Dear Thelma: Since my mum died, I’ve been a mess

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Dear Thelma,

I have a lot on my mind, and I feel something is wrong with me.

I argue a lot with my husband.

I lost my mum to cancer on Oct 31 last year. I still cannot move on. I still keep waking up at her time of death, between 3.30am and 4.30am.

My husband and I have a problem. We haven’t been intimate since our wedding two years ago.

My mood switches from time to time. At night I cry, and in the morning I get angry and emotional.

Sometimes I feel I shouldn’t be here; I wish to just go to my mum. And sometimes I come back to reality.

I want to be here for my dad, brother and husband.

I can’t tolerate the mixed feelings. But I really want to go back to normal again. Please help me.


Dear Logeswary,

I’m so sorry, you’re carrying a heavy burden. In your letter, you describe several issues. Although some may be connected, let’s look at them separately first.

One issue is your mum’s death. When loved ones die of old age, it’s a shock still but we can comfort ourselves by celebrating a long and happy life. However, when death is due to illness, we feel helpless and we may also feel as if part of their time was stolen from us.

That combination of emotions takes a toll. Feeling helpless when a loved one is suffering is a devastating experience. Because of this, it’s very common for loved ones to suffer from anxiety and depression. If you were a caregiver, this will have added significantly to your burden.

You are linking wakening up in the middle of the night with your mum’s death. I understand why you might think that. While it’s possible, you should know that wakening up in the middle of the night is a common feature of anxiety and panic disorders.

Families who have lost loved ones to illness sometimes expect their stress to end at the funeral. However, the mental health effects can last for weeks, months and even some years. You see, when we watch our loved ones die of disease, our helplessness can transform into guilt. This is very illogical but the human mind sometimes has funny ways of coping.

Guilt leads to anxiety, and that can lead to broken sleep. And as lack of good quality sleep fuels anxiety and depression, you get stuck in a vicious cycle. In addition, this may also be behind the mood swings you describe.

As you express mildly suicidal thoughts, I think you should consult a mental health practitioner. If you can, go and see a psychiatrist, a medical doctor who specialises in mental health issues.

If there isn’t one available where you are, see your family doctor or talk to a psychologist or counsellor who specialises in depression and anxiety.

In addition, there is the intimacy issue. You don’t say much about it, but aside from putting a barrier between you and your partner, common sense suggests that it will also be adding to your stress levels.

If it’s a physical issue, start by seeing a medical doctor. If it is a mental block, then a psychiatrist or other mental health practitioner can help.

Most importantly, while you source the help you need, please set aside time every day to de-stress. An easy way is to have a nice up of tea and consciously breathe slowly while you admire the beauty of nature. It need not be a national park! Just sitting with pot plants or listening to birds singing in the trees will do. It may sound a bit trivial but studies show that just 10 or 15 minutes a day can help promote calm.

I hope this helps you source the support you need to figure out how to make positive change.

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