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

Mammoth Ski Trip 2021, Day 1: A Visit To The ER!!!

Hi guys! Welcome to my Mammoth Ski Trip 2021 blog series! For the next few days, I will be at Mammoth Mountain with my brother and some of his college friends, shredding those late-winter slopes. It’ll be my first time skiing in six years (since junior year of high school) so I’m really curious to see how I do. **Rest assured, everyone tested negative for COVID before coming on this trip.

Today is Friday, February 26, 2021. It is 8:05am as I begin today’s post. We arrived in Mammoth at around 6:10pm yesterday. The drive from Redwood City took about 7 hours total, including 3 rest stops– one at Panda Express for lunch, and two refueling/bathroom breaks. Austin’s friend, Akaash, drove with us, so the two of them alternated driving, while I dutifully sat in the back of the Lexus, working on an assignment for the startup I’m interning at (more on that, later). We’re staying at one of Austin’s friends’ cabin, which is a 5 minute walk away from the ski lifts. Apparently Austin and his college friend group make this trip to Mammoth multiple times throughout the year. It’s my first time hanging out with the “tribe”, so I’m excited to get to know Austin’s friends better. I’m also curious to observe his friendship dynamic and compare it to his interactions with me and my family. You know me, a psych major. Always intrigued by human behavior.

I wonder how much skiing my body remembers after six years away from the sport. Growing up, my brothers and I were pretty avid skiers. We would go to Reno, Tahoe, Heavenly, and Utah multiple times during the winter season. My cousin’s ex-boyfriend was a professional skier, so he’d take us off trail onto these deep powder slopes, which were probably the equivalent of a black-diamond run. It was a bit sketchy in retrospect, but at 10 years old, we had no sense of fear. Since then, I’ve fallen out of touch with my skiing roots, but I like to think that as a gymnast, my muscle memory and body awareness will make it easy to get back into skiing. One thing I need to remember, though, is to not get over-confident about my movement abilities. Whenever I venture into a new sport, like long-distance running, roller skating or long-boarding, I use that, “I was a gymnast, so I can do anything”, script to bolster my confidence. The confidence is great for fast-learning, but it can easily bleed into recklessness. You should always have a healthy dose of caution when attempting any new skill, especially dangerous ones. So I gotta keep that in mind when I ski today. I bought a beginner’s day pass for today, so I’ll be limited to the green and blue slopes, just to get my feet wet. Tomorrow I’ll buy a day pass for the entire mountain and go HAM– maybe even hit a double black if I’m feeling strong! It’s time to eat breakfast now– scrambled eggs, bacon and Captain Crunch cereal. Afterwards, I’m gonna pick up my rental skis. And then, it’s off to the races!


4:48pm

Hey guys. I’m back at the cabin right now, and let’s just say, today didn’t go quite as planned.

TLDR: On the first ski run of the day, one of my skis fell off and cut my right leg. I had to go to the ER and get 11 stitches, and will definitely not be able to ski tomorrow. Sad reax.

Now, stick around if you want the gory details. After breakfast, I stopped by this ski rental shop called ASO to rent a pair of boots, skis, and ski poles. A nice older man helped out. He fitted me into my boot, grabbed me a pair of skis and poles, and the whole process took no more than 10 minutes. I paid at the counter for two days of rental– $96. After that business was done, we headed back to the cabin, changed into ski attire, strapped on our boots, put on our goggles and helmets, squished our homemade sandwiches into our ski jacket pockets, and then stomped out the door!

As we were walking the 5 minute trek to the ski lifts, I noticed that my boots were feeling a bit too loose for comfort. I’m not sure why I didn’t notice it back at the ski rental place. I worried this would negatively affect my ski performance, but I didn’t want to cause a hassle by having to get my boots refitted at the rental shop, which was a ways’ away. So I told myself I’d just tighten the boot buckles and all would be fine.

We got on the ski lift without a hitch. The mountains were truly a sight. Picturesque. Majestic. Regal. Gazing at the scenic view before me, I forgot how much I missed the snow, and vowed to myself that I would make skiing an annual tradition– no more six year hiatuses! The ride up the mountain took about 8 minutes, and my lift-mates and I engaged in some light-hearted banter to pass time. I felt a familiar tingle of anticipation as the end of the ski lift loomed in sight. Getting off the lift has always been the most intimidating part of a ski run for me. Not really sure why. Thankfully I didn’t fall down while getting off the lift, as that would have been mildly embarrassing.

The first slope we hit was a green one called “Pumpkin”. One of the longer runs, but super straightforward. All of us, even the more advanced skiers in the group, started here. As we readied ourselves at the top of the hill, I could hardly contain my excitement. I’m gonna f***ing murder this, I thought to myself. I was a bit nervous, as one would be after a lengthy hiatus. But I wasn’t afraid. Austin predicted I’d ski well, and I wanted to prove him right. Before taking off, I did a quick mental check of what I remembered about skiing technique: point skis parallel and straight down the slope to pick up speed (aka “french fry”); point skis inward towards each other in a triangular shape to slow down (aka “pizza”); “carve”– aka, turn skis diagonally down the mountain while keeping them parallel– as the more advanced way to slow down; look uphill to avoid collision with other skiers/snowboarders; and most importantly, HAVE FUN!

One by one, people in our group blitzed down the hill. I took a deep breath, then followed in suit. I started out with french fry to pick up speed. As it was a green run, the slope was not too steep. To gain more speed, I bent my knees, hinged my body forward and tucked my ski poles under me, the way you see cross-country skiers do. Then I started carving. On my very first carve, something unusual happened. I completely lost my balance and fell onto my right side. Both my skis came flying off. After I had stopped skidding, I sat up, stunned. What just happened? Another skier in our group, Stephen, came up to me and asked me the same question. “I have no idea,” I replied shakily. I got up, scraped the snow off the bottom of my boots, and snapped my skis back on. Maybe just a fluke, I thought. I was a bit disappointed that I had fallen so early on, not even a minute into the run. It had been six years since I last skied, but I was confident that I’d pick it back up in a heartbeat. Now, I wasn’t so sure. We continued down the slope a little bit longer, and then I tried carving again. The exact same thing happened as before. I landed on my butt, and my skis were strewn several feet away. My boots, though a bit loose, didn’t seem to be the culprit. It definitely was not normal for my skis to be falling off so easily. Austin came over to check on me. “I think there’s something wrong with my skis,” I told him. He took a look at them. “The binding is set at a six,” he said, “which is the normal setting for an intermediate skier. So I’m not sure why your skis are coming off like this.” At this point, I knew my falling was not due to poor technique, but rather a malfunctioning of the ski binding, which determines how tightly your boots are attached to the skis. I was pretty salty about the situation, as this was not at all how I envisioned my first run to be. I got back up, popped the skis back on, and cautiously continued down the mountain, trying to troubleshoot what was going on. Why was I falling every time I carved? Was my body weight too far forward or back? Maybe I accidentally crossed my skis, and they got caught together. I tested my hypothesis and tried another carve, this time making sure to keep my skis tight and parallel. But it happened again. For the third time on that run, I fell. And I wasn’t even halfway down the mountain. My skis had come off again, and as I rolled down the hill, I felt a sharp pain in my right leg. I ended up sprawled on the snow. I stayed on the ground, gripping my leg, and waited for the initial wave of pain to subside. Austin stopped and looked up at me. “Are you okay?” he asked. When the pain had dulled to a throb, I stood up shakily and tried putting weight on my right leg. My leg didn’t give out, so I knew it wasn’t a broken bone or torn ligament. The pain was searing, but bearable. I thought maybe I had scraped or bruised it during the fall. “I think I hurt my leg,” I replied. “But I can still ski down.” It took me while to get my skis back on. Meanwhile, Austin waited patiently for me. He remarked, “I don’t remember you being this bad.” I laughed. Yeah, I definitely wasn’t a bad skier in my heyday. In fact, once upon a time, I was quite good. Probably better than my two brothers, given my gymnastics background. The thought of having peaked at age 10 added to my mounting frustration. I had spent the morning watching YouTube videos of ski tricks and jumps, ready to try them out. And now here I was, unable to make it down a bunny slope. I also felt immensely guilty about slowing down the other members of the group, who were waiting for me at the next checkpoint. Finally, after some fumbling around, I got the skis back on and proceeded onward. This time, I avoided any kind of carving or turning. To slow down, I resorted to the elementary “pizza” method that I’d been taught as a six-year-old in ski school. As we neared the end of the run, there were two evergreen trees positioned 10 feet apart, and between the trees was a mini hill on which you could jump off of. Despite the falls, the rogue skis and my now-injured leg, I had half a mind to attempt the jump. I told Austin that I might do it. “Yeah, you’re definitely not jumping,” he replied. So I watched on as he sped towards the trees, gathering momentum while approaching the ramp, and snapping his knees straight as he cleared the peak. He soared into the air like Eddie The Eagle. I skied right around the trees, envious that I couldn’t do the same. On the final stretch of the run, I decided to try carving one last time, perhaps as a last-ditch attempt to redeem myself. And wouldn’t you know it– I fell. My fourth and final fall. At least my skis had stayed on, this time. Sitting on my ass, with skiers and snowboarders and little kids whizzing past me, my heart sank. I was overcome with a wave of negative emotions. Frustration and embarrassment at having fallen four times on the easiest run on the mountain. Anger at the ski rental company for renting out faulty equipment. Worry about the pain in my leg that was intensifying by the minute. Disappointment that I likely could not ski the rest of the day, or possibly the rest of the trip. Guilt for slowing down the people in our group, who were all patiently waiting at the bottom of the mountain. I started crying. I sat there for what must have been 5 minutes, just crying and pitying myself. I took out my phone and texted Austin, “Sorry, I fell. Just chillin. You guys can keep going.” Of course, he and the others stayed put. They wouldn’t leave one of their own behind. Finally, I hoisted myself back up and pizza’d all the way down to the bottom.

Upon reuniting with the group, I popped off my skis and sat on the ground to examine my leg. My right foot had grown numb and my calf muscle was burning. I noticed a tear in my ski pants, right below the knee. Peering closer, I saw there was blood all over the surrounding area, camouflaged by the black color of my pants. I grew frightened. With shaking hands, I pulled back my pants further. I removed my fingers and saw they were covered with blood. Then I noticed a piece of fatty tissue– yellow and round, like a tapioca pearl– spilling out of the wound. That’s when I completely lost it. Like the baby I was, I started bawling. Both from physical pain and emotional frustration. My brother and another friend in the group, Chris, helped me up. They carried my skis and supported my weight as I hobbled over to the medical center. I collapsed on a wooden bench as the medic on duty, a young blonde lady with pigtail braids, checked out my leg. I rolled up my ski pants to reveal blood-soaked leggings. My rental boot was also covered in blood. The lady had to cut off my drenched leggings. I grabbed Austin’s hand, who was standing next to me. “Wait,” I told the lady, as she started uncovering the wound. “Can I just, like, have a minute? I can’t do this. I can’t look at it.” I buried my head in my hands and cried a fresh round of tears. The lady replied gently, “It’s okay, sweetheart. You don’t have to look.” I felt a sharp pain as she peeled off the remainder of the leggings to reveal the open wound. There was silence. Then Austin remarked, “Dang…that’s pretty deep.” I opened my eyes and glanced down at my leg. Staring back at me was a raw, angry gash. 4 inches straight across, but deep enough to expose fatty tissue and muscle. Blood trickled down my leg and stained the wooden bench on which it rested. At least it didn’t reach my bone, I thought. I was terrified of what was to come. The one kind of pain I can’t do is skin pain– burns, blisters, cuts, the like. I shudder at childhood memories of my father cleaning my gymnastics blisters with rubbing alcohol. I wonder what kind of other-worldly pain I’ll experience today, when they pour rubbing alcohol into this wound. I called my parents and told them what happened. As expected, my dad responded cooly and logically, asking me questions about the injury and giving me instructions about insurance coverage. My mom, ever the drama queen, was in hysterics. She kept asking if I was okay, and even suggested that I sue the ski rental company.

The lady bandaged me up and asked me some basic questions, like “where are you right now” and “what date is it”, to make sure I didn’t have a concussion. She patted down the rest of my body to make sure I wasn’t injured anywhere else. I had the option of taking an ambulance to the hospital, but that would cost a lot of money, and I wasn’t in any immediate mortal danger, so Chris decided to drive me to the ER in his car. They placed me in a wheelchair and wheeled me out of the lodge. I was met with wayward glances and lingering stares, and felt a bit like an animal at the zoo. I got loaded up in the car and thanked the kind blonde lady who helped me out and dealt with my histrionics. The hospital was close by. My brother and his friends were regulars at Mammoth Hospital. Every ski trip they’ve taken together, there has been at least one visit to the ER. Concussions, dislocated shoulders, broken bones and lacerations… they’ve seen it all. All but two people in the group— my brother and a guy named Daniel— have sustained a skiing injury. And now it was my turn. Talk about bad luck.

We arrived at the hospital. As per COVID policy, no one was allowed to accompany me into the ER, so I said goodbye to Austin and Chris and was wheeled inside by a nurse named Kyle. I bypassed the waiting room and was placed in a hospital bed, where Kyle checked my vitals and asked some more standard questions. I gave him my insurance information, then waited for the doctor to see me. I asked Kyle if they would numb me up before cleaning the cut. He assured me that they would. You couldn’t imagine my relief. All the way to the hospital I had been mentally steeling myself for the excruciating pain I’d face while they irrigated the wound with cleaning solution. I assumed they would numb me up for the stitching process, but I didn’t know they would do it for cleaning, as well. I texted my family and friends, updating them on the situation. I didn’t have to wait long– 20 minutes, tops– before they wheeled me into a different room with better lighting. The doctor, a middle-aged white man with a “let’s get down to business” personality, greeted me. He injected the area around my cut with a local anesthetic. The numbing process was slightly uncomfortable because of the needle entering open flesh and the burning sensation of anesthesia spreading through the muscle tissue. It really wasn’t that bad, though. After the anesthesia had kicked in, an EMT named Nick came into the room and cleaned my wound with saline water and soap. I didn’t feel any pain– just cold from the cleaning solution trickling down my leg. After the cleaning was over, the doctor came back in and closed up my wound. The cut was about 4 cm deep and required 11 stitches. The stitching process was painless. The doctor noticed that Nick had not removed all the threads from my ski pants that had gotten into the cut, and called Nick back in to point out the mistake. I’m all for education, and thought it was really cool of the doctor to turn the procedure into a teaching opportunity. He bandaged me up, then went over post-procedure instructions. Keep the stitches in for 10 days. No water on the wound for 48 hours. Change the bandaging once a day. Go to the hospital if there’s any unusual redness or itchiness. To my surprise, he cleared me to go skiing tomorrow, if I really wanted to. I just needed to “be careful” and “listen to my body”. And here I was, thinking I’d need to be on crutches! Of course, I do not plan on skiing tomorrow, as I don’t trust myself enough to be safe, and don’t want to risk popping open my brand new sutures if I fall down.

After the doctor left, a blue-eyed nurse named Debbie, whom everyone called “Deb Deb”, came in and went over the discharge paperwork. Soon after, I was freed to go. The whole process from start to finish took less than an hour. I applaud Mammoth Hospital for their professionalism and efficiency, especially amidst COVID times. Akaash picked me up and drove me back to the cabin. Austin and Chris had gone back to the slopes after dropping me off at the hospital, so I was really happy that I didn’t completely spoil their ski day. Once back at the cabin, I ate my lunch, which was a homemade sandwich with ham, lettuce, mayo and mustard on wheat bread, made lovingly by Stephen and Audrey. I did some online clothing shopping with Audrey, which turned into a full-on shopping spree. I figured I’d splurge a bit, to compensate for a rather disappointing ski trip. I was definitely upset that I wouldn’t be able to ski the next day. But now I have a cool story to tell and a scar to prove it! I’m also more determined than ever to heal up and take a redemption ski trip, where I (hopefully) will not injure myself again.

At around 5:30pm, Chris and. I drove back to the ski rental place to return my equipment and demand a refund on my rental gear. I was ready to go full-on Karen mode if the owners refused to reimburse me for renting me faulty equipment. I even was ready to show them a gory picture of my fully-exposed laceration. Thankfully, I didn’t need to resort to such measures. Chris did all the talking and explained that I had sustained an injury because the skis kept coming off, and that I had to go to the hospital. The ski rental people were super nice and apologetic about the situation, especially when I asked where I should place my bloody boot. Two girls standing nearby listened in on the story and stared at me, mouths gaping, probably worried that the same would happen to them. Thankfully, I was reimbursed the full $96 and left the ski rental shop satisfied.

The rest of the night was super low-key. I socialized a bit and hit a quick ab workout in the living room. For dinner, we had taco night, and the soft-shelled tacos filled with ground beef, lettuce, onions, salsa and guacamole were perfectly delectable. For dessert, I had four chocolate chip cookies. Definitely threw all caution to the wind with my diet, during this trip. But hey, it’s vacation, and I’ll have plenty of time once I return home to get back my COVID bod.

After dinner, the numbing medication for my leg started to wear off, so I popped a couple Tylenol pills, went downstairs to my room, and laid down on my bed. I have to admit, I was in a bit of a sulky mood for not being able to ski with the rest of the gang, and between my bummed leg and physically/emotionally draining day, I felt better being left alone to relax, reflect, and decompress. I got some writing done, called up a couple friends from home, and did some light reading. It wasn’t a perfect day, but I felt grateful for my brother and his friends, who took great care of me during my time of need. So that’s a wrap on Day 1 of my Mammoth trip! Stay tuned for Day 2 tomorrow. I won’t be skiing, but hopefully I can enjoy the snow, take some pictures, and maybe build a snowman!

XOXO,

Bel

Freedom In Self-Discipline

Hello, folks! We’re on the cusp of morning at 11:59am as I begin today’s post. I’m sitting inside the Bay Club restaurant, sipping on a mimosa and mentally steeling myself for the agony that is soon to follow. As I’ve made abundantly clear to you all in my previous post, “Plowing Through My Writer’s Block”, I’ve recently been undergoing a major clog in creativity, loss of language and want of words. Writing… it’s SO hard!!! I’ve never been through such an extended period of writer’s block in my life. The fluidity and flow of bleeding onto the page just isn’t there anymore. Poof. Gone. I posted on the “Supporting Beginner Writers” Facebook group about my frustration surrounding writer’s block. One fellow writer replied the following:

“[Writer’s block] is very real. And it is agonizing. It’s own special form of torture in an entirely new circle of hell. All I can say is what they tell you in business… Fake it till you make it. But don’t beat yourself up too bad. Forcing yourself through it is hard enough without demeaning yourself by feeling like every word you write is shite. Anyone who says it doesn’t exist, well, I just pray they never have to experience it.”

Agony. Torture. Hell. Sounds about right.

Well, I suppose I mustn’t dilly-dally any longer. Here we go with the subject of today’s post– why forming good habits, maintaining structure in your day-to-day and developing iron self-discipline can be liberating.


When I was younger, I didn’t know how to describe the periodic lows I’d feel, as the words “melancholy” or “depression” were not yet in my vocabulary. So I’d tell people that I felt like a “potato”. Well, that’s how I felt this morning. Like a potato. A lazy couch potato, with little motivation to kick off my cozy sheets and tackle the day with zest and enthusiasm. I had placed my phone across the room so I would be motived to get out of bed, turn off my 7am alarm and begin my day. The trick would have worked, had I not decided to crawl back into bed, this time with my phone, after silencing the alarm. We all know the dangers of mindless morning scroll sessions. You start with your email and make sure there isn’t anything time-sensitive to respond to. You then click on the daily New York Times news and read up on current events, because it’s important to be a well-informed citizen. Then comes social media– Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, the like. Before you know it, 30 minutes will pass. Finally, boredom and paralysis-induced anxiety will snap you out of the hypnosis, and you’re left feeling like a bum for starting your day off on the wrong foot.

After mustering the willpower to get out of bed and begin my morning routine, I started feeling better. As they say, “action precedes motivation”, not the other way around. Which brings me to the heart of today’s post– how action, habit and discipline are powerful preventive agents against depression, sloth and low motivation.

Growing up as a competitive gymnast, I was a creature of habit. From age 5 to 15, gymnastics was my life. Every day was the same– wake up, go to school, then straight to practice from 4-9pm, then dinner and homework on the hour-long commute back home, then shower, then bedtime at 11pm. Rinse and repeat. For ten years.

Practice, competition, and living a double life as a student and athlete was certainly not easy. There were so many days when I’d wake up in the morning with a pit in my stomach, dreading the grueling day that laid ahead. I’d feel the familiar butterflies, sweaty palms and racing heart as the clock approached 3pm, signaling the end of school– a place of normalcy and safety– and the start of my second life at the gym. I’d cry silent tears on the way to practice, feeling like a lamb to the slaughter. I’d often cry during practice, as my sensitive soul did not jive well with the verbal slurs and psychological abuse I faced at the hands of coaches. After practice ended, I’d breathe a sigh of relief at having survived the ordeal, but would quickly be sobered by the thought of all the homework I had awaiting me, in the car. That was my life growing up. I lived in a perpetual heightened state of anxiety, self-preservation, and survival. No wonder I have so many mental issues, now.

As difficult as life was then, there was a certain beauty, linearity and simplicity to life as an athlete. After so many years of repeating the same unwavering routine, the actions that dictated my day-to-day became habit. Rote repetition closed any gap that allowed for second-guessing, excuses, sloth, and laziness. Things like waking up at 5am and going to practice despite the loud protests of mind and body were non-negotiable. I just did it. Of course, there were days when I wanted to rest, skip training, go to a birthday party, or heaven forbid, indulge in a slice of pizza. But the act of saying “no” to such vices and temptations became habit, as well.

I miss that life. The single-minded focus towards a concrete goal, and knowing exactly what you needed to do to achieve it. It was a martyr’s life, but there was beauty in its simplicity and straightforwardness. Habit freed me from distraction. Discipline enabled me to perform at maximum capacity. Building solid habits actually lessened the amount of willpower I needed to exert in my day-to-day, because my actions become automated. Tasks that were once mentally/physically exerting became second nature. Once I was able to establish that cadence and flow, the gears clicked into place, and I was primed to function at peak performance and achieve my goals.

If you don’t have daily habits to lean on, it’s difficult to maintain functionality during times of uncertainty and challenge. Such was– and has been– the case, for basically the past 1.5 years since graduating from college. Just as gymnastics gave my life structure, so too did school. Between classes, office hours, study sessions, club meetings, extracurriculars, exercise, meals, and sleep, my day-to-day was neatly mapped out, and all I had to do was follow along.

I did not anticipate the difficult transition that would follow once I graduated from college. For the first time in my life, I was no longer a student. I felt lost without classes, exams, papers, projects, deadlines and academic pressure propelling me forward and giving my life direction. The built-in structure I had taken for granted all those years was gone. I felt like a motor boat without a rudder. So much energy and passion, but not a clue where to channel it. Having lived my life with other people– coaches, parents, teachers– telling me what to do, I was stunned by the laxity of post-graduate life. I had always prided myself in being a disciplined person. But I realize now that true self-discipline is not simply the ability to follow others’ orders. To be self-disciplined, you must create your own orders, set your own goals, map out your own schedule, and hold yourself accountable to your word, because no one else will.

Being self-disciplined with solid habits that shape concrete, actionable goals is the only way one can make forward progress towards achievement. And if achievement is something you value in your life, then you may dream as greatly and profoundly as you wish. But for every one dream comes a thousand small habits that give us the roadmap to success. The more automated your habits, the less mental strain and willpower you will have to exert on trivial daily tasks, and the more you can focus on the bigger picture. Self-discipline liberates you to dream big. So start small. One atomic habit at a time.

I Will NEVER Be Enough…

A couple days ago, I had an intense therapy session, where we delved deeper into the root of my self-esteem issues. My therapist and I begin each session with a guided meditation using the app, “The Tapping Solution”. The one I had chosen that day was the “You Are Enough” meditation. For the first half of the meditation, the narrator explores the unhealthy mantra– that you are not enough– and how/why this toxic, unproductive core belief may have manifested. The second half of the meditation is spent breaking down this mantra in favor of a healthier one– namely, that you are enough by the very nature of your essence. Your worth is not conditional on your achievements, ability, wealth, or any other arbitrary marker of “success”. You are enough, just being.

During the first half of the meditation, the narrator recited out loud the phrase, “you are not enough”. Hearing those words conjured up a particular memory from my childhood. I was 13 years old and at gymnastics practice. I was having a bad training day. A big competition was coming up, and I was stressed and angry at myself for underperforming. To add fuel to fire, my coach yelled at me every time I messed up a skill. I was forced to repeat the skill until I had successfully completed it five times in a row. But the combination of my coach’s screaming and my own mounting frustration led me to fumble even more.

“What is wrong with you?” my coach screamed. “You should hate yourself. You need to do better. Be better. You can’t stop until you get it right.”

Her “pep talk” was a mere iteration of the hundreds she had delivered before. I nodded my head robotically as she berated me. I was so desperate for her to see that I understood, that I was trying, and that I would do better and be better. By then, the tears had brimmed over and were now streaming down my cheeks. I trained my eyes on the floor, trying to steady my breathing. I couldn’t let her see that I was crying, for to cry would be to admit weakness. I was physically and emotionally drained. Vulnerable. Ashamed. But I had to be strong and keep pushing. Can’t stop until I get it right. Do better. Be better. I clung onto every word she said to me and believed it with all my heart. I hated myself for not performing. I hated not living up to her superhuman standards… not fulfilling the expectations of judges, spectators, parents, even the little girls at the gym who looked up to me as a role model. I was gripped with fear that I’d fail at the following week’s competition. At 13 years old, I believed, with incontrovertible certainty, that my self-worth was conditional on my performance and achievements, and that I would only be loved by others if I was successful.

Throughout the rest of the guided meditation, all I could thing of was that memory. As the narrator spoke the words, “you are not enough”, it was no longer his voice. It was my coach’s. Which, over the years, morphed into my own. I heard those words, and I felt a change within me. It was a physical rush that started in my chest and expanded upward, tightening my throat and bringing tears to my eyes, until the sensation reached my brain. Familiar thoughts were triggered. You are not enough, Belicia. You must work harder. Do better. Sleep less. Read more. Write more. Work more. BE MORE. Serotonin flooded my synapses. I felt a strange urge to nod my head. Yes, I am not enough. But I can and I will be better. I’ll prove it.

Hearing those four little words, “you are not enough”, made me smile… a maniacal smile. The phrase, repeated out loud to me, set me off in me a fury and desperation to prove it wrong. If I achieved enough– get into the best schools, earn fancy degrees, win dance competitions, have an illustrious career, make a big splash in the world and leave behind a legacy– then maybe, just maybe, I would finally BE enough.

Except that isn’t really true, is it? I am addicted to those words: “you are not enough”. I rely on my self hatred as a source of twisted motivation. But in reality, no matter what I do in life, no matter how hard I work or how much I achieve, I will always be that 13 year old girl– belittled and abused by an authority figure I loved and loathed, trusted and feared. I spent my formative years of development trapped in an environment of fear, abuse, and control. It was that environment of long-term stress that likely turned on the bipolar gene. And now I have to live the rest of my life medicated, monitored, and subdued, wresting with demons that refuse to be exorcised.

All poetry aside, I now understand the root of my self-esteem issues, validation-seeking and people-pleasing tendencies. I’ve internalized the words of my coach– that I am nothing, unless I succeed. I know my present core belief is toxic, a byproduct of years and years of emotional and psychological abuse. I know I need to let it go, should I wish to live a happy and fulfilling life– at least, that is what I’ve been told. But do I really want to let it go? Self-hatred. Pain. Masochism. They’re old friends. Getting reacquainted with them felt… comforting. Like putting on an warm coat on a bitter cold night. And it is from this place of cold, unfeeling darkness that I say the following:

I was not enough. I am not enough. I will never be enough.

To relinquish this doctrine will take years and years of therapy, and even then, I may never truly be liberated from it. How can I even begin to imagine a life of peace and unconditional self-love? I just can’t.

the manic muse

My thoughts are deafening and I want to scream. Except I can’t. Because it’s 7am and mom, dad, grandma and Austin are asleep, while I’ve been up for the past 24 hours. My brain has been turned on overdrive all night… an engine gone haywire, and now on fire, burning away any last ounce of reason and sanity that remains as we approach hour 25. Coherency and eloquence have left the room. So here are some words, presented in no particular order, unscripted and unedited… just a raw, stream-of-consciousness data dump. A glimpse into the chaos that exists behind plastic smiles, forced laughs, shiny diplomas and glittering achievements. This post is for self preservation, more for myself than for anyone else… but if for some reason you find yourself reading on, then by all means, take a seat in the eye of the hurricane and listen as the manic muse begins her song.


LOST

CATATONIC

PARALYZED

STATIC

HELL

AGONY

SUFFOCATING

UNSURE 

DIRECTIONLESS

OUT OF MY MIND

UNHINGED

NO CONTROL

FLIRTING WITH FIRE

EXTREME

DISAPPOINTMENT

REDEMPTION

BURYING MYSELF IN WORK TO FILL A VOID

WORKAHOLIC

BIPOLAR

DAMAGED

FUCKED UP

BLACK AND WHITE

ANXIOUS

PROCRASTINATOR

SCARED

NON-FUNCTIONAL

PARANOID

TIPTOEING

ABSURD


TO SLEEP OR NOT TO SLEEP? THAT IS THE QUESTION.

REASONS WHY I SHOULD NOT SLEEP:

  • I DRANK 2 RED BULLS SO I PHYSICALLY CAN’T SLEEP ANYWAY **BUT YOU CAN JUST TAKE MORE SEROQUEL!
  • I DIDN’T GET DONE WHAT I NEEDED TO GET DONE **WELL YOU’RE NOT GONNA GET ANYTHING DONE IN YOUR CURRENT MENTAL STATE
  • MORNING HAS ARRIVED, SUN IS OUT, I DON’T WANT TO BURN DAYLIGHT **IT’S NOT LIKE YOU HAVE A LOT TO DO TODAY.. JUST TWO STUDENTS TO TEACH… YOU WON’T MISS OUT ON ANYTHING IF YOU SLEEP FOR A FEW HOURS.
  • IDKKKKKKKK…

REASONS WHY SHOULD I SLEEP:

  • YOU HAVE TO TEACH TODAY AND NEED TO BE MENTALLY SHARP AND READY
  • PHYSICAL HEALTH… OBVIOUSLY
  • MENTAL HEALTH… DOUBLE OBVIOUSLY 
  • HIGH RISK OF MANIC EPISODE = BAD
  • HIGH RISK OF DEPRESSIVE EPISODE = DOUBLE BAD
  • IDKKKKKKKKK

I JUST WISH I COULD WRITE AGAIN! I WISH I WASN’T BLOCKED. I WISH I WERE MORE SELF-ASSURED. LESS DAMAGED. I NEED… TO TAKE CARE OF MYSELF. I HATE NOT BEING ABLE TO PUT OUT/ CREATE. I HATE MY BRAIN. I’M NOT NORMAL. I’M “NEURO-ATYPICAL”, IF YOU WANT TO BE ALL PC ABOUT IT. I HATE… EVERYTHING!!! UGHHHHH

PANIC PANIC PANIC PANIC PANIC

GOD SHOULD I SLEEP OR NOT? OR MAYBE I SHOULD GO TO THE GYM AND EXERCISE. **WHY THE FUCK WOULD YOU EXERCISE RIGHT NOW? YOU LITERALLY WENT TO THE GYM AT 8PM, CAME HOME AT 9PM, AND DID LONG-BOARDING / DANCING UNTIL 11PM… AND NOW YOU’RE SAYING YOU WANT TO GO EXERCISE AGAIN? ARE YOU INSANE??!

YES, ACTUALLY, YOU ARE.

Valentine’s Day 2021 Reflection

Good morning, everyone! Today is Monday, February 15, 2021. It’s the day after Valentine’s Day, and in the spirit of Singles Awareness Day, I thought I’d do a little reflection on how this year’s V-Day went for me.

I have never been in a relationship on Valentine’s Day. I’ve had only one boyfriend in my life, and we had been “on a break” during February 14th of that year. As much as I enjoy the independence and freedom that being single affords, I do wish to live a full life and experience everything, including being cuffed on Valentine’s Day– if only for the sake of checking it off my bucket list. I’ve always seen the day as reserved for other people… never for me. I am an outsider living on the fringes of the Romance Realm, silently watching the magic from afar, but never an active participant. So really, my misgivings towards Valentine’s Day stem not from desperation for a boyfriend, but rather, yearning for a universal experience I’ve heretofore been denied. In years past, I’d spend my Valentine’s Days pitying my status as a young, single woman. I’d resent the fact that another year had gone by, and I still did not manage to land a boyfriend. The day itself would bring up major feelings of FOMO and insecurity. I would wonder if there was something the matter with me that precluded me from finding a boyfriend. Was it my looks? My personality? My intellect? I’d parse through my friends’ social media posts and gag on the sickly sappiness of their public proclamations of love. The sting of jealousy and loneliness would smart, and to make myself feel better, I’d justify my single status as a conscious, empowering choice I made so I could “focus on my goals”, “avoid distraction”, and be a “strong, independent woman”.

As I get older and gain more knowledge and experience surrounding dating and intimacy, I’ve become increasingly disillusioned with men. At this point, I believe it would take a miracle for me to find a decent, worthy, and eligible bachelor who can love me in a way I deserve. Which is why this year’s Valentine’s Day was not as fatalistic as it was in past years. This year, I was actually happy to be single. I saw February 14th as a day to celebrate SELF love, which is the most important kind of love there is. Men come and go. But you’re stuck with yourself forever. So why beat yourself up, pick apart your imperfections, and scrutinize all the things you hate about yourself, when there is so much good in you to celebrate? I am happy to say that I am further along on my path to self love than I’ve ever been. Repeated rejection and disappointment from men thickens your skin and strengthens your soul, until you stop trying to search for worth and validation externally, and learn to find all of that love and goodness from within. Physically, I am stronger and healthier than ever before. I have learned to radically accept the parts of my body I cannot change, and am instead focusing on things I like and find attractive. Mentally, I am the most stable I’ve been since college. Socially, I am thriving, and have spent the past several months rekindling old friendships, deepening present relationships, and forging new connections.

So all-in-all, Valentine’s Day 2021 was pretty good. Started the morning with a fun zumba class at Bay Club. Then attended church for the first time in years! It was wonderful to feel the spirit of God and meet the other Stanford ward members, who were the nicest, most welcoming group of people I’ve ever met. Ate lunch, then went back to Bay Club to tutor SAT English from 2:30-5pm. Had therapy from 5:30-6:30pm. Was going to squeeze in an evening workout, but ended up engaging in fun-filled, light-hearted banter with the Bay Club front desk staff until 7:30ish. Gym closed at 8pm, so I decided to call it a night and went home. Ate dinner with the fam. Took a shower. At 9pm, Austin and I hopped on a FaceTime call with our cousin Jeffrey, who lives in Hong Kong. Had a nice time catching up after several years apart. Went through my nighttime routine, and pampered myself with a face mask. Read a book. Did a sleep talk-down guided meditation. I was in bed by 11:45pm, and fast asleep by midnight. And that was that! A nice, simple, low-key Valentine’s Day, which felt like any other day of the year. No fuss, no drama, no incel-istic, self-pitying behavior. I rejoice for those who have found love. And I have faith that I, too, will one day find my person… all in due time.

XOXO,

Belicia

Plowing Through My Writer’s Block

Hey guys. It’s 11:01am on this sunny Wednesday. I write to you from the comfort of my backyard– this is quickly becoming my new favorite writing nook. I spent the last 30 minutes trying to write a reflection on my experience with dating apps and hookup culture, but as with most tasks lately, I struggled to focus, find the write words, and break through the brain fog that has consumed my mind for the past couple months. I’ve heard that one way to combat writer’s block is to write about the block. It’s kind of like clearing out a clog in the sink. The only way to clean a drain is to get your hands dirty and dig out the gunk. You can’t ignore the clog and expect it to magically go away. So here I am, digging away. It’s a nasty, agonizing process, bulldozing through the block. But it comes with the territory of writing, and every writer goes through this at some point in their careers. So, take a deep breath, Bel, and I’ll see you on the other side (sometimes I’ll write in third person while addressing myself… this usually happens when I take on the role of a personal coach / hype-woman… just in case anyone was confused).


Okay, so first question is, why am I blocked? There is a multitude of reasons why writer’s block can happen. Sometimes, it’s just a natural part of the creative process. Some days you’re inspired and can write freely for hours. Other days, you struggle to churn out one simple declarative sentence. Environment also plays a role in your writing ability. It’s obviously hard to focus when you have family members, friends, and your iPhone pulling you away from your work. Maybe the noise is internal. If you have a million thoughts and worries filling your limited brain space, it is nearly impossible to get into the flow of creation. There may also be pathological reasons behind being blocked– depression, anxiety, drugs. I believe that a combination of all the aforementioned reasons may have contributed to first real bout of writer’s block, and it’s frustrating… scary, even… when what once was a source of joy and catharsis is now a source of stress and anxiety. I worry because writing was my outlet, my escape, my way of connecting and communicating with others. Losing that ability would be devastating. And the worst part is, I have no idea why this is happening. Physically, I am the healthiest I’ve been in a long time. I’m exercising every day, eating clean and balanced meals (though I’m still trying to curb my snacking). I’m getting at least 9 hours of sleep each night and and religiously adhere to my effective medication regimen. I am making good money from tutoring, and my work hours are flexible and undemanding. Environmentally, there is not much going on amidst this pandemic, and for the first time in my life, I have long stretches of unstructured time that I can devote to writing. The conditions are prime for creation… yet I’ve never felt more stuck in my life.

In college, I wrote several times a day, even during the breakneck pace of the quarter system. The content was prolific, and there was never a shortage of inspiration to draw from during my time at UCLA. The process of channeling my flurry of thoughts into words felt seamless. Granted, in college I was mentally unhinged and manic… perhaps it was the mania that fueled my creativity, which is why I could write with such ease and freedom. I could sit down anywhere– Powell Library, Kerckhoff Coffeehouse, , Janss Steps grass, the dormitory laundry room, the local Ralphs grocery story– and write. I wrote with the intensity of the insane. To quote the lyrics of the song, Non-Stop from Hamilton the musical: “Why do I write like I need it to survive?” I needed to write to survive college and stay grounded as the mania unfolded, threatening to upend me from reality and destroy my relationships, finances, grades and health. Writing was not so much work as it was a lifeline.

I sigh. Did this little exercise of writing through the block help at all? Perhaps a little bit. At least I have written something today, so I can go to bed tonight with a clearer conscience. But this was agony. Writing this post today felt like pulling teeth. It’s 12:07am. I’ve spent over one hour on this short piece, whereas in college, I’d be able to write 3,000 words in the same amount of time (today I barely managed 800). It’s okay. I know this is a passing phase, and once I start writing regularly again, it’ll get better. Talk to you guys soon.

-Bel

New Projects: A Book, An App, and A Website!

Hello, readers! It’s 11:13am on this beautiful sunny Saturday. I’m sitting outside in my backyard as I begin this post. It’s been a while since I’ve done this– normally when I work or write, I’m either chained to my desk in my bedroom, or holed up inside one of The Bay Club’s private office rooms. Right now, with the sky as my ceiling, rays of light and warmth kissing my neck, and the song of birds and bees and overhead airplanes a welcomed substitute for my Spotify playlist, I am in my natural element and liberated to create.

In today’s post, I’ll be talking about some new, long-term projects I plan on embarking on for 2021.

  1. Write a book. For the past two years, I’ve been jabbering away about my grand plan of writing a book of some kind– a bipolar memoir, a compilation of the past six years’ worth of blogging, a college survival guide, a collection of the feature articles I’ve written on The Athlete’s Corner, or a realistic fiction novel illuminating the plight and struggles a competitive gymnast faces on her road to the Olympics. My problem is not a shortage of ideas, but picking and choosing which one to focus on! If you’re presented with too many options, you encounter the dilemma of having to pick ONE project to pursue, whilst tabling all the other ones. Instead of picking and sticking with one goal, most people get stuck in this state of analysis paralysis, and end up not accomplishing any of them. I certainly am guilty of this. But the important thing is that I recognize this of myself, and now I can take steps to changing this behavioral pattern, so I can finally follow through with my word.
  2. Create an ballroom dance app. This idea has also been sitting in the back burner since sophomore year of college. I want to create an app that helps “single” ballroom dancers find dance partners. I’ve been dancing Latin ballroom for nearly six years, and I have yet to find a successful competitive partner. The partner search process has been completely disappointing, and I only wish there was a platform that could easily and efficiently connect me to other dancers around the world who are looking for partners. Anyway, that’s another project I wish to pursue, and now that I have all this idle stretch of time, there’s nothing stopping me from finally putting my plan to action!
  3. Revamp The Athlete’s Corner. This is the website where I write and post feature articles about athlete’s I’ve interviewed. I created the website during winter break of my junior year of college. I wanted to integrate my passions for sports, mental health, and writing by sharing the stories of competitive athletes– particularly those in performance and aesthetic sports, like gymnastics, figure skating and dance. It’s remarkable how backwards mental health culture is in such sports, and a big motivator for this website was to unveil the abusive and toxic culture of sport and educate the public about what really goes on outside the competition floor. So anyway, I’ve been writing on this website on-and-off for the past 2 years and never really thought of monetizing it, since I genuinely enjoy interviewing and writing about athletes, and saw the website as a passion project, never as “work”. But now that I’m approaching age 23 (almost at my quarter-life crisis!) I really need to start thinking about ways to become financially independent. I know of people who make BANK from freelance blogging. If they can do it, why can’t I? Why not turn your passion into a source of income? In the age of tech and social media, even your average Joe with a message to share can create an online presence, become an influencer and build a career. I know I have the writing chops to create content people will want to read. The challenge is everything else that goes behind building an online brand and business– web design, digital and affiliate marketing, social media, SEO/ads/sponsorships, and all this other esoteric terminology that I honestly have little knowledge– and little interest– about. If I had the financial resources, I’d hire someone in a heartbeat to do all the behind-the-scenes work of promoting the website. I’m perfectly happy just writing and creating. But in this day-and-age, you can’t stick your nose in the air and proclaim yourself an artisté, and devote everything to your craft without putting your work out for the world to see. Art and business are not mutually exclusive, and it would be completely presumptuous, arrogant and ignorant to reject the latter by “letting the work speak for itself”. You gotta play the game to be seen.

These are my three main projects that have long been marinating in my little brain, and are now ready for cooking (lol, weird analogy but let’s just go with it…). As great a travesty the pandemic has been, I will selfishly admit that I’ve enjoyed the drastically slowed pace of life and greater amount of unstructured time that I’ve had these past 11 months. It’s given me the chance to revisit old plans that have been shelved away, and really tackle them in earnest. Now, onto the hardest step– choosing ONE project as my main devotee. Will it be the book, the app, or the website? Stay tuned to find out…

-Bel

I’ve Lost My Voice

Hello, friends. It is 4:39pm on this Wednesday afternoon. Gorgeous past couple days, here in the Bay. I went for a 2.5 mile run this morning on the levee. It was my first run in an entire month, as I needed to physically (and mentally) take a break from running, after the 21-mile behemoth I had tackled on December 30, 2020. After a month of no running and not much cardio in general, my body was understandably out of shape. By the end of the run, I was winded and sweating profusely. It’s annoying to see yourself regress in any skill or domain, but the frustration of losing a skill only fuels me to gain it back. So I’m excited to get back into long distance running, though I will definitely take my training at a healthier pace, this time around.

At 6:30pm I’ll be teaching my weekly reading and writing enrichment class for middle schoolers. Today we’ll be discussing chapters 9-16 of Educated, the first of three books I’ve assigned the kids for spring semester. We’ll then read a short essay together, and the kids will do a writing assignment in response to the essay. I will also give them some verbal reasoning practice problems to help build their vocabulary and logic skills, and will end the class with a grammar lesson on semi-colons and colons. Never a minute wasted during these two-hour classes.

Between now and the class, I figured I’d let off some steam, exercise my writing chops, and do a quick self check-in. The “brain fog” I’ve been experiencing these past couple months is still ever-present. The fog has dulled my mental sharpness and, in particular, affected my ability to speak and write. Thoughts and ideas still come, but for reasons unbeknownst to me, my ability to articulate such thoughts into words and speech has deteriorated. I blame the pandemic for this. Social isolation does a funny thing to naturally quiet people like myself. Without opportunities for casual conversation, in-person interaction, or more formidable social challenges like work functions, dinner parties or performance, introverts and socially anxious individuals can easily withdraw into themselves, and in the process, temporarily lose their voices– at least, this is the case for me. Words, words, words… oh how they evade me, so! The brain fog is a big reason why I haven’t been blogging as much. Writing, which used to be a seamless and pleasurable means of emotional expression, is now mentally draining, stress-inducing and ego-deflating. Words… they just aren’t there. I literally can’t describe the phenomenon. It’s like all the vocabulary I’ve accumulated throughout my entire life and formal education has just… dissipated. I struggle to articulate even the simplest of thoughts, and if you think my writing is bad, just wait until you hear me speak. Stilted, fragmented and clumsy, my speech betrays my mind. However intelligent I may be, I speak as unintelligibly as a fool. This obviously is an issue when I teach, as I need to be able to explain concepts clearly and coherently for my students to effectively learn. Children, while at times the kindest audience, are also masterful, intuitive readers of mind. They can sniff out fear and fraudulence from a mile away, and I am sure that by now, all my stumbling and stuttering has permanently destroyed my credibility as a teacher. This, I suppose, is why I am feeling a bit antsy for my reading class tonight. I already anticipate the anxiety of leading a reading discussion. I’ll clumsily attempt to explain and analyze a quotation from the book, and will be met with nothing but silence and blank stares from six pairs of pitying eyes through the computer screen. Thinking on my feet, responding to and building off of students’ answers, gently steering wayward discussion back to the right direction… these are all duties of a teacher that require extemporaneous thinking, tact, and mental acuity– none of which I currently possess.

It is now 5:42pm. Yes, it has taken me over an hour to churn out merely three paragraphs of text. I will end my post here, as I must prepare and rehearse my lectures to hopefully appear less an imposter than I already do.

-Bel

January 2021: Month In Review

Hello, dearest readers! It’s been a hot minute since I last posted (11 days ago). I apologize for the brief blogging hiatus. I will be completely frank with you all; I was going through a spell of depression these past couple weeks, and when I’m depressed, one thing to go is my ability to create. The depressive fog hinders my brain from being creative in any capacity, be it with writing, dancing, or other artistic pursuits. I’m happy to say that these past couple days, I’ve been starting to feel more like myself, so here I am again, back in the land of the living, and ready to update you guys on what’s been going on this past month of January!

So, I’ve decided to start a new trend of month-in-reviews. As I always say, self-reflection is the key to personal growth. During this pandemic era, the day-to-day hustle has slowed significantly for many of us. Without concrete tasks, goals, deadlines and events to structure our lives, days can easily bleed into months, until 11 months since the start of pandemic, you find yourself much in the same place as you were nearly a year earlier. Reflections can help break this cycle of passive existence, providing us with a blueprint and data to continue forward progress.


Alrighty, enough of the preamble. Let’s cut to the chase. So, January was, quite literally, an emotional rollercoaster. I spent the first half of the month in a manic fury. My family and I had just restarted our membership at The Bay Club, a local health and fitness center. Seeing an opportunity to get out of the house and reclaim my independence, I leapt. Except, as per usual, I went a little too extreme– “get an inch and take a mile” is one of my life mantras. I started spending 12-13 hours a day at The Bay Club– 7am to 9pm. I’d work out, two or sometimes three times throughout the day. The rest of the time I’d spend either tutoring, prepping tutoring, reading, or writing. The whole time, I’d be amongst people. Socially distanced and with a mask on, of course. It was such a nice change of pace and environment from the past several months of being socially isolated and trapped at home. I enjoyed the weekly zumba classes, where I’d get my dance and performance fix. I liked using the professional gym equipment, and feast on all the eye-candy around me as I took a breather between sets. I even made friends with two of the front desk workers and two fellow UCLA alumni. All these things were great, which made me think I was mentally thriving, when in reality, I was crossing the fine line between peak functioning and hypomania.

Looking back, my behavior during the first part of January was quite extreme and out of the range of “normal”. There were definitely some signs of hypomania: grandiose goals, wanting to take on a million different projects and new hobbies, excessive exercise, less sleep, etc. I was still taking my medications as prescribed, but managing bipolar is much more than just medication adherence. You need to make sure you’re living a healthy lifestyle conducive to mental stability, meaning getting enough sleep (9-10 hours/night), balancing work with relaxation, eating a clean and sufficient diet, maintaining social relationships, etc. I really wasn’t doing any of that, during my hypomanic phase.

Of course, it is impossible for any human being, let alone one with bipolar, to run at breakneck speeds forever. Inevitably, they will exhaust their fuel and burn out, which is exactly what happened to me, around the third week of January. As usual, the depression crept up on me, and by the time I noticed that I wasn’t okay, mentally and emotionally, the fog had already laid thick over my brain. The first thing to go was my diet. I started eating more, snacking on family-sized packs of Cheeze-Its and Kettle Chips and Smart Popcorn. Productivity went down the drain. I had started the month attempting to read seven different books. Suddenly, I was barely reading anything at all. I stopped partaking in things that once gave me joy, including blogging. The depression affected my mental acuity, thus causing me to speak and think at a much slower pace than I do, when healthy. Worried about what seemed like a speech impediment, I emailed my psychiatrist, who told me that either medication I was on could theoretically contribute to brain fog. So she had me reduce the dosage on one of the meds. I had hoped for lucidity, but actually got even more depressed after the medication adjustment. I quickly hopped back on the original dosage. It’s been a few days since the shift, and I’ve been feeling much, much better. There were several factors that helped me overcome the depression:

  • Getting back on the proper medication regimen
  • Therapy 3x/week
  • Spending less time at Bay Club and more time at home with family
  • Socializing with friends
  • Sleeping more
  • Eating a healthier diet
  • Dancing again
  • Journaling and being my own coach and advocate
  • Being compassionate towards myself during a state of vulnerability

Here are some other noteworthy events that happened this past month:

  • Took a break from men. Got over my December heartbreak. YAYYYYY!! Also deleted all dating apps (permanently). Did wonders for my mental health.
  • Went on a social media cleanse. Also great for mental health.
  • Deleted all my pre-2021 Instagram posts in an effort to “turn a new leaf” for this year.
  • Accidentally roped myself into a Sunday brunch with some guy I met at Bay Club. He thought it a date, while I did not. Subtly friend-zoned him, but I think he got the message.
  • Befriended the two front desk workers at Bay Club. Went out to sushi with one of them. Again, just as friends. ‘Twas a fun time.
  • Started getting really into Toastmasters, a public speaking organization I’ve been a part of since October 2020. I’m part of two chapters, so I attend meetings twice a week. It’s been challenging, but I’m well on my way to become a confident public speaker!
  • Started spring semester of the middle school reading enrichment class I teach.
  • Explored different modes of movement. Picked up longboarding. Also am getting into dancing hip hop. Always love stretching the bounds of what my body is capable of.
  • Lost a lot of weight (hypomania) and gained it all back (depression).
  • Brother (Chris) flew back to Michigan to finish his last semester of college at U Mich.
  • Finished season 1 of Bridgerton on Netflix. Season 2 is coming out in 2022. Until then, I planning on reading the book series.
  • Got bangs. Still not sure if I love ’em. I’ve mostly been clipping them to the side with bobby pins, so it doesn’t look like much has changed.
  • My parakeet, Shellie, passed away on January 8, 2021. She was an old trooper and lived 8 long years. It’s still a bit unnerving coming home to an empty bird cage, but I know she is flying high in bird heaven, happily reunited with her friends.

Alrighty, Now, onto some important takeaways from this month.

  1. Resist the temptation to go to extremes. Yes, you were excited to go back to Bay Club. That’s great, and you should acknowledge your enthusiasm. But before you bolt out the door, sit down for a minute and trade in emotional reasoning with logical thinking. Is it really healthy for you to spend entire days at Bay Club, with no idle time for rest? Is this really sustainable and conducive for mental stability? Ask yourself these questions, and then make a game plan to adapt to a shifting environment.
  2. Listen to voices of concern. Throughout the month, my mother made several remarks that my lifestyle and behaviors were not normal. I listened to her words, but chose to ignore them. Maybe it’s not quite normal to be living in such extremes– exercising several times of day, significantly restricting my diet, having zero idle time and spreading myself across a million different commitments– but hey, I feel great in the moment, so that’s all that matters, right? NO. Oftentimes, we are blindsighted to our own self-destructive behaviors, because strong emotions can cloud judgment and objectivity. The people around you can enlighten you to what you don’t see in yourself. Don’t be ignorant. Listen to the people you trust.
  3. Journal with intention. Journaling is a powerful tool. Not only is it cathartic, but it is also a concrete way to track and analyze behaviors, moods and mental states, so you are acutely aware of your mental and emotional well-being. I’m happy to say that I’ve been able to keep up with my private journaling throughout this past month. You should make it a habit to go back and read what you’ve written, as you can gain a lot of insight into your mental state by examining not only what you write, but how you write– the pacing, the handwriting, even the amount of pressure you apply to the pen. These are all windows into your mind, and it’s so so important for people– especially those with bipolar– to be acutely aware of their mental health.
  4. Recognize and fight the allure of hypomania/mania. If you find yourself slipping into a hypomanic/manic state, first thing is to recognize that it’s happening– write it down in your journal! And even though the elevated moods, hyper-productivity, increased motivation and creativity may be intoxicating and addicting, remind yourself that hypomania/mania is not something to be romanticized, because it will inevitably lead to depression (as was the case this past month). Then, once you’ve recognized the dangers of flying too close to the sun, take active steps to get back down to reality: sleep more, take meds, make time for relaxation, maintain a healthy diet and exercise regimen, stay connected with friends and family, etc. etc.
  5. Exercise coping skills to get through depression. Similar to hypomania/mania, when you’re caught in the throes of depression, you must take proactive measures to fight off the beast, instead of letting it consume you. Fall back on the coping skills you learned in therapy. Engage in opposite action– doing the very things you don’t want to do (which is basically everything, during depression). Stick to your meds. Go outside for a walk. Stay physically active. Engage in the things you enjoy doing, even if only for 10 minutes each day. Resist the urge to draw the curtains shut, crawl into bed and watch Netflix/binge-eat/sleep the entire day. Try to maintain life structure as best you can. Reach out to people you trust, instead of suffering in silence, for fear of being a “nuisance”. Be compassionate and nonjudgmental towards yourself while in this vulnerable state. Set small, actionable goals each day. Reward yourself when you achieve them. And finally, repeat to yourself the phrase: “This too, shall pass.” Depression is not forever. And you are never completely at the mercy of depression. You have the power to ward it off and expedite the recovery process, through opposite action, practice, patience, and self-compassion.
  6. Don’t take on too many goals. It’s tempting, I know, Bel. Peace is hard to come by, for ambitious people. But you must resist the urge. Taking on too much can easily trigger a hypomanic/manic episode. You also can’t make much forward progress on your goals if you’re spreading yourself so thin, and you certainly cannot achieve when battling a manic or depressive episode.

I will end this rather lengthy post with some general goals for February.

The Must-Do’s:

  • Maintain mental stability.
  • Exercise regularly (but not excessively), eat three meals a day, and don’t overindulge in junk food/unhealthy snacks (maybe reward yourself once a week with a guilty pleasure, so you’re not totally deprived).
  • Journal every day.
  • Stay socially connected.

Hobbies and Passions

  • Blog regularly– 3-4 times a week at least is the goal
  • Dance– I want to improve my freestyling ability and expand my dance vocabulary by learning new styles and taking online group dance classes. I’ll continue with zumba 2x/week. I also want to learn how to twerk, LOL.
  • Read one book– a far cry from the 50 books/year goal I had started 2021 with… but slow and steady wins the race!
  • Continue roller skating (took a fat break from that), and if I have time, start learning how to longboard (I got myself a longboard for Christmas). Total: 2-4 times/week
  • Competitive public speaking! February – May is contest season for Toastmasters! This is the first year I’ll be participating in contest season for the TM two chapters I’m in. I have no expectation of winning anything, as I am still a relatively new member of the organization. But I’ve always enjoyed competing in… anything. It’ll be a great motivator for me to improve my public speaking skills and become a more confident orator. Will keep you posted on how it goes!

Work

  • Continue tutoring
  • Revamp The Athlete’s Corner, work on marketing and branding it, and hopefully make some passive income from the website! An ongoing project for 2021.
  • Take on some freelance writing projects from Upwork. I love writing!

Blogging-Specific Goals

  • Word / quote of the day challenge. I want to expand my vocabulary and also incorporate inspirational quotations and mantras into my life, so I’m thinking that each day, I’ll pick a word, phrase, or quotation I stumble upon in books and conversation, and write a little analysis on it. Should be a fun little exercise. Fellow bloggers, feel free to hop on this challenge with me!
  • Post at least 3-4 times a week. It’s hard to find inspiration during the hum-drum, thumb-twiddling monotony of pandemic days, but I’ll try my best to seek out inspiration where I can, be it through books, music, films, TV shows, conversations, or introspection.

Wow. Just looking at that long February goals list is making me wonder if I really am taking the whole “don’t set too many goals” thing to heart. Lol. Bel, you must practice what you preach! Anywho, that’s it for today. Phew. Haven’t written this much in a while. I’ve sorely missed the emotional release of writing, satisfaction of self-reflection, challenge of grappling with words, and elation after successfully stringing together a decent-sounding sentence. A little bit out of practice after such a long break from blogging, but it feels great to be brushing off the dust and getting those creative juices flowing again. I’ll talk to you guys very soon! Thanks for reading 🙂

XOXO,

Bel