Appearing every Wednesday and Friday in The Washington Post Style section and in Sunday Source, Tell Me About It ® offers readers advice based on the experiences of someone who's been there -- really recently. Carolyn Hax is a 30-something repatriated New Englander with a liberal arts degree and a lot of opinions and that's about it, really, when you get right down to it. Oh, and the shoes. A lot of shoes.
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Santa Fe, N.M.:
Recently had a big argument with a friend from college while on a trip. Things got nasty, more on her end. I merely tried to defend myself. I ended up apologizing because we had several more days together and I did not want things to be uncomfortable (although they were). She apologized after I did, admitting she made things up, but I am having a hard time getting over it. She said a lot of hurtful things and now I think she has felt this way all along. I'm not sure what to do - I'm usually a pushover in this relationship and I'm sick of it. Do I move on, or try to get past this argument? Thanks for your advice.
Carolyn Hax: Hey, this is America, have both. Though I'm not sure you should try to get past the argument so much as deal with the underlying problem. Tell her how you've come to see an imbalance in your friendship (or whatever you see as the problem) that you'd like to correct. Then use the result of the conversation to decide whether you give the friendship another shot or give up on it.
Obviously, this is assuming you feel this friend is worth keeping if you can negotiate better terms. If you suspect you'd still resent her nastiness even after a productive conversation, then it's time to move on.
Carolyn--One of my uncles died last week in another city. At the funeral, my aunt thanked me for attending the funeral and traveling so far. I wasn't sure what the proper response was to her thanking me. "You're welcome" seemed too off-hand. "My pleasure" and "I wouldn't have missed it" seemed inappropriate for the occasion. So I just gave her a hug. What would be the proper response to "thanks for coming" to a funeral?
Carolyn Hax: Hug sounds perfect to me. But where that wouldn't work, I suppose something about the deceased, like, "He meant a lot to me," or something true, like, "I felt it was the least I could do," would be appropriate.
Hi Carolyn-- online only and I need advice fast, please!
I am getting scrooooowed at work. No negative feedback at all the entire time I've worked here (1+1/2 years), and then suddenly I get written up for a problem which is provably and obviously someone else's fault! Tried to explain myself and got "Don't try to duck responsibility." Now HR wants to talk to me about how to improve my performance. How do I handle this? Confidence, humility, abject begging, JFK-like conspiracy diagrams on the whiteboard? Thanks!
Carolyn Hax: I do workplace relationships, not workplace performance stuff, but I do think that if the problem is provable, the summons from HR is a chance for you to start proving.
Newborn twin help:
Not for me, though. A friend of mine from work just had twins (well, more specifically, his wife did) and a few of us wanted to send them a gift basket of food and stuff to make life a little easier on them these first few days (she and the twins come home from the hospital on Friday afternoon). I was thinking of maybe getting some prepared foods sent over from Whole Foods or something, or maybe muffins from a local bakery, etc. Does this sound like a good idea to you, oh recent mother of twins? I'd really like to make them food and bring it over, but they live a little distance away and I don't want to intrude on the first few days, so I'm thinking that this is a good option. Is there anything else you think that would be better? We already had a shower and stuff, so we were looking for something to help out and make their lives a little easier at first.
Thanks, Carolyn, and I hope your twins are doing well!;
Carolyn Hax: I think they are, thanks, but they're moving too quickly to tell. In opposite directions. But I won't bore you with my personal problems.
Food is the right idea, but specifically: Dinners, already made, in disposable containers, arriving either hot at (roughly) dinnertime--followed by a quick exit, unless you're prepared to hold a baby for a while--or arriving in disposable, fridge-or-freezer-ready, microwavable containers. With any baby, dinnertime is the hour of true desperation, and double it w/twins.
Btw, consider calling ahead to see whether they'd like this help now or in a few weeks when all the offers have started to dwindle.
Oh, and skip the muffins; baby weight issues.
How do you know when it's the right/good time to introduce a love interest to your family?
Carolyn Hax: Since it depends on your relationship, your relationship with your family, your distance from your parents' home, in some cases your distance from your love interest's home, your love interest's relationship with family and/or idea of family, and a few other things I've probably forgotten, I'd say that when you feel it's right, you're probably right.
Carolyn Hax: Now say that three times fast.
I'm a Guy:
Can we post a big kudos to Nick for today's cartoon. Definitely struck a nerve.
Carolyn Hax: Gladly, thanks.
For Baltimore, Md.:
If someone more powerful wants you out, for some unknown reason, then there's not much you can do. Suck it up and learn from it.
Besides, would you want to work for a chaotic dictatorship like that anyways?
Carolyn Hax: Good point, much appreciated. I guess the last sentence to any workplace-mayhem answer has to be, "And update your resume."
Why do people take advice from a total stranger about personal things when they won't listen to advice from the people who actually know them and love them?
Carolyn Hax: Don't worry, they don't listen to me either.
But to answer your question: I am guaranteed not to have a horse in the race. Close friends or family can, often unwittingly, have their own interests in mind.
The Nerve Was Gender-Neutral:
Hey, I'm not a guy, but it hit home on this side of the aisle as well, and I was going to write to say so. Which is why honesty (however awkward) is so important. Thanks to you and Nick for that -
Carolyn Hax: Yer welcome. And thanks for the gender-neutral thing. We try hard to be so, which can make the assignment of sexes in the cartoons into a whole discussion unto itself.
I've had a weird problem lately. I'm not a supermodel or a celebrity by any means, but as a young woman, I get approached socially a lot, most often by men I'd rather not date. I'm a bit shy and rather private, so I don't like giving my number out to the pushy guy I've talked to for 5 minutes in a bar or stood next to in line at the dry cleaner's. Mom raised me to be polite, so I've become pretty good at being pleasantly defensive and giving a cordial "no" or extricating myself from an awkward conversation before the question is asked.
So, the problem is, this defensive politeness has become autopilot for me. I'm so used to the pushy guys that I sort of automatically start planning an escape route when I'm in a social conversation, or I find myself being prickly to people who don't deserve it. I've just had so many bad experiences, I find myself giving a polite brush-off to perfectly nice guys out of habit, and then realizing a day later, "Hey, that guy was actually pretty nice, and not skeevy. What did I just do?" (Note: I mean bad as in annoying, not traumatic.) I generally suck at flirting on top of things, and the defensiveness has made it worse. Do you have any advice?
Carolyn Hax: I have some technical advice--that you alter your escape route slightly, and replace your cordial "no" with a request for the guy's phone number. Be honest and say it isn't a promise you'll call, just a promise you'll think about it. That way if you get an attack of the day-later duhs, you have some recourse.
What I don't have advice for is the underlying defensiveness, in part because I'm not sure it's a bad thing, as long as you can work around its tendency to repel (seemingly) good people. It's not like one guy burned you and you're making everybody pay; this is a behavior you developed in response to constant attention over time. So, I imagine there's some value in it. I also suspect that now, because you're aware you've taken it too far, you're probably already self-correcting.
One thing a group of my friends has done is talk to the Mom-to-be before the big day (obvioiusly not possible for "Newborn") and ask what night of the week she'd like to have dinners arrive (we also checked on any allergies or other food issues). Then, for as many weeks as we had volunteers, dinner arrived on the same night of the week, at the same time. Deliverer stayed and helped or just did finishing touches as prefered by new parents. It was well-received and gave us the opportunity to do something that really seemed to help.
Carolyn Hax: Nicely done. The fixed day of the week is an especially good touch, since it's something the parents can then count on. (Or fixate on, depending on their desperation level.)
First, look at what you could have done better. You actually may have done something wrong. Being defensive right out of the gate isn't going to make you look better.
Second, make a case why your actions were appropriate. Probe HR and your managers on what your alternatives would have been.
Third, listen to everyone in your HR meeting. Their job is to help you improve, not punish. Ask questions and answer questions thoughtfully, not rashly.
Lastly, breathe and relax. Or should this be first?
Carolyn Hax: Sorry I didn't see this sooner--good ideas, thanks.
Calling in Ugly:
I had instances of two unrelated but equally rude things happen to me this week. I'm hoping you or the peanuts have ideas on how to shut these twerps down next time it happens.
1. I have a huge, flaming red zit on my nose. Seriously, it's completely deformed me. It's all I can do to get out of bed in the morning and suffer through my complete lack of cuteness. So after 20 minutes of spackling and convincing myself that it looked like a sunburn yesterday, the first thing one of my coworkers asked me is, "What happened to your nose?" And it happened again this morning. These are both people I consider friends. What do you say to that?
2. A woman who works in another part of the building begins talking before I even say hello when she calls my extension. I can hear her speaking already as I lift the phone to my ear. It's very annoying. Am I wrong to think this is rude? How do I make her stop?
Funny answers that aren't mean preferred. Thanks!;
Carolyn Hax: 1. "It's a zit." I mean, it's a zit. What can you do.
2. At the first pause, say, "Hi [name]." It's an annoying co-worker. What can you do.
This is why someone has to pay us to show up at work, right?
Asking for the guy's phone number! Now that's totally unfair. You fall in love with someone who then asks you for your phone number. Right then and there, you start dreaming about your next encounter, can't sleep that night and spend the rest of the time in a state of nervous anticipation until it finally dawns on you that she's not calling. I would prefer an impolite put down!
Carolyn Hax: Anyone know of a few decent night spots near Rockville? There's someone who needs to get out a bit more.
Dump in voicemail?:
I went on two dates with this guy who was very nice and with whom I hit it off really well... then he started drinking. On both dates he got obliterated after a while. Not just drunk but scary-may-need-a-trip-to-emergency-room drunk. This annoyed the tar out of me, and I decided not to go out with him again.
So I ditched him over voicemail. I felt kind of bad b/c he professed to be REALLY into me and his friends were promoting what a nice guy he was and how we were such a cute couple. But again, only two dates. He keeps calling, but I don't answer. I was pretty clear in my VM message that I didn't want to see him again because of the drinking, so I don't have anything else to say.
Harsh, appropriate, witchy? My sister says it's fine and to get over it, my co-worker says it was mean. Break the tie, Carolyn!
Carolyn Hax: Sounds like you were prompt, clear, honest--I'll cast my vote with your sister. Maybe you lost a few points with the voice mail vs. live conversation, but not many, since you were only two dates in and you got all the other stuff right. I also think your letting him know that his drinking was the problem might be the least mean thing anyone could have done for this guy.
I've never wanted to live with a man before marriage -- for a variety of reasons, none of which have anything to do with morality or my parents. My boyfriend has always considered living together to be an important step before marriage. This was confirmed to him when he moved in with a woman he thought he was going to marry and, after moving in together, they ended up breaking up. We've known of this difference of opinions from early on but ignored it because it was the only real issue between us. But now we are at that point: He's ready to move in together and I'm ready to get engaged. We're stuck! What to do?
Carolyn Hax: Seems to me that getting engaged and then moving in is a solid compromise--you won't be married, which is what you want, and you won't be married, which is what he wants. But if it's not about a we-must-live-together-first rule with him, and instead it's just that he doesn't feel he wants to marry you yet, then there's no compromising to be done. So, basically, if he's not willing to yield, then you're not the girl for him, at least not yet.
Re: Persistent Drunkard:
Why is he still calling? Perhaps he just wants to apologize.
Not that she has to let him, but maybe it's one of his steps.
On the other hand, if he's calling to go out again, and so persistently, is this something she should be worried about (beyond concerns over rudeness)?
Carolyn Hax: Surely he can complete his step on her voice mail, precedent having been set and all (or am I betraying my ignorance on the proper execution of steps ...). I think she's doing the right thing by letting her final "no" stand as such. The only thing I'd add to address the worry issue is that if the messages ever take a creepy or threatening turn, she needs to save them and call the police. Thanks.
For Calling In Ugly:
Can't help you with the first one, but for your co-worker phone issue, perhaps when she stops speaking you say,"I'm sorry, (name), but I did not catch the first part of what you said because I was just getting the phone to my ear." Repeat as necessary. If problem continues,blowing a whistle in her ear may be effective.
Carolyn Hax: Haha. You were kidding about the last part. Right?
San Antonio, Tex.:
Hi Carolyn -
I am getting married soon and dont know if I should include one of my bridesmaids in the bridal party anymore. Since I announced my engegement to her, she has be acting very unlike herself and has done several things I consider disrespectful. We have had a couple of conversations about over the last couple of months re: her actions, my feelings, her feeings, etc. After each conversation, I have left feeling better, hoping her interaction with me in regards to the wedding would improve, but each time I invite her back into the fold, she manages to "mess up." My question: Would you remove your friend (someone very dear) and if so, what is the "proper" way to go about it? Thanks!
Carolyn Hax: First step, stop taking your wedding so seriously.
Second step, stop taking yourself so seriously.
Third step, stop taking your friend so seriously.
Fourth step, see if your friend's behavior still strikes you as "disrespectful," and if it does, repeat steps 1-3 (unless this is your second time through, in which case, proceed to step five).
Fifth step, ask yourself if having this friend do absolutely nothing except stand next to you in an overpriced unfalttering shimmery dress is really such a bad thing to have to endure. Proceed to step six only if the answer is yes.
Sixth step, see if it's possible to render her dress even less flattering than it already is, and if that doesn't make you feel better about her service as your bridesmaid. Proceed to 7 only if answer is no.
Seventh step, explain to friend that you're hurt by her behavior and would rather she attend the wedding as a regular guest.
While a surprise of food for the parents of newborns is nice, you may want to coordinate with them first. I just went to visit my friends who are the parents of a 1-week old the other day. Their number 1 complaint? (besides lack of sleep that is)..........they have no room left in either the fridge or the freezer for any more food. So I will always call to see if they need me to bring anything first.
Carolyn Hax: Thanks, I should have specified that it not be a surprise. In fact no surprises are advisable to families w/newborns. Always call first.
Eating disorder follow-up:
I asked a question a week or so ago about a little sister with anorexia. I just wanted to let you know, she loves her therapist (and so do her parents), is already making good progress, and I got to spend some quality time with her over Thanksgiving.
We went out, just the two of us, and talked about everything she wanted to talk about, I bought her a special journal for keeping her thoughts in, and she is doing a TON better. Thanks for giving me a boost when I was freaking out. We know we still have a way to go, but at least we're on the path.
Carolyn Hax: Happy news, thanks.
If it hasnt been explicitly agreed upon as "exclusive," can I act as though it isnt? We've been dating for a few months, mostly long distance. As far as I know, neither of us has hooked up with anyone else, and he has starting saying "I love you" (I dont say it back) and talking all serious like that. I'm not feeling that serious, is it unethical to date around while I'm here? Or has exclusivity been sort of forced on me unless I correct the issue?
Carolyn Hax: You know the answer, you just want to hear a better (read: easier) one. Sorry I can't provide it.
Whoa, whoa, cut Rockville a break, please. It's a valid comment. Put the shoe on the other foot: If a guy were to ask for a girl's phone number "just in case" he decided he might want to call her later, then didn't call her, she'd be steamed that guys are such creeps who ask for phone numbers then don't call. Double standard much, Carolyn?
Carolyn Hax: Oh stuff your double standard where it belongs. I advised her to say it wasn't a promise, just that she'd think about it--and this was specifically in response to their asking her for her number. The advice works equally well if a girl were to ask a guy for his number and he didn't want to give it out.
Not mine! I live on the East Coast and am due July 10 (second kid). Best Friend wants to have big wedding on West Coast first weekend in September and is asking me if that's OK. Would you agree to be a "maid" of honor 6 weeks after giving birth? Do I have a choice here, or do I just suck it up and do this for a great friend?
Carolyn Hax: She's asking you if it's okay. You can say no--but only if you're prepared to travel to be her matron of honor after, say, 8 weeks or 10 or 12. If you're just not inclined to travel with two small kids anywhere any time soon, you need to say that to her honestly and ask what you can do for her instead to make it up to her.
Response for Washington, D.C.:
If it isn't about morality or a religious issue in regards to moving in with someone, why the need for an engagement? Living with someone is and of itself another step toward a bigger commitment. I lived with an ex of mine and it was a great decision. Not only did I know I couldn't stand to live with the guy "for the rest of my life" I knew that had we become engaged I would have had to break that off too. Moving out after living with someone is no piece of cake. There is the lease, the utility bills, the dividing up of belongings, etc. Why add the engagement component too? Why not give it a try? She might learn a lot. . . .
Carolyn Hax: Because some people happily see living together as an end in itself, and this can be torture when their cohabitants believe in marriage. So, I think it's important for couples to embrace each other's view of what's going on before the relationship advances to the corrugated-cardboard phase. These two posters aren't on the same trajectory, so, no cardboard advised. But hey that's just one opiner's opinion.
Carolyn, I thought of you when I read this in the Post today:
"One in 10 American women takes an antidepressant drug such as Prozac, Paxil or Zoloft, and the use of such drugs by all adults has nearly tripled in the last decade, according to the latest figures on American health released yesterday by the federal government."
When you recommend counseling to people, I always thought of counseling sessions, but this statistic makes me wonder if maybe some people are foregoing the time-intensive sessions and going for just the meds instead. I just wonder -- how did we ever function without drugs? Generations survived without antidepressants, albeit perhaps in a state of melancholy, so you'd think our numbers of folks on drugs could be a bit lower...
Note: I understand and appreciate the value of antidepressants, it just scares me that so many people out there are medicated long-term.
Carolyn Hax: Interesting. I wonder too how much of that number represents off-label use. I know of one person who was on a teeny-tiny daily dose of Paxil to calm a stomach problem. Course, could be that's just what I was told, but I don't think so--and it is just one person.
For what it's worth--when I recommend counseling, I do mean sessions. Thanks.
He apologized after the first date for getting so intoxicated, and I decided to give him another chance because Lordy knows I have done some stupid things on first dates or given a bad first impression before. But I also decided if he got super drunk again, it wasn't just nerves or a mistake but a pattern.
When he calls he usually doesn't leave a message (caller ID so I know it's him), but when he does it's usually just "Can't we talk about this?" or "I'm sorry, please call me." If we had been dating longer I would've been amendable to a discussion, but with such a big red warning sign so early in, I didn't feel attached enough to him to bother with any drawn out conversation about his drinking and/or "us."
Carolyn Hax: You did the right thing. Do not look back, and do not pick up. Guy gets a wake-up call, guy mutes ringer, guy is his own problem.
I felt compelled to respond to the chatter who advised "Listen to HR, they're there to help you improve".
No, they're not. They're there to protect management. Maybe that's not the case with all HR departments, but it's true of most.
Carolyn Hax: There are caring companies and not-, but the point of a company is profit, not the personal growth of its employees, so I think it's safe to say it is incumbent upon employees to watch their own backs. No different from life, though, really--you're always the one you can count on to take your own interests to heart, and beyond that nothing's for sure.
I got married, bought a house with my husband and started a new job all within the past year. Recently, I have been feeling very uninteresting. I have never been a social butterfly but I feel even more like a social outcast than I did prior to all these life changes. Changing jobs was perhaps the easiest thing because the people there are much more friendly and professional than my previous place of employment. Buying a house and getting married was rough though. Both requires far more work than I really ever wanted to deal with and leaves me drained much of the time. Given that I feel like such a social outcast, I want to know, how do people handle being vibrant and married all at the same time??
Carolyn Hax: I'm not sure what the connection is between marriage and sociability, but in your case I'd have a hard look at two things: whether you're depressed (www.depression-screening.org, or make an appointment with your internist--oh, and specify that you're not looking for a meds-and-out solution, while we're on the subject), and whether you're in a healthy marriage.
Fortunately, following the first path can help you take on the second. Please check back in next week, I'd like to hear what you've done. Thanks.
Bridesmaid after baby:
And don't forget that your baby probably won't be born on the due date. My son was more than 4 weeks late! Be upfront with your friend about all the possibilities, the sooner, the better.
Carolyn Hax: Four weeks late? Yow. I've seen one or two, but that's about it.
Count me as one of the 1 in 10 on a (small) dose of anit-depressent. I've gone to therapy, and it helped a ton. But I still have a tendency to get totally wrapped around things, sink into a blackhole of depression or have anxiety attacks. My Dr. suggested it to get over a rough patch, but she said "You know, it's such a small dose you might never want to come off it." She's right.
Yes, I can "survive" without the drug. But the small dose makes everything just a bit more manageable. And how do we know generations survived without it? St. John's Wort did the same for me, but I quit taking it for other reasons. Maybe we just have the pharms where others had the herbs. Or could we agree that perhaps life is a -whee- bit more stressful?
And if I can say this without sounding defensive, if we're going to talk about what people can "live" with and "live" without can we talk Viagra, Cialis, etc? I mean, please.
Carolyn Hax: Or, that life has always been stressful, in whatever way each phase of our history has had to offer, but that if science has progressed to the point that we now have a relatively harmless way to lessen that stress, why not use it?
You do sound defensive, needlessly, I think. Someone can be concerned about the stunning quantity of prescriptions being written, as the poster was, without pointing any fingers at individual patients.
Similar question to Arlington, Va.'s... What if the other person gives you his/her phone number before asking for yours? Short of inventing a 555 number, is there any way to politely decline the request? Thanks!
Carolyn Hax: Agh, inventing a number is horribly impolite. "I'm sorry, I'd rather not give out my number" is all you need to say. And if the person's reponse to that is to pressure you, then try a simple, "Please respect my decision." I'm not sure you want to be any more dukes-up with a stranger who's already proven him/herself to be boundary-challenged.
Scroo[g]ed at work::
HR is there to "protect management?"--That's PRECISELY the defensive attitude that'll get her out of there!;
There's always a chance that someone's "out to get" her, but then "defending herself" won't help anyway.
Carolyn Hax: Change "defend" to "protect" and I think the attitude is appropriate. Again, this is no different from the world outside of work--trust to the extent you must, and take care of yourself to the extent you can. Doing too much of either will only find you sucking your thumb in a corner somewhere.
Not depressed now:
As a person who went through a rough patch including PTSD and counseling, I can say confidently that anti-depressants saved my life. I insisted on trying them as a last resort after I planned my suicide. My marriage now is stronger than ever, and I am weighing two job offers of six figures. So the black periods can DOES end!; But I was concerned about a "shortcut" drug approach, and wondered why so many women were medicated. I read that people on anti-depressants generally have had very depressing things happen to them, and a huge proportion include sexual harrassment, sexual assault, and sexual abuse. I have decided that the "quick fix" is we as a society - like most societies - continue to dismiss "women's complaints" without solving the core issues. Maybe if those enormous problems get tackled, the medication issue will resolve itself.
Carolyn Hax: I can't speak to the part about the "people on anti-depressants generally hav[ing] had very depressing things happen to them," but I'd like to add that the whole dismissal of meds as a quick fix fails to take into account that popping a pill is far from perfect. The drugs aren't always effective, they can have some lousy side effects, they can take a while to kick in, they can be dangerous if you stop them abruptly, and on and on. What they are is one important and often, as apparently in your case, life-saving tool to fight an illness that affects a staggering number of people. An often intractible illness at that.
I'm attending an office holiday party for the first time next week. Any advice other than to avoid drinking too much and doing the Elaine?
Carolyn Hax: If it's my office party, then please do both.
If not, remember that you are not at the office, so it's not all business, but you also aren't among just your friends, so it's not all party. And if you're going to flirt, make sure someone watching you from across the room/across the Potomac wouldn't be able to tell that you are flirting.
I wish people wouldn't be so judgmental about the use of anti-depressants. I take them and some of my friends take them and in each case it's for a valid reason. Have you noticed that the people who judge the use of anti-depressants are the one who don't take any? I say when you've gotten so depressed you can't get out of bed or you're feeling a lot of anxiety or you've suffered some trauma in your life, then you can judge the high number of people who take medication.
Carolyn Hax: I do agree some people are judgmental (and that it's usually out of ignorance), but I don't think anyone has been judgmental here today.
I'm probably to late submitting, but here are my two cents for the helps of the twins.
Food is great, definately call ahead. A nap or other thing can get finished if they know they don't have to prepare food that night.
Also, food was great for the first week or so, but what really meant a lot to us were the people that came and said, "what can I do to help? I have an hour that is yours." They were miracles from above to us.
Carolyn Hax: Triplets, egad. Thanks for the suggestion.
My time-release triplets are screaming, so that's my cue. Thanks everybody, and type to you next week ... if memory serves, for the 2004 All I Want for Christmas Is a Death Chair special. (And if I said another date, I lied, it's next Friday.) Happy weekend, and thanks for coming.
I'm coming to realize that I've been depressed most of my life; I have major family issues to overcome; I've considered suicide; I often can't get out of bed in the morning. But I'm terrified of antidepressants changing my brain like a chemical version of electroshock therapy, and when my therapist urges them, I just flat out refuse. Surely there must be a way out besides mind-altering drugs?
Carolyn Hax: Please don't deny yourself a means to feel well without even trying it. Ask your therapist to start you very conservatively and also to factor in the possibility that you might want to discontinue them if you're not comfortable with their effects.