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.

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