When I was younger, I used to think I had all the answers; whether it was how to end world poverty or how to fix a broken printer. I was fixated on being able to provide a solution to any problem. And so my dream of being a physician would then allow me to provide everyone with helpful advice and allow me to be a hero.
It took a bachelors, two master’s degrees and two years of working as an epidemiologist to firmly say, I know very little about how anything works or how to fix anything. What I learned instead was the exact things I needed to do for myself; find my own answers, fix the broken pieces and be my own hero.
I spent so long being a “helper” of other people’s stories, to make “helpful” suggestions and provide unsolicited advice to anyone I deemed needed it. How often was I helpful? Probably not as often as I would have liked to believe. The reality I needed to embrace about being helpful was that I first needed to help myself. To understand, detangle and appreciate the soul which lived within the borders of my body. But how does one go about learning about their soul and about life?
I used to think that I would learn more by doing more things, which is why I never took a break and never said no. I pursued my education relentlessly, no breaks between any degrees and also completed two graduate degrees simultaneously. Before I finished my degrees, I was already employed as a full-time epidemiologist working in a health care authority that was grappling desperately with a multitude of communicable diseases. I joined every sport, community event and every social event. I wanted to have answers and the way to get answers, was to do a lot of things.
Two years later, I was burned out, frustrated and at my wits end. Beneath the exterior was a girl who faced early life trauma and a women who ran from the realities of deceit, humiliation and alienation. I put on a brave face and said, no one can see the inside so I will be successful on the outside. I didn’t give myself a chance to succeed the way I envisioned. I wasn’t happier or felt better about anything. I was successful in one small aspect of my life. The rest, I ignored and when it would come up, I would bury myself in “productive” tasks (like studying for my mcat).
When I moved to St. John’s, everything somehow came to a standstill in my world. I stopped making the same kind of effort to do things, I didn’t spend the same kind of hours coordinating what academic, volunteer, extracurricular, sports and social activities to occupy my time and mind with. I often just sit in my cozy, warm and safe apartment with my cat of 5 years every night reflecting while I crochet and drink tea. I do everything alone from shopping to eating out at a restaurant. It is so liberating to be able to sit with myself and my thoughts. I miss friends and family, but I don’t feel alone or lonely. I feel at peace with where I am and I am detangling myself mentally from some difficult experiences from my past so I no longer feel the need to carry them with me in the future.
It’s not always easy or comfortable, but I am guided through it by my mentor and guide who is always there when I need her. She simply catches me when I use words that are self-sabotaging and helps me re-tell my own story so that I am able to make peace with it. Every detail, every excoriating detail is sometimes discussed multiple times. We’ve been doing this for three years, but now I am better equipped to understand my emotions and particular events. And beginning to let them go.
In attempting to understand my own story, I have become more understanding of other people and learning not to make a judgement on someone’s character. We are all capable of great damage when we impose our own interpretation of how we think others should behave. Instead, refocusing that lost energy into ourselves is so much more fulfilling, enlightening and comforting. There’s no use in helping others, if you can’t help yourself first. Because if you feel good on the inside, you will always be good on the outside.