Graduation: College Series Finale

PC: Steve Guzman

PC: Steve Guzman

For the past few months, I’ve looked around at my university, my friends, and Isla Vista with graduation goggles—a la How I Met Your Mother. I arch my neck to look up at the familiar eucalyptus trees lined outside the bike path by HSSB. I smile when I hear the bells chiming in Storke Tower while I’m showering in my apartment before I head to class. I pause to admire the cotton-candy skies around 7-8pm while I’m walking across the lawn in Santa Ynez, without bothering to take a picture because I know my iPhone 6 can’t do the Isla Vista sunsets justice.

I haven’t forgotten the bad memories either, but now they feel more like events from another life.
I notice that the grassy lawn in front of the library has been uprooted, where I sat with someone I once liked.
I let out a quiet chuckle to myself while riding the 11 to campus, thinking about how I planned to move to Italy after I graduated, and how I almost got married when I was still living in FT.
I walk down Camino Del Sur now without feeling as terrible as I did before knowing that my current boyfriend no longer lives a few blocks away from me.

Graduating feels exactly like coming to the end of a TV series. You know you’re winding down to the final few episodes and the finale is approaching in a few more hours of binge-watching. You’ve immersed yourself in this story for the past 4 years.

You just want to know how it’ll end. You want to know everything turns out okay, that the characters will be happy and won’t cease to exist even though new episodes stop airing. You want to know that Angelica gets her dream house, that she graduates from USC, and watches her little brother grow up and learn how to speak Spanish fluently. You want to see Ting get married to someone who will appreciate how dedicated he can be to the people he loves, and meet his adorable Taiwanese babies (whom he’ll inevitably spoil rotten). You want to see pictures on Instagram of Ivan and his future girlfriend, because you know he’s going to be the perfect attentive boyfriend and you want to see him find love. You want to go to the movies and watch whatever cool documentaries Steve makes.

You want to know if Chloe will find a job she loves, if long distance works out, if she’ll end up moving back to Guam, if she has kids, if she ends up happy. You want to know that college was an awesome series, but that there’s something better out there, because life goes on.

How I Survived 10 Days Without Instagram

In some ways, summer is my least favorite time of the year. Most people love the freedom to do whatever they want, but when I have too much free time I get bored. And when I get bored, I get stalker-y.

For most of this summer (truthfully, for most of the time since I downloaded the app in 2012), I used Instagram as a constant distraction. I idly refreshed my feed every few minutes, looking through the pictures my friends liked to see if anything caught my eye. More recently, I began a mini mission at the back of my head to find quality indie models and follow them, and hopefully get inspired enough to somehow become as beautiful as they were. I also thought that if I found models who looked enough like me, I could feel better about myself because I looked kind of like them.

I must have spent hours a week absorbing pictures of beautiful long-limbed girls with perfect waist-to-hip ratios, flowing ombre hair, and breasts uncannily generous for their weight. How could I ever compare?

I’m not sure how I started this obsession in the first place. Maybe it stemmed from when my ex used to follow dozens of beautiful girls on Instagram like the ones I began to like. When I came out as bisexual, I realized I had nothing to lose by shamelessly following as many gorgeous models as I liked. Maybe this act was some kind of a “f*ck you” to my exes who indirectly made me hate my own body whenever I saw they were checking out other women who I thought were more attractive than I was.

In any case, this obsession began to slowly chip away at my already fragile self-esteem. Spending hours a day looking at models with ‘perfect’ bodies does something to a person’s mind. I carried the weight of feeling imperfect on my shoulders—I spent a lot of time looking at my body in the mirror and criticizing myself for what I perceived as flaws, always comparing myself to the models I could never completely imitate.

In addition to comparing myself to other girls on Instagram, I often compared my life in general to what I saw other people doing through their pictures. This made me feel emptier inside and increased my FOMO—which is the fear of missing out on something or someone more interesting, exciting, or better than what we’re currently doing. This fear leads us to feel like we’re not doing anything productive or special with our lives because we’re comparing it with what we see other people doing on social media sites.  I never felt like I was having enough fun at the moment because everyone else seemed to be out living their lives to the fullest, while I was half-watching episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer on my couch while scrolling through Instagram on my phone. I’d see one of my friends post a picture of herself lounging on a beach in Rio, a picture of another friend skydiving, or a selfie of a friend posing in front of the Eiffel Tower, and every other imaginable activity that looked more fun than what I was doing at the moment. (By the way, these are all real life examples. I hate my friends and their awesome lives sometimes.)

I sat on the floor of my room one night wondering how I could get myself out of this problem. The solution was easy: get rid of it. I needed to get rid of the toxicity that this stupid app was causing me, and it was literally as easy as pressing a button. I decided right then that I would go a week without it and see how I felt about myself and my life.

The first day was the hardest, but even then it wasn’t too bad. I deleted the app from my phone the night before and signed out on my laptop, which helped me out a lot that day. The impulse to check Instagram came up so many times throughout the day by habit, but instead of feeling mad at myself or desperate to get back on, I found it funny and interesting to see how often the urge resurfaced. Staying away from the app was a small change, but I didn’t feel noticeably displeased with my body at all that day, since I didn’t have the venue to compare myself to anyone. I did notice myself thinking about different models and girls I followed that day, though, and thought it would be a good idea to unfollow all of them if I decided to use the app again.

Around day three, I started bargaining with myself. The mind is a tricky thing, and it tries to reason its way around what you resolve not to do, so it can get back into its comfort zone. I came up with weak reasons to go back on Instagram, like I thought my friend was going to tag me in a picture, and I told myself it would be rude of me not to go on and like it. But really, Instagram etiquette is trivial and I had to be strong against my own mind tricks. This was a small change in my life, but it was actually a big change in my behavior and daily habits, so it was interesting to find out what I’m capable of and how much self-control I could exercise.

By the fourth day, I started to really think about why I was doing this challenge and how bad I felt about my body. I talked through my self-esteem issues with my cousin and a couple of close friends and resolved to do more things with my life that made me happy internally so that I could feel better about how I looked externally too. I decided to do things that empowered me, like writing, exercising for my health more than my looks, and eating better. After this day, it was easier to finish the challenge without the fear of relapsing.

On the last day, I made up a few rules on how I wanted to use Instagram after the challenge so that I wouldn’t get back into my old habits of comparing my body and life to others:

  1. No “stalking.” No looking at who’s following whom, no looking at the Activity page to see what pictures my friends are liking. It’s none of my business and it doesn’t feel good to think about insignificant things like these.

  2. Unfollow all people I don’t know in real life. I just want to use the app to keep up with my family and friends.

  3. Only use the app at far apart intervals, maybe once or twice a week at most. This way I won’t use it as a constant distraction all day and can focus on what’s going on in the present, in real life.

I unfollowed everyone I didn’t know in person (at least 30 people) besides my favorite celebrities, even my super-fave-crush-models (I paused for a second to consider if I really wanted to remove two of them in particular from my life). I felt good. I avoided logging in all day because I was afraid of what it would be like, or if I would reverse all the progress I’d made. But going without something that was such a part of my daily routine taught me that as much as I think I need something in my life, or if I think I have a problem I can’t get rid of, it’s always possible to take small steps to get better. Getting rid of bad habits is a process that takes time, and most especially compassion for yourself. It’s not easy to change something about your life right away, so go easy on yourself if you mess up at first.

Post-challenge, Instagram is a lot less of a problem than it was for me before. I don’t use the app habitually anymore and delete it from my phone sometimes because it’s actually kind of uninteresting for me now. But now, I realize that Instagram wasn’t a problem I needed to work on as much as low self-esteem and jealousy were. Instagram was only a venue for me to compare myself to other people. I could take Instagram out of my life, but I can’t take away the comparisons in real life. Jealousy and insecurities are problems I know I need to work on, and I plan to explore them eventually.

I wrote this post initially as motivation for me to follow through with this mini challenge, but it was difficult for me to publish it because this problem is embarrassing for me. Why would I want all my friends (and strangers who might read my blog) to know how much I let a stupid app affect my life and self-esteem? As embarrassing as it is to admit I have this problem, I know it’s something other people probably struggle with too (to some degree—maybe not as intensely as I experienced it). If you’re going through some kind of emotional stress because of social media, know that you’re not alone. We’re going through uncharted territory by letting social media sites into our lives and their effects on our minds can be troublesome. It’s important to step back from these sites occasionally to make sure we don’t get sucked into them—to put our phones down, and remind ourselves of what we have in real life that makes our lives awesome, without having to share it with everyone online for it to be real.

Here’s a daily log I kept during the experiment, if anyone’s interested in seeing my process.

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Why I Stayed: Because Nobody Told Me It Was Abuse

I’m coming a week or so late to this conversation, but I still think my story needs to be shared. When I first started reading the #WhyIStayed tweets, I was moved by the bravery those women had to share such intimate details about the trauma they’d been through. I thought I was lucky to have never been in a relationship in which my partner was physically violent towards me, especially considering how many women I knew in real life who weren’t as fortunate.

But it wasn’t until I started reading my own friends’ “Why I Stayed” stories that I realized–much to my surprise and horror–that I was a survivor too.

Recently, a few of my friends wrote posts on Facebook about how they had previously been stuck in emotionally abusive relationships. They wrote all the painful details about how their former partners had controlled them, manipulated them, and isolated them from their other friends.Screen shot 2014-09-19 at 11.56.21 PM

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The more I read, the deeper my heart sank–I realized that I had gone through the exact same experience a few years ago, only I didn’t know it could be considered abuse. I never thought about it that way; I thought my ex was just a jerk and a compulsive liar–he never hit me, but there were times in the relationship when I was really scared. I didn’t know that even if your partner doesn’t physically harm you, it can still be abuse; psychological and emotional harm can be just as damaging.

When I realized that I was a survivor of an abusive relationship, I almost couldn’t believe it. But at the same time, it felt so true, and I felt foolish for not realizing it earlier. It makes me feel better knowing now that my trauma with him is validated, that what I went through was horrible and that it wasn’t my fault. How he treated me was not okay.

So, why did I stay?

Because he kept telling me that we were soul mates.

Because he insisted he would take care of me and be there for me forever.

Because he said it was “us against the world,” and that my family and friends just couldn’t understand why we wanted to get married so young and quickly, because they couldn’t feel the love we felt for each other.

Because everyone else in my family got divorced and I wanted to beat the statistics.

Because he needed me to be there for him while he was in basic training.

Because he made me feel like I owed it to him to be better to him than he was to me because I was the only girl he’d ever been with, and he made me feel guilty for having been with someone else before our relationship.

Because he gave me his Facebook password “to show how much he trusted me” (but he also told me that if I didn’t give him my password and let him read my messages, I didn’t trust him back).

Because I made a big deal about us being in love and engaged on Facebook and I didn’t want everyone to know how wrong I had been.

Because he isolated me from my best friend (because he was jealous of how much I loved her) so I had nobody to turn to when things went badly with him.

Because he convinced me that my dreams of becoming a screenwriter were stupid and that I would be a better wife and mother than I would be at writing.

Because when he punched the hood of his truck when he was jealous about another man flirting with me, he told me it was because he just loved me too much.

Because he told me that he yelled and cussed at me because he was so in love with me that he couldn’t think straight; he told me it was my fault because I drove him crazy.

Because after he yelled at me on the phone and made me cry in the hallway of my freshman dorm every night, he would apologize and tell me that he loved me and he needed me.

Because Disney movies and romantic comedies (and society in general) taught me that true love was more important that anything, and that I needed to stick to my man no matter what (even if it meant battling constant anxiety and painful stress hives all over my body).

I stayed because nobody ever told me that it could be abuse, even if he never hit me.

I was scared to leave him. It’s still scary to think about what it what my life would have been like if I hadn’t. He made it incredibly difficult for me to cut him out of my life, but I slowly brought my close friends back into my life and made a bigger support system for myself. I blocked him on all my social media websites and ignored his calls, but I was constantly afraid of running into him again even though he lived on the other side of the world. I’m still afraid I’ll run into him when I visit family back home. It gets easier, but I’m not sure if the fear or pain will ever go away completely.

It still hurts. And this is most likely the most personal, triggering piece I’ve ever written. But my story is one that needs to be shared so that other women (or anyone, really) can see what I went through and know that it’s not okay, and if you are going through something similar, it is not okay. I’d like to think that people see me as a strong person who doesn’t take shit from men, but it took the process of fighting my way out of this relationship for me to become the person I am today. This can happen to anybody, even the people you’d least suspect. So if you are going through this too, know that it gets better. And if anyone you know is a survivor of an abusive relationship, show some compassion. It’s easy to say that you’d never stay in an abusive relationship, but you never know how hard it is to leave until you’re the one living through it. Especially when you have no idea that you’re going through it.

Related: How to Get Out of a Toxic Relationship, Lovescrewed

Dealing with the Fear of Change

A few days ago, I took an online quiz with my friends to see which Pokemon best matched my personality (this is important, trust me). One of the questions caught me off guard, and I’ve been thinking about it for the past few days. The quiz asked what my biggest weakness was, presented me with several options (e.g. “loneliness,” “darkness,” “other’s ignorance”); I chose “change.”

Now here I am, awake at 5am, thinking about this. Among many other reasons (today’s reason is that my neighbors were playing basketball in the parking lot at 4:30am), I’ve been unable to sleep restfully for the past week or so.

Today is June 1st. I’ve been dreading this day for months. I don’t really care that I have to take finals, and the only reason I’m somewhat happy about being this close to summer is that I’m going back to Guam for the first time in years. I’m not ready for summer yet because my life is in such a good place right now (aside from the problematic environment I live in, and the fact that my community and I are still coping with the trauma of what happened in Isla Vista). I have a network of close friends who make me feel at home when I’m away from my family, and I have a boyfriend I get to spend time with every day. Unfortunately for me, he and a bunch of my close friends are graduating this year. So more than anything, I’m scared of change at this point, because I don’t want to lose the things that make me so happy.

I’m trying to understand exactly why I’m feeling so sad and scared. Change scares me, but it shouldn’t leave me lying awake in bed or using TV as a distraction for my real life fears, both of which I’ve been doing a lot lately. June makes me feel like I’m saying goodbye. It feels like this part of my life is over, and sometimes I fear that this is the peak of my life, and I’m never going to get it back. For months now, I’ve been having flashbacks to when I was 17, right before I moved from Guam to California, leaving behind a happy life to go into the unknown. The period from right before I moved to the end of my first long distance relationship was one of the most painful, traumatic experiences of my life. Reliving this experience makes me feel like the weak, scared teenager I was four years ago.

But after I moved, I grew so much. It was difficult and different and terrifying at first, but I made it through somehow. In fact, it led me to the life I have now which I’m so scared to lose. So if there’s any lesson I can take from that painful experience, and I know how much cliche quotes suck, but Marilyn Monroe’s words ring especially true for me today:  good things fall apart, so that better things can fall together. I loved my life on Guam, but if I hadn’t left it behind, I wouldn’t have met my boyfriend, or all my incredible friends who shaped my college experience; I might not have found my passions for blogging or social justice activism; I might not have come to terms with my queer identity; and I don’t even know if I’d consider myself a feminist today.

My life is beautiful now because I accepted and adapted to change. And although my heart breaks while I think about how I won’t see my friends who are graduating anymore, and I won’t get to be with my boyfriend every day like I do now, there will still be good times ahead if I stay positive and embrace change. If there’s anything I’ve learned from my life experiences, it’s that the fear of the unknown can be crippling, but the change I feared can bring about a better life I couldn’t imagine myself living without.

Endnote: I found some advice from my dad’s blog that’s really helpful with dealing with change and uncertainty too: Finding Peace with Uncertainty.

How I Survived 6 Months Without Shopping

Seven months ago, I had to pack all my clothes before I made the trip from San Francisco back to Santa Barbara for the beginning of the school year. I spent several hours sorting my clothes into piles, packing them into my suitcase, and trying to fit everything in. After re-packing my suitcase several times, I looked around at my living room, clothing awry, and realized how many items of clothing I actually owned.

I knew I spent way too much money on retail shopping, especially considering how I have inconsistent sources of income, but it didn’t hit me until I realized that I could go for a few months with only the clothes in my suitcase; I ended up leaving 3-4 large boxes of clothes back home.

As my bank account balance got so low that I was afraid to check it, I decided I needed to make a change. I was tired of spending my hard-earned cash on things I didn’t even need and only wanted impulsively. I could tell myself repeatedly that I didn’t want to shop, but when I hit the malls or saw a sale on the Urban Outfitters website, I felt helpless. I knew I needed to take action and go cold turkey on my bad spending habits.

I spent a few months working for my dad and reading his blog posts about quitting bad habits, so I turned to him for help. We came to an agreement about a reasonably difficult challenge. I promised to go 6 months without shopping, with the stipulation that for every piece of clothing I bought during this 6 month period, I would have to go a whole week without watching TV (which is an effective punishment for me; I wrote a post every single day for this blog for weeks because my punishment for not writing was no TV for 3 days). I announced the terms of this challenge to my Facebook friends to keep accountability, and agreed that I’d have to announce every slip-up in the challenge on Facebook too.

At first, the challenge wasn’t particularly difficult. I was fine with the clothes I brought with me to school. But after a while, it got worse. Urban Outfitters (which was my favorite store at the beginning of the challenge) had a 50% off sale on the first week of my challenge; I wanted to die. I started having anxiety dreams about breaking the challenge. For several nights, I dreamt that I was at a department store and was tempted to buy something, even though I knew I shouldn’t. Once I even woke up stressed out because I thought I actually slipped up and bought clothes.

For me, shopping is less of a necessity than an impulse. I know I don’t actually need the clothes I buy, but I see something in the clothes that I think I need. At the onset of the challenge, I had insecurities about my appearance, and I subconsciously thought that the clothes I bought would somehow make me magically prettier. As I went further into this challenge, I began to look more critically at these insecurities. I don’t have the all trendiest clothes and I repeat outfits often. Without new clothes as a crutch, I have to depend on my personality and the way I carry myself to make me feel attractive. It’s a difficult process, but it’s working.

Unfortunately, I broke down a couple times during the challenge and bought a few items of clothing. I felt ashamed when I announced my failure on Facebook, or when my dad sent me sad-faced Snapchats in disappointment. Sometimes I kept the slip-ups to myself and wallowed in self-hate.

But what the failure taught me was that it’s okay to mess up. I saw what I did wrong and I experienced the guilt and humiliation when I had to tell all my friends and family that I messed up. Making these mistakes turned out to be a good learning experience: I know how horrible I felt to fail and do not want to relive it during the rest of the challenge.

A few things that helped me in particular were removing my triggers and having lots of support from others. I made sure to unsubscribe to email offers from my favorite brands (there will always be sales and they’ll always email you about the enticing offers). I also made sure not to follow any clothing brand accounts on Instagram to avoid temptation. I would have slipped up even more on this challenge, despite removing my triggers, if it weren’t for the support I gained from members of my dad’s Sea Change Program, who created a forum where they joined in on my challenge and looked up to me for sticking with it.

This challenge was probably one of the most difficult ones I’ve taken on in my life (and I know how much of a shopaholic that makes me look like). It’s hard to stop shopping, especially in a society that focuses so much on consumerism. If you don’t shop, you aren’t cool, you aren’t successful, and you aren’t like everyone else. If you take on a challenge like this, people will inevitably think you’re crazy. But what’s even crazier is being a slave to the system of consumerism. People refer to shopping as “retail therapy” — think about what that really means. As a society, we shop as a form of catharsis, but when I shop, it only makes me feel like a robot who needs to spend hard-earned money on useless, overpriced pieces of cloth.

Before you shop again, stop and ask yourself: do I really want to spend hours of my life working to make money to buy things I don’t even need? Instead, we can spend our money on what we do need and what will make us happy: going out to eat with friends, traveling, experiences with our families. So let’s put a break on the impulsive shopping, because we’re better than our urges and we’re better than the system.

Shifting to Relationship Topics

Hello, my little Lovescrews! (That’s what I’m tentatively calling my readers now)

I realize I haven’t written much for this blog for the past month or two–we can probably blame that on my hectic extra-curricular schedule and general laziness. It’s been especially tricky for me to write for Lovescrewed lately because I’ve been dating someone, and I’ve been trying to find my comfort level with posting what I write about our relationship. Is it more important to help others by writing about the issues I go through in my current relationship, or should I keep this part of my life strictly intimate? Will it be awkward if I still write about problems I had with exes? Will my boyfriend (and everyone else) think I’m not over past relationship trauma if I write about it? These are the questions that haunt me at night (but not really).

Just a few months ago, I had planned to stay away from dating for a long time. I was going through a period of personal growth and had no intention on letting romance get in the way of who I wanted to become. But as I’ve learned over the past month, dating someone doesn’t mean you have to stop growing as a person. In fact, being in a relationship is helping me continue to grow as an individual immensely. It’s challenging me to think critically about the choices I make, redefine the opinions I have on love, and work hard to find the perfect balance between keeping my individuality while being open to loving someone deeply.

If you continue to follow my blog, you will probably notice a shift in topics or my attitude towards relationships. Many of my past articles focused on self-love, self-healing from heartbreak, and dealing with loneliness. As I won’t be focusing on those issues in my personal life as much as I used to, my writing will reflect that shift (but self-love is still so important, so I’ll try to keep this a constant on Lovescrewed). Instead, I’ll write more about general relationship issues, long distance relationships (I’m working on my first ebook on this topic!), and personal growth topics.

I’m not sure where my current circumstances will lead my writing, but I’m excited to explore it, and to share what I learn on this journey with anyone who might find it helpful.


How I Started My Long-term Blog and Stay Motivated to Write

Since I started publishing my writing through Lovescrewed last year, people have asked me how I stay motivated to write. I’m no writing expert, and I certainly don’t post as regularly as I’d like to–this almost seems like a joke post, since the last time I published an article on this blog was over a month ago.

In any case, I have a few pointers for starting long-term blogs. Here are some tips for anyone interested in the process of how I started Lovescrewed:

  1. Choose a general theme/topic you’re interested in. Before I started Lovescrewed, I had a few other small blogs I’d started in the past, often because my dad encouraged me to write. None of them really stuck though, because they lacked purpose. In high school, I’d write superficial posts like, “10 things you didn’t know about me” or “why Jake Gyllenhaal was hot in Prince of Persia,” then I’d lose interest. But when I began writing for Lovescrewed, I had a wide breadth of topics I was eager to explore, and I had chosen an area that I knew a lot about. Choosing a general theme or mission is an important first step to starting a long-term blog.
  2. Brainstorm. When Franceska and I first came up with the idea for Lovescrewed, we got serious and went into a brainstorming frenzy. First, we started a collaborative Google Doc (I highly recommend Google Docs for saving all your writing and working with others online, by the way) and listed about a hundred different topics we wanted to write about that dealt with heartbreak, self-love, and relationships. Brainstorming article topics or general subject areas gives you a resource to fall back on when you run out of ideas to write about. Whenever I was in the mood to write, I’d turn to the list and pick whatever topic was the most interesting or most relevant to my life at the moment. And I’d add to the list later when I thought of new topics I wanted to write about in the future.
  3. Identify your blog’s mission and focus. After brainstorming topic ideas, we asked ourselves the important main questions: 1. what do we want to write about? (our original focus was “girl power/women empowerment/punket power stuff”) and 2. who is our target audience? Looking through the topic list, we figured out that we generally wanted to write about love in its many different forms (relationships, self-love, loving life, positivity) and decided that would be our focus. After identifying the blog’s mission and focus, the blog title ideas came more easily, which is how we came up with Lovescrewed. Figuring out who exactly we wanted to write for was important too, because it’s important to set the tone of your writing with the audience in mind, especially when writing an advice/self-help blog like ours.
  4. Figure out your optimal writing conditions. I’ve discovered that I write best in the morning soon after I wake up, so I try to take advantage of that burst of creative energy as much as possible. It helps to try writing at different times of the day in different environments (at home, in a coffee shop, etc.) to see what works best for you.
  5. Stay motivated: create deals for accountability, punishment/reward system.
    The next step was the hardest: staying motivated. Writing consistently for your own blog is a struggle, and in order to create a habit of writing daily, it helped me to make a deal with my dad to keep me accountable. We agreed that for every day I didn’t write for my blog, I had to go three days without watching TV (which is nearly impossible for me to do, especially because this happened during Breaking Bad‘s final season). This accountability deal worked well for me, and I ended up writing daily for a few months before I got too busy with school.
  6. Extra resource: My dad’s article on what he’s learned as a writer really helps with starting a blog.