Life Update: College, Anxiety, Reflection

Hey guys! It’s 9:53 p.m. as I sit inside Powell library and pour out this piece. Really, I should be studying… but there’s been so much going on in my mind, I feel that if I didn’t let it out, I’d go crazy. I’ve really missed blogging and sharing what’s been going on in this exciting part of my life- college! We are currently in the midst of midterm season here at UCLA, so I spend about 90% of my time cracking the books. I like to believe it’ll all be worth it in the end… getting into med school and becoming a doctor, that is. There are days when I question whether the long road of medicine is for me. And it’s okay to question it- I’m not supposed to know what I want to do for the rest of my life at 18, dammit!

SO much has happened since I started college almost five weeks ago. So much. This post is gonna go pretty deep, so hold your breath, my dear friends, as I take you along on my journey.

**disclaimer: I apologize if this post is super disorganized… It parallels the war going on in my mind at the moment… lots of questioning and self-reflection. Bear with me.


It’s back, guys. My social anxiety. Not that it has ever fully disappeared… I will always have this anxiety, and it’s my job to keep challenging myself and putting myself out there so I don’t let the anxiety dominate my life. But I’ll be frank- ever since I started school at UCLA, my social anxiety has been in high gear. The first three weeks had the greatest amount of social interaction- meeting new people left and right, checking out new clubs, getting to know professors, and of course, those ice-breakers I so vehemently dread. My first night at UCLA, I locked myself in a bathroom stall and nearly burst into tears from sheer exhaustion after a day’s worth of socializing. For a person with social anxiety and an intrinsically introverted temperament, too much social interaction and external stimuli can be draining. Now, don’t get me wrong- the people I’ve met have been nothing but friendly and warm, and I feel so blessed to be surrounded by individuals of such intellect, depth, character, charm, and kindness. Sometimes, though, I need alone time. I feel most at peace when I’m in my room, either reading, writing, or studying. My second place of sanctuary is dance, which, unfortunately, I haven’t been doing much of lately. But we’ll get to that at a later point. So, back to the social anxiety. It’s really weird… when people first meet me, they always say I come off as super confident and bubbly. So when I regressed back to the shyness and insecurity that dominated my life for so long, I felt confused. I thought I had moved past my social anxiety. I thought I had gained confidence in the public eye. I thought I had broken out of my shell for good. I never thought I’d go back to the fearful heart-pounding before introducing myself to a small group… the butterflies in my stomach before walking into a crowded roomful of people… More than confusion, I felt disappointment. The fight against social anxiety is difficult and never-ending. It entails putting yourself in fearful and vulnerable situations where you inevitably feel scrutinized and judged. Since junior year of high school, I’ve worked my way up from raising my hand more in class to having conversations with strangers and even speaking in public. You guys who follow my blog closely know of all the endeavors I undertook to fight this social anxiety… the public speaking class at community college; performing and competing in Latin dance; joining Toastmasters International; taking acting lessons. It’s been a fight indeed. And my social confidence has improved greatly as a result of the hard work I’ve put in. But now, during week five of my fall quarter here at UCLA, I feel myself slipping. I haven’t been pushing myself out of my comfort zone as much as I need to. These past few weeks, I’ve spent most of my time studying in my dorm room or in the library, away from people. When I’m not studying, I’m working out at Bruin Fitness Center, practicing dance, or writing pieces for the Daily Bruin (the university newspaper). So, really not that much socializing.

It’s strange. Coming into college, I told myself that I’d continue to challenge myself by taking on leadership positions or doing more public speaking and debate. Thus far, I’ve done none of that. As I said before, I literally spend 90% of my time studying. It’s the transition to college- getting used to the fast-paced ten-week quarter system, developing effective study habits, etc. Hopefully, by the end of my time here at UCLA, I’ll have developed better time-management skills so that I can balance both academics and extracurriculars.

So, going back to the social anxiety. I think the big reason why I’ve been feeling more anxious in social situations as of late is simply because I haven’t been challenging my social anxiety enough. This is partly because as a college student, I have to do a lot more studying than I did in high school to succeed academically. But this is only part of the big picture. Here’s the realization I’ve come to. I’m regressing back to the tunnel-visioned mindset I embodied as a gymnast. The one that told me to go full-force towards my goal with laser focus and zero balance. Putting all my eggs in one basket. Forgoing relationships, mental and physical health, all for the sake of achieving. I was a gymnast, and from age five, I’ve been taught to go all-out in everything I pursue. Put my best foot forward. Settle for nothing less than perfection. Live a disciplined life. The more “suffering” I put myself through, the closer I am to achieving my goals. I’m obsessed with achieving. Like it or not, I am a gunner. I hold the strongest conviction that I can do anything I set my mind to. But wait. Is that what life is all about? Achieving? Isn’t this the very illusion I’ve been trying to free myself from since my gymnastics days? But now, when placed in an environment where those around you are just as smart, passionate, and determined as you are, it is difficult not to fall into a mindset of tunnel-vision. And that’s what I’ve been doing. Sleeping at 1:00 a.m., waking up at 5:00 a.m., just to get some more studying in. I scored a 100% on my first chemistry quiz and a 100% on my first paper for the class on human aging I’m taking. I feel proud and satisfied because I know I worked hard for those scores. But then again, college is not just about getting stellar grades. It’s about developing intellectually and growing in all facets of life and making lifelong connections. I must keep reminding myself that grades aren’t everything. Grades are not a measure of self-worth. You are more than a letter or number. I know this. Now I have to actually believe it. Of course it feels wonderful to score well on an exam or paper or project- you feel validation. But that moment of euphoria, just like winning a gold medal, is fastest to fade. What are you left with then? What I am experiencing now is exactly what happened four years ago, when I was in my prime as a gymnast. History doesn’t repeat itself, but it sure rhymes. I know the dangers of going down this path again… putting all my eggs in one basket… yet it’s addicting. I’m a workaholic. I can’t seem to tear myself away from my studies. Once I set my mind on my goal- getting into med school- I will let nothing stop my way of reaching that destination. Just today, I was torn between going out for dinner in Westwood with friends to celebrate one of my friend’s birthday, and staying in to do some extra studying. Keep in mind, I just had a midterm yesterday and took a chem quiz this morning. The rest of this week, I’m exam-free (not out of the woods yet, though, because I got 2 midterms next week!) Yet I chose to stay in tonight because the anxiety that arose just from the thought of separating from my work was too great. And so, I missed an opportunity to tackle the social anxiety. More importantly, I missed out on celebrating a friend’s birthday- her one special day of the year. Does that make me a bad person? Is my obsession with achieving success- whatever this loaded word means- making me lose sight of what’s really important? Having a good heart and being kind to others? I am a PERSON before everything else. I keep telling myself, it doesn’t matter if I’m become an esteemed neurosurgeon or world-champion Latin dancer. If I’m a bad person, everything loses meaning. Everything. I want to be remembered as a hard-worker, but more importantly, I long to be remembered as a woman who radiated light to those around her. For a time, I saw the light. I was free of the illusion of NEEDING to be “the best” to feel worthy. Once I came to that realization, I started living. I opened my heart to people and let others into my life. I developed relationships. In turn, I radiated light. I stopped the absurd idea of self-martyrdom as a means to achieve. I remember, however, feeling a void within myself during this time of “living”. I felt that I had lost a huge part of myself when I stopped my most disciplined version. Stopped making each day a fight for success. My therapist told me I needed to relax and allow myself to have fun. And so I did.

For a long time, I felt lost. Even though my life had become so much richer once I decided to start living, I felt unease. Then I came to UCLA, and the flame was reignited. I realized that my discipline was just latent, ready to awaken when called upon. Now, I am a premed student at an academically rigorous university. The goal is to go to medical school. That means, first and foremost, having a great GPA. I have this mindset that I have no choice but to do well academically. If I don’t understand a chemistry concept, I will stay up as late as I have to in order to get it. If I don’t feel 200% prepared for my midterm, I will redo homework problems and drill the concepts into my head until my brain hurts. I know I am not the most naturally gifted student, and it’s this fact that drives me to work harder than most. What I lack in natural ability, I more than make up for in grit. I don’t give myself any option but success. No time for fun. No time for friends. No time for myself.

Isn’t that so messed up, though? I’m sick. I’m obsessed. The sad part is, this person- this sick, obsessed, crazy workaholic- is the version of me I feel most comfortable with. No longer do I feel that void eating away at me… I feel more at ease when I’m constantly working to achieve my goals. But at the same time, I feel an emptiness. It’s the emptiness that stems from loneliness… like you are fighting a one-man battle. It’s the emptiness that creeps up during random times of the day, mostly when I’m alone. It’s the emptiness that creates a deep urge to just cry. Except the tears never come. The emptiness in my heart persists. It’s interesting- I always thought that working hard would lead to a happier and richer life. In these moments of emptiness, however, I wonder if it’s worth it. All this… suffering. Depriving myself of social contact and enjoyment of life’s intangible beauties. Of course, being miserable is a conscious choice I make. I choose to push myself beyond my limits. I like to believe I have no limits, that I am a robot or Superwoman who can tirelessly pursue her goals. I like to believe that the more work I put in now, the greater the benefits I’ll reap later in life. And here I present to you, another one of Belicia’s delusions. Life lies in the present, so why live for the future?

You see, I’m painfully aware of all the illusory ways of thinking I uphold. Yet, even as I’m typing this, I know it’ll be pretty damn hard for me to go back to the light. I’m too far in. I’ve become tunnel-visioned again… All I see is the goal- medical school- and the path to getting there. And what if I decide that medical school is not for me? Another basket of eggs spilled, with none to spare. I know right now that I cannot will myself out of this web I’ve woven myself into… This web is my worldview. It’s my whole idea of needing to achieve, needing external validation, in order to live a meaningful life. Why do I care so much, anyway, about what others think of me? Why must I mold myself into society’s definition of “success”? Why can’t I be content with doing what makes me happy? But that’s the thing though. Being constantly at work seems to be my happy place. Going out with friends makes me anxious. Not when I have a million others things that need to be done…

As you guys can see, I am facing a huge worldview shift right now… That’s what happens when you experience major life transitions and challenges. Thankfully, I will be talking to my therapist tomorrow about ALL of this. But I wanted to share my thoughts and feelings with you guys first- my readers, my number one supporters. If you have made it this far- I’m thoroughly impressed and genuinely flattered by your support. Thanks for sticking with me on this long-winded, incredibly disorganized jumble of words… words that spcome from the deepest recesses of my mind… Though by far not the most eloquently worded of my blog posts, I’ve managed to release most of the bubbling tension that’s been plaguing me for days now. That’s the power of writing… it is so cathartic. I should probably go back to studying now- it’s 11:37 p.m.

Hey- that’s progress though! I managed to tear myself away from the books for a good two hours! Now, back to work.


My First College Paper- Reflection

Hey guys! I know I havent’ posted in SO long… The transition to college has been pretty hectic, and I can’t wait to tell you guys about all my adventures in a later post! Today, however, I want to talk about my reaction to getting back my first college paper.

The professors teaching this yearlong GE Cluster course on human aging were merciful— whatever grade we received on this first draft would not be entered into the grade book. We’d get back our papers with revisions from our TA’s and turn in an edited version next week for an actual grade.

Nonetheless, as I sat through that hour and fifteen-minute lecture, awaiting the end of class to pick up my paper from my TA, I was still antsy about seeing how my paper was evaluated. I felt that I had put forth my best effort on this first college paper, and I really hoped that such hard work would be rewarded.

At the end of class, I made my way through the flood of eager UCLA freshmen crowding the back tables where the papers lay. When I picked up my paper, I was in disbelief when I saw, etched in dark blue ink on the back right-hand corner of my paper, an 80%.

My first thought upon seeing this glaring number was, how? In high school, I’d consistently score top marks on my in-class essays. Sometimes, my English literature teacher would have me type up my essays so she could show other students examples of well-written pieces. So, as I stood before my TA, paper in hand, I couldn’t believe at what was glaring back at me. An 80. Mediocre. Sub-standard.

Upon first glimpse, this 80% may as well been a big fat F. Immediately, the all-too -familiar script started playing in my head— I’m not good enough. I’m a bad writer. I’m a failure.

Such toxic thoughts were exacerbated when I found out my good friend had gotten a dazzling 96% on her paper. Granted, she had a different TA grade her piece… but still. I couldn’t help but compare myself to her. I thought, How did she get that amazing score, and I didn’t?

After my initial wave of disbelief and disappointment, I took a step back, slowed my whirlwind of thoughts, and reflected.

First of all, this first paper was a practice round. It wasn’t going into the grade book. So the stakes are significantly reduced, which I should be thankful about. The professors anticipated that first-time papers would be error-ridden. The point of making this a draft, rather than an actual graded assignment, was so we could learn.

Secondly, this was my FIRST college paper! The first time you do something is always the worst. The key is to learn from your mistakes and keep improving from there. Sure— I was a strong writer in high school. Looking back, though, I didn’t start out that good a writer. The first 50/50 I received on an in-class essay was during second semester! I had to work my way up- learn from the mistakes of my earlier papers and practice a lot, before I was able to write effective essays.

Thirdly, I reacted to my disappointing score in a very fixed-mindsetted and naive way. According to Carol Dweck, Stanford psychologist and cutting-edge researcher on the psychology of motivation and success, one facet of the fixed mindset is believing that your present abilities cannot be changed, and thus, are a measure of your self-worth. Of course, I completely disagree with the first idea of not being able to change present abilities. But  I am not completely freed from the illusion of the fixed mindset. I saw that 80%, and, as if on cue, the self-deprecating script went off. To me, that 80% was an overarching measure of my ability, not just as a writer, but as a student. I called my intellectual abilities into question. But, I forgive myself. I get that learning to change your thought pattern takes LOTS of practice. I will learn from this humbling and eye-opening experience. Next time I’m greeted with a not-so-pleasing grade or rejection, I will ask myself, “How can I learn from this?” Instead of seeing the poor marks and diving into a frenzy of despair, I should be eager to identify my mistakes and, most importantly, learn from them. Mistakes are great! They fuel growth! If we don’t mess up, how will we know how to better ourselves the next time around?

So, after I finish this blog post, I will delve into my paper and record everything I can improve on for next time. Instead of being repulsed by the 80% (which, by the way, isn’t even that bad a grade), I will see it as a learning opportunity. I will adopt the growth mindset that Dweck preaches. I mustn’t see a low grade as a measure of my intellectual capabilities. We are all here to learn, not to be perfect. The point isn’t to get 100%’s all the time. There’s no growth in that! I’d much rather see myself improve with each paper I write or each exam I take. This is how I know I’m learning, rather than staying stagnant.