*for the privacy of those involved, details were omitted and names were changed. I have told very few people these events, but I hope that me telling my story will help someone through their own troubles
Two years ago, my life fell apart.
When people say “my life fell apart, “it can be an exaggeration at times. Sometime spilled coffee on me on my way to the interview. I think I just failed my test. Me and my spouse are fighting. When I say this, I fully mean “my life fell apart.”
Two years ago, my long term relationship ended, my family situation went from okay to terrible, my grades dropped significantly, my physical health was deteriorating, I lost a significant percentage of my friends, and for the first time in my life, I was utterly alone. But that was my fault, I shut myself in, unable to even process the idea that anyone would be able to help me. At one point, I was suicidal, thinking that there was no recovery. What led me to this point? What led me to this train of thought of simply ending it all? Let’s rewind a bit.
I was born in Minnesota. Strange, I know, but somehow my first generation Korean parents decided to move to one of the most Caucasian heavy states in America. I grew up with all my uncles and grandparents in one house. It was a cozy lifestyle, everyone taking care of each other with an unconditional love most people dream about. We moved to a house in California and it was an utter culture shock to me. Everything was different. I came from a land dominated mostly by American culture to one that was strangely Asian. In the OC, one barely has to learn English to survive, as most of the people speak in their native tongue anyway.
I was plopped right into a third grade class in April. This combed back Asian kid wearing a polo. Target acquired. Or that’s what I assume came into the minds of the children there. If you don’t know, children are brutal. As we go through life and learn more, we develop a filter on what can be said and what can’t. Children have no such filter. They don’t need a reason to bully someone, only for them to be a little different. For the next seven years of my life, I was bullied terribly, both physically and emotionally. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me. I haven’t heard a bigger piece of BS in my entire life. To this day I remember what these kids said to me, although I doubt they remember themselves.
“Why don’t you go back to Minnesota you freak”
“Fuck off you weirdo kid. You can’t do anything right”
“You will never be loved and you’ll die alone”
“I hope I’m Myspace friends later so I can see what kind of a sad life you have”
I ate alone at lunch. Sometimes in the bathroom, sometimes on an empty table on the far side of campus. Sometimes just walking around because I didn’t want anyone to taunt me. Sometimes I simply went to the quiet area in the library so I could lie to myself and pretend I’m too busy.
This continued for a while. I knew I had to change somehow, but I didn’t see a way out. I was bullied online ruthlessly. Funny how much people will say when they’re protected by anonymity. I finally made a change after I was almost beat up in the locker room. I left that day with a full determination. I joined martial arts and through pure force of will, got myself up to blackbelt in two separate disciplines within a year. Things got better as I read books and began to help learn more about myself. Or so I thought.
I learned something else during this period of bullying: people will use you.
Most of the bullying stopped around 10th grade, when I started actively trying to change myself into a more confident person who didn’t take shit from anyone. Although it was all a facade, it helped. However, I still remember a moment during lunch that made me crumble back into my old self. I don’t quite remember what I had done or what I made, but people were asking me for favors. This one girl came up to me and said, with no hesitation, “Wow thank you so much! I used mess with you in middle school by telling you where to meet up for lunch and never showing up, but now you’re alright.” My heart stopped. My teeth clenched. I put on the best smile I could muster and played along. Laughing and hiding my emotions. Sometimes you’ll take a thousand steps forward and think you’re along the path of healing, but one wrong step, one push, and you fall back down, beaten and less willing to make the journey again.
I began to look for things to cover up my depression. Finding patches to repair my heart so that no one could see all the cracks.
But I knew they were still there.
When I went to college, it was time for a fresh start, finally away from all the terrible things that followed me since 3rd grade. At first, it was great. I was making new friends and living a brand new life. The patches were still holding and my outer façade was holding. By my second year, I had a girlfriend who I loved dearly, my family situation was wonderful, and my pre-med life was on track and everything was looking better.
I will never forget that summer. In a period of three days, my entire life shattered. My girlfriend was gone, my connection to my family was considerably damaged, my grades, as a result, were dropping terribly, I had no direction in life, and as a result of all this and the stress of the looming MCATS and responsibilities, my physical wellbeing took a toll. I lost a total of twenty-five pounds in one month. I could not keep down food. I ate maybe once every two days and that was because I forced myself to. When I met with others and talked with them, I still had my façade, but it was cracking. The patches couldn’t hold any longer, they were too worn.
I poured myself into a life of self misery. I was drinking, smoking, staying out late at night, binging myself in life’s sinful ecstasies in a feeble attempt to take my mind away from it all. What did it matter that I was hurting myself and shortening my life? It’s not like it matters anyway, right? Even all the distractions did not help me from my thoughts. If you’ve ever had these kinds of thoughts, then you know that the ten minutes before you go to sleep are what you dread. That’s when the thoughts come pouring.
Why did this all happen? Is it my fault? Could I have done anything to solve it? Maybe I was the one that caused it all. It’s all me. Maybe the world is better off without me. No one would miss all the trouble. Everything would run more smoothly. Yeah that’s it. Maybe that’s the solution.
Lucky for me, my friends and family took notice. Before I could do anything to harm myself, I was brought in to a psychologist to receive help. I was reluctant to change. No one, even a trained professional, can make someone change if they don’t want to.
So what made me change?
About halfway through my first quarter of junior year, I met a patient where I volunteered. She had been severely burned, losing three limbs and had to have painful grafts. I was in charge of her discharge and was waiting for the nurses to finish helping her onto the wheelchair. When I saw her face, I was shocked. She was smiling. I took control of the wheelchair and was about to go to the elevator when she asked me to stop. “I’m a bit tired, can we rest here for a bit?”
We talked for fifteen minutes, discussing my life, her life, the world, her unending positivity especially. Strange how someone can feel more comfortable with a stranger than any of their relatives or friends. At the end of it, she smiled and told me she was ready to go down. After handing the wheelchair to her family member, she stopped me. Smiling, she whispered in my ear, “I’ve never met anyone like you before. One day, you’re going to be a wonderful doctor.”
It was that moment, that single sentence that propelled me forward. Words can have powerful effects and you never know what phrase may affect someone. It could be some seemingly hurtful taunts, or it could be a simple, genuine compliment that can make or break someone’s day, or even their life.
Since that day, I have spent my time learning more and more of the world and took a look into my being. I took a critical look at the past events and realized that rather than fixing my problems, I was adding temporary patches. My entire life had no solid foundation to grow upon. I needed a change, a real change that brought solutions, not hiding them.
There is a story in the bible that I think everyone should be familiar with (I know, strange coming from someone who is agnostic). There were once two men who looked to build their houses. One built a house on solid rock while the other built a house on sand. When the winds came and the floods poured in, the house on the rock stood there strong while the house on the sand was swept away.
I centered my time around how to build a more solid foundation. I read, traveled around, talked to others, and most importantly, explored myself to find what mattered to me most; what my core ideals were. My two biggest drives in life are so: to make those around me smile and enjoy life to the fullest and to find a way to enact change in this world for the better. I fostered a new view of this world, one of cautious optimism rather than the soul crushing pessimism I had before. I started photography as a way of sharing some beauty with the world; to see someone’s face light up when I took a wonderful photo was magic. I formed a new base, a new foundation for my life to grow upon. If you don’t love yourself, how can you love and help others?
Am I perfect now? No. Not even close. But now I can build my house on solid foundation, so that whatever trials may come my way, I will stand strong. I will overcome adversity and learn from those experiences.
Discover yourself. Find out who you are. Learn to love yourself. Continually try to better yourself and strive to better than who you were yesterday. Find what makes you happy and focus on that. What did Kelly Clarkson say again? What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger? Man that’s a good song.