After the Fall

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The innocence of childhood is a transient gift. We unconsciously lose it as we gain new experiences. We adapt and evolve in order to survive. The ability to remember when and how this happened always has been crucial to me as I tend to repetitively analyze my past to build a better future. Some questions aren’t easily answered, with realizations and understanding arriving only years later. Mind and heart at ease for the moment, I now look back to that fateful flight 17 years ago that brought me to Kuwait where I began to learn about the complexity of human nature.

Much like our residence in the Middle East, my first academic success was unexpected. I held two nondescript medals in my small hands and gazed at them with all the wonder of an 8-year-old. While I rejoiced at my achievement without any concern for competition, my parents wanted more. As an obedient daughter, I did my best to give them exactly that in the years that followed. More medals and certificates born of consistent academic performance couldn’t satisfy them though. I know that they only wanted the best for me then and believed that the path they were urging me on was the means for the future they envisioned. However, as the awards accumulated in our home, I became resentful of them all. What little friends I had left me to be ostracized for my competitive drive, not understanding how I felt suffocated by the pressure to excel and fear of disappointment.

Caught between a rock and a hard place, with parents who compared me to the friends who didn’t want me, I eventually developed depression. I felt as if my existence was reduced to mere numbers on a card supposedly indicative of my value. No matter how decorated my credentials were, the future seemed bleak. There was no real sense of urgency or enthusiasm, no tomorrow worth fighting for. I was empty and tempted to do something irreversible. Until I found refuge in writing and it kept me far from the ledge. It was a secret of mine for some time before I could no longer hide my passion for it.

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Unfortunately, finding refuge didn’t equate to finding a solution. Carrying childhood trauma into late adolescence and college in the Philippines while trying to move out of the shadows cast by other family members proved to be an even greater challenge. Morbidly unhappy but somehow fortunate enough to excel academically once again, I graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology. The title means less to me than it probably should. My alma mater taught me that the impact my work would one day have on the world should matter more than any label that may be bestowed on me.

With this in mind and accompanied by enough mental baggage to incapacitate, I entered medical school. Less than a semester into it, I burnt out. It was downhill from there as stress led me to forget the reason why I chose to pursue medicine in the first place. Filled with a sense of regret and the notion that the rest of the world was leaving me behind, I had to live with the decision I had made, but it led to self-destructive behaviour. Since I grew up with an award/reward based system, I withheld basic necessities from myself when I didn’t achieve what I had set out to accomplish. I often purposely didn’t eat when I felt that I didn’t deserve to. Weakened, I would lose myself to the brief reprieve of sleep. The consequence still brings shame to my family to this day, that being failing a class for the first time.

Taking a leave of absence for a semester thereafter, I came back hopeful and medicated for both OCD and its comorbidity, depression. I wish I could tell you that there wasn’t any relapse and that I was weaned off my medication but I would be lying. Less than a year after stopping treatment without professional advice, done merely to satisfy my family’s unfavourable outlook on it, I experienced a severe episode of depression that threatened my life. I sought consult again and was prescribed another drug. The intervention came too late and I once more failed a class.

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Something has changed though. Maybe, I’ve found the right medication and my mind is presently clear without recent depressive episodes. Maybe, I’ve had more time for introspection. Whatever the reason is, I’m now able of remembering past trauma, processing it, and letting go. I refuse to give power to what has already passed and allow it to cause further damage. I won’t be a victim of these experiences anymore; I am a survivor. Better yet, a fighter. I choose to be actively responsible and accountable for the direction of my life here on out, no longer a passenger in my journey. Failure is a peculiar and inevitable experience; a blessing that stripped me free of unhealthy external influences by breaking pretenses and expectations. In doing so, I came to realize that there isn’t one particular way of finding fulfillment and meaning in life. Even with the best intentions, it is no one’s place to tell me how to live my life.

As I stand on the new path I have paved, with scarred and calloused feet, I feel a happiness that is bright. This is mine. Learning and working, not for the sake of competition, but instead for the sheer enjoyment of it. I know the profession I seek as a physician won’t be easy. Internship and residency are filled with stories of extraordinary hardship. However, being able of improving someone’s quality of life one day in the near future by safeguarding their health will give meaning to all the tears, sweat, and blood that have been and will be shed.

This has been written so that I may always remember why I’m here during the times when it’s easy to forget. To remind myself of the choice I have consciously taken to continue but in a manner free of resentment and influence. To avoid blame regardless of whose fault it may be. This is grace after the fall.