Dear Thelma: Sinking into depression after toxic experience


I AM a teacher working in the government sector.

I had always been so passionate about teaching, and it was a job I waited a year-and-a-half to get into.

Everything was an exciting experience until I got posted to a school where, let’s just put it as they were not the friendliest when it comes to mingling with people of a different culture. I was bullied, gas-lighted and mocked.

At one point, even the students knew about the drama that was happening in the staff room. I felt stripped of self-respect. Instead of feeling empowered, I felt like a walking joke.

Some were understanding but the majority just chose to be on the safe side.

Being an introvert did not help. Work was something that I saw as my reward to prove myself and to feed my self-esteem but my working environment turned into a working hell.

By the end of last year, I had spiralled downwards and was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder and Anxiety Disorder.

I struggled to make ends meet. There were too many days when I just couldn’t get up; all I did was cry. I forced myself to go to work, park my car and cry my heart out before entering the staff room.

I was so lost. I was labelled a "softie" when I tried talking about my situation at school.

I questioned myself too, as I come from a broken family, and grew up hearing phrases like "I told you so" and "You deserve it, fire won’t start without smoke, reflect on yourself. You must be It".

I don’t need anybody else to plant negativity in my head as I am already harsh enough in second-guessing myself. Maybe I am just not tough enough.

I cried my heart out to my colleagues, explaining that I don’t know how to deal with myself and the constant gloomy thoughts that I have. It is mentally and emotionally draining.

I became so forgetful. I tried communicating to those around me but I ended up feeling more lost than ever.

I've since been transferred to a new school. I feel great but sometimes the memory of the trauma returns and I give in. I call in sick. It is now becoming an issue again. I feel lost and guilty for taking breaks from work, but I don’t know how I can help myself sometimes other than just shutting down. Is it really wrong to call in sick for the sake of mental health?

I just want to be heard. I wish we had more awareness on depression and that our curriculum covered topics like this. I wonder how many people out there are going through this but certainly now I feel alone.

Lost Soul

My dear, with a family that treats you appallingly and being bullied unmercifully at work, it's no wonder your mental health has suffered.

Being diagnosed was a great first step, and moving to a new environment is another. However, when we have suffered for many years, it takes work to recover.

As you don't mention ongoing support, I urge you to get yourself into counselling as soon as possible. Talk to a mental health professional with at least a Masters Degree in Counselling or Psychology who works with depression and anxiety.

Start with evaluating your current state of mental health by focusing on your depression and anxiety. Figure out what your triggers are, and what strategies help you manage your thoughts and behaviour. Examine and build up your support network.

As soon as you're stable, plan actively for uplifting experiences. As an introvert, these will need to have some kind of connection, but not be too overwhelmingly people-focused. Think hiking and crafting where you focus on the activity rather than the socialising, and sports like squash and golf where you socialise with just one or two people at a time.

Once you have stabilised, start examining how your upbringing affects you today as an adult. I suspect you'll have picked up some false beliefs and unhealthy coping mechanisms. You may have low self-esteem as well.

It is important to tackle these issues because they most often sabotage us. For example, we may be frightened to ask for help because we think we don't deserve it or that people will be mean.

We don't realise that these beliefs were drummed into us when we were small. However, life is different when we are adults. Therapy is about putting our past behind us and learning new thinking and behaviour.

Does it sound a lot? Don't be discouraged! As an adult, you can take yourself in hand and make meaningful effective change. All you need is time, thought and support.

Reach out because you deserve happiness.


Is something bothering you? Do you need a listening ear or a shoulder to lean on? Thelma is here to help. Email lifestyle@thestar.com.my or write to Dear Thelma, c/o StarLifestyle, Menara Star, 15, Jalan 16/11,46350 Petaling Jaya, Selangor. Please include your full name, 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.

Are you suffering from mental health issues or contemplating suicide? Contact the Befrienders service nearest to you. For a full list of numbers and operating hours, go to befrienders.org.my/centre-in-malaysia.

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