Why I decided to take a Leave of Absence (LOA) in law school?
"What made everything worse was I lost my grandmother in 2014, my uncle in 2015, my favorite aunt in 2016, and my dad in 2017, without having to spend enough quality time with them. I was barely present when they were battling death because I was busy taking down notes and flipping pages in the coffee shop or in the library. "
Here is my story. When I enrolled in law school in 2014, I was this 21-year old girl who was so idealistic about changing the recognized flaws of the judicial system in my country.
My eyes sparkled for just the thought of me defending those who cannot defend themselves, or sitting down in a cozy chair with papers-that-save-lives to sign on my table.
I was so full of energy, enthusiasm and character to think that I should get my Juris Doctor degree at the age of 26.
At that time, all I thought of was walk through law school with passion, bravery and grit. That there was no way for me stop, quit or even take a pause.
Before I decided to take the challenge of studying long cases, provisions of law and annotations from legal professionals, and familiarizing legal doctrines, I made sure that my heart was whole to take whatever comes my way during my studies.
If you are wondering, I am this type of person who makes sure that when I commit or engage into something, I am not half-hearted and I am more than willing to give my all.
True enough, despite all the challenges during my first year to second year of being a full-time employee and being a full-time student, I never had this notion of giving up or taking a leave of absence at school. I was so positive that I could make it through without compromising either my work or school.
I was pushing myself too hard for the future without realizing I was losing my present
I pushed myself as hard as I can to deliver what was needed at work and perform well at school.
What I did not realize though was that I was already gradually battering my mental, psychological and physical well-being. I fainted several times due to lack of sleep and was hospitalized for acid reflux (which caused me to blame coffee for that).
What made everything worse was I lost my grandmother in 2014, my uncle in 2015, my favorite aunt in 2016, and my dad in 2017, without having to spend enough quality time with them. I was barely present when they were battling death because I was busy taking down notes and flipping pages in the coffee shop or in the library.
And to add to all this turmoil, when my father was diagnosed with tumor on his lungs and brain, our family’s small business was at risk of loss. All my parents’ savings were withdrawn from the bank when my father lost capacity to manage our little source of income.
The assets that my mother inherited from my grandparents were leased for an additional cash flow.
And with all the hospital bills, utility bills, tuition fees for me and my siblings’ education and other necessary expenses, our resources could only do so much.
Fortunately, my aunts and uncles were more than willing to help us get through financially and emotionally, but, then again, they could only do so much as at the end of the day, we cannot just depend on whatever help our relatives could give. We need to work and resolve things on our own, too.
My personal circumstances were not favorable and taking a pause was, I thought, necessary.
As the eldest amongst my siblings, there was no other way but for me take over what my father left behind.
My mom needed me emotionally and physically as she was still recuperating from my father’s demise. Also, financially, I had to do well at work, and learn to manage my finances because at that time, and until at present, I am no longer supporting just myself, unlike when my father was still alive. I am already helping my mother in raising and sending my three siblings to school. They are with ages 19, 15 and 10.
I failed to recognize my emotions without knowing I was already battered inside.
At first, I thought I was fine with all the changes in my life, in my family’s life. I continued living everyday minding a little of my new challenges. Perhaps, I was in denial of my reality or maybe I was too proud to think that I needed a break, at least.
I still work full-time, discipline my siblings when necessary, thought about not only what I needed and wanted but what my siblings needed and wanted, too, had to deal with my relationship for 6 years — which was toxic without me realizing it, coping with sorrow and mourn after we lost our father, and I still kept on grinding my mind and body to keep up with the grueling demands of law school.
I was strong, but being strong does not mean I do not need a break!
During this time, I thought I was so strong that no one or no circumstances could deter my will to finish law studies as soon as possible. The idea of quitting or taking a break was difficult to imagine, until come enrollment time for the second semester of school year 2017-2018, my junior year.
I was ready to enroll but my heart and mind was not! I was already at the law office, chatting with my classmates about the subjects that we were going to take and definitely ready to submit the enrollment papers. However, in just a spur of the moment, I did not exactly know what was wrong. I felt like something was stopping me from enrolling for that semester.
I was too consumed with my own timeline, but I later realized that God’s timeline always works better.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
“Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.”
I then decided to go to our school chapel and there I just saw myself kneeling and crying so hard like a child. My heart was heavy. I broke down while talking to God. I tried to compose myself but my emotion at that time was just so overwhelming that I could not even afford to save myself from embarrassment from the other people who were also praying at the chapel. I just did not care.
All I wanted was to get rid of the heavy baggage inside me which I disregarded for years. I was LOST, BROKE, UNSECURED, TIRED, and IN PAIN and with all the unpleasant emotions that I could feel at that moment.
Sometimes, taking a pause is what one needs to regain energy and resources for a better comeback!
It was after approximately three hours of silence and contemplation that I was enlightened. I finally decided to take a break from law school for at least a year. Yes, I went home and did not enroll for that semester.
I thought, maybe it was just God’s sign and guidance that I needed all along.
I was too consumed of my own thoughts, of what I want to happen in my life, of what other people would think if I do not graduate on time, of thinking that I would be a failure if I do not graduate on the year I set myself to, of feeding my imaginations with negativity about taking a break, when in fact a break is all that I needed to ensure that I have enough strength and resources to continue what I have started in my law school journey.
It took me sometime to realize that taking pauses or leave of absence does not really mean quitting. Sometimes, a break is necessary to find your lost self, refresh your soul, and get back when you are ready to finish what was started with better grit and better passion than you have ever been before!
Part II: How taking a Leave of Absence (LOA) in law school helps heal my entire well-being? (Coming soon.)