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

How Do I Not Hate Myself For Having Unprotected Sex?

Hey Ginzo,

I did something stupid last week and I am flipping out. Long story short I ended up hooking up with a stranger. The problem? We didn’t use protection. I know I am an idiot. So I am just really freaking out because even though there is no risk of pregnancy I have absolutely no idea whether or not this person had an STD. Like what if I just gave myself HIV? I am so mad at myself and embarrassed that I haven’t been able to tell anyone about it. I just feel so stupid because I don’t even have a way to contact this person. I didn’t want to use anything in the moment but now I realize THAT IS SO STUPID. I guess how do I live with myself while I wait out the time it takes to show up on tests?

I’ve Made a Huge Mistake

Dear I’ve Made a Huge Mistake,

First of all, solid Arrested Development reference. Second of all, please be kinder to yourself.

You made a mistake. You had a moment of poor judgment, and now you know that in the future, using protection, whether a condom, internal condom, or dental dam (for oral sex), is a must not only for your health but for your peace of mind. Remember this level of anxiety for the future so when you are swept up in the moment, you can pause and remember how nerve-wracking an experience it was. Learn from this that whether you are having sex with a stranger or someone you know well, you need to have protection on hand to prevent yourself from getting lost in the moment again.

Even if you do have an STI now, this doesn’t make you less smart, worthy, sexy, or deserving of love.

That being said, stop beating yourself up about it. You made a mistake, a mistake that is probably more common than you think. People have unprotected sex a lot; sometimes they contract STIs, sometimes they don’t. This does not change their value as a person. Even if you do have an STI now, this doesn’t make you less smart, worthy, sexy, or deserving of love. There is a terrible stigma in this country around having an STI, yet one in four people have one. This means that right now, you know someone (probably several someones) who has had or does have an STI. They haven’t turned into monsters or piles of human waste because of their STI; you probably don’t even know that they have one. They go on their daily lives, going to school, going to work, having relationships, eating tasty brunches, riding bikes, laughing at funny movies, and generally doing everything everyone else does. Regardless of the results of your tests, you do not have to worry that it is the end of your happiness or chance at a healthy sex life.

Also, it’s normal to worry about other people judging us when we make a mistake. But I think hiding in shame with this weight on your heart is doing more harm than good. Reach out to a friend who you consider nonjudgmental and supportive to talk to them about your concerns. Emotional support will do wonders for anxiety, and feeling the unwavering love of a good friend will help you not be so hard on yourself. So get tested, keep condoms on you, and don’t stop loving yourself, regardless of your results!

XOXO,
Ginzo

P.S. Though it sounds like you may have already researched this, I just wanted to link the information in case anyone who has stumbled upon this needs the information: here is an infographic from STDchecker.com that outlines how long after unprotected sex you should get tested for specific STIs. If you need to find free testing, you can visit https://gettested.cdc.gov/ to find a clinic near you.

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

How Do I Set Boundaries With My Family and Friends?

I’m not sure how to start one of these! Ok, so it seems like my friends and family only treat me like a commodity. Sometimes I feel like I’m an old doll put on the Shelf. Then when someone can use me for a purpose that’s when I’m taken off the shelf. It’s only when I can be used do I feel like I’m an important person to them. It really hurts me. I’m not sure what to do about it. I don’t know if I should talk to them or find other ways of setting boundaries. Advice would be helpful. Thanks!

Sarah

Dear Sarah,

I’m sorry to hear that you are feeling used and hurt. This is a feeling I can relate to because I’m a chronic people pleaser, and it has taken a lot of self-reflection and therapy to move away from the need to always please others and put myself first instead. In the worst of my people-pleasing days, I would do anything that was asked of me, and I never expressed my own needs. As a result, people walked all over me and I was stewing with a heart full of resentment. I had to change my self-perception and start clearly communicating expectations, not only for my own mental health, but to save these relationships. It’s something that I still struggle with, but I have turned a corner and am the best at expressing my emotions and needs than I ever have been, and my relationships and personal happiness have been reaping the benefits.

It could be that you have surrounded yourself with a bunch of users, but my rule for any scenario when it seems like everyone is treating you in a certain way is to look at what is in common in all these relationships: you. What is more likely than them being a bunch of dill holes is that your friends and family treat you this way because you haven’t communicated that it hurts you. Perhaps you are that friend who will always let someone rant about their day with no expectation of them returning the favor. People tend to think these types of friends have an endless supply of kindness and generosity for them, or more realistically, they don’t think about their feelings at all. This doesn’t mean they are any more self-involved than the general populace. Keep in mind that everyone is walking around in their own world, consumed with whatever is going on in their lives. It takes perceptive and sensitive people who are genuinely interested in your inner world to put themselves in your shoes, and even these people are caught up in their own stuff. You cannot expect anyone to read your mind; you have to clearly communicate your needs and you have to tell them when they hurt you.

Vocalizing these feelings can release you from the burden of them. I suggest you do talk to some of your friends and family about how you have been feeling, but keep a couple of things in mind. Some people will react better to this conversation than others. Some will get defensive, and some will try to minimize your feelings to make themselves feel better about hurting you. Others might be horrified that they have made you feel this way and feel very guilty about it, which, if you are like me, may make you feel terrible, too. There are some people who are going to be receptive to this conversation and will immediately take steps to ease this burden on you, but others are not going to be that emotionally intelligent. So yes, have conversations about it with the people you can trust to listen nonjudgmentally and validate your feelings, but with the people who aren’t going to be so kind, you can skip it if it is going to be more trouble than it’s worth. For both of these groups, however, you will have to actively set boundaries.

The first step in setting boundaries is to define them. You know what certain people always ask of you, so reflect on which of these things makes you feel used and drained, which you don’t mind doing so much, and which you actually enjoy. Know where your limits are so you can make them very clear. I would suggest you journal at this topic. Not only this is a great way to process emotions, it will also serve as a reminder of why you need to set these boundaries, which will be helpful when you are tired and feel like it would be easier to just give in. Write down certain go-to phrases for setting boundaries that specifically apply to scenarios in which you feel used. Some that have worked for me in the past:

“That isn’t convenient for me.”
“Now is not the right time.”
“I don’t feel comfortable doing that.”
“I can’t make that a priority.”
“I am not the right person for that; please ask someone else.”

The trick is to remain strong and always keep in mind why you are doing this. You might find that a mantra you can return to again and again will help you keep your conviction. If you are a visual person, you might write down an empowering phrase on a post-it note next to your mirror. Continuing to journal can help you keep in touch with your emotions through this process, and allow you to see where you have improved and where you still need work. Try anything you can do to help you remember that this is worth it. YOU are worth it.

There will be people who truly are using you for your generous nature, and once you start putting up boundaries, they may disappear from your life. This can hurt, but take this as the blessing that it is; you don’t need them. The added bonus is that you will find out which people truly love, care for, and respect you. These are the people who are on your team. Hold them close and appreciate them for the valuable role they play in your life. Foster these relationships by yes, helping them when they need it and you have the emotional resources, but also asking for their help. Keep these relationships as balanced as you can by leaning on them as much as they lean on you; you can trust the people who really care to be quite content with this arrangement.

It won’t be an easy journey, but it will be worth it. Keep your head up and give yourself a pat on the back for doing some important emotional work. Best of luck!

Ginzo

10 Self-Care Tips (That Don’t Involve A Bubble Bath)

Have you guys ever noticed how articles about self-care always tell you to take a bubble bath? Don’t get me wrong; I love baths. I pretty much always have bath bombs from Lush on deck, and when I don’t, I will drive an hour to buy one. I have also had several epiphanies about myself while sitting in baths, so I am not about to belittle the value of some good ole self-reflection in the tub. But self-care is about so much more than bubble baths, and the heavy emphasis on pampering yourself makes self-care seem like indulgence, which people use to justify either not taking care of themselves or participating in some unhealthy behaviors and calling it “self-care.”

Self-care is about CARING for yourself, the way you care for a child. Caring for a child is not all about taking them to the circus and giving them all of the ice cream their heart desires; it’s also about making sure that they are fed and clothed and brush their teeth and get to bed on time, plus loving them and giving them a safe space to develop and grow. Just the way you would care for a child, you need to care for yourself. So to help you in your self-care efforts, I have compiled a list of self-care tips that don’t involve a bubble bath (though tbh all this talk about baths is just making me want to take one when I’m done writing this).

Have a bedtime ritual

If you’re anything like me, you have nights when you just crawl right into bed without doing anything beforehand because why bother, we’re all going to die anyway, right? Existentialism aside, having a bedtime ritual is extremely beneficial to your sleep hygiene and ergo, your life. Rituals trigger our brains to release the hormones we associate with these particular actions; so for bedtime rituals, our brains release melatonin, the sleep hormone. Basically, having a bedtime ritual conditions you to be sleepy at bedtime, making it so much easier to fall asleep. Sleep is important for your mental and physical health, so you should prioritize it.

Apply to a new job

This tip applies specifically to y’all who hate their jobs, or feel complacent in their jobs, or just feel complacent in general. Even if it leads nowhere, applying to another job allows you to envision a different future. Don’t resign yourself to live in an existence you hate. This can apply even beyond your job. Imagine your life beyond what limits you, whether that’s your job, your apartment, your friends, or your relationship. In short, whatever it is that is making you unhappy, take steps to change it: apply for a new job, look for a new place, make new friends, and dump his ass.

Go to the dentist

I’m sure there are people out there who are extremely diligent about going to the dentist; congratulations on being responsible. I, on the other hand, will put off going to the dentist as long as humanly possible, and then endlessly worry about them judging my tartar build up and live in an anxious ball until my appointment. Maybe for you, this is not going to the dentist, but going to the eye doctor, gynecologist, or other medical appointment. Regardless of what type of doctor, just go. It’s better than living in fear of all of the terrible diseases you think you have but probably don’t, and if you do, you need to, you know, see a doctor.

Prioritize plans with yourself

If you’re anything like me, you are intimately familiar with this scenario: someone asks you to do something, and you don’t really want to do it because you had been planning to curl up in bed and eat grapes and watch reality television, but that doesn’t really count as plans so you say “yes” anyway. Eff that. It doesn’t matter if all you did was make plans with yourself, you already have plans. Don’t allow yourself to be guilted into going to your sister’s boyfriend’s poetry reading, either by your sister or by your own inner critic.

Clean and decorate

In moments when it felt like my life was completely out of my control, cleaning has been one of the most cathartic actions I have taken. When you can’t control your life, you can still control your environment. I especially like cleaning the kitchen. There is something about a clean kitchen that makes me feel so calm. I also love when my bedroom is all cozy and neat and Instagrammable (read: fairy lights, patterned quilts, and tapestries). Cleaning is not only good for your mood, but for your cognition. When I go into slob mode and make Clothes Mountain in my closet, it is so stressful getting dressed in the morning. In contrast, when I have hung and sorted all of my clothes according to style and color, I don’t start my day with any clothes-related anxiety (I will find something else to worry about instead).

Make yourself a meal

It’s so easy to fall into the same pattern of eating out, grabbing whatever is convenient, but there is something important in the act of cooking for yourself. Food is a way that many people choose to show love (i.e. me/my mom/my sister/probably your grandma/the coworker who always brings in baked goods). Why not show yourself that same kind of love? Make yourself a meal that nourishes you physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Sounds too lofty? Just make something that tastes delicious. Make grandma proud.

Play with an animal

At my college, they would have pet therapy day before finals to help stressed out students. This is because SCIENCE which tells us that animals have a calming effect on humans. Keep your blood pressure low by petting, playing with, or holding an animal, whether it is your pet, your friend’s, or some pups at the Humane Society.

Have a conversation with yourself

It might be hard for you to be kind to yourself. If it is, you are not alone. I have to actively combat negative and persistent thoughts of self-doubt on a daily basis, so I get it. Something that helps me sometimes when I am getting really down is to add some distance. I have a conversation with myself as though I am one of my close friends and I can approach the situation with far more kindness and love. When I have a feeling, I might say out loud, “I feel so ______ when _____ happens,” and I respond as though it was my friend who expressed this thought. Put a little distance between yourself and your feelings, and you may be surprised how much easier it is to accept them and move on.

Unplug

Have you ever felt like social media is a drug that is slowly sucking your time and soul so you close the Facebook app in disgust and swear you won’t check it till tomorrow but then you check it again almost immediately after because what if something has changed in the last 20 seconds? Whether your social media addiction is as persistent as mine or you have a better grip on it but still feel the effects of information overload, it’s healthy to unplug once and awhile. You might try charging your phone on the other side of the room when you sleep, deleting some apps off your phone so you can’t check them as regularly, or deactivating an account or two. Some people get nervous at the idea of leaving their phone at home for a few hours because what if this is the one time there is an emergency? I get that because I am also a worrier; that being said, it can be very refreshing to leave your phone at home for an hour or two while you go for a run or go spend some face-to-face time with a friend, and you will probably come home to only a few promotional emails or no notifications at all, making you wonder why you own a smartphone at all.

Invest in people who invest in you

When I was younger, I spent way too much time on people who gave little in return. Now, I spend more time nurturing relationships with people who want to nurture relationships with me. The people you invest in are the people who root for you, who ask how you are and want to know the answer, and who you unquestionably know care about you. Invest in them by returning the favor; support them, think about them, and let them know however you do that best, whether it is verbally, written, or through acts of kindness. On the flip side, let go of (or if you can’t, distance yourself from) people who only care about what you can give them, who never show any curiosity about you and your world, and who leave you feeling depleted and used. Care for yourself enough to know that you deserve better.

Happy Wellness Wednesday, y’all! Go out and care for yourselves!

Ginzo