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!






Medication Shift is a Bitch

Today I wanted to get a huge load off my chest. This past month has been one of the hardest months I’ve ever had. Quite frankly, it went by in one huge blur. I started the month off on two medications– Lamictal and Abilify, the latter of which has a nasty side effect of weight gain. Tired of my fitness goals being derailed by medication interference, I decided to get off of Abilify and switch to something without as many side effects. The doctor decided to put me on Geodon, another antipsychotic medication.

I couldn’t just stop Abilify cold turkey, though. I had to taper off of it, from 15mg, to 10mg, to 5, then 0. So for a period of time, I was on BOTH Geodon and Abilify. The interaction of the two medications results in extreme sedation. So for about two weeks, I was literally a zombie. I slept all day, every day. I couldn’t even get behind a wheel, for fear of falling asleep. Needless to say, I don’t remember much of that dark time.

Eventually, I finished tapering off Abilify and settled with just the Geodon and Lamictal. Without the tranquilizing effect of Abilify, however, my sleep did a complete 180 on me. I went from sleeping every minute of every day to not being able to sleep AT ALL. For the past week-and-a-half, I’ve been staying up all night, falling asleep around 6 or 7am. Then, I’d catch up on my sleep during the day, staying in bed until 4 or 5pm. Of course, by then, the day would almost be over. I’d wake up super groggy and spend the remainder of the day feeling like a zombie. I’d be completely unproductive at whatever I set out to do. I’d get about 3 hours of sunlight, maximum. By nightfall, I’d once again be wide awake. I hated the feeling of having so much energy at an ungodly hour without having anywhere to go to expend such energy. I can’t go running, because it’s not safe to be out alone that late at night. The gym is closed, as is Starbucks. No one is awake, so I’d have no one to talk to. The loneliness I felt was crippling.

Because of my sleep issues, I had to cancel all my work commitments last week, which made me lose a week’s worth of income. This does not bode well for my lifestyle, as I live paycheck to paycheck to support my expensive hobbies. So all of this week, I wasn’t able to do the things I enjoyed doing, like skating or dancing, because a) I didn’t have the energy to, and b) I didn’t have money. All these factors and more have contributed to my increasingly depressed spirits. I think I am going crazy.

The good news is, I’ll be speaking to my psychiatrist on Monday to discuss how we can correct this pervasive issue.

Phew. Sorry if this post was super depressing. It simply reflects my current miserable state of being. I am not usually one to entertain self-pity, but currently, I wish I could have any brain other than my own. Here’s hoping tonight will be a little bit better (though not likely).






I Miss College

It’s 12:14am. I’m sitting in my bed, bleeding my emotions onto the screen. Gahh… there’s so much on my mind right now… but why is it so hard for me to articulate my thoughts tonight?

Well, I think sleep deprivation is the number one culprit. Ever since I got off my old medication, I’ve been having so many sleep issues. I’ll be unable to fall asleep until 5am or 6am. I’ll get in a few hours of shut-eye before morning beckons me to wake up. Then I’ll be a zombie for the rest of the day. This pattern has been going on for the past week. I’ve emailed my psychiatrist about it, but she is out of the office until March 2. I guess I’ll just have to stick it out, in the meantime.

So, onto the meat of today’s post. Missing college. I’ve definitely been experiencing a lot of nostalgia as of late. Maybe it’s because I’m feeling lonely, what with my parents gone on a two-week cruise. I spend most my days alone in an empty house, idling my time away on social media, living vicariously through all my college friends’ stories and posts. I know, super toxic and unhealthy. More often than not, I’ll feel even lonelier after seeing what my friends are up to, because I know I can’t be there with them as they continue to make memories together.

College, as difficult as it was, was a grand ol’ time indeed. So much intellectual and social stimulation. So many opportunities for personal and professional growth and development. It was a built-in community filled with intelligent, talented, ambitious people. I miss the structure of going to class every day, followed by studying in Powell library, then dance practice, then more studying, then sleep. Every minute of every day was scheduled. As a former competitive gymnast, I am so used to having structure in my life. I love being disciplined. It suits me well. Ever since moving back home, though, I’ve lost that structure. Yes, I have dancing and figure skating and work. Yet, I still find myself floating around most of the day… doing nothing productive. In these moments of do-nothingness, I will usually be scrolling through my phone, re-watching old dancing videos and basking in the memories of my college days, which are now behind me.

Sometimes, I still can’t believe I’ve graduated. It honestly feels like just yesterday when I was moving into Rieber Hall, excited beyond belief for the next four– correction, three– years. Wow. Typing out those words just brought on a surge of emotions. There’s nostalgia, fondness, and regret. Oh, lots of regret. I regret that I made the rash decision of graduating a year early. Had I stayed one year longer, I could have continued my journey of growth. There was still so much I longed to do at UCLA, from building my dance club, Bruin Burlesque, to picking up a theater or English minor, to becoming an editor for the school newspaper, to performing at UCLA’s annual talent show, Spring Sing. I could have done more networking with professors. I could have done undergraduate research. So much on my to-do list, but at the end of the day, most items were left unfulfilled. Goodness me. I feel such anger at myself right now. Why, oh why did I leave UCLA prematurely?

Welp. Can’t change the past. But I can control my present and try my hardest to move forward. Graduating early had its perks. I could finally focus on taking care of my mental health and getting the proper treatment I need. I’d save a year’s worth of tuition (“Yay”, says Dad). But leaving college early has been one of the biggest decisions of my life. And boy has the transition been difficult.

They say hindsight is never 20-20. Looking back, graduating early was an impulsive decision. I clearly remember the day I told myself I’d do it. I was standing inside the Bruin Bus, on my way home after my morning classes were over. I called my mom and told her, “By the way, I’ve decided to graduate early.” Keep in mind that this happened shortly after I made the equally momentous decision of sticking out my four years at UCLA. I even wrote a lengthy, heartfelt Facebook post about the beauty of staying in college. And then, all that went to sh** in one moment of, shall we say, misguided inspiration.

But back to my main point– why looking back and reflecting on past experiences may not be as reliable as we think. See, when I made the decision to leave UCLA, there HAD to be some driving force that caused it. This kind of thing doesn’t just happen spontaneously. There must have been a trigger. Looking back at the events leading up the decision, I vaguely remember being incredibly stressed with school. At that point, I had experienced many mental breakdowns (aka, depressive or manic episodes). I guess I was just fed up with it all and wanted to escape as fast as possible. So yeah, it’s easy to be angry at myself for making a seemingly erroneous decision. But I must remember that at the end of the day, I made the decision of my own accord.

When I decided to graduate early, I wasn’t happy. I was anxious, stressed, sleep-deprived and depressed. My pre-existing mental illness didn’t help, either. Many college students, especially those in a competitive environment, struggle with all the aforementioned things. Burnout. Anxiety. Depression. But most would not base a life-changing decision on a transient state of being. As I was manic when making that decision, I wasn’t thinking clearly, at all. My mind was all over the place. If I had known that impulsive decision-making is a hallmark symptom of mania, then I would have thought twice before completely changing my life course. But at that point, I was under-medicated and uneducated about the illness. As were my parents. I didn’t know better. And so I jumped. Took that leap of faith, but where did it land me? Depressed, lonely, embittered, regretful.

Sorry guys. I know this post was downright depressing. But it’s how I feel. Ernest Hemingway once said, “Writing is easy. You just open a vein and bleed.”

And here I am, bleeding out my heart onto the screen.


My Swift Descent Into Madness

Hey guys! It’s 4:53am as I sit in my bed, typing out this post. Sleep is not coming easy tonight, nor has it been for the past week. I suspect it has to do with the recent shift in my medication regimen. I was on an antipsychotic medication, Abilify, for over a year-and-a-half, and the medication has made me gain a significant amount of weight. Tired of feeling fat and constantly fighting carb cravings, I urged my psychiatrist to put me on a different medication called Geodon. I started taking Geodon about two weeks ago. I tapered off the Abilify and now I am completely off of the old medication. Almost overnight, my cravings for carbs and sweets disappeared. I find myself barely eating anything all day!  This past week, my sleep schedule has been totally out of whack. I sometimes find myself wide awake until 6am, and when I finally fall asleep, I don’t wake up until 3pm! Take tonight, for instance. I went out with my friends in San Francisco and danced hard all night. Came home at around 3am. Took a shower and got ready for bed. I’ve been trying to sleep for the past 2 hours, but to no avail. So I opened up my laptop and started writing. Even now, as I type out this blog post, I am wide awake. My brain is a little bit foggy, and the words are not flowing as fast as they usually do, but still, sleep will not come.

I can already sense a manic episode coming. In fact, I very well might be in the midst of a manic episode right now! After I finish typing this post, I will email my doctor and see what other options we have. In the meantime, I will try my best to manage the illness to slow down my swift descent into madness (the phrase is melodramatic, but I liked the sound of it, so there you have it).

Have a wonderful night, guys! Or rather, have a wonderful DAY!





Life Update 2/20/20: Social and Generalized Anxiety

Hi guys! Welcome back to my blog. Today’s post is kind of a free-flowing rant about what’s been going on with me lately.

Externally, not much has transpired since I last spoke to y’all. These days, I’m doing a lot of dancing and figure skating whilst supporting these expensive passions by working (freelance tutoring, SAT English/math tutoring, teaching a stretching class, working as a personal assistant to a family friend). Mental health-wise, I am taking much better care of myself. I’m following my medication regimen religiously, going to acupuncture twice a week, attending therapy and bipolar group sessions twice a week. And, of course, I’m doing a LOT of writing, whether it’s in my private diary, on this blog, or on my website. Slowly but surely, I am making decent progress on my book, which is currently over 100 pages long! I’m happy because I’m finally finding my groove here in the Bay! No longer am I bitter about moving back home after college, nor am I constantly plagued by a strong desire to move back to LA.

Despite all the good that’s been happening in my life as of late, I find myself constantly anxious about… well, everything! I’m worried I’ll get into a car accident, or get a 3rd-degree burn from a cooking mishap. Things like that. I know it’s my generalized anxiety talking, and I’ll definitely address the issue with my therapist.

I also have found that my social anxiety is creeping back. If you guys don’t know, I’ve been battling social anxiety since high school. Naturally introverted, my shyness got really bad in sophomore year of high school, when an injury took me out of gymnastics— my life and identity for ten years. My self esteem went to zero, and I isolated myself from my schoolmates, spending lunch time either sitting alone in a classroom or inside a library, studying or writing. This was how many of my social fears were acquired.

Then I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder during sophomore year of college. The illness is characterized by manic/hypomanic and depressive episodes. One of the characteristics of mania/hypomania is decreased social inhibition and marked increase in self-esteem. When I first got to college, I was extremely manic. Overnight, I broke out of my shell and transformed into a completely different person than I was in high school! I was very popular among my floor mates, classmates, friend group, and even professors. I was super friendly and outgoing with everyone I met, and I literally gave zero hoots about what other people thought of me. I thought I had finally conquered the social anxiety beast. Little did I know that this guise of social confidence was really a manifestation of mental illness, rather than genuine confidence.

Regardless, in college, I was challenged every day socially, and because of that, a part of me was truly tackling and overcoming social anxiety, illness aside.

Then, I came home from college, where I received extensive mental health treatment. The medications I am on have brought me down from the manic state. Now stable, I’ve found myself reverting back to my introverted tendencies. I admire the confidence I used to exhibit. I am light-years away from the girl I was at UCLA.

Another factor that has exacerbated my anxiety is the fact that I am no longer challenged socially every day. I spend most of my days at home, living like a recluse. The only social stimulation I get is when I’m at the dance studio or skating rink. Even there, I don’t have many friends who are my age, so I don’t get much socializing done.

This past week, I’ve been fixated on my social anxiety, worried about my symptoms and how others would perceive me if they found out I had this anxiety disorder. I worry about even the slightest things— meeting new people, job interviews, presentations, being in front of a camera, etc. etc. Such a regression from the confident and uninhibited person I was in college. I miss that Belicia. But you know what? That Belicia was using her illness as a crutch. A shortcut of sorts, to building confidence. If there’s one good thing that’s come from all this, it’s that I have been stripped of all illusions and am ready to build genuine confidence from the ground up. Without the bipolar mania backing me up, I will struggle socially. I will shake and tremble and sweat, but you know what? That is okay. The only way to tackle the social anxiety beast is to fight it head on. I always look up to Eleanor Roosevelt who, before becoming the First Lady, was incredibly, incredibly shy. She had to overcome so many obstacles and personal hurdles to get to where she ended up. Same with the actress Lucille Ball, who played the titular character in “I Love Lucy”. In an interview, she said that acting school taught her “how to be afraid”.

I beat social anxiety once, in high school. Junior and senior year were formative years in my high school career. Tired of living a miserable existence of depression and anxiety, I was ready for change. So I started going to therapy, where I worked closely with my therapist to tackle each fear, head on. Eager to build confidence, I decided to start Latin-ballroom dance. I remember nearly having a panic attack before my first social dance class. I was super nervous for my first private lesson, which happened on Valentine’s Day of 2015 (kind of poetic how that worked out, huh?). I took a 6-week public speaking course at a local community college. The day before the class commenced, I remember walking on the levee, balling my eyes out because I was so terrified for what was to come. But I survived it, and did very well!

So, that’s it for my long-winded rambling. I feel a lot better, getting all my anxieties and worries out of my head and onto paper (or in this case, my laptop screen). Writing, especially expressive writing, is super cathartic and helpful for anyone who has a lot on their mind. I’ve been writing on this blog for the past five years, and it’s been nothing but the most rewarding experience. Thank you to all of my loyal band of readers. Your continued support means so much to me. Have a wonderful rest of the week!



Nighttime Musings 2/8/2020

Hi everyone! It’s 10:46pm as I begin today’s post. For some strange reason, I found myself tonight feeling a little extra lonely and a little extra nostalgic for my college days, which are now behind me.

For the past hour, I’ve been mindlessly scrolling through social media, living vicariously through my college friends’ many nighttime adventures. One friend is celebrating her birthday by throwing a huge rager with lots of booze, lots of dancing, and lots of fun. Another is enjoying a more wholesome– but no less magical– evening walking along Santa Monica pier with her boyfriend, basking in the cool evening breeze of Venice beach.

And here I am. Many a mile away, alone in my room, typing out this post. There’s a heaviness that sits in my chest. It’s like I almost want to cry, but the tears won’t come. Just a weight that cannot be lifted.

Is it FOMO? Nostalgia? Self-pity? Maybe a mixture of all those things, and more. Earlier tonight, I was just thinking how lucky I am to be in my present situation. At home, spending time with family. Getting the mental health care I need. Not having to worry about paying rent. Making money through various jobs I enjoy, and being able to pour all that money into my creative passions. Like, when else in my life have I been able to do all that?

There’s a line from a song in Hamilton the musical. It says, “Look around, look around, at how lucky we are to be alive right now.” And it’s true. Even though my present situation is not perfect, I must count my many blessings. I am, indeed, so lucky to be alive and (relatively) well, (relatively) healthy, and (relatively) happy. A huge step forward from where I was just a few months ago, when I hit rock bottom.

While the heaviness in my chest remains, I can at least go to sleep tonight assured that I am in a good place in my life. So long as I remember to be grateful, I will give myself a fighting chance at finding inner peace and happiness.

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.

The Dangers of Mental Health Labels

Hey guys. It’s 1:16am on this Thursday morning. I am manic. So manic. I have not been this manic in a while. Sleep is out of the question tonight. I must write, lest I wish for my brain to explode.

So what is the trigger for this particular manic episode, you may ask? Well, basically, I spoke to my psychiatrist on the phone today. She recently increased my medication dosage for both the mood stabilizer and anti-psychotic. I asked my psychiatrist if the increased dosage of the anti-psychotic would cause weight gain. She replied in the affirmative. I freaked out. How can I, a dancer, gain weight?! But it certainly explained a lot. I’ve been exercising regularly and eating healthily… but I am not seeing results. It’s that damned medication, I’m telling you. So anyway, after I heard about the weight gain side effect, my mind immediately jumped to the solution, which was to exercise more and eat less. I am actually training for a ballroom dance competition in three weeks, and I need to rapidly lose weight so I don’t embarrass myself on the floor (not that anyone but me really cares). I think the competition is definitely another trigger for me. In situations of stress and pressure, I tend to go to the extreme in the pursuit of excellence. There’s a fine line between pushing yourself to work hard, and going over the edge into manic territory. Clearly, I have gone past that line, as demonstrated by tonight. I was actually going to go on a midnight run on the levee in the freezing cold, but thankfully, my mother stopped me in my tracks and scared me into submission.

More manic behavior– I impulsively messaged my ex-boyfriend, bombarding him with messages that I deeply regret sending. I don’t know why I sent them. All I know is that I was out of control. Totally manic. I don’t want to be that person who blames EVERYTHING on her illness, because not all my actions are a result of bipolar. I need to own up to my actions. But I also need to acknowledge that bipolar can really affect one’s behavior in drastic ways. I need to figure out which actions are the “real” me talking, and which are manifestations of bipolar.

Okay, so onto the meat of today’s post. I recently got my old laptop fixed (I broke the screen two years ago and finally got it fixed today). I was digging into some of the old notes I had written on my computer and stumbled across a particular gem written on August 14, 2016. Now, keep in mind that I got diagnosed with bipolar in 2018. So during the time that note was written, I had no idea I had a mood disorder. Yet, a part of me sensed that something was amiss with my mind. Well, enough of the preamble. I’ll just show you guys an excerpt of what I wrote that day.

“The older I get, the less I trust myself.

I am impulsive. I am sporadic. My emotions run rampant… I can be on top of the world one day, and feel depressed the next. I don’t trust myself. I need to learn to control my emotions… I need to learn to keep my motivation steady… Not 200% one day, and 0% the next. I need to be steadier. Less whimsical.

What is the source of my emotional instability? It may be because I always push myself to the limit… I may think this is a good thing, but if I’m going at 300 mph perpetually, I will inevitably crash. These “crashes” must be the depressive states I go through… Although lately, I haven’t been pushing myself. Well, Belicia, you are on vacation… But even Chris is practicing piano! Austin is working out! What are you doing? Why aren’t you stretching or dancing or reading or studying chem? Why are you just listlessly letting the day float on by? Watching movies… surfing the net… you aren’t growing yourself in some way.

But, instead of beating yourself up about it, let’s see what went wrong and try to fix it.”

The way I described my moods is almost exactly the way one would describe someone with bipolar. It’s interesting though– back when I didn’t have the label of “bipolar” smacked onto my forehead, my self-perception was vastly different, which in turn affected my ability to handle my mood disorder. Firstly, in 2016, I never thought I had a mood disorder. I didn’t even know exactly what bipolar was. All I know is, back in 2014 when I saw a therapist for anxiety and depression, I was told by said therapist that I was “unusually motivated”. That might have been another way of describing my manic symptoms. At that point, my moods did not show much fluctuation– I was manic most of the time. But, I digress. Where was I? Ah. Labels and how they affect self-perception. So back in the good ol’ days of ignorance, I truly believed that my mood fluctuations were a direct result of my action/inaction. As you can see from my note written in 2016, I blamed myself for being motivated one second and completely despondent and depressed the next. On the one hand, the bipolar label helped me realize that a lot of these mood fluctuations were not in my conscious control. It’s simply a chemical imbalance in the brain. In that way, I was relieved of much of the pressure that came with trying to “will” myself to feel and act normally. However, if one relies too much on the label, one will fall into the trap of blaming ALL their actions (and inaction) on the illness. Do this, and you are essentially absolving yourself of all blame and responsibility for your actions, which is not a good thing to do.

I’ve been reflecting A LOT on my bipolar lately. As I learn more about the illness and how it manifests in my life, I am growing a lot more accepting of it. I am starting to treat myself with compassion, instead of hating myself for having this mental disorder. However, I sometimes catch myself falling into that deadly trap of blaming my actions on my illness. Oh, I spent my money recklessly that weekend in Los Angeles? That was the bipolar talking, sorry. Oh yeah, I bombarded my ex-boyfriend with a million hurtful messages? That was also the illness. Oops.

But there’s a fundamental flaw in that kind of thinking. I’m using my mental illness label as a crutch, a way to excuse bad behavior. So here’s the big question: How much of my actions are the “real” me talking, and how much of it is bipolar? I feel like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Two-faced. Dr. Jekyll is the real me– cool, composed, normal. Then there’s Mr. Hyde, aka, the side of me that comes out when I’m either manic or depressed. I’m a two-faced being. And I struggle to distinguish between the two. Is my bipolar side a fundamental part of my being? Am I one and the same as my illness? All big questions that may take a while for me to answer.

Alrighty guys. I don’t know what to do now. I have exhausted most of what I wanted to say… my mind is a bit less restless, but I still have so much energy. I know I won’t be able to sleep. I just need to fill my time between now and 4:30am, when I will hit the gym. Got a long day tomorrow. Personal fitness training 11am-12pm, lunch with a mentor 12pm-1pm, and two dance lessons in San Jose 3:30pm-5pm. Fun fun. Not sure how I’ll operate on zero sleep, so maybe I should try to catch some shut-eye. Yeah, I’ll do that.