Mental health is a topic riddled with stigma and misconceptions. While counselling is a form of support for mental health, just like how we may need physiotherapy for physical injuries, counselling is not welcomed by some.
Today, we sit down with M, a lady who fell pregnant in her 20s and sought counselling as a form of relief and safe space to escape her troubled marriage and eventual divorce.
Q: Hi M, thanks for agreeing to chat with us. Can you share a little about yourself and how you started your journey with counselling?
A: Hi, I’m M. I am a single mom of two kids. When I first became pregnant, I was unwed, and the right thing to do seemed like getting married. However, the father did not fully support it, and I felt lonely. Because of my health issues, having kids would be tricky, and getting pregnant felt like fate. Soon, I was considering ending my life because I didn’t know if I’d be good enough for my baby.
After getting married, things did not get better. My then-husband did not provide any financial support, and I was left with less than $20 in my bank account every month. Even after getting pregnant the second time, he was still the same. As a result, I ended up skipping meals whenever I could so my children could eat.
It was difficult to tell my family about it because they did not support my keeping my first child. Thankfully, I had friends I could rely on, and they visited me often to keep my spirits up. Things got easier financially when I had a raise a work. But with two growing toddlers and a flat to pay off, I still couldn’t save much.
Because of my traditional upbringing, we kept our troubles to ourselves, and I stayed in the toxic marriage for a few years. It makes sense now, but back then, I really didn’t know what was going wrong in the relationship. And I didn’t understand why I still didn’t have money at the end of the month. Finally, after two incidents of theft in the house, the police advise me that it was likely the father who committed the stealing.
That was the breaking point for me. I can live with people taking from me, but I could not live with anyone taking from my children. After having conversations with my friends, one of them urged me to try marriage counselling before considering divorce.
Q: Can you share more about your journey with your counsellor? How did you feel during these sessions?
A: I searched for the closest one for marriage counselling and asked the father if he was open to going with me. My friend advised me to go with an open mind and just follow the counsellor’s guidance. The father agreed, and we eventually ended up going for a few sessions.
During these meetings, my counsellor said she was there to facilitate conversations in a safe space. It usually started with a quick checklist on how we were feeling, and she’d asked an open-ended question. One person will answer, the other will address the answer and reply to that. Then, the roles were reversed.
After every single session, I left physically and emotionally drained. So much baggage came up, and facing it made me realised how little I became in that relationship. In my head, it didn’t make sense. People like me aren’t supposed to be here. I’m a university graduate with a happy upbringing. So after every session, I’d sit alone and cry by myself for a while. Then, I get up and leave feeling so confused, upset and angry with myself.
Honestly, I don’t think there was a clear goal in mind. The counsellor or I never set any targets to hit, and we’d always just talk. Finally, after maybe 5 sessions, the father said he was only going to make me stay in the marriage and didn’t care about the rest. For me, that was clearer than ever. I could not continue feeling small and inconsequential, especially when my children witnessed everything first-hand.
Q: It sounds like counselling brought up a lot of emotions and thoughts hidden during the marriage. How did you find the courage to move from that to where you are today?
A: After he started to miss counselling, his physical disappearance was the biggest sign I was in it alone. Because I didn’t fit his plan, he no longer wanted to play any part in this marriage.
During these sessions, my counsellor and I continued our conversations about how I felt. Anxiety and suicidal thoughts eventually came up too. In my teens, I was molested on a train and had my photo taken upskirt in one of the malls in Orchard. Those incidents led me to have anxiety attacks while taking the train by myself, and I’d end up getting off the train before reaching my stop. I also avoided that mall for years. Over time, I hardly found myself alone since my children were usually with me, and they kept me well-distracted. I don’t know if these feelings of anxiousness will ever go away. Still, sometimes I find myself over worrying about these things happening to my children.
My suicidal thoughts were something of almost a nightly occurrence during the darkest moments in my marriage. Once the children went to bed, I was left alone with my thoughts and financial troubles. Instead of letting my children suffer, I thought perhaps it’d be best if I just ended everything. But, unfortunately, my life didn’t seem like it’d ever get better, and the father convinced me the same. I felt I was falling into a dark hole, never knowing when I’d hit bottom, and I didn’t know if anyone would even look for me.
There were close friends I could reach out to, and most of the time, when we met up, I’d just cry while they’d just stay by my side until my tears stopped. This went on for a while until I eventually found the courage to find a better-paying job. When I finally saved enough money to pay my divorce lawyer after a few months at this new job, the process started, and my shoulders felt slightly lighter.
Even though the divorce should have been a simple one lasting only a few months, the father dragged it for over a year. In the beginning, I didn’t have my family’s support, and the father even told them I was going to patch things up with him. Then, a few months down the road, he tried to separate the children by asking for custody of one child. I was utterly broken. The thought of separating my children just seemed cruel. Thankfully, my lawyers were able to advise me that was hardly possible. Upon hearing this, my friends stepped up and supported me through this painful journey.
Every time the father would try something funny like saying bad things about me to the kids, they will come home and tell me with confused looks on their little faces. In moments like these, I remember I must fight for them. I must do everything in my power to give them a life that’s fulfilling and happy, even if it means not having their birth father around.
Q: You’ve gone through an arduous journey, and you’re courageous to do so. If you meet someone who’s on the brink of despair like you were, what would you say to them?
A: You may feel like there’s no light at the end of the tunnel, and there’s no point in trying to find a way out of our bad situations. Sometimes, that may be true. But we are the only ones who can change how things turn out for us. Things can be better, only if we want it.
Support may not come from places we’d hope for and show up in places we’d never think of finding. Friends don’t always know what we’re going through. So pick up your phone and message a friend. Ask for their listening ear. Help is always around, and it can only come to us if we show we need it. If you ever feel shy talking about your problems with people around you, there are helplines to call, so you’ll never be alone.
M is in a healthier stage of her life now, with the support of her friends and professional help from her counsellor. Everyone’s struggles are different and the help we need may be different too. No matter where you are or what you’re going through, you are never alone.
Reach out to us and we can just talk like friends. If you’d like to seek professional help, you can call the SOS hotline at 1800-221-444.
Help is around.