Gentle Suggestions

This is not an advice column or WebMD

Let’s take a few questions today.

Anxious cannabis user here. I have been a casual weed smoker/consumer for the last few years; but since March, it has become nearly a daily ritual. A few puffs at night to help me relax, and occasional day use on the weekends. I'm worried I am getting into addiction territory. I keep telling myself that when things go back to some semblance of normal my habit will get less aggressive, but who knows when that will be. and honestly, if a little weed helps me spend every night at home without screaming and having panic it bad? am I being too hard on myself? or should I slow my roll?

Wow the anxiety is so LOUD in this question.

I am really sorry that you’re having panic attacks. That really sucks and I hope that you find something that works for you as soon as possible. Medical advice is above this newsletter’s pay grade so no matter what we discuss here, please talk to a medical professional. I know it’s hard to believe I’m not a doctor. I myself am often shocked by this because television has so thoroughly convinced me that if I had to, I could dramatize a pneumothorax by jabbing a pen into a lung to help someone breathe. Every single time— trust me it’s happened more than once, I’ve heard a call for “is there a doctor on board?” I have to physically restrain myself from leaping to help.

Let’s stop talking about me and talk about real doctors of medicine. Doctors can be expensive and hard to talk to but their entire job is saving lives. That’s literally what they went to school for. They want to help fix your body! I went to school to find out what happens if you leave the writing of a 20 page paper about a dumb philosophical debate for the very last minute possible. If you come to me with a serious medical problem, all I can help you with is formatting your citations or giving you tricks to make your paper seem longer. I can’t be trusted with advice about your body because my entire brain is filled with information about taking shortcuts in life. I’m getting…anxious just thinking about it.

Back to this question. I personally have found relief from anxiety with both psychopharmacology and cannabis and there is no shame at all in using either. You need every tool in the toolbox but talk to experts before you buy any kind of toolbox, you know? For me at least, cannabis has been a much needed bandaid and psychopharmacology has done the heavy lifting. I still get panic attacks but they are fewer and far between and I know how to deal with them as they are happening. That’s my brain. Your brain? YMMV.

Marijuana addiction is a very controversial topic because some people believe that it’s not possible at all and some people think that you can become dependent on it like any substance. I make it a point to talk about my recreational drug use with all my doctors because I’ve found that it’s a really good barometer for whether the doctor is smart and compassionate, two qualities I need all of my doctors to have. My primary care doctor for example never shames me but she did gently send me studies to read about the link between cannabis and anxiety because she is familiar with my mental health care.

In my own experience, self-medicating is a recipe for disaster and a larger symptom (avoidance!) of what I am dealing with. So for the umpteenth time: talk to a doctor. There are also cannabis professionals who can help you find which strains are best for your anxious state. If you’re going to use marijuana as medicine, you might as well do it right. Bonne chance.

Is it common as a brown 30 something woman to always feel so intimidated being around adult white 'professional women'? They fucking scare me.

Is it common? Hmmm I don’t think so but I know what you mean …kind of.

Let me tell you a story. On the very first day of my very first job out of college, my boss basically made fun of the fact that I had gone to a state school instead of fancier private schools like some of my colleagues. I was really upset of course and felt a host of feelings at his comment but shame? No shame here. I’m a product of the international school system so there is absolutely no way someone with an American education no matter how rich they are can make me feel ashamed of my educational background. Just Google “OECD PISA rankings” and see for yourself. Anyway…

My boss’ callous comment was just the tip of the iceberg so I didn’t last long at that job. My colleagues would plan office parties in front of me and not invite me. They would give me really demeaning tasks to do and gossip about whether I was good enough to work there. Most of these people were white but the ring leader was a woman of color. My takeaway there is that every race has bullies with bad taste. When I finally left that job, a woman in HR told me that I wasn’t “a good fit” for “the office culture.” She was right. My outfits and my personality weren’t hideous enough to fit in. Jesus be a Filene's Basement credit card application and shield me from these fools.

“Office culture” is a term that is very inconsistently defined but it’s basically the overall vibe of any organization. Some vibes are bad and some vibes are not amazing but not offensive either. If you’re enjoying the vibe too much, sorry to say but you are being very corny and please look to see who you are oppressing with your corny office vibes. Thx. Employers will often say that they aim to hire people they think will be a good fit. Whenever I hear this my ears perk up because it’s telling me a lot. Some people fit in and some people do not. The people who are deemed good fits usually all have similar backgrounds, goals and points of view. Not always exactly those things but they definitely have something in common and figuring out that something is your ticket to being on the winning side of the office politics.

If you’ve been in the workforce for even 10 seconds, I am sure you realize that the people at the top of the food chain do not look like you or me. It’s a useful observation to make but it doesn’t have to paralyze you or make you feel like you’re not going to accomplish your professional goals. My point is just that office culture just has a way of making people feel lacking. Work is not unlike high school unfortunately. Maybe you’re from a smaller, rural town and everyone at your office is like “but we live in cities” or maybe your colleagues all play a sport they didn’t offer at your school. Maybe everyone wears the exact same Patagonia vest or maybe you don’t drink but every Friday at 5PM a bar cart magically appears and there is an expectation that you have to partake. Maybe there’s office lingo that you don’t understand. Gender, race, class, sexuality, religion and so many other differences can be highlighted and make you feel alienated from your colleagues.

Your question was interesting to me because the stereotype I usually hear is that Black women are the ones everyone is intimidated by. I hate that stereotype for a lot of reasons but especially because one can feel intimidated without actually being intimidated. So I would ask you to ask yourself what it is about the white women at work that makes you feel intimidated. Do you feel like your workplace centers around their ideas? Do they dictate the vibe? Do you feel that when you try to speak up, you are silenced? You say these women “scare” you. Can you describe the scary behavior? Have they explicitly said out of pocket things to you? If they haven’t, can you pinpoint why you are feeling this way? Or is it more subtle than that?

I am asking these questions, not to invalidate your feelings but to understand what the path forward is. What you are feeling is real and painful. If it is coming from your colleagues, you might not be a good fit and might have to start making a contingency plan. I don’t think you have to leave right this instant but you do have to figure out what the office game is and how you can start to play. You also have to decide what your line is and how much of the office game you’re willing to play.

If however this isn’t a question about how you fit into the office scene and more about internalized shame and feelings of inadequacy about your background, then no, I refuse to accept that for you. You are a brown woman! Nobody is rooting for you at work unless you are rooting for yourself! That is the harsh truth.

Nobody chooses the family they’re born into or the cards they’re dealt by the universe. You do your best with what you have. Anyone who tries to use your background to make you feel small is a piece of shit so let’s not make it any easier for them. Thanks.

Also I know we are not to supposed to make generalizations but some of my best friends are white women so I know what I’m talking about: white professional women have their own fears and anxieties so there is no reason at all to be afraid of them. They’re sometimes (a lot of the time?) busy being afraid of each other and of themselves. Did you know that some white women can even lack confidence?! Again, I only know this because some of my best friends are white. I’m not recommending you run out to make white friends if you don’t have already have any but for information like this, it’s really worth it.

Being confident is innate to some people but most of us have to work at it. I constantly have to remind myself that confidence is a feeling I can choose. I choose to be comfortable with what I lack. My old boss’ comment didn’t make me feel small because I had already accepted that I wasn’t born white and wealthy and that I would have to work my way through school and life. I am confident at work because I have also accepted that failure is part of learning and I know I will fail but it’s not the end of the world. Another reason, I feel confident at work is because I have invested in a network of colleagues who have my back. Some people, call that shine theory I think. Capitalism divides and conquers marginalized people in the workforce by telling us that there is only one seat at the table for someone who looks like us. That’s not true. Get yourself some co-conspirators who will gas you up when your tank is empty.

I have found myself underestimated in every office job I ever had. I now kind of appreciate that it gave me space and time to figure out what I wanted for myself instead of trying to contort myself to fit into an office culture I didn’t respect. The joke’s on my old boss because if you google him, you find out that he lost his job for being a workplace bully. Google searches for his protégés yield sad LinkedIn profiles and wedding announcements in local newspapers or worse, nothing at all. I definitely do not fit in with that crowd and I’m glad I played the long game. You should too. Bonne chance.

I’m at the tail-end of treatment for stage 3 breast cancer. I was diagnosed at 31 and am finding it hard to relate to my friends, none of whom have dealt with a life-threatening illness, most of whom are now moving on with their lives in a way I feel I can’t. Any advice for coping - and living without resenting my friends?

Hey. I’m so happy you’re almost done with treatment! What great news! I almost said “congratulations” but one of the brochures at the hospital where I was treated said you shouldn’t say that. Instead you’re supposed to say, “how are you feeling?” When people said congratulations to me I didn’t know how to react because it’s so….weird and absurd. Congratulations for what? Being alive? I personally didn’t do anything. It kinda just happened. Maybe you want to congratulate my doctors who did all the work? I hate myself for wanting to say congratulations to you but now I get the impulse. People remaining alive is so thrilling. I get it.

A woman in my cancer support group ominously told me on one of my last days of treatment that “the hard part starts now. Surviving is the hardest part.” What a wild thing to say to someone who just had Chernobyl happen in their body. Ugh I am once again a bad cancer survivor because you’re not supposed to use war metaphors to describe the human experience of cancer. Chernobyl isn’t a war but I don’t know if that defense holds in cancer court. Anyway I hate to say it but that lady from the support group was kind of right and there’s nothing I hate more than when a stranger just Bagger Vance’s their way into your life and drop truths.

I was so laser-focused on treatment and the mechanics of getting better that it hadn’t even occurred to me that when it was all done, I would have to sift through the emotional debris of my life.

Oh man. The friends. They’re the best but they’re also the worst you know? They’re just so …alive and full of questions and wanting to help you but yet constantly reminding you that they’re alive and thriving. It’s OK to be resentful. You are right. They didn’t go through a life-threatening illness and no matter how much they were there for you, they do not know what it’s like to be the one dying. There is nothing they can say or do that will change that. That’s a really heavy thing to sit with but I hope you’ll sit with it for a while. Feel every single one of your feelings especially the petty and ugly ones. As far as I’m concerned there is no feeling too petty or too ugly when you’re dying.

Feel your feelings. You are allowed to stew. You can take a few weeks or a few months or however long you need. If you will allow me to stay with this stew metaphor, a lot of people think that if you stew beef for too long, it gets tougher. That’s not what happens. It actually gets so tender it falls apart. The beef that gets tough was low quality to start with and never had the capacity to be tender in the slow cooker. We are high quality beef! So anyway, take your time. The worse that’s going to happen is that you fall apart and let me tell you babe, you’re basically there.

When you’re finally ready not to be stewing anymore, ask yourself why you are feeling this way and tell yourself the truth. Because once you arrive at the truth, you will realize that the resentment is actually fear. You will also realize how little this resentment has to do with your friends and that instead it has everything to do with how you believe you have to be in the world.

You probably believe that at 31 you should be really well established in your career, have a partner with whom you’re plotting to start a family in the dreamy home you’re about to buy. Ok fine. Maybe that’s not your exact fantasy but I imagine that you expect that at 31 you would be whatever your version of a grownup is.

I went looking for what constitute the traditional markers of adulthood and surprise, surprise they’ve evolved over time. According to the National Institute of Health they are roughly as follows: completing schooling, beginning full-time work, becoming financially independent, getting married, and becoming a parent. According to this Guardian article though, the millennial markers of adulthood are: first living alone, then finding a longterm partner and living together, working in a full-time permanent job, having children and saving for the future. A millennial with healthy savings is so hilarious to me.

I’m a few years older than you but I don’t feel like much of a grownup by any of these benchmarks and I don’t think that would change even if I hand’t gotten cancer because this idea of a “grownup” is mostly made up. Nobody has a perfectly linear journey on this earth. Life will be full of interruptions like the ones you and I have had. (Hello global pandemic!) Cancer really sucks and I am really sorry it happened to you but I really do not believe that it has slowed you down or taken you off a preordained path for your life.

The pressure to be a grownup also comes with some hideous competitive aspects. How do you know you’re not a grownup after all? Society invites you to look at other people’s lives (without asking probing questions) to make that determination. Some people will have a family before you. Some people will get their dream job before you. (What is a dream job even?) Some of your friends will have their parents help them buy a house and some of your friends have the healthiest savings known to man. Some people won’t have any of those things at all but it’s easier to fixate on the ones that do and feel like we need the same things. Forcing you to be in community with people you love and then making you envy them is one of society’s most successful scams if you ask me.

The best way to eliminate envy from friendships is to be transparent about what each of us are struggling with and the best way to cope with the feelings you described is to talk about them with your friends. I think you will be surprised about what you hear from them in return. You might hear about their fears of losing you or the problems they’re facing in their own lives. When something as scary as cancer is happening, there is a tendency to minimize every other life problem. It’s possible your friends don’t want to burden you with their own troubles because they think that what you’re going through is the most important thing happening in your friend circle. It’s thoughtful but it’s also possible that it’s making you feel like everyone but you is thriving. The older I get, the more I realize everyone I know is probably struggling with something we aren’t talking about. Once during a transfusion, I had a friend tell me about some serious financial problems she was having and I am a little ashamed at how…alive it made me feel. In my hour of cancer, other people are having problems too?? Please tell me everything!

The pettiest, most misguided thing I think whenever I go through a big life trial is "ok thank god that’s almost over because it’s someone else’s turn now!” This is what too much religion in my youth and now an absence of religion have done to my lizard brain: the demented idea that an invisible puppet handpicks people to suffer one at a time but the good news is that when your particular suffering is done, it’s someone else’s turn to suffer! Today it’s your turn to be the person with cancer but you’re already on your way to being the healthy person that someone else won’t be able to relate to. It doesn’t feel good to know that but I hope it makes you realize that these kinds of health scares are cyclical and that soon enough, you will be the one called to be someone else’s support system. If you have people in your life and live long enough, it’s inevitable. It’s always someone else’s turn. (I hope my therapist is reading this articulation of my religious beliefs because we need to talk about it. )

Therapy! I have to say that if anything saved my life (and my friendships) when I had cancer, it was therapy. If you have access to it, take full advantage of it. It’s worth the money and the time and you can find someone that specializes in working with cancer survivors. A lot of hospitals also have oncology social workers who can help you navigate the psychological and emotional side of things at no extra cost. A good counselor will help you navigate the hard, gross feelings and give you constructive language for talking to your friends. It’s going to be hard and awkward but nowhere near as terrible as cancer.

These conversations are hard to have and they will shift the plate tectonics of your life. You might lose some friends. Other friendships will get stronger. You will definitely learn a lot about yourself. You’re in a new season of life and still here with us. That alone is worth celebrating and trying to make sense of. Cancer can feel like it robbed us of so many things that make us human and beautiful on the outside but let me assure you that it only enhances the qualities that make you human and beautiful on the inside. Bonne chance.

That was a lot. I need to lie down. See you Saturday.