It’s quarter to 6 p.m. and as I watch the sky turn from fiery orange to dark blue, a strong sense of nostalgia hit me — for things that once were but will never be; for things being the way they are but will never be the same again. I suppose a more fitting word describes this wave of emotions; ‘nostalgia’ is the closest I could find.
I remember how, when I basked in my so-called funemployment year, I would exercise late in the afternoon outside our house. After a day composed of jumping from one app or website to another, from one episode or movie to the next, I would prepare to go out with friends. Deadlines were nonexistent. It’s the life I slightly miss today, especially when stress levels are through the roof; at that time, I missed the structured, to-do-list-characterized life I currently live.
As I sat in complete solitude and silence in the living room, I am reminded of how this day is but another square in the calendar, another checkmark in the years I will have lived. My mind was free from running to-study lists. I immersed in the feeling of being small – no, not literally; I’m aware that holds true – in a world full of billions of people with own concerns and aspirations. An odd sense of comfort enveloped me when I realized that amid differences, we are alike in struggles on being resilient, trying to be better every time, coping with blows to our self-confidence.
It was overwhelming. No matter how gargantuan a challenge may appear to be overcome, it is but another pitstop along a long, winding road. It does not define the entire journey. It was humbling. All pieces, both bright and dark, fit perfectly and have a designated place in a giant jigsaw puzzle. A puzzle filled only with bright pieces would be too glaring and unpleasant to the eyes.
Perhaps I had been too caught up with emotionally draining events and mentally demanding tasks that I missed to pause for awhile and see things from a fresh perspective. As in photojournalism, the angle from which one takes a photo matters. Maybe I construed worst-case scenarios from events that are outside my locus of control. One mistake does not define me and if other people’s perception of me are tainted by it, I cannot do anything about it so I let it be. What can I say? If it has no solution, then it’s not a problem.
Today, I have been reminded that all things are passing. Cherish light, stress-relieving moments, usually characterized by tummy-aching laughter with family and friends, but could also disguise itself as a peaceful walk in school at 3 p.m. by yourself with a Coldplay playlist as companion. Never lose hope in trying times. It’s a way of gleaning lessons you would not have learned otherwise. It molds you to be a better version of yourself. A reason to be grateful need not be grand or life-changing. It could be in the form of finding a This Is Us playlist and falling asleep to it after hours of learning the gross anatomy of the neck.
This moment is fleeting. Life is short. Taking time to notice it is never time wasted.
At immensely stressful times — compared to my undergrad years, the stress of which, I realize, is a big joke by now — I feel the need to continually ask and remind myself of the reason I am here.
When I was still an aspiring med student, I told myself I was afraid of becoming a student who studied only to pass exams. Because, really, what’s the point? What happens after passing all written, oral, and practical tests? Although passing exams is a prerequisite to proceed to the next level, it would be absurd to have it as the only motivation for intentionally spending my time — that could have been spent on binge-watching TV series and joining festivities — and squeezing all my mental energy to learning biochemistry, physiology, histology, anatomy, etc. At the end of the day, I find it essential to ask, “What is the reason I do the things I do?”
Then I remember my college freshman self. I recall how I loved learning general biology although it was a “minor” subject in development communication. I woke up at the wee hours to learn the general concept of respiration, the parts of major organs, and the like. I was amused at how, in every human being, such complex, intricate systems are at work synchronously that enable them to function in daily life. There is more to a person than what meets the eye. Literally.
I remember how, while we’re waiting in the SC grounds for our 7:30 p.m. Math01 class, Phoebe and I talked of how we envision ourselves after graduation. She told me I would become a good doctor, probably because both my parents are, but such casual lines are sources of encouragment today.
I remember when, after performing poorly at a weekly exam, I was eating ice cream at a convenience store and I met one of my favorite teachers, Ma’am Trel. She saw me in my uniform for the first time. Needless to say, my feelings were the polar opposite of her reaction: giddy and excited. She told me my uniform was a symbol of where I will end up. And that I must claim it to be true.
I remember how becoming a doctor was my default reply to “What do you want to be when you grow up?” although the answer has shifted one too many times. I remember heaps of post I wrote on this blog, the recurring theme of which is being certain and why-driven of solidifying this plan.
I’ve been asked whether I would continue studying medicine. Without hesitation, I say yes. In my standards, my grades are abysmal but quitting at the slighest hint of setback means I may like only the idea of being a doctor yet deny the realities it entails to become one. As Uncle Earl said in an email:
It’s true: my resiliency and determination have been tested like never before and I know I’m only in the start line. At times, my sentimental self is triggered and I find myself crying in my study table. But I realize crying would be counterproductive because it gives me a headache that makes concentrating a Herculean task.
As an attempt to see things from a bigger perspective, the stress as a 1st year student will most likely be minuscule when I become an intern facing less of books and more of patients of different backgrounds; when I review for board exams; when I become a licensed doctor to whom patients entrust their lives.
I remind myself that the meticulousness and complexities of the topics that await to be learned are not here only to let me pass exams — these are the basic knowledge I need to be a competent, conscientious doctor people need.
A 19-year old boy became quadriplegic — paralyzed from the neck down — after a vehicular accident. He stopped schooling not only because of insufficient resources but also to work as the family’s breadwinner. Now, the family has to completely adjust to take care of him on a daily basis.
A woman in her 20’s has permanent neurologic deficits after falling from a moving vehicle. She has a child and she has to return to living with her father as the deficits make her unable to be fully independent in everyday life. Her sister has to move back in the city for her, too.
Whenever our teacher cites particular patients’ stories as an example in our FCM (Family and Community Medicine) class, I get goosebumps. Not only because the story itself is compelling enough to draw sympathy. Or it emphasizes the importance of dealing with patients as a human being – not as a mere piece of disease.
But because that patient could have been me. I could have been quadreplegic; I could have been dealing with neurologic deficits — or both — after falling from a moving vehicle last New Year’s Eve. My family could have had a different routine that includes feeding me, bathing me; finding ways to make daily life the new kind of normal.
A lot of could have’s, indeed. Out of a weird, sometimes morbid, sense of humor, I’m able to formulate self-deprecating jokes out of the incident today. I suppose it’s funny now only because everything has returned to normal and effects that can impact everyday life are nonexistent. But the first few weeks of recovery were crucial and stressful for the family, so it was no laughing matter.
I did move on from the said accident already — if moving on means learning from experiences and choosing to move forward every day instead of being immobilized by the past — but it will always remind me of the other possibilities.
And it reminds me to never underestimate a person’s capability (of surviving), the limits of which could be farther than one has imagined.
As my mother told me, “Naka-survive man gani ka sa pagkalabay sa pickup. Maka-survive pud kaayo ka diha sa med [school].”
My teenage self might have found these a surprise. My future self might either inculcate or disagree. Here are notes to self that have accumulated in 22 years:
- The only limits I should believe are the ones I set upon myself.
- All people are smart but in different ways. Nobody is dumb; some either lack knowledge and understanding or are willfully ignorant. 😬
- I’m glad I have unintentionally mastered the art of laughing at myself. And at my jokes, sometimes.
- My toughest competitor is myself. Success is typically defined as being superior to others yet nothing compares to realizing I’ve outdone myself.
- Comparing myself to others is pointless. Learn from aspects worth emulating but never measure my abilities against theirs. Go at my own pace.
- Some of the best things in life: long walks at sunset right before darkness sets in, conversations without incessant phone-checking, clouds worth appreciating, and rainy days with cold breeze and petrichor.
- There are different kinds of fun. It can be watching a movie with my family, going out with friends, or having a much needed alone time.
- Written exchanges over the Internet are prone to misinterpretation.
- Outgrowing things that my younger self deemed indispensable is normal.
- People I constantly surround myself with can heavily influence what I consider normal and acceptable.
- Writing is an effective form of catharsis that helps present matters in a bigger picture.
- Things can be worse in my head than they actually are.
- My thoughts can become my reality. That is, if I see studying as an abyss of the difficult and impossible, I’d find reasons for my situation to match my expectations.
- In choosing a path, interest alone is not enough. Having a clear reason and purpose for others is as essential.
- Passion is not found; it doesn’t fall magically on my lap. It is cultivated.
- One of the most fulfilling moments is having contributed to people’s growth and know how then seeing them improve.
- Misery can be caused by clinging to past events or an older version of myself.
- No matter how awful or mundane a day, there is always a reason to be grateful.
- How I say it is as important as what I say.
- Words can reaffirm and-or shift perspective. Read more.
- Acknowledge and label a wide spectrum of emotions, all of which are valid.
- I can always choose to become better.
This video from School of Life, otherwise known as a treasure trove of thought-provoking, inspiring, and succinct insights with beautiful animation on YouTube, is one of those internet finds I re-watch and revisit. Here is its outline, some points of which I’ve paraphrased; others I’ve copied verbatim:
- conscious of the realities and challenges entailed in a project but is not devoid of hope
- knows that something difficult is being attempted, thus remains steadfast, calm, and less prone to panic when problems arise
- alive to moments of calm and beauty, even on extremely modest ones
- aware of the harsh realities, she draws full value from the peaceful and sweet
- unsurprised by the coexistence of deep immaturity and of “adult qualities” like intelligence and morality
- tries to budget for madness and is slow to panic whenever irrationality rears its head
- takes the business of laughing at herself seriously
- laughs at constant collisions between the ideal way of plans, dreams, and events happening and the demented way they turn out
- realistic about social relations like the difficulty of changing people’s minds and of having an effect on their lives
- reticent on being frank about what they think
- realizes how seldom it is useful to get censorious; is aware of how differently things can look through the eyes of others
- accepts own self
- has made peace with the yawning gap and common ground between her ideal self and actual self
- is not ashamed of herself and can give reasons she is difficult or easy to live with
- can forgive
- recognizes extraordinary pressure everyone is under, especially in a world where resources are scarce and limited
- slow to anger; doesn’t lead to worst conclusions about what’s going on in the minds of others
- generous to reasons on people’s behavior
- has a solid sense of what she can survive
- knows how things can go wrong but remain livable
- doesn’t envy
- sees the role of luck, and twists and turns that lead a person to a state of fame, wealth, and power
- doesn’t overcast herself to having a different fate
- acknowledges regrets
- aware of the impossibility to fashion a spotless life, no matter how glamorous it appears; one can make extremely large and utterly in-correctable errors
- aware that one cannot see a life story without devastating mistakes etched across it
- knows that turmoil is just around the corner, thus she finds the need to nurture a strong commitment to the idea of being calm. For example, a quiet evening is an achievement and a day without anxiety is to be celebrated.
- not afraid of a “boring,” more quiet, and calmer life as something worse could be happening
As I acknowledge my 22nd year of living two weeks from now, my birthday wish remains: be wiser in this sense. Yes, I would greatly appreciate tangible gifts — like a watch with minimal design and a leather strap, a book, or cold, hard cash — and greetings from family, friends, and acquaintances but nothing beats a present that brings peace of mind and doesn’t depreciate even when my 22nd birthday is but a distant memory.
As I browsed through forums and blogs, the challenges that come with my decision seemed insurmountable. If students well-versed on life sciences are struggling in passing even one quiz, how would a development communication graduate cope with such a time-consuming and mentally demanding course that tests one’s resiliency and determination?
Then I figured: Why would I compare myself with other people? Shouldn’t I try to outdo my past performance instead of following a common definition of ‘success’ as having a score higher or credentials more stellar than most people? If I scored lower despite the efforts, why would I classify myself as a failure when all feats require constant adjustment and improvement?