Gap Year 5.5 Month Reflection

Hey guys! Hope you’re doing well. It’s 4:23pm right now. I’m sitting in a booth inside Molly Stones, which is located right next to the local dance studio. Just had two dance lessons, now am taking a break before the advanced Latin-ballroom group class at 8pm.

So, I think it’s high time for a reflective post, seeing as my gap year is almost halfway over. This post is difficult for me to write. Whenever I take a critical look within myself, I am oftentimes ashamed of what I see. Nowadays, even more so. I wish I could say that this gap year has been productive, enriching, and fun. I wish I could say that I’ve achieved all the goals I set out to do at the beginning of my gap year– write my book, dance and figure skate to my heart’s content, get a job and make good money (mostly to support my expensive hobbies).

Welp. I can’t really say any of those things. This gap year has been one of the most difficult times of my life. The transition out of college was hard for many different reasons. I missed college life. The freedom and independence. The intellectual and social stimulation. The personal growth. My community.

I think of college as a bubble protecting you from the real world. In this bubble, you have a built-in community of like-minded people. You have such ease of access to a myriad of resources and opportunities— professors, peers, career fairs, undergraduate research, informational events— all there to aid you in personal and professional development as you transition into adulthood. There’s never a shortage of clubs and organizations that pique your interest. It’s so easy to make friends in this manufactured community. It may take you a bit to find your groove as you navigate this newfound independence, but once you do, everything else kind of falls into place. You find your close group of friends. You develop interests both in and out of the classroom. You learn how to manage classes, extracurriculars, groceries, exercise, and nap time.

I made the decision to leave college a year early. Upon returning home, I quickly realized that my decision to leave UCLA was both impulsive, and possibly erroneous. You see, it took me a while to find my footing in college. Making friends was not a problem. My main issue was taking care of my physical and mental health whilst striving for excellence in both the classroom and extracurriculars. Believe me when I say that I was beaten and battered and bruised— mentally, psychologically, emotionally, and financially— time and time again. College is hard, that’s for sure. Especially when you’re dealing with a serious mental illness like bipolar. It wasn’t until the end of junior year that I started to feel more in control of my life. I was no longer spending money recklessly. I found a good balance between classes and extracurriculars. I had two jobs that I absolutely loved. Granted, my mental illness was still there, and it was still severely under-treated. But towards the end of my college career, I think I figured out a way to cope with bipolar as best as I could under my circumstances. Finally, FINALLY, I found my footing.

And just when everything seemed to be working out, the bubble burst. Graduating early was something I decided to do on my own accord. I concede that I was manic when I impulsively made this big life decision. After the graduation festivities ended, I was left with the decision to stay in LA or return home. After much parental pressure, I decided to return home to take care of my mental illness. Sounds great in theory, right?

The reality was much more bleak. Sure, I had better resources and access to mental health care back home in the Bay Area. I could finally focus solely on taking care of my mental illness. I had a psychiatrist, a therapist, and group therapy. A family friend of ours is an acupuncturist, and she’s been giving me free treatment for my bipolar twice a week. Swell, right?

Well… before I dive into the dark reality of my gap year, I will say this. Humans are complex. We have a series of needs that, when met, can help us live happy, healthy lives. Think of Maslow’s Hierarchy. At the bottom of the pyramid you have your instrumental needs— food, money, shelter. But meeting those needs are not enough. On top of that are more complex needs, like safety, belonging and love, and self-esteem. When I returned home, I had all of my instrumental needs met. Didn’t have to pay for rent, food, or transportation. For that, I am extremely grateful. But everything else— independence, social community, sense of purpose, self-esteem— fell out the window. Returning home to my parents’ nest made me feel like a child once more. I felt as if I lost my freedom and independence. I regressed into an infantile state, once more reliant on my parents, loving as they may be. I left behind my friends, most of whom were still in college. I missed my old jobs, which gave me a sense of purpose. My ex-boyfriend was still in Los Angeles, and I had to leave him behind as well.

Given everything, what happened next is no surprise. I fell into a deep depression, which landed me in the ER after persistent thoughts of suicide. I cut myself, mostly as a way to scream at my parents, “Look at what I’ve become. And it’s all YOUR fault.” Indeed, I blamed my parents for pressuring me to come home, which led me into my miserable existence of loneliness and self-pity. Of course, I was the one who ultimately made the decision to come home. No one held a gun to my head saying, “Belicia, you MUST come home or you will die.” Well, I think a part of me did in fact die, when I left LA. Not immediately, no. But as the days, weeks, and months went on, my reality grew dimmer and dimmer, like a tumor that wouldn’t stop growing. My intention with moving home was to improve my mental health. In reality, the very opposite happened. Without independence, social stimulation, self-esteem or purpose, it didn’t matter how much therapy or medications I was receiving. I was drowning.

Let’s get on to the chronology of my gap year. First month was the honeymoon phase. Believe it or not, sad as I was to leave LA, I was also excited, because for the first time in my life, I would not have to crumble under the pressure of school, and I could pursue my creative passions to my heart’s content. For the first month, both my parents were overseas, so I still had a semblance of independence.

Then, my parents returned home. Immediately, I lost my freedom and space. My mother was relentless. She would monitor my every move, shout up the stairwell every five minutes to tell me to do something, ask where I was going whenever I went out. The stark contrast between the freedom I had in college and the reality of living at home was tremendous. I was suffocating.

Then there was the FOMO I experienced. Social media was my new greatest enemy. As I watched what my friends were doing in college, I felt a deep sadness that I could not be with them, making new memories. I felt an invisible force tearing apart the friendships I had so tenderly grown during my three years at UCLA.

To add fuel to fire, I missed my boyfriend like crazy, and doing long-distance was difficult.

You guys get the picture, right? Mired in a deep depression, the last thing I could think about was personal growth and goals and achievement. Being at home was now a matter of survival.

The overarching theme of the past five months, then, was transitioning to a new chapter of my life and learning to make peace with an imperfect situation. The progress has been slow, but these days, I’m doing a lot better than I was in the beginning. The reality is, even if life throws you lemons, you can’t sit on your ass for months on end, moping about it and blaming others for what has happened. Some circumstances are beyond your control. But what you can control is your response and reaction. Sure, moving home sucked. For so many reasons. But what am I going to do? Lay in my bed all day, curtains drawn, shutting out the rest of the world? Obviously not. I needed time to grieve the loss of a past life and rebuild my life in the Bay Area. That kind of thing doesn’t happen overnight. It’s been five months, and I’d be lying if I said I’ve completely healed and moved on. But I’m getting better. My parents have learned to back off and give me my space. I’m getting back into competitive ballroom dance. Today, I had my first figure skating lesson in three months. I got a personal fitness trainer who is slowly getting me back into shape. I found a group of friends in San Francisco whom I go out with every other week. My friend from UCLA, Su, moved to the Bay for a job, so having her around has been super great as well. I started a job as an SAT English tutor. I’m teaching a stretching class at the dance studio. And of course, I am writing. A lot. I am in the very beginning stages of my first novel, what is to be a compilation of some of these blog posts. I’ve written consistently for the past five years on this blog. That’s enough for a couple novels!

If there’s one thing I’ve learned since moving home, it’s to trust the process. When I was in my darkest hour, I had no idea what was going to happen, or if I was even going to make it out alive. It’s okay not to know. In the words of singer-songwriter Bebe Rexha, “Everything’s gonna be alright, everything’s gonna be okay, it’s gonna be a good, good life, that’s what my therapist say”. I believe that even if life sucks in the moment, everything will work itself out in the end. I am not completely out of the woods yet. But I’m doing better. A lot better. And for that, I am grateful.

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