DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I’m writing to you anyways because I really need your help. I’m actually pretty ashamed of my problems too. I despise the way I think and feel, yet no matter how hard I try to repress them, they just keep resurfacing. I feel like I have to repress them because if I try to express my thoughts and feelings to another person, I’ll most likely be vilified. Hell, even I would shun me. But you seem like a very intelligent individual with an open mind, so maybe you can help.
So just a little information about me to offer some insight. I’m eighteen and male. I reside in Canada. I also have dyslexia, ADHD and depression. I grew up in a small town which I, sadly, still live in. Drug use runs rampant throughout the town (I, myself, don’t do drugs anymore). There’s a colossal amount of racism as well (I’m also not racist). And everyone seems to hate each other.
This led to me slowly isolating myself and growing cynical over the years. I’ve never really had a close relationship with anybody. The only role models I’ve ever had was fictional characters like Dr. House or Temperance “Bones” Brennan. My parents, bluntly speaking, emotionally neglected me. The other kids essentially bullied me.
This finally brings me to the whole reason I’ve decided to write this. The worst of the maltreatment was at the hands of women. Both by my mother and female peers. My mother cheated on my father and manipulated us my entire life. My peers called me names. Like ugly, dumb or weird, to name a few.
I used to support feminism. But now I’m on the fence about it and women in general. I’ve only ever been hurt in relationships with women. So I’ve now become especially cynical towards them. I really wish I didn’t think this way, and I feel stupid for it, but I do. I don’t want to overgeneralize but when I look around me all I can see are affirmations. I also read stories online which makes me believe that women will always treat me disdainfully.
I hate to pester you with my problems but you’re honestly the only person I can think of that can help me at this point. How do I stop thinking and feeling like this? I despise it more than anything.
DEAR CONFUSED DYSLEXIC: First of all, I’m sorry that you’ve had all of this pain in your life, CD. Things have been hard for you and you’ve been hurt immensely. It’s good that you recognize how unreasonable a lot of this is. It doesn’t matter that you feel powerless right now; recognizing that things are wrong and asking for help are significant steps to breaking through and taking control of your life and your mind.
Now, let me give you some wisdom1 that will help you immensely when dealing with a lot of issues around your self-esteem and self-image: Depression lies. Depression lies a lot. It will lie to you about everything and those lies will be believable because you hear them in your own voice. Depression lies to you in ways that you will never detect because it will quite literally changes how you see the world. This isn’t hyperbole: your brain processes information based on what it expects to receive. To illustrate this concept, I want you to check out this video about what’s known as “The McGurk Effect”: https://nrdlv.co/3hpVKWf. As you watch it, notice how you will literally hear something different because of what you expect based on lip movements.
This applies to how you think about things too; once you come to expect a certain behavior or treatment from people – women, for example – you’re going to see it everywhere because your brain filters out evidence to the contrary. This is known as confirmation bias, and we’re all prone to it. We see the things we expect to see and ignore the things that aren’t “relevant” to those expectations. Those affirmations that you’re seeing? You’re seeing them BECAUSE expecting them, and you’re missing the other options. Much like someone who thinks that feminists are man-hating ball-busters who think all sex is rape, they’ll point to Andrea Dworkin’s writing and miss… basically every third-wave and post-third wave feminist writer ever.
So before we get too far into things, you need to consider the distinct possibility that you’re wrong about a lot of things here. Not about how you feel: that’s very real. But the CAUSE of those feelings, on the other hand, are suspect, and that is where we need to start.
So let’s start with the obvious: before you decide that you’re sad and pathetic and the world despises you, you should probably make sure that you’re not, in fact, surrounded by a--holes.
The people in our lives have immense power over us. We are, functionally, the sum of the people we spend the most time with. When you’re surrounding yourself with people who love and support you, who have your back and give you encouragement when you need it, you become stronger, better and happier. When you’re surrounded by toxic a--holes, on the other hand, you can find everything good in your life rots away and leaves you with nothing but filth and shame.
The fact that a--holes get you down doesn’t mean that you’re weak. Rivers will wear down rocks and carve canyons into the earth when given enough time. Torrents of bulls--t and hate will carve grooves into your heart, soul and brain if stay in the deluge. Toxic relationships – both platonic and romantic – will make you think that you’re the problem and not the s--tty people who’re dripping poison in your ear. Not having a “Team You” in your life – those friends and family who’re there for you, who help you and cheer you on – makes you even more vulnerable to the a--holes in the world. And believe me, they love to make you think that you’re the problem. That’s their gift.
But, like depression: they lie. They’ll lie and lie until you believe it and let those lies color everything in your life.
So now it’s time to break free.
There are two things you need right now. The first is that you need to talk to a counselor or therapist, not just a loud-mouth with a dating advice column. You’re in a lot of pain and a therapist – especially one who deals with depression – is going to be the right person to help untangle everything and find you therapies that will help you. Even if there aren’t any in your immediate area, there ARE therapists who will work with you via telemedicine and services like Zoom or Skype. I would strongly suggest starting there and beginning the process of finding the right therapist to help you out. Maybe talk therapy will work for you. Maybe medication will help in combination with other forms of therapy will do the trick. It may take time and experimentation to find the combo that works for you. It will be frustrating. It will be maddening at times. But trust me: it will be worth it when it clicks for you.
It’s also worth noting: your ADHD ties into a LOT of this. One of the underreported aspects of ADHD is how much it exacerbates issues like depression and social anxiety. If you aren’t already getting treatment for that, then I strongly suggest that you bring it up with your therapist. Getting on the right medications can help get your ADHD under control and, quite possibly, take some of the edge off the other issues as well.
The next thing you need to do is get the f--k out of town. Start saving up every penny you can and put it into a “buying a ticket on the ‘F--k This S--t’ Express” fund. If you have friends in other cities, reach out to them. Leverage your social network to find a place to escape to so you can recover and thrive. Maybe they can connect you with a job. Maybe they can find you a couch to crash on while you get your legs back underneath you and establish yourself in your new locale.
And once you’re there: start reaching out and connecting with people. Not everybody needs to be your new best friend, and most of them shouldn’t. But simply building those human connections will remind you that not all people are horrible, not all women are out to hurt you and that Team You is out there. They’re just waiting for you to come find them.
Good luck. And write back to let us know how you’re doing.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org