Several days ago, I turned 38.
I can’t help but reflect on who I was, where I was, and how I was 10 years ago. Every memory, good or bad, brings me to my knees in humble gratitude.
You see, a decade ago I experienced what I call my “dark ages”. I was unhappy and unsatisfied with my work, utterly heartbroken, and worst of all, I was frightened and stressed out about my parents’ circumstances. All aspects of my life were going downhill.
One day in 2008, I realized that I’ve reached rock-bottom. I couldn’t sink any lower. I had to do something—perhaps something drastic—otherwise I’ll remain where I was; stuck and helpless in a darkness that nobody else seemed to understand.
I made a major decision—maybe the most important decision of my adult life at that time. I took a big break. From work. From love. From everything.
I said goodbye to the hospital that has been my home since my first year in medical school. I temporarily said goodbye to my life in Manila and went home to my parents’ house in San Pablo. I could not go out of the house. I tried my best to ignore my cell phone (which was not that hard back then because I didn’t have Facebook yet, haha). I spent hours and days in bed. I could not move because of the emotional pain that was weighing me down. I could not eat because of the persistent lump in my throat.
I had our old dusty Bible beside my pillow–but I hardly read it, not even studied it. I just found some distant comfort in having it beside me. I tried to read my old favorite books. I tried to pray and meditate. I communicated with only a few very close friends. All of these pulled me up somehow, but what helped the most was recognizing that I had a big problem and seeking professional help.
The road to recovery was long and winding, with lots of uphills and downhills—a lengthy story that deserves its own post and which I shall reserve for another time. Fast forward to this year, 10 years after I went through clinical depression, I am beyond grateful that I have survived.
And so I would like to share here 4 life lessons that I hold on to dearly in my heart. These comforting thoughts cheer my spirit up every time I feel down and allow me to live each day with joy, thanksgiving, and (slowly I’m learning) with peace.
I hope they resonate with you. ????
1. There is beauty in being broken.
2 Corinthians 12:9 (ESV)
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
A couple of shortcomings I have as a person are my pride and my ego. I grew up being an achiever and a leader and I hardly failed at anything I set my heart and mind out to do. That is, until 10 years ago—when no matter how hard I tried to “handle everything” in my life, I could not. One of the biggest blows then was not being able to excel in my pediatric residency training. There were compounding factors of course, mainly family and relationship problems, and I was also living an unhealthy lifestyle at that time. Bottomline, I was not performing well both academically and clinically. I was burnt out.
Not being used to defeat, I took it the hard way. I became insecure. I lost my confidence. I became difficult to be with. I became this sad, gloomy person that dreads every day, and perhaps everybody dreaded to be with everyday.
I remember one of my closest friends telling me at that time, “Rai, this is your race. Nandito lang kami, naghihintay sa iyo sa finish line. Gusto ka man naming tulungan, laban mo ito.” (We’re here for you, waiting at the finish line. Though we want to help you, this fight is yours.) That was a wake-up call. It taught me that life sometimes will really bring me down, so I can learn how to get back up. And I did.
But first I had to accept my brokenness and my depression and deal with it. I resigned from my residency. I was ashamed to admit that I was not tough enough to finish, but I knew I had to do it. I had to focus on my own mental, emotional and physical health, so that I can help others better as a doctor. I had to reconnect with my family, so that I can be whole again.
Looking back, I now understand that God allowed me to go through a such a humbling experience so that I can learn how to overcome major challenges that inevitably comes with adult life. In the months that followed, I did what people of my generation called “soul-searching”.
Several months after, I applied for another residency program. Still in pediatrics because after much thought, I realized that I really wanted to be a doctor for kids, no matter how difficult the training is. I trained in a government hospital and the workload was as hard as I expected—maybe harder in a sense because we did not have clinical clerks and senior interns who can help with the monitoring and paperworks, but this time, it was more manageable for me. The pay was better and I had employee’s benefits. The schedule was better too. It really helped that we had weekends off if our duty falls on a Friday night (there were some days that I could exercise and do something not medical, yey!). My seniors were helpful and kind and our bond is solid until today. Our consultants were strict but approachable. I found myself enjoying my training and I eventually graduated with academic awards for research and grand rounds presentations. I took the written pediatrics board exam right after graduation and after another two years took the oral exam and became a Diplomate.
Through the years, I have come to accept the limitations of my humanity. The most wonderful lesson though is that, I now know that I can use my failures and defeats as stepping stones to becoming a better person. By my own human effort alone, I don’t think I could have done it, but God’s grace has allowed me to pursue my dream of becoming a pediatrician and to become a better person.
2. Help comes in different forms.
Deuteronomy 31:6 (ESV)
Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.
Though it did not feel that way then, during my “dark ages” of depression, I was never truly alone. Even through the moments of feeling lonely and lost, there were people around me who loved and supported me. I will always be grateful to the people who helped me bounce back and get back on track with my life. Specially to my psychiatrist whose professional help pulled me out of my clinical depression. Through our counseling sessions, I was able to accept what happened in my life and recognize the things I can not control. More importantly, I was able to make new goals and act on them, slowly but surely.
Help also came through old friends who allowed me to travel with them during that forsaken year. Knowingly or unknowingly, they helped me cope just by being with me, and by letting me be. So let me take this time now to thank Lyn and Jaz for spending time with me in Laiya and in Baguio, to Rae for bringing me to Sagada and Batad, to Leo for bringing me to Tarlac and that far-flung beach in Batangas, to my uncle for bringing me to Boracay and Cebu, and to En-en for taking care of me in Davao. (If there are some whom I forgot to mention, please pardon my brain, I think it has deleted many memories from those dreary days.) The change of scenery and the break from the daily routine did wonders to my lost soul.
Now I know that God is truly faithful, even when I was not; He sent help through the people within my reach.
3. Change is good, and is often necessary.
Romans 8:28 (NIV)
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
Part of me was terrified of major changes back then because it would mean adjustment, hard work and sometimes going back to zero. Come to think of it, sometimes until now I still dread making big life-changing decisions. When I settle into something comfortable and familiar, it becomes hard for me to let go of it, even if I had to. And oftentimes, I don’t see that I have to.
Case in point, that same year I was having family problems and trouble in my training, I experienced my biggest heartbreak. The person I was “with” for many years left me. I could not really say we broke up, because we never really “formalized” that we were together, if you know what I mean. We were both happy and contented with what we had… until one day, we suddenly weren’t. The relationship became toxic, there was no growth, there was no future—but I did not recognize that then. Or maybe I just did not want things to change because I’ve “settled” already, so I ignored the danger signs.
It was leading us both to nowhere but separation. The pain of that moment was real, raw, tangible, lingering and utterly devastating. It crippled me for a long time.
But I know now that God wants what’s best for me and He wants me to be happy. He removed me (or more like tore me away) from that toxic relationship because I was too stubborn to do it myself. He made my heart vulnerable but available so that He can show me who He has meant for me.
Almost a year after that debilitating heartbreak, around this same time of the month—CDO fiesta—I went out with Jerome for the first time. He was just a highschool batchmate back then, just an acquaintance from 12 years ago, just a potential drinking buddy, maybe even a barkada. (I will tell our love story some other time. *KILIG* ????)
But that dinner led to another, and another, and another. And the rest, as the cliche goes, is history. I found my best friend, my enabler, my work out buddy, my travel companion, my partner in everything, my person to contact in case of emergency. ???? I know it is not right to compare, but I can’t help but be grateful that my relationship with Jerome was everything my old one was not. We saw a future together while enjoying the present.
Now, by God’s grace and guidance, we are married, with a toddler and another baby on the way, two dogs, and a life that is so different from what we had in Manila. And my favorite part is, we are growing together as a team, despite all the many everyday challenges of married life and parenthood. Jerome brings me closer to God through his leadership and love language of service. Because of what we have now, I understand why God chose him for me.
4. Pray more, worry less.
Philippians 4:6-7 (ESV)
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
My life in the following years remained to have its fair share of challenges and difficult choices. Until now, every big change or major problem can make me anxious and there were a handful of times that I had to battle with becoming depressed again.
My mother suffered a stroke and being the only doctor in the family, I had to be the first one to deal with what happened. Thank God my mother has recovered and thank God my sister and her husband decided to live with her since our father is always away from home because of his work.
After graduation from pediatric residency, I had to take the written and oral exam, and that was nerve-racking. And I am sure all new doctors would agree, that starting a private practice was a great challenge too! No patients, no money, no idea how to file taxes. Plus, clinic rent, bills, hiring a secretary and an accountant do not come cheap.
Jerome and I decided to get married, relocate to CDO and have a baby. Having lived in Manila for 19 years, the move was not easy for me. Starting a family and a new life here—though rewarding and filled with simple joys (like going home for lunch and having Tala shout “Mommy!” when I arrive)—has been stressful and financially challenging.
I had my heart set on giving birth the normal vaginal way. But I had a C-section and had troublesome breastfeeding issues that threatened my resolve which I narrated in a previous post here. Thank God I overcame those and now I feel more equipped to help other mothers who underwent C-section too.
Now that I am a mother, a pregnant one at that, I find myself worrying about SO MANY things, mostly about being a good parent. Am I making the right decision of putting my career on hold so that I can prioritize motherhood? Am I making the right choices for Tala? Am I feeding her the right food in the right amount? Am I offering enough age-appropriate activities? Am I becoming a helicopter parent or a tiger mom? How come I always think that it is my fault when she gets sick? What else can I do to protect her from mosquitoes and ants? Am I taking care of myself enough during this second pregnancy? Should I be eating more even if I feel bloated and nauseous all the time? Is it okay to give in to my cravings for ice cream, burger and fries, and potato chips? Why am I always tired? Why do I feel guilty for being tired?
So many questions. So many uncertainties. Yet we all know that challenges, financial problems, health concerns, difficult people, adversaries are all part of life.
Through studying God’s Word, I realized that indeed worrying can not solve anything. It is completely useless. But prayer, faith and our personal relationship with God can keep us afloat when nothing else can.
I’ve made the verse above my personal battle strategy. What a comfort it is to be told by God to NOT WORRY about anything because ultimately, He is in control if we let Him have the driver’s seat of the ride we call life.
How about you? What life lessons have you learned this year? I would love to hear and learn from you. ????