Ask Dr. E

Q& A

Dear Dr. E,

I'm a divorced mom, and I have been struggling with sexual feelings toward women that I don't know how to handle. I think about women in a sexual manner every single day, and for most of the day. I have had these feelings for as long as I can remember, especially toward my best friend, but I would never jeopardize our relationship by telling her. These feelings are consuming me. Is there some way to make them less prevalent in my everyday life?

K, Raleigh, NC

Dear K,

There must be enormous pressures in your life preventing you from acting on your sexual feelings—an ex-husband, your children and some of your friends, no doubt. When we're inclined to act one way, and society pushes us in another, we suffer greatly. A sensitive counselor or therapist can help you understand and reduce the conflict you're feeling. Ulti-mately, you may have to come to terms with a new sexual identity. A few people might abandon you, but most will adjust.

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Dear Dr. E,

My older brother has just been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. His IQ is extremely high. Is it true that there's a fine line between genius and insanity?

C, Spokane, WA

Dear C,

Bipolar disorder, also known as manic depression, can strike anyone, regardless of IQ. As for the folk tale about madness and genius, there's little truth to it. A few tortured geniuses like Van Gogh have given the rest a bad name, but in fact, intelligence is generally helpful in overcoming emotional and behavioral disorders. By the way, “insanity” is a legal term; it's seldom used in the mental health professions. And bipolar disorder—a disorder of mood—is a far cry from “insanity,” which suggests a severe break from reality.

Dear Dr. E,

I've had nightmares most of my life, and they're getting worse. I've had dreams where I have been shot, stabbed, run over and set on fire. I've also had dreams in which I harm others. In the worst one, the walking dead chased me. I often wake up experiencing the same fear I felt in the dream. I'm very reluctant to seek professional help. What can I do?

TS, Springfield, MA

Dear TS!

Walking dead? Shot? Stabbed? Run over? Set on fire? Just what will it take, my friend, to get you to a therapist? Recurring, emotionally charged dreams suggest that we're trying to solve serious life problems and that we're not making much progress. When dreams are serving their purpose, they help us to set aside our worries and start fresh. Either your dream machine is broken or you're dealing with some planet-size worries. For referrals to psychologists in your area, call the APA hotline at 800-964-2000.

Dear Dr. E,

How do you know if someone has a sleep disorder?

C, Eaton Rapids, MI

Dear C,

If you can't sleep night after night, or you usually have trouble waking up, or you sometimes wake up gasping for air, you probably have a sleep disorder. To take a quick quiz on such disorders, go to www.asda.org/symptoms.htm. Therapy, medication or even just some simple changes in your nighttime routine can beat most sleep problems.

Dear Dr. E,

My mom and dad make me feel worthless. How can I work through my pain while still having to deal with them every day? I feel my best when I'm not talking to them.

T, New York, NY

Dear T,

The key for you might be a technique called “reframing”: It may sound impossible, but you can learn to interpret your parents' negative statements in neutral or even positive ways. For example, when Dad says, “You'll never amount to anything,” you try to interpret his words so they won't hurt you: “Dad gets grouchy before dinner; he doesn't mean it.” Or “That's just Dad's crazy way of saying he wants me to succeed.” Therapists skilled in cognitive behavior therapy can help you master this powerful technique. Contact the Association for the Advancement of Behavior Therapy at 212-647-1890 for referrals.

Dear Dr. E,

How do you feel about homosexuals adopting children? Won't these kids be harmed in some way?

C, Chicago, IL

Dear C,

I know of no scientific evidence that shows that children raised by homosexual couples are at higher risk than children raised by heterosexual couples. Because we live in a homophobic society, gay and lesbian couples are often closely scrutinized, so they try extra hard to be exemplary parents. What's more, they're almost certain to provide more love and security for children than most single parents can provide. In a decade or two the data will be much clearer, but I'm betting that a loving, stable, two-parent home proves to be the best one for kids, no matter what the sexual preferences of the parents.

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