Daniel Mallory Ortberg is online weekly to chat live with readers. Here’s an edited transcript of this week’s chat.
Q. Coming clean to my doc: I have generalized anxiety disorder. I used to take daily medication but was experiencing a lot of unpleasant side effects, so two years ago my doctor took me off all medication. It was rough, but thanks to therapy I’m doing OK now. However, since I went off the daily stuff I have been taking clonazepam, which is not and has never been prescribed to me. My friend has a prescription for more than she uses and gives me her extra pills. I take one when I’m having a particularly rough anxiety day, about once a month. This has worked out really well. I had a drinking problem but I’ve been alcohol-free for seven months now, which I don’t think would have been possible if I didn’t have clonazepam to get me through the worst days. I would like to tell my doctor I’m taking it in case he ever prescribes me something that could interact with it, and ideally to get a prescription of my own, but I don’t know how to approach this conversation. I realize that taking nonprescribed medication is illegal and usually unwise, and I assume doctors do not like this sort of thing. How can I broach this?
A: For what it’s worth, I am glad that you’ve found something that’s helped you with periodic panic attacks, and I also want to offer a warning that benzodiazepines have a fairly high addiction potential. Since you’re still in fairly early days of recovery from your drinking problem, I’m glad you’re looking for ways to loop in your doctor and make sure you have some accountability—and a reliable source!—about where, when, and how often you get your meds.
I think the best way to broach this is to ask: “I’m doing a lot better now that I’m off my daily medication, and the side effects have worn off, but I still have pretty intense short-term anxiety about once a month or so. Is there anything you can prescribe me that’s intended for short-term, occasional relief from anxiety?” You can mention that you’ve heard good things about this particular drug from a friend, and ask your doctor if he’s aware of any potential downsides or interactions you should be aware of, etc. I’d also encourage you to let your doctor know that you’ve stopped drinking alcohol and that you’re feeling good about this decision so he can update your medical records.
Q. Angry daughter: Our daughter got recently engaged to her long-term boyfriend on a trip overseas. We found out about it on social media. That stung a bit. My husband got upset that my daughter’s fiancé wasn’t “respectful” enough to seek his blessing. Only he put his foot in his mouth and framed it as “permission” when our daughter and her fiancé visited. Our daughter hit the roof at that word and proceeded to tell her father she hadn’t needed him since she turned 18. She wasn’t a possession to be bartered between two men. My husband and my daughter are very much alike and their fight spiraled out of control until my daughter ran out of the house and screamed to not expect a wedding invitation. Her father yelled from the driveway to not crawl back and expect him to open up his checkbook.
Right now, I am the only one either one will talk to. This is ridiculous and I told both of them as much. Neither will budge or apologize. I have tried not to get in the middle and be a messenger between them, but I feel trapped into doing so since everyone else in our families is excited about the engagement. At least my daughter and husband have enough sense not to air their dirty laundry in public. What do I do? What do I tell people? How do I get my mule of a daughter and my fathead husband to talk to each other?
A: I’m not sure I agree that it’s ridiculous of your daughter to object to hearing her father say, “Your fiancé should have asked me for permission to marry you,” especially since it sounds like she’s objected to the way he sees and treats her for years. Yes, she could have probably found a more even-tempered way to respond in the moment, but on the whole, I’m not inclined to put your husband and daughter in the same category of either stubborn or ridiculous. I think your daughter is probably wise not to invite him to the wedding, and she may find herself in the difficult position of not being able to invite you, either. I think your daughter is right to consider her father’s expectations unreasonable and to keep him at arm’s length as a result. I can understand that this is sad and possibly embarrassing, but the real question here isn’t “How do I force my husband and daughter to get along despite real differences of opinion about whose permission is necessary in order for her to get married?” It’s “How many other times has my husband tried to control or discipline our daughter for trying to establish reasonable adult independence, and why have I been going along with it?” I hope your daughter has a wonderful, relatively stress-free wedding. That may mean neither you nor your husband get an invitation. I don’t think your daughter is to blame for that.
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Q. Guilt over stealing: I’ve been in pretty dire straits financially over the past few years. I had to give up a career I loved (and made good money at) due to health problems, and my health insurance costs a fortune. I have an OK job now and am looking for a better one, but the situation has me so far behind that I am sick with worry over being able to pay rent and bills, whether I’ll be able to fix my damaged credit, etc. Yesterday I visited my grandparent and I stole a few pieces of plain yet valuable jewelry. The worst part is, I kind of saw ahead of time that the visit would be an opportunity and I just did it. I don’t think it will be missed (which I know is really besides the point). This money will get me out of such a bind, and were I not so desperate with nowhere to turn, I would not have done it. I feel awful and shameful. I just don’t know how to reconcile those feelings against being this desperate for money. The fact that tons of other people are out there struggling as much and even worse than I am makes me feel even worse. I just can’t believe things have gotten this bad.
A: I’m so sorry you’ve been in such an unstable, frightening situation for the last few years. If you can see your way toward returning the jewelry, confessing to having taken it in the first place, talking to your grandparent about how much you’ve been struggling, and asking for help, I think you should do so. Not only because I think it will relieve some of your internal suffering, but because it sounds like you’ve been trying to keep this to yourself for a really long time. If you can’t bring yourself to do that, can you at least consider returning the jewelry quietly and asking for help without drawing attention to having taken it in the first place? That’s an option that’s still available to you, and it might feel more achievable than the first option.
My worry is that if you keep this jewelry, one of two things will happen: You’ll start to get out of your financial jam, but you’ll continue to feel eaten up by shame and eventually someone will notice that the jewelry’s missing, and you’ll agonize watching your grandparent search for it and your relatives possibly gossip (maybe even file a police report). Or if this short-term influx of cash doesn’t help in the long run and you find yourself needing money again, you’ll be faced with the prospect of stealing from your relatives again, both increasing your self-recrimination and the odds that you’ll get caught.
If you still don’t think you’re going to say anything, then here’s my last suggestion: Pawn the jewelry and hope to someday buy it back and return it when you’re in better shape. I hope you find a higher-paying job soon, but even more than that, I hope you find ways to talk to the people in your life about your fear and desperation so that you’re less alone when you have to make difficult, frightening decisions.
Q. Overlooked daughter: My in-laws, especially my mother in-law, disliked that my husband married me. I am not of the same religious or racial background as my husband. We always hoped that they would come around. The birth of our daughter killed that hope. My in-laws came and stayed for two hours before leaving; my mother-in-law didn’t even hold her granddaughter. They sent a gift for her birthday but never called or inquired about our daughter without my husband prompting. She is 3 now and has seen her grandparents three times. I would be resigned to this, but I am currently pregnant with a boy. My in-laws are over the moon. My mother-in-law wants to be my friend on Facebook to keep up with baby news. My father-in-law has sent money to redo the nursery. They want to visit. My husband wants to take it as a good sign. I am enraged. If our daughter wasn’t good enough, they don’t get to start pretending to be good grandparents because they got a grandson. I don’t want that kind of poison around my daughter or my son. My husband is pleading with me to see this in a “kinder light.” I am not ready to erase the past and I don’t want them here when I have the baby. How do I thread this needle?
A: “I would like very much to look at this in a kinder light. I’m asking this question with genuine interest and not with sarcasm: Do you believe that your parents regret the way they’ve treated our daughter? And do you see any signs from them that they’re as interested in getting to know her as they are in spending money on our son? Because I haven’t yet seen or heard anything from them to suggest that, and I’m not willing to let her grow up seeing her grandparents shower money and affection on her baby brother, just because he’s a boy, while ignoring her. I’m willing to talk about the possibility of a visit, but I want the two of us to establish some reasonable boundaries about how they treat both of our kids before we start accepting their money or setting up regular contact.”
Q. Would-be friendly divorcée: I’m a 35-year-old trans woman who’s early in transition. I came out to my then-wife last year, and we worked hard to preserve our marriage. We went to couples counseling and both found therapists of our own. However, she decided that she didn’t want to stay married. This is fine. Many marriages end when someone transitions. However, she did some things I’m having trouble forgiving: She outed me to her family, and she told me she didn’t want to be seen with me in public. Obviously, both these things stung (to say the least). However, I find myself willing to rebuild our friendship (despite my friends saying I should not). Two questions: First, should I? And second, if so, how?
A: Has your ex-wife expressed any interest in rebuilding your friendship? You can’t rebuild something without full participation on both sides. And I don’t think you should rush to forgive her for something that she (apparently) hasn’t apologized for or taken back. Outing you and saying “I don’t want to be seen with you in public” are seriously cruel and dehumanizing acts. If you choose in time to forgive her (even without her asking you to) for your own peace of mind, that’s one thing, but I don’t think you can trust her as a friend or anything else unless and until she offers a sincere apology and a real attempt to make amends. You don’t say why you find yourself willing to be friends with her again. I imagine it has something to do with the long history you two have shared and the real pain of losing someone early in transition—I’ve also experienced the desire to explain away hurt, to be as chill as possible, to “not mind” anything, because I was so afraid of losing love. But I don’t think you will find love, or peace, or kindness, or trust, or acceptance with your ex-wife right now. Maybe someday the two of you can be friends. You don’t have to foreclose that possibility, and you can leave the door open for a conversation after another couple of years.
But give yourself time. Don’t rush to forgive her for something she isn’t sorry for, and don’t rush to be the forgiving, impossible-to-offend trans person because you’re worried you don’t deserve to transition and set your own boundaries too. I may be reading too much of my own situation into yours here, of course, so feel free to ignore this last part. But I think sometimes we can think of ourselves as being lucky to “get away” with transitioning without losing everyone in our lives, and we feel like it’s our subsequent duty to be as easygoing and nonchalant as possible, to “make up for” the fact that we’ve transitioned. Spend a little time with your other friends. Focus on taking care of yourself after a pretty tumultuous year and a very fresh divorce. Most couples who divorce, even if they end up friends eventually, don’t become friends right away.
I’ll answer your second question about how to rebuild a friendship with your wife, if you ever do, even though I don’t think you should try to right now. I think the first step would have to be asking yourself: “How do I deserve to be treated by my friends? What’s a baseline level of respect I expect from everyone I’m close with? Do I trust her to respect my boundaries, to not make decisions about whom I come out to, to treat me like a human being in public?” If you don’t think she can give you that, then no matter how much old affection and warmth you may have for her, I don’t think she can ever truly be your friend.
Q. Bad breakup: Marty is a single mother. While we were dating, her roommate left six months into their lease. I moved in. It was too fast, too soon. We ended up breaking up three months later. I felt it was my fault, so I told Marty I would cover the three months until her lease was up and then she could move out. I was an idiot. I went by to drop off some of her kids’ stuff that got mixed in with mine. Marty was by her car and sticking her tongue down the throat of our neighbor. I snapped a pic and texted it to the guy and asked him to be truthful with me. He confessed he had been sleeping with Marty during the last month we were together. I freaked out. I canceled the rent check. I had never been on the lease, so I was safe. Marty ended up getting evicted. We had some ugly back-and-forths on social media, and I blocked her for the sake of my mental health. Marty was the first serious relationship I’d had in years. I went to an ugly place; after crawling out I started to think about Marty’s kids. I had promised to stay in touch because they were pretty starved for attention. I paid for dance classes and Spanish tutors when I was with Marty. One of their birthdays is coming up. I was thinking of giving money to a friend of a friend and getting them something nice. I don’t want credit and I know Marty will not want anything to do with me, but I don’t know if this is a good thing to do after what went down. Can you help me?
A: This is not a good idea. Getting these kids a birthday present after you made sure their mother got evicted is not going to make up for the fact that you got their mother evicted. Which, of course, meant that these little children got evicted too. I’m sorry you were cheated on. That really sucks. But your decision to lash out after your relationship ended badly didn’t just affect your ex but her kids, and you can’t make up for that guilt now by trying to offer them an anonymous trifle. I think the best and wisest course of action is for you to stay away from this family entirely; I don’t think you can trust yourself to help out these kids without eventually snapping and trying to punish their mother again.
Your hurt and sense of betrayal when you found out your girlfriend was cheating on you was understandable. Your snap decision to punish her financially ensured that her kids would face possible homelessness, and I think you should invest your time and money in therapy to make sure you can find better alternatives to going to that “ugly place” again in the future when you’re upset.
Q. An old co-worker I don’t like bought me a shirt. What should I do? A former co-worker, who is now a social media acquaintance, thinks we’re close friends—and it’s becoming a problem. I just don’t like this person and would not have associated with her had we not worked together. Over the past few years, she has made an obvious effort to develop a close friendship, not picking up on any of my obvious social cues that I am not interested. Recently, she sent me a message on social media saying that while she was shopping she found a shirt that was “perfect for me,” bought it, and wants me to come pick it up. I think this is manipulative and weird, and I am mad that I now apparently have to hang out with her in order to pick up this unwanted gift.
My friends say that she is acting like a stalker and I should ghost her, but I think she probably has a good heart and that ghosting her would be inhumane. At the same time, she has been manipulative before, and I live in a large, traffic-filled city that makes hanging out time-consuming and difficult. Prudie, I really don’t like this person. Should I suck it up and see her, accept the shirt, pretend to be happy and gracious, and then never talk to her again? Should I just not respond? Is there any polite way to say that I don’t want the shirt or her friendship? I fear that if I accept the shirt, the floodgates will open.
A: You don’t have to ghost someone when saying “No” is a viable option. The idea that you can go accept this gift from her and then never talk to her again strikes me as naïve at best. You need to set the boundary now, not give in to her and then try to set it later. Tell her: “That’s kind of you, but I’m not looking for new clothes right now, so I’m afraid I can’t accept it. I hope you can find a good home for the shirt.” You’re absolutely right to worry that if you accept this gift from her, she’ll take it as a sign that you two are finally becoming good friends. So don’t accept the gift. If she continues to press for the two of you to hang out even after you decline her offer, I think it’s time to say, “I’m sorry, but I’m not available to get together, so I’d appreciate it if you’d stop asking me.” That might sound terrifying if you haven’t really been straightforward with an unwanted friend before, but it’s a lot easier than dodging her messages forever and, I think, kinder than ghosting. (That said, once you’ve said “No” to the shirt, if you decide to stop replying to her afterward, I think you’re on slightly stronger footing.)
Q. Re: Coming clean to my doc: Ack, no, don’t try to manipulate your doctor into prescribing that particular med by “suggesting” that a friend had good experiences with it. It’s better to come clean. He isn’t going to call the police on you, and if he is halfway decent, he won’t shame you, either. Why is it better? Because if you just try to hint at getting this prescription, what happens if he doesn’t choose to prescribe it? Go to another doctor and hint at them too? Tell the truth, and then the doctor can decide whether to prescribe it to you or have a serious discussion about why he can’t. He can then work with you to find an equally good or a better substitute. Seriously, don’t lie! Doctors deal with these things all the time!
I had a somewhat similar experience. I stopped taking a cholesterol medication because I couldn’t afford it, but I was afraid to tell my doctor. When he looked at my bloodwork numbers, he couldn’t figure out why they were so terrible. I finally told him that I hadn’t been taking the medicine and fully expected him to chastise me. He exclaimed “Thank goodness!” because that explained the bad numbers. He told me never to be afraid to tell him something like that because he can’t give good care if he doesn’t know everything. Moral of the story: Don’t keep important information from your doctor. It only makes their job harder.
A: I’m kind of torn here! Obviously, in an ideal world, all patients could be totally honest with their medical providers and expect at the very least a practical harm-reduction strategy in return. But there’s a fair amount of stigma about addiction and related issues when it comes to the medical community, and I don’t want to put the letter writer in a position where they disclose something that means their doctor starts dismissing all of their symptoms and needs as “drug-seeking.” Nor do I think it’s necessarily lying to decline to share occasional drug use with a doctor one doesn’t yet have a clear sense of. (Or rather, I’m comfortable with the idea of a patient lying by omission if she has reason to fear they’ll stop receiving thorough treatment.) That said, if the doctor has otherwise been reasonable, a good listener, open-minded, etc., I think being totally clear about what meds they have and haven’t taken in the past seven months would be a good idea. I’m really glad your own doctor was understanding and nonjudgmental. And I certainly don’t want to imply that all doctors are going to be judgmental and dismissive by-the-book-ers. I just want to weigh a number of competing interests here.
Q. Re: Coming clean to my doc: Come clean to your doc about the benzos. Tell him that in a pinch you took your friend’s, that you have done so X times since, and that it works well for you. Don’t lie about substance use to your doctor, particularly since you’ve had problems in the past.
When I made a similar confession to my doctor, she shrugged, sighed, and, said “Most people do that the first time.” She gave me a small prescription with no refill and it lasted a year. Like many people, just knowing I can make the anxiety stop can make it stop.
Work with your doctor. You’re partners.
A: Most of the letters coming in about this topic have the same advice, so I think it’s time to admit that I’m outnumbered and probably unnecessarily paranoid over what sounds like a comparatively mild case of off-label use that your doctor should know about. Talk to your doctor!
Daniel Mallory Ortberg: Thanks for the push on the doctor question, everyone! I’ll see you all next week.
From Care and Feeding
Q. My 8-year-old won’t stop kissing girls: My darling, lovely 8-year-old son has discovered girls in a big way and has begun smooching them. Over the summer, he had several instances of being called out in camp for kissing girls. This past weekend, his dad told me he caught him kissing a girl on the playground. He has kissed girls his age and younger, all quick pecks on the lips.
I want him to have clear ideas about consent and boundaries and appropriate behavior. At the same time, wanting to kiss someone you like is very normal and natural and beautiful, and I don’t want him to feel shame for discovering the pleasure of kissing. Where do I go here? Read more.
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