I was lying in bed, watching an episode of Friends that I had probably seen 4 times already. I was just about to fall asleep when something hits me like a truck. I was having an anxiety attack. As a full time university student with many responsibilities, I tend to have these and usually they are quite small and go away with three deep breaths. Last night was an exception.
I felt like I could not breathe. It was like there was a weight on my chest that I was not strong enough to lift off. I had not had an attack this big for almost a year. Tears started welling up in my eyes and my throat was closing up. I started thinking about my choices. Who should I call? Who would say the right things that I needed to hear in order to calm down? I thought and I thought. And, while my friends are incredible people, I always feel uncomfortable talking to them about my problems because I have always assumed the role of “shoulder to cry on,” so it would seem wrong to cry on theirs.
I also thought to talk to my mom. This thought quickly passed as I never liked bringing up my anxiety to my mom. She always made me feel like those feelings I was having are not valid. Or I felt like she didn’t listen at all because she had her own problems to deal with. This is not to say that my mom is a bad mom. She is the most incredible woman I know. She just has a different way of dealing with things than I do. And plus, this anxiety had to do with school and my future, and while I hate to use the stereotype, I can’t think of any other way to describe it: My mom is truly an Asian parent when it comes to my education and my future.
So, I set off to call the emergency counselling line that I have access to through my mom’s fiancé’s (also, my soon to be adopted dad — story for another time) company. The problem with this, however, is the company just went through a merger and their EAP service provider was no longer the one I had been using for the past year so, I was not able to get over the phone counselling.
At this point, tears were rushing down my face. I just really needed a hug. And, I knew my mom was right downstairs, watching Grey’s Anatomy. So, I got up, took a deep breath, and ran down to my mommy.
I cuddled up next to her as she asked me, “What’s wrong, anak?” (“anak” means child in the Filipino dialect, Tagalog).
I turned to her and said, “I’m stressed out.”
I went on to talk about how I was stressed out about school, and her upcoming nuptials, and my future, and everything. I explained to her that I am not sure that I want to be a psychologist anymore and how this confused me because I have wanted to be a therapist since I was ten years old. I told her about how I just wanted to finish up my bachelor’s degree in Psychology and not do grad school or get a Ph.D. I told her about how I just wanted to be a school counsellor and have time to focus on my writing. And, while I was expecting her to say a whole speech about how she doesn’t think I will have a good, fulfilling life with this path, she went on to spew out some wise words in a tone I hardly ever hear from her: calm.
“Anak, I don’t care if you’re a doctor or have a fancy master’s degree. I just want you to be happy. And if being a school counsellor will help you feel more relaxed and less stressed than do that. And as for the writing, I know you are good at it. You have been doing it for a while now and it seemed like you stopped. You should practice more and get better, and who knows, maybe something will come from it. Just make sure you finish your studies first. There is no point of dropping out now, you’re almost at the finish line.”
And she was right. I had no plans of dropping out because I want to be able to say that I have a degree and it also opens up more doors. She also made up some metaphor about a seven-foot tree and rotten apples and then a pie. I honestly didn’t understand it. Sometimes she doesn’t know when to quit while she’s ahead.
Anyways, what I think the point of this whole story is, even if you plan your future and think everything will go according to plan, things change, people change, and most importantly, you change. And I have. And with this change, I now know I can be successful without a fancy Ph.D. hanging on my wall.
ALSO, always trust that your mom will learn how to say the right thing, even if she didn’t before. Just give her the chance to say it again.
Mahalo and Aloha,