That’s Not How This Works Gilmore Girls

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I’m a fan of Gilmore Girls. I started watching it back when it was still coming out, when I was just a little junior high girl who thought it was maybe an accurate representation of what grown up life was like (lol). So I was pretty excited for the new mini-series, and devoured it in a single day. Like most reboots, there’s good and bad to it, but I want to focus specifically on something that as an adult with more experience I now KNOW is not how the world works. Not even a little bit, not at all.

This mini-series of Gilmore Girls is the first time that the show portrays therapy (despite the fact that basically every character ever seen could have used a heaping helping of it from the opening sequence). I am pretty gunshy of media representations of therapy no matter what, but I have to say that I was particularly disappointed in this one because it a. had the potential to show a really positive therapy experience to a great number of people and b. broke some very fundamental rules of therapy without a thought, creating a misleading portrayal of therapy that (I think) could easily scare young viewers or viewers with no experience in therapy away from pursuing help if they have a mental illness or are simply struggling.

The first thing that concerned me was that we saw multiple therapy sessions, and never once did the therapist offer any actual suggestions of what Emily and Lorelai could do to repair their relationship, or of skills that Lorelai could use in her own life. Nearly every time we saw her she just smiled and nodded or said that time was up. The sessions between Emily and Lorelai appeared to consist of sitting in silence for an hour. Now I know that it’s not unheard of for clients to be reticent, and for there to be a lot of silence, but most therapists will do more than just sit there. They ask questions. They suggest interpretations of different events. They give actual concrete ideas of how to handle your emotions and things to do so that your emotions start to feel better. I’ve found it a common misunderstanding that going to therapy is just paying someone to listen to you. Sure, that’s part of it, but that greatly underestimates all the work that a therapist actually does.

I’m sure there are therapists out there who don’t do much, but if you find a half decent one, they will be doing actual WORK. They will help you create images to understand your emotions better. They will help you draw connections between different events in your life and your current behaviors. They will give you strategies for dealing with other people. They will challenge different beliefs that you have which might be leading to unhappiness. They will give suggestions of activities, mantras, exercises, etc. that can help emotions feel less powerful and can calm you. The conviction that therapy is “just talking” is a huge part of the reason people are resistant to it. Why would you waste your time doing that when you can do it with friends or family? But therapy, while it is talk based, is about learning. It teaches you what you’re supposed to actually do outside of therapy. This therapist was the WORST portrayal of a therapist that doesn’t do anything.

Beyond that, when Lorelai and Emily actually did say things, they out and out fought and insulted each other. They were passive aggressive and cruel. No self-respecting therapist would let those behaviors go unchallenged. The point of therapy for any relationship is to create a safer space where nasty behavior like that gets curtailed and you can actually speak civilly to each other to get at real issues. All of the things that Lorelai and Emily said were ripe for further discussion, and the therapist just let them hang there. The show for some reason did not address that this was an AWFUL therapist.

And finally, perhaps worst, was a serious ethical breach that happened in the show without a single note. When the therapist is auditioning for Stars Hollow: The Musical, she sees Lorelai, greets her, and asks Lorelai to put in a good word. NO. NONONO. Therapists are not allowed to acknowledge that they know patients outside of therapy unless the patient acknowledges it first for confidentiality reasons. Not only that, but it’s horrifically unethical to use your position as someone’s therapist (where you have power over them) to ask for favors from them. This therapist should lose their license.

I understand that TV does not perfectly mimic reality, but these are huge problems for the portrayal of therapy on TV, and they are damaging to people’s understanding of what they can expect and their openness to attending therapy. We can do better.

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via GIPHY

Buying In To the Wedding Industrial Complex

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Note: this will be rambly and repetitive. I’m working through some shit, and I do that in writing, and I put it here so that I have to be thoughtful. Deal with it.

So it turns out that a wedding costs a lot of money. I know, I know, this is not news, but it doesn’t really hit you until you’re planning one how easy it is to blow your budget and how challenging it is to find reasonable options. I’ve been a big hater of the wedding industrial complex for a long time now, but it’s only since starting the process of planning my own wedding that I realize how emotionally fraught it is to try to resist that complex in the face of all the expectations about weddings.

In particular, even if you don’t want to spend upwards of ten thousand dollars, it’s easy to let everyone convince you that this day is uber extra special and it should be just perfect. The dress should be a perfect representation of you that flatters you in every way, the venue should give the “feel” of you as a couple, the decor should be tasteful and personal, the food should be stellar. You don’t want it to be boring after all, and you want to remember it for years to come as fantastic and awesome! It’s stressful to try to budget while also making it a special day that feels fun and important and makes your guests and family and you happy.

There are two things that I want to be true about my wedding at the same time: it’s an important day, one that I would like to enjoy and remember. It is also not the most important day of my life, and probably not even in the list of the top 5 most important days of my life. It’s not even the most important day in my relationship (though it is gonna be pretty awesome and I’m excited for the legal change). But like most people, I am fallible, and subject to influence, and full of all kinds of emotions about living up to expectations.

I’ve been spending hours each week researching and planning my wedding, and unsurprisingly, in that process I have started to internalize some of the messages that abound on wedding planning websites and blogs: The Dress will be perfect and special. Everyone will notice the Little Touches you bring to the day. People will be horribly offended if you don’t treat them right. Despite how helpful and supportive my family has been and how little I knew about weddings and wedding traditions leading up to my engagement, I’m finding that there’s suddenly a lot of pressure.

It’s come to a head with the dress. Now I’m going to be honest: I love dresses, and I’ve been watching Say Yes to the Dress for years, because I am SO EXCITED to wear something amazing that I can’t get away with any other time in my life. But as I’ve tried on dress after dress I’ve started to realize that there’s a message about The Dress that says it will be “perfectly, uniquely you” and it will stand out from all other dresses. It will be the kind of dress that makes you say damn the pricetag (because these messages are here to get you to spend money) and if you find it after you’ve already bought a dress, then you’ll just have to get a second one because it’s perfect.

I’ve started to feel as if no dress will be right. I have so many ideas and desires for a dress (I love them all), and I have no idea which one is The One. It’s started to become so intensely stressful to me that I don’t even want to look at or think about dresses anymore, which is basically the saddest thing ever because I love dresses. And that is what has tipped me off: this isn’t me. This is the wedding industrial complex. And I’m buying in. I’m letting a lot of marketing steal something that usually brings me a lot of joy. The point at which thinking about and planning for a day that I’m excited for becomes a stressful gauntlet of “is this exactly right” is the point at which I’m not doing it for me anymore.

And that’s where things get complicated. Because I am a perfectionist, and I’m an event planner, and I love details and I love finding just the right thing. At what point am I buying in to messaging vs. working hard to stay true to myself? None of us can entirely suss out what parts of ourself is “ME” and what is “INFLUENCE” because those two things are endlessly intertwined, and honestly there’s nothing wrong with being influenced sometimes. The hardest part of wedding planning so far has been that a wedding is supposed to reflect your identity, and nailing down my identity is basically the hardest thing I can imagine.

Here’s the truth: all of us will buy in to some extent. That’s not the worst thing in the world. We all live and breathe capitalism every day. The reason it feels like such a Big Damn Deal for your wedding is because your wedding is supposed to be You and Pure and Perfect. It won’t be. It will be a compromise. You will settle. I will settle. That seems like a good representation of me though. I’m pulled in a thousand directions every day, and my life is one of settling for the moment, settling for what I’m capable of, settling for what will actually make me happy instead of what seems like the “Right” choice.

There is no “the” dress or venue or anything. We all have a thousand facets and nothing will represent us perfectly. The trend in weddings right now is for the wedding to be “perfectly you” and that simply cannot happen for most o fus. How close is a close enough approximation? What is selling yourself out? How do you understand your own priorities? It’s easy for “unique” and “me” to be the new wedding industrial complex. Even Offbeat Bride, which I love, exists to sell things, which means that all of those gorgeously unique and quirky weddings are there to make you want them.

Most people will probably not care in the slightest about the details of my wedding or the dress I wore. That’s all me. That’s all the money that’s spent to make me think that people will be picking nits through the whole day. So I’ve bought into that. Ok. I have to deal with that anxiety now because it won’t just go away. I can’t make it go away by reminding myself it’s all made up. So I will use the same skills I use against my anxious brain any other time to continue reminding myself of what’s important, and to ground myself in the moment, and to get over the irrational fears I have. The wedding industrial complex is just my jerkbrain with a lot of money. I’ve got this. And if you’re finding that media and friends and family are getting into your head and making you worry unnecessarily, it might be time to pick up a few tips from the people who battle anxiety every day. We know how to get through when our brains tell us lies. You’ve got this too.

The Holidays: Now With Bonus Political Stress!

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I hate the holidays. I know, I’m a Grinch, but eating disorders don’t get along well with Thanksgiving, and social anxiety is not a fan of large gatherings with people you only see once or twice a year. Any kind of chronic physical or mental illness makes holidays seriously challenging, which is truly a giant pile of butts because I love my family and I wish I didn’t have to spend so much time prepping for seeing them and recuperating afterwards. This post is in fact late because of stress induced sickness from a very long Thanksgiving. But better late than never, and I’m glad I spent the time taking care of myself.

I know I’m not the only one out there who despite loving their family and friends finds the excessive social nature of the holidays overwhelming and exhausting, and who is more tense than usual thanks to the heightened political climate this year. So with that in mind, here is a guide to not talking about things you don’t want to talk about. Because socializing is hard and it’s even harder if your family is made up of Trump supporters and you have social anxiety.

My first and biggest recommendation is to decide ahead of time what your boundaries are. Once you know how much you’re willing to discuss or tolerate, you can create plans to deal with the situations you foresee. Are you willing to talk about politics at all? Are there specific people you will talk about politics with, but not others? Do you have a limit to how much you’re willing to talk politics? Is it too stressful to even hear others talk about politics? Answer these questions and try to plan for any problem situations you can foresee.

One of the most important skills you can work on is escaping conversations you really don’t want to be in. This is useful no matter what your boundaries are. You can use it to get away from a problem person before the conversation turns sour, to get out of a conversation with someone you normally like who has turned to obnoxious topics, or when you’re just feeling overwhelmed. One option is to enlist someone you trust for help. Let them know you might need to get away for a little bit, and text when you need a hand. They can come in and say they need your help with something. Other alternatives include telling your conversational partner you need to use the restroom, or getting a refill on your drink. Practice a couple of get away lines before you go. It might seem ridiculous, but it helps to have something at your fingertips.

Escaping a conversation is a good way to deal with a situation if you don’t want to talk to someone anymore or if there is somewhere else you can go hang out. But what if everyone is engaged in the obnoxious conversation, or this is the cousin you never see and would really like to catch up with? Well you’re also allowed to set boundaries with your family members. This can be one of the more challenging things to try because it is more direct than simply quietly escaping. Start by naming what the people are doing, then identify how it makes you feel. For example “You’re talking a lot about politics and I feel really uncomfortable with that topic.” Then you state your boundary: “Please stop talking about politics with me.” If the person accepts the boundary and moves on, great! If they do not, you have to introduce some kind of consequence. “I asked you to stop talking about politics and you didn’t. If you keep talking about this, I’m going to go in the other room.” You may have to scale the consequence. If everyone in the house will not stop doing something that you have asked them repeatedly not to do, it is OK to leave. You don’t have to do it in a big huff, but simply inform people “I’ve asked people not to do x, and people continue to do x. I’m going to leave now because my boundaries are not being respected.”

 

You can practice these skills ahead of time. Role playing might seem silly, but I have done role playing for setting boundaries and it turns out it helps to have said the words out loud before you try to use them in context. It can also help remind you of your limits so that you stick to them. You may also want to set a reminder somewhere so that you don’t forget to take care of yourself: that could be a close family member who checks in, an alarm that goes off partway through the party so that you check in with yourself, or a note in your pocket. Just make sure that once you get into the social situation, you don’t forget all the planning and work you did ahead of time.

Finally and perhaps most importantly, you cannot get through the holidays if you only focus on the obvious things like gatherings and family time that might be stressful. This month set goals to sleep enough, eat well, and move your body on a regular basis. When you are physically taken care of, your emotional baseline is simply more stable. If you have anxiety or some other illness that makes holiday times hard, you probably know your coping skills. You know the things you can do that will make you feel better about yourself. Focus on those this month. The more you can keep your overall stress level low, the better you will be able to handle each individual instance of stress.

Good luck and I hope all of my fellow socially anxious folks actually have some fun this holiday season! You deserve it.