healthcare, mental health, musings

Death of a head shrinker…

A few days ago, I read an article in The New York Times about new drugs that can help treat obesity and perhaps “end the stigma” of being overweight. I’m old enough to have seen a lot of so-called magic bullet obesity drugs on the market. I remember in the late 90s, there was Meridia, which used to be advertised on TV all the time. This ad showed pleasingly plump women in loud prints, breezily lumbering along with smiles on their faces… The ads promised that the drug would help fat people control their appetites and lose weight. Then it was voluntarily withdrawn from the U.S. market in 2010, because it was shown to increase risk of heart attacks and strokes.

I remember this ad so well…

In the 1990s, there was also the Fen-Phen combo of drugs, which was said to be very effective in helping people lose weight. Bill says his ex wife took that combination for awhile. Apparently, she was very upset when it was taken off the market. I remember that combination of Fenfluramine and Phentermine was removed because it supposedly caused heart valve problems as well as high blood pressure. Ex, indeed, reportedly had issues with her heart, other than the fact that it’s so small. She had to have surgery at some point.

And then there was the drug my former psychiatrist gave me. For some reason, my former shrink felt besides the antidepressants I definitely needed, I should also take Topamax to help me lose weight. Topamax is a drug that is used for stopping seizures, curing migraines, and treating bipolar disorder. My shrink didn’t give it to me for those purposes, though. He prescribed it because one of the side effects of Topamax is decreased appetite. He felt I was too fat, and Topamax would help me lose weight.

Granted, I wanted to lose weight… and I was tired of hearing him harp on my body when I went to see him for prescription refills. So I tried Topamax for awhile. I often got the third degree from pharmacists, since I was also taking Wellbutrin, which is said to cause seizures in some people (but not me). Pharmacists would become alarmed at the drug combination and question me, and I would have to tell them that I wasn’t taking Topamax because I have seizures. It was embarrassing.

The Topamax did kill my appetite, which Bill didn’t like, because I didn’t want to cook or eat dinner. It also made carbonated beverages taste terrible, which wasn’t a bad thing, since I was addicted to Diet Pepsi at the time. But even with health insurance, the drugs were expensive, especially since I was also taking name brand Wellbutrin (the generic version didn’t yet exist). I also didn’t lose a lot of weight, much to the psychiatrist’s dismay. He wondered if I had a slow thyroid.

I remember feeling really horrible about his comments. At the time I was seeing him, I had actually lost a lot of weight because I was waiting tables and didn’t have time to eat or sit down. The pounds came off pretty easily and most people thought I looked pretty good. However, I was constantly sick during that time, partly because I was fresh from the Peace Corps and kept getting skin infections and also because I was run down because I was always working. I developed a distinct disdain for that shrink because even though I suffered greatly from body image issues, eating disorder issues, anxiety and depression, this guy kept harassing me about my figure… even after I was happily married to Bill, who didn’t care that I wasn’t skinny.

I was reminded of this shrink the other day, as i read the article in The New York Times the “new” magic bullet drugs that could help people shed pounds and the scorn and harassment that comes from being overweight. I shared the article on Facebook and my former therapist, who is now a friend, commented that the article is interesting. I wrote that I thought his “friend”, the psychiatrist, should see it. My former therapist wrote, “Yes, but he’s dead.”

I hadn’t known the former head shrinker had died. I went looking for his obituary, and lo and behold, there it was. He actually died two years ago. I had no idea. Several people had left kind comments about his memory. If I’m honest, I could see how they came to their conclusions about him. On the surface, the former head shrinker was “nice” enough. I remember thinking he had kind of a gentle, steady air about him. But he also really pissed me off on a regular basis by calling me “kid” when I was a grown and married woman, making comments that were belittling, and giving me a hard time about not being thin when I already had terrible issues with self esteem. I got the impression that he had a personal bias. I also didn’t like it when he acted in a paternalistic way. He was very much an old school kind of doctor who treated me like a child. It wasn’t very helpful at a time when I was trying to launch.

Fortunately, I only went to see that doctor for medication. I saw my therapist, a younger, hipper, and more empathetic guy, for psychotherapy. I will give the head shrinker credit, too. He was a competent psychiatrist in that he found the right drug for me. Wellbutrin changed and maybe even saved my life. Within just a few days of taking it, I felt like a completely different person. After taking it for several years and then getting off the drug, I still haven’t gone back to the awful way I used to feel every day… the way that was normal for me, but made other people think I was legitimately crazy. People used to ask me if I was bipolar all the time. They don’t anymore, although I don’t spend much time around other people anymore.

In 2007, before we moved to Germany the first time, I requested my records from the shrinks. I needed them because the Army required all of my medical records so I could be evaluated for the EFMP (Exceptional Family Member Program). This was supposedly a must before they would send us to Germany, but as it turned out, the National Guard (Bill’s official employer– he was a full time “federalized” Guardsman) didn’t give a fuck about my EFMP status the way the regular Army would have. I was forced to join the EFMP, but it turned out that I could have skipped the whole process and the National Guard wouldn’t have been the wiser. It would have been nice if I had known that, since the whole EFMP screening process was traumatic for me on many levels. I won’t get into that now, though. I think I reposted about my experience with the whole EFMP business. Thank God Bill is retired.

Unwisely enough, I read the notes my shrinks wrote about me. My cool therapist wrote positive, affirming notes. The dead head shrinker wrote things that upset me… like, for instance, I had a “garish” appearance. I was a bit taken aback by that. People have described me in a lot of ways, but never “garish”. That implies that I looked tacky, gaudy, or like a clown. And I didn’t see what my choices in makeup and clothing had to do with my mental well-being. Isn’t it better if someone with depression isn’t wearing black? He also made comments about my weight in his notes… and on more than one occasion, seemed a bit frustrated that his chemical cures weren’t slimming me down. I know very well that I’m not a thin person… but he made it sound like I was just disgustingly obese. When I was seeing him regularly, I wore a size 14 or 16… which is pretty average among American women, even if it’s not ideal in terms of most women’s most attractive body size.

It was a little strange reading about this man’s death. I mean, I know it had to happen… he was old enough, although he was several years younger than my father was when he died. I noticed the obituary didn’t mention a wife. I remember he was married when I saw him. I’d heard she was his third wife, and she had been about my age, while the shrink was old enough to be my dad. He’d had a young daughter back in the late 90s, which would mean she’s a young adult now. He also had four other children. I remember thinking that I hoped his youngest daughter didn’t have weight issues when she was growing up. I had a feeling he would ride her about them. And I guess, just based on his obituary, that his wife was no longer married to him when he passed a couple of years ago. He was a tall, somewhat handsome man, and he didn’t have a weight problem. But that didn’t stop him from having problems of his own.

I don’t like seeing doctors. I haven’t seen one since 2010, when Bill made me go because we thought my gallbladder might need to come out. It turned out it wasn’t bad enough to be yanked. One of the reasons I don’t like seeing doctors is because of that shrink… as well as the horrible OB-GYN who did my very first (of only two) gynecological exams. She physically and mentally hurt me so bad and shamed me so much that I became a bit phobic of medical people, even though I have a background in healthcare. Now I don’t go to doctors unless I’m about to die.

But maybe I shouldn’t blame these doctors for turning me off of their services so much… They’re only human, right? I’m sure they had my best interests in mind when they fat shamed me. The OB-GYN wrongly predicted I would get very fat in Armenia. I actually lost a lot of weight there. I did gain it back, but then I came home and waited tables and lost even more weight. And then I gained it back when I quit waiting tables… which was a good move for my overall health– especially my mental health– even if I didn’t have as pretty a package for people to look at. I’m glad to hear about the new drugs that might help people lose weight. I think it’s a good thing to think of obesity as a medical problem rather than a character flaw. However, this is not the first time I’ve heard about drugs that can help with weight loss… and so many of them turn out to be harmful.

Well… one more week to go before Bill is home. I continue to try to keep the faith. Last night, I was thinking about places I might like to visit when we’re finally able to travel again. Funnily enough, I’m planning based on whichever place is the least likely to give me a hard time rather than where I’d really like to spend time. One of the many luxuries of living in Germany is that there are plenty of places to see, and a lot of them are not so hard to drive to. Last night, I was thinking about visiting Krakow, Poland. It’s about a 9 hour drive from where we live. Maybe we can go there this year… after my second vaccine next month.

Also… I guess I’ve now arrived. Yesterday, I was made aware of someone having made a cloned account from my Facebook profile. It had one of my photos from last year, a cover photo using a picture I took in Rothenburg in 2018, and claimed I was a Mexican living in Nashville. I reported the profile, but Facebook naturally says they can’t do anything about it because it “doesn’t violate standards”. Meanwhile, they can give me bullshit warnings because they claim one of my comments was racist hate speech when it was really a criticism of a racist game being pitched on Facebook. They really need to get some real people evaluating these reports again. Facebook sucks, and is becoming more of a joke by the day. Anyway, I left several more complaints, along with a profane comment on the cloned profile. I doubt it will amount to anything. I changed my passwords, just in case.

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book reviews, psychology

Repost: my review of Freeing Yourself from the Narcissist in Your Life

I’m reposting another book review about narcissism. Just trying to keep it from going into oblivion. This review was originally written for Epinions.com on April 13, 2012. I am reposting it as/is.

More of a “what is” book than a “how to” book about narcissists

Narcissists can wreak havoc on just about any human interaction and relationship, at home or at work or among friends and family.  Over the past few years, I’ve read a lot of books about narcissism and narcissistic personality disorder. 

I have my own personal reasons for all this study, though I think almost everyone would benefit from learning more about narcissistic behavior.  In our society, which rewards people for doing and having more and polishing an image, narcissistic behavior seems to be on the rise.  That’s why I picked up Linda Martinez-Lewi’s 2008 book, Freeing Yourself from the Narcissist in Your Life

What is narcissistic behavior?

Although Narcissistic Personality Disorder was removed from the latest version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V), a manual published by the American Psychiatric Association, plenty of people have to deal with the negative aspects of narcissistic behavior.  People who are narcissistic lack empathy toward other people, think they are “special”, and have grandiose fantasies about their own power and brilliance.  Narcissists are self-centered and focus only on their own needs and getting ahead.  They have no qualms about lying, cheating, or stealing if it means they can further their own agendas.  When they don’t get what they want, they tend to go into volcanic rages or become incredibly vindictive toward the person or people who they think have wronged them somehow.   

However, narcissists are also superficially charming and ingratiating.  They can come across as friendly, charismatic, helpful, alluring, and exciting.  It’s easy to be swept away by a narcissist’s dazzling footwork.  It’s not so easy to break out of their toxic sphere and reclaim your life.  That’s why people who have dealings with narcissists and are able to recognize the behavior need so much help from books like Freeing Yourself from the Narcissist in Your Life.

False advertising…

I decided to buy this book because it got excellent reviews on Amazon.com.  However, having now read this book, I can’t share the majority opinion of those who left Martinez-Lewi such glowing reviews.  Freeing Yourself from the Narcissist in Your Life does not offer much in the way of practical information about how to deal with narcissists.  Instead, it mostly focuses on anecdotes about famous people who were narcissists.  A solid half portion of this book is about people such as Ayn Rand, Frank Lloyd Wright, Pablo Picasso, and Armand Hammer.  While the anecdotes Martinez-Lewi relates are interesting, they don’t offer any definitive advice to readers on things they can do to combat narcissistic behavior from loved ones, friends, or co-workers.

Martinez-Lewi, who holds a PhD in clinical psychology and is a marriage and family therapist in Carlsbad, California, seems a lot more fascinated by describing the behavior and rationale behind rabid narcissistic behavior than giving her readers the tools to sidestep the  behavior.  Consequently, the title of this book is somewhat misleading and borders on false advertising.  Martinez-Lewi has divided her book into four parts.  It’s not until Part Four, 165 pages into the book, that she actually addresses strategies on how to deal with a narcissist. 

But that doesn’t mean the book wasn’t useful… 

Despite my negative comments about Freeing Yourself from the Narcissist in Your Life, I can’t say I got nothing from this book.  For one thing, I never knew about the narcissistic tendencies of Ayn Rand, Pablo Picasso, Armand Hammer, or Frank Lloyd Wright.  Martinez-Lewi writes well and her anecdotes about these famous people were compelling and thought provoking.  I also think Martinez-Lewi offers a good description of what makes narcissists tick.  However, my feeling is that most people who would pick up this book would be at their wit’s end and really needing some practical tips on how to deal with destructive people.  I’m not sure Freeing Yourself from the Narcissist in Your Life quite delivers in that regard.

Overall

I think this book is worth three stars and my recommendation, but I would encourage readers to find other resources to accompany Freeing Yourself from the Narcissist in Your Life

For more information: https://thenarcissistinyourlife.com/

As an Amazon Associate, I get a small commission from Amazon on sales made through my site.

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book reviews, divorce, psychology

Repost: Adult Children of Parental Alienation Syndrome: Breaking The Ties That Bind

Here’s a great book suggestion for anyone dealing with parental alienation syndrome. I read and reviewed this book ten years ago, before Bill’s younger daughter reconnected (the other remains estranged). Because I like to be helpful, I am reposting the review as it was when I originally wrote it for Epinions.com in 2011.

Those who regularly read my Epinions reviews may know that my husband has two extremely alienated daughters who haven’t spoken to him since 2004.  I have only met my husband’s kids once, back in 2003.  We had a nice enough visit, but afterwards, their mother decided that I was too much of a bad influence on them.  She ramped up her efforts to get my husband’s kids to reject him.  Today in 2011, he has no contact with the two kids (now adults) with whom he used to enjoy a very warm, loving relationship.  My husband’s daughters are textbook examples of kids who are affected by Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS).

PAS is a term that was originally coined by Dr. Richard Gardner, a child psychiatrist.  Dr. Gardner noted that sometimes in highly contentious divorce situations, one parent may misuse socialization techniques to turn their child against the other parent to the point at which the relationship is completely destroyed.

PAS is a very controversial topic.  Since alienating parents usually tend to be women, a lot of feminist organizations deny that PAS is real.  A lot of legal and mental health professionals also argue about whether or not it’s real.  I am myself educated as a public health social worker and, having spent almost nine years living through PAS with my husband, I have no doubt that parental alienation syndrome is very real and very scary.  It absolutely deserves to be taken seriously, especially by the family court system.

Although I’ve pretty much given up hope that my husband’s daughters will ever have a normal relationship with their father, I do still feel the need to read about PAS and related subjects such as narcissistic personality disorder.  That drive to research led me to read Amy J. L. Baker’s excellent book, Adult Children of Parental Alienation Syndrome: Breaking The Ties That Bind (2007).  This book is very well-researched, well-written, and I guarantee that anyone who has experienced the PAS phenomenon will recognize the uncanny steps a determined alienator will take to destroy a child’s relationship with the targeted parent.

Who is Amy Baker and how did she research this book?

Dr. Amy J. L. Baker is director of research at the Vincent J. Fontana Center for Child protection of the New York Foundling.  In researching Breaking the Ties That Bind, Dr. Baker interviewed 40 adults who believed that when they were children, they were alienated against one of their parents.  She also interviewed people who were targeted parents of parental alienators.  Chapter by chapter, she uses her subject’s stories to lay out what PAS is and outline the tactics used by parental alienators to sever family ties. 

The hair on the back of my neck stood on end as I read about the experiences of these adult children of parental alienation syndrome.  Many of the alienating parents were women, though some of them were men.  And in some cases, the alienation tactics even had some validity because there were some targeted parents who really weren’t very good people.  In other cases, the children eventually realized that they were manipulated to hate their other parent and their relationship with the alienating parent was damaged.  Sometimes they were able to reconnect with the lost parent and build a positive relationship; sometimes they found out that the “dead” relationship was better off left alone.  I liked the fact that Dr. Baker explained how adult children of PAS eventually figure out what happened.  In some cases, adult children of PAS figure it out when they themselves become targeted parents, either by marrying someone who alienates the kids or by realizing their alienator parents have turned into alienator grandparents by trying to turn their grandkids against their parents.  Sadly, sometimes PAS victims never learn the whole truth, but Dr. Baker seems to think they usually do eventually “get it”, even if it takes decades.

According to Dr. Baker, the vast majority of parents who alienate their children from their other parents are people who have personality disorders, most notably narcissistic personality disorder (NPD).  Based on our situation, I am inclined to agree with Dr. Baker, although I also recognize that there are varying degrees of PAS and sometimes the PAS is even somewhat unintentional.  

In any case, the children are the ultimate losers in situations where one parent alienates children from the other parent.  Dr. Baker notes that children never forget that they have that other parent “out there” and every time the alienating parent punishes them for mentioning or missing the other parent, they are punishing them for their identity.  These kids are ordered to deny half of their DNA in order to keep their custodial parent happy.  That forced denial has to hurt on many different levels.  Indeed, through her research, Dr. Baker found out just how the realization that they have been lied to and manipulated can be so hurtful to children, who have often lost many years with their other parent.  In some cases, the other parent has died, making reconciliation impossible. 

Overall 

If you, or someone you love, have been affected by PAS, I highly recommend reading this book.  It’s probably one of the very best books I have ever read about parental alienation syndrome.  In so many ways, I found Baker’s book very insightful and helpful.  I found myself feeling a lot more empathy for my husband’s kids, despite the horrible way they have treated him and the rest of his family over the years. 

This is also an excellent book for mental health and legal professionals; indeed, I think it ought to be required reading for custody evaluators, especially those who doubt PAS exists. 

As an Amazon Associate, I get a small commission from Amazon on sales made through my site.

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healthcare, mental health, modern problems, psychology

What’s eating young women these days? Eating disorders and COVID-19…

This morning, I read a news story about how eating disorders are on the rise in the United Kingdom, especially among young women. Pediatricians in the United Kingdom are seeing a tremendous rise in the number of patients who are coping with the stresses of the novel coronavirus by engaging in harmful behaviors such as binging and purging, starving themselves, or exercising excessively.

Karen Street, a consultant pediatrician at Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital and an officer for child mental health, says, “Eating disorders are often related to a need for control — something many young people feel they have lost during the pandemic.” Eating disorders often occur in young women who are extremely accomplished and driven, engaged in extracurricular activities and earning high grades in school. Thanks to the pandemic and being forced to isolate, many of the activities that young people could be engaged in are now unavailable. Teenagers don’t always have the coping skills that older people have, which would allow them to find a more COVID-19 friendly passion. It’s also harder to see a health care provider face to face right now, as many of them are either focused on treating patients with COVID-19 or are not doing so many in person consultations because of the risk of spreading the disease.

I was interested in reading about this phenomenon. When I was much younger, I used to struggle with eating disorders myself. I think my issues were actually connected with depression, anxiety, and terrible lack of self-esteem and secret wish to exit this life. I never really saw anyone about treating them and eventually managed to outgrow my obsession with food, diet, and exercise. It took years, though, and most people had no idea of the extent of it and would not have taken me seriously even if I had tried to tell anyone. I certainly didn’t look like I had a problem with food or dieting. I think, in my case, I exchanged my problems with eating disorders with something else. My issues with food mostly seemed to stop once I started taking the right antidepressant.

I’ve often marveled at how a few years taking Wellbutrin permanently seems to have changed the way I used to feel all the time. Before I got treated for clinical depression, I often felt overwhelmed and out of control of my emotions. I would vacillate between being funny and gregarious and being very depressed. When I was much younger, people would often ask me, in all seriousness, if I was bipolar. I am not bipolar, but I did have a chemical imbalance for years. Wellbutrin seems to have permanently corrected it, though– that, and having Bill in my life has made a huge difference. He treats me with love and respect. I literally don’t feel the way I used to feel all the time. I feel much more balanced and in control, and with that balance and control, I stopped caring about dieting. I don’t need a lot of people in my life. I just need one person who cares. I have that in Bill. If I didn’t have him, maybe I would go back to the way I once was.

I’ve often thought about what life must be like for young people right now. I think if I were a teenager in the lockdown COVID-19 era, I’d be going crazy. I can remember being 13 years old and stuck at home with my parents because I was sick or there was a big snowstorm. The first day or two was great, but then I got bored and frustrated, and being with my parents was hard, because we didn’t really get along that well. My parents were always at home, because they ran their business from our house. So snow days were particularly difficult, because I had no escape, other than going to the barn where I kept my horse. It wasn’t always easy to get to the barn when there was snow. I usually rode my bike there. It’s hard to bike on snow packed pavement. I remember getting very cagey and depressed when I was out of school for several days due to snow. I would have absolutely hated the way things are now, even though I’m a fairly self-directed person and would have probably done fine with online school.

Being isolated from their peers, teachers, and health care providers, has increased the risks to mental health issues in teens. Young people in Britain are developing eating disorders and can’t get treatment because there are not enough beds in treatment facilities. Washington Post reporter, Miriam Berger, quoted a couple of pediatricians who have seen eating disorder cases rising. From her article:

Luci Etheridge, a pediatrician specializing in eating disorders at St. George’s Hospital in London, reported… a 250 percent increase in cases compared with 2019, with a particular spike in September. Previously, the center had been able to access referrals within a nationally mandated four-week window; now they have 30 children on the waiting list to be assessed.

And:

Jon Rabbs, a consultant pediatrician in Sussex, [claims] his eating disorder service usually saw 11 referrals a month. Since September, it has risen to around 100 monthly.

The increased time people are spending online is probably contributing to the problem. With fewer offline activities available, youngsters are focusing on apps that have to do with calorie counting and recording exercise. Some people will become hyper-obsessed with their diets and exercise because it may take their minds off of the horrors of COVID-19. Or they worry about getting fat because they’re supposed to quarantine or stay at home as much as possible. Or, for some, it could be that the dieting apps are even like video games, as in, “let’s see if I can beat my record for jumping jacks”. On and on it goes, as the sufferer focuses their obsessions on the disorder and being alone with it, instead of getting back to living normally someday.

The sad thing is, when the pandemic ends and lockdowns are lifted, the people who have developed eating disorders will likely still have those problems. The obsessive behaviors won’t go away simply because people will, once again, be allowed to live somewhat normally. Thanks to the lack of treatment facilities and far fewer in person health provider visits and/or attention from teachers, friends, and guidance counselors, the disorders will go unnoticed and untreated for much longer. Delaying the treatment may lead to physical devastation, particularly if the person also gets sick with COVID-19. And one of the main features of eating disorders is the desire to be left alone and isolated. The pandemic provides a perfect environment for that, making the situation especially difficult for those who are already in recovery. I would imagine it’s the same for recovering alcoholics or other addicts, who need regular support to help conquer their addictions.

We are also now in the holiday season, which is stressful and often centers around preparing food and eating it. Usually, we celebrate with each other during the holidays. This year, many people are alone, and a lot of them are facing uncertainty about their finances or career prospects… life itself, really, since we don’t yet know when it will be safe to live in a more normal way. I imagine a lot of teens are hearing their parents worrying about surviving the pandemic, which adds to stress levels. Couple that with adolescents’ inability to do “normal” teenage things. Even dating someone would be difficult right now, which is another rite of passage that mostly affects adolescents. It really is no wonder that a certain type of young person– mostly females, but also males– is engaging in eating disordered behaviors. After all, the one thing most people can control is what they put into their bodies– even if they can’t control a novel virus that is ravaging populations around the world.

Sadly, a lot of people won’t take this issue seriously. As is my habit, I took a look at the comments about this article. At this writing, no one has left any comments on the Washington Post’s article itself. However, many dimwits have descended upon the Washington Post’s Facebook page to leave their ignorant and ill considered thoughts. Quite a few people hadn’t read the article and were spewing the usual crap about “covidiots”, which has absolutely NOTHING to do with the rise in eating disorders. Another insensitive male commenter kept making tasteless jokes about cannibalism– again, this has NOTHING to do with the topic. More than a couple brought up U.S. politics, which again, have nothing to do with the rise of eating disorders among British teens. And then there are the people who blame the media, claiming the media is making the pandemic out to be much worse than it is and is causing the depression and anxiety that can lead to the development of eating disorders.

Having suffered with eating disordered behaviors myself when I was young, this is not something I would ever wish on anyone. It might be funny to make jokes about eating disorders, something that a lot of people don’t understand at all, and don’t even TRY to understand– but to the people who have them, they are hell on earth. While in my case, my issues were mostly in my head and undetected by the people who cared about me, I would not want to be a parent having to deal with a child truly suffering from an eating disorder during the pandemic. It’s hard enough to help them when things are normal. Imagine trying to get help for your child when you can’t even get them in to see a doctor in person and, even when you can, there are no treatment facilities with available beds. Given the damage that eating disorders can do to one’s health, I would imagine that the risk of becoming severely debilitated or dying from COVID-19 would be much graver.

When it comes down to it, eating disorders are a very damaging coping mechanism, not unlike other addictive behaviors like alcoholism or drug abuse. People are stressed right now, and some young people are turning to destructive habits in order to cope with the anxiety and depression associated with the global pandemic. A lot of people who would not have otherwise gone down the dark road of an eating disorder are finding themselves on that path today. If I were a parent, I think I would be concerned… and it would be just one more thing to worry about. I don’t envy today’s parents at all.

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Ex, mental health, narcissists, psychology

“I don’t have time”…

Yesterday, I wrote about how Bill discovered that his daughter was medically neglected when she was growing up. The problems that younger daughter had weren’t life threatening; they simply caused her great discomfort and pain. Ex figured her kid would live, so she didn’t have to take her to a doctor or pay for devices that would make her feel or function better. She didn’t have time for it, nor did she want to go to the trouble or spend the money. And if she did spend the time or the money, she would never let anyone forget it, as if seeing to her children’s needs was a favor, rather than a responsibility.

It occurs to me that I’ve often heard that same excuse from other narcissistic types. Whenever someone makes a request of them, particularly when it has to do with respecting personal boundaries or spending money, their excuse for not honoring the request is often “I don’t have time.” But they have no issues with taking YOUR time or making requests or demands of your money or resources.

When I was in the Peace Corps, I had several different landladies. The first two were basically kind and respectful enough. I left the first place because it involved living with a host family, a young woman and her little brother, and I wanted my own space and more privacy. I didn’t want to have to worry about someone going through my stuff when I wasn’t home (which happened both times I lived with host families). I preferred quiet in the evenings and she would have friends over until all hours. I also wanted to feel comfortable in my own home rather than like a guest. So, after two months living there, I moved into my own apartment. It was a lot better for me.

The second landlady I had was a very nice lady whose brother had moved to Ukraine and left her to take care of his apartment. She was also the Peace Corps doctor. I was reasonably happy there, but had to move after a year because her brother had decided to sell the place. No one told me he was selling it, so I was very confused when someone rang the doorbell wanting to know if I was “selling” the apartment. I started getting other random people showing up wanting a tour. Later, my landlady explained what was going on and I decided to move, rather than deal with people constantly coming over to see the apartment.

Then, there was my third landlady, who had an apartment and moved to Hungary to study. When I agreed to rent her place, I didn’t know her very well, although she too had worked for the Peace Corps. She left her father in charge of the apartment. Every month, he would show up at the apartment to collect the rent. I was paying twice as much rent for that apartment than I was for the previous one. By American standards, it was a very cheap place to live, but by Armenian standards, it was very expensive and quite overpriced. In fact, the place was smaller, and in a less desirable location, although it had nicer furniture (a real bed instead of a fold out couch). I worked at a non-governmental organization to help cover the rent. Technically, we weren’t supposed to be paid for extra work, but it was a common practice, especially for those of us who lived in Yerevan. Volunteers are no longer posted there.

In my last three months in that apartment, which I lived in for about ten months, the landlady came back to Armenia from Hungary and started paying visits, even if I wasn’t home. She would let herself into the apartment when I wasn’t there and let her son eat my food. Not only would he eat things from my fridge, but he’d leave the dirty dishes for me to find. One night, I came home from having gone out to see a movie and this lady and her father were waiting in the apartment for me. They had let themselves in while I wasn’t there. I was completely unprepared for the ambush, and not really in a state to be talking to them at that hour. It was about 10:00 on a Friday night and I’d had a couple of beers. Dad was smoking a cigarette when I opened the door to the place I had considered my home for about nine months.

Former Armenian landlady accused me of not paying rent one month. She said her father had accused me of stiffing him. I was outraged, of course, because he showed up every month on the first day, ready to collect the money. And of course he was paid. I could not even fathom how she thought I could live in a place where I wasn’t paying rent. There was a record of me getting the money from the NGO where I worked. I asked the ex landlady to check the records. Her response? “I don’t have time to do that. How do I know you didn’t just spend the money?”

I could have asked the same thing about her father, who did very promptly collect the rent without fail and very faithfully got paid. I kept a daily journal when I was in the Peace Corps and I actually noted the days when he came, not because I didn’t trust him, but because I habitually journal about mundane things like that. I still do that today, as you can see.

As for my Armenian landlady, I was beyond offended by her gall and, still being a young, inexperienced renter in a foreign country, I couldn’t believe her sense of entitlement and unfairness toward me. She had worked for the Peace Corps and knew full well what the organization is about, yet she still felt fine about trying to rip me off.

She had plenty of time to let herself into my home and wait for me, but no time to do a simple check like finding out if she’d been paid. She had no problem accusing me of stiffing her for a month’s rent, and she probably figured that because I was a “rich” American paying what we’d consider “cheap” rent, I would just pay her to get her off my case. I think she also mistook my tendency to get emotional as a sign of weakness. Well… she could not have been more wrong about that. I went on the fucking warpath, as I tend to do when people push me past a certain red line. She quickly found out that she had made a major miscalculation of my potential reaction to her dishonest ploy and had completely misjudged and underestimated me.

Armenian landlady and her father finally left the apartment when I had a panic attack in front of them. At the time, I had severe issues with anxiety and depression and I would sometimes hyperventilate and cry uncontrollably. I was so completely shocked and horrified by her aggressive and completely unwarranted accusations that I had a big meltdown. They didn’t know what to do, so they left. Fortunately, panic attacks are no longer a problem for me– now, I just get super pissed off and resolved to set things right.

I eventually recovered my senses, called one of the Peace Corps administrators, and explained what happened. We arranged for someone Armenian from the office to be there when I handed over the keys to the apartment, to make sure that I didn’t get harassed as I was trying to leave the country. And no, Armenian landlady did not manage to shake me down for another month’s rent, but I left Armenia with an angry and depressed mindset. I was flabbergasted by her nerve and left with a bitter taste in my mouth that I had spent over two years of my life trying to do something good and was accused of theft for my troubles.

Many years hence, I had a landlady who “didn’t have time” to send a four word email or text to let me know when she was coming over so I could be prepared for company. Bear in mind that in most developed countries, landlords aren’t supposed to simply drop by without notice. They’re usually required to give 24 hours notice before they show up. Bill and I were initially pretty laid back about her habit of dropping in– or really, I was, because I was mostly the one who dealt with her. But she’d caught me undressed, sick, busy, or asleep one too many times and I was fed up with the intrusions, among other things.

Bill politely and reasonably asked her to let us know before she came over (so I could be awake, properly dressed, and we could make sure there weren’t any doggy landmines in the backyard). We weren’t even asking for 24 hours notice, but she was offended that we had the nerve to ask her for ANY notice to come to HER house (which was also OUR HOME). She wrote back that she “didn’t have time” to send us notice– as few as just four words “I’m coming over now”– so I could be ready to receive her. She actually refused to do it, because she “didn’t have time”. We still have the email with her refusal to comply with that simple request, along with all of the others she sent that indicate her huge sense of entitlement and propensity toward double standards when it comes to her renters.

This is what gets me about these types of people– folks who are entitled, high-conflict oriented, and narcissistic. If the shoe was on the other foot, they would be absolutely up in arms if someone told them they “didn’t have time” for them or to honor a simple request. Narcissistic types will go off about that– how dare you NOT bend to my will?! How dare you NOT have time to do my bidding?! I am ENTITLED. You are not.

When Bill was first married to Ex (when she only had her son from her first marriage), he asked her to look for a job because they were struggling to pay their bills. Ex got very offended and said she was going to mark all of the stuff she’d brought to the home as hers. She was so upset and put upon that Bill would ask her to look for work, even though it would benefit everyone if they could more easily pay their bills. She “didn’t have time” to work. Ex did later work when more children came along, although her work history has been a bit checkered.

If I had told any of my former landladies that I “didn’t have time” to go pick up the rent money for them, they would have been extremely upset with me. If I had told my Armenian landlady that she couldn’t just let herself into the apartment whenever she felt like it, she would have been furious with me. She might even cite that she “didn’t have time” to tell me she was coming over and that she was entitled to the convenience of being able to drop in whenever it suited her, regardless of my plans. I wasn’t worthy of the consideration. I will grant that it would have been hard for the Armenian landlady to let me know she was coming over in 1997. At the time, cell phones weren’t widely available and landlines were notoriously unreliable. I could call the United States more easily than I could call across the street. But she still let her kid eat my pudding and leave the dirty dishes for me to clean up and she was still waiting for me to come home one night inside the apartment. She was entitled– it was HER apartment before it was MY home, and I was paying her a lot for the privilege.

Ditto to the fact that an awning that one of my ex landladies neglected to have fixed by a real repairperson could have seriously hurt or even killed me when it fell. She had no regard for the fact that my life could have been in danger because she “didn’t have the time or money” to call a real repairperson instead of getting her husband to do a free patch job. Instead, she felt “entitled” to force us to buy her a brand new awning, even after taking an insurance settlement. She failed to realize her own neglect and disregard for our safety and was focused solely on money she felt she was owed.

However, when we objected to her coming over to oversee the chimney sweep and check the smoke alarms, she was quick to lecture us about our “safety”. We weren’t objecting to the chimney sweep’s visit or the safety checks. We were objecting to her need to come over to our home and harass us. There was no reason for her to be in attendance for the chimney sweep’s visit. She just wanted to exert control. She had no time to send a quick text or an email to tell us when she was going to do yard work or clean the gutters, but she had plenty of time to hang around the house when the chimney sweep visited. She also had no problem demanding that I make coffee for repairpeople, even though she was overseeing them and had set up the appointments. Incidentally, the coffee always went untouched, so that was like money down the drain. OUR money… not hers. Hmm…

Likewise, she had no issues detailing the smallest of complaints about our “shortcomings” as tenants– issues that no one else has ever had with us. But she didn’t feel the need to hold herself to the same standards when it came to properly accounting for the condition of the house when we moved in and out, how she was billing us, or adhering to basic laws designed to protect tenants and their privacy. She clearly expected that we would simply let her get away with these oversights because it’s much easier and less expensive to give in to the fuckery than hold her accountable. WE were expected to be perfect, but she “didn’t have time for that”, nor were we worthy of that standard.

I’ve gotten to the point at which when I hear someone telling me that they “don’t have time” for something that is a simple and easily fulfilled request, or they “don’t have time” to respect a basic boundary, or they “don’t have time” to take care of something that involves someone else’s comfort, health, or safety, particularly when that person is someone who is especially vulnerable in some way (a child, someone who is sick or disabled, or an elderly person), I realize that the person is going to be a major league asshole and abuse their power over others. I can pretty much count on it.

Generally speaking, it’s best to just walk away from these types of people, although most of them dearly need to be taught a lesson by a visit from the karma bus. I seem to drive the karma bus fairly often… it seems to be my lot in life. It doesn’t make me very popular with these types of people… That’s too bad for them, isn’t it?

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