You Have to Catch All of Them

This piece is from the book I’m still sort of writing. 

The first Nintendo game I remember playing was Pokemon Gold, which I played on my turquoise Gameboy Color at some point in the 90s when such things were played.

This was hard-won, by the way—my parents didn’t really understand the appeal of Gameboys and tended to consider them a thing for boys, anyway. They thought I should be spending my time reading and practicing my various hobbies. Which, to be clear, I definitely also did with much gusto! It’s just that in addition to that I wished to catch Pokemon.

(I might’ve had an easier time, or maybe a harder time, convincing my parents to buy me a Gameboy if I had known at the time that my mom once allegedly forgot to pick up her own son from daycare and to come home in time for her own anniversary party because she got distracted playing Tetris on her work computer back in the Soviet Union.)

Anyway, I don’t remember exactly how, but I succeeded in obtaining the turquoise Gameboy Color and the Pokemon Gold game for it from my parents. Back then, it was still possible to play a Nintendo game without immediately finding out all of its fun little secrets on the internet. You could find game walkthroughs if you knew how to search for them, but I probably didn’t. The other way to know things about games was to talk to other kids who played them, but as a freaky little neurodivergent kid growing up in suburban Ohio at a time when nerdy shit wasn’t “cool” yet or whatever, I didn’t exactly have a lot of friends, and the ones I did have did not play Pokemon. The kids who played Pokemon at my school were largely the sorts of boys who still thought that pulling girls’ hair was like, a normal and chill thing to do.

In short, just, no.

All of that is to say that I played Pokemon Gold without knowing much more about the game than I could glean from the little manual that came with the game cartridge. That means that when I got to the end of the game, beat the Elite Four, and watched the credits roll, I had no idea that after the credits, I would discover that I had literally only played half of the game and that now I got to hop on a train and go to the region from the original set of Pokemon games and explore that region and catch all of those Pokemon! My little mind was blown by this! I had just completed this amazing game, and now I had as much more game to play!

This experience might only be relatable to a very small and specific subset of the people who may be reading this, but hopefully I’ve described it vividly enough that you can sort of imagine it.

And now maybe you can imagine the polar opposite of this experience. So, instead of finishing an awesome thing and then finding out that you actually get double the awesome, you’ve just finished a horrible thing and now you’re finding out that you’re going to get double the horrible.

For example, you’ve just finished cancer treatment, and you totally thought that that was the end of the Cancer Game, except now your mom has cancer also, and now you get to experience a whole new side of the Cancer Game that you never even knew existed! It’s a lot like the first half except there are new and unfamiliar monsters here!

You might even start to wonder what happens after you finish this second shitty half of the game, and the credits roll again. Is there going to be another surprise? Is there any point to continuing to try to play and win? Does the game ever actually end?

Anyway, shittiest fucking game ever. Zero out of five stars.

You Have to Catch All of Them

On Putin’s Terms

In the coming days/weeks, you’re going to hear a lot about how Ukraine should accept the terms of surrender (as that’s what they are) offered by Russia—how they’d be “stupid” not to, how Zelenskyy should “do the right thing for his people” and prioritize saving lives, how peace should be the priority and we can’t always get what we want.

Make no mistake: even if Russia intends to uphold these terms once Zelenskyy accepts them, this is a terrible deal for Ukraine and a terrible deal for the world.

First of all, there’s no guarantee that Russia will respect a cease fire or peace treaty. Obviously that’s always the case with war, but it’s especially the case when they’ve already violated multiple cease fire agreements by firing on and murdering evacuating civilians, including children. So there’s your peace treaty.

Second, the terms that Russia has presented include virtually all of Putin’s actual goals for this illegal invasion (obviously “de-Nazification” and “de-militarization” were just lies à la “weapons of mass destruction,” a rhetorical tactic that really ought to be familiar to any self-respecting American leftist). Ukraine would forfeit its claim on the territories Russia has already illegally annexed/recognized, it would be forced to change its constitution (!!!) to commit to never joining any “pacts” (EU, NATO, anything else that forms in the future), and it would retain Zelenskyy as a figurehead while installing a pro-Russian actual government leadership.

This is—and I cannot stress this enough—not a “compromise” or a “peace treaty.” It’s terms of surrender. And the lesson learned here is that Russia can continue invading and terrorizing sovereign states without any actual consequences—remember, Putin doesn’t personally care about Western sanctions. He doesn’t care if his people are plunged into poverty as long as he and his cronies aren’t, and they won’t be. He’s furious about the sanctions because he finds them personally offensive and because they confirm his victim complex, not because he’s legitimately worried for his people like Zelenskyy is.

Third, and perhaps most importantly, Putin has made it extremely clear that he seeks to rebuild a Russian empire. He will not stop with Crimea, Luhansk, and Donetsk. (And make no mistake—Luhansk and Donetsk are not independent sovereign states like Ukraine; they’re simply Russian satellites.) He will not stop with forced regime change in Belorus, Georgia, Syria, and Ukraine. (And even if he did—isn’t that awful enough?) He is not “concerned about Russia’s security” or “worried about NATO’s encroachment” or whatever his extensive social media operation has you believing. He’s not concerned or worried about anything. He’s a dictator expanding his empire. He is exactly what you all feared Trump was.

I believe that this “offer” from Russia to Ukraine serves two purposes, and neither of them is to establish a lasting peace and autonomy for each country. One is to give Putin a potential way to back out of a war that has already gone much worse than he expected and cost him significantly in terms of personnel and equipment. (Not the sanctions—like I said, I don’t think he personally cares about the sanctions and in fact sees them as a political tool to use to his advantage.)

The second and more important goal is to create a way for the international community to blame Ukraine for the continued war. “If you’d just accept the terms, you could save your people and prevent nuclear war.” It’s absolutely classic DARVO tactics that, again, any progressive activist should be familiar with. “Sure, it’s not your fault he attacked you, but you shouldn’t have reported itmade a big deal of itgotten him “cancelled”made it publicetc.”

It’s not Ukraine’s responsibility to “prevent nuclear war.” Ukraine gave up its nuclear weapons in exchange for protection—protection that it has not received, although Western aid and military assistance has undoubtedly been helpful. Placing responsibility on Ukraine to accept unjust terms and illegal annexation of its land in order to “prevent nuclear war” only lends credence to the claim that only nuclear weapons can keep a country truly safe—after all, it would mean that Putin’s nuclear threats have allowed him to invade his neighbors, terrorize their citizens, destroy their resources, replace their democratically elected leaders with his own puppets, and steal their land—without even having to make any concessions himself.

So here’s my plea to my American progressive/leftist siblings. Please question what you think you know about Putin, Russia, and Ukraine. There are certainly far-right and neo-Nazi political forces in Ukraine as there are in any country, but Zelenskyy is a progressive, democratically elected JEWISH president. NATO and the EU have their (serious) issues, but they have not pressured or forced any former Soviet states to join—in fact, prior to this war, it seemed unlikely that Ukraine would be admitted. Ukraine WANTED to join to protect itself from Russia, which had already illegally annexed its land, empowered far-right groups within its borders, and forced regime changes in surrounding countries.

Putin is not an anti-imperialist revolutionary; he denounces American imperialism because it’s convenient for him politically and it keeps the American left from putting pressure on our government to divest from Russia. Sure, maybe the Democrats oversold Russian election hacking as an explanation for Trump’s win (although the more I learn about the extent of Russia’s disinfo campaign, the more I question this common leftist talking point), but that doesn’t mean that Putin isn’t bent on conquering Eastern Europe and subduing Western powers by any means necessary. This goes far beyond American electoral politics, and the answers here do not conform to American party lines. Do not fall into the trap of dismissing politicians’ statements about Putin and Russia just because you disagree with the rest of their stances.

Putin is a dictator. Sometimes it really is that simple. A former KGB agent, he came to power by staging the modern Russian version of the Reichstag fire (look up “Russian apartment bombings”), using that as an excuse to start a war and win it, and he has maintained his power through strong-arming and terror. The State Duma is entirely symbolic at this point; anyone who goes against Putin knows that they are likely not only to die, but to die horribly, just like Alexei Navalny almost did not long ago (look up “Novichok” and prepare yourself for some body horror).

I could go on. I won’t right now. But in truth, I deeply regret the fact that I haven’t done more over the past 8 or so years to disrupt the blatant Putinist propaganda I hear from a lot of my fellow progressives. I had other priorities and I didn’t give it the attention I should’ve. To be clear: nothing America or American progressives could’ve done would’ve stopped this war, only delayed it or hastened it. The war was inevitable because Putin wants to conquer Ukraine, and beyond.

So I’ll just say—please, please listen to people who fled Russia/the Soviet Union, and to experts who study Russia. The most likely threat here isn’t a nuclear WWIII; this isn’t about you. The thing people like me fear most is simply that Putin will continue subjugating, terrorizing, and ultimately conquering innocent citizens of sovereign states, and that the West will eventually just accept this as the price of nuclear deterrence.

I’m not a political scientist; I don’t know how to stop this war. All I know is that Ukrainian surrender isn’t it. Listen to Ukrainians, anti-Putin Russians, and other experts, form your own opinion, and most importantly, keep your wits about you. Not everyone in this world is a good faith negotiating partner. Some people are, unfortunately, just evil. Hitler was, Stalin was, Putin is.

On Putin’s Terms

This Doesn’t Have To Be the End

Seedlings sprouting on a forest floor.
Photo by Rain Yan on Unsplash

Recently I had one of those deep, rare, life-giving conversations with a close friend–“close” of course being somewhat of a flexible word these days, as I’d barely seen this friend for months, as I barely go anywhere and I barely see anyone.

Nevertheless we saw each other and we had this conversation in which we talked about each other and our friend group and what has happened to us, and how as a result we have all grown apart. Some of this was COVID-related, some of it wasn’t, but regardless it happened, and now here we are sitting on my couch processing it. My friend said that she understands and accepts the fact that everything changes, and people grow apart and leave, and et cetera, but she just wished that this particular moment in our lives had lasted longer, had hoped it would.

I agreed, and then immediately realized that I didn’t quite agree–it was more of an “I agree, and also.”

The “and also” is this:

I’m glad that our culture is starting to move towards a place of recognizing that all relationships (platonic, romantic, sexual) do not need to last forever, and that it’s not a “failure” if they don’t; that we can be glad for the good times we had with someone while acknowledging that they have moved on, or we have moved on, or both; that we should never pressure others to stay in relationship with us or to have that relationship look the same way it did before; that people can drift apart without it being anyone’s fault or responsibility; that all of this is Normal and Good and Healthy.

This is a good baseline, I think, but I would like to take this understanding some steps further, particularly in light of These Unprecendented Times.

Continue reading “This Doesn’t Have To Be the End”

This Doesn’t Have To Be the End

Earned Insecure Attachment

[Content note: mental illness, suicide, self-harm, ED, sexual assault, bullying, emotional abuse]

In attachment theory, “earned secure attachment” is when people who experienced dysfunctional parenting and developed maladaptive attachment patterns in early childhood are able to heal and become securely attached as adults.

I always liked the sound of that. Secure attachment: they’ve earned it.

For me, it happened the other way around.

Continue reading “Earned Insecure Attachment”

Earned Insecure Attachment

Post-Election Depression is Coming, So Be Gentle With Yourself

If you’ve noticed yourself feeling more fatigued, sluggish, numb, or even down since the election, you’re not alone.

For some people, it might come as a surprise that a period of time they associate with feelings of relief, hope, or even joy could also be a time when depression symptoms show up. But it actually makes a lot of sense when you consider one compelling theory for why we get depressed in the first place. [1]

Most people will probably experience depression at some point in their lives. It’s pretty much the common cold of mental illnesses. But unlike the common cold, which is caused by a pathogen that enters the body, depression is something the body does to itself. Given how destructive depression can be, and how it can disrupt just about every facet of human functioning, why would our brains be able to do this shitty thing to us?

Continue reading “Post-Election Depression is Coming, So Be Gentle With Yourself”

Post-Election Depression is Coming, So Be Gentle With Yourself

One Year, Three Months, and Sixteen Days

Grayscale photo of waves on a beach.
Photo by Gerard Pijoan on Unsplash

One year, eight months, and twenty-eight days ago I unraveled.

Six weeks post-op from my final surgery, I found out that cancer wasn’t quite done with us yet. My mom had it too.

I lost a lot of things that spring—my words, my composure, my pride, my sanity, my optimism, quite a few friends—but thankfully not my mom. Unlike my own cancer, there were no silver linings. I lost a lot but found nothing. I learned nothing, either, least of all how to live in a world without my mom in it. That lesson, I suppose, is for another day, a day I’ll try not to think about much until it comes.

I guess I did discover something about myself, though I’m not sure if I’d call it learning. I found a part of myself that words don’t touch, that speaks no language. Even my own possible death didn’t strike this part of me. But hers did.

Continue reading “One Year, Three Months, and Sixteen Days”

One Year, Three Months, and Sixteen Days

Seven Meditations for Moving Forward

A path through a forest.
Photo by Lukasz Szmigiel on Unsplash


What are you feeling right now? Name it. Name them all–there are probably more than one or two.

A feeling is any word or phrase that can come after the words “I feel” without needing the words “like” or “that” to make it fit. I feel scared, I feel horrified, I feel jealous, I feel hopeful, I feel alone.

Imagine yourself sitting comfortably in a cozy room. Picture whatever makes a space feel safe and accessible to you. Maybe you’re on a beanbag chair, up against the back wall, and on the other side of the room from you is a door.

Imagine that each of the emotions you’re naming is walking through that door and sitting down in the room with you. They’re not coming to fight you, debate you, or do anything other than sit with you, but they all have something to say.

Continue reading “Seven Meditations for Moving Forward”

Seven Meditations for Moving Forward

The Expanding Staircase

Square spiral staircase
Photo by Elena Kuchko on Unsplash

The following is a work of fiction, based on my experiences working with clients but not a reproduction of an actual session with a specific person.

My office, any given day:

— It just feels like I’m not making any progress. I mean, I know I’m making progress, but…it just doesn’t feel like it.

— Yeah. It’s hard to keep going when you can’t tell where you are.

— Yes, it’s like, I keep doing the things that are supposed to help—getting in to see you, getting in to see the psychiatrist, getting the referral for the assessment, starting the medication—but each step takes such a long time, and then that psychiatrist turned out to be unable to do the assessment, and then when I finally got the referral and scheduled it, it turned out they don’t even do those assessments either…

— Does it feel like those steps—for instance, getting in to see the psychiatrist or starting the medication—are getting you to where you want to go?

— Not really, because the psychiatrist couldn’t do the assessment, and the medication isn’t really helping so now I have to try another one.

— Right. It’s frustrating when the steps you take don’t seem to “count.”

— Exactly. Like, if the medication isn’t helping, did that step really take me anywhere?

— What does your gut tell you?

Continue reading “The Expanding Staircase”

The Expanding Staircase

“But You’re a Therapist!”

It can be weird being open and vulnerable with others as a person who also happens to be a therapist. People are sometimes very surprised to hear that their therapist friends also, believe it or not, struggle to understand their partners, get petty or irritated, feel abandoned, lash out at people, avoid flossing or exercising or initiating difficult conversations, or feel judgmental. For example.

I’ve been hearing the refrain “But you’re a therapist!” since—actually—before I even technically became a therapist. (Back then it was, “But you’re going to be a therapist!” Yes, and? You’re apparently going to be a millionaire or a bestselling author one day, and yet.) I even see therapists themselves throwing this at other therapists in some of the Facebook groups I’m in. That, combined with actually becoming a therapist and hearing a lot about how other people think, has given me a lot of opportunities to reflect on what causes people to say this.

People seem to be of two minds about therapists. Either we are fully self-actualized human beings who float through the world with the gravity-defying force of our own impeccable coping skills and preternatural ability to sense others’ thoughts and intentions; or we’re all “crazy” and “broken” and got into this field either to wallow in our misery along with our clients, exploit those clients, or use them to somehow fix our own unusually severe mental issues.

Obviously, I highly dislike both of these stereotypes (though the latter is of course more offensive and ableist). The reality is that most people will experience some sort of significant mental distress at some point in their lives, therapists included, and experiencing it early in one’s life can be a motivating factor when it comes to choosing a career path.

But I think there’s more going on here than just stereotypes about particular professions, and I think it reflects a common misunderstanding of how therapy works. Continue reading ““But You’re a Therapist!””

“But You’re a Therapist!”

A Support Role Taxonomy

Close-up of a life preserver.
Photo by Jametlene Reskp on Unsplash

A universal human dilemma: you need social support, but the type of support you need isn’t the type you’re getting.

You just want to vent, but your partner jumps in with advice. A sick person gets tons of gifts, but all they really want is someone to come over and spend time with them while they’re stuck in bed. Everyone wants to come hold the newborn baby, but nobody’s offering to do the parent’s laundry or make some meals for them.

This is complicated by the fact that most people find it difficult to articulate exactly what they need in terms of support, especially when they’re already in a rough spot. Even if they do know, and could verbalize it, many people feel like they shouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth. So, sure, you don’t need all those nauseating frozen meals while you’re dealing with chemo, but at least they were nice enough to think of you, right?

It can help to learn how to identify what it is that you do need and how to communicate that to people. On the flip side, it can also help to learn which types of support you’re best suited to providing and look for opportunities to do those things—as well as to be careful not to push those types of support onto people who don’t need or want them.

Continue reading “A Support Role Taxonomy”

A Support Role Taxonomy