Hi friends! It’s currently 3:05am on this Saturday morning. I just came back from a Halloween party and felt the urge to write this blog post.
Before we get into the meat of today’s topic, I thought I’d share a little update on what’s been going on with me. Well, really, not much has changed since I last blogged. I’ve been studying hard, and it’s surely paid off, as I got a 29/30 on my Psych 188B midterm! 2 down, 2 to go. Gotta keep up the good work for my last two classes. I have one midterm next Wednesday that I gotta study hard for this weekend.
So onto today’s topic. You may be wondering why I’ve titled today’s post, “Heartbroken”. That word is so powerful… tragic… Surely something terrible has happened in my life to warrant the use of this word?
As I said, I just got back from a Halloween party. My suitemate’s film fraternity hosted the party. There were drinks, good music, fun people. But in all honesty, my heart was not in it. It was a mistake to go– I wasn’t even planning on attending the party, but a part of me wanted to challenge my social anxiety by getting out and meeting new people.
At the party, I ran into some old friends and classmates. There were two former classmates– Kim and Mooj– who were in my GE Cluster class two years ago, during freshman year. I didn’t recognize them, but they recognized me. Kim came up to me and asked excitedly, “Wait. Is your name Belicia?!” Slightly perplexed, I replied, “Yes! Have we met before?” She replied that she and Mooj were in the same class as me during freshman year, and that everyone in the class knew me as “British accent girl”.
I’ve told this story a couple times before, but in case you haven’t heard it, I’ll tell it again. One day, back in my freshman year, I had the sudden indescribable urge to adopt a British accent, kind of as a social experiment, to see how people treat me with vs without the accent. That day, we had a guest lecturer– a dentist– speak in my human aging class. I figured that because this lady had no idea who I was, I could pull the British accent trick on her, and she would have no idea I was faking it (well… that was the hope, at least). So in class, I purposely raised my hand to answer a bunch of questions, just so I could show off my newfound accent.
Well, from that day on, I went down in GE Cluster 80 history as “British accent girl”. I learned from Kim and Mooj last night that everyone– students, TAs, and professors alike– knew who I was. I was unaware of how popular my accent was with everyone! Kim showered me with compliments about my confidence and utter disinhibition, going so far as to say that she “aspired to be me”. Wow. Now THAT was a compliment gave me the feels. Thank you, Kim!
Goodness. How far I’ve regressed from the brave soul I used to be. Ever since the bipolar diagnosis, my social confidence slowly drained away, as the reality of what it meant to live with bipolar hit home. I came into college a changed person. No longer the shy and inhibited girl I was in high school. But what if that change was not a signal of learning and personal growth, but rather, an actual physiological shift in brain chemistry? I know now that the rapid life transition and new environment of college triggered my mania. Most of my freshman year of college, I was manic. One of the key symptoms of mania is a marked decrease in social inhibition, which manifests as social confidence. What if, all that time, what I thought was me breaking out of my shell, was in fact my bipolar talking?
Once I got on mood stabilizers, my manic episodes disappeared. I was grounded in reality once more. But I had lost something special– my social confidence. Perhaps that social confidence wasn’t real. But surely, it FELT real, that short time it lasted. I was on fire… a girl who shone so bright and spread her light to those all around her. Maybe that’s why people who knew me freshman year of college look up to me so much. It’s because no “average” person would pull some of the social stunts I did, back when I was manic. I was on fire. Literally, my brain was on fire. Manic. I felt unstoppable. Life is so, so beautiful, from the eyes of a manic person. I must be careful, though, not to romanticize bipolar disorder. At the core, bipolar is an ILLNESS. Mania, as good as it may feel, is an illness. And I mustn’t forget the crippling depressive episodes that inevitably follow the manias.
That bipolar diagnosis was the best and worst thing that happened to me. On the one hand, it explained a whole lot of my past erratic behavior. It explained my constantly in-flux moods, my emotional instability, my rash and impulsive decisions. In tagging me with the bipolar label, my psychiatrist was able to come up with a treatment plan to help me become stable.
On the other hand, the bipolar diagnosis shook up everything I thought I knew about myself. I didn’t know what part of me and my past experiences were attributed to bipolar, and what part was actual Belicia talking. It wasn’t just about the social confidence. It was about my past achievements… all those countless hours spent studying and dancing to the point of obsession and exhaustion… was this a sign of an iron work ethic, or was it the mania that drove me to workaholism?
There’s this phenomenon in psychology called the self-fulfilling prophecy. Your thoughts and self-perception drive your behavior. If you believe you are a certain way, you are more inclined to behave in a way that aligns with your mental perception. During the time I was manic, I truly believed I had finally broken out of my shell. I perceived myself as this super confident and outgoing person. I believed I was confident, so I made it a point to ACT confident and BEHAVE in ways that confident, outgoing people do. I started saying YES to opportunities that forced me to get out in the public eye, ’cause hey– I was confident, and I could handle it. Being the “socialite” of my friend group; being “Miss Popular” on my dorm floor; working as a barista; teaching dance to UCLA students; auditioning for a musical and an a capella group (while I had no singing training, whatsoever); hosting a Latin dance workshop for the UCLA gymnastics team; adopting the British accent. I behaved in ways that aligned with my newfound self-perception. So yes, while the mania was the mechanism that underlied my lack of social inhibition, it was my behavior and experiences that fueled the confidence. For a time, before the bipolar diagnosis, I was truly a confident human being, beyond the mania.
It is a mistake for me to believe that all that social confidence during my freshman year of college was the mania talking. It was partly the mania; but it was also my continuous effort to push myself outside my comfort zone. Mania may have given me the initial push, but after that, I put in the work. I need to believe that I can be confident and accomplished, without the help of my manic episodes.
Where am I, now? Well, last night really put into perspective how much I’ve changed since my freshman year at UCLA. I am heartbroken at how much I’ve seemed to regress socially. Shy, insecure high school Belicia is creeping up again. Conversations with strangers, parties, answering questions in class, public speaking– they are all ordeals, once more.
Why has this happened? It’s partly the mood stabilizers that have taken away my precious manic episodes. I’m no longer manic; my brain chemistry has changed in such a way that has taken away my socially uninhibited ways. But I believe 90% of my social regression is mental. I have the belief that my former social confidence was completely FAKE. That I really haven’t changed much from the shy girl I was, three years ago. And because of that, I now identify more with the shy, low self-esteem Belicia than I do with confident and outgoing Belicia. This identity shift has shaken my ability to confidently handle social situations, because I don’t believe in myself, the way I used to. I no longer take risks. I no longer make it a point to put myself out there. I used to be the one who stood out in the crowd. Last night, at the party, I sat alone by the drinks table, reluctant to speak to new people. The only time I felt freedom was when they put on some of my favorite songs to dance to. Then, and only then, was I able to let loose and have fun. So, in spite of all that’s happened, at least I’m still confident in the realm of dance. Dance and writing. My two biggest anchors, after family.
At the end of the day, I’m grateful for the bipolar diagnosis. It’s stripped me of all delusion of grandeur. I am grounded in reality. I can build social confidence– genuine social confidence– from the ground up. I would hate to live my life reliant on manic episodes, because what would happen every time they disappeared and were replaced by depression? Would I be social butterfly one day, and a social recluse the next? It’s an unstable way of living. If I could somehow manage to build unshakable confidence, separate from the mania, that would be the ultimate marker of personal growth, learning, and stability. Now is when I must be brave and put in the work. I need to put myself out there again, this time without the help of mania. It will be scary. It won’t be easy. But I believe I am a strong person, with or without mania. I can do this.
Alrighty guys. Thanks for reading this. I need to stop procrastinating and start studying. Got a midterm this coming week, and two the following week (plus a dance competition!).