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Every day, I put on a smile, go to work, greet everybody, and help wherever I can. People think I’m friendly and happy-go-lucky, but on the inside I am feeling totally empty. I am so lonely, I feel like nobody knows who I really am. My life is fine, I don’t have any crazy big problems or drama...why am I feeling so sad all the time?
-Smiling on the outside, crying on the inside
■ Clearly things are not OK for you, even though it might seem so from the outside. You describe a feeling of emptiness and sadness, despite being surrounded by people at work each day. This must leave you feeling very isolated, disconnected and unable to be yourself, and it is not working for you. You say you don’t have any big problems or dramas, so that suggests your emptiness might be due to your key emotional and social needs not being met right now. Maybe you’re not sure about how to change that, but there are some things you can do, so don’t lose hope.
Maintaining this reputation of being the “helpful, together” person means that everyone else believes it, which also means they don’t know that you need support right now. Therefore you are the only person who can do something to change your situation, which involves having to reach out to others and be honest with them about how you’re feeling. This might seem a bit risky and daunting at first, especially as it will break that illusion people have of you. However, it’s going to be necessary for any change to occur, because you don’t deserve to feel sad and lonely all the time.
What kinds of things do you think you could change or add to your life to help relieve some of these sad and lonely feelings? More time and support from friends or family? Social activities with new people? More meaning in your work or personal life? Make a list starting with “I need” and then write down anything that comes to mind. Identify your own true needs (not what others have said about you) and be proactive in the steps you could take to get what you need most. If you need to improve your current relationships then don’t be afraid to explain this to your friends and family and ask if you can spend more time with them. Start with the people you think are most likely to respond in a positive way and if you’re comfortable, tell them why you’re asking for this. Since they care about you they won’t be upset by being asked, although be aware that some people may be limited in what they can offer you time-wise. If you want to develop new friendships then try asking your more sociable friends if they could invite you along when they meet with their other friends. Alternatively, there are many social or sports groups in Bangkok where you can get involved in new activities and meet people. Join a local Facebook group for activities or hobbies you enjoy and put out a specific request to meet new people.
Ultimately, increasing your social and personal connections with others will help you overcome your sense of loneliness and hopefully your sadness as well. But if there are other things that you know need to change in your life—such as work, relationships, or health—these issues might take longer to address. Once you start taking steps resolve them at a deeper level, this should increase the sense of control you have over your life and give you hope that things can be better for you. Whatever you decide, be sure to find support in this process, whether that’s a trusted friend or family member, or a counsellor to guide you and cheer you on.
I am writing to you about my son. He is 15 years old, and in the past few months, I’ve noticed a big change in his behaviour. He used to be a very happy child, but lately he has become nervous and withdrawn. When he comes home, he immediately locks himself in his room and won’t come out until dinnertime. He seems tired all the time and doesn’t even want to talk to his friends. Should I be worried?
Seeing such a drastic change in your son is understandably worrying, thank you for sharing your questions and concerns about it. Your son’s teenage years will certainly involve confusion and insecurity for him and it’s quite normal for teenagers to withdraw at times, particularly from parents. The fact that he’s also withdrawing from friends is less common, but there could be some good reasons for this. Teenagers get a lot of their self-confidence and self-esteem from their friendships, so if there has been a falling out with his friends, or if he is feeling extra insecure about himself because of an incident or online comments (for example), then it may be that he’s not coping with this well and could explain why he is actively avoiding everything by staying in his room. The fact that he’s still going to school and coming out for meals is a good sign that he’s engaging in several important aspects of his life, but his withdrawal suggests that he’s genuinely struggling personally and isn’t sure how else to cope.
If he closes himself off completely from you or insists that everything is OK when it clearly isn’t, then it’s probably worth connecting with his school to find out what they have noticed about his mood and behaviour. If his school has a school counsellor, speak with them about your concerns.
It’s important to keep giving your son the message that you accept him as a person, that you care about him and will be there for him. Plan to do something together that you know he would enjoy. Find small ways to connect that aren’t too confronting for him – a smile, some kind words, allowing him an extra privilege where appropriate. Most teenagers go through phases of behaviour as they develop so there’s a fair chance that this could be a phase your son is going through. However, if his withdrawing from everyone continues for several more months and becomes more concerning in any way, then I recommend seeking professional help.