Dr. Recinos’s book recounts her journey living on the streets of LA. It's an emotional story and it is made even more amazing by her ability to turn her experience around once she found out she was pregnant with her first child at 18. With determination and perseverance, Sheryl was able to move from the streets, graduate from college, and eventually medical school all leading up to where she is now an M.D. who is known by co-workers as the doctor who never gives up on her patients. "The interactions I have with patients are so much more profound because I understand where they come from. There's a deeper level of connection with patients when you can see the world the way they see it," she explains.
What do you feel were some contributing factors to becoming homeless when you were growing up?
My childhood was incredibly dysfunctional, and unfortunately there were no adults that recognized how poorly I was handling my home life. I was threatened with going to detention for simply walking home from school. When I started to run away, no one intervened. I was threatened with being placed in foster care, but then I ended up in a group home anyway. I was a traumatized child and I had no one to turn to, so when my dad told me that he didn’t care if I stayed or not, I left. I didn’t care what happened to me for a long time, but looking back, in hindsight, I suspect that I cared more than I wanted to admit. I wanted someone to intervene, but it never happened.
What are some of the biggest misconceptions people have about homeless children?
Most people who I’ve spoken with regarding homeless children and youth assume that they are on the streets because they did something wrong. However, the reality is that most kids who choose to live on the streets leave home because it’s safer on the streets than at home. Forty percent of youth who are homeless are pushed out of their homes or run away because they identify as LGBTQ and their families don’t accept them. Still others end up on the streets when they turn 18 years old, after they “age out” from foster care, meaning that they turn 18 and have nowhere to go. Some of them opt for unstable housing or stay with a relative, but up to half of former foster care youth become homeless within 18 months of becoming adults.
What tips or advice can you share with young people who may be struggling or going through a hard time?
Find someone who hears you and sees you. You have every right to be listened to and provided with safety. You don’t have to struggle alone. Find a trusting adult, sibling, or close friend who will listen to your concerns and can offer advice, if you want that. You don’t have to suffer in silence. Find something that makes you happy; art, reading, writing, a favorite class, exercise, music. Basically, anything that makes you feel like you can relax. Make an effort to include that in your life at least a few times a week, or even every day if possible. For me, I enjoy relaxing with a cup of coffee and playing puzzle games on my phone or drawing sketches. Whenever I’m stressed, I start there, and then I reach out to others if I need guidance.
In school or work, you can identify a mentor who can support you as you learn and grow in your training or career. It’s important to pick someone who has at least a few things in common with you, so that they can relate with you.
Lastly, know that the struggles that you experience as a teen will mostly fade away as you get older, and the situation that you’re in right now does not define who you are or who you will be. Each day is a new day, so you get to choose how you spend it.
In your opinion what was the turning point in your journey?
For me, I was stuck on survival mode for a very long time, including many years after the journey that I’ve shared in my book. The turning point for me was when my eldest daughter Roxana was born. She gave me a purpose in life. For her, I would do anything. I was willing to risk everything, even when times were hard. My love for her was instant and all-encompassing. I wanted to work hard to protect her and make sure that she grew up with all the love that I needed.
She’s 20 years old now and in college majoring in art, and doing quite well. I’m so grateful for her and my other kids. (Also, she designed my book cover.)
When and why did you decide to become a MD?
When I first held Roxana in my arms, I remember telling my friend Michelle that I wanted to become a physician. We had a long conversation about how magical it felt to be in the hospital and be able to help people. I hadn’t had a lot of good experiences with physicians or hospitals up until that point, but Roxana’s first pediatrician set an incredible example for me of what a compassionate physician looks like. During check-ups, he explained to me the process of applying for medical school and residency.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to focus on my dreams right away, because going to college was hard as a young mother. When I graduated from UCLA several years later, I was hired as a science teacher in Los Angeles instead. I continued working as a teacher for eight years, but the dream never went away.
In my last three years of teaching, I went back to school at night and took my pre-med classes. I started volunteering at two hospitals, and when I had my very first shift as a volunteer, I knew that I had to do whatever it takes to get into medical school. The hospital felt like home.
Why did you decide to write Hindsight?
Over the years, many close friends and peers have asked me to share my story. I started writing it over ten years ago, and every time I pulled up my Hindsight file on my laptop, I felt stuck. I wasn’t sure how to best share this story.
But then, after my brother’s death last year, I realized that I needed to tell this story or else it would die with me if anything ever happens to me. My mother’s death a few months later pushed me into action; their losses placed a weight on my shoulders to write this story. I went to a writing conference for physicians and enrolled in creative writing classes at UCLA Extension that bolstered my confidence and gave me a clear path to tell this story. I am so grateful for the people along the way that guided me and gave me the courage to tell this story. I want the world to see value in people who went through circumstances like me; people that are often overlooked and judged. Not enough successful people talk about the struggles that led them to where they are today, and people who are still struggling can benefit from their encouragement. I wanted to tell this story so that I could give hope to people, especially young people who are struggling in difficult situations, including homelessness.
What would you like to have readers take away from reading the book?
True empathy comes from hearing and learning other people’s stories. I want people to read this story and realize that even though I went through a series of horrific events, I was still a regular person with hopes and dreams. I was a young child worthy of love and safety.
I want for readers to realize that their impact on people around them can be remarkable, even when they do the most minimal of things. In the story, I tell of moments when people bent the rules or showed me kindness at some of the lowest moments of my life, and that gave me strength to keep going. Also, I want for readers to see how many adults in authoritative positions had an opportunity to reach out and help me, but missed that chance. I want to raise awareness for the magnitude of this problem; there is an estimated 1.68 million homeless youth per year in the United States. I want to advocate for these youth and help find better solutions that provide access to education, medical care, job training, and housing. It’s time for us to do better for these youth. Together, we can.
Dr. Recino's book, Hindsight: Coming of Age in the Streets of Hollywood, is a story of tribulation, challenges, desperation, but ultimately – hope and the triumph or the human spirit. It illustrates how with determination and perseverance, even the most difficult of situations can be overcome.
Buy the book online at: www.sherylrecinosmd.com