Anxiety, Mental Health, Reality, Relationships, Stress

Paranoia or Reality?

Most of these days, I am struggling to understand whether I am just feeling paranoid or if my suspicions are justified. It may be closely linked with my anxiety, and my constant fear of losing people around me but my question is, how do I know for sure if I’m right?

My paranoia has affected my friendships before, and on reflection, I feel I misinterpreted their preoccupation with their work for indifference towards me and I ended up confronting them accusingly which brought about a great deal of friction between us. When I discussed situations like these with my counsellor last year, she had advised me that if I feel suspicious, the best thing to do is to ask openly without letting the suspicion brew in my mind. So, for example, if my friend hasn’t answered my text in a while and I feel she is ignoring me, it might be worthwhile dropping her a message to say, “Hey, I haven’t heard back from you in a while, is everything ok?” Or even if that doesn’t solve it then something as direct as, “Hey, I’ve kind of got the feeling that you’ve been ignoring me – have I upset you somehow?” And in fact, doing this has helped to sort out my suspicions and worries. What’s helped more is being open with my friends about my paranoia and letting them know that I might have to ask them directly if we’re still ok, and they’ve all been extremely understanding about it.

However, my more recent difficulties have been with my parents. Sometimes I feel as if they are upset or angry with me and when I ask them directly, they pass it off as being busy or tired. Having always been especially close to my Mum, I often feel that she becomes a little cold with me. It could obviously be because she is stressed out, but I really just don’t know. I then feel as if she’s lying to me when I ask her directly about it, just to avoid confrontation.

Another constant suspicion I have is that my parents are talking about me behind my back. I’ve tried eavesdropping but I’ve never heard anything of that sort, but whenever I see them talking quietly to each other, I feel as if they’re saying things about me. It could be completely unfounded of course, but I can’t help but feel paranoid.

When I think about where these paranoias stem from psychologically, I feel as if they are strongly related to my low self-esteem and my desire to always please people around me, which makes it difficult for me to face criticism. Maybe, if I can work on these aspects a little more, the paranoia may weaken because it would simply not matter to me what people are thinking or saying about me. I’m not sure at this moment as to how I’m going to go about doing that, but it’s worth thinking about.

Anxiety, Medical school, Medicine, Mental Health, Reality, Stress

The Magic of Creativity

Most days, I don’t feel like I have the energy or motivation to do anything but curl up on my sofa, binge-watch trashy TV and mindlessly munch on processed junk until I fall asleep and the cycle repeats itself. So when I went to my first CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) session a few months ago and the therapist suggested I engage in enjoyable activities and rekindle my hobbies, I honestly thought, “what rubbish”. I felt so drained of energy that even getting to the CBT session in my pyjamas was an achievement for me.

My turning point was definitely in the weeks following my suicide attempt. After seeing the effect that it had on my family and friends, I was determined to get better and get out of the vicious cycle of depression I was stuck in. I decided that even if I felt life was not worth living for me, it was definitely worth living life for those who loved me. And yes, I knew life was not going to be all flowery – in fact, ever since my attempt in November, things have most definitely not been going my way or in my favour – but it was worth going on for the few minutes that I made my baby sister smile, or for the moments I spent cradled in my mother’s arms, or for the times that my friends tried cheering me up with their banter. So I decided that it was time for me to start getting up from that sofa. It was going to be anything but easy, but with the support from friends and family, I could do it.

The first thing I decided to do was to try and rekindle my hobbies as my therapist had suggested long ago. For me, art and singing have always been my favourite activities – they were both hobbies I’d pretty much given up on because I didn’t feel as if I had the willpower or motivation to do them. So I decided to audition for a singing part at a society-run university play (which required much support and encouragement from a good friend of mine) and ended up getting the part. I also decided to get back into sketching and painting which, I have to say, has been INCREDIBLY effective at providing me with a productive form of distraction when I’m feeling low.

On days that I feel extremely depressed, time doesn’t seem to pass. It’s difficult for me to pick up a pencil or to practice my singing, but once I start, it gets easier and easier. It gives me something to focus on, and I don’t even realise how quickly time flies. Sure, right now it doesn’t really help with my procrastination issue, but one step at a time. The logic is that if our daily average enjoyment levels increase to a sustainable degree, then motivation also increases and the possibility of achievement does too.

It’s always difficult to take the first step, and progress is not nearly as quick as we’d like, but I guess every little helps. I’m not back to my extra-motivated, focused, organised, efficient self yet (nowhere near it, in fact), but at least I’m spending a little less time moping on my sofa staring at the TV screen. And maybe one day, I’ll even be able to get back to being productive with my work and feel more of a sense of achievement.

Mental Health, Pressure, Reality, Stigma

The Importance of Speaking Up

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter” ~ Martin Luther King Junior

A lot of people become astounded by the courage I show in day-to-day situations, for example speaking up in front of a crowd, challenging a senior or asking the questions that everyone is too afraid to ask. There is of course always the right time to say or do things and too much courage may be overstepping into sheer foolishness, but more often than not, speaking your mind has countless positive effects.

Since being the bullied child at primary school, I have grown to appreciate the importance of speaking up against what I feel is wrong. Whether this means I am confronting my peers, friends, family or seniors, it makes no difference to me. It is imperative that we all stand for what we believe in and being too afraid to speak up for ourselves, or the people around us only makes us just as bad as the perpetrators for standing by and doing nothing to stop it. Of course, direct confrontation is not always the wisest way to approach situations, but something like writing a strong letter, taking part in protests or addressing petitions to the right people can make a big difference. People who prefer to suffer and are afraid to speak up often say that they would much rather ‘avoid conflict’ and cope with the situation. However, adapting to injustice never really solves the problem. Be it an issue in the workplace or challenges in personal relationships, having open conversations and asserting your viewpoint only increases one’s self-respect and demonstrates to others that they cannot get away with maltreating you.

Initially, the consequences of speaking up may well be negative and result in unfavourable situations in the meantime, but in the long-term, the results are completely  worth it. Dissonance, antagonisation, intimidation are some examples of the negative reactions to speaking up. It is important to plough through these temporary difficulties, keeping the main objective in mind, and before you know it, the positive changes will arrive.

Aside from the workplace, I also find it beneficial to be very upfront about my concerns in my personal relationships. Rather than spend long periods of time wondering what other people are thinking, I save myself the torture and pluck up the courage to just ask. Sure, the answer is not always what I like to hear, but on reflection, it really does help me to work forwards and solve any conflicts or misunderstandings.

What is more challenging however, is being assertive around the people closest to you. This is something that I had been struggling with for a while, especially with my own family members. I found it relatively easy to deal with people I was not so much emotionally attached to, but when it came to my parents, or my siblings, I found it difficult to voice my opinions and usually resorted to bending to their wishes. In the long-term it had an extremely negative effect on my well-being and satisfaction in life. Through counselling sessions, I was able to learn that there was a difference between being assertive and being confrontational and I was able to voice my opinions in such a way that I was simultaneously sensitive to the feelings of the people around me. It is a difficult skill to master but it has worked wonders for me.

I feel a lot more free being able to do the things I want whilst also not hurting the people around me. I feel as if I have greater control over my life, and you know what? I feel so much happier.

So speak up, and get your voices heard. You’ll be one step closer to changing things for the better.

Anxiety, Mental Health, Pressure, Reality, Stigma, Stress

The Epitome of Self-Deprecation

It’s difficult when the person you despise most is yourself. I find myself to be someone who always sees the good in everyone around me, but I fail to do so when I reflect on myself. People often compliment me, but the voice in my head tells me, “It’s not true, they’re just being nice”. There was a time in my life where I used to outwardly reject compliments thrown my way, but I soon realised that people often misunderstood me for being rude when that was not my intention at all. So now, out of politeness and to meet others’ expectations, I smile and say “Thank you” in response to any compliment I get, even though I don’t believe it.

I’ve pretty much always had a very low self-esteem. It’s because I’m a perfectionist and achieving my incredibly unrealistic goals is the only thing that gives me a sense of accomplishment. I always find faults in myself and always find targets to work towards. I subconsciously compare myself to others and convince myself that I am not good enough. The worst thing is, however, I also tend to criticise things about myself that I can’t modify. And that is even more demoralising for me.

I never really questioned my perfectionism until a few years ago when I started medical school and it became almost impossible for me to be the best at everything. All of a sudden, I was not achieving the goals I was setting for myself and I started believing that I was hopelessly not good enough. Despite the fact that I was studying at one of the best medical schools in the world, I was not good enough. I was not smart enough. And I felt increasingly worthless.

Aside from academics, I have always had issues with my image, from my looks to my weight. And especially at a stage when I thought I was failing academically, these insecurities became even more pronounced in myself. I was scared of looking at my reflection in the mirror. I started using a lot of make-up to cover up my ‘imperfections’. I tried to lose weight, but that’s something that has been and is still a challenge for me. With my depression, my appetite is all over the place. When things get really bad to suicidal point, I neglect food completely. When my mood picks up a little again and to cheer myself up, I tend to binge eat. And that’s why my weight doesn’t budge despite my gym efforts and diet plans. To make things more complicated, I have a very common condition called PCOS which makes it difficult for me to lose weight, and a few of the tablets I take for some other health problems also make it harder for me to lose weight. Being depressed also means that my motivation is at its lowest and without seeing any results after putting in the effort, I feel more demotivated and give up.

I realise however that it’s not really these materialistic things that matter. I can’t help how I look, and perfectionism is a bit of a tall order. But I feel as if I have believed in it for so long, I’ve wired it into my brain that I am just not good enough, or worthy. Some days, I wake up and I encourage myself to feel confident in my own body. It works, but it wears off very quickly. It’s a work in progress and maybe one day, I’ll really be confident. I love everybody else, but I have trouble loving myself.

I know that there are a lot of people who feel the same as I do. There are a lot of factors that contribute towards this, namely environmental influences, parenting and societal pressures. But I do believe that we are not stuck in this way of thinking about ourselves. We are each of us unique and beautiful, albeit not in the ways modelled by society per se, and we have every right to love ourselves for who we are. It’s time we took a step back and cut ourselves some slack, because we most definitely deserve it.

 

Anxiety, Mental Health, Reality, Stigma, Stress

“Are you ok?”

Often we can become so caught up in our own lives that we forget to pay attention to the people around us. Moreover, we have transitioned into a society where awkwardness predominates most situations and prevents us from connecting to those around us. It even hinders us from doing nice things for people, because we are unsure whether we would be acting within social norms. But maybe we shouldn’t worry so much about fitting into social norms especially when it comes to doing good for others.

A couple of weeks ago, as I was making my daily commute to university on the tube, I noticed that a woman sitting opposite me was crying silently, wiping her tears on the end of her sleeve. She was trying so hard to make it look inconspicuous that I genuinely wondered whether she was crying or if she was suffering from some sort of allergy causing increased tear secretion. Once I had mentally confirmed that she was crying, I started becoming concerned and was tempted to ask her if she was ok. On the one hand, it is highly unusual for two strangers to start talking in London and striking up a conversation may make the situation uncomfortable, but on the other hand, I really wanted to make sure she was ok and let her know that she is not alone in the problems she is dealing with. I took the next few minutes deliberating over what would be the most appropriate thing to do. I tried catching her eye contact but she started to close her eyes in an attempt to have a quick nap.

A few stops passed and she opened her eyes, so I took the opportunity to say, “Excuse me, are you ok?” She seemed startled by my question, and gave a flustered response – “Yes, sorry, yes, I’m fine, I’ve just had a bad day.” I continued to ask her whether she wanted some water or a tissue to which she said “no, thank you” as she already had some. I thought I’d give her some passing advice and said, with regards to her crying, “It’s better to let it all out than keep it bottled up.” She smiled at me in gratitude and for the remaining stops of her journey on the tube that morning, she kept on smiling to herself and had stopped crying. She thanked me shyly before she left the train.

What this situation made me realise was that sometimes, it’s enough to just let people know you care by asking them if they are ok. It’s a simple and very overlooked question because it’s become so integrated in our casual greeting, “Hey, morning, you ok?” to which the automatic response is “yeah I’m good thanks”. But asked in the right way, it can show the other person how much you really care. In this case, I feel that me asking the woman about how she is when I was nothing but a stranger to her, made a difference. I know that, were it reversed, I would have appreciated somebody else’s concern incredibly. It just gives you the hope that you are not alone and there is help to be offered. It also helps us humanise the busy commuters around us, who we subconsciously ignore in our morning hustle, and if everyone did the same, we would all be more connected as a population.

There have been a few times when I have ended up breaking down on the tube and on the bus, crying uncontrollably. Despite the people around me noticing, nobody asked me if I was ok. I don’t blame them because we often fear the shame of being awkward so much that we forget to do what is more important. When I was having a breakdown, a simple “are you ok?” may have made a lot of difference. Sometimes I forget that I am not alone, sometimes I feel as though there is no one to help me. But a simple reassurance from a fellow human being is enough to make a difference.

So let’s make that change. Overcome the awkwardness, and ask that question.

#relationships, Medical school, Mental Health, Reality, Stress

Letting People Go

Letting people go is no easy feat. The closer you are to the person, the more difficult it becomes to move on. Whether it’s the end of a relationship, or dealing with a loved one moving away, it can leave us with immense feelings of loss. But letting people go can leave us feeling emancipated. The more we dote on lost causes, the more unhappy we become in life. Letting go and moving on is the only way we can escape the negativity and make our lives better.

One of the challenges in being able to “get over” someone is that often even after the end of the relationship, we may still encounter the person over and over again. And surrounding ourselves with reminders of the person often reignites our feelings and draws us back to the relationship. Possibly the most difficult part of overcoming the end of a relationship is withdrawing from the strong emotional dependence we have on the other person. Whether the relationship is romantic or non-romantic, we often rely on the other person on an emotional (and possibly physical level). And when things end, we lose our source of emotional strength. If I medicalised this, I would be calling this period the ‘withdrawal’ period – likened to the tortuous symptoms of weaning from an addictive drug. Medical weaning however takes place in stages, decreasing the dosage in increments until complete weaning occurs. However, the end of a relationship is often sudden. And to let go of the other person becomes extremely challenging.

It is possible however, just like everything else. In the earlier stages, to prevent “relapse”, it is often better to, as much as possible, isolate yourself from all things that may bring back memories and reignite feelings. This may involve removing or hiding away triggering objects and possessions, unfriending them on social media and avoiding messaging them altogether. It may seem a harsh step to take, but doing so usually helps during the difficult initial phase, and coming to accept the situation.

Distractions and spending time with other friends and family can be extremely rewarding. Engaging in new activities can help at this stage too. However it is important to make sure that you keep a good balance between social/leisure activities and being able to get on with work and necessary chores, as difficult as it may be.

With ample time, it becomes a lot easier and tolerable to think about the other person without triggering strong emotions. This may take a lot of time, possibly years, but you will get there through perseverance.

The saying that ‘people come and go’ could not be closer to the truth. Nothing is ever permanent. Although we may not realise it, we often end up in very toxic relationships which do us more harm than good. We don’t see it because our emotions for this person clouds our objective judgement. But if being around this person makes you ‘feel like crap’, it’s a pretty good sign that the person is toxic and you are better off letting them go. Of course it may not be as clear cut, but it’s worth thinking about and re-analysing your relationships.

I recently decided to let go of a close friend who I’ve known for 3 years. It was a difficult decision, but I realised that the relationship was very one-sided and I often ended up feeling more negative about myself following a conversation with this friend than I did before. The dynamic of the friendship had definitely changed over the course of the 3 years and after much deliberation, I decided that the disagreements between us were too great to recover from. And you know what? I feel so much better. I feel more confident and I feel free. Sometimes it’s just better to trust your instincts because no one knows you better than yourself.

So do it. Let them go.

Pressure, Reality

You Can’t Make Everyone Happy

Following the end of my counselling sessions this year, I thought I would discuss one of the main lessons I walked away with. At the end of my first counselling session, I was told, “You can’t make everyone happy. And trying to make everyone happy is what’s making you unhappy.” And it reminded me, funnily enough, of a quote by Robin Williams:

“I think the saddest people always try their hardest to make people happy because they know what it’s like to feel absolutely worthless and they don’t want anyone else to feel like that.”

~ Robin Williams

Making others happy is a natural human tendency. For as long as I remember, I’ve always been the one in my family to keep everyone together, solve all our problems, and make everyone happy. I never saw any fault in that. In fact, seeing my family happy gave me a false sense of fulfilment. In some way, I’ve felt that my purpose had been to use all my efforts to stop the people around me from breaking down. But what I hadn’t realised is the toll it had been taking on me.

The main obstacle to thinking that I have to ‘fix everything’ or ‘please everyone else’ is that a lot of things are beyond my control. No matter how hard I try, I may not be able to do anything personally to resolve the situation. And by relying on others’ happiness for my sense of fulfilment was therefore highly impractical. My counselling sessions made me realise that.

I was also brought up by my parents to be anything but selfish. Hence, selfishness has to be the trait I most deeply detest, and in my efforts to make everybody else happy, I felt I was succeeding at not being selfish. But there should always be a limit to our selflessness. When we become so selfless and start living for the people around us, we can often lose or suppress our personal desires which hinder the formation of our identity and our growth towards independence. This is essentially what had happened to me. I have always done as my parents have told me to, because I thought it would make them happy. But I slowly realised that doing what others want me to do has never really made me happy. I lost sight of what I really wanted to do, and I ended up suppressing any desire I had which would object with my parents’ wishes, because I didn’t want to disappoint them for my ‘selfish’ causes.

My counsellor taught me that it’s ok to say no. It’s ok to be assertive. It’s ok for me to think about myself. It’s even ok for me to put myself first. I’m still working on getting that right, but I feel that I have made progress.

And you know what? I do feel happier doing the things I want. I finally feel as if I’m leaving my nest and discovering what kind of person I am, albeit at the age of 20.

It’s a start, but focusing on myself might just help me on my road to find happiness.

Mental Health, Reality, Sexual abuse, Stigma

“Boys don’t cry”

It is a well-known stereotype that ‘masculinity’ encompasses the criterion of being ‘emotionally resilient’, and thus it is misconceived that seeing a man crying is effeminate. Society has an expectation of men to be ‘strong’, funny and void of low moods. We also use phrases like, ‘stop crying like a girl’, which is frankly demeaning to both sexes. But until we stop feeding these stereotypes, a safe space for men’s mental health cannot be created.

My youngest sister is three years old and a few days ago, she came back from nursery and said to me, “boys don’t cry”. I was quite shocked. If anything, at home, my middle sister and I try our best to negate any societal stereotypes and challenge them – we never automatically opted for pink clothes for her just because she is a girl, we never stopped taking her to the car and robots section of ToysRus simply because they were boys’ toys. In fact, we encouraged her to play with a football and her cars, alongside her dolls and toy kitchen set. So to hear something like that from her took me aback.

That day, I realised how much this stereotype is really ingrained in our society. I presumed that this was an idea that she picked up from her peers at school, and children always learn from adults. Clearly, if we don’t change the way we think and act, children will only follow in our footsteps and reinforce the stereotypes, albeit subconsciously. It took me a lot of convincing to persuade my sister to believe that boys can cry too. She insisted that it was a ‘girly’ thing to cry.

Unfortunately, the large majority of men feel ashamed to open up about their mental health because of the expectation of them to be so ‘resilient’. Some of my closest male friends have divulged that it’s embarrassing to talk about it, so they often keep quiet and that leads to not being able to seek help. According to statistics, males are 3.5 times more likely then females to commit suicide. There is a shocking number of domestic violence incidents against men by women, but this is very hardly advertised. It is estimated that depression rates are much higher amongst the male population than the statistics suggest because most of them never talk about it or seek help. Sexual abuse is another topic that we never really much about from men – not because the incidence of sexual abuse amongst men is very little, but because of the strong stigma attached to it. We instinctively think of women as the victims when we think of sexual abuse, but I have personally heard some disturbing stories from men regarding their experiences of sexual abuse.

Whatever sex a person may be, it should never be shameful to talk about mental health issues. We need to stop indulging in the roles set by society for men and women and start accepting that everyone is human, and it is only human to cry, to be depressed or have any other mental health issues. Violence and abuse are not exclusively carried out by men, and we need to stop generalising behaviours and assigning them to a certain sex. There is no shame in talking about these difficult issues, for men or women, and we can overcome the taboo by opening up and opening the eyes of everyone else around us.

Anxiety, Medical school, Medicine, Mental Health, Reality, Stigma, Stress

First impressions of CBT

A few months ago, I was referred by my GP to the IAPT service which provides talking therapy for patients suffering from depression, anxiety and severe sleeping disturbances (I suffer from all three unfortunately). After telephonic assessment in August, I was deemed suitable to receive Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) which is aimed at altering the way people think in order to prevent harmful behaviour or distressing physical symptoms. Yesterday was my first appointment, and to be honest, I was quite nervous about the experience, despite having had 8 counselling sessions at my university already. I was also quite cynical of CBT because of some negative feedback I’d heard from people, so it took quite a lot of motivation for me to give it a try. My main rationale for trying CBT was that I couldn’t get any worse than I was now, so there would be no harm in trying, and  even if there was the smallest possibility that my quality of life could improve and I could potentially stop my continual suicidal thoughts, it was worth a try.

Just to give you a bit of background, I was formally diagnosed with severe depression and anxiety in March this year. I also suffer from insomnia and regular nightmares which often wake me up in sweats. I was prescribed Sertraline in March – a form of SSRI anti-depressant – and even after six months on the maximum dose possible, my condition did not improve but worsened*. Recently, I have been started on a different type of antidepressant, an SNRI, called Venlafaxine, but it is too early days to know how efficient it has been. It is only understandable however that despite my efforts, and medication and counselling, I wasn’t getting better. So when I received a phone call last week to arrange an appointment, I was kind of relieved that there were still other things left for me to try.

It took me about an hour to find the right place yesterday for my CBT appointment. It was in the most inconspicuous location with poor accessibility and getting lost in the dark only made me more anxious. I don’t know if it was this hospital in particular or if this applies to all mental health hospitals, but it was really difficult to find (despite my usual poor navigation skills!). I suppose it may be intentional so that patients don’t feel embarrassed walking inside for fear of stigma from the general public who may see them walking in. Once I did go inside the building, I felt like I was inside one of the really old hospitals they show you in horror movies. I took a photo which you can see at the top of this post, but it was terrifying to walk inside. I could not see anyone around, the ‘reception’ was closed off with newspaper coverings all over the window, the lighting was eerily dim, the signboards were out-of-date and I was lost once again. After walking around for ages, often just going around in circles, I managed to find somebody in the hospital who was kind enough to direct me to the right place. However, I have to point out that more needs to be done to improve the aesthetics of mental health departments and hospitals, especially because the patients going in are already in a very anxious state of mind, and as research has shown, environments can influence heavily on the mental health of people. I feel that the poor state of mental health departments is a consequence of the severe lack of funding towards mental health by the government. I strongly feel that this MUST be addressed.

On the other hand, after meeting my therapist, I have to say that I was made to feel extremely comfortable. She had a spark in her which made me feel as if things could get better for me, and she reassured me that she would work through my problems with me throughout the forthcoming sessions. I found her to be extremely helpful and caring and I really do look forward to our sessions in the future. Yesterday was an assessment and summary of how things were going to work, and I will see her again for a formal session in 2 weeks’ time. Maybe things will change for the better, we just have to wait and see.

If you have any comments or suggestions, please feel free to leave a comment as I would love to hear them!

* Please note: Just because an anti-depressant did not work for one individual does not mean it will not work for another. Everyone is different and often it is a ‘trial and improvement’ process. My mother has been on low dose Sertraline for her depression and anxiety and it has worked wonders for her, whereas it has had little effect on me. 

Anxiety, Mental Health, Reality

To trust or not to trust? 

For the past few years of my life, I have struggled greatly when determining who I can trust and who I cannot. From a young age I was taught the basic, “don’t trust strangers”, and yet I’ve found myself to be most able to communicate with my counsellor, who is essentially a stranger to me. I still don’t know a single thing about her, but she knows my deepest darkest secrets. I value her advice more than the advice of pretty much anyone else. And I definitely trust her. 

Earlier today, a middle aged woman approached me outside Subway and begged me to buy her a sandwich saying she was starving. I had no change on me and I really felt sorry for her so I agreed. I told her to select her subway sandwich whilst I waited away from the queue. She chose her sandwich fillings and once it was time to pay, she turned around and asked me to make the payment, and I did, whilst she thanked me and hurried away with her food. I wonder now – what if I’d walked away just before the payment? How did she trust me to keep my word? How did I know whether she was lying about not having any money for food? We were complete strangers to each other. But there was definitely an ounce of trust between us. 

A similar situation occurred with me a couple of days ago. I left for the gym with my car and parked inside a shopping mall car park. I thought I had my purse with me, but when I felt in my pocket for my purse, it was empty. I started to panic because without any money, I wouldn’t be able to pay for my parking ticket and I wouldn’t be able to leave the shopping mall. I called home and nobody could find my purse. I thought I’d lost it somehow and I was distraught. I was at the payment meter and there was an elderly couple who were paying for their parking ticket. I turned to them and told them how I had lost my purse and couldn’t pay for my parking. They nodded their heads and took one look at me then asked how much money it was that I’d needed. They gave me the £1.50 I asked for and left. I was incredibly grateful at the time, but I do wonder now how they knew they could believe me. It really fascinates me.

On the other hand, I’ve had some very negative experiences with trusting friends and family. In the past, I made the mistake of trusting a couple of friends with some personal information that I did not wish to be divulged. I thought they could be trusted because they had also supposedly told me some of their secrets. However, the moment that our friendship had turned sour as a result of a disagreement, it didn’t take them a second to divulge my secrets to other people, which I had told them in confidence. Similarly, I’ve experienced a betrayal of trust when a close family member of mine made a fool of me by making me think they were telling me the truth, when in actual fact they had been lying to me for a few years. So is it always true that we can’t trust strangers? Sometimes the most deceptive people are those closest to us – similar to Judas’ betrayal of Jesus. 

I spoke to my counsellor recently with regards to my challenge in knowing if I can trust my friends. A useful piece of advice she gave me was that it’s a good idea to test a friendship by telling them a very non-serious/false secret and over time observing whether they end up breaking their word to you. If they don’t, it’s a good indication that they can be trusted. 

Remember however, everybody lies. As cynical as it may seem, there is probably no one you can completely trust, but we must bear that risk of betrayal in all our relationships whilst trying to minimise the possibility. It’s easy to break someone’s trust, but it’s a hell of a difficult job to rebuild it.