Sunday, March 26, 2017

Full Circle

I haven't written in 6 years. I haven't felt the need to make time for it. Yet now, as I find myself at the beginning of another crossroads, I see the wisdom in writing down my thoughts and feelings.

Our universe has many cycles: The seasons repeat. The heart circulates. Life is followed by death, and from death comes new life.

On April 1, 2005, I made a choice to accept myself for who I am despite what my community thought of that choice. I've had a lot of time to learn and grow since then. My knowledge of neurology and psychology have increased. I've often looked back at that moment with pride and gratitude in recognition of the courage it took to finally stand my ground. Yet, in many ways, it was merely an act of self-preservation. Is it still courageous to reach out and make a change, but only after you realized that you have no other option left? I suppose I'm getting ahead of myself again.

Pre-BYU Life

Samuel Nieves
Age: 21
Religion: Mormon
Strengths: Science and Math
Weaknesses: English and Social Sciences
Fears: Never overcoming his homosexuality
Desired Occupation: Oncology

I remember the day I decided to study oncology. It was the winter of 2003 and I was mopping the floor at my Aunt's restaurant near the end of my shift. My first semester at BYU was about to begin and I knew that I needed to start thinking about a major and career.

I kept repeating to myself some advice from my mother. I needed to focus on my strengths and my passions, and then find a way to turn those into a profession. I knew that math and science had always seemed easy to me, but that meant some kind of job that wouldn't often associate with people. I considered teaching seminary, but couldn't see how math or science would ever be involved. These conflicting passions were getting me nowhere and I thought myself in circles. I remember asking myself, "When you die what kind of life will you want to have lived?"

It was one of those moments when started speaking honestly with myself. I'd recently finished a mission for the Mormon church and I knew that I wanted to keep that feeling of service and purpose alive as long as possible. The sense of being on a mission to help other people had felt exhilarating. I'd become addicted to the emotional rush, to the deeply felt sense of purpose and service. I admitted that a desk job would never really make me happy. I'd tasted the sweet fruit of service and I knew that I'd never be satisfied doing anything else. Every other job in comparison seemed meaningless and ephemeral. I knew that if I ended my life without being able to say that I had made a lasting change to the human race, that I'd feel a sense of loss and regret. I need a to be a footnote for humanity before I die.

This was how the idea of oncology seeped its way into my thoughts. I didn't know the term oncology at the time, but I did know that cancer rates were on the rise and we still didn't have a cure. I thought about it over and over. I didn't need to be the person who'd cure cancer, but if I could be one of many fighting the good fight, that would satisfy me. Oncology hit all the marks. My BYU advisor suggested Nursing as a good pre-med major to get me started. I was ecstatic to have found my calling in life. I believed it was God's plan for me.

The Wheel Turns

My mother is a strong willed and very practical woman. I remember her being skeptical of my choice to study oncology. She weighed the debt and years of studying for a medical degree against being able to support a future wife and children. She felt that I'd do better with a non-social and math-based major like accounting. It was a realistic, practical, and stoic choice. My heart sank.

At the time, I was still very religious and believed that parents have divine access to inspiration and counsel for their children. I was also attending counseling to eliminate my "same-sex attraction disorder". My church affirming counseling suggested that I needed to obey all of God's laws if I ever hoped for a cure. My parents and counselors agreed that my desire to help others was admirable, but ultimately it was this same sensitive nature that was part of the cause for my homosexuality.

Perhaps this is why I keep returning to oncology? I never really got the chance to test out the path for myself before it was ripped away from me. When I want something or someone, I'm pathological about obtaining my desire. I never stopped wanting to learn about cancer. I've always perked up at any mention of the subject. Yet, I still sacrificed that ambition. I buried my dreams along with my sanity in my desperate attempt to become a heterosexual. My strengths and passions have certainly morphed since, but oncology still hits every minute mark on my list for a fulfilling profession.

Building my career in IT was always a means to an end for me. I was good at it and picked up the education quickly. I knew I could make good money, and remember thinking that IT would give me the time and space to figure out who I was outside to the church.

I Never Saw Myself as a Doctor

Despite having teachers as far back as elementary school suggesting I'd probably become a doctor someday, I never saw myself practicing medicine. It simply wasn't ever on my radar. Sure, I could see myself as an astronaut or scientist, but never a doctor. Besides, I'd always viewed doctors as elitists. I was raised poor, and I knew my place in society. I'd often prided myself for being poor. To me, being poor seemed virtuous. I'm still a little uncomfortable with the idea of making a lot of money.

And even though I gave up oncology so I could have more time to figure out what being a gay man means to me, I believed my mom had valid criticisms. The idea of going into $100,000 to $200,000 in debt just for a chance to become a doctor, is a huge risk. Sure, I'd love the education but putting that amount of debt on my shoulders is a big burden.

Can I take such a big risk for something that I can't be sure about? How can I know if medicine is truly right for me? How can anyone really know anything? I had convinced myself for a time that IT and application programming was my calling, and for a while it was fun... but then I somehow lost my drive for it. How can I know if medicine won't be the same?

Since there really isn't a purpose to life, does it really matter what I do anyway? I mean, do I "really" have to leave a footnote for myself in the book of humanity? I remember seconds before my car accident that I thought of my husband... and how it was probably okay if I died, because even though I didn't accomplish everything I wanted, I knew that I had tried. Maybe that's what this is really about.

Risk Be Damned

This is a big dream. This will probably be the hardest thing I will ever have to do, maybe even harder than coming out. But if I can look at myself in the mirror and know that I tried my damnedest, I think it will be enough. Maybe this is the real moment when I can look back with pride and gratitude in recognition of the courage it took to finally go for my dreams.

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