Battling depression and a career change at 30.

Young me and a water buffalo.

Let me start off by saying, I am a very lucky girl, and I am aware of this fact. A lot of factors in my life contributed to major self-growth in my 20s. However, it still took a lot of hurt and suffering to arrive to where I am today: a contented person.

If I was given a time machine to travel back to my high school days, I would have told myself to continue what I was doing: being carefree, not giving a shit to tiny inconsequential things, pursue happiness, be less of a bitch, and follow your passions. This is the story of how I magically changed my career, from a doctor to a housewife.

1. Make mistakes and learn from them.

I did a lot of things back then that should have ended in regret, such as big life-changing mistakes, not trying 100% to get 100% in school, and dating extremely shady or shitty dudes. I never did regret them because I know they contributed to my life and made me stronger. Some even shaped my perspective in life. Bad dating made me aware of what I want in a guy and what flaws I could live with. And when it came to school work, I knew how to balance being just-high-scoring-enough and I-am-happily-not-doing-anything.

2. It is YOUR life, not anyone else’s.

My one and only regret was NOT standing up to my mother regarding my career choice. You see, my parents are typical Asians that want to have a son/daughter with a great career. One may even call them narcissistic: making them feel better that I won’t struggle financially and be a leech forever, making them feel better that they produced this person who is not an anyone but a SOMEONE, etc. Parents will tell you that they know what is best for you, all the time. They will want to see you climb up the ranks and are willing to bankrupt themselves in the process. Parents are naturally supportive (unless your parents are total shite), but that doesn’t give them the right to dictate how to live your life. Most Asian parents are closed-minded, and that’s a big problem. Even if you tell them, “NO, this is not for me,” they will find another way to control you. In my case, it was “the Lord’s will because we prayed for it.” Disappointing your parents was one thing, but also disppointing THE LORD? Nope. On to a medical career I went.

3. Pursue your passion. Eventually, you will become so good that people will actually pay you to do what you love.

Growing up, I wanted to become a doctor because I knew I will be good at it. I aced science. I was logical. I can look at blood and not have nightmares at night. I had a sense of detachment with people that seeing them suffer doesn’t really bother me. In fact, I chose this career because I couldn’t handle being a vet (still can’t now). I can’t see an animal suffer without crying.

Things changed in high school. I discovered photography and my love for the arts. I had always been a crafty person. I would make intricate birthday cards, dabble in calligraphy, and paint sunsets with oil. Heck, I was even good at web design and crocheting. Unfortunately, everyone around me would say that art is a nice hobby, but would never feed me. I know I would struggle financially, and it scared me. It gave me that final push to allow my parents to manipulate me into the medical field.

4. If you do not like where you are headed, step back and evaluate your life.

I hated nursing school so much. I knew it wasn’t for me after the first year. I built up the courage to tell my mom that I would prefer to change degrees. However, she told me to set aside these worries since it will just take 3 more years to finish, then I can go to medical school. She also stressed the fact that my first year would have been for nothing, and it will be such a waste of effort and time.

5. Appreciate what your experience taught you, but if it isn’t for you, do not force it.

Almost to the end of nursing school, I started to appreciate what this degree taught me. No, I didn’t care about bed-making, washing sick people’s hair, or proper drug administration. What I cared about was seeing the experience of other people I would never had crossed paths with. Their different perspectives in life made me question my own. I met so many young cancer patients who were forced to be adults by the time they were 8. I met financially-challenged parents who would work long shifts and come home to a crying child, but still can’t afford to feed him. I met 10-person families who would live in a 6ftx6ft shack but have a massive television by the wall. What are their priorities? How can they go on with life without breaking? Is this why drug addiction is rampant?

I enjoyed talking with my patients so much. This eventually fueled my drive to travel alone, wander, and talk to random people I meet and ask for their experiences. This was what I want to do: take photos, talk to people, record their experiences, and introduce their life to the world. Unfortunately, my mother was against this idea and was always saying, “You can do that as a hobby next time, after you finish medical school.”

Young me and a water buffalo.
Me at almost 20. And yes, that is a water buffalo.

6. It is never too late to turn back and change yourself (or your career).

You know what? Change should start the moment you realize that you needed the change. In fact, change probably needed to be done a few years before you recognized the need.

And yet, I listened to others, I got into a nice medical school. I wiped the slate clean and looked to the future with renewed hope.

Sadly, reality was still shit. Hospital politics is maddening. It was (and still is) imperative to smile and be “one with the group.” I can’t just do my own thing, be weird and radical, because that was not how the hospital hierarchy works. You have to follow the seniors, follow THEIR seniors, follow the trend, follow their lead, and follow everyone else’s whims that you don’t have enough energy left to follow your own whims. I was so stressed and busy that I stopped designing websites, stopped writing, stopped creating art, and basically stopped living for my passions. Life revolved around the hospital. When I go out with non-medical friends, I have zero things to talk about because all I can tell them was my hospital work, which they don’t understand at all. Eventually, I stopped going out entirely… what was the point?

7. When depressed, wallow in it, and then move on. Change your situation so you don’t have to go back to that deep, dark place.

This was depression. You lost yourself, your goals, your energy to go out and do things, and your drive to live. It was one of the hardest things I had to go through. Every day you wake up and cry. You cry because you are stuck in this life you don’t want. You cry because you are supposed to be thankful for all the nice opportunities given to you but you’re not. You cry because you would rather do something else than be stressed about shit you don’t even care about. You cry because you get up, go to work, receive your daily allowance of bullshit from all the people you have to follow, find a way to not sleep for 36 hours, go through your day getting dirtier by the hour but can’t shower, get shit on by rude special-snowflake patients, and do it all over again the next day.

I knew it wasn’t for me. I took a year off, forced by a school official to have a break that I didn’t want. I just want to finish my FINAL year in medical school so I can get it over with and start anew. But no, it just prolonged my agony. I did get to travel, but the reality of having to go back to work was like a dark cloud looming above my head.

8. You do not have to align all your life choices with your career. You can, if fortunate enough, scrap everything and start over.

Now I am here, trying to pursue a path that is not clinical work. An MS/PhD on Medical Informatics. And you know what? It’s the same fucking bullshit. The politics. The drama. The major ass-kissing one has to do to further one’s career. Every major step I take to climb the ladder just makes me feel worse. Everyone says, “Just hang on. It will get better.” It has been 10 years, and it is not better. I told myself I will be happy once I graduate from medical school. I did, and I didn’t feel major elation. I just felt upset that I had to go through it again to be able to be a SOMEBODY. I just had it. What was I racing for? What was the goal? Was it even MY goal?

9. Check if you are striving for your goals, not anybody else’s.

I had to ask myself so many tough questions before finally realizing that I wasn’t living the life I wanted. I was living the life everybody else wanted for me. I can’t blame them, because being called a “doctor” was, and still is, the pinnacle of a success. You are not “just an artist,” you are a DOCTOR. And yet, I see so many struggling doctors around. They aren’t financially stable but they stick with it because they love it. It gives them satisfaction and contentment. I can’t say the same for me, because being called a doctor just reminds me of how much I hate being one. I miss seeing patients, but I just can’t deal with the politics.

10. Build that confidence, then smile and be content.

I am turning 30 this year. I am happy to say that for once in my life, I am happy at where I am. I chose to be sane (my mental issues aren’t issues anymore), and I chose to be happy and content. I don’t care if people around me say that I was a waste of good intellect. I don’t care if I am considered unsuccessful. I am a housewife in a different country, with a roof over my head, with a shithead dog that gives me warm cuddles and a husband that I love and respect the most. I didn’t kill my career-wise, but I did kill my career. But at 30, I am finally content enough to say that I will be fine. I am going to figure this out, learn a new skill, reclaim that lost decade… or maybe I won’t, and will just be content at where life lead me today. I am very lucky.


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