Monday Miscellany: Prison, Pickup Lines, Personal Questions

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1. Are bay leaves a LIE? (Category tag on that article wins extra points)

2. Section 35 allows family members and/or providers to commit someone in Massachusetts to 90 days of substance abuse treatment. This includes substance abuse facilities as well as medium security prison facilities [pdf] (how is prison a substance abuse treatment facility, you ask? exactly, I grouch.)

At MCI Framingham [women’s prison], for example, the number of commitments related to Section 35 has increased by 131% overall, with a 598% increase for civil-only commitments.

3. Sinuous.

4. On taking and giving personal histories.

I’m filling out a new-patient form online for my doctor’s office when I see it, sandwiched somewhere between “Do you smoke? and “Has anyone in your family had a stroke?”:

Have you ever been sexually abused or assaulted?
Yes __ No __

No context, no indication how this information will be used. No box to tick for, “Well, yes, actually, but that’s not why I am visiting you and I don’t know you and I have nothing to be ashamed of and I’m not afraid to talk about it but really I’ve done my talking already and mostly I just want my annual exam, not a bunch of prying questions or sympathy or anything, actually, from you.”

No space to breathe. Just a tidy little binary for a story that doesn’t feel tidy at all.

At my appointment, the doctor says, “So, you were sexually assaulted.” It’s not a question, but she pauses expectantly.

5. ❤ the musical Hamilton? Now there’s Harrison!


[Advice] Jobs & Jerk Dopplegängers

I’ve started answering questions…with questions. If you have a problem that might benefit from other angles of consideration, send it to donovanable [at] gmail [dot] com. 

At work there is a new person I need to work with and he looks just like my abusive ex-boyfriend. It’s really upsetting. What can I do?

Reflection’s resemblance to Frankenstein is totally coincidental. 


Weirdly, I’ve been in the opposite position as this question; where I was the doppleganger of someone else’s Bad Person.

What is the ideal outcome for you?
I ask because I could see a couple of things you want from your experience here. One answer might be “I want to be more comfortable in my work setting so I can stop stressing out when this person and I pass in the hall.” This might mean that you would focus on figuring out ways to be comfortable with being near to him.

Alternately, you might want to just avoid, avoid, avoid at this juncture. The ease of doing things depends on a some factors like how long you’ve been at this job, how small the company is, and in what department your unfortunately-semblanced coworker is.

Who is on your support system?
Who is going to be on your side, who you can vent to or hang out with when you don’t want to see the jerk!doppleganger or are on edge from unavoidable interactions with jerk!doppleganger.

What’s your one-liner if this ever comes up in the workplace?
I think the chances of this are pretty low, but a backup plan can help. Maybe you get really good at the lighthearted “Haha, actually it’s super weird but [coworker with unfortunate resemblance] looks like someone from my past!”

If you haven’t spent a lot of time at your current workplace, you might have the option to go with something like “haha, you know me, I’m busy, busy, busy!” for when you’re ducking back into your cubicle and away from everyone.

What things work best for you when you’re feeling overwhelmed but can’t leave?
I use fidget objects to calm down or distract myself, like this fidget ring. At other times, I’ve found controlled breathing exercises give me something to do. Breathe2Relax [Android, iOS] teaches one kind, square breathing is another.

Photo credit: Reflection by jourixia


Monday Miscellany: Prison, Phones, Social Position

1. The violent, the mentally ill, and the intersection of the two.

2. Prison psychotherapy, wire mothers.

3. When nobody else wanted to, Ruth Coker cared for and ultimately buried men with HIV/AIDS.

4. This couple has a house, and that house keeps showing up as the location of stolen cell phones. Over and over and over. If they ever do steal anything with a built-in tracking app, they’re probably going to get away with it.

5.  A meta-analysis of Kahneman’s research on blood glucose and System 1 finds that it fails to replicate. [Research behind paywall here.]

6. Breaking down the socio- and economic- components of socioeconomic class:

To use myself as an illustration: I make very little money, so I am heir to the misfortunes that disproportionately impact the impecunious – the almost-certain forthcoming hike in T fares looms large in my anxieties right now – but I am a professional with an advanced degree and possession of the shibboleths of the professional class. I didn’t stop being in the social class I had been in when I dropped to a much lower economic class. The privileges I lost were only those attendant to economic might; I retained the privileges of social position.

So, for instance, if I don’t like the medical care I get from the doctors my state-subsidized health plan (thanks, Mitt!) gives me access to, I can’t just whip out my checkbook and buy myself care from a better reputed specialist. Being poor might yet shorten my lifespan, as it curtails my access to care. But on the other hand, if I present with a serious booboo to just about any doctor, I will have narcotic pain relief offered me with no questions asked, because someone of my social class is not suspected of being one of those naughty “med-seeking” addicts. The decision of whether or not to trust me with a prescription for percoset is not made on the basis of the MassHealth card in my pocket marking me one of the precariat, but my hair style, my sense of fashion, my (lack of) make-up, my accent, my vocabulary, my body language, my (apparent) girth, my profession (which, note, doctors often ask as part of intake), and all the other things which locate me in a social class to observers that know the code. Contrariwise, a patient of mine – who is a white woman of almost my age – who is covered with tattoos, speaks with an Eastie accent, is over 200lbs, and wears spandex and bling and heavy make-up, gets screamed at by an ER nurse for med-seeking when she hadn’t asked for medication at all, and just wanted an x-ray for an old bone-break she was frighted she had reinjured in a fall.


[Advice] Forty & Friends

I’ve started answering questions…with questions. If you have a problem that might benefit from other angles of consideration, send it to donovanable [at] gmail [dot] com. 

Any advice on men pushing 40 to make new friends? I’m in a new city, living with my girlfriend, but she travels a lot for work and I work from home. I’ve gone for some of the low-hanging fruit. I took over a meet-up group when the leader stepped down, and the people who come to the meetups are nice but we’ve never exchanged numbers or become friends in any way. I tried volunteering, and that led to nothing. Anything obvious I’m missing?

Okay, LW, I will be honest with you; it is unusual for me to talk to forty-year old men, and I am not sure I have the best advice for you. But you did ask here, and there is only twenty-three year old me in the vicinity. So, here we go.

First of all, I don’t expect you’re missing things that are obvious; was going to be the first thing out of my mouth. (I was just busy trying to formulate it into a question, Jeopardy-style.)

What things make you like people? What kinds of people are you interacting with in your current day-to-day? Do these two align? 
Worth taking hands to keyboard or pen to paper and making a list. People you should want to be friends with are notoriously less fun than people you want to be friends with.

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A portrait of the author, post socializing.

How much energy do you have to spend on this? Are you introverted? Social?
Do you have the energy to invite someone to do a New Friendmaking Thing every week? Every two weeks? Every month?
Friendmaking is an activity, and it can be exhausting. If you’re anything like me, you might go through cycles of

a) scheduling or committing to ALL THE THINGS.
b) followed by deciding I’ve solved the question of friendship/am satisfied with my social life
c) followed by being tired from the aforementioned ALL THE THINGS and doing my best hermit impression. This results in…
d) failing to respond to any of the next invites or spend time with any of the new people I meet.

Picking a steady rate at which to plan or do social activities and then sticking to that, rather than switching between over-scheduled and a crushing sense of scarcity has counteracted this.

What have you told people about your interest in making friends with them?
You mentioned that your meetup (points for taking over a meetup group, by the way) wasn’t creating the connections you wanted.
Especially when new to an area, it’s usually normal (though not intuitive) to tell people something like “I’m new to the area, and you seem cool. [Coffee/drinks] sometime?”
Note: if they say yes, you are usually in the position of making specific plans, not them.

In your optimal friendship situation, what do you do with people?
In the vein of fake-it-until-something-works-maybe, do you have a list of things you wish you were doing with others?
On my list:
-Sitting in the same room on the internet, occasionally sending each other interesting articles and debating their merits. Sometimes sending each other cats.
-Trampoline gyms!
-Going on food adventures, like Kitchen Kibitz.
-Food festivals.
-Cool exhibits. see: Mapparium

Can you invite not-friends-but-currently-acquaintances on some of these things?
Maybe “sit silently in the same room on the internet” is hard to describe to an acquaintance—and a little awkward to initiate or bail on—but Do Fun Thing With Person Who Might Be Fun, Who Knows? is a grand tradition in new friendship making.
Benefits: For activities that are not conversation based, you can do fun things whether or not you end up enjoying conversation with them. Aaand, you have things to talk about!


Stuff I read when thinking about your question:
The Main Tasks For Creating A Social Life
Operation: How Do I People?
Photo credit: Arkomas on Flickr

Monday Miscellany: APA, Anxiety, Animal Parties

1. I complained about psychology having TWO organizations called APA: the American Psychological Association and the American Psychiatric Association. Nope. Shea pointed out the American Psychoanalytic Association and the American Psychopathological Association.

2. Scott reviews treatments for anxiety. He offers one CBT for anxiety workbook, but I’ll also suggest When Panic Attacks, Mastery of Anxiety and Panic, and When Perfect Isn’t Good Enough, all three of which I have either personal or near-personal experience with and have gotten positive reviews from friends and acquaintances.

3. Firsthand accounts of selective mutism.

4. Kind of weirded out by the ‘hunh, would you look at that’ tone of this article about the intense level of sexual harassment that kilt-wearing waiters were getting.

5. Clothing designed to accommodate motor impairments and texture sensitivity.

6. Saving premature children via a circus sideshow.

7. I was researching the night before my trip to Amsterdam last week and discovered the Party For the Animals which, unfortunately, is not as fun as it sounds. However! It is the only political party for animal rights with seats in a national government.

8. We could regrow livers.

Stuff I Read This Week

(I made one international flight, so the numbers here are a little ridiculous)

Fun Home, Alison Bechdel
Oh, my god.

At the Water’s Edge: A Novel, Sara Gruen
I actually finished this book because it was so jarring. So little plot development in a fun way? I couldn’t remember why I put it on hold, and was starting to think that it was a lesbian romance (the main character was becoming less interested in her husband, and the only developed character was a maid). Then BANG, sudden male love interest and also love that apparently had been blossoming! Then BANG! Death! Revival! Loch Ness monsters! Ghosts! Rollercoaster from start to surprise lordship.

The Night Watch, Sara Waters
Bittersweet tales of queer women.

My Story, Elizabeth Smart

Lost Girls: The Cleveland Abductions, John Glatt
(apparently I was on a kidnapping kick)

Monday Miscellany: Starlings, Spies, Sanderson

1. Look, let’s lead with the best. Shakespeare is why starlings are an American nuisance.

2. Illustrating weird laws.

3. Brandon Sanderson’s magical systems are among my favorite.

4. This advice is also good, but I’m mainly linking because it introduced me to the HULK-KU or, haiku written as if Incredible Hulk.




5. Pessimism traps.

The Upside of Stress: Why Stress Is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It, Kelly McGonigal
Excellent and personally useful. You can see my highlights here.

Operation Nemesis: The Assassination Plot that Avenged the Armenian Genocide, Eric Boghosian
Fascinating; also a genocide I know relatively little about.

Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War, Karen Abbott
This was fun. Constructed almost entirely from primary sources.

Your Emotions Are Locally (But Maybe Not Globally) Valid And Other Terrible Inspirational Posters

Photo credit to  Emm Roy
Photo credit to
Emm Roy

Over on tumblr, I wrote a little about how I have a hard time resolving my sadness because I get caught up too early in the question of Is This Emotion Justified, and never make it to dealing with the emotions. Ogingat asked if I had specific opinions on whether or not emotions should be justified.  I, uh, tried to answer and accidentally a very long blog post.

[epistemic status: I keep arguing with myself, but cautionarily endorse this for at least the next week or so.]

My answer is roughly:

1) It’s a really good idea to determine if your emotions are based in reality.

2) Also, a lot of people use this as a proxy for not actually responding to their emotions.

My overarching belief is that emotions don’t need justification, choices in response to emotions do, and patterns of emotions should always be run through the Is This Justified test.

I have these heuristics, (for a loose definition of rules) that I think are useful. Sometimes they conflict and have fights in my head.

In the moment, focus on naming the emotion, less on the causal factors.
Sometimes I am sad because I forgot to eat, sometimes I am sad because someone hurt me, and sometimes I am sad because my brain is a jerk.

In pretty much all of these cases, I should treat my brain like it’s experiencing emotion, check my physical state, and then if it’s not an obviously physical problem spurring my feeling (sleep, food, water, comfort of clothing, pain), I should proceed in treating that emotion. For the Sad state, I should take a walk with music, tell my boyfriend, take a break from work, etc. This is true if the sadness is because my brain decided Tuesday at 2pm was Sad Time and also true if someone I know died.

Emotions are generally Your Responsibility, this goes double for actions in response to emotions. Sometimes the responsible thing to do is to tell someone else about your feelings, or stop being around the person who always makes you feel unintelligent, or enlist help from someone else in determining what the right decision is. But in general, feelings you have are your responsibility to respond to. (Sometimes ‘responding’ is never, ever speaking to that person again.)

I don’t think it’s terrible to feel really irritable for no reason (in fact, this is sometimes a symptom of depression). But behavior in response to the feeling needs justification.

Having [negative] emotions about your current emotions is usually unhelpful, especially when they’re as strong or stronger than the root emotion.
[Credit to Chana for the original formulation of this]

Feeling (a)guilty that you feel (b)sad!
Feeling (a)angry that you are (b)depressed!
Feeling (a)humiliated that you felt (b)jealous!

For one, it’s hard to address two emotions at once, and I am fairly confident that the set of (a) emotions don’t generally decrease instances of (b) emotions—but they do make it a lot harder to talk to other people about your (b) emotions. If you feel sad now, and also you feel like you shouldn’t feel sad, it seems unlikely you’ll be able to do something to make yourself feel less sad. And I think the you that feels guilty for being sad, and the alt-universy you who just feels sad with no guilty have the same goal: be less sad, stat.

Example: Susan approaches me (or I notice and ask Susan) and it comes out that she is feeling guilty, because she’s angry I broke up with her pretty abruptly.

So I think we can agree that if I didn’t want to be in a relationship with Susan, I should not be dating her, and the best way to cause this is for me to break up with her. And I think most people would agree that you shouldn’t say with someone for a while just so you can artificially create a fading relationship.

I think we can also agree that when people break up with you, it sucks, and being upset is a pretty reasonable reaction. (We might have ideas about how to behave with that upsetness—we usually agree that revenge and emotional blackmail are bad, but that being upset makes sense)

But if all Susan can do is tell me that she feels guilty for feeling upset with me, then I’m in the role of telling her that her negative feelings are okay, that it’s normal to not like being near me for a while, etc etc etc. It’s not that I disagree with these statements! I don’t! But you’ll notice we’re never progressing to the root emotion—at best I can hope that Susan will move to disliking me in a guilt-free way. I also don’t get to discuss or defend my actions. I’m too busy telling Susan that it’s okay to hate me for a while to make the case for eventually not hating me.

Then what about emotions that are unhelpful or not grounded in reality? (And how would you even figure out which are or aren’t?)

There’s a both useful and terrible phrase in the mental health/social justice community which is that ‘your emotions are valid’.

On one hand, it’s endorsing something I strongly believe—that the emotions you are having right now are real and worth looking at and caring for, and that this is an essential process for moving forward.

On the other hand, I don’t think I or other people who use this phrase actually want to take it as far as it can be taken. We usually have Feelings about people who experience revulsion in response to race or gender characteristics. We have Feelings about Alice when she is very angry that Bob, who she didn’t want to date, develops a crush on John instead.

In short, we’re averse to calling those ‘valid’ feelings.

But before we explore that, a horror story from my profession!

A few decades ago psychologists believed that you could recover repressed memories via therapy. Specifically, memories of child sexual abuse.  There was a movement to recover these repressed memories (coinciding with the panic about Satanic Ritual Abuse). Many of those memories were false. Created. Horrific, but remnants of our brains’ ability to create nightmares and falsify recall.

And I think we all agree that many of these these children, now adults, were not sexually abused by the people they accused. They didn’t watch ritualized killings or rapes. Many of them didn’t experience sexual abuse they were recalling in offices, on couches. But we also know that it’s extremely hard to introspect and know which memories are completely accurate. We know that false memories are vivid.

And as those children and adults deal with the fallout, as they perhaps experience false flashbacks, or have triggers, we could say “Well, you obviously shouldn’t be having those emotions/flashbacks/, they’re not representative of reality. You’re not really a rape victim, stop feeling bad.”

And if we stopped for just a second, or read any of the facial cues of the people listening with horror, we would realize this is an asshole move. It’s true, their reactions to false memories are well, reactions to false memories. We could say that their emotions are valid in some sense: they are reacting to memories and trauma that their brain believes to be real. But we also could say they aren’t valid: their memories are based in completely made up stuff.

Here’s where I like the global/local distinction. Instead of “your emotions are valid” as an approach, “your emotions are locally valid, check back later about global validity”.

(I make terrible slogans.)

Local validity: I am experiencing [X] emotion. (If known) this is an emotion I am having in response to [Y]/a real feeling that’s occurring in response to something. It currently exists for me. I might want to do look it full on and maybe do something about it.

Local validity is about noticing and responding to your current emotions as if they’re real emotions that are happening to you. Global validity is about reflecting about the trends and patterns of emotions and how well you think they’re grounded in a realistic view of the world.

Global validity: I had That Emotion in response to Those Events. Does my read of the events fit with the outside view of things? Would I tell someone in my situation to go ahead and have my same emotional response?

Do I normally want to have That Emotion in response to Those Events?
What are patterns I can find? Do I like those?
Do they align with the sort of person I’d like to be?
What non-judgemental* information about myself can I get?
What do I reasonably assume I could do to change, if anything?
What are the tradeoffs of changing my emotional reaction to events like Those Events?

*I say non-judgemental, because you want to start by collecting information. Get stuck in spirals of guilt won’t let you move towards planning what to do next.

Again, all of these principles conflict and create weird edge cases that cause me to edit and adjust and add exceptions and caveats. Ultimately, I try to balance my interest in the truth and aligning my behavior with a true understanding of the world with my brain’s interest in using those values to avoid dealing with difficult emotions.