I Think I’m Depressed. What Do I Do About It?

Hi Ginzo,

I think I’m maybe depressed. I like my life a lot: I have a great job, a great relationship, a great family, but I feel empty about it all recently. Sometimes I just don’t feel as lucky as I really am. I just feel sort of numb to it all. Sometimes I feel happy or just okay but most of the time I don’t feel anything or I feel vaguely sad. Nothing in particular happened to make me feel this way but for the last few weeks I just don’t really feel like myself, sort of like I am a shell most of the time. Writing this down makes me feel more and more like it is depression. So I guess what I am really asking is what do I do about it?

Probably Depressed

Dear Probably Depressed,

I am so sorry you are feeling this way. I hate that empty feeling. It’s almost worse than the sadness or the anger because it just feels like nothing can move you either way. That numbness can feel so paralyzing.

I am not a doctor and even if I was, I couldn’t diagnose you from a letter, but I will say that as a person with depression, I can relate to the symptoms you’re describing. It doesn’t matter if everything in my life is going wonderfully; if I don’t have enough serotonin and dopamine in my brain, a depressive episode is inevitable. This is one way I like to look at it that helps me; from a more clinical perspective. Maybe it is from my psychology degree, but breaking down my mental illness into a more removed, scientific explanation makes me feel better. It’s not that I am this horrible person who doesn’t deserve to feel happiness; it’s that my brain chemistry is a little wonky and I need to do what I can to rebalance it.

Depression has a way of telling you that you are stupid or wrong or weird for feeling the way that you do. You are not. And it’s okay if you can’t believe that right now, or if you don’t have it in you to do a single thing about it today, that’s okay. But if you feel capable of making some changes, here are some strategies I use when I am depressed.

Identify It

When you start to feel those feelings of numbness and sadness, it can help just to identify it. Knowing what you are feeling is the first step in changing it. Even if you can’t change it, identifying your emotions alone can be a good practice in emotional regulation. Every time you realize “I feel sad” or “I feel depressed” or “I feel numb,” you are gaining a greater understanding of your emotions, giving you the tools you need to better control them.

Talk to Someone

Honestly, this is the one I have the hardest time with. I am not one to be quick to reach out when I am depressed; it feels like an insurmountable task, and there is always that scary feeling of “What if they don’t respond the way I want them to?” While it’s true that even the most well-intentioned might not say what you wanted or needed to hear, it’s less about what they say and more about the act of saying it out loud. Talking about it makes it not a secret anymore. Both secrets and depression are big loads to carry by yourself. Give yourself a break from carrying such heaviness alone by leaning on someone for a moment, whether it’s a friend, family member, therapist, religious leader, or someone else you trust.

Do Something for Ten Minutes

This is a strategy I use even when I am not depressed, but am feeling unmotivated or lethargic and need to get something done. I commit to doing that something for ten minutes. I set a timer and if after ten minutes, I want to continue doing it, I can, but if I don’t want to, I can stop and do whatever I want. When you’re feeling numb, it can be hard to motivate yourself to do a damn thing, but letting your responsibilities pile up can be an anxiety nightmare that just makes things worse. If there is an obligation that is hanging over your head, whether it is writing a paper or cleaning your room, set a timer and give it ten minutes of your time. Even if you quit after ten minutes, at least you are ten minutes closer to finishing the task than you were before.

Write it Down

Awesome news: the fact that you feel like writing this letter made you think you might be depressed means that you would be a kickass journaler. If this is not something you already do, buy yourself a cool notebook to write in and try writing down your thoughts before you go to sleep at night or first thing when you wake up in the morning or really whenever, as long as you keep up with it. Journaling not only lets us process our feelings, as an added bonus, it gives us a log of all of our feels that we can then go back over to look for patterns. This can be a great way to figure out times when you are particularly vulnerable to feeling that numb or sad feeling.

Find Your Form of Meditation

Meditation is a really powerful tool for dealing with depression because it brings you back to the present moment. Instead of focusing on the intrusive negative thoughts or numbness you feel, you are aware of your breath or the way your skin feels or a certain sound. Some people find it impossible to sit still for just meditating (myself included) so they have to find other ways to recreate this same effect. Yoga has been really helpful for me because of its mind/body connection. By focusing on what I am doing with my body, I must stay present. Pretty much anything that calms you that you focus on entirely in the moment can help with this, though. For example, I like to deep clean my kitchen as another form of meditation. It makes me feel productive and in control while allowing me to kind of switch off my brain. You could also knit, color, draw, run, bike, cook a delicious meal, or any other activity that encourages mindfulness.

Seek Treatment

There are a lot of reasons why people avoid seeking professional help, and as someone who has avoided it in the past, I can understand it. That being said, going to therapy has been incredibly helpful in treating my depression, and I really believe it is something that everyone should experience at least once. Other people find medication way more helpful in managing their mental health. Regardless of your preferred treatment method, consider seeking professional help for the way you are feeling. A helpful tool for finding therapists is Psychology Today’s Find a Therapist search. Your health insurance should also have a database available online of therapists and psychiatrists that are covered by your plan.

I hope that you find a way to ease the numbness and sadness, or at least manage it in a way that it doesn’t intrude on your joy. Know that you are not alone, and even when it doesn’t feel like it, there is hope. Sending you solidarity and good vibes.

XOXO,
Ginzo

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How Do I Forgive?

Dear Ginzo,

I don’t want to get into the details, but basically, I am having a hard time forgiving someone. What they did to hurt me happened a while ago, we talked about it and they apologized, but I still can’t seem to let it go. There’s no point in rehashing it with them at this point. I just need to know, how do you forgive someone when you can’t seem to move past it?

Fighting to Forgive

Dear Fighting to Forgive,

You’re pissed. You’re hurt. You’re sad. And forgiving the person who brought you to this place isn’t easy. It doesn’t matter if they apologized, if you felt that they heard you out, if the initial hurt was months or even years ago; the burden remains on your heart and it doesn’t seem to be able to budge.

As someone who has held many an unwilling grudge in her lifetime, I can empathize with you on this one. For me, past emotions often come back in waves; I will think I have moved on from something, and then suddenly, it crashes over me. This is because I didn’t take the time to work through the emotions when they were most relevant. You say that you talked about it and they apologized, so perhaps there really is nothing else they can do for you to help you forgive them. So what can you do for yourself?

Forgiveness is not about the other person. The act of forgiveness is about freeing yourself from the weight of your pain.

Here’s the thing: forgiveness is not about the other person. The act of forgiveness is about freeing yourself from the weight of your pain. Despite people who act as though being a victim is some sort of desired status that people adopt for attention, it is actually a heavy burden to bear. It’s true that anger can be invigorating, particularly if it is of the self-righteous variety. But it is also exhausting, makes you feel powerless, and is hard to move past to work through the other emotions that are at play, like sadness. Whether they meant to or not, this person failed to be who you thought they were. They hurt your feelings, and you feel betrayed. Maybe you feel like you can’t truly trust and be vulnerable with this person, and that is a loss. It’s normal to feel sad about this loss. Maybe you haven’t let yourself be sad yet. Alternatively, perhaps you haven’t decided whether or not you should open your battered heart up to this person again, and that’s what is holding you back. Whatever the unresolved issue, the first step is to identify it.

In his book Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words, Philosopher/Poet David Whyte said,

“To forgive is to put oneself in a larger gravitational field of experience than the one that first seemed to hurt us. We reimagine ourselves in the light of our maturity and we reimagine the past in the light of our new identity, we allow ourselves to be gifted by a story larger than the story that first hurt us and left us bereft.”

Give yourself permission to move on with your life and to the bigger, happier, newer feelings it has in store for you. If there is truly nothing this person can do to help you forgive them, then you have everything in your power to let it go right now. Find a place of silence, write in a journal, or talk to a trusted confidant and listen to what your mind has to say about why you haven’t moved on. If it is a barrier you can tear down right at this moment, do it. If it isn’t, take the first step. You don’t need to live with this grudge inside of you forever. Be kinder to yourself.

I hope you can work through the journey of forgiveness and have a lighter heart on the other side. Good luck, my friend.

XOXO,
Ginzo

Help! I Am Freaking Out About Moving

Dear Ginzo,

I’ve lived in the same city my whole life, with the exception of college. I love my current job and am generally happy with my life right now, but my husband is not. He has a job that he doesn’t love and he is in a city away from his friends and family. So he has been applying to graduate programs in new cities, and he just found out that he got into one in a city where he has a support circle, and he accepted it.

I am so happy that he is pursuing this dream, but crap am I terrified to move. We did discuss this and honestly I will follow him wherever he goes because he gave up a lot to live with me in “my city”. We have a lot of mutual friends in this new city. I’m just terrified because my new boss actually respects my work and values me as an employee. I’m finally being treated like a leader for the first time in my life and I love it. BUT I definitely love my husband more and I want him to be happy. Starting over with a new reputation is terrifying. Moving to a new state away from my family, finding somewhere to live… it’s so scary! There is no question. I’m just freaking out internally.

Packing and Panicking

Dear Packing and Panicking,

I know what it’s like to start over in a brand new city, so I can relate to your straight up terror about moving. For me, making the decision to move across the country took me months of going back and forth about whether or not was a good idea. I too was scared to leave behind my family and my hometown that I knew so well. Your life is all figured out currently, with a great job and a place to live and people around you to count on, and starting all over to find those things in a new place is really intimidating. Add onto this that you aren’t moving of your own volition and I can understand why you are feeling so scared.

While you have so much in your hometown, here is what you have going for you in your new city:

  • A supportive partner to share the experience with
  • Mutual friends that will show you around your new city
  • Good experience in your field and recommendations to help you find a new job
  • An opportunity for adventure and a fresh start

So yes, while you have a lot going for you in your hometown, your new city has some pretty great potential too. You will miss many things about your hometown, and it may take some time to think about your new city as your home (I have heard it takes three years,so I will report back if that rings true). Things will probably be scary for a while as you figure out all the moving pieces that come together to form a life. But change is inevitable; it will happen, whether we accept it or not. You don’t have control over the future, but you do have control over your perspective on this move. You can focus on the scary, unknown, okay-but-where-can-I-live-in-town-and-not-get-murdered-oh-god-what-am-I-doing-what-is-this-place part of moving, or you can focus on the life-affirming, exhilarating possibilities of starting over. This won’t make it any less scary, but it will make it easier to let go of what you know and take the leap. Good luck with your move!

XOXO,
Ginzo

Help! My Work Friend Is Driving Me Crazy

Hi Ginzo!

I work with a friend who I really like, but I’m finding that his work habits are really irritating me. He never seems to make deadlines and is a really bad project manager. He always wants to say yes and completely over-promises and extremely under-delivers. It really gets under my skin! What’s the best way to stop this from making me completely crazy – especially because he’s my friend and I don’t want to completely ruin that.

Irritated at the Office

Dear Irritated,

Conflict with coworkers in the worst. We spend the majority of our time with these people, and with different personality types and work styles, we are going to get irritated with them sometimes. Add in the sensitivity of the fact that he is your friend, and I understand why this is weighing on your mind.

When you are frustrated with a situation, you have two options: do something about it, or let it go. In this case, both might work. In reality, you only have control over yourself, which you seem to know because you did not write in asking me how to make your coworker a more organized and efficient worker, but how to stop yourself from going nuts over it. However, just because you cannot control his actions, doesn’t mean that you can’t do something to at least feel like the problem is being addressed. I will suggest a couple of things you can do that may help, but if neither sounds applicable, just skip to the last and most important step.

The first thing you can do is give your friend feedback about his work, but be careful about how you do so. When working with friends, it can be easy for criticism to get personal because, after all, you have a personal relationship with them. This might make you avoid constructive criticism. However, feedback is important for any type of work, and it could be especially valuable coming from someone he respects. If you find that your friendship makes you hesitate to say anything when he does something wrong, whether because you are worried you will be too visibly frustrated or you don’t want to hurt his feelings, it might help to write it down first. If you are about to go into a meeting with him where you will have to address something he messed up, write a couple bullet points about what you would want to say to him. Adjust it for maximum diplomacy and professionalism, then go into the meeting and let him know what he is doing well, and what he could improve.

However, if you are not in a position where it would be appropriate for you to give you feedback like that, you might try a more roundabout way. Talk to your boss about having everyone in the office do a personality test and strengths and weaknesses assessment. This could be helpful for everyone, and it could cause your friend to either realize for himself what he needs to improve or give your boss the insight necessary to give him feedback. It might also help you more clearly recognize the strengths he brings to the table, and have a greater understanding of why he works the way he does. If your boss isn’t into the idea, you could try taking an assessment yourself and bringing it up in conversation with him. He may be intrigued enough to take it himself, or at minimum, it could get him thinking about his own strengths and weaknesses.

Again, these steps may do nothing to improve his work ethic; the purpose of doing something about it is for your own peace of mind, and you shouldn’t expect him to change. That is why the most important step is the last step: let it go. Things drive us crazy because we don’t stop thinking about them. Give this situation less real estate in your mind. When you find yourself thinking about what a crappy project manager he is, match that thought with something you really admire about him. If you find yourself getting very frustrated with the quality of his work, take a break to cool down; meditate, take a walk, or call a friend to shift your focus. At the end of the day, all you can do is do your own good work. Maybe your friend will learn by your example; maybe not. Either way, you have done your best. Keep focus and don’t let things out of your control distract you from what is really important to you. Good luck!

XOXO,
Ginzo

Am I Wrong For Wanting to Cut Off These Friendships?

Hey Ginzo!

So super long story here, I’ll try to shorten it as much as possible…

So my brother in law, let’s call him Tyler, started dating this girl named Sierra a few years back. My husband’s family is very close and we all hang out frequently, so when we met her we were… underwhelmed. It took awhile but we eventually warmed up to her and she started sort of becoming part of the family.

In an effort to make her more comfortable during the rocky period (since I was closest in age), I introduced her to my close friend Anna. They completely hit it off and the three of us hung out a ton for awhile. I started getting busier, however, but the two of them continued to hang out all the time and became really really good friends.

Well, fast forward to this past October — Tyler and Sierra broke up. And now (about a week and a half ago near the end of February), he’s engaged to a girl he met at work. So their relationship has literally gone further than his and Sierra’s ever did in about 1/12 of the time. Ouch.

At this point, Tyler told me that Sierra had been sort of stalking his new fiance, Faye. Sierra had messaged him a few times angrily because she found out how shortly after their breakup he had moved on. Faye fixed her Facebook privacy settings and now has it to where it’s totally impossible to see ANYTHING unless you’re her friend. So Tyler, knowing Sierra, Anna, and I were close at one time, begged me to cut contact with her and severely limit what I tell Anna. I hadn’t seen Sierra in months and we rarely ever talked anymore, so I really had no issue complying.

When Tyler and Faye announced their engagement and said they didn’t care who knew anymore, I felt obligated to at least tell Anna so she could relay it to Sierra (since I didn’t think Sierra would find out any other way). The whole thing blew up in my face.
Anna started insisting that I lied to her because Tyler had asked me to keep their relationship a secret since he knew Sierra and Anna were good friends. She claimed she and Sierra aren’t that close anymore, but I know that’s a complete lie. Now Anna is pressuring me and saying that I’m a bad friend to a girl I used to be close with since I’ve chosen my family over my brother’s ex. Anna keeps stirring up drama where there shouldn’t be any, and she constantly wants me to update her on Tyler’s fiancee and what they’re doing (which is super obviously digging so she can relay it all back to Sierra). It feels like our relationship has become a quiz every time I see her, and though she believes she’s being discreet with her questioning, she really, really isn’t.

I guess my question is twofold–one, am I wrong to cut ties with Sierra mainly only because she’s an ex of a brother I’m very close to?

And two–is being friends with Anna even worth it if she’s going to try to stir the pot on any and everything I do (and all she cares about now is gathering intel and reporting it back to a girl who is heartbroken and really hasn’t had the appropriate amount of time to heal)?

Over the Drama

Dear Over the Drama,

When I read your questions, it seems to me that you know what you want to do. Having written into advice columns myself, I find just the act of writing out the problem helps the decision become clearer, and I suspect that this may have happened for you. So while I am happy to weigh in with my opinion because, hi, that is why I’m here, I think you already know that you don’t want to waste any more of your time on these people, and I can’t blame you. Is that wrong? Not at all.

As you get older, you will have less and less time for your friends, and as everyone goes down different life paths, you lose some along the way. Not every person you befriend is going to stand the test of time. As you get to know them better and face different situations with them, people prove to you exactly how invested they are in you, and you learn how invest you are in them. They show you who they are and sometimes, this is the most beautiful thing in the world, and sometimes, it is a rude awakening.This doesn’t mean that you are disloyal if you decide not to maintain certain friendships; it’s just a natural part of becoming who you really are. Someone you befriend at age 15 may not grow into someone you want to be friends with when you’re 25, and that’s okay. And if these friendships are causing you more stress than they’re worth, it’s okay to let go of them.

Regarding Sierra: you were lukewarm about her when you first met her, it seems like you may never have fully warmed to her, and now the only reason that you were friends with her, her relationship with Tyler, is over. There is no reason to be cruel, but you don’t need to feel obligated to continue being her friend. I understand why she would be upset about Tyler’s engagement; she must feel rejected and insecure right now. While I can empathize with the emotions behind it, ultimately, it isn’t about her. Dating isn’t a competition to see who is going to win the engagement ring. She wasn’t the right person for him, and the timing just worked out that he found someone better suited for him very quickly. Yes, that hurts. But by sending a bunch of nasty messages and trying to find out every scrap of information she can about Tyler and his new relationship, she isn’t doing herself any favors, and she is putting you in an awkward position on top of it. She needs some time to work through her emotions and let the relationship go. Some distance from the entire situation is probably better for her; hearing all about Tyler and Faye from Anna is just making it more difficult for her to move on. Even if, with time, you were to decide that you do want to be friends with Sierra, it’s probably better right now for you both to have distance.

As to the question of whether or not it is worth it to maintain a friendship with Anna, that is up to you to decide. Feeling used by someone is certainly a great reason not to want to spend time with them anymore, and based on this story, I am not convinced that Anna gives you the level of empathy and understanding that you deserve as a friend. She may be working under the guise that she is helping Sierra, and she may sincerely believe she is, but she is not being a good friend to you in the process. Think about the reasons you became friends with Anna, why you are friends with her now, and why you would want to maintain a friendship with her. If your only motivation is obligation, feel free to let it go.

Does this mean you need to them outright to get lost? Not necessarily. It seems like there is distance growing between you all anyway, and you may just be able to let the friendships fade. If a big confrontation is only going to cause more drama, it might be worth it to just phase both of them out, spending less and less time talking to or hanging out with them. When Anna hits you up for the latest gossip, you may be able to be vague or unresponsive enough ( perhaps with a “I don’t really know,” “Just the usual,” or a pointed subject change) that she loses interest with time. Indulging in her need for the gossip even a little bit is only going to keep her coming back for more, so don’t give her anything to work with. Without your supply of information, if gossip is really her only motivation, you may find that the friendship fizzles out on its own. However, if this doesn’t happen, you may have to just tell Anna upfront that you don’t want to be a part of the gossip train anymore, that it is emotionally draining and putting you in a weird position with your family. Based on her recent MO, she will probably try to guilt you, but stand your ground. If you’re over the drama, don’t let it dictate your life; say how you really feel, and the people who are worth your time will accept it. If she can’t understand where you are coming from, she wasn’t your friend to begin with.

XOXO,
Ginzo

Have I Ruined My Future?

Hey Ginzo,

HELP. I graduated last May with a horrid gpa (2.49) and have zero excuses. I feel like my future is ruined. Any advice for a struggling 22 year old?!!

LOST AND FREAKING OUT

I am so glad you wrote to me because this is something I could have written a few years ago. Academics were never my strong suit, and throw on top of it mental health issues and my GPA was probably not too different from yours by the time I graduated. I too felt like I wasn’t going to get anywhere in life with little-to-no academic success to speak for me.

Here’s the thing, though: while your GPA may have defined you all throughout school, in the real world, it means pretty much nothing. I have never had a potential employer ask me what my GPA was because it tells you nothing about a person that is applicable to a real job. There are a lot of people who had great GPAs, and it doesn’t make them stand out from the crowd after graduation. Employers want to know that you are reliable, that you are going to do your best work for them, that you will have a positive attitude, and that you will be easy to work with. People skills are way more important than your GPA will ever be, so worry less about that number and more about how you present yourself to the world. With school just barely behind you in the rearview mirror, it can be easy to define yourself by how you performed back there, but in reality, you probably won’t even remember your GPA in a couple of years… in fact, it’s been about four years since I graduated college, and I couldn’t even really tell you what mine was, only that I was not very proud of it.

That post-graduation time of life was universally confusing and disheartening for me and all my friends and really anyone I have talked to about it. A lot of my friends were top performers in school with stellar grades and the intelligence to back it up; this did not spare them the hell that is trying to figure out what to do with themselves after graduation. The secret that they never tell you in school is no one really knows what they are doing as adults. When we are in school, our lives are structured: you go to elementary school then middle school then high school then college. After college, there is no structured plan; you have to make it for yourself. And that is a terrifying endeavor for all of us, regardless of how we performed in school. You may think that your peers have it all figured out, but trust me, they don’t.

Yes, if the only vision you have for yourself is to go to the top med school in the country, your GPA might get in the way of that plan. But the beautiful and terrifying thing is that there are infinite possibilities for you out there right now. If not med school, perhaps there is another medical profession you could go into where your GPA is not going to be as much of an obstacle. Or maybe you will realize that the sight of blood makes you want to hurl so the medical field isn’t for you. Give yourself the freedom to envision more possibilities, and your GPA is not going to mean as much as you think it does.

At 22, you don’t have to have anything figured out. Your life path is nowhere near set in stone. The key is to not think of every decision you make as defining who you will be for the rest of your life. There is a lot of stumbling around to be done before you realize what you truly are supposed to do. My suggestion to you would be to just try something. I don’t know what you are doing for work now, but if it is making you unhappy or you feel it is a dead-end, consider what other opportunities lay before you and seek them out. Most of the time, you get a job because you know the right people. It’s estimated that around 70 to 80 percent of jobs are found by networking. This holds true to me; I have gotten almost all my jobs because I knew someone, or knew someone who knew someone. This doesn’t mean that you are totally screwed if none of your inner circle does anything you would remotely want to do; most of the time, it is not your closest friends but your acquaintances who will get you the job. If you have an idea about what sounds interesting to you as a career, think about who knows something about it. If you don’t know anyone, try posting on social media and seeking these people out. The more people you talk to, the more information you have, and more importantly, the more connections you have. If you really don’t know anyone, almost every city has networking events that you could go to just to chat with people. The key to those types of events is to worry less about nailing down THE person who is going to give you THE job and to think of it more as an opportunity to get to know more about what it is like to do that type of job. If you happen to make a good connection, great. If not, you have done your part to get a little be closer to figuring out what your next step is. One thing I did after graduation that I found quite helpful was applying to a temp agency. Actually, what I did was apply to somewhere between 10 and 20 of their job listings, which caught their attention and enticed them to hire me ASAP. I worked a couple of temp jobs that were not glamorous or particularly interesting, but they helped inform me of what I liked and didn’t like in a job. If you think of a job as a way to both make money and experiment to find out more about what you ultimately want to do, it takes the pressure off of it to be your career.

Remember that none of us know what life will bring us. Plan for your future, but also know that this moment is more important. The big picture is great to think about, but it may never turn out the way you expect (actually, it probably won’t). Don’t forget to enjoy yourself now and don’t preoccupy yourself with the future too much because regardless of whether you live in the moment or spend your time worrying, the future will come. Best of luck!

XOXO,
Ginzo

FYI About Posting Schedule

Hi all,

I figured it might be helpful to let you know my schedule for responding to your letters. I work a full-time job so my personal writing time is generally on Saturdays and Tuesdays. So if you write a letter to me during the week, look out for it one of those days! If your need for advice is time-sensitive, let me know in your letter and I will try my best to respond sooner. Alright, I am off to write!

XOXO,

Ginzo

A Note About Names

Hey y’all! I had someone reach out and ask about the anonymity issue, as on my Contact page, you are required to put a name. For the record, you do not have to put your actual name in this slot. It’s part of the form because I would like at least a way to address you, but if you prefer to be anonymous, you do not have to put a real name – even “Anonymous” is fine. I encourage you to get creative with it if you like! You can refer to my past posts to see what other people did, or just go with the name you always wished your parents had named you but of course they didn’t because they failed you so many times (yeah maybe write in and we can talk about that BTW). You can even just ask me to come up with a name for you in the letter. No pressure to tell me who you really are! Bless the internet for making this possible. Write in if you need advice – either email me at askginzo@gmail.com or go on and submit through the Contact page, anonymously or otherwise.

XOXO,

Ginzo

How Do I Help Friends in Politically Tense Relationships?

Hi there Ginzo!

Ever since the Trump elections, many relationships have been very strained. I don’t think it’s really a thing we’ve had to super seriously take into account; the opinion of the other on the presidency and the election. Tensions have been running extremely high among many friends, girlfriend/boyfriend, husband/wife, and many other interpersonal relationships after the most recent election. One thing I am struggling with has been how to help friends who are in relationships where their significant other disagrees with them politically and/or “morally.” How do I keep my own personal feelings out of how I approach those situations or is it better to be completely be upfront about them?

Sincerely,

Concerned Lady Friend

Dear Concerned Lady Friend,

You’re right that tensions are quite high right now, so I don’t blame you for being concerned. Anyone on social media can attest to this fact. When seeing America in a new light, naturally, you’re going to see some Americans in a new light, too. In some cases, this is an extremely unflattering light. Think the fluorescent lights in your high school gym that made your skin look green and blotchy. Personally, I have had to put up boundaries around the role these people play in my life. Now there are people who fall under the “will make pleasant small talk with you but will never discuss politics because I will never want to talk to you again” category or “will discuss politics with you but the minute I can tell you aren’t listening anymore I will leave the conversation” category. The best group to emerge out of this are the people in the “I can count on you to be there when I have deep fear/anger/anxiety/apprehension to ease the burden on my heart” category. Make a point to talk to this last group as often as possible to help you through the emotional work associated with the first two.

Now let me get to the heart of your question. Here’s the thing about giving relationship advice to other people: don’t. That is, unless very obviously explicitly asked. One of the most important pieces of advice my mom ever gave me was to not get too invested in other people’s relationships because they will rarely take your advice to heart. From an outside perspective, your suggestions may be the most logical and sound course of action, but logic doesn’t play a big part in relationships. Your friends may be distressed by this new political tension mixed into their romance, but try not to mix up the difference between someone asking for your opinion and just wanting to be heard. Stick to providing an empathetic ear and maybe talking more generally about your views when they come up until they ask specifically for your advice. It’s helpful to keep in mind that unsolicited advice rarely gets taken, so don’t waste your energy on composing the perfect speech to give about it until you are sure your friend really wants to hear it. A good mantra for you might be, “That’s not my problem.” Frankly, in this political climate, you have bigger fish to fry. Your friends will have to figure out how to cope with this tension themselves because in the end, they will listen to their own heart over your opinion any day.

I don’t think this means you need to censor your opinion when politics come up; for example, if you are spending time with one of these couples and the topic presents itself. In fact, unpacking your respective views could be an educational moment. Try your best to have a constructive conversation, meaning you actively listen instead of merely waiting to speak. If you feel emotional about it, that’s okay; people who say that they would have listened if you hadn’t gotten so “emotional” are people who were looking for reasons not to hear your opinion anyway. If these conversations are not getting anywhere and are draining you, there is nothing wrong with a strategic subject change. They may not lead anywhere, but expressing your view is often more gratifying than simply keeping your mouth shut. Of course, if through these conversations, you find that keeping your mouth shut is a better strategy for now, that’s okay, too.

And if your friend asks you point-blank what you would do if you were in her situation, you don’t need to hide what you feel (though if it is “I would dump that racist monster in 0.3 seconds,” you might want to soften that a bit). The important distinction here is that she asked. Our friends don’t need our judgment, but they deserve our honesty. Strive for nonjudgmental but truthful whenever your friend needs your advice and you are far more likely to get out of the conversation with their mind opened and your friendship intact. Just remember that at the end of the day, whether they listen to you or not, the bigger concern here is what you are doing for your own mental health in the face of tension. If you are behaving in a way that is respectful to your friends and your own needs, you can’t go wrong.

XOXO,
Ginzo

How to Cope With Anger

I have recently made it my mission to get in touch with the emotion that makes me the most uncomfortable: anger. All my life, I have made it a habit to stifle anger. I hate confrontation so much that I thought that keeping anger inside was the way to deal with it, and it turns out, it totally was! HAHA just kidding, it emotionally exhausted me so much that I physically felt tired. I had to accept that anger, like any emotion, serves a purpose, and that pretending it isn’t there doesn’t make it go away.

The Wisdom of the Five Messengers

A few years ago, my therapist gave me a copy of the book “The Wisdom of the Five Messengers” by Kerry Paul Altman, and it really resonated with me. It’s about the purpose of emotions: to bring our attention to what we need to change in our lives. Internalized misconceptions stop us from really hearing what our emotions are guiding us to do, but even when we choose to ignore them, they come out in other ways, physically, mentally, and emotionally. According to Dr. Altman, the key to living a healthy life is to let go of these preconceived notions about our feelings, stop ignoring them, and accept them for the important role they play in our lives. There are no “good” or “bad” emotions; each of the five outlined in the book (anger, sadness, happiness, fear, and love) is an essential part of being a human.

Dr. Altman refers to anger as “the messenger of injustice” (this will likely immediately speak to anyone who is angry about the new administration). When we are angry, it is because we feel wronged. We feel betrayed, whether it’s by another person, the world, or ourselves. Anger gets a bad rap because it is associated with aggression, so we are taught to ignore and avoid it. However, anger is different than aggression; anger is a feeling, and aggression is a behavior. Anger doesn’t need to be managed; aggression does. Anger needs to be heard, because anger is essential to getting shit done. Anger is why any social movement ever started. As Audre Lorde said in her well-worth-the-read essay “The Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism,” when anger is “[f]ocused with precision it can become a powerful source of energy serving progress and change.” We need anger on some level to motivate us to address injustices of all kinds, from large scale societal injustices such as racism, to minor frustrations in our personal lives. When we recognize and accept our anger, it enables us to see the options we have to deal with it. We can repress anger and let it manifest as passive-aggressive behavior, headaches, or panic attacks, or we can face it head on and use it to address what is unfair in our lives.

Take a Beat

For many people, the trouble with anger is that it makes them say hurtful things. I am not generally one to respond immediately with anger, mostly because I have spent so much time out of touch with it. However, this hasn’t stopped me from spewing some toxic sentiments about the source of my anger later on to close confidants. I won’t post them here for public record, but my close friends reading this could probably tell you exactly what I said. Anger can be blinding, so it is wise to take a step back and unpack it before you address it. Give yourself the time and space to compose your thoughts if you want your words to carry the right impact. In the heat of the moment, it is easy for others to dismiss you as “too emotional.” Don’t give them this satisfaction by taking time to compose your thoughts and say exactly what you mean, how you mean it. Whether you need to take ten seconds to breathe deeply before you respond or you need several days, take the time you need, do the work, and process your anger.

Express It

I am pretty good at detecting when I need some room to think when I am feeling heated, but I am not great at following through later. My natural inclination is to work through my anger on my own and then let it slide when it comes to actually expressing it out loud. Because of my fear of confrontation, I have chickened out on this step again and again. I used to just hate the idea of “burdening” others with my feelings and making them feel bad for making me angry because does it really matter if I am not that angry anymore? Yes, it does. Your emotions are not a burden to other people. When you tell people how you really feel, how they made you feel, you are showing them respect. You demonstrate that you think enough of them to be honest with them. Imagine being in their position: if someone was mad at you, would you rather they tell you or hold it in the form of a grudge forever? Go ahead and tell them what’s on your mind.

Do Something About It

In the case of an argument, expressing how you feel may be all you need to move past it. However, there are many sources of anger within our lives, and many times, a conversation is either not possible or is not going to resolve the problem. If you are stuck in a cycle of endless road rage during your commute, for example, it might be cathartic to talk to your friends and family or journal about it, but that’s not going to address the problem head on. This is where it’s important to identify actions you can take to cope with your anger. In the case of road rage, look into alternative methods of commuting, like a more scenic and less populated route, or taking the bus instead of driving. Make a list of all your options for coping with whatever is making you angry, and choose what to do with this invigorating emotion.

Forgive

Anger serves an important purpose, but it is not meant to held onto for the rest of your life. Once you have expressed it and done something about it, it should be easier to forgive the source of your anger, which is important for your own well-being. However, this may be easier said than done in many cases, particularly in the face of oppression. You don’t need to forgive your oppressors, but find forgiveness where you can so you can heal. Forgive yourself for not being able to do more. Forgive those who don’t know better (and try to educate them). Forgive the world for its passive silence. When your anger is no longer serving you, it’s time to let it go. There is plenty more productive anger in your future.

Feel Gratitude

Once you have accomplished everything you can with your anger and let it go, it’s time to turn your attention elsewhere. This is a great opportunity to indulge in some gratitude. Think about the things in your life that don’t make you angry, but fill you with feelings of contentment, security, and awe. Tell a friend what they mean to you. Spend time in a place that gives you peace. Thank yourself for doing the work necessary to process anger. Anger is not an easy emotion, but it is one that can bring much to be grateful for into your life if you let it.

Here’s hoping your journey towards healthy anger is a smooth one. If it isn’t, feel free to reach out to me for more advice! I’m here for you.

Ginzo