Hi guys! Hope you all are having a great Saturday!
I apologize for being totally AWOL lately. I know I haven’t been keeping up with my weekly reflections this quarter like I did in previous quarters, which is ironic, since this is the easiest quarter I’ve had at UCLA thus far.
I wish I could say I was doing well… but I’ve been struggling with mental health problems these past few weeks. My mood has been so, so unpredictable. My mother likens my emotions to the stock market– constantly in flux. I have moments of high motivation and ideations of being able to “achieve anything I set my mind to”. But lately, I’ve been feeling a constant lethargy and low motivation. I feel lost, lonely and doubtful of my ability to succeed in life.
I think a big part of my mental health problems stems from the lack of daily structure characteristic of this quarter. I took a lighter course load this quarter so I could focus on dance and improve my mental well-being. I’m beginning to notice a personal trend– when I’m not constantly busy and immersed in work, I get depressed. I lose the regimented structure that I am so familiar with, and in turn, I feel lost. My ten years as a gymnast epitomize the kind of structure and discipline I need to feel most effective and productive. Since leaving the sport, I don’t think I’ve been able to recapture that regimented lifestyle. I ask myself why I can’t create my own structure and keep myself busy, even if I don’t have much schoolwork to study. The fact that I feel at a loss of things to do when not burdened with externally-imposed goals/tasks– i.e. homework assignments, papers, dance competitions, etc.– shows that, perhaps, a lot of my life’s achievements have been extrinsically motivated. Studying hard to get good grades. Training hard in gymnastics and dance to win competitions. What is it that I’m after? Other people’s approval and praise? If I was truly intrinsically motivated to achieve, I would set personal goals and embark on passion projects for my own enjoyment, exploration and learning, rather than robotically completing tasks and challenges laid before me.
How did I get in to UCLA? I studied hard, did well on standardized tests and demonstrated high achievement and dedication to my extracurricular passions. I knew how to play the game– or rather, I was raised in an environment where everyone was furiously playing the same game to ultimately make their ways up the social ladder, via education. But what if all those long nights of studying and hard work amounted to just that? Playing a game. I don’t think I was ever truly invested in learning. I never found a vested interest in any of the subjects I studied in high school. I never had an itch I really wanted to scratch. I studied hard because I wanted to get into a good college. Because that’s what everyone needed to do to become successful, right?
I’m starting to wonder– can I even call myself an intellectual, an academic? On paper, you’d hardly question that I did well in school. I got into some great universities and have been excelling here at UCLA. But simply doing well in school does not make one an intellectual. For my brother Chris, the traditional classroom did not reveal his true bright colors and potential. Disorganized and sloppy at times, he was the kid who’d do his homework the day it was due and forget to turn it in. He has always beat to the beat of his own drum. He’s the kid in the classroom who, instead of frantically copying notes from the board, will raise his hand every ten seconds to ask seemingly out-of-the-blue questions, to the chagrin of his teachers, who often couldn’t provide adequate answers to his inquiries. On paper, he is less than outstanding, at least in comparison to his siblings. He didn’t even get in to UCLA, whereas his sibling both got in as Regents Scholars. But the truth is, of the three of us, Chris is the only one with a true learning mind. If it weren’t for my mother’s constant urging, I’m sure Chris wouldn’t care about his grades. He’s in the classroom to learn. His intentions are pure. My parents used to worry a lot about Chris, because on the outside, he seemed to be the one who didn’t have his sh** together. I don’t think they have anything to worry about, though. His artistic talent is undeniable, his critical thinking skills unrivaled. Chris has a beautiful mind and, more importantly, the warmest heart.
I look at Chris, and I admire him so much. In him, I see a reflection of what I am not. Never have I gone to school out of my own volition. School was just something I had to do. A deterrence to what I really loved– gymnastics and dance. I am here at UCLA, but really, is my heart in my studies? I feel like a horrible person for admitting that, despite being graced with the opportunity of being at UCLA, my heart really just wants to focus on dancing, and see where that path leads me.
As you could all imagine, my parents are NOT happy with my decision to leave UCLA to pursue dance further. Every time I call them to discuss the matter, emotions heighten and we end up fighting. Each conversation ends the same way– my parents frustrated, me hurt that they don’t seem to support me in my pursuit of dance. They are letting me take one quarter off from UCLA, not because they support want me to dance, but rather, so they can keep a closer eye on me and my mental health.
A couple days ago, I went to the ER for a psychiatric emergency. My dear friend Emily walked me to Ronald Reagan hospital, a mere five minute walk from campus, and stayed with me until I was stable. The weeks leading up to that day, I was progressively spiraling lower and lower. My rocky relationship with my parents was one emotional trigger. I hate disagreeing with my parents. All my life, I’ve done what they’ve asked. I was never the “problem” child. I studied hard in school and performed well as as gymnast. I never partied, dated guys, drank, smoke or did drugs. I was a good, clean girl. For the first time ever, I am going deliberately against my parents’ wishes by choosing to explore a career in art. To me, my parents are the voice of reason. They’ve always seemed to know what was right for me. So long as I listened to them, everything was fine. Safe. Stable. But, coming to college, I realized that my heart was definitely not in pre-med. In fact, it probably was somewhere else altogether, beyond college. And I owe it to myself to follow my heart, right? To be happy. It’s too bad my parents’ definition of happiness (education as a means to attain financial stability) does not align with my own. I am a dreamer, a fantasizer, a young and reckless soul. I’m scared as hell to go against my parents’ better judgement. Maybe I’ve chosen a path that inevitably leads to a wall. I could resign myself to a conventional, stable life of graduating from UCLA, going to medical school and becoming a doc, whilst dancing as a hobby. Not that there is anything wrong with such a life. Most people choose this path, and with good reason. The archetype of the “starving, tormented artist” is not something most people strive to be. In any case, I’m going for dance, simply because I owe it to myself to go for my shot while I’m young and still have this narrow window of opportunity. I don’t want to live in regret. And even if I don’t find success as a dancer, at least I can say I gave it a valiant effort.
Another trigger that led to my latest mental breakdown was, as aforementioned, the light course load I’m taking this quarter. Without needing to constantly be studying, I’ve had more time to sit and ruminate about my decision to leave UCLA and give dancing a shot. During midterm season, everyone around me was studying like crazy. I, on the other hand, had only one theater midterm to worry about, and thus was taking it very easy. I think a part of me missed experiencing the midterm-hype. I know, sounds crazy to say, right? But when all your friends are too busy studying to hang out, and you are the only one on campus taking it easy amidst a heated environment, you feel like a fish out of water. Believe it or not, I felt… lonely. This is the first quarter at UCLA in which I was no longer on the rigorous pre-med track. And maybe, just maybe, a part of me missed it. I know why I took a break this quarter. To focus on myself, my mental health, my dancing. To do some serious soul-searching. I knew I couldn’t possibly decide what I was truly passionate about if I was buried neck-deep in organic chemistry, my perfectionism forcing me to obsessively study in the tunnel-visioned pursuit of getting into medical school. So I took myself out of the academically rigorous environment. In doing so, however, I think I faced a mini identity crisis. For the first time in my life, I felt like… an academic underachiever. Why wasn’t I studying hard like my peers? What the heck was I doing? Was I wasting time, like my mother so often said? Was I doing the right thing?
These past few weeks, I’ve been feeling lonelier than ever. Emotionally divided from my parents, soon to be distanced from my friends. I can’t help but look at my friends and think about how I have only five more weeks left to make memories with them, before it’s back to the Bay. I wonder if the friendships I’ve nurtured this past year will last once I’m no longer in LA. College was the first time in my life that I’ve been able to develop true, meaningful relationships. My heart is full as I recount the many instances in which my friends were there for me, and I for them. I can’t imagine another time in my life where I didn’t feel like an outsider, a lone wolf. Here at UCLA, I’ve discovered the beauty of sharing life experiences with people you love. Life isn’t a single-handedly fought battle to achieve goals. Friendships are not just a “waste of time”. Here at UCLA, I finally feel like I belong to a group of people. It hurts that, just as I had begun to find a second home in UCLA and earn my place in people’s hearts, I will be leaving behind this place and its multi-talented, ambitious, kind people. A part of me has been interested in exploring the so far uncharted territory of dating, but I hesitate to start something right now, when I’ll be leaving in five weeks.
Going back to a couple days ago, when I decided to go to the ER. I was feeling particularly low, empty and unstable, and I feared for my own safety. Even though I was deemed well enough to be released from the hospital after a few hours, my parents decided that I needed to come home so they could be there for me when I have breakdowns such as these.
So now, I am most definitely leaving UCLA for an indeterminate period of time. To my parents, I’m coming home to fix my mental health, while focusing more on dance is a mere “bonus” feature of my primary reason to leave UCLA. To me, I am coming home to dance. If it were just about my fixing my mental health, I would be able to build a support system in LA, without needing to leave behind my friends and the school I love. But, if I go home, I know I’ll be able to continue my growth as a dancer under the tutelage of my teacher, Daniele. For the first time in my life, I’ll be able to put everything into dance. I am excited to see how far I’ll go.
Because I will be moving back home in a matter of one month, I feel a desperate need to relish my freedom while I still have it. Yesterday, I got my first tattoo, on the right side of my ribcage, below the bra-line. It is the word “Endure” printed in black ink and cursive letters. I think the word speaks to the human condition of pushing through in the face of inevitable suffering. The world is a cruel, dark place. I’ve lived in a sheltered, pristine bubble my whole life up until college. Moving away from home exposed me to another side– a darker side– of the world. A side where people take advantage of you and drop you once you’re no longer of use to them; where, no matter how hard you work, success is not a surefire guarantee; a world where the limits of reality constrain you from pursuing what you truly love. College itself is still a bubble. I have yet to brave the “real world”, and I expect it to be even crueler and even darker than college. Such is life. Life is freaking hard, and at times, it takes nearly all I have in me to not let adversity beat me to a pulp. This is why I’ve ingrained the word “Endure” into my very being. We are all enduring, every damn day.
To those of you who’ve known me for a while, you’re probably shocked to hear that I’ve inked my body, as I may very well be the last person you’d imagine to do such a thing. I, for one, am very happy with the way the tattoo turned out, despite the 15 minutes of sharp pain. Shoutout to my friend Linda, who let me squeeze/scratch/twist her hand while I gritted my teeth through the pain of the whirring needle. The place I got my tattoo is called “Shamrock Social Club”. My tattoo artist was Mike, and he was super nice and professional. Shamrock is a bit on the pricey side, but the quality is impeccable. With something as permanent as a tattoo, I didn’t want to risk the artist messing up or using a dirty needle. I called my mom today and told her what I had done (yeah, try as I may, I can never keep big secrets from her). She replied, in a tone laced with disapproval, that her opinion no longer matters, as whatever my parents tell me to do these days, I won’t listen. I’m sure she is referencing the whole dance decision… but either way, I am 19 years old, and I have the right to do what I please with my body and my life. As long as I am safe and make wise decisions, I don’t see anything morally wrong with getting a tattoo. I grew up in a conservative Mormon family, spurning the practices of drinking coffee, consuming alcohol, smoking, using drugs, gambling, desecrating your body with tattoos and multiple piercings, and engaging in sex before marriage. I automatically assumed that all such behaviors were innately wrong. Coming to college, I have become a lot more tolerant towards people who do engage in such behaviors. I am no longer quick to judge people based on their lifestyle choices. In fact, I’ve personally explored some of the above experiences, and I’ve come to the conclusion that, as long as you are safe, there is nothing wrong with having a little fun once in a while. I do know that going home will mark the end of all such behaviors, at least for a long while. It’ll be back to the pure, disciplined life I led before leaving home. But, if that is the cost of pursuing dance, then so be it.
Alrighty guys, I need to head to bed soon. Gotta wake up early tomorrow to study! I just remembered– I forgot to talk about my first day of work at Bruin Café. It was a fun experience indeed! Expect a blog post on that coming tomorrow, as well as on my current status on dating/romantic relationships. Lots of juice on the latter topic.
Meanwhile, I am combating my depression by creating a set structure for each day. Keeping busy helps. Starting work at the café has kickstarted me back into the structured grind, and my mental health has shown a marked improvement since. I’m also going to update my blog on a weekly basis once more (I’m telling you guys this so I’ll be held accountable, should I feel myself slipping). I’m determined to end this last quarter at UCLA with a bang, both academically and experience-wise. I’d love to go to Santa Monica beach, attend a movie premier at the Bruin Regency Theater, swim in every pool at UCLA and try every exotic restaurant in Westwood. Mostly, I want to remember my year at UCLA as a positive one of immense growth and maturation.