Peggy PC Lee
There we go again. Father was on one of his usual diatribes about the state of moray decay in Singapore. “Youngsters nowadays, they don’t listen to their parents anymore. In my time…” I wanted to tell him that in his time, policemen wore shorts, but bit my tongue. I have bigger issues. My crotch is itching and I am trying not to scratch. In an attempt to distract myself least I get arrested for indecent behavior, I tried to practice the “in the Now” technique, some new age mumbo jumbo I read somewhere. The premise of this is to be still and notice what’s going on with you and around you, and appreciating the beauty all around. Breathing, normal. Temperature, comfortable. Stomach, satiated. Nose, itchy. I surreptitiously touched my face, and rubbed my nose. When I thought that no one was looking, I furtively jabbed my index finger into my left nostril and dug. Ahh… sweet relief. I flicked the offending piece of booger off with my thumb, and it landed on Father, who happened to be pacing in front of me. I shrugged. Oh well, a piece of booger never killed anyone.
The alarm on my watch went off. It was time to leave for school. I stuffed the last bit of toast into my mouth, picked up my bag and with a sigh, made my way out the door. School wasn’t exactly my favourite place to be. As soon as I stepped in through the school gate, I put on my game face and kept my eyes focused in front of me. Beside me, I could hear the students whispering. “Look at the funny way he walks…”, “Fatty bomb bomb…”, “Smell something funny?” The words floated in the humid air. Inside my head, I was chanting “Sticks and stones might break my bones, but words can never hurt me.”
As usual, the morning dragged on like years. When the school bell rang, I hurried home and checked my email. There it was, a new message! This one was from someone named Joanne. My eyes drank in the words eagerly.
I am fifteen this year. Lately, I have been feeling depressed. Nobody likes me. I have no friends in school, and I am very lonely. My classmates laugh at me because I am fat and clumsy. They call me a weirdo. My sister says I look very fierce when I don’t smile. I feel like a worthless piece of shit. At least twice a day, thoughts of suicide cross my mind. What can I do? Is death the only solution?
I felt my heart constrict. The poor, poor thing! My brain immediately kicked into problem-solving mode and my fingers could hardly keep up with my thoughts as I banged away furiously on the keyboard.
Please do not ever think that you are worthless! First of all, stop giving yourself labels. They do nothing but confine you to a hole, and limit you from becoming what you can be. Potential lies within everybody. You may be brimming with pot loads of it, but as long as you do not believe that you can be anything better, all the talent in the world cannot be unleashed, honey. I know you are at the age where you’re forming your identity and the opinions of others matter more than life itself, but believe me, one day, hopefully in the near future, when you learn to be confident, be comfortable with yourself, and learn what feeds your spirit, you will learn that how others think of you don’t matter as much as how you think of yourself. Now, there are very few things that my father and I agree on, but this is one of the few: A person should have three things: something to do, something to love, and something to look forward to. Your letter does not contain a lot of detail, but I’d hedge that at this dark time in your life, you may be lacking in either one or all of the three. I’d encourage you to take the time to write down what’s bothering you, the root causes and ways in which you may solve them. As you have pointed out in your letter that loneliness is a big issue for you, I’d like to offer you some ideas on how you may wish to address this for a start:
1) Smile often. A smile conveys friendliness, warmth, and openness. Do try to smile when you make eye contact with people, or they may not dare to talk to you.
2) Say hi. A verbal remark signals a willingness to engage. This strategy would serve as a verbal cue to others that you’re friendly as you mentioned that sometimes people are unwilling to make eye contact with you, possibly because of your “fierce” look.
3) Show interest. Once people start talking, be sure to take an interest in what they’re saying. People love to talk about themselves, and when they realize that you’re a willing audience, they will be more inclined to share further and over time, they will develop warm feelings towards you if you’re genuinely empathetic or are a good listener.
4) Take care of yourself. Eat healthy foods, exercise, and enrich your mind with positive reading material. Develop hobbies and take note of what feeds your spirit, and then do more of that. Look out for interest groups and join those communities where you can meet or interact with like-minded people. It is easier to make friends with people with similar interests.
5) Love yourself. Without self-love, you cannot love others. Learn to be kind to yourself, replace negative thoughts with positive ones, read enriching material and let go of things you cannot control. Lastly, let unkind words slide off your back. They are usually more about those who made the remarks rather than about you. Perhaps they are in pain too, and that is why they’re putting you down so that they can feel better about themselves. Having a compassionate heart will help you to deal with these bullies better.
My thoughts are with you Joanne. Let me know if these pointers help.
After I finished sending out my response, I sat back in my chair and let out a breath of air. This was my secret life. My name is Arthur. I just turned twenty in January and I am in my second year at a local Polytechnic, where I study Mechanical Engineering. In my spare time, I run a blog which had begun as an online journal of my life – my struggles and the ways in which I’d try to address these issues. Unexpectedly, over time, the readership grew to thousands. I guess my struggles must have struck a chord with teenagers out there somehow. When I noticed more and more readers sharing their personal problems and seeking advice in their comments to my articles, I decided to add a new section to my blog called “Ask Arthur”, which is essentially an agony aunt column for readers to share and seek advice on their problems. Every week, I answer as many questions from readers as I can, which can range anywhere from two to ten. This does take up quite a bit of time, but I don’t really mind, it’s not as if my life is jammed packed with social activities.
Anyway, I went to school the next day thinking about Joanne and the advice I had given her. It occurred to me that I should practice what I preach. So I did. I said hi to a classmate of mine who usually kept to herself, and after the initial shock wore off, she shyly returned the greeting. The next day, I tried smiling at people who made eye contact with me. While many hastily looked away, there were a few who smiled back. After a few days of this, I decided to try chatting with my classmates. In order to build up my confidence level, I decided to go for the “low-hanging fruits”, i.e. those who appeared to be more friendly and welcoming. I struck up a conversation with the two kids in my class who were in the choir like me, but whom I had rarely spoken to because of my crippling shyness. The first chat lasted five minutes and went quite well, and I noticed my energy level picking up because of the adrenalin rush. That evening, I went jogging to get rid of the excess energy, and during the half an hour run, I made up my mind to treat myself well and take good care of me.
I started running daily, and began paying attention to my diet. Burgers and fries were replaced by grilled fish and vegetables. Potato chips were replaced by raw carrot sticks. My weight went down slowly but surely, and my clothes started hanging like limp garbage bags on my shrinking body. This was to me, a happy problem, and I took the opportunity to revamp my wardrobe. Out went the baggy pants and oversized T-shirts, and in came fitted jeans and youthful shirts. After six months, I noticed that the look of disgust that some of my classmates used to wear on their faces when they saw me began to turn into intrigue. People started striking up conversations with me, asking me how I lost the weight and complimented me on how much better I looked.
Certainly, I had my “off-days”. These were days that I did not feel like exercising, got sorely tempted by food, or let someone’s criticism get to me. On days like this, I thought about Joanne and told myself that I could not set a good example for her if I did not practice what I preached. I did not want to disappoint her, and at the same time, wanted her to feel that she was walking the journey right alongside with a friend who not only understood her issues, but was fighting the same struggles next to her. Somehow Joanne, a person whom I have never met, became my raison d’être.
One day, I opened my mailbox after school, which had become de rigueur for me. There it sat, a new email from Joanne. This was about six months after her first email. I opened it eagerly.
I think you saved my life. I had written in a few months ago for some advice as I was feeling depressed, and I am glad to update you that the pointers you gave worked! Admittedly, by the time I wrote to you, I was feeling desperate enough to try anything. But the desperation pushed me to try out the advice that you gave (I can be quite stubborn and closed-minded), and to my great surprise, they worked! Life is looking up nowadays; I developed an interest in photography, and through a photography interest group that I joined, I managed to make some new friends. In school, I began smiling and talking to my classmates, and while it felt very strange and awkward at first, they soon began warming up to me. I will be honest; there are still people who get me down. But by the same token, there are also some who accepted me for who I am and I would not trade them for the world.
I am writing today, Arthur, to thank you for being there when I needed somebody. I now realize that life is precious and we have the power to change ourselves and change our lives if we’d only try.
So keep on doing your good work!
With tears threatening to spill from my eyes, I began typing.
I have a confession. Before I gave you the advice, I was in the exact same shoes as you. But writing to you inspired me to follow my own tips.
Sometimes I wonder if my advice actually helps anybody, and I’ve always thought that as long as just one person benefits, my effort would have been worth it.
So thank YOU. And always remember, you are perfect just the way you are.
All rights belong to its author. It was published on e-Stories.org by demand of Peggy PC Lee.
Published on e-Stories.org on 10/21/2011.