Eulogy to My Godmother

It is with a heavy heart that I write today of my late godmother’s passing, last night at 6:56pm.

Her name was Mary. As kids, my brothers and I would, in accordance with the Chinese custom, call her Auntie Mary. When I was 8 years old, on May 1st, 2006, Auntie Mary became my godmother, and from that point on, I addressed her not as Auntie Mary, but as “K Ma”– the Chinese word for godmother.

In 2010, doctors found a tumor in K Ma’s thymus. She was diagnosed with thymoma, or cancer of the thymus. Sadly, the tumor was deemed inoperable. And so she fought, for seven long years.

These past couple years have been especially tough for her. The cancer spread, fast. K Ma lost so much weight– my hand could almost wrap completely around the diameter of her forearm. Her blood platelet levels dropped to a mortally low level. She was constantly in and out of the hospital, receiving transfusion after transfusion.

On the outside, her body withered away before our very eyes. Inside, though, stood a resounding spirit that screamed resilience and steadfast hope and bravery. Never once did she lose heart, in spite of the monster that ate away at her from the inside out.

I admire her positivity and love for life till the very end. She was so confident– a people person indeed. She always smiled and had a witty, sometimes biting sense of humor.

I remember our last meal together at the Sheraton Hotel in San Francisco. Service was slow, and K Ma was not afraid to call out the waiters for not doing their jobs right. You show em’ how it’s done, K Ma!

I will miss our May 1st anniversary lunches and dinners in the city; birthday celebrations and 4th of July BBQ’s with her and her family, whom we are lucky to have in our lives; shopping sprees and expensive haircuts with the Japanese hair salon artist, Yoshi, whom she introduced me to; laughs and talk of boys and my barren love life.

I will always remember how she flew down to Irvine, despite doctors’ warnings against traveling, to watch me compete at my first ballroom dance competition.

I will truly miss having K Ma color my life.

I am grateful that I was able to see my K Ma one last time, the day before I left for my sophomore year at UCLA. 10 days ago. She was going to get a new iPhone so we could Facetime while I was away at college. That time never came. I had no idea that September 24th would be the last time I’d see her. I refused to believe that our time together on this Earth was reaching an end. I knew K Ma was very very sick, but I was in complete denial. Facing the truth simply hurt too much. I was hopeful that she’d bounce back, like all the other close calls she had in the past. I regret that I was not by her side when she died.

I am comforted, however, by the knowledge that K Ma is no longer in pain, and is lives peacefully on in a better place. She now watches over her loved ones, and I know that she will love, protect and guide me until my dying day.

Oh, K Ma… how I wish you could have remained on this Earth longer. I wish you could be there when I experience love for the first time. I wish you could proudly watch as I walk across the graduation stage, UCLA diploma in hand. I wish you could stand by my side on my wedding day. I wish you could have met my firstborn child, and given him or her the undying love you gave me.

K Ma, if you can hear me now, I want to tell you how much I love you and how much you inspire me to be better. Your last words to me were to study hard and become successful… for you. I know you’d want me to be happy and live a rich, fulfilling life. Please know that I will not fail you, and I WILL make you proud one day. 

Life Update 10/2/17: Apartment Life, Yacht Party, and Theater/Acapella Auditions !!!

Hi guys! Happy October! It’s currently 8:25am on this serene Monday morning here at UCLA. I’m sitting at a desk inside Powell library, doing some early morning writing before I head off to Russian class at 9:30am.

I apologize for not having posted in several days. Life has been super hectic since the day I moved into my university apartment, a week ago.

Some little life updates:

Mental Health: I’ve been a lot more stable since my psychiatrist upped the dosage of my Lamictal and added on the Abilify. Now, I don’t know if my newfound stability is completely attributed to the medication, or if I’m also adapting to my manic-depressive illness and learning to better cope with the demons. I do hope that the latter is true, to some extent. I have no aspirations of relying on medications forever– I hope that, one day, I will be cured of the illness and be able to live a steadier life, without the mitigating effects of drugs.

Dance: Last week was a whirlwind of dance tryouts, one right after the other. While I have yet to make a final decision about a partner, I have a pretty good mind on which one to choose. It is not only skill level I must consider when looking for a partner– it’s largely logistics, including physical distance and availability to practice. As a college student, I have neither the time nor money to commute long distances for a partner, which is why it is so adamant for me to find a guy close by UCLA. Of course, I cannot be too picky– as long as the guy can dance to some degree and is willing to work hard and improve quickly, I am satisfied.

Daily routine: I’m happy to say that I’ve cemented down my daily routine of sleeping early (latest 11:30pm) and waking up early, at around 5:00am. I make myself breakfast– usually Greek yogurt, fruit and/or granola cereal– then head to the on-campus gym for a morning workout/dance training session. Afterwards, I take a shower at the gym, lug my 3+ bags of things to Powell library, and busy myself with homework, writing and research until classes begin. I love the feeling of being unstoppably productive. Exhausted as I may be at the end of the day, I feel that, in pushing myself hard to achieve my goals and improve myself, my life becomes a fulfilling one. It is only when such states of productivity go to the extreme modes of madness and mania that I tread a steep, slippery slope. But more on that later.

Social life: Week 0 is the week that boasts various festivities and back-to-school aplomb. Each day held something new in store– the Enormous Activities Fair, the first football game of the school year, the Westwood block party, and much more. I didn’t partake in most activities, as I was busy with dance tryouts and training. Gotta prioritize my dance life over my social life, you feel? Last Saturday, however, I broke routine and decided to have a good time at a friend of a friend’s birthday party. Melody, the birthday girl, was turning 21, and to celebrate her big day, she invited a ton of people to her lavish party, set on a four-level yacht! The over-the-top celebration was more “bourgeoise” than any college event I’d ever been to (although, that’s not saying much, as I haven’t done much else beyond attending the occasional frat party). There were casino games; a fancy buffet; a cotton candy machine; a candy-jewelry-making station; a dance floor with flashing lights; a sky deck where guests could take Instagram-worthy photos; a red carpet that covered the gangway leading to the boat; and every dessert you could possibly imagine. I’m telling you, the party was fit for a queen. It was more lavish than some weddings, I must say! I had a wonderful time that evening, especially on the dance floor. You know what they say– work hard, play hard! And play hard, I did!

Apartment life: So, confession time. I still haven’t learned to cook, nor do I plan to anytime soon. I know, it’s really bad of me, and worse yet that I’ve consciously resigned myself to the sad fate of eating Chinese take-out and cold leftovers for the rest of my days. This past week, I’ve been subsisting off of oatmeal, granola cereal, Greek yogurt with Mannuka honey, fruit, tea eggs, water with Vitamin-C powder, energy bars and tortilla chips. Not a balanced diet at all. I’ve actually been losing weight over the short course of seven days, because of the very fact that I can’t cook food. Terrible as this may sound, I’m actually thrilled about the weight-loss, though I know that I’m not losing weight in a healthy, controlled and conscious manner. Thankfully, my mother sent down a care package– actually, three boxes’ worth of care packages– filled with food and other apartment-life staples. She even sent down a Swiffer mop, which I thought was hilarious. Anyway, despite the new responsibilities that come with living in an off-campus apartment, I still do not regret my decision to leave the dorms early. Not one bit. As I always say, I LOVE the feeling of independence and privacy that comes with living in your own place. You really feel like you’re residing in a home, instead of a small, cramped room amidst many.

Theater auditions: Yes, you heard that right, guys. On Tuesday night, I will be auditioning for the same production I’ll be helping choreograph: “Cabaret”. My primary motive for auditioning was simply to get out of my comfort zone and do something absolutely terrifying and in direct opposition to my natural instinct of staying far from fear. I will be performing Velma Kelly’s famous monologue from the musical “Chicago”, and singing Cher’s “Welcome to Burlesque”. In addition to auditioning for “Cabaret”, I’ll be trying out for one of UCLA’s acapella groups, “On That Note”. It’s one of the easier groups to get into– fitting, seeing as I have zero formal training in singing, and the only audience I’ve performed for is my showerhead. The auditions are tomorrow night, so wish me luck!

Alright, I must get back to studying. Gotta remember that, while all these extracurriculars I’m taking on are well and good, my top priority here at UCLA is academics (as my parents incessantly drill into my artistic, dreaming brain). I’ll talk to you guys soon! Ta-ta!

 

 

Best,

Belicia

Start of Sophomore Year at UCLA

Hi guys! These past few days have been pretty hectic. With moving into my university apartment and getting prepped for the coming academic year at UCLA, I’ve been left little to no time to write.

As usual, when I haven’t written or reflected in an extended period of time, my hunger to write is magnified. I don’t even know where to begin with tonight’s post!

It’s 9:41pm as I sit at my desk. My best friend and roommate, Chiana, is jammin’ to Marina and the Diamond’s famous hit, “Primadonna Girl”. The smell of vinegar permeates apartment 108, owing to one of our apartment-mate’s late night cooking shenanigans. I just finished my night routine, so I feel fresh, clean, relaxed and ready for bed. But first, I must write, lest I wish to stay awake with my screaming thoughts pounding to be let out.

University Apartment Life

This is my first year in the university apartments. I’ve got to say, since the minute I moved into this two-bedroom two-bathroom nook, I’ve LOVED every aspect of apartment life. The independence. The privacy. The large(r) space. The quiet. The locale.

Chiana and I share the apartment with two other girls, Linda and Van. They are the apartment-mates from HEAVEN. The four of us get along so well. Before meeting the girls, I wasn’t sure how well we’d get along. Of course, I knew Chiana and I would be fine, as we’re practically sisters. I’d never met the other two gals, though, so I was really hoping we’d jive well. Thankfully, Linda and Van are so kind, genial and cooperative. We’ve developed an effective grocery shopping methodology: we buy our products individually with our own money, and just share each others’ food/supplies (unless otherwise specified). I think this method works well for those who wish to evade conflict, as it removes the potential issue surrounding “fairness”– what if it was your turn to buy the groceries, but you barely used the products you’d bought with your own money, while your apartment-mates devoured them whole? That wouldn’t be fair to you, now would it?

Move-in was smooth, for the most part. Like last year, I brought a crapload of things to college. My brother Austin moved in before I did, on Wednesday of last week. He and my parents drove down and took my four boxes with them, which Austin then stored in his spacious dorm room until my arrival. My friend Shirley graciously took my large blue luggage with her when she drove down to LA last Saturday morning. After performing at a wedding on Sunday, I spent Monday finishing up my packing, and on Tuesday, I was out the door by 8:30am, one large luggage and one small luggage in hand. Yeah. I definitely pack lightly.

I arrived at my apartment at 1:00pm. After dropping off my things, I headed to the residential dining halls to eat lunch with my brother Austin and our good high school friend, Roy. After that, the three of us moved my four boxes and one big luggage (stored in Shirley’s room) from the residential halls to my apartment. It’s so funny how easy it was to write that out– the actual process of moving my things down a hill in two oversized carts was anything but easy. Let’s just say, I ended the trek damp with sweat and barefoot with my pink Calvin Klein shoes in hand (the rough fabric of my seemingly innocuous shoes had scuffed off the skin of my heels to reveal two angry, painful blisters).

I spent the rest of the day moving in, with minimal rest. I’m the kind of person who likes to unpack and organize and “homify” everything within 24 hours of moving into a new place (that’s one way I’m like my paternal grandmother). Miraculously, I finished most of my unpacking by evening-time. I then headed to John Wooden Center for an hour-and-a-half dance practice. After arriving back at the apartment at 10:00pm, I did some more room organizing, made a grocery-shopping list, called my mom, and went to bed.

Ok– why did I suddenly go into narrative mode, recounting the events of the past few days? That’s a post for another time. Back to apartment life.

I love everything about living off campus. We are conveniently situated in the heart of Westwood Village, with restaurants and movie theaters and beauty salons and outlets a short walking distance away. No longer must I live in the confined quarters of the residential halls, with the noise of rowdy neighbors doing God-knows-what blasting through the paper-thin walls and germs of disease crawling through the stained carpets to wreak havoc on its residents during flu season. Start-of-school festivities are magnified in the residence halls, which are occupied by predominantly underclassmen. As much as I enjoy a little joyous cheer, I feel that the back-to-school histrionics are a bit much for my taste. I loved it as a freshman. Now, as a sophomore, I’d rather just quickly and quietly move in and proceed onward with my mission at UCLA– earn my degree and grow immensely, whilst ardently pursuing my passions for writing and dancing– and now, as it turns out, musical theater! But I will get to that story in a little bit.

Only problem with apartment life is, I CAN’T COOK! I haven’t cooked a single meal in my life. Aside from a fried egg. Yeah. Kind of a big issue. On the bright side, at least this situation will force me to learn how to cook, seeing as I’ve had little to no motivation to do so in the past. Learning how to cook is one of the first steps towards becoming independent.

Speaking of independence… I think living in the apartments is a perfect segue into living in your own place as an adult. It’s a nice transition from dorm life– you have your own kitchen and bathroom to stock; you must do groceries on a weekly rotation; you must vacuum and keep the apartment tidy; you learn how to cook on a user-friendly stove/oven. The good thing is, the uni apartments come fully furnished, so you don’t have to concern yourself with the daunting task of buying furniture.

 

Goals for Upcoming Year

As usual, I’ve laid out a list of goals I’d like to tackle this coming academic year at UCLA.

  1. Take care of mental health. I NEED to make this a priority. No matter how busy I am, I must make time for self-care. Health before all else. How can I operate effectively if I am on the verge of a mental breakdown? Thankfully, I’ve already set up appointments with my psychiatrist down in LA, as well as with a new therapist. I discovered that there’s a Kaiser Permanente in Santa Monica, which is a LOT closer to campus than the one I went to in the past. Having survived the tumult of freshman year, I go into my second year at UCLA with greater confidence in my ability to juggle all my commitments, without mentally killing myself.
  2. Do well in school. Obviously, this is a must. Doing well in school is something that I value highly, and no doubt my type A personality and perfectionist character drives me to do the best I can in whatever I do.
  3. Continue my growth as a dancer. Many of you guys who follow my journey closely may be wondering, “What the hell is going on with you and your dancing?” Well, I did do a lot of dancing over the summer. I competed at a big competition and performed at a 200-person wedding. I went to New York for a week to scout for dance partners and buy a new Latin dress. I immersed myself in the dance business to see if such a world is for me. The verdict: at this point in time, I’d like to put my education as my first priority before dance. I have no aspirations of dropping out of college to pursue a dance career. As a fellow dance friend eloquently explained to me, “I do think developing your mind is extremely undervalued in the ballroom world. A lot of people never get an education or they feel like their time at university is like a punishment that is holding them back from developing in dance. I believe it’s completely the opposite. If you want to make waves in the dancing world it’s not only about your physical training but also the breadth and depth of your life experience and knowledge which allows you to connect to the people around you.” I couldn’t agree more with her. My education will undoubtedly add meaning and richness to my dancing. It’ll give me something to express– dancing, after all, is not merely a series of technical steps, but an art of creative expression. So, I have decided to major in psychology– a field of immense interest. It is also a much more manageable workload than pre-med, which will leave me a lot more time for dance training, competitions and performances. While the job prospects for a psychology degree are questionable, I trust that, in three years’ time, things will work themselves out. I needn’t know what I will do after college, at this very moment. As I always say, “Lean into the uncertainty.” Embrace it. Live it. Love it. Words much easier said than done, but we must try as best we can to embody them.
  4. Push myself out of my comfort zone. Forever and always. I used to hate the very idea of discomfort and uncertainty. It scared me, as it scares most. Humans, by nature, crave the comfort and safety of certainty. But where’s the growth and excitement in that? I have planned plenty of extracurricular activities designed to cut away at the safety net holding me back from growth. This coming quarter, I’ll be one of the choreographers for UCLA HOOLIGAN theater’s fall production of the musical “Cabaret”. I’m also auditioning for the very same musical– my audition is next Wednesday at 8:10pm, and I have to prepare one song and one monologue. Seeing as I’ve never sang or acted in public before, I figure the experience should be fun. I’m also going to audition for the easiest a cappella group on campus. Not because I actually want to join, but because I want to do something that absolutely terrifies me– singing in public (without instrumentals to drown out my untrained voice). Also, my best friend Chiana and I made a deal– if she auditioned for “Cabaret” with me, then I’d audition for an a cappella group with her. She’s WAY better at singing than I am, by the way. But no matter. Life is not about limiting yourself to the things you’re good at. Challenge yourself and don’t be afraid of imperfection!

I must go now, friends! Gotta get some shut-eye before classes begin tomorrow. I will keep you updated on the many exciting events that’ll ensue this coming year.

 

 

XOXO,

Belicia

 

Genuine Contentedness

9/19/17

Today was the first time in a long while that I felt truly happy, satisfied and grateful in my present reality.

I was walking the aisles of the Hillsdale Mall at 8:00pm with my mom by my side, when I suddenly felt totally at peace with the world and my place in it. Temporarily removed from the self-imposed pressure to perform and achieve, I enjoyed some mother-daughter bonding time at the shopping center in which I grew up. It’s true that sometimes the greatest happiness lies in the simple, seemingly insignificant moments. Like going window shopping on a Monday night with your most beloved person in the world.

Over the years, I seem to have contracted the idea that I will be happy once I deem myself a “successful” person. I now realize what a distortion this kind of thinking is. Really, true happiness stems from self love, which unfortunately, I don’t have much of at this point.

But I’m working on it. One day, I hope to develop an unshakeable sense of self worth, removed from my achievements and failures and others’ perception of me. I aim to ween myself from the need for external validation as a marker of my worth. I want to feel good about myself without needing others’ approval. This is my long-term goal, and when achieved, I will be empowered to the highest level of spiritual oneness.

As a start to reaching my goal, I request a somewhat strange favor from those whom I interact with in my daily life. I entreat you all to, as much as you can, refrain from offering me compliments or validation. The idea of this exercise is to condition me out of my need for external validation as a means of feeling good. Each time I receive a compliment, I cling onto it like a drowning man offered a life vest, or a starved beggar finally given food. As does Advil or Tylenol treat physical pain, so do compliments and external validation treat my low self-esteem. Each validation gives me a surge of self-esteem boost; but the positive feeling attached to extrinsically-based self-esteem boosters never lasts long.

If I can learn to truly value and love myself from within, without others’ validation giving the me the illusion of confidence, I will have conquered my biggest demon of all– my need for others’ approval.

 

A New Mental Health Diagnosis

9/15/17

Hi guys! Happy Friday! Hope you all have something fun/relaxing planned for your Friday night. Whether it’s going out for drinks with friends, spending time with family or treating yourself to a pamper night of Netflix, facials and munchies, it is important to make time for yourself to recuperate after a hard week’s work.

This morning, I saw my psychiatrist for what was our last in-person appointment until I come back to the Bay Area in December. I told Olga of my recent extreme mood swings and my current “high” of intense motivation, increased goal-oriented behavior, heightened creativity and surge of ideas, restlessness, and inability to slow down my ever-active mind.

She expressed concern at such a mood pattern, and characterized such “highs” as manic episodes.

According to Psych Central, “a manic episode is a mood state characterized by period of at least one week where an elevated, expansive, or unusually irritable mood exists. A person experiencing a manic episode is usually engaged in significant goal-directed activity beyond their normal activities. People describe a manic mood as feeling very euphoric, “on top of the world,” and being able to do or accomplish anything. The feeling is like extreme optimism — but on steroids.”

While Olga does not believe I have full-on bipolar 1 disorder, she suspects that, should my pattern of highs and lows persist and become more extreme, my mental illness may fall into the category of bipolar 2 disorder– a lesser form of bipolar 1, characterized by hypomanic episodes, which are basically the “highs” I’m experiencing right now.

To stabilize my moods, Olga increased my current dosage of Lamictal, a mood stabilizer; lowered my Prozac intake (Prozac is an antidepressent, which serves to elevate moods– the opposite of what we want when treating mania); and placed me on another mood stabilizer/anti-psychotic drug, Abilify.

All these fancy medication names sound scary, but they’re really just resources to help me gain emotional stability and live more in the range of “normal”, rather than above or below the stable threshold.

Olga diagnosed me with manic depression– not quite as extreme as bipolar disorder, but along the same vein. She described it to me as the experience of lows, followed by intermittent “highs”, which can range from feeling absolutely euphoric, to simply not being bed-riddenly depressed.

The tricky thing about manic depression/bipolar disorder is, people may not necessarily want to stabilize their moods. Taking mood stabilizers and tranquilizers may lessen the magnitude of the emotional roller coaster and take away the dreadful lows, but it would also mean losing the highs. Living in the highs is exhilarating. I love the feeling of being unusually motivated, mind bursting with ideas, creative juices flowing. If life were a marathon, a high would be a sprint. Unfortunately, the sprinters tire quickest. The brightest burning candle diminishes the fastest. The manic depressive highs are never sustainable. No one can function at 1000% forever. Everything in life has a price. The higher you climb, the greater the chance of falling, and when you inevitably do fall, you will crash. And burn.

I know it is important to treat my manic depression to ensure my long-term well-being. Nonetheless, I just can’t accept becoming mentally healthy at the expense of my highs. My highs are the short periods of time in which I write my best pieces; get the most work done; learn brand new dance routines two weeks before a major competition, and winning the comp. During these times, I seem to be able to function with very little food and sleep. With this go-go-go mentality, all I think of are my goals and how I can accomplish them in the shortest amount of time. I become completely tunnel-visioned. I lose sight of life’s intrinsic meanings beyond achievement, which of course, is neither conducive to long-term happiness, nor a mindset worth adopting.

I need to make caring for my mental health a MUCH higher priority of mine, especially when school begins in a couple weeks. Last year, when caught in the circus act of balancing studying with dance and other extracurriculars, I neglected my mental health and suffered greatly as a result.  I cannot let myself become so tunnel-visioned in the pursuit of so many different goals at once, that going to therapy is shoved to the bottom of my never-ending to-do list. If I need to take fewer courses or cut back on extracurriculars to preserve my sanity, then do so I will. If I’m pushing myself to the point of mental collapse, I will not be able to perform to the best of my ability in my day-to-day. My grades will suffer. My relationships will suffer. My happiness will suffer. What’s the point of all this masochism, then? Where’s the quality of life?

In a way, I feel relieved at having received a medical diagnosis explaining all my crazy mood swings. I now know that my erratic moods and impulsive behaviors are attributed in large part to my mental illness, not just my own crazy, problem-child self. Having pathologized my illness, I feel a slight but significant vindication, of sorts– like I no longer have to bear the full weight of my unpredictable moods and roller-coaster behavior alone. The diagnosis tells me two things: 1) I have a mental illness that’s causing my depressive and manic episodes; 2) There is a cure for all of this.

This latter point is especially comforting, as I’m strongly reassured by the fact that others before me have gone through similar mental struggles, and have been successfully cured. If others can get better, then so can I.

 

 

 

The Truth Behind My “Highs”

Hi everyone.

Lately, I’ve been very out of touch with my inner self. I am riding the whirlwind of what I call my “high”– burying myself in non-stop work each day, leaving little to no time for recuperation and reflection. These “highs” often follow my periods of depression. When the crippling cloud of depression lifts, I jump back up, barely checking myself for bruises and scratches, and run towards the opposite extreme of pushing myself to the mental and physical breaking point in the pursuit of my goals. It’s almost like I’m playing a game of catch-up, after the depressive slumber set me back several steps.

This frenetic mentality of late is a big reason why I haven’t been writing much.

In the past, I’d view such “highs” as a manifestation of my recovery from depression. No longer mired in the depressive symptoms of lethargy, low motivation and feelings of intense sadness, I’d think that my depression had left for good.

What I now know is, even in my high periods, I am just as depressed as I am when trapped in the lows. I am still deeply insecure and void of self-love, and so I turn to the pursuit of external validation to substitute the sense of self-worth I lack. And a poor substitute it is, indeed, for no matter how much I achieve outwardly, I still feel inadequate and undeserving on the inside. No matter what I do, I am never enough for myself.

What I also notice about myself is my tendency to derive pleasure from pain. Ironic, isn’t it? It seems that, when I self-sabotage and live my daily life like a martyr– working 11-hour shifts; practicing dance all day to the brink of physical collapse; sleeping on the couch in my day clothes so as to “save time” the following morning– I feel most at peace with myself. Perhaps it’s largely an identity thing– in my 19 years, I’ve always been known as the “crazy hard-worker”, the one who practices with “intense focus and discipline”. I’ve gained much validation for this endearing quality of mine, and because of that, I feel the need to continually prove to myself and to others that I am indeed this person others make me out to be.

Perhaps I find intrinsic meaning in the act of suffering for my goals and ambitions. In competitive gymnastics, there was no such things as reaching the top without blood, sweat and tears. In the harsh Russian and Chinese schools of coaching, athletes are expected to do no less than push theirselves beyond their mental and physical limits in the pursuit of Olympic glory. In other words, if you weren’t training till your feet bled or tears of exhaustion flowed down your wan cheeks, your commitment level was called to question.

I’ve carried this “no pain no gain” mindset well beyond my days as a competitive gymnast. Even now, as a dancer, I’m very much of the mind of needing to push myself hard to succeed, no matter what the cost. I just can’t live with myself if I don’t try my best in all I do. It’s just not my philosophy. Even if I don’t end up with the gold medal or perfect test score, at least I’d know that I’d given my all in the process and had been able to walk away from the journey without an ounce of regret. I’d be grounded with the clean conscious of knowing I’d left no stone unturned.

Perhaps I can still try my very best without all this suffering, pain and misery. Life is too short to be miserable, isn’t it? Many people have achieved just as well, if not more so, through positivity and grace. In some ways, I CHOOSE this path of martyrdom for myself. Perhaps I find the act of self-inflicting pain to be heroic and honorable. But really, is there anything heroic or honorable about pushing yourself to the breaking point whilst forgoing your mental and physical well-being and wallowing in your dark cloud of negativity and self-pity? Why do I choose this route for myself?

I noticed a very similar pattern arise back in winter quarter, when I went completely crazy in the pursuit of perfect grades for medical school. In the beginning of the quarter, I had dabbled in some new “college experiences” that strayed very far from the strict Mormon ideals I’d been raised with. The result was a gnawing guilt that ate away at me, to the point where I hated everything about the person I had become. Because of this self-loathing, I turned to the pursuit of perfect grades as a means to “redeem” myself. I thought that, if I could perform to the best of my abilities in my academics, my soul would be cleansed of all the guilt and hate I felt towards myself.

The reality is, no amount of external validation will make you feel worthy of self-love. Self-love can only stem from within. To love yourself wholeheartedly is to steadfastly value yourself no matter what you achieve, what you don’t achieve, what others think of you, what others do to you, or what challenges life throws your way. It’s that solid pillar of confidence that I often refer to in previous blog pieces. It’s that unshakeable sense of self-worth that I so desperately aspire to attain.

How am I ever supposed to reach this zenith of spiritual oneness, though, if I continue to self-sabotage in the pursuit of external validation as a means to fill an internal void?

I find that, when I bury myself in my work, 24/7, I have an “excuse” of sorts to turn a blind eye on my soul. That’s when I fall into the trap of ignorance. I refuse to look within because I fear what I will see. I know I have a lot of messed up ideologies in my head that need fixing, but so deep a workaholic I am, that with each passing day, I lose the will to open my journal, write, reflect and confront my demons. Instead, I find myself desperately filling in spare moments of free time with scheduling, making plans, checking emails/text messages, doing anything I can to distract myself from the inner turmoil. This is a tell-tale sign of me slipping into the old, unhealthy habit of intensely and obsessively pursuing my goals, with the hope that, upon achieving, I will love myself more than I do in the present.

It’s largely a personality thing, too. Some people, no matter what, are almost always happy. They don’t take life all too seriously and never let their failures– or achievements– define them. One of my very close friends, whom I will call “R”, epitomizes this bright spirit. She is always smiling– not those plastic smiles masking an internal anguish, but those genuine, warm, relaxed smiles of light-heartedness and contentedness. She laughs off her blunders and social faux pas and is absolutely confident in herself. She doesn’t attend an Ivy League school, nor does she boast many FLASHY titles of sorts, but she radiates self-love. She has her ambitions, but does not let the pursuit of her goals dim her well-being. She has no problem with living the “ordinary” life, working a steady nine-to-five job, having all her basic needs met and being surrounded by close friends and family. Such a life, as I’m growing to learn, is not one to be spurned or ridiculed. In fact, I think the greatest insights and life meanings are often attained from the sideline view. There is something beautiful and courageous about being “ordinary”, and being happy with that. I think “R”, at only 19-years-old, has reached this level of  self-acceptance and gratitude for what she has and who she is. Whether she knows it or not, “R” is spiritually more advanced than most of us “overachievers”, who may achieve more on paper, but suffer from great insecurity and an insatiable need to be better– not for themselves, but for the approval of others. “R” is one of my greatest role models. If only I could live my life with the peace of mind she carries herself with… without that menacing voice demanding that I’m not enough, and never will be enough, no matter what I accomplish.

Ambition is a great quality to have. But misguided, extrinsically-motivated ambition, when taken to the extreme, is dangerous. It kills the spirit. It dims the light of life. It makes one withdraw into oneself and gives life to the monsters of self-pity and misery.

Another thing– I am more than just my ability to work hard towards my goals with focus and determination. Even if I didn’t have this quality, I’d still have other amazing facets of my identity– both the good and the badthat give me value and make me, me. In life, I won’t always been 100% on my A-game. Humans weren’t designed to be robots. We weren’t meant to work nonstop with unceasing motivation and energy. Willpower is a limited resource. Even self-discipline will take you only so far. While it takes self-discipline to focus on working towards your goals, it takes even more discipline to hold yourself back in the pursuit, when you feel your health being compromised in the process. If you don’t give yourself time to rest and recuperate from stress, you will face exhaustion. For some, like me, the symptoms of exhaustion look very much like those of depression. That is a big reason why, following my so-called “highs”, I immediately crash into a “low”.

The “highs” I experience, then- working myself to exhaustion at the expense of my sanity– do not stem from the positive motivators of inspiration and passion. They serve to remedy a felt deficiency and provide a temporary, outer bandage for an inner pain.

You know what they say- the higher you climb, the harder you crash. I must work harder than ever, now, to tackle my demons, before I crash so hard one day, that I’m no longer able to get up.

It all stems from self-love. If I loved myself just as I was, I wouldn’t feel the need to constantly prove my worth through my achievements. It will be a lifelong process indeed. A balancing act on the tightrope of stability. Not too high and not too low, but grounded in reality. I have much work to do with my therapist.

The Bitter Pill of Reality Beckons

So here’s the situation I’m currently faced with.

I am a rising sophomore at UCLA, planning on majoring in psychology whilst continuing to write on the side. I love Latin-American dancing and aspire to become a great dancer, even if only in the amateur circuit. I wish to finish my college education in New York City, home to the best opportunities for aspiring dancers and writers.

Right off the bat, the glaring problem is the money to pursue such endeavors. Up until this point in my life, money has never, ever been a source of concern. I grew up very comfortably in the Bay Area. I had great parents who willingly supported me and my brothers in all we pursued. So far removed we were from the concept of financial difficulty that, to me at last, my parents seemed to have unlimited resources. This, of course, is not true.

The reality presented itself once my two brothers and I headed off to college. What makes our situation unique is the fact that we are triplets. My poor parents have to support three kids in college at once– that’s triple the cost of supporting a single college-aged child. Secondly, my parents are older than most parents of kids our age. My dad is 60 years old and looking for retirement soon. I would never ask him to prolong his retirement just to continue to supporting my dancing, in addition to our college educations. That would be an act of selfishness.

As for dance, I started quite late, at age 17. While I no longer have aspirations to become a professional dancer, I still wish to become a great amateur dancer. I can’t settle for just recreational/social dancing, taking one lesson a week and never stepping foot on the competition floor. To do that would be directly going against my fiery competitive nature and passion for performance. I tend to see things in black and white– I either dance as a serious competitor, or I don’t dance at all. Same with anything else in life. If I do something, I do it to the best of my ability, or else might as well not waste time. This may be a distortion, but try as I might, I can’t seem to rid my mind of it.

Anyway, I know that to become a great dancer whom people will actually want to watch, I must spend LOADS of money on lessons and competitions. My only option, at this point, would be to compete in the pro/am circuit– that is, dancing with a professional teacher at competitions. Pro/am, unfortunately, costs a fortune, and was never designed to benefit the student as it does the professional. Pros charge around $2,000 to $3,000 per competition, just to dance. Add to that the cost of funding the teacher’s hotel, food and transportation. According to my calculations, a single year of dancing pro/am would amount to around $50,000 for 3 lessons/week, plus two or three competitions. Dancing pro/am costs more than a college education! Of course, there is always the cheaper option of finding an amateur partner and competing in the amateur circuit. That’s the eventual goal– I don’t wish to be stuck in pro/am forever. You think I’d be spending that much money out of personal choice? The reality is, it is incredibly difficult for someone like me to find an amateur partner, given my age and experience level. I started dancing only two-and-a-half years ago, whereas most dancers my age have been at it since childhood. At age 19, most serious competitors have already established themselves in the amateur circuit and are competing with long-term partners. Add to that the fact that Los Angeles is pretty barren in its pool of competitive amateur dancers. The greatest chance of me finding an amateur dance partner lies in New York City, the mecca of Latin-American dancing in the U.S. Unfortunately, New York is across the country.

Moving to New York for college and dance is obviously a financial monster. Cost of out-of-state tuition is more than double the cost of UCLA. Cost of living is just as, if not more, expensive than that of the Bay Area. Heck, I’d be even more broke if I moved to New York for greater opportunities as a dancer and aspiring writer. I wouldn’t even have money to take dance lessons! So that kind of defeats the purpose of my big move in the first place.

Of course, there is the option of staying at UCLA and finishing my degree there. Clearly this is the most logical path, and one my parents entreat me to stay on. Even so, my parents have made it clear that they no longer have a single penny to spend on dancing, so I’d have to completely self-fund my dancing. Which I wouldn’t have a problem doing, if only such an endeavor were humanly possible. I only know one couple my age and facing a similar crossroads between college and dance, that supports their own dancing. Even so, their circumstance is different, because they compete as amateurs, and thus are able to split the expenses of lessons and competitions and the like.

I like to believe that I’m a person who can achieve the impossible through sheer willpower and determination, but even I know the limits of reality. Again, if I stay in LA, pro/am is most likely the only option for me. How could I possibly make $50,000 a year for dancing, as a broke college student? Once school starts, I’ll barely have time for dance practice, let alone making money to pay for those dance lessons. The only way I could possibly pay for my own dancing in my current situation is: A) win the lottery; B) start a successful business; C) marry a rich guy who can pay for my dancing.

Here’s the problem. I am too ambitious. I am too greedy. I want to have everything, right now. I want to experience everything. I want to perform well academically at a reputable university. I want to earn a degree that will sustain me once I graduate. At the same time, I wish to continue along my path as a competitive dancer. I wish to live in a place that will afford me the greatest opportunities for both my dancing and my future career path, whatever that may be.

I have a problem coming to terms with the restrictions of reality. How can I afford to keep dancing competitively whilst pursuing college, without the financial help of my parents? Even if I were to move to New York City, where dance culture and dance opportunities permeate the polluted air, the problem of money is magnified. What’s the point of moving to New York if I can’t even afford to take dance lessons from the (very expensive) world-renown teachers there?

No. I can’t do both competitive dancing and college, at least not to the extent I wish. It is very much a one or the other path. I can always keep up my dancing skills while at UCLA– practice on my own at the gym, during my spare time– but if I expect to thrive in the competitive circuit with such sparse, intermittent training, then I’m absolutely deluding myself. I know better than anyone what devotion it takes to be great… at anything. If I wish to do well in college, dance will necessarily have to slow down. If I wish to be a competitive dancer, I’d have to lower my expectations for school– pursue an easy major, take fewer classes per quarter, delay my graduation.

Here’s a big dose of reality for you, Belicia: YOU CANNOT DO EVERYTHING. At least not all at once.

I can’t seem to get it through my very thick skull that, sometimes, it doesn’t matter how passionate or determined you are to achieve a goal. There is such a thing as IMPOSSIBILITY.

I am human. I cannot spread myself so thin between a million things. I cannot expect to be exceptional at both dance and school, taking into account the age I started dancing, financial constraints, logistical limitations, just to name a couple.

As Alexander Hamilton himself said, “Ambition is my folly.” I can very much relate to these words. Nothing I do ever seems to be enough for me. I go to school, and I want to double major, earn perfect grades and graduate in four years or less. I dance, and I want to become not necessarily the next world champion– which even I know is impossible at this point– but just a great dancer that people love watching. When I see dancers my age competing and performing, I feel a hunger to share the very floor with them. I’m tired of sitting on the sidelines, wondering when I’ll ever be good enough to compete amongst such talented couples.

I think most people in my situation would have just given up. That’s why so many dancers– dancers who are much, much better than I, and actually have a shot at going professional– quit competitive dancing once they commence college. They know how difficult it is to sustain both school and dance, and it isn’t a battle they are willing to fight.

A part of me wishes I could just renounce my desire to dance competitively– not only dance competitively, but dance well, mind you. Why can’t I just be satisfied with keeping dance as a hobby? I’d learn the skill and release stress and get exercise in the process. I’d focus on my education and resign dance to the “lowly” status of a hobby. I’d slow down my dance progress whilst in college, as I wouldn’t have the financial resources to take consistent lessons, let alone compete. Some degree of regret is inevitable, in making this decision. I have to ask myself, is it regret I can live with?

Of course, I could always compete in the future, after college, at a lower level, when I am more financially capable of funding my expensive hobby. I may eventually be able to find a competitive amateur partner! But because of my stupid perfectionism and ambition, I know I wouldn’t settle for dancing at a lower level than that at which I aspire to be. I think of all the amazing young dancers– Nino and Austin; Rickie and Tony; Natasha and Mitchell; Sasha and Tigir– and I long to be able to dance half as well as them one day. The hardest part is when I know I have the potential to do so, given my background as a gymnast and natural, intuitive ability to quickly internalize bodily movement. But I also know what the pursuit of becoming a dancer of that caliber would cost. I’d essentially have to devote my life to the art. Do I want to do that? I’ve already established that I don’t wish to become a professional dancer, having seen and experienced firsthand all the ugliness of the dance world. But even to get my dancing up to the level of the aforementioned dancers takes years and years and years of serious training, not to mention thousands, if not millions, of dollars. Is it a battle I wish to fight? Especially when I have a great thing going at UCLA. Why give that up?

No. Quitting college is not an option, and I now see how ludicrous I was to have even entertained the idea in the first place. Stay in school. Always.

I must learn how to compromise. I must learn the concept of delayed gratification. Can’t I just be a little more patient? Slow down on dance for the next few years, whilst experiencing college to its fullest. Then, once I graduate, revisit the world of competitive dancing, should I choose to.

My problem is this. I want everything, right now. Reality says otherwise.

I’ve always believed I could do the impossible. But the truth is, no one– no matter how gifted, hard-working or determined– can do the impossible, without significant sacrifice. As a former competitive athlete, I should know that the pursuit of greatness is one of the most costly endeavors there is. Sacrifices are inevitable. I had no social life from childhood to high school. No time for anything but gymnastics. No going out with friends, attending birthday parties, joining school clubs, etc. These were the sacrifices–  albeit not very significant sacrifices, but sacrifices nonetheless– I made for my sport. But I was a child, then. Now, as I transition to adulthood, I have a million more responsibilities to juggle. I must start thinking about my long-term future, career and well-being. No longer do I have the luxury of spending 8-hour days at the gym, living and breathing gymnastics. Who’s gonna pay for my dancing now? How will I find time to dance competitively as a full-time student? And the responsibilities will only keep piling on as I grow older.

Life is so hard sometimes. I wish I could just be a child again… Like the children I babysit at the childcare center, whose only worries are poopie diapers and broken crayons.