A patient of mine, who is in her 20s, is a primary school teacher in the neighborhood. She paid me a visit because of her insomnia, which I believe was triggered by the recent death of her mother.
Lisa, whose father died many years ago, was raised solely by her mother. She had vowed to give her mom a good life as soon as she started working full-time after her studies.
However, three months ago, her mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and two weeks after she lost the battle and left the world.
Lisa had a very hard time juggling her heavy teaching duties and arranging her mother’s funeral.
During the day, she gets very bad-tempered as too much work overwhelms her. In the evening after work, she feels worse as the empty flat reminds her of her mother.
She didn’t want to share any of her troubles with any one as she was used to do things her own way. If not because of insomnia, she wouldn’t have visited my clinic.
From the medical perspective, Lisa is undergoing the grief generated by the loss of a loved one and suffering from adjustment disorder, which is not unusual.
Life is full of constant changes; however, when the change is too sudden or traumatic, it is difficult for one to digest or to cope with what is happening.
The mounting pressure could cause hormonal imbalance, which would then substantially affect the person biologically (palpitations, higher blood pressure, indigestion), psychologically (being often upset and anxious, loss of motivation, energy and interest) and behaviorally (bad temper, difficulty in concentrating, insomnia).
These symptoms of adjustment disorder can be seen in a person who has encountered a sudden change in three months and should start to fade away in six months.
However, if one’s emotional well-being has no significant improvements or gets worse, coupled with red flags such as illusions or self-destructive thoughts, he or she should consult a doctor promptly.
Lisa’s case reminds me of a Disney movie, Inside Out, in which the main character, an 11-year-old girl named Riley, has changed school — a major event in her life.
Sadness and Joy, two of the five personified Emotions inside her brain, accidentally leave the headquarters with the five core memories that power each of the five Islands of Personality.
Riley’s values, beliefs and even trust in her parents soon crumble.
While the two Emotions are working hard to restore the system, Riley is down and out.
Nevertheless, she manages to revive again with new core memories and new beliefs, and her relationships with parents and friends are restored.
Though undergoing major events could be painful, a strong self would emerge in the process. Falling down is part of life; getting back up is living.
I hope that everyone can open up and share their troubles with a trusted friend or family member.
After all, as the saying goes, “a problem shared is a problem halved”.
Your friends and family would support and empower you in face of adversity.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on April 21.
Translation by Darlie Yiu with additional reporting
[Chinese version 中文版]
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