Winter Quarter Week 5 Reflection

Hey guys, I hope you all had a week filled with gratitude, productivity, growth and happiness.

This week for me was a little rough emotionally/psychologically. I think the effects of sleep deprivation finally got to me. Sleeping two to three hours each night in the library or study lounge and going non-stop between classes, studying and dancing, my mental health began to suffer.

The good news is, I feel confident about the human aging midterm I took on Tuesday. No way am I getting an A- in that class again. I got back my first chemistry quiz and was pleased with my score of 38/40. The mistake I made was very silly– I forgot to read one of the questions in its entirety and didn’t answer the last part of the question! I guess spending the night before the quiz camped out at Powell library made my brain foggy. At least I know my concepts on thermodynamics are solid. All this hard studying has been paying off… But at what cost?

I don’t even know why I’m pushing myself to study so intensely. I may not even be premed anymore. Why must I compromise my physical and mental health for the sake of getting good grades? Of course, academics are important, but health comes first. The thing is, I’m saying these words, but am having trouble believing them… All my life, I’ve pushed myself to the limit, putting in 100% to all my endeavors. I can’t settle for mediocrity. I just can’t.

Today, I caught up with an old high school friend, Roy, who remarked at my “insane work ethic”. He told me he believed that I would find success in whatever I end up doing, even if it is not medicine. I’m not going to lie– hearing those words made me feel great. Lately, I’ve been beating myself up, telling myself that I’m not studying hard enough, that I need to be working harder, in both school and dance. In listening to that self-deprecating voice, I’ve been pushing myself to the brink of obsession… obsession to be perfect. I recognize all these unhealthy thought patterns that my former therapist and I worked so hard to rectify…

It is a strange thing to say, but sometimes, I feel like I am not whole if I don’t feel stressed, anxious, depressed, or some other negative emotion. During one of my down moments this week, I wrote, “I’m feeling exhausted and depressed, but strangely complete”. For most of my life, I believed that I didn’t deserve to be happy, because I hungered for success. I believed that the harder I worked and the more I suffered in the present, the greater the future returns. My years as a gymnast fueled this way of thinking. Training was never easy and many sacrifices were made in the pursuit of my sport. As much as I loved gymnastics, towards the end of my career, I mostly felt pressure to perform, live up to expectations and be perfect. I can’t say I was in an emotionally or psychologically sound state when I was a competitive athlete.

Being a (maybe) premed student at a competitive university, I find myself reverting to my former belief of needing to “suffer” to feel “worthy”. There’s a strange satisfaction I get in staying up until 5 a.m. studying, or going straight from class to the dance studio to the library, no breaks in between. I like being busy. I feel invigorated when I’m pushing myself to my limit. But, in the process, I’ve been completely ignoring my mental well-being. I’ve been exhibiting strange behaviors– purposeful sleep deprivation; studying on the floor of the laundry room; drinking coffee at 12 a.m.; being overly uninhibited in social situations (probably too tired to care what anyone thinks anymore); falling asleep in lectures; acting enthusiastic and bubbly around friends and peers, but feeling a whirlwind of negative emotions inside. Confusion. Stress. Anxiety. Emptiness. Exhaustion.

A few days ago, after getting back from dance practice at 10:00 p.m., I called my mom because I just needed to vent. At that point, I was feeling the stress of impending midterms, as well as sheer mental and physical exhaustion from juggling school and all my dance commitments. I had a pile of homework awaiting me, but all I wanted to do was sleep. As I spoke to my mom, I started crying at the bottom of the steps to my residence hall, releasing all the pent-up tension of my present reality. People stared at me but I didn’t care. My mom has never taken well to crying, however, and that night was no different. She snapped at me, telling me to buck up. I ended up getting angry at her and hung up the phone. I had called her for comfort and solace, but she had given me even more stress. I fell into a hole of self-pity.

I know that happiness is in my control. I can choose to be happy. I don’t need to feel sorry for myself… but why do I insist on holding on to the negativity, the stress, the self-imposed pressure, in order to feel like a whole person? Why is it that I can never find absolute serenity in the present moment? That I can’t be okay with, simply, being? Why must I find a reason to be stressed all the time?

I had to quit the UCLA Latin dance team on Monday. It was just too difficult to spread myself over so many extracurricular commitments. I was very sad about leaving all the friends I’ve made through the team… some of them are my closest friends at UCLA. I regret quitting before we even got to showcase our bachata routine… but it was something that, I feel, needed to be done, for the sake of preserving my personal sanity.

Yesterday, I was walking to campus for TA chemistry office hours, when I saw a man in a white coat walking the opposite direction. Getting closer to him, I saw the words “neurosurgery” imprinted in blue letters on his coat. Without really thinking twice, I changed my direction, wove my way through the onslaught of fellow Bruins heading to class, and approached this man, asking him, “Are you a neurosurgeon?” He replied in the affirmative, a little surprised at my boldness. I asked him if I could walk with him, and he replied that I may. I introduced myself as first-year psychobiology/pre-med student. I asked him what kind of advice he would give to eager pre-med students like myself. His reply: Medicine is not what it used to be. In the past, patient care always came before anything else. Now, it is “everything else, then patient care”. He doesn’t like the way our healthcare system has degenerated, and he advises aspiring physicians to go into medicine only if they really love it. He himself knew since age eleven that he wanted to become a physician, but he is a self-proclaimed anomaly. Most people don’t know their callings at that age. He told me, if I have any doubts about medicine, then it may be best to seek another career path. His wife is actually a writer and apparently wrote the screenplay for the movie Narnia. She writes all day, every day, and loves what she does. He has four grown children, none of whom followed in their father’s footsteps towards medicine. Some became lawyers… but none doctors. I expressed to him how in awe I was to actually be in the presence of a brain surgeon– a pediatric brain surgeon, nonetheless. I confessed to him how I’ve always revered neurosurgeons (all doctors in general, but neurosurgeons especially), putting them on a pedestal and viewing them as godly and almighty human beings. Yup– I’ve really let society drill that label into my head… but you can’t deny that neurosurgeons are pretty freaking badass.

What surprised me about this man was his humility, warmth and willingness to help a girl finding her path. There’s a stereotype that neurosurgeons are arrogant individuals… but this one was as far from arrogant or condescending as you could be! I asked him about his thoughts/feelings the moment before he cut into a person’s head for the very first time. He replied that it was, of course, a bit scary. Then again, you don’t start out by performing an entire solo surgery… you start by assisting the attending surgeon, making small incisions here and there. As with anything, you begin with the fundamentals and build your foundation from there. I asked him, “What if your hand starts shaking in the middle of surgery because of nerves?” He replied, “Oh, that can’t happen.” Towards the end of our conversation, I asked him if I could get his email to reach out in the future. He kindly gave me his card. When we parted ways, he told me, “Maybe we’ll get a writer out of you!” What an incredible man. I emailed him yesterday, thanking him for the spontaneous conversation, and asking him if he offered any shadowing opportunities. He replied the email this morning:

“Dear Belicia,

What a pleasure it was yesterday to meet such a vivacious and delightful young lady who is struggling to find her calling in life.

After forty years of working with patients I decided to retire from clinical practice and now have a laboratory where I use human cadavers to teach surgical residents from all specialties including OBGYN relevant human anatomy and basic surgical technique. This means that I no longer have direct contact with living patients but hope to improve patient care by teaching the up-and-coming young surgeons in training. Because I am no longer working in the wards I will look into seeing how it would be possible for you to shadow one of my clinical colleagues and experience the world of modern medical practice.

Please keep in touch while you decide which career path to follow.”

I’m so blessed to have made such a connection and found another mentor to guide me… After speaking to the neurosurgeon, though, I questioned premed even more. I wondered, if I have so much doubt and uncertainty about going into medicine, then is this path really for me?

I’ve resolved to take all GE classes next quarter. Drop the organic chemistry. Explore potential interests. Philosophy, theater, creative writing, neuroscience, political science. Have more time for dancing. Really make an effort to take myself off the premed track so I have the freedom to venture into uncharted territories. I’m hoping that, by the end of my freshman year of college, I will have found an academic field that truly piques my interest.

At the same time, I still want to get good grades to keep my options open, should I later decide to go to medical school. That’s why I am putting so much pressure on myself to do well academically. It’s actually really funny how the roles of parent and child sort-of reverse when the child goes off to college. In high school, it was always my mom pushing me and my brothers to study harder and get better grades. Now, in college, my brothers and I are the ones overloading ourselves with pressure to succeed, while my parents tell us to “just try your best” and “be happy”.

Anyway, I know this post was filled with a lot of rambling… but as always, I appreciate everyone who takes the time to read my blog and experience my journey–struggles and all– with me.

I had dance practice all evening, so the rest of the night (or morning, shall I say), will consist of studying and more studying. Fun times. But again, I draw on the strength I garnered as a gymnast– all the willpower and focus and determination– to get me through whatever difficulties lay ahead. I wish I could somehow learn to enjoy life, in spite of being in a competitive environment where the pressure to succeed is immense. I don’t like the way I become when I am placed in such environments… I start to lose sight of myself, my relationships, my humanity… I sometimes feel like I transform into a robot of sorts, when I go into my “tunnel-visioned” state. I don’t think life has to be this hard. But I choose to make it so. Why? Why do I choose to be unhappy? The answer evades me. I’d probably need to help of a professional to answer that question.


Winter Quarter Week 4 Reflection

Hey guys! It is currently Monday, February 6th, 12:21 a.m. I’m sitting in the Hedrick Hall Study, a study lounge on the “Hill” (UCLA’s residential area) that opened just this quarter. This place and Powell library are my two new favorite study spots.

I’m taking a quick break from my marathon study session, so this post will have to be a short one.

This past week was pretty hectic. I took a chem quiz and math midterm. Both went pretty well, but I basically lived at the library last week, when I wasn’t dancing. I’ve made a habit of piling all my books and notebooks and study materials in my purple suitcase and lugging it around campus, as I couldn’t possibly carry my entire arsenal of study stuff in a backpack without breaking my back! My friends find it hilarious that I feel the need to drag my book-filled suitcase around, but hey– it works!

Last week, I stayed overnight at Powell library twice for marathon study sessions. On Friday morning at 6:00 a.m., I trekked back to my dorm room from the library, suitcase in hand. It was raining cats and dogs outside, and I was thoroughly drenched by the time I got back to Rieber Hall. I’m honestly really surprised that I haven’t gotten sick yet. Around this time Fall quarter, I came down with a horrible virus. Hopefully history does not repeat itself.

As for dance… well, my partner and I had a double lesson yesterday in Pasadena. We were no where near where we should have been in terms of preparation for the lesson. Our connection wasn’t there, and I kept forgetting our jive routine. I understand that we’ve only been together for a month, but we both want to do very well in dancing, which obviously requires sufficient training. It’s very difficult for the two of us to coordinate schedules and find time to practice, with my premed courses and other dance commitments. Of course, at the moment, academics is my number one priority. My parents never let me forget that.

Another big development in my storyline- I’ve decided to stay with the premed. I know, yet another flip-flop in this jaded debate (seriously, I’ve been flip-flopping for over a year now). I don’t know, guys… I can’t pin-point what exactly drives me to keep changing my mind about my career path. I have no doubt that I have potential to succeed in either dance or medicine, if I really apply myself. But, really, what kind of life do I envision for myself? I don’t know if I am passionate enough about dancing to live a life devoid of comfort and stability in hopes of fulfilling a dream that thousands of other young, hungry, beautiful, talented dancers share. There’s a very slim chance of rising to the top. Let’s be honest. I’m a decent dancer and my gymnastics background enables me to pick up fast. I may not have the greatest dancer’s body, but it will suffice. I may not be a gorgeous blonde Russian girl, but I’m not hideous. I know how to work hard. But… how realistic is it for me to ascend to the top ranks and be able to make a living off of dancing? Especially given the fact that I started dancing so late… at age 17. My parents were right. I am a dreamer. I shun reality. I fantasize about glory and becoming the next world champion dancer… If I’m being brutally honest with myself, though, what chance do I have to become any of those things? I used to tell my very first dance teacher all about my aspirations of becoming one of the ballroom dance “greats” one day. She’d feed my fantasy, telling me, “You can. You will.” And I believed it.

Now, I have finally gotten through my head the reality of what it really takes to become a successful professional dancer. It is incredibly competitive, cutthroat and risky. Harder than becoming a doctor. In art, there is no real guarantee of success.

It may sound like I’m backing out because I realized the reality of the dancer’s life and its challenges, and cowered from the path. In truth, I knew it all along– the difficulty of making it big in the ballroom dance world. I just didn’t want to listen to the voice of reason. But now, I listen. The truth is… in life, you can’t have everything. I can’t expect to become the greatest professional dancer in the world, AND a brilliant physician. Maybe there’s a select few people on this planet that can do both… but such are anomalies. I am just a normal person with huge dreams. While I think it’s great that I have giant aspirations and a hunger to succeed, I’m finally forcing myself to look in reality in the face and accept the fact that life is not as simple as working hard and achieving everything you desire. It sounds disheartening, I know. And I apologize to any readers who find this post depressing. My blogs have often centered around trite themes of “following your dreams”, “chasing your passions”, or “listening your heart”. This, I believe, is the mantra of the Millennials. These are words that I have lived by and continue to embody. However, there is a certain naive innocence in those words… an innocence that is slowly shedding as I mature and pop my bubble of fantasy.

There’s a lot to be said about artists who embark on risky career paths guided by their hearts. They may not have much material wealth, but they have one thing too many people lack– PASSION. That word, passion… it is used so often by so many… but the word contains so much power. Where there’s passion, there will never be a deficit of wealth and happiness.

The thing is, I can’t say I’m passionate enough about dance to give up a life of financial stability and comfort. I can just see it in my mind… readers reading this post, here and now, shaking their heads in disappointment as the latest plot development of my life unfolds. This is the same person who, last week, preached the message of following your dreams and liberating yourself from societal ideals in pursuit of what gives YOU as an individual meaning and happiness. And now, here I am, telling you guys, that I’m no longer sure of pursuing dancing. Maybe it’s best that dancing stays as a hobby and outlet for me… That I pursue something like medicine, which will at least put food on the table and alleviate my parents’ worry.

Did I change my mind because the going got tough? Balancing school and dance is undoubtedly difficult. I’m barely sleeping these days. Coffee is the only thing keeping me awake and functioning. I don’t feel like myself… It’s not depression. It’s most likely exhaustion. Each day is a blur. I’m in survival mode, literally. I know I am not alone in this fight– college is a test for many. This is normal, right? I just need to power through this… I am strong, and I’ve been trained well to thrive under trying circumstances. Or do I? Maybe I just give up when things get hard. When premed got hard, I wanted to switch to dance. When dance got hard, I wanted to switch to back to premed. That’s the only logical explanation I have for my oscillatory behavior.

Or maybe, I was just meant to live a double life. That’s the way it’s always been for me. School and gymnastics. School and dance. Never one or the other. I tried being only premed during Fall quarter, and I was miserable, because I didn’t feel whole without dance, my creative outlet. Then, recently, I made up my mind to drop the premed and focus primarily on dance as my career. Initially, I felt liberated. The decision felt RIGHT. I told myself that I was following my heart by choosing dance. But, as the days wore on, I again did not feel whole. I missed identifying as an academic. I remember one morning, after completing a night’s worth of successful studying at the library, I thought to myself, Studying is fun. I’ve missed being fully immersed in my schoolwork. I know now that if I dropped out of college or switched into an “easy” major, I just wouldn’t be intellectually stimulated enough. I need both my left and right brain engaged to feel complete.

So… why did I decide to go back to premed, you may ask? Well. In truth, it just feels like the safest thing to do right now. I know I told you guys that I didn’t believe medicine was my passion… but I’d like to at least take a college biology course before coming to that conclusion. I’m following the advice of one of my professors, who told me not to make any rash decisions at the moment. I still have time to decide what I want to do with my life. I am 18 years old. I have time.

Also, when I called my mom and told her my plan of sticking with premed, I could just hear the relief in her voice when she replied, “That’s a smart thing to do.” She was so relieved that her only daughter chose the “rational” path of medicine. And I’m happy that she is now at piece of mind. I just hope I’m making this decision for myself, and not to please my mother… seriously. Living for others is never a good idea. It’s so important for one to stay true to oneself. To critically examine oneself in the mirror and ask, Who am I? 

During the time I chose dance as my path, my heart felt at peace, but my mind was constantly worrying. I was afraid of the risk and uncertainty of the path. I was afraid especially because my parents did not support my decision. I’d constantly fight over the phone with my mother. And I know that I am an adult now, and I don’t necessarily have to follow my parents’ wishes. But they are smart people and have way more life experience than I do. I trust in their judgement. Even when my mom tells me over the phone that she “knows I won’t succeed as a dancer”, or that I’m “beautiful for Asian standards, but compared to those blonde Russian girls who’ve been dancing their entire lives, I don’t stand a chance”, I know she says these things to protect me. To make me see reason. While her words may have hurt to hear, they were necessary. I see it now. I love my parents for protecting me. It’s their job.

This is not to say that I love dance any less, even if I have forfeited my aspirations of going professional. If things were different– if I started dancing at an earlier age and were achieving some form of measurable success by now, then perhaps a career in dance would be feasible. But reality. Oh, the bitter medicine of reality… There have been former world champion Latin dancers who started late like I did, but for them, dance was everything. They put all their eggs in one basket and, through hard work and the help of the universe, they made it. The thing is, I now know that education is something that means a lot to me, and dropping out of college is not an idea I’d even entertain.

Goodness… I know how I must sound now. I sound like a former dreamer… a “could-have-been” who’s making excuses for herself. You guys may be thinking to yourself, Belicia, you are making a mistake. You are falling into your former delusion of pursuing medicine in the name of comfort. The fact that you’ve given up on your dancing dreams shows that you’re reverting to your former ways. 

I can’t say that this decision of mine is a mistake. Honestly, I don’t even know who I am anymore, or what I stand for. I was a dreamer with huge aspirations. But maybe my aspirations were misguided. Misguided passion… Right now, having no idea what I want to do, I have jumped back onto the default path of premed. I feel a lot more at ease. Or maybe this is just a guise. Just me forcing myself to believe that my passion lies in medicine, because that, in my opinion, is the most stable path. I’ve never considered anything other than medicine… besides dance, of course. Maybe I should. But I’m honestly so tired of being indecisive. I’m sick of this uncertainty. Can I just commit to a goal and stick with it?

I mustn’t forget that, through this anguish and conflict, I am incredibly blessed to have the opportunity to even consider such career paths as dance and medicine. I am at a wonderful university that I’m proud to call my second home. I have parents who have been nothing but supportive throughout my entire life, be it in gymnastics or dance. I’m currently burning through money to pay for my dance lessons, but my parents have never objected. Not once. As long as I keep up my grades, they have no objection to me dancing. I am blessed beyond belief. I must stop this self-pity. Sure, making life decisions and thinking for yourself isn’t easy, especially when you have several options. But isn’t that better than having no choice at all? So many young people my age are now out working to put food on the table. A college education or dance lessons is simply out of the question. I must remind myself– I am so lucky.

A concluding note: What I appreciate most about my blog is the fact that I can be completely honest with my readers. I want to be as real as possible… I don’t want to convey an image of myself that doesn’t reflect who I really am or what I’m actually thinking and feeling. When I write, I’m vulnerable. So, if we are being honest here… I experience days when I feel the pressure that comes with sharing my story to so many people. Friends, peers, mentors, family… Don’t get me wrong. I love sharing my story and impacting individuals in that way. I love running into a floormate or friend, and having them express their appreciation over my blogs. I think a big reason why people read my writing is because they can empathize with everything I feel and experience… all the joys and struggles and anxieties of being young and hungry, with the world as your oyster. The thing is, people change. Goals shifts. Beliefs and mindsets and worldviews shift. It’s a sign of individual growth. Many people have come up to me and expressed how proud they were at my courage to follow my heart and chase my dream of becoming a dancer, regardless of what society believes. I thank you all for your kind words and incredible support… Right now, though, I’m telling you that I don’t think I have the guts to do it. I don’t think I could just drop everything and become a dancer. It’s not just that I don’t have the courage… I really don’t know if that’s what I want to do. I don’t think so. The only thing I’m certain of at this point is, the future is mysterious and unpredictable. Maybe, down the line, I’ll decide that I want to be a professional dancer once more. Or, I will go to med school and become a doctor. Or, I’ll end up doing something completely different. Who knows? My point in saying all of this is, I sometimes feel pressured to live up to what I write on my blog. When you share with others what your next life step is, then be prepared to feel the pressure of living up to  the ensuing expectations. Sometimes, I wonder if I should be sharing my story and thought processes and emotions so publicly. But I mustn’t forget the reason why I started blogging 3 years ago. It was a form of coping with grief. Blogging was cathartic. It was real. I want to stay true to myself… and that is why I continue to share my story with you guys. Thank you to everyone who takes the time to read these posts of mine– I really can’t express how much meaning I derive from being able to make an impact through writing.

Wow. This post turned out much longer than expected. It’s now 2:25 a.m. A good two hours flown by like a blur. Time to get back to my studies.