Dear Thelma: I'm fat-shamed by everyone and losing the will to live

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Dear Thelma,

I'm in my 40s and I've begun to lose sight of life.

My supervisor retired this year but, before he left, he recommended to our heads of department that I take over his place.

So, I was very disappointed when, instead of promoting me, our HODs opted to hire someone external.

Meanwhile my supervisor has lost interest and does not bother about us anymore. I was disappointed because I have been reporting to the same person for the last 10 years yet he is never happy nor satisfied. I work so very hard to get promoted but am still in a junior position – an assistant manager. No different from a senior exec.

The ad posted online was so simple that I felt extremely disappointed. It was obvious why my HODs would not promote me: I had lodged a complaint about a behaviour of a staff, which they denied.

I was called fat, pig (in different languages) and harassed every single day. Some even called me names out loud from afar. I have no proof nor any witnesses, and I can't prove this to HR either. Even some of the HR personnel do that to me, no thanks to rumours or gossip about me. And no, I am not being sensitive. Beneath the face masks that they wear, they call me names – very frequently. But they pretend they never did it.

Somehow, everyone I meet in the office started calling me that even if I have no dealings nor misunderstandings with them. All because of an incident in 2019 that was caused by a young staff who was in that company for only about a year. When he was there, he complained that I didn't look at him, and they think the reason is that the young boy liked me.

I shared some of these stories with a few of my closest colleagues, and they don't understand why I was being targeted and why should I even pay attention to this young fella when we had no dealings whatsoever. The problem streamed from there. Every time I walk around the office or pick up calls, I can hear someone say the word pig.

I am very unhappy and don't know what to do about it. I feel like there's no way out. I can't defend myself nor do anything. Yes, I am fat, and very fair too. I'm healthy and have no illnesses. What does my physical self have to do with them, anyway?

Also, for the past couple of years, I was caring for my dying parents, and I watched them leave. It was during those times that all this started to happen.

I don't look forward to life and have been wondering what I'm doing, being alive and all. I don't have a purpose and I truly believe that I was born to be hated and condemned. Everywhere I go, folks call me pig, fat, unattractive, unmarried, and say that nobody wants me. They don't even care if I heard that. I have done nothing to them nor even seen them before.

My neighbours are the same. Some are so psychotic that they name-call around 3.30am or 5.30am. Some, when passing by my house, would start calling me that. It started when I told a neighbour off, and asked them not to play with fireworks at the back of the house as there are a lot of cables hanging there. Our back alley is so narrow that should anything happen, like a fire, it would spread easily as these are terrace houses. His answer was no, no, no. Since then, they have been calling me fat and now pig.

After my mum passed away last December, I heard the neighbour's son call me pig. I got angry and scolded back. Since then, even neighbours whom I have not even spoken to before also started calling me names. Is it my fault entirely? Am I the toxic one?

When I go out to run errands or buy groceries, and minding my own business, people would target me. When I'm out for a walk, some men would comment that I look ugly and fat, and that nobody would want me. Why?

To be honest, I have given up wanting to have a life partner.

Yes, I am fat but not obese. I have a large frame. I have seen others who are way bigger than me but they attack me also!

I can't live another day going through all this. Every single night, I hope that I never wake up. Maybe the world would be happier if I die. I don't know what to do.


Dear Lost,

I'm sorry you're having a bad time.

When I first read your letter, I wondered at the repeated whisperings of pig that you hear. You see, there are some conditions that cause auditory hallucinations. These include intense stress, PTSD, schizoaffective disorder, thyroid conditions and more.

These conditions can go undetected because you don't get very noticeable physical symptoms.

But you can link the insults to two incidents, one at work and one with your neighbour, and that gave me pause. Also, you say you are healthy, so perhaps you have already had a check-up?

Either way, I recommend you see a doctor immediately, because you have suicidal thoughts. Go and see a psychiatrist, a medical doctor who specialises in mental health, and have a good chat about what's going on. With her help, you can work out a plan to support you.

Although psychiatrists also do talk therapy, it is more common to consult a psychiatrist to get a diagnosis and to discuss whether medication will help you, and then to see a psychologist or other mental health professional for talk therapy.

As you have several issues, it's helpful to list them concisely.

At work, you were hoping for a promotion. Your boss also thought you were a good candidate, but the higher-ups decided to bring in someone from the outside. Also, you're being bullied by your colleagues who say nasty things to you and also spread malicious gossip about you.

At home, you have been a caregiver for your elderly parents for the last few years, and they have now passed away.

Also, your neighbours are setting off fireworks and when you told them you were concerned about fire, it escalated into a fight. Since then, your neighbour has harassed and bullied you.

Unsurprisingly, you are feeling very low. You're wondering also if it's you that is the problem. It's always a good question to ask, so let's have a look.

While it's disappointing not to get that promotion, the fact that your boss recommended you shows your quality. I would take that as solid evidence that you are good at what you do.

So why didn't you get the promotion? We won't know but you think your bosses take your work for granted. That's not uncommon. Also, that's no reflection on you. But if you can't get ahead there, I'm wondering why you stayed. Perhaps it's time to work in a different company?

Next, taking care of the elderly is exhausting and to have your parents pass away is a sad loss. I'm so sorry. Please consider that you may still be suffering from stress or unresolved grief.

Also, I wish to point out that caring for your mum and dad was a kind and loving act. It must have been very hard work, but it was a truly tender deed. That is to be admired.

Then, your neighbour. Most fireworks are illegal in Malaysia but they're common. And as you point out, they are dangerous. I understand you were worried, they scare me, too.

It's a shame the talk escalated into a quarrel but it's human. My advice would be to find a mediator, a neighbour you trust or perhaps a local imam or priest, who can help you both mend fences.

Finally, you think people are staring at you and judging you when you go out. It's possible they are, people can be that way. But it may also be anxiety and stress at work.

Let me explain. When our stress levels hit a certain level, our inner fears rise to the top. And our anxiety whispers that our fears are true. So, some people when they are stressed believe they are incompetent, ugly, weak, wrong and more. It's not true, it's an effect of anxiety, but it feels true.

The trick to managing it is to learn to recognise what is going on, and to actively destress. For people who are very sensitive to stress, medication can help.

In summary, I think you should go and see a psychiatrist to sort out what's going on. Then work in some time with a good therapist so you can talk through issues in a safe space.

But most of all, please believe me when I tell you that the world is a better place with you in it. You are a woman who works hard, who looked after her mum and dad, and who simply wants to live a happy life. Those are all good things to be.

So please reach out and get the help you need.

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