Bel’s Post-Grad Plans!!!

Hey guys! It’s been a couple days since I dropped the bomb about my decision to graduate from UCLA a year early. Since then, I’ve received an outpouring of support from friends and family about my difficult decision. Thank you to everyone who’s stuck with me along this crazy journey and have exhibited nothing but love and support as I navigate my way through life.

So, your next question may be, what am I to do, after I graduate?

In all honesty, I don’t have a clear-cut plan yet. I have a general idea of what I want/need to do. First and foremost, I need to get the bipolar disorder under control. Learn coping mechanisms and identify triggers and figure out a lifestyle that will allow me to function at maximum potential, while keeping the bipolar at bay. My psychiatrist in LA has already linked me to an intensive group therapy program for when I move back to NorCal. Until I get my mental health in order, forget about career plans and ambitions. Health comes before all else. If I am not healthy, I cannot possibly function at maximum potential.

So the main focus of my gap year is to heal and get mentally stable. During this time, I will fill my life with things that make me happy and give me purpose, including writing, dancing, figure skating, acting, reading, and spending time with family. I must be careful not to overload myself with activities, though, because the whole point of this gap year is to heal mentally, not spread myself thin across a million different activities.

In terms of work and making money, I have a couple options. I plan on starting a small essay-editing business, geared towards high school students applying for colleges. I already have several parents of high school juniors asking me to help their kids with their college essays, so that’ll be a good way for me to utilize my writing skills whilst making a bit of money on the side.

In addition to tutoring, I plan on becoming a dance fitness instructor. In a couple weeks, I’ll be getting my certification as a LaBlast Dance Fitness instructor. LaBlast is a fitness program created by former Dancing With the Stars pro, Louise Van Amstel. It’s basically like zumba, except more ballroom dance focused. I took a LaBlast class about a month ago, and really enjoyed it! Becoming an instructor will be a great way for me to share my passion for ballroom dance in a fun, healthy way with the general public. So that’s another thing I’ll be doing, when I get back home.

Finally, I plan on reuniting with my rhythmic gymnastics community and working as a gymnastics coach at a local gym. I also plan on getting my judge’s certification and becoming a gymnastics judge! All very exciting things to come.

I don’t know if I will be taking a single gap year, or perhaps two/more gap years. Depends on how things work out. But my ultimate goal is to earn my PhD in sports and performance psychology, and work with athletes and professional performers on mental toughness coach, teach coaches and mentors more effective and less abusive ways of coaching students, and chip away at the mental health stigma that surrounds mental health in the world of sports.

I am truly excited about graduating in seven short weeks. Can’t believe college has flown by. Freshman orientation feels like just yesterday. Truly.

Alrighty, guys, gonna go back to studying for my two midterms next week! Take care!








Big Life Decision: Doing What’s Best for Me

Hey guys! It’s been almost a month since my last post. I apologize for being AWOL as of late. I’ve missed talking to you guys, but my life this past month has been riddled with chaos and mental illness, so I needed to take time off for myself.

My psychiatrist had me on a regimen of medications that unfortunately wasn’t working well for me. That, coupled with the immense stress of academics and running my own dance club, was enough to send me spiraling. It all came to a head two weeks ago when I broke down crying over the phone, while talking to my mother (if you knew me, you’d know that I don’t cry very easily). I felt so deeply depressed and dissatisfied with everything about myself– my looks, my body, my inability to control my moods and get a grip on the bipolar disorder. It didn’t matter how much I had achieved in the past. In that moment, I felt hopeless… as if everything in my life was out of my control… I felt powerless. I am a huge dreamer and have always wanted to achieve so much, but what of the follow through? My plans always get derailed by the onset of a depressive or hypomanic episode. I’ve always prided myself on not letting my mental illness hinder me from achieving everything I’d envisioned for myself. Two weeks ago, I realized that I could not longer just ignore my bipolar disorder and act like it wasn’t a big issue. I would need to make some adjustments in my life to accommodate my illness and avoid the triggers that send me over the edge.

So, in a concerted effort to prioritize my mental health, I have made a major life decision that I think I am ready to share with you all.

I have decided to graduate a year early this June, with a B.A. in psychology. No more staying another year at UCLA and picking up a minor. That was the original plan. But after discussing my condition extensively with my psychiatrist, I realized that the immense stress I face at a competitive university is a huge trigger for my mood shifts. To really get my bipolar under control, I need to go through intensive therapy and focus my energies solely on my mental health. I need to be home, where access to therapy is much more convenient (no need to spend money and time on Uber rides to the off-campus psychiatric clinic). Moreover, I’ve found that being close to my family gives me stability, support, and comfort, and helps ground me in reality. As much as I love my friends at UCLA, I need to leave behind the lifestyle of partying and drinking that is ultimately detrimental to my mental and emotional well-being.

Of course, there was the option of taking a leave of absence from UCLA, and returning to school in the fall. But because I am only a few classes away from graduating, it made more sense to me to stick out one more quarter and bring my college chapter to a close. Plus, I didn’t want to rush my recovery process. You can’t impose a deadline on healing.

I do not regret coming to college. I’ve grown and matured tremendously, learned so much about myself, and made some truly unforgettable memories. But I have to say, my college experience was hard. Hard, because it came during a very turbulent time in my life, when I was grappling with my new bipolar diagnosis and figuring out how to manage the illness, on top of the million other things consuming my mind– academics, dance, career plans. Bipolar made everything so much more difficult. When I was manic, I’d feel on top of the world. I would take on so many different commitments; make promises to other people that I later wouldn’t be able to keep; forgo food and sleep; and tackle life head-on at the speed of light. A couple weeks later, I’d fall into a depression, and all that passion and fire and energy that ignited my soul would suddenly extinguish. I’d be left with a bunch of projects I’d just begun, but was unable to finish, in my depressed state. I think I let a lot of people down, when the depression hit. I’d cancel plans. Fight each day to maintain productivity, so I could keep my grades up and continue achieving. Living with bipolar is hard. Especially in college, which is a chaotic time in and of itself. To manage my bipolar, I need to be in a stable environment of minimal stress. At least, that’s what I need for the time being, until I have mastered the art of coping and effectively identified my triggers.

Will I miss UCLA? Sure. I’ll miss my friends, who will continue their last year without me. I’ll miss Bruin Burlesque, the dance club I started last winter. There are things I wish I could have done in college, that I wasn’t able to do. But at the end of the day, I need to prioritize my mental health, and I know in my heart that going home is the best thing for me.

Tomorrow, I’ll be speaking on a panel to high school students, sharing the story of my college experience. I will share with them all my struggles and triumphs with the utmost honesty– not in an attempt to scare them, but to let them know that while college can bring the best of times, it can also bring the worst of times. And should the latter come to pass, they need not feel alone. Because we all struggle in college. College pushes us to the edge. But we grow stronger from it.

So I thank you, UCLA, for shaping me into the strong woman I am today. I leave with mixed emotions– gratitude, frustration, relief. In seven weeks’ time, this brief roller-coaster of a life chapter will draw to a close. And I can tell myself, “I did it. I survived what has been both the best and worst three years of my life.” Then, and only then, can I finally release my breath, and commence the healing process.