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Hello Caller: Dealing with anxiety and asking out a workmate

Our new weekly advice column, in which practising psychotherapist Ms. X answers readers’ questions on manners, morals and mental health.

Dear Ms. X,

I am a 54-year-old male. I’ve had a number of relationships in the past, nothing too serious. Currently I am sort of polyamorous, but I’m thinking I need a good solid one-on-one connection, preferably before the end of next year. A lot of the people I work with seem to be hooking up. Actually there is this guy I know who I’ve had my eye on for a while – he’s a bit older and more experienced than me, if you know what I mean. But he usually just ignores me and I am not sure how to approach him. I know there are others who definitely would like to get into bed with him.

What can I do to win him over?

Hello Caller,

Thanks for being my first letter!

You gave me good background but I do have a few questions. So if my reply raises more stuff, feel free to write back and we can see if this has legs for “Polyamory 2 – The Return”.

So I am totally on board with you wanting to hit on and win over a guy at work but I have to assume that you work in an environment where hooking up is legally permissible and professionally low risk. Because sometimes while we are at work it can be a lot of fun to pass the time fantasising about our workmates.

But if a hook up goes bad in the workplace it can go really fucking bad. I mean lawyers and pay outs and smashed windscreens and STDS and the full noise. So don’t punch yourself in the pants here because that’s not the goal.

So what follows is my advice based on the assumption that you will be safely employed before and after any approach you make.

My first question is: why do you have a timeline for a “solid one-on-one connection”?

Have you RSVP’d for a particularly loathsome three-day wedding in Fiji? A school reunion that might require a safe word? I’ll survive without knowing, but make sure you are clear with yourself as to why you are putting a timeline on this. What and why is the deadline in your own mind and is it a real one?

And I gotta tell you, when I read the words “sort of” just before the word “polyamorous” there is something like a level 7 alarm in my straight lady brain (in case you’re wondering, straight lady brain is just beside reptile brain on the mind map). But I’ll allow for the NZ idiomatic usage of “sort of” and make another assumption I hope is correct – that you are polyamorous and you have been clear with each and everyone you are intimately involved with that you are.

OK. Business time. Let’s talk about hitting on men. Woo hoo. Straight lady brain is now in 5th gear. If your workmate has walked around the park as many times as you think he has, he may appreciate a direct approach. A kind of zesty straightforward proposal:

“I’d like to spend some time with you. Just-us-alone kind of time. So just let me know if you are interested.”

And if he does not respond immediately with a “Yes, when?”  just withdraw gracefully and say “I will leave that offer there for you to think about” and let him PERCOLATE.

And then I want you to deploy the dark arts of clever women and smart gay men. Sorry heterosexual men – but this is something that you rarely perform at Olympic levels.

I want you to go to work smelling terrific, looking happy and fulfilled and well groomed. Be chatty and pleasant with other people. Laugh generously but not maniacally at other people’s jokes and demonstrate your general level of attractiveness. Because if you are serving up a dish like that, someone will want a piece – even if it is not your intended beau.

Trust me.

I wish you all the best.

Ms. X

Dear Ms. X,

Any tips for dealing with constant anxiety? I’ve never been an anxious person. But my mother died last year after a long illness, during which time I was in a constant state of anxiety. Although her death was devastating, I’m embarrassed to say a big weight lifted from my shoulders when it finally happened. But soon after the anxiety crept back. At first I was worrying about things that might never happen. I managed to stop myself doing this but now the anxiety (and a down in the dumps feeling) seem to be hanging over me in general, not fixed to any particular worry. It’s like a dark cloud hanging over me I can’t shift. This isn’t like me at all, but I don’t know how to fix it.

Hello Caller,

You have my sincere condolences.

You probably remember that after the earthquakes in Christchurch there was a strange and overwhelming sticky substance that flooded out of the ground. It was called liquefaction and it took the hundreds of adorable volunteers to remove it. And then inevitably and exhaustingly it would bubble up with the next shake. That’s your anxiety.

I think you managed it while your mum was dying because you had no other choice; you were in constant forward motion while you attended her needs. Don’t be embarrassed to say that it was a weight off when she died, by the way. Exhaustion and relief go hand in hand after being beside someone with a long illness.

It isn’t a surprise that your anxiety has returned now. Grief is a tricky shapeshifter and you have more space in your life for it to roam around in now.

But now the ground has settled and you have several tons of liquefaction in the lounge and a deficit of perky Uni students to wheelbarrow it away. (For the purposes of your letter I am conjoining grief, anxiety and depression together in a Dr Frankenstein-type hot mess of a metaphor)

You are starting well by asking for help and you seem to have a good sense of self, which is important. There are several approaches I would suggest and the good news is that you can do them all at once because you are not part of a clinical trial!

1. Start looking after yourself, if you’re not already. Build some kind of physical activity into your week and do it. If you like company then do something with other people, if not go solo. Eat your vegetables. Seriously.

2. Do things that you know feed and stimulate you emotionally, spiritually or intellectually. I don’t know if that is watching the collected works of Bruce Willis or gardening or listening to music or going to church. But you will know. You need to fill in the gaps where the Franken-grief-liquefaction beast has been roaming.

3. Check in with your GP (if your don’t have one you like then it’s time to find one) and tell them what you told me. They may offer you medication straight up; whether you say yes is obviously up to you. My personal preference would be to see a psychiatrist, if you can afford one, because they prescribe medication all the time and so can have a better handle on what’s best for your situation. Your GP can give you a referral for one.

I have a caveat here: medical professionals are not all psychic geniuses. Last year I consulted a psychiatrist for what I thought might have been some depression which I described tearfully, telling her what I thought may have been the trigger. She paused for about two minutes and said “Sometimes we just have feelings” and I said “Woah, that’s actually amazing because I am having some feelings right now and they are all about you.” So, dear caller, I went to another doctor. You can too.

4. If you feel wildly opposed to medication then I would suggest (and I wouldn’t have done so until very recently when I saw good results with several clients) that you find a good practical naturopath and try some St Johns Wort. There have been proper clinical trials that seem to indicate its genuine usefulness in low level anxiety and depression. If you go that route please tell the naturopath that you don’t need 55 other supplements or remedies. Just get the St Johns Wort and get out. You can try that other stuff later if you win the lotto and are bored. (Please check any medications or supplements you are prescribed against the St Johns Wort – there are some that don’t mix.)

5. You could also consider and investigate talk therapy. It could be counselling or psychotherapy but try to seek out a therapist who demonstrates an understanding of grief and anxiety. Your GP may have a suggestion or just use Google to see who is in your area.

I know this is a lot of information but I’ve put it in a list so you can just check it off item by item and experience sweet satisfaction when you do.

Take care and go well.

Ms. X

Need help now?

Lifeline 0800 543 354

Youthline 0800 376 633

OUTline (LGBT helpline) 0800 688 5463

More helplines can be found at the Mental Health Foundation’s directory. For a list of Māori mental health services, click here.

Got a question for Ms. X? Send an email to hellocaller@thespinoff.co.nz, ideally including key information such as your age and gender.

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