Defiant Desire: Grappling With My Sexuality in Widowhood

mental health and grief illustration naked women

My wife is sick. Stage Four sick. I must hurry home and relieve her parents who have been caring for her since I left for work at 9 a.m. and for our three-year old son since his pre-school day ended at 2 p.m. It is 6:30 p.m., but I am not rushing through the front door.

Instead, I am lying on a massage table in the back room of our local nail salon, trying not to audibly cry as my masseuse works on the knot under my right shoulder blade. The knot is excruciating, but that is not why my tears soak the paper cover of the table. I do not know her name, but I do know that she always works on Tuesday nights and I know this as well— she does not tie back her thick dark hair. My wife had thick dark hair before the chemo.

I cannot define this desire; this deep longing for another woman’s hair to tickle my back. Is this a form of adultery? Of exploitation? To pay a thick-haired stranger to soothe me in this way? Do I take advantage of my wife’s parents? Do I neglect my son who is scared and sad and needs me to come home? Because I will be late. I will blame my boss or the subway or the rain before I cop to this 20-minute reprieve. I am ashamed. I am defiant. But I know what I need. Continue reading Defiant Desire: Grappling With My Sexuality in Widowhood

When Your Partner Just Doesn’t Want Sex

couple in bed woman not interested in sex

When there is a tremendous disparity between partners’ sex drives, relationships can be difficult to manage. The low-libido partner may feel pushed and resentful, and the high-libido partner can feel abandoned, betrayed, rejected, and angry. While both individuals within this dynamic struggle, the higher-libido partner has unique challenges, and their perspective will be the focus of this post.

There are two types of couples I usually see who exhibit a significant disparity in sex drives:

  1. Couples who started out with roughly equivalent levels of desire, but after a few years of what I call “monotogamy” (monotonous monogamy), one partner — often but not always the female in heterosexual couples — experiences a drastic drop in sex drive
  2. Couples who had a pronounced difference in sexual desire from the beginning of the relationship, but the couple loved each other enough to either consciously (or subconsciously) dismiss or minimize the potentially destructive impact of this disparity

Continue reading When Your Partner Just Doesn’t Want Sex

Losing My Best Friend: A Pain Without Name

male best friends beer bottle sunset field

The text message hit like cannon fire from close range. I crumbled to the ground, holding my stomach. It was an early morning winter in the kitchen of our Brooklyn apartment. My wife and two kids came running. “What’s wrong?” What happened?” What’s wrong?”

What happened? What was wrong? Mike O’Shea was going to die. And I’d be introduced to a grief that would cripple me for many years.

*

I like to think that Mike and I had been friends since before we were born. Not in some other life, but in the wombs of our mothers who were neighbors in a small New Jersey town, and both expecting in the summer of 1968. Our mothers had not been close prior to pregnancy — of different generations and ethnic backgrounds — but they bonded over pregnancy and both gave birth to boys in the first week of July. Continue reading Losing My Best Friend: A Pain Without Name

4 Tips for Co-Parenting With a Narcissist

mom dad arguing on couch sad daughter on floor

Co-parenting is never easy, but co-parenting with a narcissist is a whole different ballgame. Narcissists are self-centered and incapable of putting anyone’s needs ahead of their own — including the needs of their own kids! Narcissists love chaos, drama, and control. Truly personality-disordered narcissists keep you off balance by forcing you to ride a roller coaster of abuse and seduction.

Here are four strategies that will help you build your strength and reduce stress:

1. Manage Your Expectations

A narcissist will not change, so it’s critical that you remember that the chaos and drama he creates is not about you. In the relationship, did he make you feel like you were walking on eggshells, always second-guessing, never good enough? Putting others off balance is a narcissist’s secret weapon, and he won’t give that up no matter what. Don’t expect him to step up, become empathetic, or give up his desire for emotional control. Managing your expectations will make things easier. Knowing that he won’t change establishes the groundwork for the next strategy. Continue reading 4 Tips for Co-Parenting With a Narcissist

7 Self-Care Tips for When Stress Affects Your Body

stressed sore woman working on computer at cafe

Since I was a boy, my body has been extremely sensitive and reactive to both physical and emotional stress. When my parents announced we were moving away from my hometown, my muscles tensed up so much I could barely use the bathroom for many days. Eventually I learned these health issues were a combination of a rare muscle tension condition and psychosomatic symptoms from my depressive-anxiety disorder.

Because my body usually felt like a car that had driven hundreds of thousands of miles — parts constantly requiring maintenance, always creaking, sputtering, or breaking down — I became a master of self-care. I spent hours every week making a conscious effort to heal and recuperate. This lifestyle was the only way for me to survive and function well enough to graduate from college and find employment. Whenever I neglected proper rest or pushed myself too far, new symptoms arose. Continue reading 7 Self-Care Tips for When Stress Affects Your Body

5 Tips to Prepare for the Season of SAD

woman holding coffee mug during winter snowing

Up to 10% of the American population lives with SAD [Seasonal Affective Disorder]. In the fall and winter months, when the days are shortest, Seasonal Affective Disorder can be very challenging to deal with. As the name suggests, those who live with the disorder may experience a cluster of depressive symptoms such as feeling low or depressed, sleeping too much, experiencing low motivation, and so forth.

SAD can put a strain on those living with the condition. This post includes some tips to help you prepare for the upcoming season of SAD. Continue reading 5 Tips to Prepare for the Season of SAD

Mental Health In Bed: Sex and Anxiety

woman with sex anxiety and man in bed

Has this ever happened to you? You’ve set the scene, the mood is right, you fall into bed with your partner and then the anxiety starts: What if I’m doing this wrong? What if I hurt them? What if I get hurt?

This is how sex in a past relationship always went for me. Everything would be right. I would tell myself I would stay calm this time, and then the anxiety crept in anyway, building like a crescendo until the only thing climaxing was my panic.

I could never get past the anxiety long enough to let go and fully be with the person I loved. I tensed up, clammed up, and in the end, neither of us had a satisfying experience. I didn’t know how to talk to my partner about the anxiety because I thought it was a problem I needed to fix alone — as opposed to something we could work on together. As a result, our love life fizzled and eventually went out. Continue reading Mental Health In Bed: Sex and Anxiety

Mental Health in Bed: Sex and Depression

man woman in bed depressed

To make life with depression even more depressing, the mental illness can seriously mess with your sex life. Unfortunately, depression can go hand in hand with sexual dysfunction, which can affect everything from your libido to your ability to orgasm. This can be rough on not only the person suffering, but also on the person’s partner, and can put a strain on relationships.

Just as not everyone feels comfortable opening up about their mental illness, not everyone feels comfortable opening up about their sex life. And they’re even less likely to open up about it if they have a problem and feel like they’re broken or not “normal.” Can you blame anyone for not divulging when the word “dysfunction” has such a negative denotation? Sadly, it’s pretty common for people with depression to have their sex life interrupted in one way or another. Continue reading Mental Health in Bed: Sex and Depression

The Grief Competition: My Time at the Death Cafe

coffee with skull and beans in saucer at cafe

Sprinting down a crowded New York street is inherently cinematic. More than once, I’ve imagined myself on the big screen while running to catch a bus. Secretly, I love the hustle. Moving faster than those around me, looking harried and focused, is a way of silently communicating what I’d never say aloud: Look at me! I’m going places! Watch me pass you by!

October 2013, approximately four years ago: I’m clomping down Sixth Avenue, weaving through the Midtown after-work crowd, my water bottle and empty Tupperware clanging together in my canvas tote. I’m en route to a mediocre Chinese restaurant to talk about death with a bunch of strangers, and I’m running late, as usual. But running late to a Death Café feels like a hackneyed metaphor, a body in motion a painfully prescient reminder of the end destination. Continue reading The Grief Competition: My Time at the Death Cafe

What Is Crippling Depression?

depressed man in bed dark room

Sometimes popular phrases used to describe mental illness do not come from research, universities or mental health organizations. Instead people who live with certain disorders use unofficial terms to express levels of severity and describe how symptoms are affecting their functioning.

Because many sufferers are therapy clients and use this language during sessions, mental health professionals gradually adopt new labels into their clinical lexicon. This acceptance gives the language more weight and credibility. Various definitions spread via word of mouth and the internet until there is a collective sense of meaning.

“Crippling depression” is a perfect example of this phenomenon. People invented the phrase to stress the fact that depression can be more than a source of pain and discomfort. The illness can limit the will and capability to uphold a basic standard of living. Now that the term has become more popular, both the curious and afflicted are trying to understand it. Continue reading What Is Crippling Depression?