Autism and Comorbidity
I have noticed that over the years I have been rather emotionally dead inside. It seems I need strong stimulus to feel a little compassion towards others outside of myself. But this does not mean I am selfish per se. I seem caring on the outside. I am friendly with my friends I hang out with. I do chores for Mom as she has to go to work in the morning and I am home during the day. I hug her. I say I love her, but I never really feel it. When she would get home, she would have dinner and then sit on the couch [with] her iPad watching the news and relaxing while I was on the computer. I would occasionally spend some time with her on the couch, but I never really felt a connection with her doing that. Also, my intrusive thoughts would constantly make me feel bad and not happy. Too negative. Honestly, at night they make me want to commit suicide sometimes.
Sometimes I would just write my thoughts down on paper. Whatever thought popped into my head I would write down, and it is always very negative stuff.
Another example is the Thousand Oaks shooting. I was attending Moorpark College when it happened. However, since I only recently moved there, I never formed any real ties to the local area. Point is, after it happened one of our teachers talked to each of us individually in case we needed to talk to someone about what just happened. I personally never really felt anything towards the victims. I more or less went about [my business] as if nothing really happened. So when the teacher talked to me, I was rather nonchalant and did not seem very upset whatsoever. Later, I received an email asking me to [see] the Moorpark counselor. I did not understand why at the time, but looking back I think my teacher talked to someone about my lack of emotion. I went to see the counselor, but since I was perfectly fine that day, I was in and out in 5 minutes. Nothing wrong whatsoever. (Note, I was recently diagnosed with autism).
I do not actively go out and hurt anyone. However, I do not really go out and volunteer to help anyone. If it’s of any relevancy, part of the reason I am emotionally dead or think I am that way is because of a lot of trauma during my young adult years.
Recently, I got a lifeguard job, and [judging by] the first day alone, it seems like a good fit for me. That should help with my depression and give me encouragement as I now have a source of income. It seems really easy, a good thing for my OCD thoughts. (They are not as bad as they were many months ago, but sometimes they still bother me.)
I have to admit I am never happy. My day is boring day and day out, and sometimes I feel like I am far behind most people my age in their progress of life.
So, what are your thoughts? What do you think is going on, and how do you think I should proceed going forward?
Nicholas (age 26)
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I am sorry for the struggles you are experiencing. Thank you for writing.
To make a full assessment of what's going on, I would ideally like to know more about your background, especially details about the trauma you mention only in passing. That said, my initial feeling is that all of this links with your autism. You don't say where you are on the autism spectrum, but be that as it may, autism is often associated with other emotional conditions. This comorbidity may involve all of the other problems you mention, including OCD, depression, and your lack of empathy for others.
You autism, combined with whatever trauma you might have suffered earlier, may have brought up or exacerbated these other emotional issues. Let's talk about each of these in turn:
In short, I suspect strongly that all these things you are experiencing, including your reaction to the Thousand Oaks shooting, are connected to your ASD. Therefore, the logical thing to ask is this: Are you being treated for your ASD? Are you seeing a professional? Have you consulted a doctor at any time? (I don't think your 5-minute consultation with a counselor counts).
I suggest you start by checking out the Autism Speaks website as a good place to find information and resources.
Don't worry that you might hurt someone (doubtful) and don't worry about competing with others your age (everyone is different and progresses at their own rate). But if you do have thoughts of suicide again and they get worse, please call the 988 hotline, or you can also chat at the website.
I hope this helps. Write again if you have more questions or concerns.
First of all I'd like to thank you for being such a positive influence for so many people and the fandom. Many charge a ton of money to do less than half of what you do and whatever your reasons are, I feel you're being honest and sincere in your answers. You've been thanked by many, I know, but the fact that you do what you do, makes me feel grateful that you're here, and having something to be grateful alone makes me feel a little better.
Well, I'll try to get to the point. I was born in a very white trash, poor, religiously fanatic and very abusive family in a 3rd world country. So I guess it goes without saying that I have issues. Several traumas, depression, anxiety, ptsd, add, the list goes on.
I won't get further into that because that is another whole can of anaconda sized worms on it's own so I'll focus on what's bothering me right now.
Recently I've come to the realization that my self-hatred is enormous, way bigger than I thought it was and it probably has a bigger impact on me than any other factor. I've been trying to lessen it's effects with some simple practices and try to understand to what point it affects me.
Now, seemingly unrelated to that I've became very interested or maybe obsessed with My Little Pony FIM as of late. Specifically fanfiction. I was always a fan of the show but my interest in it had died so long ago I even stopped watching the show. I don't know why I started reading the fanfictions exactly, I think I frantically read all fancomics that I found and still wanted to consume more of that universe so I looked at fanfiction.
Here's where it gets weird. I absolutely hate reading. It's one of the things I hate the most in life and even to read a fiction book like Eragon took me a loooot of effort and will. Only book I think I wholeheartedly read without any struggle was The Hitchhiker's guide to the Galaxy, which remains in my concept one the best works of fiction/entertainment of all time.
I digress. I started reading these fanfictions and having an amazing time, the first one I've read captivated me just like Hitchhiker's. I didn't focus on anything specific such as romance or sci-fi. They were just a few surprisingly well written stories in that universe by an author. The second author I found had good stories too but they were very focused on romance, comedy and a specific kind of drama I really spent hours thinking about. By that I mean that many time when I'm reading one of these stories, I stop reading them and begin to "spin off" from it and think on different things the characters in the story could have done and many times I stay hours in that state so much so the story in my head is now another one completely.
I told myself I was going to stop after that one story because It was consuming too much of time. I didn't, I kept getting back and finding more and more fanfictions to read. And usually feel bad all the time but recently I started to feel worst so I thought: "Either I read this fics to escape or they're what causing me to feel worst."
At first I thought it probably wasn't the latter, and I still don't think it is but something strange happened. I found some fics where I related to a character, usually a character who suffers from depression, has a lot of self hatred (not low self-esteem) and all that brings.
I've been to many lowest of lows and suicide is far from an alien thought to me to say the least. (Not only for emotional distress but physical pain as well, I've dealt with some hard stuff.)
But I've never contemplated self in reality of fantasy and I've never glamourized suicide outside of very very common "self sacrifice" fantasies.
So, at one time I read a comic when a character is feeling unworthy/guilty for depression reasons and the character doesn't do anything except think. But I go on one of my "spin offs" and put myself in his place and I start fantasizing about him/me piercing his/my shoulder and making a slice from it to my collar bone. It felt weird because I really, really, really wanted to feel the pain of doing that. I'm not a fan of pain, I'm averted by any sadist or masochistic thing or thought so this was really a first to me.
Then it happened one where I (the character), flew very very high up and just let go. And again, I really wanted to experience that, which is funny since I'm somewhat afraid of heights and it's not on my top 10 ways to suicide. (Don't have a list, just wanted to stress the feeling.)
And this keeps happening, I knew I hated myself but I never knew to what degree until this started to happen. I can't find why my subconscious want's to be punished so hard, why does it feel so guilty. I don't feel like I was or am a burden to anyone, I only sometimes feel a slight hint of guilt over decisions I've made in the past over something small and it goes away pretty fast. Do I consciously feel unworthy of love, affection, attention, existing? Very much, yes. But can that translate to fantasies of self harm when in reality I don't have the slightest wish to do so?
I know the source it's trauma but this is new to me and it feels like it's a big part of the whole picture. Am I not seeing something that's clearly there? If I'm just living "hidden" emotions through these characters, why are these emotions more hidden than the others? Should I stop reading fanfiction or at least avoid the ones with this theming?
These are a lot of questions, I don't expect you to answer all, if any of them. I hope I've at least expressed myself well enough to give you an idea of what I feel because my real question is:
What's your take on this?
Also I'd like to let you know that I'm planning or hurting or putting myself in danger in any way so please don't worry. I've been trying to be introspective with my feelings to see where they come from, the why and how and It's obviously not easy but with every realization I feel a little better, if not I feel like I've gained a key to unlock some other mystery in the future.
But every time I think I cannot be surprised anymore, well... So I don't know what to make of this, all I know is that I can't feel good fantasizing about hurting myself. If anything that is proof of my decaying state of mind and I'm looking for improvement not decay. Sorry for any confusing parts, I hope I've explained it at least well enough to not give you any headaches.
Thank you so much, Papabear. Hope you have an awesome holyday season and new year!
P.s. I still hate to read but I think I love to write. XD
Anonymous (age 27)
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Thank you for your letter. You raise a very interesting topic: the healing power of fiction and literature in general. It sounds as if you have had quite a difficult childhood, so I extend to you my sympathies. Almost without fail, people who suffer from low self-esteem, depression, and anxiety are this way because of external forces. That is, traumas you have experienced or feelings of being negatively judged originate from those whou surround you and do not spontaneously generate from within. The only reason you feel badly about yourself is that you have been the subject of physical, emotional, or psychological abuse or a combination of these.
Many people find comfort by escaping into fantasy worlds, or through other forms of art ranging from film to music to the visual arts. Fiction literature appears to be the remedy you have found for yourself. That is perfectly normal. In fact, there are studies that show that reading novels and stories can ease people's emotional and psychological issues. Indeed, it has also been shown that reading fiction can help us learn to improve social interactions and empathy with others. In the world of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic you have anthropomorphic unicorns, ponies, dragons etc., many of which have cheerful and spunky personalities, making friends and solving various problems and quests by working together. It's a very upbeat and optimistic cartoon, which is why it is so popular. Obviously, MLP represents a world that you find desirable, and reading MLP fan fiction and imagining yourself in that world is part of your self-therapy. You see, lacking a therapist in the real world, you have discovered your own treatment through this television show and its fanfic.
Okay, so why the dreams or fantasies about dying in one way or another in various MLP scenarios you imagine for yourself? Obviously, you start off daydreaming about the MLP world and then your feelings of depression and anxiety intrude upon it. This is similar to when children have a dream that starts off happily but ends up with a monster suddenly appearing and attacking them. The monster could represent things such as fear about a bully at school, a homework assignment or test, or perhaps an upcoming visit to the doctor or tension in the family. So, here you are, in your case, having an escapist fantasy and then the black clouds in the back of your mind intrude upon it.
You also mention you are experiencing fears and guilt about hiding your emotions and feelings. It sounds like you are keeping something out of the letter, such as feeling ashamed of who you are, something you are keeping secret from your family? I can only speculate, but this could obviously be the monster intruding into your daydreams as well in the form of self-destruction. Furthermore, the fantasy of dying in an act of self-sacrifice is a call to get attention that you are a worthwhile person. Let me ask you this: in your daydreams of self-sacrifice, do you go out in a blaze of glory? An explosion or fireball? These are symbolic of trying to send a flare up into the sky to get attention when you feel stranded on a desert island of loneliness. (You can feel lonely in a room full of people, you know.) Complementary to this is the daydream of piercing or cutting yourself. This is a subconscious desire to feel something, to verify that you DO exist because you feel ignored. "Hello? Am I here? No one is acknowledging me! Do I even exist? If I cause myself pain, I will confirm that I do."
The solution to all this is to get your family to acknowledge that you are a worthwhile and valued member of the clan, but if they won't do that, then you need to find a family and friends that do. Family, in my opinion, is not necessarily your blood relatives (see Lilo and Stitch). Family are the people who love and support you for being you. In My Little Pony, the characters are not related but they are still family. For now, these fictional characters have become your surrogate family, but you would do well to find some people in real life who fulfill your needs as well as talking ponies and unicorns do.
In the meantime, you say that you don't like reading but you love writing. Writing is extremely therapeutic, too. I encourage you to write your own stories, working out your feelings as you do so.
Make sense? Write again and let me know.
Are You Addicted to Unhappiness?
[Papabear Note: This is a special column that is, I feel, relevant to many furries, including myself. As I have noted before on this website, yours truly has struggled a lot with depression and negativity. I have sought ways to alleviate this to mixed success. A notion started to form in my head that has been supported by some articles I have written in psychology journals that being unhappy and feeling sorry for oneself can actually create a feedback loop that becomes addictive. This feedback is bolstered by social media, where we post about how sad we are and poor me and we get reinforcement from friends, family, and acquaintances that actually make us feel better about being sad. We get attention. We get validation. Now, of course emotional support from our friends and family is important and helpful in a crisis, but sometimes it can lead to a state in which one actually prefers feeling sad and negative than happy and positive because it gains them attention, easing loneliness. This can backfire, too, when it becomes off-putting to your social circle. It is, to say the least, a complicated issue. The following is an excerpt of a conversation I've been having with a furry (who shall remain anonymous). I'm only publishing this small part of it to make my point.]
I just take rejection very hardly. It gets me really painful. VERY PAINFUL. It's not like I never was rejected, it's that I was rejected a lot, as much that even a single acceptance would be insignificant for me. I used to be bullied when I was in elementary school, as well as I was bullying others myself, after that I got sent to a mental hospital... where I was diagnosed with autism and later rediagnosed with schizophrenia... All because I faked having hallucinations which were merely intrusive thoughts about a guy who used to bully me... I didn't tell my psychiatrist that I was bullied because if I would tell there will be problems, and I didn't want them... I ignore positive things in my life and focus on negatives a lot. Because the pain I feel from negativity is bigger than the pleasure from positivity. No wonder why I get hurt when people block me, and tell me that I'm a stalker and that I should leave them alone.
I have actually a lot of online friends but very few offline friends. Even they aren't that significant to me because I'm insensitive to positive emotions, but very sensitive to negative...
If I only could have a magic wand, I wish I could feel positive emotions just like a cat would taste sweet after it... Focusing on positive emotions is very important for friendship maintaining... If I only were able to feel positive emotions which is necessary to focusing on them, nobody would ever block me... (cries)
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It seems pretty clear to me that you have an unhappiness addiction, especially when you say you get more stimulation from negative emotions than from positive ones. This is compounded, obviously, by your autism. You are also doing yourself no favors by not telling your therapist everything that is going on with you, which indicates you are sabotaging your own therapy in order to get off on feeling bad.
Yes, sadness addiction is a thing. Here are some possible reasons as written about Dr. David Sack in Psychology Today:
There are a number of possible explanations for this “addiction” to unhappiness:
There are two methods for overcoming your addiction: 1) seek professional help (and be HONEST with your therapist--otherwise they can't help you), and 2) seek ways to change your behavior yourself. You can do a few things to help yourself: 1) work on living in the moment, appreciating good things you have now and little things you experience that bring happiness; 2) keep a gratitude journal, writing down the things you appreciate and know you should recognize; 3) do not burden yourself with the problems of the world (I am guilty of this myself); you are just one person; instead, try to act locally and do things positive in your local community, for your friends, or for your family; 4) when you do something good, give yourself a little reward; eat a piece of cake or go do something fun like see a movie or go to a water park or the beach or the mountains; 5) practice mindfulness, yoga, meditation, connect to your spirit and to Nature; 6) redefine the values in your life; don't define "success" as having money, material things, job promotions; rather, foster friendships and love in your life.
The more you nurture the love and friendship and goodness in your life, the healthier these aspects will become and the weaker your addiction to unhappiness. You might have heard the old Native American story about the wise man who tells his son that there are two wolves fighting in each of us. One is evil and one is good. Which one will win? the son asks. The one you feed, answers the wise father.
Stop feeding your bitterness and unhappiness and begin feeding love, charity, hope, and friendship.
As of now I am struggling to find a reason to live. I have been off-and-on suicidal and depressed for quite some time and had multiple suicide attempts in the past years.
I just cannot find happiness anymore and I unconsciously have thoughts of “what is the point?” And “life will only get harder than it is today”
At the same time, I seem to have it made. I go to college that dad is paying for, I have a job I enjoy, I exercise a lot, so I am in great health, stimulate my mind via books, news, studying, and have a plan for my future: get through college and earn a pilot license. Dad says I have a lot going for me, which is true: loving parent, no financial worries, great food to eat, etc.
Though I have strong OCD [Obsessive Compulsive Disorder], I have medicine that helps tremendously (though not 100% effective). Dad and his girlfriend have great relationships with me and same thoughts for them.
So, how can this be? I have it better than most people, but I think about taking my life. Am I being stupid and spoiled? (According to dad and my therapist that is an OCD thought). What should I do? I have been to the psychiatric ward twice: once a few years ago and this year, but they really did not do anything helpful. I am torn between “many people have it worse then you so you should be grateful” and “life Is too hard.” How do people survive worse than me?
I tried meditating, talking it out, focusing on academics, reading, exercise … but things do not get better.
Anonymous (age 22)
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Thank you for your important letter. And it is definitely important. It illustrates starkly the fact that depression is a disease that often makes no sense (in that it can have no readily apparent cause), not only to the people around the sufferer but often to the sufferer themselves. As you may know if you have read my column before, I have struggled with depression since I was a teenager, including an attempted suicide when I was 18. I did this even though I apparently had nothing to be depressed about. I had a loving family, we were not poor, and I had just been admitted to the University of Michigan.
But depression doesn’t care about any of that. I obviously survived, but there are still days when it really gets to me.
My first observation here is that it sounds as if you are being treated for OCD with a prescription, but you are not getting any help for depression? As you must know, OCD and clinical depression are not the same thing and will require different treatments, whether that is medicine or professional therapy. I’m confused—and perhaps you are leaving this out—that you have attempted suicide but are not getting help specifically for that. You can find treatment help by visiting the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration at https://www.samhsa.gov/find-treatment. For immediate assistance if you are considering suicide again, please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or chat with them online at https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/chat/.
That said, perhaps it will help you to tell you how I deal with depression. It is a depression that coincides with yours in some ways in that I often wonder what the hell is life all about when it can really seem very pointless. To be frank, over the last few years since Jim died, this has been an even more difficult question for me to answer.
One thing I do is that I recognize the monster for what it is: an irrational feeling that is caused by imbalances in the body. Knowing that there really is no valid reason for me to want to kill myself (I’m in good health, I recently got engaged, I do not lack for food or clothing or shelter), I understand that this Depression Monster is all in my head and that if I ride it out it will eventually go away. This may or may not be what you are dealing with. Are you suicidal all the time or does it come and go? Perhaps, if it comes and goes, you can try to ride it out as I do. How do you do that? Well, number one is to make sure you don’t indulge in listening to sad music, watching sad movies, drinking alcohol (a depressant) or taking drugs, or looking at photos that make you sad. Try to put yourself in a happy environment. This may not work right away, but it will help.
There is an even deeper issue here, too, however. The angst and worry one experiences when the big question—what is the meaning of life?—can never be answered. The good news is that this could be an indication you are more intelligent than the average bear, because smarter people tend to think more about the big picture and to strive more in life than less intelligent people.
I believe the problem you might be having is the “Is this all there is to life?” quandary. This happens with successful, intelligent people at times. They have great careers, great families, lots of material goods … and then begin to wonder, “So what?” My sister had this rather existential issue recently. She confided to me that she had achieved what she wanted in her career and had all the things she wanted but was rather depressed because she felt at a loss as to what else to do with her life. What she has been doing is traveling a lot, which is great. I admire her for being adventurous and all, but I get this suspicion that she is just trying to fill her time or find something out in the big, grand world that just isn’t there. At least, it is no more there than it would be in her own home.
When one finds no satisfaction in accumulating wealth or material goods or fame or power or even sex because these are all selfish pursuits, the answer is to find satisfaction in UNselfish pursuits. I have said this before in my column, and I will say it again now: the only thing in my life that has brought me joy, hope, and a feeling of accomplishment is helping others. Whether it is helping my fiance with his medical issues, or helping a friend get into school, or giving a bit of money to a charity, or writing this column and helping people like you, these things give my life a sense of meaning.
I do not believe that we are here for just ourselves. We are all connected; we all need each other; no one is an island; no one can fill a vacuum with a single particle. We are interconnected waves of energy, not compartimentalized dots of matter, and we all intertwine with one another.
My suggestion for your dilemma, dear furiend, is to go outside yourself and help others. That could be anything: volunteer at an animal shelter, work at a church, campaign for a politician you believe in, entertain the elderly with music at a senior home, get involved in theater, organize a campaign to clear trash from the beaches, and on and on and on. In other words, get involved in the life all around you, with the people around you, with something outside your vocational pursuits.
A final suggestion is this: seems to me you are very driven in your education, thoughts of a career, and even your hobbies are all designed for self-improvement (books, exercise, etc.), which is great, but don’t forget to have some fun, too! It kind of sounds to me that you are not really enjoying your life. Life isn’t only about work and improving oneself. Perhaps you would find some joy in focusing on being a furry a little more? Or try something else creative, such as music or painting or acting. A little more color in your life wouldn’t hurt. Does this sound selfish and contradicting of what I just wrote above? Perhaps a bit, but actually creativity brings a lot of joy not only to yourself but to others. It is why I fursuit, because I love the expressions on people’s faces when they see me, as well as the hugs.
I hope some of this helps. Remember, if you seriously feel like you can’t make it on your own, please call the Suicide Prevention Hotline as mentioned above.
Please take care. Write again if you have questions or just want to talk.
Hey Papa Bear.
I have had a great relationship for 4 years with my boyfriend. We shared everything. We watched things together. We also like furrys. We even planned to go live together.
However. A month ago he decided to dump me. I have lots of support from my friends. But I am still so lonely and scared. Especially at night. I fear and dislike being alone. I have no one to call. No one calling me.
I believe in true love. In staying with a special someone for the rest of your life.
But maybe I am being naive.
So my question is this:
Thank you very much Papabear!
Just typing this has helped a little.
Anonymous in Belgium
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I'm so sorry for your break up. Did your former boyfriend ever give you an explanation why he left you? Understanding this would go a long way toward taking the next step in your life.
I understand feeling lonely and scared. When my husband died in 2015, I was alone for quite some time, but then Michael came into my life. He was already a friend when my husband was still alive (actually, my piano teacher), and about a year and a half after Jim's death, Michael decided to divorce his husband and move in with me. But that wasn't the first time I was alone. The first time was when my wife divorced me (long story from a time when I didn't realize I was gay) and I had to get by on my own. I don't really like being alone, either. After Jim died, I kept the TV on all the time, even when I wasn't watching it, because I hated the silence. The other thing to do is to try and be with people as much as possible. Socialize, visit family, even invite friends to your home for a sleepover. Anything to not be alone.
That said, don't discount the value of occasionally being by yourself for a little quiet reflection. But don't be afraid to ask people to visit you. Keep the door open.
Meeting furries is pretty easy. I mean, you must know about social media, and there are all kinds of places to chat online. To get some in-furson experience, if you haven't already done so, go visit your furry friends at the Belgian furcon Flüüfff in Blankenberg @FlüüfffCon. Always a great way to have fun, going to a convention. There is also a bimonthly furmeet in Liège https://www.ouftimeet.be/ if you can travel there.
Now, about meeting someone special. Here, I can only speak in generalities. First of all, be genuine. Don't try to win someone over by being what you are not, because if you try to impress someone with falsehoods or change yourself to accommodate them, you can't keep it up forever. Secondly, always be kind and considerate of other people. Third, don't allow yourself to be used by other people because you are desperate not to be alone. If you keep those things in mind, eventually, real love will appear.
First off, I apologize if I sent a version of this letter that is similar. I had a problem with my browser.
So, seven days ago (October 20th) I was feeling bad, possibly depression-level bad. I ended up self-harming using a rather sharp boxcutter. I've only cut three different times, causing a few cuts each time. I cut on my upper thigh high enough that my boxers cover them well. I had been considering cutting for quite some time before my first session. It's a way to show control over myself and I've started to enjoy the pain afterwards. I'm willing to risk the scars.
Now, to my question. Is this a truly unhealthy, unmanageable behavior that I need to stop? I don't want to stop.
AFoxThatIdentifiesAsADoggo (age 15)
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Thank you for your important letter. Cutting and self-harm is a subject I have touched on in other columns, but now I get to do so directly, so this is something that is good to add to the “Ask Papabear” column.
Cutting, by its very nature, is not healthy, but it is understandable and treatable. It is also quite common. Statistics show that nearly 1 in 5 Americans have harmed themselves in this manner at some point in their lives. Typically, self-harm occurs during adolescence.
There are a couple reasons why people cut themselves. One, as is the case with you, is depression or anxiety. If you are in a situation where you can’t express those feelings openly to others (family etc.), cutting affords a kind of release of emotional tension. The pain caused by cutting also distracts one from emotional pain, which provides some relief.
Another reason for cutting is self-punishment. People who feel unworthy of love and compassion become angry at themselves and feel they deserve pain. I don’t think this is what is going on with you, however. I think the former is more likely. I also don’t believe you are in danger of committing suicide; such drastic acts are usually not part of the self-cutting paradigm.
Answering your question, any time you cause trauma to your body, it’s not a good thing. It would be best if you stopped. You don’t want to stop because cutting yourself is offering you relief from your psychological and/or emotional pain.
The best solution, therefore, is to figure out what is causing that pain and put an end to it. You don’t explain what is causing it, so I would need more information there. You will stop cutting once you stop your emotional pain. This might come with a personal revelation, or with help from a therapist, or simply by outgrowing the need to cut.
Hope this helps. Feel free to write again if you wish to discuss what is really going on behind the cutting.
Hello, Papa Bear.
Before I begin, I would like to give a trigger warning for anyone reading. I will be talking about depression, self-harm, and suicide.
I have been depressed for two to three years. Recently, I was placed in a mental hospital for attempting suicide. I still struggle with self-harm and self-loathing, however the happiness within the furry fandom relieves that somewhat.
What I wanted to talk about is in regards to my recovery plan. My doctor has assigned me a therapist and prescribed antidepressants, but they also tell me that I need to work on my social dynamic. One of the main reasons why I became suicidal was a lack of connection with other people. I was always a reserved and introverted person, keeping to myself and not often sharing my emotions. But when my depression lapsed, this turned into an unhealthy type of isolation. Instead of simply enjoying being alone, I ended up cutting off all contact with everyone in my life, including my family, because I did not want to be emotionally close to anyone (or physically for that matter). I realize now that this was incredibly detrimental.
However, now my doctor is saying that I need to let people into my life and start developing friendships again. This is the very last thing that I want. I'm sixteen years old and in high school, and I have never been able to relate to the other people my age. While I want to discuss philosophy, politics, and art, they only seem to be interested in clothing, popularity, drugs, and superficial relationships. In every conversation, I'm at least three topics behind everyone else. It feels like I'm surrounded by toddlers. I know not to expect to get along with everyone, but so far I've only met one other person my age that I can actually trust. And they live halfway across the world. Anyone else ended up leaving for somewhat ignorant reasons ("You're asexual? Isn't that one of those made-up things people use to get attention?"). I'm not exactly the nicest person in the universe, but I thought I would be able to have a meaningful friendship with more than just one person. It's discouraging.
I have also had several negative experiences in the past, which may be a contributing factor for why I am not interested in having any friendships. Possibly the worst was with someone whom I trusted enough to admit to them that I was depressed. When I explained my feelings to them, they reacted by calling me selfish and several other terms I would rather not list here. Needless to say, I was somewhat disappointed. They continued to harass me over text and in person for about a week after the fact. Later, they gave a sorry excuse for an apology ("I'm sorry, but you really ought to consider how you make other people feel when you say stuff like that"). I honestly did not care enough to get mad or upset, so I told them they were right. They think we're still friends. But I don't.
I've had many other experiences similar to this, not necessarily always related to depression. I've sort of lost the ability to trust other people. Don't get me wrong, I have tried again and again to open up to people, but it's only ever worked out positively once. I know not to expect perfect fantasy-style relationships, but everything I've been through so far has crossed the line for what I consider to be mature and acceptable behavior. My family is this way as well.
Maybe the problem is me. I can't really imagine how or why, but it's the only explanation I can think of at this point.
I would like your opinion on this situation. What should I do?
I'm not close with my family and I really don't want to make friends. But without some sort of way to get my feelings out, I fear I may fall back into unhealthy habits.
Any help is much appreciated.
Cobalt (age 16)
* * *
You are experiencing the complications of what I call "Old Soul Syndrome." Whether or not you believe what I'm about to explain is up to you, but one old soul to another, I feel for you.
To believe in the old soul concept, you have to believe in reincarnation. An old soul is someone who has lived before--the more times you have lived, the older your soul. Older souls tend to be more serious, wiser, and more intelligent than younger souls because they have experienced more. This does not necessitate your remembering what happened to you in your earlier lives. Those experiences are ingrained in you, so even if you don't recall earlier lives they remain in your soul.
Young or new souls are still figuring out what is important in life. They tend to be still wide-eyed and bushy-tailed about it, overly impressed with the material and sensual and less so by the spiritual and intellectual. Thus, they appear to older souls as shallow and overly self-involved.
The good news is that old souls are less prone to making foolish mistakes about their lives; also, the wisdom they have, if shared with others, can be a positive force in society. Old souls tend to be more sensitive, more emotional, more empathic, more sympathetic, more creative, more willing to look at the big picture about life and existence.
The bad news is that there are many more new than old souls in the world, so it is harder to find people with whom you can relate, which can lead to social isolation. Depression is also possible--usually as a leftover from tragedies you experienced in previous lives, but also as a result of feeling disconnected from most of humanity. Again, you don't recall past hurts, but the emotional scars carry through to your current life and future lives.
Yes, you need to socialize, but you need to socialize with other old souls because those are people you can see eye-to-eye with. Here is an interesting site run by Lonewolf that might help you: https://lonerwolf.com/old-souls/. And there is also a Facebook group run by Lonewolf here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/imanoldsoul/.
Check them out and let me know if those sites help you. I have a feeling they might.
You may know me from a previous letter (I had asked you how to prepare for MFF) and I apologize for writing again so soon. The length of this letter is also kinda insane, but it takes a bit of explaining.
Right after said convention I was diagnosed with major depression (and what we believe to be chronic depression because my grandfather also has it, but that is to be proved later if this persists for over a year). I had a therapist who I didn't like, but my mother refused to change. Because this was during the school year, I wasn't sleeping well and I missed the bus a lot of days.
My therapist told me I was just being defiant and I was just being lazy. She told me I couldn't sleep because I wasn't trying hard enough. I asked my mother to change my therapist several times, but she didn't listen. My mother thought that I was just in denial of the truth.
This persisted onto January, to the point where I was suicidal and self-harming. Around Easter, I told my mom I needed more help, and she got me evaluated at a local mental hospital. They wanted to do inpatient therapy because I did have a plan, but we decided to do a partial day program instead because I had already missed too much school.
I was probably the happiest during the period where I was in this day program. I related to other kids who were also struggling. We all kinda came together to support each other without stressing each other out. I was doing better, but I was most definitely still depressed.
It was also around then I began questioning gender identity. I don't want to draw any conclusions (I'm only 13!), but I would just prefer to be called they/them while I figure things out. I told my mom this, and she said it was a teenage phase and I was just trying to be a special snowflake. She seemed to overlook the fact that I legitimately hated my body. Not because of weight, but because I'm too curvy and too feminine looking. I don't like long hair, I've always wanted a lower voice, and she/her pronouns irk me.
I know I shouldn't have been so hurt by it, but it wasn't like I was actively binding my chest. I just wanted to be called they/them pronouns while I tried to figure out what was going on.
Four weeks of being in the day program later, and I was discharged. I kept fighting to stay in and kept telling everyone that I wasn't ready yet, I hadn't learned enough of the coping skills, but my mom said I needed to hurry up and leave because she didn't want to drive me there anymore.
So here I am, starting therapy again (with a new therapist at the least) and trying to survive. It's been three weeks since I've left the program and it only seems like I've backslid more. I've stopped self-harming as much, but I still do occasionally, and most days I sit in bed and think of how better everyone else would be without me and other self-degrading things. I usually tell my mom I'm drawing and talking to friends on my phone, and she believes it.
This is where my problem comes in: My mom makes suicide jokes, makes fun of me for wanting to be called they/them pronouns, and instead of calling me depressed, likes to call me "crazy". I'll give an example for each.
Say the car is really hot, my sister says (jokingly) she's going to jump out of the window if my mom doesn't turn the air on. My mother says "wow you must REALLY hate yourself if you're gonna do that!!"
If my mom is talking about my therapy, she'll say she's tired of driving me everywhere and something along the lines of "If you didn't start acting all crazy I wouldn't have to take you."
And finally, just general comments like "how many people are you if you're a they??" "see, if you have boobs that means you're a girl."
She ignores how much I actually hate myself and how much I'm actually struggling and it makes me really uncomfortable every time she says stuff like this. I've told her several times to just use the word depressed and not crazy, but she hasn't listened.
If you have any advice on how to tell her how uncomfortable this makes me, or how to cope with it in the meantime, it would be much appreciated.
Ioga (age 13)
* * *
Troubled letters such as yours always go to the top of the pile, so here we are.
Sounds like you're dealing with two things: 1) Gender dysphoria (the feeling that your body doesn't match who you are inside), and 2) Lack of a support system (either professional or personal). One or the other is bad enough, but combine the two and I can see how you would be in a lot of distress and pain (hugs to you).
Let's tackle #2 first. There are good and bad therapists. Clearly, the first one you had was abysmal. Then you had a bit of a halcyon period at the hospital. That sounds like it was a good environment, but your mother wouldn't let you stay. Your mom continues to insult you and act as if you are more of a burden than someone she loves unconditionally. I would guess (correct me if I am wrong) that she gave birth to you at a young age (perhaps as a teen) and that, in addition, her own mother (your grandmother) was not a great mom. Consequently, she herself never learned to be a good mother. Another possibility is that she was not socialized well as a baby (for example, if she was neglected by your grandparents, this can be very damaging to emotional health) and she consequently lacks empathy for her own child. A third possibility is that she has a substance abuse problem that makes her unpleasant.
Therefore, when you ask me for advice on how to approach your mother and tell her she makes you uncomfortable, I have to respond that there probably is no good way because your mom lacks empathy. Whether you tell her frankly or with more subtlety, she's not going to get it. In fact, confronting her could exacerbate the problem, making her feel like you are even more crazy (e.g., "There's nothing wrong with me, it's just that my daughter is nuts.") In other words, I would say your mother needs psychological help just as much as you do, perhaps more. I would suggest you talk about all this with your new therapist and ask for their advice on what to do with your unsupportive mother. One possibility is to have both of you attend a therapy session together. This can be an awesome way of airing out any bad feelings between the two of you. In asking your mother to come with you to a session (after arranging it with the therapist), don't say, "because you need help, too." Just say that your therapist would like your mom to sit in for one or two talks.
As for #1, perhaps we should hold off on that for a while until you get through puberty. You, wisely, note this yourself. Again, your identity issues are fodder for your therapist. This can be a process that lasts for years before you figure it all out.
In the meantime, you still need to find some personal support. Do you have friends you can talk to? Perhaps in the furry community? Or, do you have other relatives who might prove to be more sympathetic and willing to lend an ear? You need to find someone besides your mom and a paid therapist that you can talk to, even get some hugs.
I hope this is helpful. If you wish to talk more about this with me, that's what I'm here for.
I'm hoping you could shed some light on a personal issue I've been having for some time now. I've been involved with the fandom for nearly 12 years and the people and community have been a key part of my life through the most critical stages so far. This is how I came across your page actually, and I feel like If I can trust anyone's opinion it would be another fur's.
My problem is that I feel very disconnected from others, especially furs, and this problem has been getting worse over the course of about 3 years. More specifically I feel as though I can't seem to connect with anyone and my previous relationships (both platonic and otherwise) have grown stagnant and faded. I've fallen away from those I used to associate with and there honestly hasn't been much effort on my part to prevent it. There is a constant turmoil inside me of a want for romantic/social satisfaction/acceptance and my lack of motivation to achieve it. I feel exhausted just trying to maintain a basic level of conversation with those I genuinely care about. It's important to note that this is in every aspect of my life and not limited to those associated with the fandom. Recently this has become even more of a burden as most of my social connection has been through the fandom. The need to be a part of something is still there even if I don't have the energy to deal with it. I've tried to become more active by attending con's and connecting more through social media. The issue however seems to be me as I can't form any new friendships or bonds.
Now I know this is not really a critical issue, and through the course of time shouldn't continue but the mental aspect of being completely out of touch with everything and everyone has been taking a toll. I'm beginning to feel more and more out of place and what I can only guess is anxiety seems to be getting the better of me. So all that being said I guess I'm asking if you have any advice for me to fix myself. Are there any key behaviors that are commonly associated with driving people away that I may be engaging in without realizing it? I appreciate any and all advice you are willing to give.
* * *
Thank you for your letter. I have some questions, if you don't mind, about your background first.
Thank you. I look forward to your reply.
* * *
Dear Papa Bear,
Thank you for responding,
I appreciate you taking the time to address my letter. In regards to your first question, I believe I might have some form of moderate social anxiety. I've always been a very reserved and shy person. When I was younger, I would often get nervous around people I didn't know. A lot of progress was made through my teenage years though and up until I started having my current issues it wasn't much of a problem.
As far as personal turmoil, I did experience a non-life-threatening gunshot wound injury roughly around the time frame this started that left me with limited use of my left hand and arm for approximately 8 months. (This was the result of negligence and happened in a controlled environment.) I've since regained about 90% use. The biggest issue I can pull from that experience was it caused me to start having anxiety attacks. Over time, though, this has gotten significantly better and has become pretty rare.
I apologize for not giving more clarity about my lack of effort. The easiest way for me to say it is I just stopped trying to connect with people who were close to me and gave up those friendships. Over a about a 3 year span, I've gradually stopped communicating with people. I've started to lose a sense of connection with people in my life. Things like going out with friends has become more of a chore than something to look forward too. I want to have a social life and enjoy the company of others but now I just feel exhausted trying to start a conversation. It's incredibly confusing to me because I want to have people to cherish in my life but at the same time I feel like I don't have the energy to deal with them. I can't really say why, either. It's not a conscious decision so much as it is a sudden realization.
Life started feeling like a haze somewhere around the time I started going back to work. This was the time that everything seemed to change. Once I got back into the swing of working and dealing with everyday life, I would often forget to talk to people and wouldn't realize it until several weeks had passed. It was odd because it's like I would just forget they existed. I started to really notice that I had distanced myself after It became apparent that many individuals were no longer trying to contact me and I hadn't seen or heard from them in months. I did try to reach out to them but the conversations are typically very dull now and don't get very personal. I don't believe they have much interest in renewing our friendship. (I basically cut them out of my life, so I don't blame them). I've tried to start over by attending cons and utilizing social media more frequently in an effort to motivate myself. So far, this method has failed and I'm at a standstill.
I don't have much of a relationship with my family to be honest. I don't know most of my extended family and I rarely talk to my parents or sister. This is not due to a falling out, we've just never been very close. As for coworkers, I enjoy the people I work with and there have not been any major issues. Any disagreements have always been solved just by talking through it.
There haven't been any conflicts that would have put a strain on my friendships that I know of. Before I fell away from everyone, things were actually going very smoothly.
* * *
Hmm, well, sounds like the gunshot injury occurred at a firing range? Not sure why you still seem to be holding back information on this and are being coy about it. I’m not here to judge you; you can just tell me what happened straight up. This is important because, apparently, your troubles began around the time of the gun accident (perhaps exacerbated by the new job, but since you get along with your coworkers, I’d guess work is not the problem).
My guess at this point, and given the information that I have, is that something happened at that gun range, something that shook your trust in other people (unless this was self-inflicted, but it doesn’t sound like it). I am squinting my eyes between the lines and guessing that someone you trusted very well accidentally shot you, and even though you are recovering from the injury this has caused you great physical and emotional pain.
I don’t feel you are being honest with yourself that this event is all in the past and you’re over it. I really don’t think you are, and because you are suppressing something, it has to get out somehow; with you, the way it is getting out is by affecting your ability to socialize—trust—others. You become disinterested in really trying because whatever happened to you is blocking your ability to relate to others.
If I am right about this, the way to handle it is to face whatever happened at the gun range and deal with it. This means talking openly and honestly to the person who hurt you. You probably don’t feel you can do this because you feel the person didn’t mean to shoot you—and I would believe that to be true, as well. But that doesn’t mean you can’t be upset about what happened; it doesn’t mean you can’t be upset at the person who did this. You can say, “I forgive you,” but you still need to have the catharsis of releasing all the pent-up anger and hurt inside you.
Again, if I am right, it would be a good idea to find a qualified counselor to help guide you through this process.
Let me know,
* * *
Dear Papa Bear,
I've thought a lot about what you've said, and a lot of it does ring true. I'm trying to look at my actions and thoughts now through a different perspective. It's true I didn't want to give details about the incident for a number of reasons, but I can't ask for advise if i'm not willing to tell you the problem. The injury did occur from a friend, it was a complete accident and I know this so I don't like mentioning it. It is difficult for me to go into detail because the whole situation at the time left me feeling vulnerable in a sense. This was a routine trip to a shooting complex and my friend who I'll just call "Fred" was a regular shooter there with me. The golden rule of safe shooting is knowing where your weapon is pointed at all times, well Fred just so happened to forget that rule when his weapon had a malfunction and failed to fire. The slide was locked on a live round and he couldn't unload it, so he turned around keeping the weapon pointed straight out from him which left the barrel aligned with me. He was trying to ask me to hand him a tool to fix the problem, but before he could finish the weapon discharged and sent a bullet through the top of my left hand up into my wrist.
Ever since then when I've talked to Fred we just kind of brush of the whole situation, we never really talked about it. I really just try to avoid thinking about it because there isn't anything I can do to fix it. I don't know if whats going on now is related to that, but I do see your point and I probably should address it with him. It was a scary situation and I've never felt that helpless before so I really don't like bringing it up.
* * *
I understand your reticence, and we both recognize "Fred" didn't mean to hurt you and this was an accident. Even so, you have not emotionally resolved the hurt from this incident, and I truly believe that by pushing those emotions inside you it is now affecting your ability to trust other friends. This might not seem logical, but it is psychologically valid. As you know, I'm not a trained counselor, so I don't know the best way to go about helping you resolve your feelings so you may truly forgive Fred and regain your trust to form friendships and maintain the ones you have, but I think we've really found the problem here and if you talk to a counselor about it who is trained to help you in such matters, I think it will go a long way to helping you.
Today I went through a deep emotional distress, soo much soo I've been thinking about hanging up my basic mascot suit and just leaving the community for good, I don't feel welcome or settled in, I know I'm a furry but no-one seems to want to talk to me about my fursona and I'm feeling a bit left out, I'm hoping to go to confuzzled, another fur said I could go with him but we really haven't confirmed anything because neither of us has transportation and both live with our parents, I'm 26 he's 21.
I don't feel I'll ever have the warm fuzzy feeling that being a furry is, I have no confidence in myself as a fur and I'm just thinking about leaving and never coming back, I'm hoping this is all a huge mistake and it’s just stress, I don't take medication because I can't swallow tablets and liquid meds are just as bad. I was diagnosed with autism and I can't socialise with people but when as a furry I know I'll settle in.
I want to feel more accepted in the group, what do I do?
Xoda Fox (age 26, UK)
* * *
It’s not easy feeling like one belongs to any group, including furries. It is doubly difficult when one suffers from autism, making it more challenging to deal with social situations.
I can understand, too, why you would think the furry fandom would be a safe haven for you where you could find acceptance. I thought so once myself. The truth is that the fandom is just like any other group of people, and it is just as difficult (or easy) to find friends and camaraderie within it as any other social group.
Being a furry doesn’t erase your problems with social anxiety any more than belonging to any other kind of group. Therefore, leaving the fandom will not solve your problem any more than joining the fandom did.
What, then, is the answer? The answer is that you have to look within yourself first. You have to deal with your autism. You have to deal with your sense of self-worth. You have to evaluate why you became a furry in the first place. If you are a furry because you love anthros, then no social problems should interfere with that; if you became a furry thinking it would solve your social isolation and to get attention, then that is the wrong reason to be a furry.
Although you say you cannot manage medication for your autism, there are other things you can do to help you relax and try to control your anxiety. That would be the first thing I’d recommend you learn to do. This page from the UK’s National Autistic Society can give you some leads on what to do. I highly recommend you seek out ways to manage your autism.
Do not expect the furry fandom to help you cope with your autism or social isolation. While many people are furries because they enjoy the social aspect of it, the fandom is not a treatment program for autism. Please recognize that.
Even though that is true, it is no reason to hang up your fursona and walk away. Go into the fandom without expectations of it, and you will be much more pleased. Do not expect or demand that people talk about your fursuit or your fursona. They are going to furmeets or furcons to have a good time, and that is all.
Instead, simply share with them the fun things about being a furry. Find some common interests (e.g. maybe you read the same comic books or TV shows) and then talk to them about those and not about yourself. When you share common interests and bond on those things rather than yourself, the focus is taken off you and moves to those other things. This will make you feel less self-conscious and, hopefully, more comfortable with others who like to talk about furry things.
A note on comments: Comments on letters to Papabear are welcome, especially those that offer extra helpful advice and add something to the conversation that is of use to the letter writer and those reading this column. Also welcome are constructive criticisms and opposing views. What is NOT welcome are hateful, hurtful comments, flaming, and trolling. Such comments will be deleted from this site. Thank you.