088: “What Would You Say To Someone in Distress?”

A Stranger In Distress

I hope she is doing well. A stranger whom I have never met is on my mind lately. Yet, I have no idea who she is, and I don’t even know her name to begin with.

But the woman sounded despondent when she spoke about her life on a social media platform where parents seek advice from one another. She wrote anonymously,

“I feel very sad about my life. My elderly father is sick and estranged from my mom. My husband earns enough for the family but he is a temperamental man. I had to go through IVF to eventually conceive two children. Unfortunately, one turns out to be autistic. And I have to take care of both of them as a full-time housewife, making it impossible for me to earn any income. My parents-in-laws are understanding of my difficulties but they are curt in their words. They made me feel that a daughter-in-law will always remain an outsider in the husband’s family. When I am down, I have no one to share my feelings. I feel so helpless over what’s happening in my life.”

“A person in distress” (WordPress Photography)

It occurred to me that the woman might be suffering alone. Could she be suffering from burnout as a caregiver, stressed by all the problems that are beyond her control? Could she be already at her breaking point? Perhaps I was paranoid, whenever I read news of tragic news of families with children of special needs, I knew that I couldn’t just read, sigh and then pretend that there’s nothing I can do.

The Straits Times, Published on October 19, 2020

Immediately I wrote to her, as if I knew what to say. Magically, words just flowed out seamlessly with my thoughts and feelings as I wrote,

“It looks like you have been given a poor hand of cards in life—sick and estranged parents, temperamental spouse, an autistic child, hostile parents-in-laws and you, being a stay-at-home-mother who feels helpless about not making any income. Things are indeed tough on you. What can you do? I might have the answer for you.

May I suggest you look at your situation from a different perspective?

Do try to think about your circumstances the other way round:

“Although things are not easy for me, I am proud of myself for not leaving my sickly and estranged parents in the lurch. Although one of my children is autistic, he can still improve and I am blessed with another healthy child. Although my husband is temperamental, there are times he is good to me and our children. Although my laws say nasty things, they are understanding of my difficulties.”

How you feel depends on whether you choose to adopt the “half-empty or full glass”perspective of things.

“Half empty or full” (William WK Tan’s photography)

When life is hard, it either weakens or strengthens you. You make the choice. If you choose to see things positively, negativity cannot get you down. You can then find the strength to change the narrative of your life.

I know of some people who turn their lives around completely by simply waking up 2 hours earlier to do these things:

(1) improving their health by running;

(2) reflecting to become better parents;

(3) earning a side income of $200-$400 a month by distributing newspapers.

Change your perspective and find a formula that suits you!

I look forward to seeing you start a new chapter of your life in the subsequent months. Best wishes!”

I do not know if my words have helped her in any way. But I know my words have struck a chord among parents as more and more people responded. Many others also offered their own advice and encouragement. Suddenly, the suffering of one person has turned into a common concern of many people. The burden is lightened and things start looking brighter.

“Things look brighter” (William WK Tan’s photography)

Here is where I learnt an invaluable lesson— do not let anyone suffer in silence. Be kind to others. Give a smile, an encouragement, a praise or an act of service. We can all help to lighten the emotional load of others by just doing a little more.

William WK Tan

17 November 2020