#letitsyncin is a series where we feature real stories of youths braving through their psychological adversities. Meet Hui Xuan!
Many of us remember our teenage years as carefree years of adventure and exploration. Movies with our friends, that new Instagrammable cafe, or simply time spent together are little moments that pepper our memories and form our identities. But when we met Hui Xuan, we remembered that teenage years can also look very different for many of us.
She was introduced to us at the age of 15 by her Child Protection Officer. Hui Xuan had kept herself away from the outside world for many months now, so we met in her house. Its modern aesthetic - sleek, clean, and seemingly uncreased - almost made things feel stable. But we knew more. She had grown up in a traditional and restrictive environment, with scarce opportunities to interact with her peers. Testing boundaries or making mistakes, as children do, was often met with furious backlash. These stressors only got worse through her primary and secondary school years, where bullying exacerbated her anxiety and fear of socialisation. And so these experiences crippled her teenage years, so much so that she could not leave the house.
Let’s be honest. Years of challenge and trauma do not easily dissipate. So our initial time together was challenged by the sort of awkwardness you would expect of the situation. In the same way that you can’t just step out of the house when you’re socially anxious, you also can’t just snap out of it and open up when that same anxiety presses in.
But time went on, and Hui Xuan persevered. She was enrolled into Project Cope, which pairs volunteers, or Youth Advocates, to teach and practice coping skills with youths facing psychological adversity. These skills are undergirded by the Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) framework, and psychoeducation of this sort can oftentimes be dry. However, Hui Xuan and her Youth Advocates found themselves soldiering on, buffered through the process by their budding relationship, shared interests in video games, and the presence of Hui Xuan’s two furry felines.
So what do we make of teenage years that tell a different tale? Hui Xuan teaches us about real loss, but she also teaches us that one can step up to play an active role in their own healing. People talk about bouncing back better, and in some sense, that’s true of Hui Xuan. But know that ‘better’ doesn’t always look the same. For Hui Xuan, it means working through her feelings from day to day. It means holding new aspirations and working towards them (for herself, hopefully in early childhood education or the digital space). And it also means lending her voice to remind us that a whole lot of good can emerge from a listening ear and an active posture of care.