'I want to lead a happy life, please help'

  • Posted by Moderator: Biju Mathew
  • Published 11:27 February 1, 2013

I reader who wishes to remain anonymous asks: I recently came across your blog and want to seek an answer for the unhappy life I lead.

I come from a conservative family where we had very little socializing during our school years, only two or three close friends. We were not allowed by our parents to hang around or visit our friends' place, so basically we have been brought up in a narrow-minded environment. I have only one elder sister. We have been a nuclear family staying in the UAE for more than 30 years.

My mom was and still is partial towards my sister and her children. I do not exist for her! I have also been sexually assaulted when I was young by my own uncles, cousins, tuition teacher and brother-in-law! That has left me paralysed mentally and am unable to trust anybody, other than my husband!

I was married off early at the age of 21 to a man who is 11 years elder to me. At first it was not easy, as our mindsets did not match and I felt guilty time and again that I cannot match to his expectations of maturity.

He is a loving man, but is an introvert and seldom does he praises me or shows affection towards me. We have been married now for 10 years and I am expecting my fourth child, which was unfortunately not planned.

I have two girls and a boy and am a full-time working mom, having a hectic life with monitoring kids, helping in their studies and also doing a full time job.

I feel drained and stressed most of the time, and my only holiday was a 10-day sight seeing in my home country after my marriage.  Ever since I am married we have faced a lot of financial low-downs and still continues with loans and stuff and I am unable to take a break.

Now-a-days, I am even more disturbed and depressed as people raise eyebrows that I am having a fourth child with such difficult finance problems, all these reactions have left me feeling very angry and sad.

Everyday I wake up thinking Oh God another day to live. I have lost self confidence to do anything and am usually irritable with my kids and end up shouting and spanking them. Scared to talk to people, even like asking directions on road is difficult, or ordering food, it seems like I can't make up my mind.

Even at work, my colleagues, try to burden me with work and I am seldom heard, I end up taking extra stress and cannot say 'NO' to anybody.

Whenever I try to explain to my husband that all this financial burden is bothering me heavily, my husband refuses to understand and changes the topic to something else.

He does not understand that as a woman I need time off from him, kids and everything.

This feeling of hollowness is killing me. I had aspired for a good life, and love travelling, but haven't been able to travel anywhere, thanks to my husband's silly investment plans.

I would really appreciate if you can help me as I don't want this negative feelings of mine to affect my baby.

I want to lead a happy and content life, but am unable, please HELP!

Carey Kirk (M.Ed, Counseling Psychologist, Program Coordinator Raymee Grief Center) replies: It is difficult for anyone to provide an answer to unhappiness in a short written exchange such as this, but what I can offer are some suggestions and recommendations to try to point you in the right direction towards your goals.
The first thing I would like to highlight is your current level of mental wellbeing. In your writing, you mention feeling drained, having difficulty making up your mind, feeling irritable, and experiencing a sensation of hollowness. These are all indications of depression.

Other signs of depression can include:

  • Loss of interest or pleasure in things previously enjoyed
  • Significant weight loss/gain or change in appetite
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Feeling worthless
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Body aches and pains with no physical/medical cause

Symptoms of more severe depression can also include recurrent thoughts of death and thoughts about suicide. If you are experiencing thoughts of suicide, my first advice to you is to talk to a licensed psychologist and/or a psychiatrist as soon as you can.

Suicidal thoughts are a symptom of depression and can be treated.

After reading your description of your current circumstances, it makes sense to me that you would feel depressed. There are many stressors you are facing such as your financial circumstances, your pregnancy, workload, your relationship with your husband, and interaction with your family. Depression is our mind's way of telling us that things are not right and that something needs to change.

My second piece of advice to you is to sit down and list on a piece of paper all the stressors you are facing. This can feel overwhelming to do, so I recommend you try this at a time when you are in a good space. Don't attempt to write this list when you are really tired, irritated, or feeling particularly depressed. You may want to do this in the company of a friend, family member, or licensed psychologist who can be there to support you.

Next, take two new sheets of paper and give them the following headings:

  1. 'Things I Can Change'
  2. 'Things I Can't Change'

Now look at the list of stressors you wrote. Assign each stressor to the appropriate sheet of paper. Again, it may help to have someone there with you to help you gain perspective and ensure you are placing things into the right categories.

So many times in life we don't stop to make an accurate distinction between the things in life we can and cannot control and we end up spending our energy and efforts on stressors that fall into category #2. This only makes us feel stuck and serves to increase our feelings of hopelessness and depression. Keep the sheet of paper with category #2 ('Things I Can't Change') aside as a reminder to not waste too much of your energy on these items.

Next, turn your attention to the paper with category #1 and pick one item that you can work towards changing first. One stressor you noted that I would place in category #1 is your inability to say no to people. This lack of assertiveness is driving your problems with your workload. It is unlikely that your colleagues are purposefully trying to burden you with workload. It is more likely that they continue giving you work or asking your for help because you have not sent a clear message about how much you can handle. It is ok to say no to people's requests, but it can feel scary if you are not used to doing so.

I recommend doing assertiveness coaching. Assertiveness is not something anyone is innately born with nor is it a quality we naturally acquire with time. Assertiveness is a skill that we have to learn and practice in order to be good at. There are many books on assertiveness coaching on the market and this is also something that most licensed counselors and psychologists should be able to work with you on. Once you can say no to people, you will have the ability to save yourself from taking on unnecessary demands and will have more energy (and also more time).

We all need time for ourselves in order to maintain our wellbeing. You do need some time off. Is there anyone (relative, trusted neighbour, friend) who could watch your children for an evening or during the day on a weekend so that you can have a break? Your new skills of assertiveness will also help you to stand up for yourself and ask for this time.

Sometimes, and especially if we are battling with depression, taking on these tasks can feel overwhelming and it can be difficult to know where to start. Other personal issues might also surface in the process, such as your history of being sexually assaulted. If this is the case for you, I encourage you to enlist the help of a licensed counselor or psychologist who can be there to guide and support you on your journey towards establishing a happier life.

Write with your concerns to inmind@gulfnews.com and selected questions will be answered by a panel of qualified psychiatrists and psychologists. Your contributions will be modified for length and appropriateness, and will be open to other Gulf News readers to comment and suggest solutions. Let us know if you would like GulfNews.com to withhold your name from your letter should it be published.

Disclaimer: This blog is a conversation and is not an alternative for treatment. The recommendations and suggestions offered by our panel of psychiatrists are their own and Gulf News will not take any responsibility for the advice they provide.