Why College Has Not Been My Best Three Years

Hey, friends! It’s currently 1:48am on this Sunday morning. I just got back home from a night of KBBQ and karaoke with my closest friends. We had a great time bonding, laughing, and catching up on lost time. It’s priceless moments like these that I love most about college, and I would not trade it for the world.

In spite of all the good that’s come of being at UCLA– forming close relationships with great people whilst earning my psychology degree– I would be lying if I said my time in college has been the best (almost) 3 years of my life. It’s been a rough ride. Filled with tremendous growth, yes. But definitely tumultuous, for different reasons.

Freshman year was my greatest year at UCLA, and arguably the best year of my life, given all that happened during those three formative quarters. I came into college radiant and filled with hope and optimism for what was to come. Eager to break free of my former shell, I made it a point to challenge myself in every way possible, especially socially. I made lots of friends my freshman year and transformed into this incredibly outgoing and confident person light-years different from the shy, reserved girl I was in high school. I became a social butterfly, and with my newfound eagerness to put myself out there, I met some pretty incredible people and experienced some unique and eye-opening opportunities. I look back fondly on my freshman year at UCLA as a high-flying time of grandeur, ambition, and burning light. It was also the time my world was shaken tremendously, when I first questioned the pre-medical path I was on. Ultimately, I decided that it just wasn’t in my heart to become a physician, as much as I tried to convince myself otherwise.

Sophomore year was a lot rougher than freshman year. The summer going into my second year at UCLA, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, which explained much of my behavior and moods during my freshman year. I realized that, for most of freshman year, I was living in a state of hypomania, which caused me to experience such elated moods, markedly decreased social inhibition, and delusions of grandeur. Again, my worldview, self-perception and identity was shaken. I started questioning everything I thought I knew about myself. Had I truly broken free from my former shell, or was my outward display of confidence simply a manifestation of my mental illness, rather than genuine confidence? The mood stabilizers my psychiatrist put me on ended up bringing me back down from mania to reality. As nice as it was to be more stable and grounded, I often found myself longing to be manic once more, for the world is never quite as beautiful as seen from the sky. As the bipolar illness progressed, the mania was slowly overtaken by its evil twin of depression. I spent much of my sophomore year depressed and struggling to survive. Moreover, with the mania no longer in my life, I once again began doubting my social ability and found my social anxiety creeping back. I began dabbling in unhealthy coping mechanisms like drinking and partying to excess. Some may call it belated rebellion. I was wild and out of control. As a result, my GPA fell. I completely lost touch with the former disciplined, focused, driven girl I was, coming into college. Forget about dancing. I was sinking in my own self-destructive behavior. I gained a significant amount of weight. I did not recognize the girl in the mirror.

Junior year– this year– has been better in the sense that I’ve regained some of my self control, and am no longer living such a self-destructive lifestyle. However, this year has challenging academically thus far. Eager to graduate in three years (for reasons I will highlight shortly) I took on a heavy courseload this quarter of 4 upper division classes. As a result, I haven’t had much time to dance. Cue more weight gain. Can I even call myself a dancer, any more? Nowadays, I lack the confidence to even step foot inside a dance studio, for fear of being judged for my body. Sad. Academically, I’ve been feeling the effects of burn out, despite majoring in something (relatively) easy like psychology. My view towards college has changed from that of hope and optimism to bitterness and dismay. In spite of all that’s happened since coming to UCLA, I remain steadfast in my belief that I am, at heart, a creative soul, with passions for dance, music, writing, and most recently, figure skating. Anything to do with creative expression, I love. And to me, college is a hindrance to what I truly wish to be doing with my time. In an ideal world, I’d spend my time at the dance studio or skating rink, or sitting inside a coffee shop, working on my book. Not holed up in a crowded lecture hall listening to my professor drone on and on about a topic I have no interest in. Don’t get me wrong– I’ve taken some pretty cool psych classes at UCLA. As luck would have it, though, all of my classes with interesting content have been taught by boring, monotonous professors, which kind of ruined the experience. Well anyway, I am so so close to earning my degree, and despite tripping up academically during my second year, my GPA is not terrible.

So here I am today… a shadow of my former self. Devoid of self-confidence, struggling with social anxiety and depression, in the worst physical shape of my life, and consumed with thoughts of “what could have been”, had I chosen a different path. Like, for instance, what if I had gone to NYU, or Cornell, or even UC Berkeley instead? I could have studied psychology there whilst continuing my wholehearted pursuit of ballroom dancing.

My goodness… How did I become like this? College is supposed to be a place for one to blossom in all directions. Not regress. I am confused and heartbroken at what has happened.

I understand the importance of earning an education, which is honestly the only reason why I am still at UCLA, even though my heart is no longer in it. I’ve shared my sentiments with many fellow Bruins and found that many feel the same way about academics– burned out and eager for it to be over. Who can honestly say studying is fun? I for one have never identified as an academic or scholar. I am not much of a classroom learner, but I put up with it because I don’t have much of a choice.

I am bitter. Bitter and confused and heartbroken. And finals are coming up. I need to snap out of this funk and deal with my angry emotions after I finish exams. Just two more weeks, and I’ll be back home to recharge.

I think I’m experiencing some major growing pains. Each year I spend in college is one more layer of illusion being stripped. I’m learning and growing. But change is hard. When I first renounced premed, it took me a while to come to terms with my decision, but eventually, I came to peace with it. The bipolar diagnosis was another big ripple in my life, and I’m still trying to wrap my head around it. At least now, stripped of all former delusions, I can begin the long process of building up my confidence from scratch. College has not been easy for me. But I certainly don’t regret coming to UCLA, for I would never have grown nearly as much or as fast as I have, had I chosen to forgo my education.

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