“There is no one path for everyone, but everyone has a path. Each of us is the sum of our parts. We all have baggage, our job is to unpack it in the way that works best for us.”

-Rose Caiola

Learning experiences and personal growth tend to arrive at times of hardship and trauma, which we all experience differently. Our human brain seeks to understand and categorize such experiences, as survival can depend on how we can avoid scenarios that threaten our well-being. How we react to adversities depends on multiple factors, such as who we are, and our developmental stage in life.

I grew up in New York City, attended public school and then entered the prestigious Horace Mann School (HM) for high school, based on a resume filled with competitive sports, music achievements, community and school service and a membership in the National Junior Honor Society. But the fall of my sophomore year of high school, I injured myself during pre-season gymnastics, and in an instant, music and sports were gone. Negativity and despair appeared, but my long-time passion for learning emerged as I ventured to the library in hopes that psychology books by Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung and Erik Erikson would provide answers.

I poured through multiple shelves of psychology books, unable to formulate a single reasonable answer. As my grandfather grew ill, I finally sought therapeutic help to make sense of my thoughts about life and death, and other issues, such as sexuality, hurtful family feuds, and life beyond high school.

The adolescent brain, like the infant brain, goes through dramatic gene expressions as now the prefrontal cortex (PFC) – an area of our brain located behind our forehead that weighs in on judgments, impulse and emotional control – begins to develop. Processes like myelination and synaptic pruning help transmit signals, and discern which memories should remain or be dismissed, respectively. Additionally, myelination is not complete until the second decade of life. I was so grateful for someone to help make sense of my thoughts and circumstances, I decided I wanted to heal others.

According to a study in the Journal of Advanced Nursing, “Personal transformation is a dynamic, uniquely individualized process of expanding consciousness whereby individuals become critically aware of old and new self-views and choose to integrate these views into a new self-definition”.

I entered Barrett Honors College at Arizona State University as a Psychology major. When I wanted to take on another academic study, a close friend suggested I go pre-med. “Cool, more therapies to help people, and I get a doctorate. Sounds good!” a calm, eighteen-year-old me said.

Spring of freshman year, I visited the Naturopathic school in Arizona and saw in practice the concepts of healing through health and doctor as teacher. I chose to embody and integrate both the literal and metaphorical definition of personal transformation, as the word “healing” expanded beyond my original goal of a PhD in psychology. The many therapies from both conventional and natural care help treat, prevent, and discover the underlying cause of disease.

My dad had instilled in me, “If you do what you love, you’ll never have to work a day in your life,” and throughout my studies he could not have been more correct. While my calm approach was challenged in many different ways, I kept choosing to persevere in my desire to dedicate my life to healing.

I still have the same passion for knowledge in figuring out why – whether it’s in a time of adversity or a patient’s health. After studying medicine in academia and in practice for over 10 years I can’t imagine myself in another profession. I’m thankful to have found this profession, yet over 15 years ago I could not fathom a happy ending. While brain development helps explain why our views change and how we mature, who we are destined to become as an individual may take many years of dedication to discover.

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