For most doctors, grateful patients would send fruit baskets and witty greeting cards. Dr. Ryan Roxas, however, receives cards with palm prints fashioned out of human skin and packages of severed body parts and he wouldn’t have it otherwise. “Psychology and Psychiatry offers many opportunities to meet interesting people; that’s what attracted me to the field,” confesses Ryan. “I wanted a specialization where I can talk to people, listen, and learn something every day.”
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In a profession that is riddled with stereotypes and stigmas, Ryan is quick to distill the essence of his chosen field into a single word: listening. “There are misconceptions that we can read minds, that we can manipulate people,” says Ryan. “I think the only advantage we have is that we are trained to listen and to be compassionate.” Ryan goes on further to explain that mindful listening is one skill that he developed through his interaction with his patients. “Hearing something is different from listening. When you hear, you have a purpose of responding back,” he explains, “When you listen, as cliché as it sounds, you listen with your mind and you listen with your heart. You are not there to respond because sometimes a response is not needed; some people just need to unload their problems or their story to you.”
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For patients who come to see Ryan, this has always been more than enough. “Sometimes, patients have difficulty breathing, or they have an upset stomach, or they feel tired going to work. On further probing, we later find out that they are undergoing depression, or they have other underlying problems. We also get patients who just want to talk, and then, over our conversation, that’s when the problems come out,” he reveals. “They really need somebody to listen to them; that’s why they go to us. I think that they look for somebody who’s willing to listen and who’s willing to help them because sometimes, they don’t get support from family members or friends. Through time and trust, we work with these patients and hopefully heal them over time.”
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Ironically, it is this patient-doctor interaction that helped Ryan through a difficult period in his own life. His journey towards identifying as a proud gay man was quite rocky. “When I was younger, I was often teased and bullied a lot because I was different from the other boys. I would prefer singing, I would read book, I sucked at sports," recalls Ryan. "That made me question, 'What is it about me that makes them tease me?' I realized that they were probably noticing something that I was trying to deny about myself. I wasn’t aware that I was giving off this vibe or this image to them." It took a while before Ryan embraced his own authenticity. "I remember, it was in fourth year med school—that’s when I started realizing that there’s something unexplored in the back of my mind; it was always felt like I was keeping a secret," he relates, "The first person I came out to was my grandmother because I was Lola’s boy, then I came out to my younger sister. It was through them that my parents found out."
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It was a bumpy journey towards self-realization, where the young doctor moved out of his parents' house to prove himself. "It was an act of rebellion on my part. I got my own place, and then I stayed with my friends. I made a lot of mistakes back then," Ryan confesses. Cut off from his family, he found solace in his various interactions with different people. "I met a lot of people, I met a lot of friends. I met a lot of patients," he shares. "Through vicarious learning, you learn a little bit from everyone. At the end of the day, the common denominator or the biggest regret they all have is lost time."
After almost two years away from his family, this realization prompted Ryan to rebuild bridges. "Being humble is a big part of it," he confesses. "When pride gets in the way, you tend to push away the people who are very important to you. Over the course of seeing friends and seeing patients, I realized that time is really, really important and is best spent with family. It took a lot of humility to go back.”
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His experience also helped underscore the importance of empathy, a trait that Ryan deems essential to any healthy relationship. “In my opinion, Filipinos like to talk a lot; we only talk about the good stuff, the good things that happened today, but our personal problems, our own personal demons—we tend to hide them. That’s when the problems arise, because it all piles up and it hits you hard. That’s when you develop problems like depression or anxiety,” observes Ryan. “We should listen more, rather than talk, because some people talk and talk a lot with a point to respond and not to understand. I think if we listen more and talk less that’s when we can move forward.”
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Produced by Camille Santiago | Creative direction by Barry Viloria | Photography by Vyn Radovan | Shot by Tin Zabat | Edited by Lui Jimenez | Makeup Patrick lcober, Jinx Agabao, and Maws Diaz of Make Up For Ever | Sam Corbillon of Triple Luck Brow and Nail Salon | Shot on location at City Garden Grand Hotel | Special thanks to Margarette Domingo | Banner image by Lui Jimenez