Dear Thelma: I don’t see a happy future for myself

I used to be a happy kid; now, I just feel tired.

I feel no motivation to live. I used to be an ambitious smart kid who was excited about the future. Right now, I just feel tired. I can’t think of any happiness for myself in the future or even now.

I am a pre-university student and live away from home. I started my Malaysian matriculation with a lot of hope. But everything crashed around me the day I started getting terrible grades. Since then, nothing has changed.

I have zero motivation to study and I mostly just hang out with friends to escape my reality.

But at night, I sometimes feel empty (as I write this, it is how I am feeling) and the next morning, I feel worse.

It is no one’s fault. My parents are amazing and raised me in a loving home. I have never felt closer to them than now and they are my life line. Currently, they are the only reason I am moving forward. For some unfortunate reason, they love me despite all my failures and the way I am a letdown.

I constantly feel like I don’t have my life together and I think I just piled up all my responsibilities and locked them in a safe so that I can constantly avoid reality. I lie and I cheat a lot during quizzes. I hate that. But what I hate more is that others look down on me. I work so hard to impress people and it’s tiring.

Some days, I honestly feel better and think I can slowly turn things around. But the empty feeling and depression I am going through gets triggered easily. I don’t know how else to put it.

My parents know I am suffering and have offered all the support they can. They always come running to visit me when I feel down. But I can’t tell them the things that I’m telling you, Thelma. They don’t know I am a failure.

I can’t tell my friends either. They see me as a happy-go-lucky girl who rarely gets sad. I have tried in some ways to talk to them, but they just don’t understand, I guess. I don’t blame them. People have problems worse than mine, so I shouldn’t feel this bad. I should be stronger.

Even as I write to you, I am nervous that you may judge me. I am sorry, I just don’t know what to do. – Lost Girl

Dear Lost

You are not a failure. You describe your feelings clearly and concisely. That shows you’re a good communicator. Your mum and dad adore you, and you have friends, so you inspire love. That is definitely not describing a failure.

You are drifting into dishonesty, cheating at tests, but the fact that you are ashamed of this means you’re not turning into a bad person. So hold on to that. Also, stop it. Forgive yourself, but don’t do it again. Better to fail than to cheat.

Now, what’s going on? I can think of several possibilities.

It may be due to you being in Pre-U. You see, school is about cramming basic information into kids and having them echo it back. College involves meaningful learning where you’re expected to apply what you’ve learned to solve new problems.

In the past, college classes were short and intensive. Then students went away to think and study by themselves. This helped them make the leap into meaningful learning.

Today you’re crammed into classes that last all day. This means you barely have time to think. Not only does this frustrate meaningful learning, but lots of kids just burn out.

Burning out comes from being pushed too much for too long. You become exhausted, and this creates a sense of detachment, hopelessness and cynicism. Does that sound familiar?

These feelings can be accelerated if you are studying for a career that doesn’t interest you.

The other possibility is that you are suffering from depression, and that it is that mood disorder that is making you feel hopeless and useless.

Depression is like a mental paint job where everything you see, feel and do is blanketed by misery. It erases happiness and joy from your life. Worse, it turns everyday simple neutral events into dark horrors.

You mentioned you think people don’t like you, and that you’re working hard to keep up a false front. Well, that is very typical of depression. Sufferers are often convinced that their friends are secretly mocking or despising them. It’s not true; it’s a symptom of depression. That’s why it’s so devastating.

Depression often strikes people your age because your body is in flux. You are in a state of development where your brain is finishing its maturation process. This involves surges of brain chemicals, some of which are linked to depression.

So, what should you do?

First, you are certainly not a failure. You’re a young woman going through a difficult patch. Keep reminding yourself of all your good qualities.

Second, that idea you have that you should be stronger isn’t a good way to go. While it’s uncomfortable, ignoring negative feelings is worse! If you try and bury them, they will explode at some point.

In fact, researchers have found that emotion avoidance is linked to anxiety. As you said, you had the idea that I’d judge you and that made you anxious. It is possible that this is because you’ve been trying to subdue your true feelings for too long already. Better you accept it and deal with it.

Luckily you are in Pre-U, which means you should have access to counselling. Go and find someone who can assess you for depression. Figure out exactly what’s happening, and get a tailor-made treatment plan that will help you manage it.

Don’t blow off your appointments! Go twice a week until you’re over the worst of it, and then every week until you’re back in control, okay? Also, begin opening up to your friends. You’ll find some of them feel exactly the same way. Lean in and support each other.

I hope this helps. Know that I’ll be thinking about you this week. Please write in again if you need to talk more, and do let me know how you are.

Is something bothering you? Do you need a listening ear or a shoulder to lean on? Thelma is here to help. Write to Dear Thelma, c/o Star2, Menara Star, 15, Jalan 16/11, 46350 Petaling Jaya, Selangor or e-mail Please include your full name and address, and a pseudonym. No private correspondence will be entertained. The Star does not give any warranty on accuracy, completeness, usefulness, fitness for any particular purpose or other assurances as to the opinions and views expressed in this column. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses suffered directly or indirectly arising from reliance on such opinions and views.

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