Paul Yang, MD., Ph.D.
Title: From Struggle to Resilience: Finding Hope and Meaning in Life's Challenges
Key words: Overcoming adversity, Resilience, Grief and healing, Comparison and self-esteem, Personal growth, Self-esteem
Ms. X is a middle-aged single Malaysian woman. She has been grappling with serious depression after she experienced a sexual assault by her coworker. Concerned about her recent deterioration, her best friend accompanies her to a counseling session. Ms. X express concerns about her lack of interest, motivation, and inability to engage in basic self-care. She confides, "I don't have any drive to do anything. I feel unmotivated to cook, eat, or even take a shower. When a group of friends invited me to join a ballroom dancing club, I didn't respond."
Her best friend tries to uplift her spirits by reminiscing about Ms. X's past achievements. "You used to be a high achiever," she reminds her. "You graduated from a top university in Malaysia, obtained bachelor's and master's degrees in electrical engineering, and even secured a fully funded PhD program at an Ivy League University in the United States. You were employed at prestigious tech companies in the Bay Area. You held high expectations for yourself and achieved unachievable goals." Sensing the presence of unresolved grief beneath her depression, I probe further about Ms. X's self-perception. "I feel bad," she confesses. "I feel useless and worthless."
Through further exploration, Ms. X reveals that browsing through LinkedIn profiles triggered feelings of inferiority. "I feel inferior because all my friends hold high positions in tech companies, while I rely on social security," she tearfully explains. Overwhelmed by a sense of hopelessness, she believes that her life is over, and it's too late to return to the tech industry or achieve anything worthwhile. Acknowledging her pain, I encourage Ms. X to focus on the present and prioritize her recovery, trusting that the future will unfold naturally. Her Christian friend reminds her that life is transient and uncertain. "The future belongs to God," she says. "With God's support, you can fulfill His purpose. Each person has their own journey. Walk your own path, learn your lessons, and embrace life with gratitude." I agree, suggesting that rather than dwelling on life's shortcomings, Ms. X should shift her focus to the blessings in her life – a wisdom of living.
I advise Ms. X against comparing herself to others because each person is at a different stage of life, experiencing the cycle of birth, aging, illness, and eventual death. It's crucial to recognize that most people carry hidden pains that are not shared on social media. To illustrate this, I share the tragic story of a financial tycoon who took his son's life out of anger and later committed suicide in jail due to unbearable suffering. I highlight that regardless of fame or wealth, no one is immune to health issues, family problems, and interpersonal conflicts.
In the face of Ms. X's depression and the challenges she faces, her journey holds a valuable lesson for everyone. Adversity and uncertainties are inevitable in life. By witnessing her resilience, we can learn to navigate our own struggles, finding hope and meaning amidst the challenges we encounter. Together, with the support of loved ones and professional guidance, Ms. X can uncover a renewed sense of purpose and reclaim her life from the depths of depression. And through her journey, we are reminded that no matter what difficulties we face, resilience and the potential for personal growth are always within our reach.