpful as well. If you need help with finding one, check out my previous post about how to find a therapist.

That being said, you don’t need a therapist to begin being kinder to yourself today. Start by giving yourself a compliment right now to plant a seed of self-love. Do this daily and let it grow further. It might seem like a small and awkward gesture, but it is an easy step towards combating negative thoughts about yourself. As this gets easier, add a daily act of kindness for yourself to your routine. When your thoughts and actions show compassion and appreciation for yourself, real self-love grows, making it easier to take care of your body and mind, and pretty soon, you’re not your own worst enemy anymore: you’re your own best friend.

XOXO,
Ginzo

Can We Still Be Friends If He’s In Love With Me?

Hi Ginzo,

I feel like I already know what you’re going to tell me, but a part of me is hoping I’m wrong.

I’m a 25-year-old female, but I still believe that everybody is a good person underneath it all, so of course it’s been backfiring—with one situation in particular.

I’ve been close friends with a guy (let’s call him Shane) since I was 12 years old. We met in 6th grade and have been friends all through high school and up until after college. Throughout most of this time, I had a boyfriend, and whenever I got out of a relationship, he would tell me he loves me and wants to give us a shot, so I always turned him down. Our relationship was strictly platonic on my end, and I never gave being with him a second thought. I moved out-of-state after college and into an apartment with my current boyfriend, but I always visit home around the holidays and I always make it a point to hang out with Shane. Last year when I was back home, I visited Shane at the bar he works at, and idk why, but there was palpable sexual tension. Palpable. Later that night he came over to my parents house and I made sure a mutual friend Aaron was there because I was sure Shane would make a move on me if we were alone.

Aaron, great friend that he was, ducked out early, leaving me and Shane alone together. We were playing pool, so I made sure to keep the table in between us, but he’d always come up behind me and get a little too close. Knowing I had to get out of the situation, I called it a night. He tried to kiss me when I walked him to the door. A few minutes later I got a text from him saying that we shouldn’t hang out at all for a while and that he always took our “if we’re still single at 30, we’ll get married” promise to heart. He loves me.

About six months ago, I texted him and he didn’t think we could be friends anymore, and my boyfriend agrees. However, I still really think we can be friends. I want to reach out, but I told Shane I’d wait until he was ready to talk again.

Am I being too naive and optimistic? Can we actually be friends? Halp.

Sincerely,
The Cockeyed Optimist

Dear Cockeyed Optimist,

I’m afraid you’ve fallen victim to the patriarchy here. Sorry, my friend, but it gets us all. Specifically, we have a “friend zone” believer on our hands.

The “friend zone” is a concept invented by people who think that when you are kind to women, it entitles you to have sex with them. A woman’s friendship is a consolation prize because obviously her body has more value. This attitude is not only toxic, negatively impacting people of every gender, it’s also completely off-base. As you know because you value him as a friend, friendship is one of the most beautiful gifts on this earth. It is life-affirming, grounding, and inspiring. It is not a punishment.

You have told him multiple times that you aren’t romantically interested in him, yet he continues to torture himself by waiting in the wings for you. This is a narrative we are told to find romantic. “Aw, what sweet, unrequited love! Let’s root for this gentle-hearted fellow!” Frankly, I find it immature and unsettling. There is nothing attractive about lurking in the “friend zone” for years, waiting for someone to change their mind about you after they turned you down multiple times. Shoot your shot, and if you miss, the healthy thing is to respect their choice and move on with your life. But no, instead, he waits around and then decides to come onto you despite the fact he knows you are in a serious relationship and have made it clear you do not have feelings for him. Gross. His behavior shows a lack of respect for boundaries that honestly creeps me out. He thinks, “She said ‘no,’ but what she really means is ‘not now.’” No, homie, she said “no.” Anyone who refuses to hear this word is not someone you need in your life. Losing a friend always hurts, but frankly, he has done you a favor by revealing who he really is.

Maybe some space will help him mature and let go of this pointless crush and realize that you owe him nothing for his friendship. Stranger things have happened. But honestly, it doesn’t matter at this point; it is not your problem. Let him go. And if he comes back to you like the proverbial butterfly, you can decide then if he is worth the emotional labor of creating the rigid boundaries you will have to put in place with him. For now, consider yourself lucky to be free of one fewer person with ulterior motives for being your friend.

As far as your optimism goes, I hope you don’t lose it from this experience. Yes, I think not being friends with this guy is for the best, but that doesn’t mean that you have to feel suspect of every guy you befriend. There are plenty of men out there who value friendship and will respect that you don’t see them romantically. But I hope that in the future, you will make note of the people who respect what you have to say, and those who decide to read into your words whatever they choose.

XOXO,
Ginzo

 

My Girlfriend Never Makes Time For Me and Keeps Me a Secret. Is My Relationship Doomed?

So I’m in a pretty new relationship with my girlfriend, AJ. We’ve been dating since June, but I really REALLY like her. We always have a great time together whenever we’re together and I could really see a future here. There are a few problems, though.

First, she’s ALWAYS busy. Like always. We’re both in school so I kind of understand having too much homework to hang out, but every time we make ANY plan at all, she cancels last minute or shows up but can only stay like 20 minutes. Her birthday was last week and I’ve been planning it for a month and she could only stay about 90 minutes. It just kind of hurt. I just don’t understand why we can’t meet up at a coffee shop and do homework together sometimes. We literally live on the same street in different dorms–you’d think I would see her all the time, but I don’t.

Secondly, she hasn’t come out to anybody, including her closest friends. I understand not wanting to tell her family yet; I’m the first girl she’s dated so that’s going to come down the line if we end up together, but I cringe every time I’m introduced to her other friends as “a classmate”. When I bring it up, she tells me she’ll tell them when she’s ready and gets snippy, so then I feel bad for pressuring her.

And third, she makes me feel TERRIBLE. Like all the time. And I don’t know if I’m reading situations wrong and overthinking it, but if I text her too often she snaps at me that I’m pressuring her too much to talk when she’s busy, even if I’m just asking how her day is. I find myself asking my friends about every text I get from her because she’s often extremely cryptic, and I feel like that’s a bad thing.

I like to make sure our plans are solidified when we make them a few hours before but that has occasionally gotten me a snappy “why don’t you trust that I’ll show up?” or a “forget it, if you’re going to be micromanaging me, I don’t want to hang out tonight”.

AGAIN, I want to reiterate that when we are physically IN PERSON, none of this is like this!!! We click, we laugh, we’re really cuddly and chatty and we have talked about really emotional and personal things. I feel like I really really know her, but sometimes I only feel like she wants me to display that I know her when we’re alone.

Not sure what to do. Is my relationship doomed?

Xoxo,

Tired of “I’m Busy”

Dear Tired of “I’m Busy,”

Generally, when I give relationship advice, I don’t like to say definitively whether or not I think two people should be together. A single letter to me is only a snapshot of a relationship, and there is no way for me to know everything that is going on behind closed doors. Something that sounds troubling could just be something two people have to work through with open communication, so most of the time, I like to remain neutral. In your case, however, I need to make an exception. I think you need to end things with her.

When you really like someone, it’s easy to overlook certain bad behaviors. What you describe in your letter are not just slightly annoying habits like forgetting to text back occasionally or never refilling the Brita. Her behavior is at best, immature, and at worst, manipulative and abusive. Let me ask you these questions:

  • Do you sometimes feel like you are walking on eggshells around her?
  • Are you often very confused about where you stand with her?
  • Does it feel like you can’t do anything right?
  • Do you feel like she is ashamed of you?
  • Does it feel like she is “in charge” in the relationship and everything needs to be catered to her needs and schedule?
  • Do you feel she is willing to put any effort towards preserving your relationship or are you doing the lion’s share of the emotional labor?
  • Does it sometimes feel like you are in a relationship with two different people: one who cares for and respects you, and one who belittles and devalues you?

If you can relate to any of these, your relationship is unhealthy. A healthy relationship means that you show each other respect, make compromises, and make time for each other. Healthy partnerships do not involve being passive aggressive, snippy, stingy with your time, or secretive. A good partner appreciates it when you make an effort to show you care like you did with her birthday, and they don’t treat you like they are doing you some big favor by making a small window of time for you. We’re all busy, but when you care about someone, you make time for them, especially when they are allegedly your girlfriend. You should not feel like you are in a relationship with an enigma where, if only you could just figure out how to please her, then everything would be perfect. I am telling you now that you could give her the moon, and she would still find something wrong with it. People who use manipulative tactics like refusing to hang out with you because you simply ask them to respect your time are not the type of people who can be pleased. She expects you to read her mind and follow some unwritten code of conduct, and if you don’t live up to her expectations, she gets pissy and won’t see you. Of course you feel terrible; this person means the world to you, and she treats you like you’re an option, not a priority. In the right relationship, you feel better about yourself, not worse. They lift you up, not tear you down.

In the right relationship, you feel better about yourself, not worse. They lift you up, not tear you down.

When and how to come out is a personal choice that you are right to respect. But any relationship where there is an attraction and connection between two individuals can thrive when it exists in a bubble. If you are only ever “together” when you are alone, you aren’t truly together. Part of being in a relationship is sharing each other’s lives, meeting each other’s friends and family, and spending time together out in the world. To truly know someone, you have to see all the parts of them, not just the 20 minute highlights reel they give you. Your relationship cannot progress forward if all you ever do with her is hang out in private on her schedule. It is suspicious to me that she is hiding such a huge part of herself from even her closest friends, especially because she introduces you as her “classmate” instead of, at the very least, her friend. Perhaps she is genuinely not ready to come out, and that’s okay; she will have to get there on her own time. But if you are going to date someone who cannot tell her friends and family about you, it’s only going to go so far, particularly when they refuse to even talk to you about it. You know who you are and you’re not hiding it which is the most profoundly brave thing you can do in this world, so you should be able to be out and proud about who you date. Being with someone who wants you to hide you is only causing you to feel ashamed, and someone who so clearly has tons of love to give deserves to give it to someone who truly appreciates it and openly returns the favor.

You’re only at the beginning of your adult life, and there are many wonderful women out there who would be happy to make time for a loving partner in the light of day and with the support of their inner circle. You may have fun with AJ when you’re alone, but if she is constantly keeping you unsure of where you stand and won’t bring your relationship out to at least her closest friends, it’s time to move on. You deserve better. Do yourself a kindness and say, to paraphrase Beyonce, “Girl, BYE.”

XOXO,
Ginzo

Help! He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not

Dear Ginzo,

I am having some guy trouble. The guy I’ve been seeing for the last 10 months is a little hard to read. I feel like we’re in a relationship because we act like we’re together but he has said in the past (at the very beginning) that he doesn’t want a relationship. He has said that we are enjoying each other’s company and are having fun. I know he’s been burned in the past and is scared to go into a serious relationship. Our feelings are out on the table. We’ve said I love you and have gotten mushy with each other. I have spent time with his family and for all I know they think I’m his girlfriend.

The troubling part is that he has his off days. Days where he seems to not want to talk to me, or he’s being very distant (physically and emotionally). Every time I try to talk to him about it, he apologizes and reassures me that everything is fine. I’m the kind to overshare my feelings and he’s the kind to be more reserved. So what should I do? Should I try to push him to talk more? Should I back off? Is this whole thing just doomed from the get go?

He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not

Dear He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not,

The struggle to define relationships these days is real. There are more and more situations in which you’re “talking to” or “hanging out with” someone without a label. Knowing what role we play in a person’s life can be difficult because we are more free to casually date than ever. I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing, because at least we don’t have to marry the first person who looks our way anymore. It’s a social climate in which it is much easier to explore our identities and sexualities and what truly makes us happy, whether that is being in a relationship with one person, several people, or no one at all. However, it does mean that you can see someone for 10 months, tell each other “I love you,” and meet his family, and still not be entirely sure what is going on.

Labels are not as important as the relationship behind them, but they serve a purpose. When things are defined, it is easier to trust your partner. You know you are monogamous (or have agreed upon some sort of mutually respectful arrangement otherwise) and you know they aren’t just going to disappear one day. It is a deeper commitment that feels like a safety net.

But again, a label is not nearly the most important or best part of being in a relationship, and if it is for you, you are in it for the wrong reasons. There are plenty of unhealthy relationships that have included even more serious labels, such as “spouse,” but are only partnerships in name.

Put the “Are we in a relationship?” question aside. Does this person respect you? Does he make you feel good about yourself? Forget about what he has or hasn’t said; what do his actions say about how he feels about you? I ask you these things because it can be easy to get caught up in the label without seriously considering whether you really want to be with this person or not. If it is an otherwise healthy relationship that makes you happy but you are just stressed about where you stand, then it’s important to talk to him about this.

I wouldn’t necessarily interpret the fact he pulls away sometimes to be a bad thing. Personally, I am a naturally more reserved person, and there are times when I just need my space. It doesn’t mean the other person has done anything wrong, but solitude and silence are very important to me, and there are some things that I either can’t or don’t want to talk to other people about. I need the people who love me to allow me that space, but this isn’t always easy to communicate, particularly with my more extroverted, emotionally expressive loved ones. Maybe the guy you’re seeing is the same way.

Also keep in mind that no one is naturally good at sharing their feelings. It takes practice, particularly in the context of a romantic relationship, and how fluent you are in expressing your feelings has a lot to do with the environment you grew up in, as well as the people you surround yourself with. Men in particular are socialized not to express their emotions, meaning that many grow up without the vocabulary to talk about what is going on inside. It sounds like you have different communication styles, which does not mean that it won’t work out; it just means that you will have to meet each other where you respectively are. This is a normal part of the work that goes into relationships, and if you want to continue being with him, it will be an ongoing project for as long as you’re together.

As to the DTR conversation: In the beginning, he said he didn’t want a serious relationship, but that was 10 months ago now. A lot has changed since that initial conversation, and it sounds like it is time to check in again and see how you are both feeling about it. Sitting him down to have “a talk” may make it too intimidating for someone who is not eager to verbalize their feelings. Chances are, there will be a natural way to bring it up in conversation where you don’t have to make a big deal about it, taking the pressure off of the both of you. Be honest about how you feel, and give him the space to follow suit. Understand that if he has been seriously burned as you said, he may still need more time. The important thing to keep in mind here is to not take it personally. Let him own his feelings, own yours, and try to be as nonjudgmental as possible. This will go a long way towards creating a space in the future where you both can communicate with each other openly.

At the end of the day, relationships require a lot of emotional work, labeled or not. If this person is worth it, pour love and energy and care into understanding what is going on beneath the surface. If he’s not, then now you know what you want out of future relationships, and that is something that is valuable in its own right. Best of luck!

XOXO,
Ginzo

Portrait of a Depressed Woman

I wade through the topography of my depression, empty wrappers and clothes and dishes thrown about with little care. It feels almost too appropriate that this is the state of my bedroom because it is such a direct reflection of my mind. My room being in a state of complete disarray usually points to one thing: I’m depressed.

Depression seems to creep in at moments that feel unexpected at the time, but in hindsight, make total sense. After all, there was that two-week period where I was eating like crap, or when I got too drunk too often and threw my brain chemistry off, or when I skipped a few workouts. There is the threat of nuclear war and white supremacists marching in the streets and the ever-looming feeling of impending doom to consider. Plus, I am 27 and single and okay with it, but is it okay that I am okay with it? And am I really okay with it, or am I just telling myself that I am okay with it so I don’t have to deal with my true feelings? Time passes and life gets more complicated and sad as I get older, and I am only in my twenties; I have yet to experience so much heartbreak and loss and trauma. I only have so much time on this planet and will never be able to read all the books I want to read or hear all the music that I want to hear or go all the places I want to go or experience everything I want to experience. I have so many regrets that I just have to live with because time travel isn’t a thing yet (get on it, science). And I said this horribly awkward thing and I cannot stop obsessing about it. I am not perfect, and this is feeling more and more unforgivable as my desperation to hide all my faults heightens.

I can usually trace my depression back to one or more of these factors soon after my symptoms begin. After all, I have more than a decade of experience with depression; these themes have come up enough times by now that I can look back and reflect with more knowledge than ever before. As I grow older, my depression comes back again and again, and in a way, it feels like an old friend now. While it gets easier to determine the source and prevent major episodes, depression is inevitable sometimes, and these periods have never gotten easier to weather.

Often, it feels like I am battling my own mind. For a while, I’ll feel just fine. I will be happy with my life, making healthy choices, and feeling great. I might hear murmurs from my anxiety (another old friend who is in a codependent relationship with my depression), but when I’m doing well, I can shut anxious thoughts down pretty fast. The problem is that life is unpredictable. I have a degree of control over my symptoms; they tend to get worse if I am not taking good care of my physical health, for example. But other times, rejection or loss or fear come crashing into my life, and there is little I can do to stop depression from consuming me.

When I am depressed, it feels like a shameful secret I need to hide. It feels like no one will understand, even though 350 million people can relate, including several close friends. I get so scared that if I do reach out and open up, they will say the wrong thing or I will disappoint them. I feel so sensitive and fear disappointing people so much, I pretend that everything is fine. I spend more of my time inside my own brain, where the depression gets louder and more real. The horrible irony is that reaching out always helps; it makes the burden a little lighter because my friends and family actually want to share the load. The thoughts quiet because they are met with love, empathy, and validation. Suddenly, I can see how someone who loves me sees me, and I think, hey, maybe I am not so bad. But the depressed mind doesn’t want to get better so it shit-talks this option and fills the empty parts of me with shame to encourage my isolation.

I hate my depressed self. She’s bitter and boring. She is oversensitive and easily offended. She’s angry and irritable and has a short fuse. And she will not stop telling me to kill myself. Before I knew that I was experiencing it myself, I thought suicidal ideation looked like a scene from an angsty teen drama featuring a character who struggles with mental illness for one episode cutting themselves with a straight razor because their dad is an alcoholic and their boyfriend cheated on them. It wasn’t until I was older that I realized that just because my experience wasn’t like an episode of Degrassi, doesn’t mean it was normal or healthy.

In my experience, suicidal thoughts are more like my brain just decides to pipe up when I am trying to solve a problem with this helpful suggestion: why don’t you just kill yourself? OKAY THANKS, GREAT IDEA, BRAIN. NOTHING WRONG WITH THAT PLAN. It’s not often that these thoughts carry any real weight for me anymore because I have spent plenty of time thinking about how much I love my life and don’t want to die, but they get quite intrusive and annoying. Can’t you think of a better solution, brain? But no, my depressed self has very few ideas other than suicide and sleep. It feels like I have lived a thousand lives in one day, and I crawl into bed at 4:30 PM.

Right now, I’m the healthiest I have ever been in my life, but I live with a lifelong condition that means that sometimes, I am just not myself. I am learning how to care for this person who takes over my body occasionally. It’s attributed to several different people, but there is a quote that says, “People need love the most when they deserve it the least.” I may hate my depressed self, but I need to learn to love her. She is imperfect and irrational and mean, but she needs my love.

I climb through my room, stuffing the remnants of my dissipating depression into a trash bag. I do six loads of laundry, hanging my multitude of dresses in my closet with care. I make my bed, enjoying how neat it looks when I am not lying in its rumpled covers. I vacuum, wipe the dust away, and organize my shelves as the cat anxiously looks on. When I am done, I observe my accomplishment and deeply exhale. It looks and feels like control, and I can see the other side.

Mindfulness Matters: Tips for Living in the Present

“Mindfulness is the aware, balanced acceptance of the present experience. It isn’t more complicated than that. It is opening to or receiving the present moment, pleasant or unpleasant, just as it is, without either clinging to it or rejecting it.” Sylvia Boorstein

Sometimes, my brain feels like it’s not my own. I try to control the thoughts that come racing in when I wake up, but they bounce around with little regard for where I want them to go. Not now, I’ll tell them, but it falls on deaf ears. When this happens, I try not to let my thoughts carry me away with them. I may meditate, or I may just take a moment to take in where I am, noticing how it feels to be supported by the earth, and what sounds, smells, and colors I can see. Does it always work? No; sometimes, the thoughts still win. But the more I practice this skill, the better I become at being present in the moment. Mindfulness is a powerful psychological tool that can help you accept, study, and let go of the worries, fears, struggles, and persistent thoughts that cloud your mind, allowing you to feel lighter and more alive.

The best way to become more mindful is to practice meditation. However, even simply living more mindfully has its benefits. On my journey to become a more mindful person, I have found keeping certain things in mind has helped me make progress towards my goal.

Practice, Practice, Practice

One meditation session does not make you mindful. Mindfulness is like any type of exercise; with practice, you will improve. If you don’t practice, don’t be surprised when the worries that consumed you before come pouring back, filling your mind like static. You can practice mindfulness through daily meditation, or simply by going through your day in an aware manner. Try fully focusing on the task at hand, whether you are doing the dishes, walking home, writing a paper, or doing nothing at all. The practice of focusing on the present allows you to better ground yourself during those moments of crisis when you need it, as well as more fully experience the joys of life.

Accept Yourself

No one sits through a meditation session with a completely clear mind. Whatever creeps into your consciousness, whether you are thinking about what you will be eating later or contemplating your loneliness in the world, is normal and natural. A big part of meditation is accepting yourself without judgment. Don’t beat yourself up when you find yourself drifting away from the present moment; simply observe that these thoughts are coming to you, and let them go. For me, I will sometimes visualize my mind as a blank white canvas. Thoughts come in like splashes of watercolor, trying to draw my attention back to them, but I simply acknowledge them then slowly brush them away. Fighting with your thoughts only gives them more power; allow yourself to acknowledge that you have drifted away, then return to your breath and this moment in time.

Make it a Priority

Like any goal, you are only going to become more mindful if you prioritize it. You might finish this article, feel motivated to meditate for five minutes, then promptly forget your newfound commitment to living presently. You don’t have to be perfect, but practicing mindfulness on a daily basis is the only way to become more mindful. Whether you start your day with a fifteen-minute meditation or you simply take the time to check in with yourself and the present moment several times throughout the day, the more time you put towards this goal, the simpler it will be to access that presence of mind at any moment.

Make Room for Intention

These days, it easier to overschedule than ever. There are so many different things that demand your attention, your days may be filled to the brim with appointments, errands, chores, work obligations, and social engagements. You can keep busy for your entire life and never take a moment of self-reflection, and many people do, to the detriment of their mental and physical health. Avoid this by making sure to schedule more time than you really need in between your obligations to give yourself the ability to go about your life with more intention.

Listen Actively

Raise your hand if you have ever had this experience: you are having a conversation with someone and you find yourself so wrapped up in how you are about to respond, you have no idea what they just said. Mindfulness benefits not only your own health, but your relationships with others. When you bring mindfulness into your interactions with people, you can expect them to feel much more positively about you. When you are truly present with another person, you listen to exactly what they are saying instead of just waiting to speak. Focus on being with this person at this very moment, and experience more profound mindfulness.

Savor Every Moment

“We have only now, only this single eternal moment opening and unfolding before us, day and night.” Jack Kornfield

The only thing we are guaranteed is this present moment, so savor it while you have it. Instead of allowing your mind to be preoccupied by your mistakes from the past or worries of the future, take a moment to feel the joy of what is happening right now. Breathe in the scents that surround you, feel the warmth of your clothes against your skin, and appreciate the feeling of having someone who loves you looking at your face like you are something to be seen. When you feel joy, close your eyes and feel everything this moment has brought you.

I hope these mindfulness tips help you live more presently in your everyday life. It can be difficult to stay in the moment, but you don’t have to wait to start being mindful; in fact, the best time is right now.

Should I Break Up With My Live-In Boyfriend?

Dear Ginzo,

I currently live with my boyfriend, and while I love him, I am wondering whether or not our relationship is meant to be. We moved in together basically because he wanted to move out of his parents’ house and my lease was up with my old roommate who I did not get along with. It was just good timing for both of us but now it’s been 6 months and I am not sure whether or not it’s something that I was really ready for or we were ready for in our relationship. He is a good boyfriend but not a good roommate, he’s very messy and he expects me to cook and clean for him like his mom always did. And anytime I talk to him about this, or really any problem we have, he ends up just becoming really withdrawn and sullen and won’t talk to me. I still love him but living with him has made me realize he is way less mature than me. It’s starting to impact our relationship so much I am just not as attracted to him. I am just not really sure what to do. We still have another 6 months on our lease so I kind of want to just suck it up and stick it out and see if it gets better before then and part of me thinks that I just want to break up with him.

The Man I Live With Is Not The Man I Fell In Love With

I’m sorry this living arrangement has proven to be so unpleasant. It’s true that you really never know someone until you live with them, and sometimes, you don’t like what you find out. I also understand that a lease makes you feel like you are trapped in the relationship because if you were to break up, you either live together in awkward (dis)harmony or one or both of you figures out a way to move out, which probably sounds pretty daunting.

But here’s the thing: Yes, figuring out a new living situation and finding a subleaser and telling all your friends and family and all the scary, frustrating, sad, and annoying things that go along with breaking up with someone you live with would not be enjoyable. But in two years, are you going to look back and think, “Man, am I glad that I didn’t have to deal with the inconvenience of moving. Thank God I stayed in that dead-end relationship!” It’s one thing to try to make it work because you love him, it’s another to stay because you are scared of change. If your lease ended next week, would you still be thinking about staying with him? Or would you like, “Hallelujah! To a one-bedroom I go!” If the only reason you are even thinking of staying with him is the lease, end it now. Don’t waste your time and energy on being with someone you don’t want to be with. You only get one life; why spend it with someone who makes you miserable?

Don’t waste your time and energy on being with someone you don’t want to be with. You only get one life; why spend it with someone who makes you miserable?

That being said, if you still love him and want to be with him, try working it out. Yes, I agree that your boyfriend’s behavior is immature, but immaturity is something that can change. If he has only ever lived with his parents, he hasn’t been smacked in the face with the reality of living with people other than the ones who will forgive you for anything you do because they created you. If you weren’t his girlfriend and were instead, say, a Craigslist rando, he probably would have had his toothbrush dunked in the toilet by now. It shouldn’t be your job to teach him common courtesy, but if you want to be with him, you will have to help him work through his ignorance.
This will be work. This involves negotiating, enforcing your boundaries, practicing patience, forgiving him when he forgets things/doesn’t do things the way you would, and being completely honest with him, even when he withdraws. If he’s worth the work, best of luck to you. If he’s not, in the immortal words of Beyonce, “Boy, bye.”

XOXO,
Ginzo