Dear Thelma

I led a good life until this year. Everything changed in a second. I’m trying hard to stay alive now.

I love dancing but my mother doesn’t support me because there is no future in dance. So, I have to lie instead and say that I want to be a surgeon.

My school is famous in the district for academic achievement and its co-curriculum. But the teachers all play favourites. There’s even a teacher who hates students.

I auditioned for a competition just to try my luck. Even before I gave my name, I knew that the teacher in charge was known to play favourites among the students. She asked a few of us to audition a second time. I was included but in the end, she only chose the person she liked, even though that person doesn’t know how to dance. There was even a girl who passed without an audition.

I thought just once, the teacher would see talent over everything else. My close friend who happened to see me dancing, laughed at me for being stupid.

I don’t have best friends because I have been betrayed before by my best friends. These close friends were just using me.

Before this audition, I actually was on a dance team. But they kicked me out without telling me.

My studies are not going as great as I thought. I was a top student in my primary school but have dropped a lot now. I dare not tell my parents my results.

I’m a person who self-harms when I’m having a hard time. My mum just found out about it and she couldn’t believe it. I stopped after she found out but I have started to harm myself again. I feel like I’m a burden to everyone.

I have two siblings, an elder sister and a younger brother. They never treat me like a sibling so I can’t confide in them about all my problems. One time, I told my sister about a problem, thinking that she could give me advice but she told everyone about it and people made fun of me.

My self-esteem is low. My sister is beautiful and has a good body shape. My brother is handsome. I’m ugly and fat. So, I always get insulted by my family members. I have been on a strict diet for two years, just eating one meal a day, but I still gain weight.

My cousin once verbally abused me, calling me fat, ugly and many more bad words. She has even kicked me in my sleep. Sometimes, I have nightmares about it.

I don’t want my family to know my problems and act like a cheerful child all the time. But sometimes I have a really bad day and still choose not to talk. My mum will push me and ask me what happened. I will always lie to her that I’m just stressed.

I feel like dying. I always cry at night as I have a hard time sleeping.

What should I do now? Help me please. – Stuck


Dear Stuck

First, the one thing that stands out from your letter is that you are very likely suffering from clinical depression. You are also self-harming, which is very worrying indeed.

Your mum loves you. That is very clear because she pushes you to talk to her when you’re upset. At this point you need a responsible adult to help you so please go straight to her and tell her exactly what you’re going through.

Depression and self-harming are fairly common issues in teenagers. However, as it’s dangerous, I think you and your mum should go to your local hospital and ask for an appointment with a psychiatrist. That doctor can assess you properly and help you map out a treatment plan.

Now, part of that plan will involve talking to a counsellor or therapist. Here are some ideas on getting you started on this.

You want to be a dancer but your family thinks it is an unsuitable career. From your letter, I see you believe in yourself very strongly. However, you are frustrated in this. It may be true that the teacher, the team and your friend are being mean. Bullying is a problem in many schools.

However, there may be something else at work here. I’m saying that because depression has a nasty way of twisting the way we see our world.

The same thing goes for your sister breaking your confidence. I don’t know how old you two are, or the exact circumstances, but she may just have had a lapse of judgment or be too young to understand she hurt you.

When it comes to your cousin, she is being unacceptably rude, and that needs to be addressed.

When you are working to manage your depression, talk about your relationships and work on your communication skills. Remember that you’re young, and that relationships at your age are challenging. So get some help to figure out better ways of managing them.

As for your concerns about your body, I’m afraid that changing body shapes are part of growing up. Everyone suffers agonies going through it. Even superstars like Lakshmi Menon, Beyoncé, and Taylor Swift talk about feeling they were ugly when they were teens. So believe me, you are beautiful, just like your sister and your brother.

If you eat sensibly and exercise (or dance!) then you should be healthy. That is what matters most while you are growing. If you think you are over-worried about your looks, consider that these fears may be related to your depression, so add this to topics to discuss.

As for your future, being conflicted over a career path is certainly a problem because being forced away from work you love and into work you have no feeling for, leads to misery. Do join clubs and classes so dance is part of your life. After all, it’s important to do things that make us happy.

However, it’s also important to be practical. It is very difficult to make a career out of any art, so you need a study plan that will give you a backup career. This means you will be flexible and that will give you better choices as you mature.

Note that everyone does this. Among Malaysian personalities, for example, Najwa Mahiaddin has a degree in electrical engineering, Lisa Surihani in law, Jason Ho has an accounting degree and a Masters in finance – the list goes on!

I know this is a huge task, but I think with support you will soon feel a lot better. When you are happier, your head will clear and your schoolwork will probably improve too.

So don’t give up but reach out for help, okay? And write back to let me know how you’re getting on.


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