Acquiring a counselor

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

The year 2009 was a very traumatic one for me and my family. I started school in September and I was working very well. Early October I started to get depressed, and I was not coping with the work. I was very open about it, which helped me. I remember being in the computer room at school with my friends talking about wanting to die and my having no direction educationally. I had a very bad headache that day and I was jittery and conveyed the view that I wasn’t serious and was just having a bad day. That is true yet not true. Me and my friends talked about it, for some reason we are very open and tend to be able to articulate problems in a very direct conversation. *I am not like this at present, but I am generally like this as a person* In the end I went to sleep at school, skipped a class to do so and felt much better after. Skipping classes can sometimes add to my problems. I tend to pick and choose… For example, I never attend gym class or participate. I may have come into school an hour late on occasions so I can miss the morning class. However, I always make sure to find out the work I’ve missed and study. In fact, I love to learn. In classwork and homework I get A’s and A+’s but exams are a straight fail… Especially recently, I couldn’t revise because I was with my family constantly, I was required to shop, clean, be hospitable to guests and I had family staying over. In all honesty my attempt to study for my exams scored me 10 minutes of swearing in a car by my mother as she drove me home. On my birthday.

I have been depressed for many years, and also failing exams for the same amount of time. I believe I am smart, and for some reason all my endeavours are vocational and I don’t do the normal teenage things. I enjoy studying and being in the library. Probably because I can’t deal with a lot of noise and I like silence. But it’s hard. Everyone seems to be on a different level to me, they are normal. I am not. I do blame it on the depression. I am a bit of an introvert and have poor verbal communiction skills. I would like to talk to people but I can’t, maybe because whenever my mother shouted at me she would never listen or would only hear what she wanted to hear. I told her I was depressed and she has acknowledged this verbally to me, but only once. This was when she got mad at me last. I don’t talk to her or anyone because I don’t have anything good to say or anything to say that somebody can’t think for themselves. I give great advice and have been told I should be “a motivational speaker” but that’s about it.

Reasons why I am depressed vary. Sometimes it’s because nobody *teachers, family* tries to help me, or if they do they try to cheer me up, which leaves me empty because you’re trying to make everything okay on the spot. It doesn’t work like that. In early October my grandmother was brutally murdered in another country. We didn’t know until early December, I didn’t see my father for 2+ months while he did the police’s work along with other family members. They found her and they did all the work, right up to December 24th. This situation hurts me… I’ve seen what was to be seen and that does not affect me, but the sheer destruction of the situation gets me. My family is a big one and eveybody has been strained emotionally, financially and everything… And even so, only one person has truley acknowledged that this is hard for me. What I find hard is the life of my grandmother being taken, my mother telling everybody *I mean that* like it’s good to be linked to tragedy ; that my family needs counselling to this day. I had to leave the country right after I was given some stupid swine flu pill from the government, technically speaking, and it nearly killed me. I ended up missing almost a month, maybe just 2 and a bit weeks, of school. When I came back I felt ‘out of the loop’. So I skipped my math class to do some other work, I didn’t want to go because I knew I wouldn’t learn anything. Also, I was upset that my homeroom teacher told the class that my grandmother ‘died’ *she did this when I was late, in other words behind my back*. When to me it was much more than that! Some teachers and pupils didn’t know, including my math teacher and people were asking me how my holiday was. Really??

The math teacher told me to go and see her, I did, she asked me why I missed my class etc etc then a lady came in who I’d never seen before. They started talking to me about school and where I’d been schooled before and my math teacher informed the lady about me cutting her class. In my defence I said I had work to do, I know it wasn’t called for but I hadn’t been in school for a while. My math teacher agreed that I hadn’t been at school and she said she would look into it. This was the first time I realised not everyone knew, I didn’t want people to know initially but it just goes to show that the people who needed to know didn’t and the people who didn’t did.

Apparently I had told my math teacher that I needed help with organising my papers so the lady then told me to go and see her in the next period. I did. My math teacher met the lady by the door of her office and passed her a note. My math teacher looked at me either sad or disappointed. So I could tell she had found out about my loss. During the organising session she asked me questions which I half answered and she asked me one particular one that got on my nerves, “so do you have family in another country that you go and visit often?” I immediately said “no” and she backed off. I asked where the bin was, and she answered me with curiosity and as I went to the bin she covered the note with her hand. So I knew the content of the note was based on my grandmother. I was upset. I hate my business being circulated as it is.

Also, the fact I don’t remember telling my teacher I need help with organisation brought to my attention that my memory is going. I often don’t remember what I’ve done, some experiences, what I’ve said, other peoples reactions, things I recently learnt. I need help. Teachers don’t help me which is fine because they are not counsellors, but I can’t take it. I don’t even think I can verbally tell someone, a counsellor what’s wrong. But I can’t move forward unless I get help. I’m depressed, I have mood swings, I no longer get angry which is worrying to me because it shows I have no emotion left, I talk to myself about a bad situation rather than the person I want to say it to, I constantly need isolation, I have no trust in anyone, I can’t talk, I cant say what’s wrong…

I just want someone to talk to, that will help me. I really dislike school but love to learn, I can’t deal with noises, I am anaemic which is getting on my nerves, I am always tired, once I slept for 20 hours. I just want to succeed in life. I know what I want but I get so low sometimes. I fear my family members death sometimes, and I invision it and how I would feel. So I constantly feel that I have to be nice. Which I don’t have a problem with but it’s just………………..

I don’t want to harm myself, I want to stay alive, I want to stay true to myself and succeed. But to find a counsellor I have no approach and I need confidentiality, I dont want anyone to even know I’m going… I hope you understand what I’ve written, I have a hard time explaining things.

A: What a hard, hard year you and your family had. You explained things just fine. It makes sense to me that you are feeling down and overwhelmed. The events of the past year would be overwhelming for everyone. I have to wonder if your parents may be having as tough a time as you are. They too suffered a shocking loss. They too are dealing with what it means to bridge two cultures. They too didn’t have each other’s support since your father had to be away to work with the police. It just could be that your mother isn’t able to help you because she is too stressed herself. It sounds like your teachers tried to help you but did it so awkwardly that their help wasn’t helpful. Whatever good reasons there may be that the adults around you couldn’t help, it has left you feeling alone and scared.

Your letter shows you to be intelligent and sensitive. I think you may be grieving your grandmother and the family that you used to have even more than you think you are. Grief makes people do many things that may seem unusual. In your case, you withdraw from other people and even from yourself. You feel you can’t trust anyone. You are disorganized and have trouble with memory. And you get scared that other members of your family will die. On top of all that, you also report that you are anemic and that you get headaches. It may be that medical issues are contributing to your depressed feelings. It makes sense to me that you are depressed and immobilized.

I’m very glad you found the library and books as retreats from a world that at times feels very painful. The library is your sanctuary where there are no demands and plenty of interesting things to distract you from a daily life that seems much too hard. It has given you a much-needed rest. As helpful as that may be, though, you also need to take more charge of your life if things are to improve.

I encourage you to follow your own good instincts. Find a counselor to help you, preferably one who understands cross-cultural issues. Yes, it’s hard to find just the right person but please believe me: It’s worth the effort. You should see your doctor for the medical problems anyway. While you are there, ask your doctor for some names of counselors. Take your letter with you to your first appointment. It is an articulate and thoughtful description of your problems. Sharing it will help you get started. Finally, please understand that counselors do respect confidentiality. What you and your counselor talk about is strictly between the two of you.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 3 Jun 2010

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2010). Acquiring a counselor. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 31, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2010/06/03/acquiring-a-counselor/