I’ve Become The Very Thing I Feared… A Noodle.

My brother Austin made a remark a few nights ago that resonated with me. We were sitting across from each other at the dinner table. The topic of conversation was the same as it had been the previous night, and the night before that: bipolar disorder. As usual, I hogged the mic and bitched about how much I resented my bipolar disorder for being the black mark of my life and major handicap in my pursuit of success, love, happiness, and full-living. After ten minutes of complaining, I finally stopped to catch my breath. Austin took the cue to interject an observation.

“Belicia, you’ve changed. You used to be more of a… you know, a fighter. You would stand up to challenges and face them. Right now, it seems like you’re giving up.”

For the first time that day, my eyes lit up. “You see?” I exclaim, gesturing wildly. “You noticed it too, right? I’m not the same person I used to be!” I felt strangely validated by Austin’s words. It wasn’t a compliment, but rather an acknowledgement of something I myself silently suspected was happening, but perhaps was too afraid and ashamed to admit. My inner flame was flickering. My fight, my courage, my dreams and goals and ambitions, were all dissipating. And people were starting to notice it. I was becoming the very thing I’d always feared becoming– a noodle. Boiled alive by circumstance and negative mindset, and rendered soft, flimsy, and weak. Bending in the face of adversity. The opposite of a fighter.

And it was all bipolar’s fault. I blamed the bipolar for shattering my self image, decimating my confidence (which has never been high to begin with), and throwing me into a pit of uncertainty, questioning and existential despair. I resented it for ruining my life, rendering me completely dependent on meds, therapists, psychiatrists and parents, to simply live normally. I cursed the illness for limiting my potential. I mourned the loss of my pre-bipolar life, where I could dream as widely, vastly, and freely as I wished, without fearing a manic or depressive episode. I hated that my parents had to bear the burden and stigma of having a mentally ill kid; my brothers, a mentally-ill sister. I pitied those around me for having to deal with my volatile moods and unreliability. And most of all, I pitied myself for having to live the rest of my life with the illness. How will I ever achieve my dreams, when I must forever tiptoe around my bipolar? How will I ever find love, what with the intense stigma surrounding those seven letters? B-I-P-O-L-A-R. I’m the “crazy chic” no one wants in their lives. I am unstable, unpredictable, a bomb waiting to explode. “Not girlfriend material”, a guy I was dating– bless his tactless, unenlightened little heart– said to me. He was a fool for saying that, but his concerns were not altogether unfounded. There goes my dreams of marriage, of having children, of raising a big ol’ family and watching my kids and grandkids and great-grandkids grow up. I don’t get any of that, because I am bipolar, and hence, unlovable and undesired. (Talk about internalized stigma…)

Austin, perhaps sensing the rabbit hole I was going down, interrupted me before I could embark on another self-pitying tirade. “But you do know that you have a choice, right? You can choose to change your mindset about bipolar. You don’t have to let it ruin your life.”

His words gave me pause. I realized he was right– I have a choice to change the way I view my illness. I could either play the victim card and spend my days wallowing in self-pity and bitterness about having bipolar disorder without doing anything constructive to better my situation. Or, I could learn to accept the illness as a part of me– an immutable trait, just like the dark color of my hair or muscular body type– and coexist with it.

There was a line in Tara Westover’s memoir, Educated, that I find befitting to my present mindset: “Sometimes I think we choose our illnesses, because they benefit us in some way.”

I didn’t go up to God right before he sent me to Earth, tap him on the shoulder and say, Hey God, why don’t you make me bipolar? I feel like that would be a cool thing to be. It’ll spice things up, make life more interesting. Thanks so much! I never chose bipolar, just like one doesn’t choose to have diabetes, cancer, or terminal illness. My bipolar was God’s will, the hand I was dealt. But there is always a choice as to how to respond to challenges. You can either practice learned helplessness (the belief that nothing you do can change your circumstances) and become a sad, pathetic noodle. Or, you can choose to adopt a growth mindset, embrace the suck, and deal with the issue at hand with courage and optimism.

The past couple weeks, I chose the noodle life. In some ways, it did benefit me– I didn’t have to fight the hard fight. I made excuses for not following through on goals and commitments. I crawled into a cocoon of fear and self-doubt, where I was paralyzed from making any movement in life, for fear of disrupting my inherently unpredictable mental state. If I stay stagnant and comfortable, I won’t have an episode, I told myself. So I stopped aiming high and dreaming big. I stopped working hard at my goals. I stopped doing things that used to fulfill me. I stopped putting myself out there with dating, because I feared nobody would want to be with someone like me– bipolar and ugly. Without knowing it, I used bipolar as a one-size-fits-all excuse for my passionless and sheltered existence. I used the bipolar label to justify inaction, sloth, and stagnation. I blamed the illness for rendering me a noodle, floating lifelessly in a bowl of cold, stale soup. But in reality, I did that to myself. My mindset had nothing to do with bipolar.

I tried the noodle life, and realized that it doesn’t suit me. I hate feeling weak and powerless. While I’ve sworn off the practice of making grand proclamations, I will break that promise today, just this once, as I hereby declare death to the noodle! No more of that “I have bipolar so I can’t live a full and meaningful life” bullshit. Today, April 10, 2021, I resolve to re-adopt the fighter mentality that has served me all these years. It’s what got me to graduate from UCLA in three years whilst battling untreated bipolar disorder. It’s what fueled me for ten years as a gymnast, and now a Latin dancer. Bipolar did not make me weak– if anything, it has forced me to adopt a strength I would not have needed, had I been born with normal-functioning neurons. The victim mentality I have fallen trap to these past couple weeks– that is weak behavior. It’s how losers and noodles choose to live their lives. But I know I am not that. So why am I acting like one?

You have bipolar, Belicia, but you WILL live a full life, IN SPITE of it. Prove your demons wrong. Repeat to yourself, every morning, the following:

  • I have bipolar, but that won’t stop me from attaining mental stability.
  • I have bipolar, and I will still kill it in grad school.
  • I have bipolar, and I am more than capable of earning my PhD.
  • I have bipolar, and I will find someone who loves and accepts every part of me.
  • I have bipolar, and I will be a great mother one day.
  • I have bipolar, and I will have an illustrious and fulfilling career.
  • I have bipolar, and that is the superpower behind my creativity, passion, and empathy.
  • I have bipolar, but I am not the illness. I am Belicia Tang, and there is so much I have to offer the world.

DEATH TO THE NOODLE!!! BELICIA TANG IS BACK IN ACTION AND READY TO KICK BIPOLAR’S ASS!!!

March 2021: Month-In-Review

Hey folks, it’s Bel here! I mean… duh. Who else could it be? Anyway, we’ve officially reached the month of April, which means it’s time to reflect on March in all its madness. As usual, I’ll start by examining the goals I had laid out for myself at the end of February, and see if I was able to reach them.

THE MUST-DO’S

  • Maintain mental stability: meds, diet, sleep, BALANCE. NOPE. March was indeed a month of madness and instability, and I actually had my very first mixed-mood episode, which is basically a blend between mania and depression. Not fun, do not recommend. The reason behind my mental instability was understandable, as I underwent a medication switch during the latter part of the month. Sleep and mood disturbance was to be expected. I didn’t handle it very well, though. Instead of reaching out for social support via family and close friends, I isolated myself in my dark, disheveled, stuffy room. Turned to junk food as an unhealthy coping mechanism for depression (literally there was one night where I INHALED 2 giant chocolate chip muffins, a club sandwich, a plate of sushi, and French vanilla ice cream). Didn’t even try to exercise or dance (but that was also in large part because of my shoulder injury). I am happy to say I rounded out the last few days of March in a much better mental state. Last Monday, I wrote a blog detailing the mood episode ordeal, so feel free to check that out if you’re inclined to read more about bipolar and mixed states. Also, it was the first year post-diagnosis that I “celebrated” World Bipolar Day– March 30 (Vincent Van Gough’s bday). I had originally intended on writing a dramatic blog post about my bipolar struggles in honor of the day, but March 30th came and went, and I never got around to it. A realization: I’ve written so many individual blog posts about my bipolar disorder… some even before I was diagnosed (I would describe behaviors evocative of bipolar mania/depression, without having the vocabulary to pathologize it as bipolar). Currently working on bringing those posts all together and creating my bipolar memoir.
  • Journal every day, even if only for 10 minutes. Yes and no. Started the month off strong with daily journals, only to fall off the wagon during the depression (literally always happens whenever I’m depressed), but I’ve been journaling daily, sometimes multiple time a day, for the past few days, and I always feel my strongest when I’m mindful of my inner state. Gonna carry on this journaling practice to next month.
  • Maintain social relationships. Yes! March was a social month. I took a trip to Santa Barbara for my birthday (March 6-9), and spent the weekend with my two best friends. Later in the month, I went on a ski trip to Tahoe (March 19-23), where I bonded with my brother Austin and some of his friends. So this past month was definitely more socially vibrant than my typical pandemic reality, which is a sign that the pandemic is slowly passing, as vaccines continue rolling out, counties slowly lift restrictions, and public life gradually reopens. Though certainly we still have a long ways to go before pre-COVID normalcy is restored, we can at least celebrate the light appearing after a full year of darkness.

HOBBIES AND PASSIONS

  • Latin ballroom dance. I had planned to restart intensive Latin ballroom training this month. The local dance studio is starting to offer in-person group classes again, and I was excited to attend Tuesday’s Latin Drills and Thursday’s Advanced Latin technique classes. Sadly, this did not happen, mostly because of the unforeseen shoulder injury that severely limited my movement range. So that’s another goal I will carry into April.
  • Read one book. I can one-up that– I read TWO books! “Interior Chinatown” by Charles Yu, and “The Book Thief” by Markus Zusak (taught that book to my middle schoolers). Started “Touched With Fire” by Kay Redfield Jamison, which explores the scientific link between creativity and bipolar. Will carry that into April, as well.
  • The Athlete’s Corner: revamp + produce content. Goal: write 2 articles / month. So, I’m happy to say that I’ve been producing more content for my athlete’s website! Did one interview at end of February, and another interview a couple weeks ago. Wrote the article for the first interview, and have yet to start on the second one. I reached out to some friends who’ve offered to help me with web design stuff (since I have absolutely zero fine arts ability). I had a Zoom meeting today with a friend’s sister who is a web designer. She’s offered to help me out with the aesthetics of the website. So in short, we’re getting places with The Athlete’s Corner! Slowly, but surely, baby steps forward.
  • Pick up singing/piano again. Just for fun. It’s good for the soul. Yeah, didn’t do any of this. BUT. Yesterday, my friend Mikey expressed his interest in picking up singing, and we made a pact to motivate each other to practice in the shower/during car rides. Maybe we’ll get a singer out of me, after all!

WORK

  • Continue tutoring. Yup. Nothing new there. Tutoring is tutoring, and my students are doing great.

PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT

  • Increase financial literacy. Tbh, I didn’t really get on top of this goal like I said I would. It’s probably the most important/practical goal amidst my endless list of airy-fairy pipe-dreams, yet I find it so, SO difficult to motivate myself to learn more about personal finance. Taxes, 401K’s, mutual funds, Roth IRAs… all this esoteric terminology that is about as sexy a square, but shape the fundamentals of “adulting”. So I’ll say it again, Bel: “IT’S TIME TO WAKE UP!” You’re not a child, anymore. You’re almost one month into age 23. Your grandmother married your grandfather when she was 23. If that isn’t the trippiest wake-up call ever, I don’t know what is. So finish that book Austin gave you for Christmas: “I Will Teach You To Be Rich”. I don’t care if it’s boring. Find ways to make it interesting. Think of your WHY– why is financial freedom important for you? What kind of things can money buy, that will make you happy? Dance lessons. Dance competitions. Dance dresses. Skating lessons. Skating costumes. Skating competitions. Ski lift tickets. The ability to sit down at the restaurant and order anything you want on the menu. Physical comfort. Travel. Less stress and better mental stability. The freedom to think about things other than money.

Noteworthy Events of March

  1. I turned 23!!! I took a trip to Santa Barbara to spend my birthday weekend with my best friends, Callista and Cassandra. It was a grand, ol’ time! Amtrak bus was my choice of transportation, as I do not feel confident enough in my driving ability to make the solo 5-hour trip. On my birthday, I gifted myself with Tattoo #5: the words “fiat lux” inked in cursive along my left bicep. (Fiat Lux is the UCLA motto, it’s Latin for “let there be light”)
  2. Tahoe ski trip and injury. My second trip of the month was to Lake Tahoe. It was what I dubbed my “redemption ski trip”, since I had gotten injured on my trip to Mammoth in end of February, and I wasn’t able to ski at all during that trip. I’m happy to report that this time, I injured myself on the LAST RUN of the LAST DAY, so at least I got in two days of slope-shredding before being rendered immobile. Shoulder wasn’t dislocated, thank goodness, and x-rays didn’t show any bone-related damage. I’m going to the sports medicine doctor tomorrow to get an actual diagnosis, as the pain hasn’t gone away and I need my arm to heal so I can get back to vigorous exercise and dance!
  3. Atlanta spa shootings. On March 16, a 21-year-old man named Robert Aaron Long shot and killed 8 spa and massage parlor workers, six of whom were Asian women. Long claims the shooting was his way of dealing with a personal sex addiction, but other people saw this act of violence as a hate crime against Asian-Americans. The tragedy sparked public outcry against the rise of anti-Asian sentiment in the U.S. (related, of course, to COVID-19 and its place of origin). Every day I watch the news and read social media posts about the latest unprovoked attack on an innocent of Asian decent, and my heart breaks. That could be my grandmother. That could be my mother, my father, my brothers. That could be me. I am fortunate enough to have grown up in a sheltered environment where I never faced racism firsthand. Times have changed, though. The Bay Area is my home, and I never thought that one day, this place would turn into targeted region for people who look like me.
  4. Some good news: UCLA Men’s Basketball shocks the world by making top 4 in the NCAA championships! UCLA, ranked number 11 in the nation going into the 2020-2021 season, were the underdogs that proved everyone wrong. My brother Chris went to University of Michigan, while my other brother, Austin, and I are Bruins. So there was a bit of a family feud when UCLA played Michigan on March 30, and Chris’s response to UCLA beating his alma mater was: “I’m going to invite Michigan sports to my funeral so they can let me down one last time.”
  5. Failed medication switch. I tried a new medication, Latuda, hoping that the switch would cure me of my brain fog and temporary aphasia. It was a mistake, as I didn’t last five days on this new medication before begging the doctor to put me back on my old meds. Wasn’t sleeping, eating, or functioning well at all on the new med. Ended up experiencing my first mixed mood state, which is about as pleasant as being trapped in a coffin, or buried alive with your own thoughts. Finding the right medication “cocktail” is an arduous, tiresome and dizzying process, as many with bipolar can attest to. In my largely paranoid state amidst the shift, I asked my doctor if she thought I had a possible brain tumor in my language center that was affecting my speech/writing ability, and even asked if she could order a brain scan for me. She reassured me that she did not think I had a tumor, and that we just haven’t gotten the meds right. Who am I to question her? She’s the one with years of experience treating other bipolar patients. She’s the one with the M.D.
  6. World Bipolar Day (March 30). This year was the first year I was aware that there was a day dedicated to bipolar. It happens March 30 of every year, which was Vincent van Gogh’s birthday (he was posthumously diagnosed with bipolar). The day was rough for me, since I was made even more painfully aware of how this illness has upended my life and self-concept, and was being a little bit whiney about the whole thing. Instead of celebrating the good that comes with the illness– creativity, passion, sensitivity, emotional depth– I mourned the pitfalls of coexisting with bipolar (no more social drinking, carrying the weight of a label, facing stigma and external judgment, having to tiptoe around triggers, needing to live a “small” life to stay stable). I know that a lot of my beliefs about bipolar are not true, and are rather a reflection of my own fears surrounding a (relatively) fresh diagnosis. It’s just… hard. This whole living with bipolar thing and learning to come to terms with it… the healing process takes time. That’s what all recovered bipolar patients say. Give it time and patience. You can absolutely still live a full life with the illness. You can find love, have a family, hold down a fulfilling job, and practice your passions, all whilst being mentally stable. It is possible. Just trust the journey, stick to the treatment plan, surround yourself with people who love and care about you, and have faith things will all work out in the end.

Goals for April

Health

  • Stick to a regular sleep routine (11pm – 8am)
  • Exercise every day
  • Eat 3 healthy meals/day + 1 snack (cut the habit of midnight snacking)
  • Pick up meditation (apps: The Tapping Solution, Calm, Headspace)
  • Journal every day at least 10 minutes

Work

  • Continue tutoring. это все (eto vse– Russian for “that is all”)

Hobbies

  • Latin ballroom dance. I’m currently training for International Grand Ball, a ballroom competition that is scheduled to take place in July. I’ll be competing with my teacher in the pro/am division, since I have yet to find my own competitive partner
  • Blogging
  • Singing: make it a habit to practice your vocal warmups during car rides or in the shower

Personal Development

  • Read the damn finance book that Austin gave you. It’s collecting dust on your shelf.
  • Bipolar education: make it a goal to be an expert on bipolar so you can kick the illness’s ass. That means that in addition to individual therapy 3x a week, read as many bipolar books as you can, get active in the bipolar Clubhouse rooms, talk to other people living (and thriving) with bipolar, and earn that honorary PhD in Bipolar Disorder– because that’s really what it takes to overcoming the illness, is to know everything there is to know about it, especially as it applies to your individual case.
  • Toastmasters
  • Get more active on the app Clubhouse. Lots to learn from some pretty cool/accomplished people.

Alrighty, folks, that’s all for March in review! A shorter review than my previous two, mainly because this past month is not one I wish to dwell on. It was rough. My first month of 23 was rough. I’m looking forward to better days in April.

XOXO,

Bel

LIFE UPDATE: I’M MOVING TO NYC!!!

Hey everyone! I want to share some very exciting news with you all.

In December of this year, I’ll be moving to New York City to pursue my dream of becoming a professional Latin ballroom dancer. If you guys know me and have been following my blog for the past six years, you’d know that it’s been a long-standing dream of mine to move to NYC, which is the nation’s Mecca of competitive ballroom dance. Best teachers, best dancers, prolific partnership prospects. Performing arts. Broadway. Manhattan Square lights. Stimuli galore. Inspiration right outside your front door. A city of creators, artists, Bohemians, go-getters, dreamers. Hustle culture. No need for driving, plastic pleasantries or friendly facades. I am New York, and New York is me.

The main barrier separating me from my NYC dream is financial. How the heck am I to make enough money to cover rent and dance lessons? That’s the main road bump in my grand scheme, but you know what they say– when there is a will, there is a way. Between now and December, I will focus my energies solely on content creation. Monetize The Athlete’s Corner. Perhaps start a mental health podcast or YouTube channel. Deploy the digital/social media marketing big guns, weaponize ads, and basically go full-on hustler mode so I can have a steady stream of income by the end of the year just off of my blog/podcast. I will still be tutoring in the meantime, and I plan to continue tutoring remotely, while in New York. After I finish writing this blog post, I’ll pay my daily visit to wellsfargo.com, take a long, hard look at my monthly expenditures and auto renewal subscriptions, and cancel everything. Goodbye, Netflix, Spotify, Amazon Prime, and premium plans. No more Starbucks or dining out, at least until I’ve proven to myself that I have the discipline to live on a starving artists’ budget, since that is soon what I will become. It won’t be easy, but if there’s anything my ten years in competitive gymnastics has taught me, it’s that I can do whatever I set my mind to. Just gotta find that thing, and put my heart and soul into it. And that thing, guys, is dancing in New York City.

Oh, by the way, I have not told my parents about my plan to move to NYC. So, mom and dad, if you’re reading this post– SURPRISE!!! I’m sure you’re happy to hear that I’ll be out of your hair by the end of the year. I’m sure neither of you had the heart to kick me out, so I’m making it easy on the both of us. You’re probably extremely skeptical about this latest development, maybe confused about why I suddenly decided to give up my grad school plans for my dancing dream.

“Dancing is still in the picture?” Tom wonders, scratching his head.

“I thought we had effectively convinced her it was a bad idea,” Nancy replies, indignant. “Now it’s back to that again. What did we do wrong? Why have we failed as parents?”

To answer your first question about grad school, school will always be there should I wish to return. Competitive dancing, not so much. There’s a very narrow window of time in which you have a fighting chance to make your mark as an artist. So if dancing is truly something I dream of pursuing, I’d be doing myself a disservice by delaying the pursuit of that dream. It may or may not work out in my favor. Maybe I’ll go to New York, scrimp and struggle for a year without any luck with finding a partner, and eventually come home to the Bay Area. I may very well be broke, disillusioned, and on my ass at square one. But at the very least I can go to bed at night at peace that I’d given my dream a shot. An earnest shot. So I don’t look back with regret, thinking Man, I should have tried dancing when it was still an option. Plus, I’m only in my early twenties. I have a whole life ahead to do Normal or Conventional. If dancing doesn’t work out, time is on my side, and I can switch careers once I’ve gotten the dance dream out of my system. I am still very much interested in sport and performance psychology and foresee that as my second career after dancing. I believe that my experience as a professional dancer can only bolster my credibility as a sport psychologist, as I will have first-hand knowledge/experience with practicing the mental toughness skills I preach to my future clients. So, if you think about it, being a professional dancer is actually an investment into my later career as a sport psychologist!

Another thing, mom and dad, is that just because you have a kid who chose the unconventional path of art does not mean you “failed” as parents. I was sitting outside a local Starbucks the other day when I overheard a conversation between an older man and young mother. He told this young mother, “Your job as a parent is to give your kid the wings to fly.” Tom and Nancy, you have done enough. You’ve given me a blessed, safe, stable upbringing, instilled in me strong values and morals, and can now sit back and reap the fruits of your labor as you watch your only daughter leave the nest. I know I’m going a different path than my brothers, both of whom are in STEM, so if you truly equate your success as a parent to the respectability of your children’s professions, then at least you got 2 wins out of 3!!

Hahah, I’m kidding, I’m kidding. I know you guys are above such inchoate, black-and-white thinking. I know you are proud of me, Austin and Chris, no matter what we do, and it is this love from you guys that I feel so deeply that has given me the courage to live freely and boldly and to pursue my dancing dream. I am reassured that I can never fuck up that badly, since you guys will always be there to catch me, if I fail. I’m privileged to be able to say that.

So that’s the big news, everyone! School, as much as I love it, will have to wait. I do plan on going back one day, once I’ve made my peace with dance. Until then, I’ll be throwing myself into dance training between now and December, so I’ll be ready for partnership tryouts once I arrive in NYC. I’ll save money and establish new streams of active/passive income so I’ll be able to fund the dream. Bay Area friends, let’s make sure to hang out sometime in the next 8 months!

Thanks for reading, and I hope you all have a great rest of your April Fool’s Day!

**if it wasn’t clear, this post was written in honor of April Fool’s Day. It was a joke! I’m not actually moving to NYC in December. Grad school at SJSU is still very much the plan. But NYC remains the long term goal, once I’ve finished my education and am financially independent.

xoxox,

Bel

Writing My Way Out

It’s been a hot sec since I’ve written. I am terrified as I begin today’s post. Palms sweating, heart pounding, the all-too familiar fight-or-flight mechanism firing into action. It’s always scary, getting back into writing (and living, for that matter) after emerging from the throes of a depressive episode.

The purpose of today’s post is to take my first baby steps back into the land of the living. Writing for me is both a way to document and preserve life. I use it as a gauge for how I’m getting on. I know I’m doing alright when I find myself writing regularly. Doing great, when writing prolifically (hypomania). Not so great, when I stop writing altogether (depression). When smacked with a mental illness label, especially a word as loaded/scary-sounding as “bipolar”, you go through an anguished process of questioning, second-guessing, unlearning and re-learning everything you thought you knew about yourself. The bipolar diagnosis was the biggest ripple, transition and cause for adaptation I’ve ever endured in my short 23 years of life– more profound than either the career-ending injury or starting/graduating from college. Writing has been a comforting presence, grounding anchor and steady compass throughout the tempest and tumult** of my life course. I’ve written my way out of crisis after crisis… started blogging at age 16 to come to terms with the injury that ended my gymnastics career. Wrote throughout college, which honestly saved me from myself, especially once bipolar entered the picture. And today– Monday, March 29, 2021– I begin to write again. I feel the dead weight of depression lift and my heart races in anticipation as I begin this post. But it’s the good kind of anticipation. The kind that reminds you that you’re alive. There’s no real purpose of today’s post. Just to brush off the dust, get the gears going again, do a little bit of self-reflection, and try to reengage with my old, creative self. Perhaps experiment a bit with poetic language. Apologies if this post lacks organization and direction. Today, I choose catharsis over polish.

**An aside: just to silence that annoying naysayer in my head that’s currently screaming, ‘”Well Belicia, you come from upper-middle-class privilege, you got a decent education, you have a great job and a great family and a great white-picket-fence life… what kind of ‘tumult’ can you possibly have, compared to those less well off?” To that I say, everybody has their own struggles, everything is relative, and just because I am not a starving child in Africa does not make my personal struggles any less real, and I shouldn’t minimize or invalidate the challenges I face in my own life by comparing them to someone else’s’.

The past two weeks have been a singular form of hell. It started with the brain fog that has slowly degraded my brain these past few months (I have yet to identify the culprit of this mysterious ailment). The fog dampens my cognitive abilities, slows my thinking, dulls my mental edge, stunts my speech, clogs my creativity and weakens my writing chops. Worried the fog may have something to do with the meds that I was on, I opted to try a new medication that could steady my moods without rendering me senile. It was a risk to take, as medication switches are always a bitch, for us bipolar. During the transitional phase, which began a couple weeks ago, my sleep routine was completely upended. Multiple all nighters and subsequent crashes. Lack of sleep coupled with haywire neurochemistry turned up the intensity of my moods, and old friends– agitation, anxiety, depression, impatience, bitterness, fear– reared their ugly heads. This all coincided with my second ski trip to Tahoe, which happened last weekend. Went with my brother and his friends and hoped for a fun-filled weekend getaway on the slopes. Maybe it would do me some good. But the trip started off on the wrong foot. My laptop broke two hours before we set out for Tahoe. Borrowed my brother’s old computer from high school, only to have that one break on me during the trip. Had to tutor remotely from my phone, which wasn’t ideal in the slightest. Was also pissed I didn’t have a laptop to write on (that’s why I didn’t write a blog detailing the trip, like I’d originally intended). Pandemic-induced social anxiety was a thing, which made it difficult for me to integrate with my brother’s all-male group of friends. Skiing was super fun, and I’ll definitely be getting an IKON pass for next season and skiing more regularly. But as luck would have it, I injured myself again. I spent both ski days trailing behind the gang of more advanced skiers/snowboarders, hockey-stopping my way down slopes I had no business being on. On the last run of the last day, I attempted a jump on the terrain park and landed roughly on my left shoulder. It wasn’t dislocated, and x-rays didn’t show any bone-related damage, meaning the injury is likely a muscle strain or tear. Still painful as hell, and I’ve spent most of the week with very limited movement range. This was doubly annoying because usually, during periods of low mood/depression, I turn to vigorous exercise or dance to alleviate some of the depressive symptoms. Unable to do that took away one major mode of coping. Writing is my other way of weathering through depression. But between the brain fog, lack of sleep, and temporarily forgetting how to English, writing has become a demoralizing and ego-deflating process, and a trigger for stress and anxiety. So I stopped doing that as well.

Some poetry: writing is a vessel that has carried me across the tempestuous tides of my mercurial moods. Through the vast planes and abstract dimensions I’ve traversed– from heaven to hell and back again in that maddening, Sisyphean cycle– my pen has always been my biggest ally. The past two weeks, my pen failed me, which is what made this particular depressive episode so frightening. I lost my primary means of escape from the darkness. In my bed I’d lay all day, curtains drawn, catatonic. The only thing that moved were my eyes, darting back and forth across the ceiling. Left, right, and center. Head a’flaming with thoughts– panicked, pressured, nightmarish thoughts– and not a clue as to how to release them. Couldn’t dance them away. Couldn’t write them away. I didn’t want to talk about it with loved ones, for the act of speaking also proved too draining a task (speaking has been just as challenging as writing… words, no matter their form or delivery, have temporarily failed me). I was losing my mind.

I am so, so thankful to have made it out of the worst part of the episode. It’s the little things that show you that the fog is lifting. Things like doing makeup in the morning. Wearing cute outfits (today I’m wearing my cross-chained, oversized black sweater that perfectly matches my new dragon-shaped belly button ring, black velvet pants and black platform booties). Writing. Having goals. Feeling sexy and beautiful, instead of like a washed-up “has-been” with acne and a paunch. These are all hints that the depression is subsiding. But I don’t let myself get too hopeful, because what if I swing to the other extreme— mania? Gotta make up for lost time. Gahhh I wasted so much time in the pits of depression, thinking, thinking, so much thinking, without action… well now that I’m better, I actually have energy to follow through on those abstractions and ideas, so better get to it before this bout of positivity/creativity runs dry and I find myself once again mired in depression and unable to get anything done. Living for those highs… using those pockets of mania to get things done. Operating on superhuman “beast” mode, but of course those modes don’t last long. That’s the story of my life. Or, was. Now, I know better. I’m happy the depression is lifting, but now I just want to stay in the happy medium of stable, boring, untouched, unmoved, statuesque-like living. Can that be my new M.O.? God that sounds tragic. I don’t want to live a quiet life, but anything is better than feeling nothing at all… which is exactly how I felt these past couple week. Like nothing. Goals were wiped out. Did the bare minimum to get by with work and tutoring. Didn’t touch any of my myriad side projects.

Here’s a pic of the sweater I’m wearing today ^^

I hate that I have to be so cautious of my every move. Taking life one wavering step forward at a time. But I don’t want to waver. I want to stomp, plant, and assert my way forward through life. Now I tiptoe. I think that was the biggest price I had to pay, for my bipolar. This shattering of self concept and self image and self confidence… self self self. It’s all I think about these days. Call me self-centered and selfish… but this is something I need to do, right now, to ensure I’m mentally okay. Sane. Functional. If not neuro-typical, at least I can get by with a semblance of normal, because normal is the safest game to play. To be normal, I need to check in with myself, constantly. How much sleep did I get? Log my moods 5 times a day. What did I eat? How much did I exercise? If I feel an episode (mania or depression) coming, what were some environmental triggers? School stress? Boy drama? Two words uttered by a stranger in passing?

Okay, folks. I’ve written myself dry. Give yourself a pat on the back, Bel, for breaking through the block. Tomorrow is World Bipolar Day (the birth date of Vincent Van Gough, famous artist and fellow bipolar warrior). I want to write a blog in honor of the day and those who celebrate. May be reusing some of this content for tomorrow.

The Case For The Cold Shower

I started the habit of taking cold morning showers at age 14, back when I was a competitive gymnast. I began this practice as a way to increase willpower, mental strength and self-discipline. The “no pain no gain” philosophy was how I was trained as an athlete, and though controversial, I believe there is some truth to that trope. The more physical discomfort you endure, the stronger your mind, body and character will grow. Why do you think athletes and soldiers have an above-average pain tolerance and high willpower threshold? So if you want `to develop mental toughness, taking cold showers is a direct way to do so.

There are other benefits of cold showers:

  1. Wakes you up. When you jump into cold water, your body goes into a mini state of shock, triggering the fight-or-flight response and release of adrenaline, which wakes you up better than any kind of caffeine source does.
  2. Increases endorphins. You know that high you feel after a good workout? Cold showers can give you the same feeling. Like physical exercise, cold showers put your body under minor stress, which triggers an endorphin release in the brain. This is why cold water therapy is recommended to treat depression.
  3. Boosts immune system. Studies have shown that cold showers increase the number of white blood cells in your body, which protects you from diseases.

Bel’s step-by-step guide to taking a cold shower:

  1. Strip. Duh.
  2. Play a song. Music helps me get through these dreaded showers (and any kind of physical pain/discomfort, like working out). My songs range anywhere from angry Eminem, uplifting Sia, to my queen, my lord and savior, the One and Only: Britney Spears.
  3. Turn on the shower faucet. There are varying degrees of cold, of course. A “cold” shower is defined as anything below 70℉. I personally go right below the threshold of warm, so it’s cold enough to be uncomfortable, but still bearable.
  4. Enter the shower. This is the hardest step, right here. The moments before stepping into the cold, you’re gonna want to overthink. You may find yourself coming up with excuses for why you shouldn’t jump into the cold. Don’t do this. Because then, you’re just delaying the process and wasting time, water, and mental energy. So, as Nike’s motto goes: Just do it. Count yourself in. 1. 2. 3. And jump.
  5. 5 minutes of cold. Upon stepping under the water, you’ll feel a shock, and you may lose your breath. Thankfully, this only lasts a few seconds. As the cold envelops you, try to keep moving. Lather your body with soap as fast as humanly possible (save the thorough cleaning for nighttime showers). Sing to your hype-song that is blasting in the background. After about a minute, your body will adjust to the cold, and it won’t feel nearly as bad as it did initially. It might even feel nice! I usually stay under the cold water for 5 minutes, or the duration of two songs.
  6. 3 minutes of warm. After 5 minutes of cold, I reward myself with a few minutes of warm water. I’ve heard that it isn’t healthy to go straight from cold to hot water, or vice versa, as you can get sick. It’s never happened to me personally, and the showers are so short that I don’t think it matters too much. But follow this step at your own risk.
  7. Towel Time. My personal favorite part of any shower. Make sure you have your bath towel close at hand, to save you some unnecessary shivers and suffering.

And, voila! You’re done! Give yourself a pat on the back for getting through the first challenging task of the day. Now, you’re ready to take on the world! And, if you end up having a terrible day, at least you can go to bed knowing you did one thing right.

Note: #1 There are a couple exceptions to the cold shower rule. I don’t take cold showers when I’m sick with the cold/flu, or if it’s too cold outside. The goal is to reap the health benefits cold showers, not to get sick because of it.

Note #2: If you have any underlying health conditions, consult your physician before trying this at home.

T-Minus 5 Months Until Grad School!

Hello hello, dearest readers! It is 9:31am on this gorgeous, sunny Friday morning. What a contrast the weather is to the past couple days’ rain and hail!

Today’s post is a quick update on my academic and career-advancement timeline. In August, I will be starting my Master’s in Sport Studies at San Jose State. As of right now, my career goal is to become a sport and performance psychologist. A well-fit niche that integrates my lifelong passion for sport and performing arts, and my equally strong passion for mental health advocacy.

It’s appalling how backwards mental health culture is in the world of sport, where physical, mental and verbal abuse is normalized. The 2017 Larry Nassar sexual assault scandal uncovered many underlying issues in the gymnastics world. The release of the Netflix film, Athlete A, further illuminated the toxicity and appalling treatment of Team USA gymnasts. Since then, more and more gymnasts have come forward with allegations of coaching abuse. Maggie Haney, coach of 2016 Olympian Laurie Hernandez, was suspended for 8 years by USAG after gymnasts accused her of serious physical, verbal and psychological abuse. Some of those allegations include (but are not limited to): forcing gymnasts to train and compete through injuries; ridiculing, belittling, and calling girls “retarded” if they were afraid to attempt new and dangerous skills; threatening suicide if a gymnast wanted to quit or leave her gym. More recently, John Geddert, coach of 2012 Olympic champion Jordyn Wieber, was charged with sexual assault and human trafficking. Shortly after being charged, he committed suicide.

At last, the conversation surrounding mental health in sport is beginning. But it’s sad that it needs to happen, in the first place, and even more tragic that it’s taken so long for athlete’s to speak up. The oppressive and controlling nature of gymnastics– and sport at large– shaped a culture of silence and secrecy, whereby young athletes, conditioned to unquestioningly obey authority, were stripped of a voice. It’s great that the mental health movement in sport is gaining traction, and I want to be a part of the change to create a healthier environment for young athletes to thrive in, where the pursuit of gold need not come at the expense of mental well-being.

Whew. Apologies for the tangential tirade. I get pretty heated while discussing sport psychology, which is probably why I want to pursue a career in the field. The goal is to get my PhD and treat mental illness in the athlete population. Sport psychologists are also mental performance consultants who train athletes, professional performers, and even military veterans, on mental toughness strategies to successfully perform under pressure. As someone who’s struggled with a lifelong case of performance anxiety, I’m naturally drawn to the mental side of competition and performance. You know what they say: “if you can’t do it, teach it”. Haha.

So I start grad school at SJSU in August. It’s a 2 year program– 2.5, if you do a thesis. For me, the master’s is an intermediate step to getting my PhD. While many people go straight from undergrad to PhD, I knew I didn’t have a strong enough application to be competitive. In college, I focused on getting good grades, but did not invest in professional development, undergraduate research, or networking. Outside the classroom, I did what I liked– dance, theater, journalism– which is all well and good, but did little to bolster my academic/career resumé. My goal with the master’s program is to gain research experience, network with mentors and professors, get good letters of rec, and learn more about the field of sport psychology to see if a PhD is really something I want to commit an additional 5-7 years to.

Just thinking about going back to school is invigorating. I’ve been out of college for almost two years, during which time I worked as a tutor to save money for grad school. I’ve also prioritized my mental health, and through extensive therapy, have developed skills for managing my bipolar. It’s been nice to finally slow down, take care of my health, and have time for my creative pursuits. But there’s something about school that stimulates me in a way nothing else can. School is something I’ve always excelled at. It feeds into my intellectual curiosity and gives me purpose, concrete goals, life structure, and direction. I love school, which is crazy to say, as I definitely didn’t feel that way when I was in it. So I’m counting down the days until August, when I can finally return home.

I want to be a superstar at San Jose State, and believe I really can, if I focus and apply myself. I will approach school with a different mindset than I did high school and college. I will no longer be a slave to the GPA, limiting myself to classes I know I will do well in, instead of exploring topics outside my comfort zone. Besides, I’ve heard that GPA matters much less in graduate school, with greater weight placed on extracurricular experiences. I’m also excited because San Jose State has a strong competitive ballroom dance team, which you’d best believe I will join. It’s a great fit school. And while it doesn’t have the glimmering name of an Ivy League, I’ve long renounced the need to chase empty labels for external validation and societal approval. It’s not about the name of the school, so much as what you make of your experience there.

Between now and August, I will continue tutoring and working on creative projects that I may not have as much time to dedicate, once grad school begins. Also hoping to possibly travel a bit, and maybe compete in a ballroom dance competition later in the year, when it’s safe.

So there you have it! A little life update. Will talk to you all soon!

Much love,

Bel

I Turned Down An Ivy League. Was It A Mistake?

They say hindsight is always 20/20. Removed in time, space, and dimension from the reality that informed your past, you are able to look back on your life with clarity and objectivity. It’s easy to say, if I had known then what I know now, I would have chosen differently, and somehow my life would have ended up better. The problem with this logic is, you are not the same person as you were back then. You easily forget the circumstances, the sentiments, the people and the internal life that shaped your past actions. So playing the shuda-wuda-cuda (SWC) game is not constructive self-reflection. It is a slippery slope that often leads to regret, shame, anger, bitterness, and depression.

I spent the whole day today playing SWC. It all started when I woke up at 10:30am to a phone call from my boss, Dr. Chow. Her credentials:

  • Graduated with a BA from Columbia and PhD in sociology from U Penn
  • Former Stanford admissions officer and lecturer
  • CEO of Ivy Academics, a Bay Area college admissions and test prep company (the one I presently work for)

As Dr. Chow and I spoke about college admissions strategies and this past application cycle’s statistics, the conversation naturally looped back to my own days of applying for colleges. Dr. Chow had been my teacher and mentor back in high school. My brothers and I started SAT English test prep with her in second semester of 8th grade, and in junior year of high school, she mentored us through the college application process. In large thanks to her, we got in to some decent schools. My college decision ultimately boiled down to three choices: UC Berkeley, UCLA, and Cornell. All great schools, in their own right, and I was privileged to have my pick.

Dr. Chow had always pushed for Cornell– albeit the lowest ranked Ivy, and what elitists deem the “fake” Ivy, but an Ivy nonetheless. A Columbia graduate, she recognized the weight of the Ivy League label, as it paved the path for her own career as an educator and businesswoman. According to Dr. Chow, had I chosen Cornell, I would have been “ensconced in a network of movers and shakers”. It’s not so much the academic caliber of Ivy’s, as it is their name and powerful alumni network, that set them apart from prestigious public universities like LA or Berkeley. The network will help you tremendously in landing a job, especially your first job out of college. The Ivy League name is gilded and glorified, and with it comes a veneer of power and elitism. Steeped in a tradition of intellectual vibrancy and opportunity, Ivy Leagues carry with them a legacy of trailblazers– Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the Obamas, Meryl Streep, Jeff Bezos, and Anderson Cooper, to name a few. Attend an Ivy, and you know you have big shoes to fill– a realization and responsibility that serves as fodder to your fight for success and achievement.

You may wonder, then, why I chose UCLA over Cornell. Here are some reasons that shaped my decision.

  1. UCLA gave me a scholarship. Cornell had also given me some scholarship money, but it did nothing to offset the exorbitant cost of out-of-state tuition. To go to Cornell would entail taking out student loans, which certainly would not set me up for success post-graduation.
  2. UCLA was great for pre-med, which I had been, going into college. It had a world-renown medical school and myriad opportunities for undergraduate research, volunteering, shadowing– basically everything you needed to be a successful pre-med student. Thinking I’d be in school for several more years, it didn’t make sense to pay triple the tuition at Cornell, if I could get the same– if not better– quality of (pre-med) education at UCLA.
  3. LA had a vibrant dance scene. Going into college, I had ambitions to continue competitive ballroom dancing alongside my studies. I had assumed that because LA was the nation’s capital of commercial dance, it must have a strong ballroom dance scene. (I’d later find out that this is not the case.)

The day I received my Cornell acceptance letter, I went home and called up the lady who had conducted my Cornell interview– an alumna named Leticia who, now in her forties, is some big-shot finance director at a fancy-shmancy firm. I first thanked her for her input that influenced my acceptance (regardless of how small a role it played). I then expressed to her my conflicted feelings about choosing a college. My mind had been set on either LA or Berkeley. Then Cornell entered the picture, which complicated things. Leticia’s response:

“If you chose Cornell, hated it, and decided to transfer to UCLA after a year, that pathway would probably be easier than if it were the other way around.”

I remembered her words when, during fall quarter of my sophomore year of college, I decided that I hated UCLA and wanted to transfer schools. I was no longer pre-med (I had quit after two quarters), so the primary appeal of UCLA– its rich pre-med resources– was rendered null and void. *Also, the ballroom dance scene in LA was shockingly disappointing. UCLA’s fledgling ballroom dance team did not challenge me, there were zero partnership prospects, and the nearest ballroom dance studio was 10 miles away– quite the commute, when you live in LA and don’t have a car. Mainly, I was disappointed that my fantasy of living the premed-dancing dream in the City of Angels did not come to fruition. I was now neither premed, nor dancing. So I decided to transfer to either Cornell or Columbia. At least there, I’d be in New York, the true mecca of competitive ballroom dance, which is what my heart yearned for.

In the span of one week, I wrote the essays, gathered my rec letters, submitted the application materials, and hoped for the best. A month later, I found out I had gotten into Cornell again, and was waitlisted at Columbia.

When I told my parents of my intention to transfer schools, they completely opposed the idea. They didn’t understand why I would uproot my life of two years at UCLA, where I had a good thing going, and move across the country to start over. I tried to make a case for transferring. But as much as I longed to leave LA, even I could not rectify the glaring hole in my grand plan: money. Move to New York for school and dancing, but how to pay for it all? I realized that my decision to leave UCLA was short-sighted, impulsive, and unrealistic. The airy-fairy dream of a silly 19-year-old girl. So for the second time, I turned down an Ivy League school and remained at UCLA, from where I graduated in 2019.

I told all this to Dr. Chow over our phone call this morning. She replied that my decision to turn down an Ivy League was an opportunity loss. “If I were your mother,” she said, “I would have pushed you harder to choose Cornell.”

I hung up the phone, distraught. What if she was right? Had choosing UCLA been a mistake? I spent the rest of the day playing SWC and cogitating the following reasons for why choosing Cornell would have been a better move than UCLA.

  1. Ivy League name = connections = career success = Happy Bel
  2. Cornell is in New York. I could have gone to NYC every weekend to take dance lessons from world renown teachers. I would probably have a competitive dance partner by now. = Happy Bel
  3. I quit pre-med two quarters in to UCLA. Without its premed leverage, UCLA and Cornell stood on a level playing field. According to usnews.com, Cornell’s overall, undergraduate ranking is higher than UCLA’s. So objectively speaking, doesn’t that make it a better, more prestigious school, and hence a school I should go to?

For argument’s sake, let’s just say I had gone to Cornell, milked the shit out of their rich and powerful alumni network, landed my first six-fig job right out of college and fast-tracked my way to financial independence. Maybe I’d be in NYC right now, working a corporate job whilst living the dancing dream. Or maybe I would be in exactly the place I’m in right now, living at home amidst a global pandemic. No amount of SWC-ing could lend me the answer to an impossible question.

One thing I do know, is I would have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, regardless of where I went to college. At least I was diagnosed when I was in California, close to home, instead of across the country. Things could have gotten really ugly, had I been at Cornell during the time of my diagnosis. Cornell is insular and isolated, four hours removed from the city. Winters are cold, dark, and depressing. Cornell is infamous for its **high student suicide rate. It’s happened often enough that in 2013, the university installed nets underneath the bridges spanning campus, from which many students have jumped. 3,000 miles away from home and slowly losing my mind… maybe I would have jumped.

At the end of the day, this entire discussion of whether I should have chosen Cornell over UCLA is moot. I can’t change the past, so why obsess over hypotheticals, when the only direction I can go in life is forward? The discussion is also quite elitist. It’s like wondering if I should have bought the $3000 Louis Vuitton bag, instead of the $1500 Prada. They are both name brands, both expensive and shiny and glamorous. You can’t go wrong with either, and are privileged to have either option at your disposal.

I will end this post with the following. UCLA is a great school. “The number one public university”, as fellow Bruins so hardily caption their graduation pictures. I have no shame in being a Bruin, and actually have a tremendous amount of Bruin pride– so much so that I will accost anyone on the street who dons UCLA attire, as if graduating from the same college automatically makes us BFF’s. So yes, I consider myself very lucky to be a Bruin, and the purpose of this post was not to hate on UCLA, but to explore a parallel universe where I had chosen a different university to attend. And explore it, I did. Now I return to the realm of reality, not begrudgingly, but at peace with the path I have chosen.

If there is anything I’ve learned through my struggle with mental illness, it is this: without health, nothing else matters. Not your alma mater, career, network, or net worth. It doesn’t matter if you’re a Harvard graduate or high school dropout. The Ivy League name cannot save you from death and suffering. Never forget: you are a human being, above all else. Where you went to school is not a measure of who you are as a person. So stop this pointless game of SWC. Count your blessings, fly forward on the path you’re destined, and just be happy.

-Bel

*I realize how spoiled and whiny I sound, here. Writing is truth-telling, and that was the truth I felt in that moment. Nothing more to say about that.

**actually, Cornell’s student suicide rate is no higher than the nationwide average. The misperception of a high suicide rate has been attributed by some to the public nature of suicides in the gorges.

On Turning 23

Sunday, March 7, 2021

11:00pm– Hey, folks! I am one short hour away from turning 23. So here are some final thoughts as I leave 22 behind, and enter the third year of my second decade of life.


As someone who struggles with a chronic case of low self-esteem, I often rely on external validation as a means of affirming my worth, as I am, for some reason, unable to do so on my own. What a sad thing it is, to go about life this way; pursuing excellence and achievement, all the while glancing behind your shoulder to see who’s watching. People like me aggressively flaunt our achievements and talents on social media for the world to see. When meeting someone new, we strive to impress, rather than connect. We conflate who we are with what we do, and our stock response to the question, “tell me about yourself”, is a well-rehearsed, carefully scripted recitation of our resumé. We scorn imperfection, even though imperfection is part of the human condition. To admit weakness is to embrace humanity. But being human is lame. We were destined for more.

The spotlight effect: a psychological phenomenon in which you believe that people are hyper-focused on you, scrutinizing your every move, watching for mistakes, blunders, faux pas, faults. You feel the need to be “on”, all the time. As if life is a performance. Well I hate to break it to you honey, but you’re not that important. You may be the protagonist of your own life, but you’re only a supporting role in others’. So get over yourself. Let go of your ego, your God complex, and your delusion of self-import, and just live your life the way you want to. Like actually LIVE it, without worrying about what your imaginary audience may think. Pursue excellence not to grovel for praise from other people, and certainly not to post about in on social media. Work from a place of intrinsic motivation, a genuine interest and desire to make a positive contribution to the world, without feeling the need to showcase all you achieve. Purify your intentions, and do what you do because you love it and it makes you happy, not because you think it will win you brownie points from other people. If it does, then great. If it doesn’t– well, whatever. Who the hell cares? You shouldn’t live for other people’s approval. Besides, nobody likes a braggart, narcissist, or validation-whore. And at the end of the day, there is more to life than work. You are not a sum total of your achievements, and your worth is not contingent on what you do. Start chipping away at that delusion.

“Emancipate yourself from mental slavery.”

These are the lyrics to Bob Marley’s Redemption Song. Free your mind from the need to derive worth from others’ opinions. Wean yourself from the teat of external validation. Validation seeking behavior is a prison and a poison. In giving others so much power over your well-being, you are stripping yourself of positive liberty– the freedom to think, feel, and act for yourself. Validation-seeking gives rise to a host of diseases– perfectionism, people-pleasing, insecurity. It’s a sign of desperation, disempowerment, low self-esteem, lack of self-confidence. It’s sad. And I am so guilty of this.

Sometimes, a little dose of brutal honesty can free you from delusion. So here it is, now:

NOBODY GIVES A SHIT ABOUT YOU!!!

Besides close friends and family, nobody cares about you or your big-shot alma mater, perfect GPA, gilded degree titles, lengthy resumé, six-figure salary, fancy zip code, or any other societally-constructed measure of “success”. Remember: it is human nature to be egocentric. You may think that think the world revolves around you, but it doesn’t, because everyone else is thinking the same thing about themselves. I applaud those who defy this norm; those who are able to humble themselves, turn the lens outward, and have a life purpose that extends beyond fishing for compliments, posing in front of a camera, or fabricating a polished image that belies deep-seated insecurity and self-hatred. Be more like that.


12:00am– I’m officially 23! Glad to have made it this far!

This year, I resolve to reclaim power and agency over my internal life. Foster self-love that is independent of what I do, or what others think of me. I will try to find things about myself that I like– my personality, values, physical attributes– qualities that are unrelated to my academic, extracurricular, or work performance.

**Inner hype-woman talking:

Belicia, you’re 23 now. Still a baby with a whole lotta life ahead to live. You’ll be stuck with yourself for the long haul… so why not learn to love yourself? Embrace yourself in all the good and bad. Relinquish fear of imperfection. Quiet the inner critic. Be your own best friend and advocate. You’re strong, determined, sensitive, compassionate, smart, talented, kind, and beautiful. You don’t have to wait for others to tell you those things. I hereby grant you, Belicia Tang, permission to repeat those words aloud to yourself, and to start believing them. wholeheartedly.

With love,

Your newly 23-year-old Self

February 2021: Month In Review

Welcome, friends, to February 2021, month-in-review! To start, I will take a look at the goals I had set for this month, (delineated in January’s month-in-review), and see how well I was able to accomplish them.

THE MUST-DO’S

  • Maintain mental stability. Mmmm… close, but not quite. Earlier in the month, I had a bit of a hypomanic episode, whereby I got off my meds and did not sleep for 2 days straight (first time I’d done that, since college). I had deadlines stacking up for various commitments and got a bit overwhelmed, and didn’t want to sleep. But the golden rule of bipolar is, GET ENOUGH SLEEP! Because lack of sleep can trigger hypomanic/manic episodes, and that’s never a good thing. So, never, ever, EVER get off your meds without consulting your psychiatrist. (lol, I realize I’m talking in third person. I do that sometimes, during reflective pieces that warrant self-criticism)
  • Exercise regularly, eat three meals a day, and don’t overindulge in junk food/unhealthy snacks.Yes, for the most part I have succeeded in maintaining a physically healthy lifestyle. I’m making good progress on my pull-ups, which has been a long-standing goal of mine. I completely indulged in junk food during my three-day trip to Mammoth (pizza, cookies, chips, potato bread, pasta). But that was vacation, so it doesn’t count (okay, Bel… whatever helps you sleep at night, right?)
  • Journal every day. Mmmm… not quite, either. I journal when I feel the need to, namely, when I’m inundated with thoughts, and I need to open the lid to my brain before it explodes. Unfortunately I have not been disciplined enough to journal every day. The writer’s block (which is still going strong) has definitely dampened my motivation to write… well, anything.
  • Stay socially connected. One key component of bipolar management is having a strong social support network. I’m happy to say that this past month, I’ve put a lot more effort into deepening existing relationships and building new connections. I’ve spent more time at home with family, reconnected with some of my college friends (shoutout to Mikey!), and met other people my age who also struggle with bipolar disorder. Having strong social connections is integral for building robust mental health, as you need people around you who help you in times of need. There’s a quote from a recent Grey’s Anatomy episode that validates this principle: “Find your people and keep them close. Because when you’re at your lowest, those people get you through.”  ~Meredith Grey

HOBBIES AND PASSIONS

  • Dance– improve freestyling ability; expand dance vocabulary by learning new styles and taking online group dance classes; continue with zumba 2x/week; learn how to twerk. I have been consistent with my twice-a-week zumba classes! I even went to class yesterday, with my freshly injured leg. I still would love to expand my dance vocabulary by learning different styles (urban, theater dance, ballet, modern, lyrical), but my main focus is Latin Ballroom. Dance studios are beginning to reopen, so I am very excited to get back into ballroom training! As for twerking… let’s just say it’s a work in progress. LOL.
  • Read one book. YES! I read one book called, “Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, and Me”. It’s written by Ellen Forney, a graphic artist who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at age 30. Her memoir, written in comic book form, tells her story from diagnosis, denial and madness, to acceptance, peace and stability. I read the book in one sitting, during the car ride to Mammoth. I laughed, cried, and marveled at how brutally relatable her journey was. Definitely will use it as inspiration for my own bipolar memoir– the one I’ve been talking about writing for the past two years.
  • Continue roller skating and start learning how to longboard. I did some longboarding in the beginning of February, and even taught myself some tricks, like the “sex change” (jumping 180 degrees to switch sides) and a handstand on the moving board. Sadly, the longboarding momentum fizzled out, and I haven’t ridden in a couple weeks. Don’t even get me started about roller skating. I haven’t touched them since 2020. Priority level: non-existent.
  • Competitive public speaking! Yeah, that didn’t happen either. That was one of the commitments I had to dial back on, due to my hypomanic episode. Allan, the president of the Toastmaster’s chapter I am a part of, was such a dear about the situation. I apologized for having to drop out at the last minute, and he called me on the phone to make sure I was doing okay, and to see if I was living with anyone who could help me out. Definitely appreciated his kind gesture. See? SOCIAL SUPPORT!

WORK

  • Continue tutoring. Yup. Still tutoring as my part-time job. Had a bunch of cancellations this month, so pace of work has been slower, and wallet was a bit skinnier.
  • Revamp The Athlete’s Corner. This is my website where I interview and write feature articles about competitive athletes. I haven’t done much in terms of redesigning the website and doing digital marketing stuff, but I’ve started reaching out to more athletes to interview. I actually interviewed a rhythmic gymnast today. Her story is pretty incredible, and I’m super excited to write it. Stay tuned for more content coming out!
  • Take on some freelance writing projects from Upwork. I love writing! HAH. Definitely did NOT do this. At the moment, I do not love writing. It is torturous work. So don’t expect me to pick up any freelance projects anytime soon. I’ll start with the journaling, the blogging, and the website. That’s more than enough writing to keep my brain wired.

BLOGGING-SPECIFIC GOALS

  • Word / Quote of the day challenge. I had thought up this blog challenge as a way to expand my vocabulary. Every day, I’d pick a word, phrase, or quote that piqued my interest, and write a blurb about it and post it on here. It never happened. Maybe I’ll try it this month, maybe I won’t. Priority level: non-existent.
  • Blog regularly– 3-4 times a week at least is the goal. HAH. I was lucky to have written 9 blog posts total, this past month. So that’s roughly 2 blogs a week. Between the mood episode and writer’s block, I’d say two posts a week is pretty remarkable. So, good work, Bel!

Alrighty. Now that I’ve reflected on the specific goals I did/did not achieve this month, let’s move on to Part II of this reflection: noteworthy events.

  1. I HAVE A NEW BOYFRIEND!!! Hah. Not. Yeah, the whole boy situation is as dismal as ever. I got out of a thing with some asshole UCSB frat boy back in end of December. January rolled around, and “new-year-new-me” syndrome led me to delete all dating apps, “permanently”. Early February, I started feeling the itch to get back into the game. Not with the intent of finding a serious boyfriend, but simply to meet new people and get some “practice” navigating dating/romance/intimacy, which God knows I’m terrible at (#commitmentissues). So, I revisited an old college pal of mine, Tinder. Made a brand new profile and everything. Matched with several guys, but blocked anyone who made vulgar, crass, inappropriate, or creepy advances. Here are some honorable mentions: “Nice shoes, wanna f***?” “Wanna come over? I’m safe and clean.” “Hey woman.” There were only four guys with whom I shared deep(ish) conversations. I met up with a few of them, but they were all duds. No spark, no chemistry. Or maybe there was some attraction (or was it politeness?), but it wasn’t strong enough to provoke lasting interest. One thing I found interesting was this: most people are nervous for first dates. For some reason, I always thought there was something wrong with me for feeling first-date jitters. I always saw nervousness as a personality flaw, when in reality, it’s called being human. Two of the guys I met up with for drinks/dinner actually seemed MORE nervous than I was! But you know what? I thought their nervousness was sweet and endearing, as it showed that they cared. At the end of the day, though, none of them really worked out, thereby proving my theory that dating apps, especially Tinder, are useless. I’d much rather meet someone in person and have the connection develop organically. There’s none of that, “Omg, what if they don’t like the way I look in person?”, or “What if the person I’m meeting is a catfish?” Pro-Tip: Post the most unflattering pictures of yourself on dating apps, so whoever you match with will be pleased, and not disappointed, when they meet you in person. Obviously dating apps suck, and in-person meet-cutes are the way to go. But those are hard to come by, during COVID-times. So I guess it’s nothing, then. Well, whatever. I’m officially done with men (for now). Just gonna focus on myself, my passions, my education, and my career goals. Who has time to date, anyway? My new motto when it comes to dating/intimacy is this: hope for the best, but expect the worst. Go in with negative expectations, and if he turns out to be a good egg, then you will be pleasantly surprised. Here’s an even better one: if you like a person, don’t show it, don’t act on it, and don’t do anything to manifest it. If you don’t shoot your shot, no one will get hurt.
  2. Another Valentine’s Day, un-cuffed. I have never been in a relationship on Valentine’s Day… ever. Was wondering if this would be the year it happened. But nope. And I’m totally okay with it! You can read all about my thoughts on the matter, in Valentine’s Day 2021 Reflection.
  3. Mammoth Ski Trip Debacle. It was supposed to be my grand comeback after a six-year hiatus from skiing. Instead, I ended up in the ER after a rogue ski sliced open my leg. The gash was 4 inches across and 4 cm deep, right below my knee. It required 11 stitches. It could have been a lot worse, though. Had the cut been a few inches higher, it would have sliced my Patellar tendon. A few inches lower, and it would have gone straight into my shin bone. And I didn’t break or tear anything. So I count my blessings. I’m still super disappointed that I didn’t get to ski (the accident happened on the very first run of the first day), but I’ll most likely be going to Mammoth again in a few weeks, for a redemption trip. Also, update about the injury: it’s Day 5 of recovery, and I’m essentially walking/moving like normal. Took a dance fitness class yesterday, and did some more dancing today. Only downside is that the area surrounding the wound is numb. But my dad said it’s just local nerve damage, and the nerves will grow back, so I’ll eventually regain feeling in. my leg. Thank goodness.
  4. Running injury. I don’t know what it was with this month and injuries. On February 19, I went on a run on the levee (first one I’ve attempted since January) and ended up face-planting on the rocks and gravel. It was a total freak accident. I’ve ran 21 miles in the dark without tripping once. So how I ended up falling down in broad daylight, is beyond me. Other than a few scrapes and a bruised ego, I was fine. My brand new iPhone 11, on the other hand, says differently. She was not even two days old when this little running accident happened. When I fell, my iPhone bore the brunt of the impact. There is now a small crack on the lower righthand corner of her screen. Thankfully, she has on a glass screen protector (I paid an extra $40 for that at Apple) so she’ll be alright.
  5. Dad’s 35th birthday. My dad’s birthday is easy to remember– February 28th. He turned “35” this year, as did he last year, and the year before that. My brothers and I truly did not know what my dad wanted for his birthday. He is a man of few words, and simple in taste. We drove back home from Mammoth on his birthday, and my dad said the following words: “The only birthday present I want is for you guys to get home safely. ” And get home safe, we did. Love you lots, Dad! ❤

Alright, onto the Part III of this reflection: things to improve.

  • Spend less time on phone/social media. Like, seriously, Bel, start tracking your screen time. You’d be shocked at how much time you waste scrolling through Instagram, taking a million selfies that will never see the light of day, and deliberating which dance video to post next on your feed, only to remember that nobody cares about your dancing except you, and you’d rather not come off as a braggart by flaunting your dance skills on social media, which let’s be honest, aren’t that great anyway.
  • Stop it with the yo-yo diet. Eat everything in moderation. No need to resort to extremes with eating– you got enough extremism in your brain.
  • Read more. Gotta fill your brain in with words/content faster than is escaping.
  • DO NOT get off your meds. Like, ever.
  • Don’t drink alcohol. It’s a bad mix with your meds, and abstinence is sexy. So just don’t drink. Don’t do it!
  • Wow, that sounded a lot more judgmental than I intended it to be. So I guess the last thing is… try to love yourself? Just give it a try, and see how it fits. Maybe self-love is a good look on you. But you won’t know unless you try.

It’s 2:28am as we round up on the final part of February’s month-in-review: goals for March, aka, my birthday month!

THE MUST-DO’S

  • Maintain mental stability: meds, diet, sleep, BALANCE (god that is such a dirty word… why are people so obsessed with it?)
  • Journal every day, even if only for 10 minutes
  • Maintain social relationships

HOBBIES AND PASSIONS

  • Latin ballroom dance. Ballroom studios are reopening and I’m so freaking excited to get back into my competitive training! But, remember, Bel: caveat emptor. Be careful not to spend all the money you earned this past year on expensive private lessons.
  • Read one book.
  • The Athlete’s Corner: revamp + produce content. Goal: write 2 articles / month.
  • Pick up singing/piano again. Just for fun. It’s good for the soul.

WORK

  • Continue tutoring. Most of my high school students are taking the April SAT test. So it’s crunch time, baby!

PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT

  • You’re turning 23 in 5 days. It’s time to get serious about adulting, particularly regarding financial independence. So start by reading that book Austin gave you for Christmas: I Will Teach You To Be Rich. Financial Independence Retire Early. FIRE. That’s the goal.

Aaaaaand, there you have it. All my goals for the month of March. Not as intense as February, but that’s exactly the point. If you overload yourself with goals, you aren’t gonna achieve any of them. Keep it simple, and most importantly.. stay healthy and stay happy. Easy to say, hard to do. But one can only try.

**Side Note: It’s 3:31am. FINALLY finished with this blog. Took me, what, 4 hours to write this? Writer’s block is real, man.

Talk soon,

Bel

Mammoth Ski Trip 2021, Day 2: The Lonely Shepherd

Hello hello, folks! Welcome to Day 2 of my Mammoth Ski Trip series! Today is Saturday, February 28, 2021. It’s our last full day here in Mammoth. We’ll be headed back home tomorrow… back to work, back to reality, back to the grind. There’s still a few hours until midnight, though, so it’s not over ‘till it’s over! Here’s a recap of how today went.

As expected, I couldn’t do any skiing today because of my leg. I must have dreamt something violent last night, because I woke up to find myself tugging at the bandages on my leg, trying to tear them off. When I realized what I was doing, I jolted wide awake and made sure I hadn’t damaged the stitches. Thankfully, my leg was fine, and its delicate embroidery remained intact. I replaced the bandages and went through my morning routine. I was annoyed that I couldn’t take an actual shower, as I had to keep the cut dry for 48 hours. By the time I went upstairs for breakfast, everyone else had finished eating and was geared up and ready for another day on the slopes. I said good morning to the tribe, and they all asked how my leg was doing. I replied that it was fine— actually, more than fine, since I surprisingly felt no pain, and could essentially walk like normal. When they all left, I found myself alone in a giant, empty cabin. The silence was eerie, so I played some music. The song I chose first was “The Lonely Shepherd”, a famous instrumental piece by German composer, James Last. The piece was most famously featured in Kill Bill, Vol. 1, which is where I first stumbled upon it. I played this song often in college, during times of mental and/or physical solitude. Midnight strolls in Westwood, mental meltdowns in the stairwell, or post-all-nighter treks back to my dorm–this song was always good company. The song perfectly described my present situation. I also thought the imagery of a lone shepherd climbing up an icy mountain was befitting for a ski trip.

As I ate my scrambled eggs and cereal, I watched skiing tutorials on YouTube as a sad substitute to the real deal. But now I know a bunch of tricks and jumps that I will attempt during my redemption trip. My brother is actually planning another trip to Mammoth towards the end of March, and he invited me to tag along. I will definitely take him up on that offer.

For the next few hours, I chilled in the cabin, occupying myself with my reading and writing. I resisted the urge to do any work (lesson planning, grading assignments, etc.), and instead spent the day writing yesterday’s blog and reading An Unquiet Mind, a memoir by American psychologist Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison, who herself has bipolar disorder and shares her journey from madness to stability. Alone in the cabin with nothing but my keyboard and books, I felt completely at peace. I don’t remember the last time I had so much unstructured time to read and write freely, without having to worry about tutoring or other stressors of civilization. I can only imagine how nice it must be to be a professional writer. Yes, writing is solitary work. But as an introvert, I have no problem spending 8+ hours each day holed up in my writing sanctuary, removed from the world as I use words to create my own. What was supposed to be an adventurous ski trip turned into a sabbatical and escape from everyday life, and I relished each minute of my alone time.

At 2pm, Akaash returned early from skiing due to a bummed knee. At 2:30pm, he and I decided to drive up to the mountain and meet up with the others at the top for some pictures. Shortly after we arrived, Stephen called us, bearing bad news: the ski lifts were closing soon and the line was very long, so there was no way we’d be able to make it up on time. So Akaash and I decided to go back to the cabin, take solo pictures in the backyard, and photoshop ourselves into their group picture. On the way back to the cabin, we decided to stop by a local Starbucks for frappuccinos. It’s not a real road trip unless you get lost at least once, which happened to us, after we missed a turn. We ended up taking a circuitous route around a residential area. At least we got in some more sightseeing, and Akaash secretly enjoyed spending extra time driving Chris’s new sports car.

After Starbucks, Akaash and I returned to the cabin and did our mini photoshoot. I wore my ski helmet and goggles to make the photoshop seem more realistic. Walking around the snow was a bit tricky, as the surface was uneven and filled with potholes. My leg hurt a little bit after we returned from the backyard, so I went to my room and rested on my bed, occupying myself with writing until dinnertime.

That night was Daniel’s birthday, so we celebrated with Domino’s pizza, BBQ and buffalo chicken wings, and homemade red velvet cupcakes. As I was new to the tribe, I wasn’t in on many of their inside jokes and friendly roasts. I felt more comfortable sitting on the sidelines, listening to the banter and studying the group dynamic. I marveled at how closely-knit and comfortable everyone was with one another. I felt like I was watching a professional improv comedy troupe play the game, “Yes, And”. One person would crack a joke, another would build off of it, and on it went like that, for the entire night. The laughter never stopped, without any assistance from alcohol. There was no need for liquid courage, as everyone was completely at ease amongst each other. You could tell how smart these UCLA graduates were, with their razor sharp wit and seamless conversational transitions. Their responses were creative, spontaneous, effortless. Like poetry.

I was especially impressed at how different my brother was around his friends, compared with his family. At home, he is more reserved and subdued. With his friends, he is loud and unaffected; an equal match with the largely extroverted members of the group. It made me so happy to see the lifelong friendships he had forged at UCLA. His friends were family. Not by blood, but by choice. While I have yet to find a “tribe” of my own, I am grateful to have witnessed what true friendship looks like, and aspire to find friends of that caliber, one day.

After dinner, everyone played board games. I decided to call it a night early, and headed back to my room to begin this post. Without the assistance of hypomania, I am actually quite introverted. I was made painfully aware of this fact, during this ski trip. Medicated, subdued and grounded, I have traded in my hallmark social confidence for mental stability. It was a necessary price to pay, but oftentimes, I miss manic Bel. Today, especially. She’s the outgoing, charismatic and fearless one. Manic Bel would be upstairs right now, playing Coup and Tabboo with the others. She would shove her way into the tribe, as sitting on the sidelines would be unacceptable. Normal Bel is completely different. Boring, vapid, bland as a cucumber. But she is the real me. So I gotta learn to love her. Well anyway, there’s no use in dwelling on the past. I’ll save bipolar reflections for another post.

It’s nearing midnight as I end today’s blog. Overall, this definitely was not the way I expected the trip to go, but I still enjoyed my break away from the frenetic pace of reality. I’m excited to return to Mammoth in three weeks’ time! Thus concludes my two-part Mammoth Ski Trip series. Thanks for reading!

-Bel