Coronavirus Quarantine Series: Day 1

Hello, everyone! Welcome to Day 1 of my coronavirus quarantine series. For those of you who don’t know, as of March 17, 2020, seven counties in the San Francisco Bay Area  have been ordered to “shelter-in-place”, a measure just short of a full-blown lockdown, that prevents citizens from leaving their homes other than to perform necessities like buying groceries or obtaining healthcare operations.

For the next three weeks, the streets will be empty, most businesses will close, and people will be self-quarantined in their homes. In my short 22 years of life, I have never experienced anything like this. It is surreal.

Public opinion is mixed. Some people believe that such drastic measures are absolutely necessary to prevent further spread of Covid-19. Others believe that the people are overreacting. I confess that even a week ago, I adopted a cavalier attitude towards the pandemic. I thought, “No way is this virus going to affect me or my loved ones.” Just a few days ago, I was having a wine and cheese night at my friend’s apartment in Los Angeles. I now realize that such behavior– turning a blind eye from reality– is the reason why this virus is spreading like wildfire. I take full ownership of my actions, and from here on out, I am committed to doing everything in my power to stop the pandemic and “flatten the curve”, as they say.

It’s comforting to think that you and your loved ones will remain immune to the illness. This kind of thinking serves as a defense mechanism of sorts that blinds us to the dark reality of what is really happening. Hundreds of thousands of individuals around the world carry the virus, and that number is only growing exponentially. Already, thousands of people have died at the hands of the virus, which has posed as life-threatening to the elderly and immunocompromised populations.

I think of my grandmother, who is currently holed up in her San Mateo apartment. Thankfully, she has enough food and supplies to last her for the next month. I still fear for her safety, though. She is 84 years old, and if affected, there is a very real possibility that she will not recover.

Almost 7 million California residents are restricted from leaving their homes for the next few weeks. As necessary as these measures are, I still find myself selfishly dreading the next 21 days of self-quarantine. What am I to do, if not go to the gym, dance at the studio, or attend work?

Well, last night, I made a promise to myself. I will not waste these next few weeks. I can look at it as a burden, or I can view it as an opportunity to focus on personal goals. Last night, I wrote a list of all the goals I hope to accomplish during my stay at home. These include: writing my blog, writing my book, writing on my website, running on the levee to get in shape, stretching at home to gain back my flexibility, dancing in the small open space in my living room, tutoring my students remotely, reading at least two books, and catching up on some Netflix shows. I carved out a schedule every day to ensure that I am keeping busy and staying on track to achieving these goals.

Here is the schedule I laid out for today:

8am-9am: Jog on the levee

9:15am-9:30am: Eat breakfast

9:30am-10am: Write book

10am-12pm: Study for GRE

12pm-12:30pm: Eat lunch

12:30pm-1pm: Write on website

1pm-3pm: Work from home

3pm-4pm: Dance and Stretch

4pm-5pm: Tutoring Session

5pm-6pm: Downtime

6pm-7pm: Write on blog/book

7pm-7:30pm: Eat dinner

7:30pm-8pm: Spring Cleaning

8pm-9pm: Study for GRE

9pm-10pm: Journaling / Self-Reflection

10pm-11pm: Reading

11pm-11:30pm: Meditate

11:30pm-12am: Downtime

12am: Sleep

Unfortunately, I was unable to follow today’s schedule to a tee. See, I took a sleeping pill last night to help me fall asleep, but I took the pill too late, which caused me to sleep in until 12pm. There goes the first half of my day. I did manage to achieve some goals though: I read a big chunk of the book “Grit”, by Angela Duckworth (highly recommend). I tutored one of my students remotely, which went well. I took a jog on the levee. Studied for the GRE for an hour. After writing this blog, I will work a little bit on my book. Then I’ll try my best to follow the rest of the evening’s schedule.

Thus far, I’ve learned a lot from the book “Grit”, which explores the power of passion and perseverance on the quest to excellence and expertise. In the book, Angela Duckworth, American psychologist, talks about the nature of goal-setting, which exists on three hierarchical levels: high-level goals, medium-level goals, and low-level goals. Your high-level goal is synonymous with a long-term goal. Most people focus on only one or two high-level goals at a time. For many young people like myself, that goal is career-oriented. My present high-level goal is to become a successful sports and performance psychologist. Medium-level goals give you a general breakdown of the steps you need to take to reach your high-level goal. To become a sports psychologist, I need to earn my PhD. To do that, I need to earn my Bachelor’s degree and take the GRE exam. I also need to network with people in the field and engage in extracurricular activities related to sports psychology. After I’ve set these medium-level goals, it’s time to examine my low-level goals. That is, the day-to-day tasks I need to take to accomplish my mid-tier goals, which will ultimately get me to my high-level goal. During undergrad, I worked hard to get good grades by  studying several hours a day, going to office hours, and setting up study sessions with classmates. I am currently studying 3 hours a day for my GRE exam, which I plan on taking in a couple months’ time. I have set up informational interviews with sports psychologists to learn more about the field. I am doing extensive research on PhD programs that suit my interests. These low-level, day-to-day tasks are what will ultimately get me from point A, where I am now, to point B, where I want to be. Without low-level goals, you cannot achieve mid-tier goals, which will obviously preclude you from reaching your long-term goal. Perseverance is necessary. Discipline is a must. Passion, focus, and deliberate practice are key components of the journey. The book “Grit” only corroborates what I already know, from my years as a competitive athlete.

These past seven months of post-grad life have been uninspiring, sluggish, and dull. I battled post-college depression. Identity crisis. Loss of motivation and structure and discipline. Conflict with my parents. Sadness of leaving my life in LA. Only recently have I been able to pick myself up and get the wheels turning again. It took me seven months, but I am happy to say that I’m finally feeling like my old self, again. I wake up each morning, excited to achieve the goals I’ve laid out for myself.

The hierarchy of goals can definitely be applied to the present coronavirus pandemic. Our high-level goal is to rid this world of the virus. Mid-level goal is to limit human-to-human contact and protect the most at-risk populations. Low-level goals include practicing good hygiene, washing your hands for 20 seconds, closing down non-essential businesses, switching schools to online-formatting, implementing lockdowns, preventing gatherings, and self-quarantining at home. We are united in this fight to save humanity. Here’s to a better tomorrow, and a brighter future ahead. And in this dark time in human history, these words never rang truer.

Coronavirus: Status Update

Hi everyone. I have just returned to the Bay Area after a week-long trip to LA, and am now safely ensconced in my room, effectively quarantined from the rest of the world.

I am sure that by now, you all have heard of the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic and how the vicious virus is drastically impacting millions and millions of people around the globe. The world is in a state of mass hysteria. As of today, March 16, 2020, there have been 182,555 reported cases of Covid-19 worldwide, and over 7,000 deaths. Hundreds of thousands more are likely to carry the virus asymptomatically. In many cities, people have been ordered to stay inside their homes to prevent the spread of the highly contagious virus. A few days ago, the President Trump declared a national emergency surrounding the pandemic, which has effectively made its way into the States and is spreading at an exponential rate. Drastic public health measures have been taken to halt the spread of the virus. Restaurants, bars, clubs, gyms, and recreation centers have been closed down for the next few weeks. All large group gatherings have been cancelled or postponed. This includes sporting events, competitions, live performances, movies, weddings, parties, graduation commencement ceremonies, and the like. The implications are far-reaching. Employees of companies are now working from home. Small businesses are going bankrupt. Freelance artists and teachers are losing income. People are maniacally storming grocery stores, hoarding food and toilet paper and alcohol (they say the consumption of alcohol will “kill germs”– whether this is true or not remains to be seen). The economy is going into one of the biggest recessions in this country’s history.

As a 22-year-old college graduate, I see many of my college friends being deeply affected by these drastic, but necessary, measures to contain the virus. Most, if not all, American universities have switched their classes to an online format, so students do not have to step foot on campus or cram themselves into a crowded lecture hall. Final examinations, which are taking place this week for many schools on the quarter system, have been completely switched to online. Next quarter/semester’s classes will also be held remotely. Many universities are evicting students from dorms. It is likely that graduation ceremonies for the Class of 2020 will be canceled or postponed. Many of my friends, who are college seniors, are mourning the loss of their senior-year experience. For many, this will be their last quarter/semester of college. Never again will they step foot inside an undergraduate lecture hall, or attend office hours, or study in the library. Gone are the days of partying on Thursday nights at the local bars, clubs, or frat houses. There is a large chance that they will not be able to walk the graduation stage– a defining symbol of four years of hard work, toil, growth, achievement, and transition into adulthood. Many friends and classmates have returned to their respective homes, leaving students with little to no time to say goodbye to one another.

Needless to say, it is a difficult time for everyone. The virus does not discriminate. It is a great leveler of classes. Everyone is affected, be it directly or indirectly. The elderly and immunocompromised are our most at risk populations. It is our civic duty to protect both ourselves and those around us from getting sick.

Thus, as I write to you from home on the eve of a three week-long mandatory “shelter-in-place” policy, I am filled with a mixture of emotions. Fear of what is to come. Grief for those who have lost their lives at the hands of the Virus. Confusion as a plethora of information and misinformation inundates social media. Empathy for everyone around me whose lives have turned upside-down. Hope that eventually, things will get better.

As I will have a lot of time on my hands in the coming weeks, I have decided to keep a detailed account of my day-to-day life, thoughts, and sentiments, as we navigate this incredibly scary, confusing, difficult time in human history. Stay tuned for more, and everyone, I implore you– be safe, be smart, and be well.






Return to Toastmasters!!!

Hi friends! It”s currently 3:46am on this Thursday morning. As usual, sleep isn’t coming easy, so I decided to write about my day!

Yesterday (Wednesday) was a formative day indeed. It started off slow– my moods and motivation level were low, and I could barely get myself out of bed. Once I mustered up the strength to roll out of my warm comfy sheets and get the day started, it was already the afternoon! I got some work done (studying SAT math, because I’m teaching a course starting on Saturday); danced for an hour at the studio; scrolled through social media; took a short nap.

At 6:30pm, I made the spontaneous decision to attend my first Toastmaster’s International meeting in a long while! For those of you who don’t know, Toastmasters is an organization that helps people improve their public speaking skills, with chapters all around the world. I started my Toastmaster’s journey back in high school, as a way to overcome debilitating social anxiety and build my confidence as an orator. Slowly but surely, my public speaking skills improved with constant exposure throughout college. I was even invited to give a student TED talk, which was such a fun experience!

The thing is, I’ve always had a fear of public speaking. That deep-seated fear did not truly go away, despite how much practice I had. The physiological reaction, aka the fight or flight response, was always there. I just learned how to better cope with it. I went from being completely non-functional during a presentation, to becoming a (more) confident public speaker.

A big part of the reason why I was able to temper the anxiety was because I practiced a lot in college. I had to give presentations and participate in debates in my classes. I raised my hand a lot in lecture to learn and participate in discussions. I experienced many interviews for various extracurricular leadership roles. Slowly but surely, my shyness was shedding.

Then, I came home. The transition out of college was difficult, and without constant exposure to challenging social situations, my social anxiety returned, full force. I mean, what do you expect from someone who’s naturally introverted and going through a bout of depression, holed up in her room all day, living like a recluse and homebody?

So yesterday, I decided to challenge myself for the first time in a while. I attended my first Toastmaster’s meeting in over a year. I did not anticipate the experience to be so anxiety provoking. I felt the familiar fight or flight response– a physiological reaction to fearful situations. As I was out of practice, I lost faith in my ability to cope under pressure. I let the fear overtake my composure.

I was welcomed as a guest, but seeing as the meeting was missing a timer– aka the person who times the speeches to make sure everyone is speaking in the allotted time frame– I volunteered to take over the position. When I was introducing myself to the others, I was visibly nervous. For some reason, I struggled to make eye contact with the audience. My voice was shaking. I tried hard to not judge myself for it– I am only human, and I have imperfections. Then, it came time for me to introduce the role of the timer to everyone. I basically read off the paper the entire time, again not really making eye contact with anyone.

Then came time for Table Topics. Table topics is the portion of the meeting devoted to training participants in impromptu speaking. You are given a topic to speak about on the spot and are expected to give a 1-2 minute impromptu speech. I was the last person to go. My topic was, “What is your favorite winter vacation spot?” As I was walking up to the front of the room, my mind went blank. What is my favorite place to go during winter holidays? I didn’t know! I got up there, and immediately I knew that this speech would be a disaster. I didn’t know what to say, and I sure as hell did not have my wits about me. I think I ended up blurting out something like “Lake Tahoe” and “skiing”. Very original, Bel. Without much else to say, and with a whole minute left to spare, I looked to the President of the club, eyes pleading, “Help me, please.” He was so kind and prompted me to speak about summer vacation spots, or made-up vacation destinations. But my mind kept blanking! At that point, I was panicking inside. I couldn’t make eye contact with anyone, a sheen of sweat lined my forehead, my voice was trembling, and my heart was beating out of my chest. Even typing this out and recounting the experience, I find my palms sweating. In that moment, being up there with everyone staring at me (them witnessing the debacle unfolding before their very eyes, and probably feeling just as uncomfortable as I was), I wanted nothing more than to escape. I remember thinking to myself throughout the speech, “This is the worst thing that can happen. I am completely blowing it.” I even had to stop in the middle, take a breath, and admit to everyone that I was super nervous. One kind lady whispered to me, “It’s okay.” Once I hit the one minute mark, I clumsily ended my terrible speech and was met with scattered, sympathetic applause. I was mortified!

Here’s the interesting thing, though. After I came down from that harrowing experience and regained my composure, I found myself feeling a mixture of emotions. Yes, there was embarrassment. But more than that, there was pride. I felt proud of myself for getting up there and speaking! My worst nightmare unfolded– aka, a very flustered me stumbling through what was quite possibly the worst speech in human history. But you know what? I survived the experience and lived to tell the tale!

They say that failure begets growth. I couldn’t agree more. While I may not have delivered the best speech I could have possibly given, upon further reflection, I take this experience as a win. Because in the process, I gained something invaluable. The flame in my soul is reignited. Once more, there is a fire in my belly that screams at me to strive for improvement. I am wholly committed to becoming a better speaker. I may have sucked today, but I have absolute, 100% faith in myself that one day, I WILL be a great orator and move people through my words. I know that the path to getting there won’t be easy. I will be scared. I will be embarrassed. I may even be downright mortified. But if there’s anything I learned from my life as an athlete, it is that I am RESILIENT. With each “failure” comes a hunger and yearning to be better. I refuse to resign myself to fear and let that fear hinder me from achieving my full potential. So eager was I to prove to myself that I could be better, I immediately signed up to be a speaker for the next meeting. So in two weeks’ time, I will be delivering my first prepared speech in over a year. I am nervous, but I am also excited and curious to see how I will handle myself in such a situation. I’ve also decided to take some acting classes and explore improv comedy through a troupe in the Bay Area called “BATS Improv”. I need to tackle this fear head on and overcome it.

Time and time again, I am brought back to Eleanor Roosevelt’s inspiring quote: “You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” Once you look fear in the eye and emerge alive, you realize that a lot of that fear was irrational and existed only in your head. No matter how badly you handled the situation, you WILL emerge more confident. Why? Because you looked fear in the face and survived. The next time a similar situation rolls around, you may still experience that same fear and ensuing physiological reaction. No one said it would be comfortable. But this time around, you will be grounded with the knowledge that you will survive. Your worst nightmare came to fruition, but you survived it.

Another quote I love is that of esteemed UCLA basketball coach, John Wooden. He said, “Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do. We can have no progress without change, whether it be basketball or anything else.” Sure, I may have regressed in terms of my speaking ability. I may not be the speaker I envision myself being… yet. It’s that last word– YET– that makes such a profound difference in your thinking. It’s the hallmark of the growth mindset, which is rooted in the belief that one can transcend one’s present abilities and improve, with patience and practice.

I am excited to see how far I can go as an orator. I love challenges, and I guess that’s one thing I sorely missed, upon returning home after college. Every day at UCLA, I was challenged, be it intellectually, socially, psychologically. While challenges may not be comfortable, they sure as hell make you grow tremendously as a person.

I will continue to attend these Toastmaster’s meetings. In fact, I plan on joining multiple chapters of Toastmaster’s– one in San Carlos, and two in Redwood City– so I’ll be getting in practice at least once a week. I know, I just know, that in time, I will be a great public speaker. I overcame my fear once. I can do it again.

Getting Back on the Horse

Hi guys! It’s currently 1:54am on this Wednesday morning. Sleep isn’t coming easy tonight, so I decided to write a blog post!

Today was a productive day. I worked, went to group therapy and took a group dance lesson that got me sweating like crazy. It was the first time in a long while that I felt proud of myself.

My whole life, I was taught to do strive for excellence in everything I do, be it gymnastics, school, or dance. These past 6 months back home have been difficult, to say the least. Perhaps worst of all has been my loss of direction and discipline. For the first time in my life, I am no longer a student. It didn’t dawn on me how big an impact such a transition would have on me and my identity. Without school as my anchor and compass, I was left feeling lost and confused. How do I go about my days, without classes or extracurriculars filling up my time? Of course, going into my gap year, I had many goals for myself. Work. Dance. Figure skate. Write. But my pursuit of these goals was sidelined by mental health issues, as well as the difficulty many newly-minted college graduates face when transitioning out of school. The post-grad depression hit me like a truck. I spent my days lying in bed at home, not really doing anything with my life. I led a miserable, stagnant, listless existence. I longed for that passion, that burning flame, that discipline that I had in college.

But today… today I finally found hope. Hope that with time and patience, things will get better. And they are getting better! I’m getting back into dancing. Going to therapy and acupuncture every week. Working as a tutor to financially support my dancing– although I am struggling a bit in this realm, since ballroom dancing is super expensive. Slowly but surely, I’m getting back on the horse.

I have no doubt that once I find my direction once more, I will be unstoppable in the pursuit of my long-term goals. That’s just the type of person I am. I identify a goal and go full-throttle to achieve it. And more often than not, I do achieve these goals. But my hunger for success is never satiated. I always strive for more, to improve and grow and reach my maximum potential. I’m type-A to the core. I am passionate. And I dream big.

It’s just that this whole transition out of college shook me to the core. I didn’t anticipate it being so difficult, for so many reasons. I am happy to say, though, that I’m out of the woods. The hardest part is over. I hit rock bottom a couple months ago. With the help of therapy and medications, I’ve recovered. And slowly but surely, I’m brushing the dust off and picking myself back up.

So, here’s a list of some of the goals that await me.

  • Take care of mental health. This one is obvious. As many of you may know, I have bipolar disorder. This is a very serious mental illness, and when left untreated, the consequences can be devastating. In order to manage the illness, I need to go to individual and group therapy diligently, take my meds religiously, and revolve my lifestyle around the illness. Thankfully, I am finally putting my mental health as a priority, rather than an afterthought, like I did in college. I recently underwent a change in my medication regimen, and the whole process was painful. I wasn’t sleeping. I wasn’t eating. I was completely non-functional. Yesterday, my psychiatrist put me on yet another medication, which I hope will help me get out of this funk.
  • Dance. I came into this gap year aiming to dance all day, every day. I hoped to improve my dancing as much as possible, perhaps even find a partner and compete together! Sadly, I have not stayed true to my word, and this goal has yet to come to fruition. But instead of beating myself up about it, I’m learning to treat myself with compassion. I realize that this transitional period has been difficult, and because of that, I haven’t been able to focus as much as I want to on dancing. What are my goals with dancing, you may ask? Well, I simply wish to improve and learn and grow as much as possible before going to grad school. This is the first time in my life that I don’t have school! Now, I can really focus on my dancing and see how far I can take it. I’m dancing with my teacher right now, since it’s really hard for me to find an amateur partner. But I hope that with enough practice, I will get good enough such that the partners will come to me. That’s what keeps me going, when I lose hope. I need a dance partner, so I’ll work my ass off to improve my dancing skills.
  • Write my book. I’ve been talking about writing a book for, like, forever. Well, now that I don’t have school and have so much time on my hands, I can finally do it! The book will be a compilation of some of the blog posts I’ve written these past five years. It’s coming along nicely, actually. In fact, I think I’ll work on it after I finish today’s blog!
  • Work. Obviously, I need to work to support my dancing. It’s not easy. Today, I had a minor meltdown in front of my mother regarding the expenses of dancing. I was looking around the house for another pair of dance heels, since my main pair broke. And, I don’t have enough money to buy a new pair. I couldn’t find any other pair of heels, and thus grew extremely frustrated at the situation. In a moment of exasperation, I exclaimed to my mom, “I can’t even afford a damn pair of heels. I can’t afford to pay for dance lessons. This is all just so frustrating!” My mom simply replied, “Well, you just have to work harder to pay for dancing.” When she said that, I grew even more frustrated, but I recognized the truth of what she was saying. I’m not going to ask my parents to financially support my dancing. They supported me my entire life thus far, be it with school, gymnastics, or dance (in high school). I’m not going to ask them to pay for my dance lessons, now. I graduated from UCLA. I’m turning 22 in less than a week. It’s time for me to take some responsibility and become independent. If I want to dance, I have to work to make it happen. Just last week, I couldn’t take any lessons because I didn’t have any money! But, such is life. It’s reality. I just have to figure out a way to make it work, because dancing feeds my soul, and without it, I am incomplete.

Well, guys, that’s all I have for tonight. Like I said, I’m going to work on my book for a few hours, or until I fall asleep. I wish you all the best, and talk to you later!