Genuine Contentedness

9/19/17

Today was the first time in a long while that I felt truly happy, satisfied and grateful in my present reality.

I was walking the aisles of the Hillsdale Mall at 8:00pm with my mom by my side, when I suddenly felt totally at peace with the world and my place in it. Temporarily removed from the self-imposed pressure to perform and achieve, I enjoyed some mother-daughter bonding time at the shopping center in which I grew up. It’s true that sometimes the greatest happiness lies in the simple, seemingly insignificant moments. Like going window shopping on a Monday night with your most beloved person in the world.

Over the years, I seem to have contracted the idea that I will be happy once I deem myself a “successful” person. I now realize what a distortion this kind of thinking is. Really, true happiness stems from self love, which unfortunately, I don’t have much of at this point.

But I’m working on it. One day, I hope to develop an unshakeable sense of self worth, removed from my achievements and failures and others’ perception of me. I aim to ween myself from the need for external validation as a marker of my worth. I want to feel good about myself without needing others’ approval. This is my long-term goal, and when achieved, I will be empowered to the highest level of spiritual oneness.

As a start to reaching my goal, I request a somewhat strange favor from those whom I interact with in my daily life. I entreat you all to, as much as you can, refrain from offering me compliments or validation. The idea of this exercise is to condition me out of my need for external validation as a means of feeling good. Each time I receive a compliment, I cling onto it like a drowning man offered a life vest, or a starved beggar finally given food. As does Advil or Tylenol treat physical pain, so do compliments and external validation treat my low self-esteem. Each validation gives me a surge of self-esteem boost; but the positive feeling attached to extrinsically-based self-esteem boosters never lasts long.

If I can learn to truly value and love myself from within, without others’ validation giving the me the illusion of confidence, I will have conquered my biggest demon of all– my need for others’ approval.

 

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A New Mental Health Diagnosis

9/15/17

Hi guys! Happy Friday! Hope you all have something fun/relaxing planned for your Friday night. Whether it’s going out for drinks with friends, spending time with family or treating yourself to a pamper night of Netflix, facials and munchies, it is important to make time for yourself to recuperate after a hard week’s work.

This morning, I saw my psychiatrist for what was our last in-person appointment until I come back to the Bay Area in December. I told Olga of my recent extreme mood swings and my current “high” of intense motivation, increased goal-oriented behavior, heightened creativity and surge of ideas, restlessness, and inability to slow down my ever-active mind.

She expressed concern at such a mood pattern, and characterized such “highs” as manic episodes.

According to Psych Central, “a manic episode is a mood state characterized by period of at least one week where an elevated, expansive, or unusually irritable mood exists. A person experiencing a manic episode is usually engaged in significant goal-directed activity beyond their normal activities. People describe a manic mood as feeling very euphoric, “on top of the world,” and being able to do or accomplish anything. The feeling is like extreme optimism — but on steroids.”

While Olga does not believe I have full-on bipolar 1 disorder, she suspects that, should my pattern of highs and lows persist and become more extreme, my mental illness may fall into the category of bipolar 2 disorder– a lesser form of bipolar 1, characterized by hypomanic episodes, which are basically the “highs” I’m experiencing right now.

To stabilize my moods, Olga increased my current dosage of Lamictal, a mood stabilizer; lowered my Prozac intake (Prozac is an antidepressent, which serves to elevate moods– the opposite of what we want when treating mania); and placed me on another mood stabilizer/anti-psychotic drug, Abilify.

All these fancy medication names sound scary, but they’re really just resources to help me gain emotional stability and live more in the range of “normal”, rather than above or below the stable threshold.

Olga diagnosed me with manic depression– not quite as extreme as bipolar disorder, but along the same vein. She described it to me as the experience of lows, followed by intermittent “highs”, which can range from feeling absolutely euphoric, to simply not being bed-riddenly depressed.

The tricky thing about manic depression/bipolar disorder is, people may not necessarily want to stabilize their moods. Taking mood stabilizers and tranquilizers may lessen the magnitude of the emotional roller coaster and take away the dreadful lows, but it would also mean losing the highs. Living in the highs is exhilarating. I love the feeling of being unusually motivated, mind bursting with ideas, creative juices flowing. If life were a marathon, a high would be a sprint. Unfortunately, the sprinters tire quickest. The brightest burning candle diminishes the fastest. The manic depressive highs are never sustainable. No one can function at 1000% forever. Everything in life has a price. The higher you climb, the greater the chance of falling, and when you inevitably do fall, you will crash. And burn.

I know it is important to treat my manic depression to ensure my long-term well-being. Nonetheless, I just can’t accept becoming mentally healthy at the expense of my highs. My highs are the short periods of time in which I write my best pieces; get the most work done; learn brand new dance routines two weeks before a major competition, and winning the comp. During these times, I seem to be able to function with very little food and sleep. With this go-go-go mentality, all I think of are my goals and how I can accomplish them in the shortest amount of time. I become completely tunnel-visioned. I lose sight of life’s intrinsic meanings beyond achievement, which of course, is neither conducive to long-term happiness, nor a mindset worth adopting.

I need to make caring for my mental health a MUCH higher priority of mine, especially when school begins in a couple weeks. Last year, when caught in the circus act of balancing studying with dance and other extracurriculars, I neglected my mental health and suffered greatly as a result.  I cannot let myself become so tunnel-visioned in the pursuit of so many different goals at once, that going to therapy is shoved to the bottom of my never-ending to-do list. If I need to take fewer courses or cut back on extracurriculars to preserve my sanity, then do so I will. If I’m pushing myself to the point of mental collapse, I will not be able to perform to the best of my ability in my day-to-day. My grades will suffer. My relationships will suffer. My happiness will suffer. What’s the point of all this masochism, then? Where’s the quality of life?

In a way, I feel relieved at having received a medical diagnosis explaining all my crazy mood swings. I now know that my erratic moods and impulsive behaviors are attributed in large part to my mental illness, not just my own crazy, problem-child self. Having pathologized my illness, I feel a slight but significant vindication, of sorts– like I no longer have to bear the full weight of my unpredictable moods and roller-coaster behavior alone. The diagnosis tells me two things: 1) I have a mental illness that’s causing my depressive and manic episodes; 2) There is a cure for all of this.

This latter point is especially comforting, as I’m strongly reassured by the fact that others before me have gone through similar mental struggles, and have been successfully cured. If others can get better, then so can I.

 

 

 

The Truth Behind My “Highs”

Hi everyone.

Lately, I’ve been very out of touch with my inner self. I am riding the whirlwind of what I call my “high”– burying myself in non-stop work each day, leaving little to no time for recuperation and reflection. These “highs” often follow my periods of depression. When the crippling cloud of depression lifts, I jump back up, barely checking myself for bruises and scratches, and run towards the opposite extreme of pushing myself to the mental and physical breaking point in the pursuit of my goals. It’s almost like I’m playing a game of catch-up, after the depressive slumber set me back several steps.

This frenetic mentality of late is a big reason why I haven’t been writing much.

In the past, I’d view such “highs” as a manifestation of my recovery from depression. No longer mired in the depressive symptoms of lethargy, low motivation and feelings of intense sadness, I’d think that my depression had left for good.

What I now know is, even in my high periods, I am just as depressed as I am when trapped in the lows. I am still deeply insecure and void of self-love, and so I turn to the pursuit of external validation to substitute the sense of self-worth I lack. And a poor substitute it is, indeed, for no matter how much I achieve outwardly, I still feel inadequate and undeserving on the inside. No matter what I do, I am never enough for myself.

What I also notice about myself is my tendency to derive pleasure from pain. Ironic, isn’t it? It seems that, when I self-sabotage and live my daily life like a martyr– working 11-hour shifts; practicing dance all day to the brink of physical collapse; sleeping on the couch in my day clothes so as to “save time” the following morning– I feel most at peace with myself. Perhaps it’s largely an identity thing– in my 19 years, I’ve always been known as the “crazy hard-worker”, the one who practices with “intense focus and discipline”. I’ve gained much validation for this endearing quality of mine, and because of that, I feel the need to continually prove to myself and to others that I am indeed this person others make me out to be.

Perhaps I find intrinsic meaning in the act of suffering for my goals and ambitions. In competitive gymnastics, there was no such things as reaching the top without blood, sweat and tears. In the harsh Russian and Chinese schools of coaching, athletes are expected to do no less than push theirselves beyond their mental and physical limits in the pursuit of Olympic glory. In other words, if you weren’t training till your feet bled or tears of exhaustion flowed down your wan cheeks, your commitment level was called to question.

I’ve carried this “no pain no gain” mindset well beyond my days as a competitive gymnast. Even now, as a dancer, I’m very much of the mind of needing to push myself hard to succeed, no matter what the cost. I just can’t live with myself if I don’t try my best in all I do. It’s just not my philosophy. Even if I don’t end up with the gold medal or perfect test score, at least I’d know that I’d given my all in the process and had been able to walk away from the journey without an ounce of regret. I’d be grounded with the clean conscious of knowing I’d left no stone unturned.

Perhaps I can still try my very best without all this suffering, pain and misery. Life is too short to be miserable, isn’t it? Many people have achieved just as well, if not more so, through positivity and grace. In some ways, I CHOOSE this path of martyrdom for myself. Perhaps I find the act of self-inflicting pain to be heroic and honorable. But really, is there anything heroic or honorable about pushing yourself to the breaking point whilst forgoing your mental and physical well-being and wallowing in your dark cloud of negativity and self-pity? Why do I choose this route for myself?

I noticed a very similar pattern arise back in winter quarter, when I went completely crazy in the pursuit of perfect grades for medical school. In the beginning of the quarter, I had dabbled in some new “college experiences” that strayed very far from the strict Mormon ideals I’d been raised with. The result was a gnawing guilt that ate away at me, to the point where I hated everything about the person I had become. Because of this self-loathing, I turned to the pursuit of perfect grades as a means to “redeem” myself. I thought that, if I could perform to the best of my abilities in my academics, my soul would be cleansed of all the guilt and hate I felt towards myself.

The reality is, no amount of external validation will make you feel worthy of self-love. Self-love can only stem from within. To love yourself wholeheartedly is to steadfastly value yourself no matter what you achieve, what you don’t achieve, what others think of you, what others do to you, or what challenges life throws your way. It’s that solid pillar of confidence that I often refer to in previous blog pieces. It’s that unshakeable sense of self-worth that I so desperately aspire to attain.

How am I ever supposed to reach this zenith of spiritual oneness, though, if I continue to self-sabotage in the pursuit of external validation as a means to fill an internal void?

I find that, when I bury myself in my work, 24/7, I have an “excuse” of sorts to turn a blind eye on my soul. That’s when I fall into the trap of ignorance. I refuse to look within because I fear what I will see. I know I have a lot of messed up ideologies in my head that need fixing, but so deep a workaholic I am, that with each passing day, I lose the will to open my journal, write, reflect and confront my demons. Instead, I find myself desperately filling in spare moments of free time with scheduling, making plans, checking emails/text messages, doing anything I can to distract myself from the inner turmoil. This is a tell-tale sign of me slipping into the old, unhealthy habit of intensely and obsessively pursuing my goals, with the hope that, upon achieving, I will love myself more than I do in the present.

It’s largely a personality thing, too. Some people, no matter what, are almost always happy. They don’t take life all too seriously and never let their failures– or achievements– define them. One of my very close friends, whom I will call “R”, epitomizes this bright spirit. She is always smiling– not those plastic smiles masking an internal anguish, but those genuine, warm, relaxed smiles of light-heartedness and contentedness. She laughs off her blunders and social faux pas and is absolutely confident in herself. She doesn’t attend an Ivy League school, nor does she boast many FLASHY titles of sorts, but she radiates self-love. She has her ambitions, but does not let the pursuit of her goals dim her well-being. She has no problem with living the “ordinary” life, working a steady nine-to-five job, having all her basic needs met and being surrounded by close friends and family. Such a life, as I’m growing to learn, is not one to be spurned or ridiculed. In fact, I think the greatest insights and life meanings are often attained from the sideline view. There is something beautiful and courageous about being “ordinary”, and being happy with that. I think “R”, at only 19-years-old, has reached this level of  self-acceptance and gratitude for what she has and who she is. Whether she knows it or not, “R” is spiritually more advanced than most of us “overachievers”, who may achieve more on paper, but suffer from great insecurity and an insatiable need to be better– not for themselves, but for the approval of others. “R” is one of my greatest role models. If only I could live my life with the peace of mind she carries herself with… without that menacing voice demanding that I’m not enough, and never will be enough, no matter what I accomplish.

Ambition is a great quality to have. But misguided, extrinsically-motivated ambition, when taken to the extreme, is dangerous. It kills the spirit. It dims the light of life. It makes one withdraw into oneself and gives life to the monsters of self-pity and misery.

Another thing– I am more than just my ability to work hard towards my goals with focus and determination. Even if I didn’t have this quality, I’d still have other amazing facets of my identity– both the good and the badthat give me value and make me, me. In life, I won’t always been 100% on my A-game. Humans weren’t designed to be robots. We weren’t meant to work nonstop with unceasing motivation and energy. Willpower is a limited resource. Even self-discipline will take you only so far. While it takes self-discipline to focus on working towards your goals, it takes even more discipline to hold yourself back in the pursuit, when you feel your health being compromised in the process. If you don’t give yourself time to rest and recuperate from stress, you will face exhaustion. For some, like me, the symptoms of exhaustion look very much like those of depression. That is a big reason why, following my so-called “highs”, I immediately crash into a “low”.

The “highs” I experience, then- working myself to exhaustion at the expense of my sanity– do not stem from the positive motivators of inspiration and passion. They serve to remedy a felt deficiency and provide a temporary, outer bandage for an inner pain.

You know what they say- the higher you climb, the harder you crash. I must work harder than ever, now, to tackle my demons, before I crash so hard one day, that I’m no longer able to get up.

It all stems from self-love. If I loved myself just as I was, I wouldn’t feel the need to constantly prove my worth through my achievements. It will be a lifelong process indeed. A balancing act on the tightrope of stability. Not too high and not too low, but grounded in reality. I have much work to do with my therapist.

The Bitter Pill of Reality Beckons

So here’s the situation I’m currently faced with.

I am a rising sophomore at UCLA, planning on majoring in psychology whilst continuing to write on the side. I love Latin-American dancing and aspire to become a great dancer, even if only in the amateur circuit. I wish to finish my college education in New York City, home to the best opportunities for aspiring dancers and writers.

Right off the bat, the glaring problem is the money to pursue such endeavors. Up until this point in my life, money has never, ever been a source of concern. I grew up very comfortably in the Bay Area. I had great parents who willingly supported me and my brothers in all we pursued. So far removed we were from the concept of financial difficulty that, to me at last, my parents seemed to have unlimited resources. This, of course, is not true.

The reality presented itself once my two brothers and I headed off to college. What makes our situation unique is the fact that we are triplets. My poor parents have to support three kids in college at once– that’s triple the cost of supporting a single college-aged child. Secondly, my parents are older than most parents of kids our age. My dad is 60 years old and looking for retirement soon. I would never ask him to prolong his retirement just to continue to supporting my dancing, in addition to our college educations. That would be an act of selfishness.

As for dance, I started quite late, at age 17. While I no longer have aspirations to become a professional dancer, I still wish to become a great amateur dancer. I can’t settle for just recreational/social dancing, taking one lesson a week and never stepping foot on the competition floor. To do that would be directly going against my fiery competitive nature and passion for performance. I tend to see things in black and white– I either dance as a serious competitor, or I don’t dance at all. Same with anything else in life. If I do something, I do it to the best of my ability, or else might as well not waste time. This may be a distortion, but try as I might, I can’t seem to rid my mind of it.

Anyway, I know that to become a great dancer whom people will actually want to watch, I must spend LOADS of money on lessons and competitions. My only option, at this point, would be to compete in the pro/am circuit– that is, dancing with a professional teacher at competitions. Pro/am, unfortunately, costs a fortune, and was never designed to benefit the student as it does the professional. Pros charge around $2,000 to $3,000 per competition, just to dance. Add to that the cost of funding the teacher’s hotel, food and transportation. According to my calculations, a single year of dancing pro/am would amount to around $50,000 for 3 lessons/week, plus two or three competitions. Dancing pro/am costs more than a college education! Of course, there is always the cheaper option of finding an amateur partner and competing in the amateur circuit. That’s the eventual goal– I don’t wish to be stuck in pro/am forever. You think I’d be spending that much money out of personal choice? The reality is, it is incredibly difficult for someone like me to find an amateur partner, given my age and experience level. I started dancing only two-and-a-half years ago, whereas most dancers my age have been at it since childhood. At age 19, most serious competitors have already established themselves in the amateur circuit and are competing with long-term partners. Add to that the fact that Los Angeles is pretty barren in its pool of competitive amateur dancers. The greatest chance of me finding an amateur dance partner lies in New York City, the mecca of Latin-American dancing in the U.S. Unfortunately, New York is across the country.

Moving to New York for college and dance is obviously a financial monster. Cost of out-of-state tuition is more than double the cost of UCLA. Cost of living is just as, if not more, expensive than that of the Bay Area. Heck, I’d be even more broke if I moved to New York for greater opportunities as a dancer and aspiring writer. I wouldn’t even have money to take dance lessons! So that kind of defeats the purpose of my big move in the first place.

Of course, there is the option of staying at UCLA and finishing my degree there. Clearly this is the most logical path, and one my parents entreat me to stay on. Even so, my parents have made it clear that they no longer have a single penny to spend on dancing, so I’d have to completely self-fund my dancing. Which I wouldn’t have a problem doing, if only such an endeavor were humanly possible. I only know one couple my age and facing a similar crossroads between college and dance, that supports their own dancing. Even so, their circumstance is different, because they compete as amateurs, and thus are able to split the expenses of lessons and competitions and the like.

I like to believe that I’m a person who can achieve the impossible through sheer willpower and determination, but even I know the limits of reality. Again, if I stay in LA, pro/am is most likely the only option for me. How could I possibly make $50,000 a year for dancing, as a broke college student? Once school starts, I’ll barely have time for dance practice, let alone making money to pay for those dance lessons. The only way I could possibly pay for my own dancing in my current situation is: A) win the lottery; B) start a successful business; C) marry a rich guy who can pay for my dancing.

Here’s the problem. I am too ambitious. I am too greedy. I want to have everything, right now. I want to experience everything. I want to perform well academically at a reputable university. I want to earn a degree that will sustain me once I graduate. At the same time, I wish to continue along my path as a competitive dancer. I wish to live in a place that will afford me the greatest opportunities for both my dancing and my future career path, whatever that may be.

I have a problem coming to terms with the restrictions of reality. How can I afford to keep dancing competitively whilst pursuing college, without the financial help of my parents? Even if I were to move to New York City, where dance culture and dance opportunities permeate the polluted air, the problem of money is magnified. What’s the point of moving to New York if I can’t even afford to take dance lessons from the (very expensive) world-renown teachers there?

No. I can’t do both competitive dancing and college, at least not to the extent I wish. It is very much a one or the other path. I can always keep up my dancing skills while at UCLA– practice on my own at the gym, during my spare time– but if I expect to thrive in the competitive circuit with such sparse, intermittent training, then I’m absolutely deluding myself. I know better than anyone what devotion it takes to be great… at anything. If I wish to do well in college, dance will necessarily have to slow down. If I wish to be a competitive dancer, I’d have to lower my expectations for school– pursue an easy major, take fewer classes per quarter, delay my graduation.

Here’s a big dose of reality for you, Belicia: YOU CANNOT DO EVERYTHING. At least not all at once.

I can’t seem to get it through my very thick skull that, sometimes, it doesn’t matter how passionate or determined you are to achieve a goal. There is such a thing as IMPOSSIBILITY.

I am human. I cannot spread myself so thin between a million things. I cannot expect to be exceptional at both dance and school, taking into account the age I started dancing, financial constraints, logistical limitations, just to name a couple.

As Alexander Hamilton himself said, “Ambition is my folly.” I can very much relate to these words. Nothing I do ever seems to be enough for me. I go to school, and I want to double major, earn perfect grades and graduate in four years or less. I dance, and I want to become not necessarily the next world champion– which even I know is impossible at this point– but just a great dancer that people love watching. When I see dancers my age competing and performing, I feel a hunger to share the very floor with them. I’m tired of sitting on the sidelines, wondering when I’ll ever be good enough to compete amongst such talented couples.

I think most people in my situation would have just given up. That’s why so many dancers– dancers who are much, much better than I, and actually have a shot at going professional– quit competitive dancing once they commence college. They know how difficult it is to sustain both school and dance, and it isn’t a battle they are willing to fight.

A part of me wishes I could just renounce my desire to dance competitively– not only dance competitively, but dance well, mind you. Why can’t I just be satisfied with keeping dance as a hobby? I’d learn the skill and release stress and get exercise in the process. I’d focus on my education and resign dance to the “lowly” status of a hobby. I’d slow down my dance progress whilst in college, as I wouldn’t have the financial resources to take consistent lessons, let alone compete. Some degree of regret is inevitable, in making this decision. I have to ask myself, is it regret I can live with?

Of course, I could always compete in the future, after college, at a lower level, when I am more financially capable of funding my expensive hobby. I may eventually be able to find a competitive amateur partner! But because of my stupid perfectionism and ambition, I know I wouldn’t settle for dancing at a lower level than that at which I aspire to be. I think of all the amazing young dancers– Nino and Austin; Rickie and Tony; Natasha and Mitchell; Sasha and Tigir– and I long to be able to dance half as well as them one day. The hardest part is when I know I have the potential to do so, given my background as a gymnast and natural, intuitive ability to quickly internalize bodily movement. But I also know what the pursuit of becoming a dancer of that caliber would cost. I’d essentially have to devote my life to the art. Do I want to do that? I’ve already established that I don’t wish to become a professional dancer, having seen and experienced firsthand all the ugliness of the dance world. But even to get my dancing up to the level of the aforementioned dancers takes years and years and years of serious training, not to mention thousands, if not millions, of dollars. Is it a battle I wish to fight? Especially when I have a great thing going at UCLA. Why give that up?

No. Quitting college is not an option, and I now see how ludicrous I was to have even entertained the idea in the first place. Stay in school. Always.

I must learn how to compromise. I must learn the concept of delayed gratification. Can’t I just be a little more patient? Slow down on dance for the next few years, whilst experiencing college to its fullest. Then, once I graduate, revisit the world of competitive dancing, should I choose to.

My problem is this. I want everything, right now. Reality says otherwise.

I’ve always believed I could do the impossible. But the truth is, no one– no matter how gifted, hard-working or determined– can do the impossible, without significant sacrifice. As a former competitive athlete, I should know that the pursuit of greatness is one of the most costly endeavors there is. Sacrifices are inevitable. I had no social life from childhood to high school. No time for anything but gymnastics. No going out with friends, attending birthday parties, joining school clubs, etc. These were the sacrifices–  albeit not very significant sacrifices, but sacrifices nonetheless– I made for my sport. But I was a child, then. Now, as I transition to adulthood, I have a million more responsibilities to juggle. I must start thinking about my long-term future, career and well-being. No longer do I have the luxury of spending 8-hour days at the gym, living and breathing gymnastics. Who’s gonna pay for my dancing now? How will I find time to dance competitively as a full-time student? And the responsibilities will only keep piling on as I grow older.

Life is so hard sometimes. I wish I could just be a child again… Like the children I babysit at the childcare center, whose only worries are poopie diapers and broken crayons.

 

 

Identity Analysis

9/8/17

Today was a busy day. I woke up at 8:00am, went to therapy at 9:30am-10:30am, then headed to San José for dance. After dance, it was back to San Carlos for work at the childcare center from 3:00pm-8:00pm. Now it is 8:26pm. I’m sitting at my usual nook in the Nob Hill Foods café, awaiting a student, whom I will be tutoring in writing from 8:45pm-10:45pm.

While I am indeed exhausted from today’s hectic schedule, there’s a big part of me that enjoys riding this “high” and feeling “wired”. It’s in these periods of intense motivation and productivity that I feel my best. As I discussed with my therapist today, though, my need to be constantly busy in order to feel good may in fact be masking a deeper psychological distortion that must be fixed.

There’s a lot I have yet to investigate about my current mindset that’s led me to this maladaptive need to work at 1000% to not feel depressed.

Part of it is an identity thing. My whole life, people have perceived me as a hard-worker, and for that endearing quality, I’ve received much validation– respect, admiration and praise from my parents, mentors and peers. Thus stemmed the idea that my worth was defined solely by my ability to work hard for my goals with focus and determination.

When I’m not working hard or pushing myself to my limit, then, not only do I feel guilt for not trying my hardest, I lose my sense of self, because such a large part of my identity is pinned on that one trait. “Belicia the Hard Worker” is the mask I wear most and feel most comfortable in. But, because I am human, I was never meant to go at 100 mph, nonstop. If I did that, I’d inevitably run out of fuel and burn out.

My therapist suspects that the depression I experience is largely exhaustion talking. During my highs, I work and work and work, but the higher I climb on my quest to reach my unattainable goals, the harder the impact of the crash, when I do inevitably fall.

Getting out of the depression is tough. Beyond the fact that depression, by definition alone, cripples one to despondency, my whole identity of “Belicia the Hard Worker” is called into question when I go through such episodes. When my depression hits, the very act of getting out of bed is tough enough, let alone working at maximum productivity. I ask myself, “If I’m not ‘Belicia the Hard Worker’, then who am I?” This is a tell-tale case of history rhyming and long-standing thought patterns manifesting themselves in different ways. It’s the same as what ensued when a knee injury took me out of gymnastics, five years ago. From age five to 15, I was a gymnast. My identity was ingrained in that sport. When I had to quit, I was spiraled into an all-consuming identity crisis. “Who was I, without gymnastics?” It took years for me to develop other areas of my identity beyond gymnastics, but eventually, I succeeded in finding newfound value in myself beyond “Belicia the Gymnast”. My “Belicia the Hard Worker” mask is analogous to “Belicia the Gymnast”. I have put so much into that very identity, that when something, like depression striking, happens to call compromise my ability to work hard, my identity is called into question, and I’m thrown into a full-on existential crisis. This, in conjunction with the nature of depression, is why my lows are so low, and why it is so difficult for me to climb out of them. It’s important for me, then, to hone into other qualities of myself, beyond that of being a hard worker, and find value in those traits. And it’s not enough to just have other people tell me I’m this or that. I must truly believe it myself.

Eventually, when the cloud of depression lifts and I do pick myself back up, it’s back to the toxic pursuit of perfection once more. Such a behavioral pattern partly explains why my highs and lows follow a periodic trend.

Let’s get to the root of the problem. The perfectionism. It is the pursuit of perfection that drives my obsession with achieving, which, as we confirmed earlier, always leads to a hard crash. What is it about striving to be exceptional that fulfills me? Why am I so obsessed with the act of achieving, to the detriment of my physical and mental well-being? Here’s the theory my therapist and I have agreed upon. Behind the face of a confident, charismatic, vivacious young woman, I am, at the core, a deeply insecure person. I never feel like I measure up to what I wish to become. Striving for success has become an impossible game to win, if my definition of success is but a moving target. Yes, I’ll admit it– as much as I preach that success is NOT defined by external validation and stems instead from intrinsic meaning, I have a much easier time saying such words than putting them into practice. I see others around me and can’t help comparing my achievements to theirs. Of course, in life, there will ALWAYS be someone smarter, prettier, more gifted, etc. Should you discount your own qualities, though, simply because that girl is prettier, your brother performed a smidgen better than you on that exam, or a fellow dancer won that competition, while you took home a not-too-shabby second place? Of course not. THAT is where the distortion lies. Consciously or not, I still struggle with comparison, which feeds into my insecurity. It is because I am so void of self appreciation and love that I turn to external validation to feel worthy. I eat up praise from others like a starved beggar just given food. I strive for perfect grades because the radiant report card is but a life vest for a drowning individual.

With time, I hope I will learn to develop a sense of self beyond what I achieve or how hard I work in the process of achieving. There is more to life than climbing the ladder of success. What entails a successful life, anyway? What if you were, loosely coined, the “best” in your field, but were also deeply unhappy and insecure? On the flip side, what if you lived– again loosely termed– an “ordinary” life, but found meaning in the simple joys of life and were intrinsically happy? There is career success and personal success. Life is a balancing act between the two. Right now, I seem to be putting all my eggs in the career success basket, at the expense of my personal well-being. Maybe because I don’t value myself enough to care about my happiness. Though, that can’t be completely true, for why do I bother striving for success, anyway, if I don’t see it as a path towards eventual happiness? Man, I have a lot of distortions and thought patterns to untangle. Fixing one’s mental health is no easy task.

Enough of my ramblings. I clearly have much to think about in the meantime. Writing has always helped me organize my thoughts and get back in touch with my rawest, truest self. Thank you, my readers, for putting up with me as I continue to extricate my distortions from Truth, and learn to foster love for myself beyond my achievements.

Throwback to the Story of Creepy Clark

Hey guys! Today’s post is gonna be a little different than usual. I was flipping through past diary entries, when I fumbled upon this hilarious gem I’d written back in 2013, at 15 years old. Oh, how young and innocent I was back then… Enjoy!


Dear Diary,

O.M.G. Today something super weird happened- like on the weirdness scale from 1-10, it was probably a 100 (at least for a socially deprived teenage girl like me). So when I was at the gym, I think a college dude was hitting on me. Like actual flirting. WITH ME. And considering that I’m only 15 years old and he’s probably like 20, I have a right to feel weirded out, okay? So anyway, this is what happened.

It was around 9:30 p.m. I was at the gym, just doing my stretches in the stretching area, minding my own business, right? Suddenly, this guy who looked about 20 years old sits down right next to me and starts doing his own stretches. And let me just tell you- this guy was SMOKING HOT. I mean, I wouldn’t date him or anything (and trust me, after what happened I most definitely would never date him), but I’m just putting it out there- he was a total babe. So anyway, I tried to act all nonchalant like I didn’t care about him being  just a few feet away from me. But as I continued my stretching routine, I could FEEL his eyes bearing holes through my skin- through my peripheral vision I literally saw his eyes scanning my body. I suddenly felt protective and defensive and jittery and a bit angry. I mean, I’m used to people staring at me while I showcase my “insane” gymnastics flexibility, but seriously, if you are going to stare at me, at least do it less  conspicuously, kay? And I wasn’t even sure if he was looking at me because of my gymnastics moves. What if he was, like, looking at me? Like, you know, in the creepy way? There’s really not much to look at, but still. What if this guy was a pedophile or something? I was kind of freaking out inside.

So eventually I decided to look back at this guy. Trust me, I was not checking him out or anything- I just wanted to see what the heck he was looking at. So we made eye contact for a split second, and then I felt myself blush. I have absolutely no idea why I blushed. Like seriously, what is wrong with me? I didn’t even like the guy- on the contrary, I HATED him. Okay, well I didn’t HATE him (I don’t hate on people) but I really didn’t appreciate his constant gawking- it creeped me out. Anyway, once we made eye contact I quickly averted my gaze. The guy probably noticed my flushed cheeks, so I guess he took that as a cue to start talking to me.

Him: “Whoa, you are so flexible. That is so cool. Are you a dancer?”

Omg why are you talking to me? Stop talking to me!

Me: (forcing out a laugh that came out like a giggle) “Haha, thanks. And no. I’m a rhythmic gymnast.”

Seriously Belicia? A giggle?

Him: “Wow that’s so awesome. How long have you been doing it?”

Me: “Ten years. I got injured last year so now I’m in rehab.”

Him: (eyes flickering to my knee brace) “Aw that’s too bad. What happened to your knee?”

Why do you care?

Me: “Patellar tendonitis.”

Him: “Ouch, sounds painful. I have knee problems as well, from wrestling.”

Me: (not really knowing what to say) “Oh, I’m sorry.”

What else should I say? I want the convo to end but now seems like a weird place to end it.

*awkward silence*

Me: (blurting out the first thing that comes to mind) “So what high school do you go to?”

Him: (looking uncomfortable) “Actually, I’m out of high school. I graduated two years ago. Now I’m a sophomore at Belmont Community College.”

G-R-O-S-S!!! So he’s a college kid hitting on an innocent high schooler? What a creep.

Me: “Oh, that’s cool. I’m a sophomore in high school.”

Uh, cool? More like sickening….

Him: “Really? You don’t look like a sophomore. You look more like a senior.”

Um…. Thanks, I guess???

Me: (stupidly forcing out a laugh that sounded like a giggle) “Haha, seriously?”

Okay, the giggling will just lead him on. Stop giggling for crying out loud!!! Why can’t I stop giggling?

Him: “Yeah, really! So… (looking down) you have a boyfriend?”

OMFG could you be any more obvious??? Just leave me alone!!!

Me: “Um. No, I don’t actually. I really don’t have much of a social life because gymnastics was so time consuming.”

Belicia, you should have lied!!! Now’s he knows you’re available.

Him: “But you said you’re in rehab now.. So you have more time, right?”

Oh… I kinda walked into that one.

Me: (desperately wanting to end the convo) “Well, yeah I guess. But schoolwork is also very demanding, with AP classes and stuff, and I’m taking this super hard Chinese class with a crazy teacher and I volunteer at the hospital after school, so yeah my schedule’s pretty tight now.

There. Suck on that you creep.

Him: (unrelenting) “Oh… well can I at least have your number?”

Are you serious? Can’t you get a clue? Did your mom drop you on the head as a baby? Why can’t you see that I am NOT INTERESTED and I’m just too nice to say so??

Me: (frantically making up an excuse) “I actually don’t have a phone.” *giggle* “Crazy, huh?”

Belicia, your giggling is your tragic flaw.

Him: “Then how will we… you know, keep in touch?”

EWWWWWW WHYYYYY????

Me: (thinking, is this guy for real?) “Well you can email me if you want.”

Belicia you are just as stupid as he is!! Why the heck would you suggest email if you don’t even want to talk to him????

Him: “Sure that’ll be great!!”

*we exchange emails, except instead of giving him a fake email I accidentally give him my real one*

Him: (seeing my phone wallpaper) “That’s a really nice picture of you.”

Um. What?

Me: (smiling for some reason even though I want to puke) “Haha, thanks!!”
Him: “So when do you have to go?”

Me: (glancing at clock, seeing that I still have twenty minutes) “I actually have to leave right now.”

Yeah girl, way to tell a lie. Work it!!!

Him: “Aw really?? I’ll walk out with you.”

DUDE JUST GO SUCK YOURSELF OR SOMETHING I DON’T WANT YOU.

Me: “Okay.”

Belicia, if you don’t want him to walk with you, just tell him you don’t want him to walk with you. It’s not really that hard….

Him: (holding the door open for me) “Oh, I forgot to ask. What’s your name?”

Me: (racking my brains for a fake name but failing) “Belicia. What’s yours?”

Him: “Clark.”

So that’s pretty much the run-down of what happened tonight. I mean, can you believe the nerve of that guy? Corrupting innocent little girls? As you may have already guessed, the italicized words represent my thoughts (in retrospect) on the entire conversation. I just feel so stupid right now!! Why couldn’t I simply tell Clark the Creep that I wasn’t interested AT ALL in going out with him or even being friends with him? I have a mouth, so why can’t I use it? I think that incident illustrates a few things about my personality. 1) I can’t stand up for myself, especially not around members of the opposite gender.  2) When I’m nervous or losing control my body clearly doesn’t listen to my brain. Hence, the unintentional giggling and fake smiling. 3) I don’t have much experience with rejecting guys. 4) I suck at impromptu lying.

When I got home a couple hours ago, I checked my email. And low and behold, I see a new message from Creepy Clark!! I open the email, and it says:

 

Hey Belicia! This is Clark from PAC. Email me back!

 

-Clark
I DON’T email him back. In fact, I deleted the message, blocked him from my contacts, and then as an extra precaution, I deleted my entire email account (don’t worry, I have two email accounts so it’s all good). So now he won’t be able to contact me!! Unless I see him at the gym again…

UGH this sucks! Now I have to constantly be on my guard when I’m at the gym so he doesn’t see me. If he does see me, he’ll probably confront me about the whole email situation and it’ll be WAY too awkward. This really makes me mad because I love going to the gym… It’s kind of my sanctuary and catharsis and place where I feel at home. And now because of Creepy Clark, I don’t even want to go to the gym anymore!! Well of course I want to go to the gym, but not if he’s there… And he told me he goes to the gym quite frequently. URGHH.

So now, as I am writing this entry, I feel a mixture of emotions. I’m angry at him for creeping me out and distracting me from my work out and now ruining my chances of ever enjoying the gym again. I’m angry at myself for not being able to say no when I wanted to! I’m slightly traumatized because the fact that a older guy would want to do something with me scares me and freaks me out. I feel like I’ve lost a bit of innocence today, even though I technically didn’t do anything with him, besides shaking his hand when we parted separate ways. I really want to talk to my mom about what happened but for some reason I can’t get the words out. Maybe I’m trying to forget about the incident and pretend like it never happened. Only whenever I think about the guy, I feel pangs of guilt and dread… I feel like a girl who has just been raped, only to a drastically lesser extent. I don’t know why I feel this way. All I know is that time will help me forget this awful incident, and for now, I should just try and forget.

 

Embassy Ball 2017

Last weekend, I had the pleasure of competing at Embassy Ball, an international ballroom dance competition featuring some of the best dancers in the world. Set in Irvine, this competition is one of the most prestigious of the year. In fact, Embassy was the first ballroom dance competition I ever competed in, two years ago, so one could understand why this competition means so much to me.

The last time I competed was a year-and-a-half ago, at SF Open 2016. I left for college thereafter and took a break from competitive dancing, as the transition to UCLA’s academic rigor and college life in general demanded most of my time and energy.

I had the time of my life being back on the floor! I missed everything about competing and performing– waiting anxiously in the on-deck area, butterflies in my stomach and muscles shaking, taking deep breaths, sipping water, keeping my body warm and running the choreography through my head; feeling the adrenaline rush when stepping onto the floor into the glaring white lights of the ballroom; basking in the high of performing for the masses and enjoying myself and my dancing. On the dance floor, I feel completely in my element.

It’s interesting– a lot of performers can be quite shy and reticent offstage, in daily life. I know I was–and still can be– quite introverted at times. In the spotlight of the stage, though, performers completely transform, breaking free from their shells and finding a home amidst the cheers of the crowd and passionate energy felt by everyone in the room. There is something about performing that is absolutely magical, and despite the nerves, pressure and vulnerability that comes with life on the stage, I simply can’t imagine living a life secluded in the safety of the sidelines.

My partner/teacher, Giulio, and I competed Sunday at around 1:00pm. We danced our cha cha, samba and rumba single dances, in the Open Gold and Open Advanced categories. So, six dances in total. By the way, the competition makes a fortune out of single dances alone– they charge about $40 per dance– so I ended up paying $240 just to dance, plus a $50 late fee for registration. Expenses aside, I truly enjoyed being on the floor again.

The first round was a good warmup. I hadn’t competed in a while, so it took a bit of time to re-familiarize myself with the competitive environment. Thankfully, my partner Giulio and I had no major mishaps. I didn’t forget my choreography, like I had done in SF Open 2016– I still get nightmares from my train wreck of a jive, during which my mind blanked, resulting in a total meltdown on the floor.

The second round was a lot better. Right before we went on, my stomach started cramping up, for whatever strange reason. So distracted I was by the pain that I forgot to be nervous! More relaxed on the floor, then, I danced a lot more fluidly and enjoyed every second of performing.

The competition was over much too soon. During my final bow to the audience, I tried to take a mental snapshot of everything around me– the bright lights, the warm smiles of the spectators, the scrutinizing eyes of the judges, the booming music. I loved it all.

Before competitions, especially high-stakes ones, I usually psych myself out by mulling over all the “what-ifs” and “what-could-go-wrongs”. In gymnastics, especially, when I had titles to defend and expectations to meet, I felt the pressure immensely. I’ve always been a nervous competitor. In my youth, there were times when I couldn’t eat or sleep in the days leading up to competition day. In retrospect, that may have been my anxiety talking, as none of my teammates ever seemed to go through as much stress as I did.

I’m proud of myself, however, for being able to relax during this competition and focus solely on the joy of performing. Even the night before the competition, I wasn’t nervous at all, which was a sure sign of growth! I was simply excited to get back out on the dance floor, doing what I love– performing.

That night was the Open Professional Latin event, featuring reigning world-champions Riccardo and Yulia and legendary Blackpool finalists Ina and Troels, among many other beautiful couples. This was my first time seeing Yulia dance live. On video, she’s amazing. In person, though, she’s unreal. Each time she and Riccardo passed by our table in the audience, my eyes literally welled up with tears of joy and excitement. Her body is PERFECT– long legs, chiseled muscle tone, incredible foot arch and turnout. There’s no one else like her.

Before the event began, I spotted Donnie Burns, the KING of the ballroom dance world. He’s like, the President of the United States in the ballroom dance world. Anyway, he walked down from the judges’ table and stood near where I was seated, getting ready to judge the professional Latin event. Usually, I have no problem approaching people and asking for pictures. With him, though, I was awestruck to the point of paralysis. I didn’t have the courage to ask him for a picture, until I saw a lady go up to him and do the same. Only then did I get up from my seat and trudge my way over to him, in a trance. Shyly, I asked Donnie if I could take a picture with him. His demeanor was serious; he seemed to be getting “in the zone” before judging. However, he kindly replied, in his British accent, “Yes, of course.” And we took a selfie! Afterwards, I told him that I remembered him as one of the judges judging my dancing earlier that day. His reply blew me away. He said, “Yes, I remember– you were the girl in the red dress.” Like, how the heck did he remember me?!?! I then told him, “You’re amazing”, to which he replied, “So are you”!

I still cannot believe Donnie called me “amazing”. Granted, that word was probably rolled off the tongue to match the moment, void of any true substance. Still, it felt nice to have a ballroom legend dispense positive feedback on my dancing. It gave me motivation to one day live up to his words.

All-in-all, I am very pleased with my performance at Embassy this year. It was never about the results. It was about rediscovering my love of dance after a long plateau period, during which I almost gave up dancing completely. It was about reuniting with my inner performer, which had lain dormant for what felt like an eternity. I liken my relationship to dance to that of a camper and his bonfire. When he first sets the kindling ablaze, the flame burns slowly at first, then grows brighter. As time goes on, the flame starts to die. Each time the camper feeds the fire, the flame grows bright once more. Sometimes, he may neglect his little bonfire until it is but a mere spark, threatening to extinguish at the breath of the slightest breeze. It is in those moments where the camper must find something– anything– to reignite the fire. In dance, I will have ups and downs– periods of brightly-burning passion and fire and moments of downtrodden darkness. In the lowest points, I need to find inspiration to continue dance, be it through switching teachers, going to a competition or finding a new song to dance to. I have to ask myself, “What is it about dancing that I love?” For one, I definitely enjoy performing and sharing the joy I feel when dancing with others. Watching the professionals dance last Sunday night showed me that the potential for growth in Latin-American dance is limitless. I want to see how far I can go in the pursuit of mastery of this beautiful art.

Next week is the USDC national championships. Boy, do I wish I could compete there. The comp is in Florida, though, and I’ve already spent a good fortune on Embassy, so I’ll be working long hours at the childcare center to pay back my parents. I’m still coming down from the high of Embassy– usually, it takes me a couple days to float back down from cloud 9, following a successful performance. I don’t know when my next competition will be, as I’m headed back to UCLA at the end of this month. There’s the Autumn Dance Classic in mid-October, in San Francisco. I could easily fly back home from school for a weekend to compete, barring the possibility of coinciding midterms or paper deadlines. There’s Hollywood Dancesport Championships, which is situated quite close to UCLA. Everything’s up in the air right now. One thing I know for certain, though, is that I will continue dancing my way through college, difficult as it may be to balance with academics. Of course, it can be done. Call me an optimist or a naive dreamer, but I truly believe that anything in life is possible, if one has the will and drive to do it. Of course, reality beckons at times, with limited financial resources and monumental sacrifices that must be made in the pursuit of your lofty goals. But, if you do anything in your power to surpass such odds and pour your heart and soul into the pursuit of your passion, therein is where the victory and meaning lies. It is the sole act of trying your hardest and growing in the process that matters most. Even if you don’t reach your anticipated destination at the end of the day, you have still achieved success, for you can go to bed with a clear conscience, without a doubt that you’ve left no stone unturned.