Dear Thelma: I feel lost due to loss of income and overbearing foster dad

By Thelma

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Those suffering from mental health issues or contemplating suicide can reach out to the Mental Health Psychosocial Support Service (03-2935 9935/ 014-322 3392); Talian Kasih (15999/ 019-261 5999 on WhatsApp); Jakim’s (Department of Islamic Development Malaysia) family, social and community care centre (0111-959 8214 on WhatsApp); and Befrienders Kuala Lumpur (03-7627 2929 or go to for a full list of numbers nationwide and operating hours, or email

Dear Thelma,

I've really lost my direction in life during this pandemic.

Previously, I was a poultry farmer who also chose to study on weekends. But because of this pandemic, I had no income for months.

Usually I am not a melancholic guy but during the third phase of the lockdown, I couldn’t smile anymore because of my financial situation.

In fact, I don’t really know how to express my feelings. I’m in my 30s. At this age, I am being compared with other relatives by my elders. But I am not anxious about all that.

Before the pandemic, I could get a side income but I chose to focus on my main job and my studies. Due to the pandemic, my finances have been impacted greatly and I’m struggling to stay in college.

Basically, my father doesn’t really care about us even from our younger days. But my so-called foster father (my father’s former colleague) has been overly protective of me even until now.

Due to the pandemic, my foster father doesn’t have a source of income as well. He has turned to collecting and selling scrap metal.

He is quite overbearing. Maybe he has been poor for such a long time that whenever he sees something that’s resaleable, he yearns for it.

He never wants to miss out on getting what he sees as valuable “resources” even if I consider those things as rubbish, not that I hate rubbish.

Selling scrap metal only makes him enough money for meals. As my foster father is an overbearing person, he usually doesn’t accept what other people say but would force others to accept what he says. Because of time constraints, I can’t do my own thing.

Previously, I worked out and created social media content but not anymore. I aspire to be a streamer but I’m scared that I might not have enough talent for it.I’m not sure if I can get a job and generate an income.

Helpless guy

Dear Helpless Guy,

I’m so sorry you’re having a bad time. Your letter is very clear, so there’s plenty to work with.

First off, it sounds as though you’re overworked, overstressed and you’ve given up a few activities. It is possible that you’re suffering from depression.

As you’re at college, ask student services if there is a mental health professional who can assess you.

If not, speak to your family doctor or call one of the numbers in the highlighted box above.

Whether you are depressed or not, here are some thoughts on moving forward.

I’d like to start with feelings. As you said, you aren’t sure about expressing them. That’s not unusual because women are usually taught from small to pay attention to feelings while men are typically taught to ignore them.

Today we are finally understanding that managing emotions is a very important skill for good mental health for everyone.

Emotions give us information about our world and ourselves. For example, if you feel fear, it’s usually because you believe there’s danger. If you’re sad, it’s because you’re grieving for something.

Emotions and feelings can be tricky, but they are very useful. So read up on this and learn to understand your emotional world.

This will help you figure out your inner needs and that will help you make better decisions.

Next, you need an income. Thank-fully, you have lots of options. I say this because you did well as a poultry farmer. Nobody expected a pandemic and it’s no fault of yours that your business was affected.

In addition, you studied while you were working and are still studying. Put it together, and that means you are hardworking, capable of learning and flexible. My dear, that makes you a winner! You will find work, either your own business or working for someone else.

I suggest you plan your career for one year, three years and five years. Look to balancing income now with learning so that you can improve your position as you go along.

If you were making money with streaming, add that into the revenue stream. If it was just a hobby, do it for fun. Also, go back to working out. You enjoyed it, and you need to do things that make you happy.

But as you work on your future, consider your position with your family. Your foster father sounds like a good man who took care of you when you were small. However, he’s having a bad time at the moment, and he’s coping by being rude and controlling.

Within families, people sometimes think that they can forget their manners. While we do talk openly and frankly, being hurtful is not okay.

Yes, the pandemic is stressful and we’ve all said things we know we ought not to, but being a decent human being means treating our loved ones with respect.

If you can, have a chat about respectful communication. “I feel you’re angry and upset and I do understand. But speaking roughly like this hurts me.” Hopefully, he’ll think, talk it over with you and change. If you feel you can’t, rope in an older person to talk for you.

Finally, do a little reading on growing your self-esteem. You have achieved a lot in your life, running a good business and studying at the same time is really wonderful.

However, you don’t seem to appreciate this. As I said, that may be depression speaking. But if it’s not, then learn to boost your self-esteem.

I’m aware this is quite a lot to think about. Do talk this over with your support group. Alternatively, if you have access to free student counselling, take advantage and set up a regular appointment.

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