What I would do differently if I could go back to college

Last week, I had dinner with two of my good friends from college—which was the first time I met up with any of my friends from UC Santa Barbara since I graduated in June (besides hanging out with my one friend who also lives in Davis now). One of them asked us if there was anything we would do differently if we could go back to undergrad. For the most part, I thoroughly enjoyed my time in SB, and most of the mistakes I made turned out for the better, because (as cliche as it sounds) they helped make me who I am today. But in retrospect, there are a few things I wish could advise 18-21 year old Chloe about, and would extend this advice to anyone new to college too. Because if there’s anything I’ve learned during my few months of post-grad life, it’s that you only get to experience that part of your life once, and it can suck living the regret of knowing you could have gotten more out of that special time.

  • Branch out and join more clubs, especially starting in freshman year, or actually stick with the clubs you check out. This was probably my biggest mistake (as I wrote about in my post with advice to my 18 year old self).

  • Make use of the unique resources your school has to offer. I’ve wanted to get scuba certified for a few years and went to one class in a series offered by my school’s recreational center, but gave up after I didn’t pass the swimming test on the first try. I regret not going through with the classes or going surfing at least once, especially since I so fortunate to go to a school that was literally on the beach.
  • Put yourself outside of your comfort zone as much as possible.

  • Live as close to campus as possible. It’s a drag having to take the bus to class and either having to stay on campus all day or go back and forth and take up hours of your time.

  • Don’t just choose your acquaintances you met on your dorm floor to be your roommates for the next school year—chances are you won’t even be friends by the end of winter quarter.

  • Stop worrying about getting a boyfriend—love will find its way to you eventually. When you’re focusing on becoming the best version of yourself, people will notice and be attracted to your positivity and ambition. As soon as I stopped looking for a boyfriend and worked on figuring out who I was as an individual, that’s when I seemed to get asked out the most, and in a few months I met the guy who I would date for the next two years (and counting).

  • What you want at 18 will be completely different at 22 (and at 26, and 30, probably). When I was planning to marry my boyfriend in freshman year (I know, what was I thinking) I read this in an article and I couldn’t imagine wanting anything else. This piece of advice made more and more sense every year throughout college as I noticed myself changing as a person, and is still changing to this day. It’s hard not to, but you should try to focus on enjoying the good things you have in the present instead of constantly worrying about the future, because you’ll never enjoy yourself that way, and you’ll be disappointed when the future comes and it isn’t everything you expected.

  • Take advantage of every free event possible—and standing in line for a couple hours is worth the memories you’ll have forever of the concert you went to by waiting for those tickets. I missed out on some cool free events in my freshman year because I lived in the farthest dorm from campus and didn’t bother to go out very often.

  • Get over your lazy tendencies and go out with your friends. I barely drank at all until I actually turned 21, and even then, I hardly went out to parties or the clubs with my friends. Although I enjoyed my nights in my warm bed at night when the idea of a night of taking too many shots and vomiting outside after dancing in a room full of sweaty strangers didn’t sound appealing, the individual nights of binge-watching my favorite shows don’t stand out as clearly in my mind as the ones when I actually went out with my friends. I didn’t enjoy getting my toes stepped on by sloppy drunk girls’ stilettos on the bus home at 2am, but I do remember having fun dancing to Taylor Swift’s “22” on my birthday and the time my friend and I saw our 40-something year old Spanish professor at Tonic Nightclub.

The 10 Commandments of a Healthy Relationship

Writing for Lovescrewed started out as a way for me to reconcile with the bad relationships I had in the past and learn from them, while I went on my journey to becoming a whole person and loving myself. But then I stopped writing early in 2014 because I got into a new relationship and everything was so exciting and fun—and who wants to read blog posts about me being happy and in love anyway? People come to self-help blogs to get raw, honest advice, and I wasn’t dealing with the ghosts of my past anymore to fuel my writing.

Not to say that I’m unhappy now that I’m blogging again, but as my boyfriend and I grow closer to the two year mark in our relationship, I’ve come to learn a lot about relationships, as this is the longest and most serious one I’ve been in.

Needless to say (since it’s evident in my many blog posts), I’ve had my experience with toxic relationships, and learned from my mistakes. I’ve also learned a lot while navigating through this newer relationship. It’s interesting to see how much your feelings for someone can evolve over the span of a couple years—from smitten to infatuated, to learning that they aren’t the person you thought you were falling in love with in the first place, to accepting them for who they truly are and loving that you can learn new things about them even when you thought they couldn’t surprise you.

It’s not always easy, but if you’re with the right person, it’s worth it and hopefully you’ll grow together.

Here are some of the most useful things I’ve learned, and guidelines I try to live by in a relationship (even if I mess up sometimes):

  1. Promise to yourself to never check their phone. Obviously I’m not proud to admit this, but I’m guilty of being the psycho jealous girlfriend who actually blocked girls repeatedly from my ex’s Facebook and Instagram accounts while we were dating… It was hard to stop, but I decided I never wanted to experience that burning angry feeling that made me want to throw up every time I got stalker-y and jealous. I can’t say I haven’t occasionally wondered about whether there’s anything suspicious on my boyfriend’s phone, just out of curiosity (and from seeing way too many Instagram memes about it) but it was important for me to set boundaries for myself. I don’t want to become that distrustful, sneaky person again, and I don’t think anyone enjoys feeling like that either.
    It’s a slippery slope from checking once just to get rid of nagging insecurities, to constantly being anxious about what they might be doing behind your back, and not trusting them enough to believe what they say. If they’re cheating on you, they’re probably smart enough not to comment heart-eyed emojis on someone’s pictures and they’ll probably delete her texts too, so why bother checking? Trust your gut, and if something makes you uncomfortable, try to talk to them about it. But don’t go sneaking around behind their back because if you can’t trust them enough to take their word for it, then it isn’t a great relationship anyway, and it definitely isn’t worth the stress of worrying if you’re being cheated on.
  2. All boyfriends/girlfriends shall remain innocent until proven guilty! Every relationship is somewhat of a gamble of trust, but if the person hasn’t done anything to make you distrust them, try to let go of the pain you’ve gone through during past relationships and don’t just expect the new person to cheat or treat you badly. The worst mistake you can make is to drive a great partner away by misplacing blame on them for something your high school boyfriend did to you 6 years ago. Don’t let the mistakes of your old teenage ex define every relationship you have in the future, or you’ll always expect to get hurt like you did when you were 16 and neither of you knew how to even be in a healthy relationship.
  3. Be each other’s cheerleaders. Encourage each other and support each other’s dreams! This is especially important because a partner should be one of the first people you come to when something good happens to you, and you’d want to be that person to them too. Give good advice you think will help them and show enthusiasm when something exciting happens. There’s no such thing as too much positivity or good attention.
  4. Pick up new hobbies together. If you started dating just because you both liked the same movies or had the same taste in music, chances are that your mutual interests will get old eventually, because your tastes will probably change over time. If you’re in it for the long haul, you have to find activities you both enjoy doing together. My boyfriend and I like to start watching new TV shows together which makes it our thing, and gives us another source of references for our many inside jokes.
  5. Don’t hold their past against them. Try not to get mad or jealous if they slept with a bunch of people before you two dated because that has nothing to do with you. What’s important is how they’ve acted since you met and started dating. You shouldn’t blame someone for something they did before they even knew you existed.
  6. Keep complimenting each other even if you’ve been dating forever. It’s easy to stop doing this over time because you already know you both are attracted to each other. But it’s still nice to hear that the one person you really want to think you’re hot is still into you, or to know that they still think you’re beautiful even after seeing you in the morning all greasy-haired and crusty-eyed. Getting a compliment from your significant other feels a thousand times better than getting 200 likes on an Instagram picture (well, maybe not, but it’s close).
  7. Don’t ask for anything or expect anything. You should definitely expect them to treat you well, but I’m talking about material items. Your boyfriend doesn’t owe you designer bags or jewelry. Although it is nice to receive gifts, don’t be one of those girls who expects her boyfriend to spoil her with expensive things. Follow Destiny’s Child’s lead and be an Independent Woman (The house I live in, I’ve bought it / The car I’m driving, I’ve bought it / I depend on me).
  8. Be grateful and remember to say thank you even for the little things. You’ll become more appreciative of what your partner has to offer if you’re noticing and thinking about the effort they put in to make you happy.
  9. Say “I love you” often, or express fondness in whatever way you’re comfortable with at that stage in your relationship. It’s helpful to remind each other regularly that the love is still there.
  10. Learn how to communicate openly and honestly with each other. This is the most important part of maintaining a healthy relationship. If you don’t express it to your partner when you’re feeling upset with something they did or didn’t do, or when you’re feeling any other emotion towards them, they will not know. This might be obvious, but if you don’t tell them directly, they probably won’t figure it out—nobody is a mind reader (and neither are you, so don’t expect anyone to be omniscient about your thoughts and feelings). If it’s too hard for you to tell them directly, try writing out a letter or a text to them explaining everything you’re feeling, and then try sending it. If it’s a good relationship, then they’re likely to respond well and try to help you meet your needs.
    Another important part of communication is active listening. When your partner is talking to you, don’t just think about what you want to say next—focus on them, then think of how you will respond after. It’s important to let them be heard and be empathetic so you can be there for them and give them what they need. Because while a relationship can be great in that you have someone who will be there for you, it’s your duty (really, it should be your privilege and pleasure) to be a good friend to your partner.

Post-grad fears vs dreams

I’m sitting in bed next to my boyfriend while he studies for his finals in his second year of law school. I scroll through my Facebook feed on my laptop, seeing updates of my friends’ post-grad successes, like a form of voyeurism that will only make me hate myself in comparison. Jody is attending another law school mixer. Angelica will be free to talk to me on Wednesday when she has a day off from her grad school classes at USC. Nikki just posted a picture of the Christmas tree in her apartment in New York City. Every day I see another person from my graduating class adding their new job to their Facebook profile, or Instagram a picture of their freshly-printed business cards tagged at the company they’re working for (usually something hip like a startup in San Francisco—yeah, we know you have a fun job, thanks for rubbing it in everyone’s faces).

Meanwhile, I procrastinate and read every article about race or feminism that pops up on my feed, or hell, even watch a video recapping the latest episode of Keeping Up With The Kardashians. I instant message chat with my nine-year-old sister. I go through the photos on my Google Drive to free up more storage space. I’ll do anything I possibly can to avoid facing my fears and actually revive the blogs I’ve built (and gradually abandoned) over the past two years, like I told everyone I would after I finished college.

It’ll be better when I won’t have to focus on school and I’ll have so much time to write.

turned into

I’d have more time to write if I didn’t have to wake up at 5am for a part time job that makes me exhausted and miserable.

I’ve been making up these excuses for months about why I can’t write and how life gets in the way, and I see myself slipping into a 9 to 5 job that doesn’t suit me—and in turn, to mediocrity—because I’m afraid that if I actually try to make it as a professional writer, I will fail.

Trying to make a living off of my creative skill is a privilege, yet incredibly terrifying.
Don’t get me wrong—I know I’m not an utter failure (yet). I graduated from college in four years, which is probably more than most people my age can say for themselves, and I’m fortunate enough not be in debt either (loved ones remind me of this repeatedly when I break down about how unhappy I am with my life, and this is my mantra to keep myself from spiraling into depression). I’m grateful to have the luxury of pursuing my passion even though I don’t know if I’ll make any money.

But the stakes are still high. I’m scared that nobody will care about what I have to say—or worse, that they’ll think I’m either too shallow or too radical based on my content, and I freeze up, too anxious to write at all. I’m scared that I’ll become the broken link in a chain of four generations of journalists, the end of a legacy. I’m scared that I don’t have what it takes to follow in my dad’s footsteps, that I don’t have the drive to work for myself. I’m scared that I’ll fall so far behind and watch everyone else in my life excel professionally while I chase a dream that may never come true.

But what scares me even more is regret—that I’ll let my excuses and fears control me, and that I’ll wake up one day stuck at a job I hate, wondering how my life would have turned out if I’d only taken a few hours a day to push myself into writing again, instead of comparing myself to the appearance of success my friends had online.

I often have to remind myself that no matter what people post about on social media, or what path they take professionally, nobody really knows what they’re doing at 22. We’re all just trying to figure out who we are, and I owe it to myself to listen to my gut and take advantage of the opportunity I’ve been given to take the risk of following my dreams, to be brave and at least try.

How to Get Good at Anything: The 30 Day Challenge

Everyone has a hobby that they loved when they were kids but stopped doing when they grew up, or always wanted to learn but never made time. For me, that hobby was drawing. As a kid, I loved to draw characters from books I read or from my own imagination. Since I couldn’t gain coolness points in middle school for anything besides sports or being on people’s Top 8 on MySpace, I stopped drawing and didn’t get back into it until I was in college. A few years ago, my dad suggested that we do a family challenge where we each sketch every day for a month and have a prize at the end. We decided to do this challenge again two years later, and now drawing after dinner is one of my favorite parts of the day.

Here’s what I’ve learned from the 30 day challenge model:

  • You will suck at first, but that’s okay. If you keep working on the skill every day for a month, just by continuously putting in effort over an extended period of time, you will improve, no matter what.

  • Pick a time of day that works best for you, when you know you have at least 10-25 minutes to focus on the skill you want to build. I usually spend a couple hours watching TV at night to wind down before bed, so I chose to draw while half-watching old episodes of Modern Family.

  • Setting up a system of accountability is key. Ask a friend or family members if they’re interested in joining you in your 30 day challenge, and show them it can be fun! When you have someone doing it with you, you’ll be more likely to stick to it because you won’t want to let them down and they won’t want to let you down either. If you can’t get anyone to participate, ask someone to let you check in with them daily, so that you’ll have someone to hold you accountable in case you feel like skipping a day.

  • Missing a day is fine, but try not to miss two days in a row because it’ll pile up on you and you could lose momentum. If you can’t practice the skill one day because you’re busy, just make up for it the next day.

  • Set your daily goal so low that you can’t not do it. When you’re starting out, just the idea of having to work on the skill can seem daunting. I’m at the beginning of my writing challenge month and getting back into the habit of writing is a difficult task in itself. So I set my daily goal to write for at least half an hour, and hope that by starting, I’ll end up getting into the writing mood and end up with a longer session anyway.

  • Treat yo self. Decide at the beginning of the month what your reward will be for completing the challenge. It can be as simple or extravagant as you want—just as long as it’ll motivate you beyond gaining the skill as a reward. For my family, our prize was to get some delicious cinnamon rolls in Berkeley at Cinnaholic.

  • After the month is over, see if you can continue refining your skill. I was so happy at the end of the drawing challenge month that I wanted to keep going on my own. Seeing how much you improve after a few weeks can be enough of a reward to keep you going even when the challenge is over. If you can keep working on it at least 10 minutes a day, you’ll build your skill even more.

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.

Advice to My 18 Year Old Self

My sister (cousin, soul mate) Samantha just got accepted to some great colleges and was awarded a full scholarship—I can’t get over how proud I am of her and how inspiring she is to me. As a soon-to-be college graduate, I have so much advice and love I want to share with her (and anyone else who’s about to start college this year), so I’ve written a list of things I wish I had known when I was 18.

Get a job and save your money. A part-time job can help a lot and doesn’t have to take up too much of your time, either. My parents kept telling me to get a job when I started college but I was too lazy and too wrapped up in my relationship, making new friends, and binge-watching TV to think about my future, let alone my finances. I didn’t have any big living expenses when I was 18-21, so I wish I had saved up money for traveling or for a car, instead of splurging on clothes I don’t even wear anymore. Clothes are just things you’ll enjoy for a little while, but I wish I had saved up for experiences that’ll last me much longer than a bunch of crop tops.

Don’t get into a relationship. My biggest regret of my early adult years was getting a boyfriend right before I started college. At the time, I thought I was happy, but being in a relationship really prevented me from going out and trying new things that I would’ve done if I weren’t so concerned with my boyfriend’s feelings. These are the most formative years of your adult life. You’re only 18—you don’t know what you want in life yet, and if you think you do, chances are that you’ll change so much by the time you graduate that you won’t even be with the person you’re dating now. Go out and make new friends, go on adventures, have (safe) sex with whomever you want, do things alone—just have fun and figure out what makes you happy and what inspires you as an individual. You’ll have plenty of time to fall in love later.

Don’t be afraid of talking to new people. Maybe it’s our anti-social social media culture, or maybe it’s just because I’m an introvert, but I used to purposely avoid saying hi to people I knew or talking to new people in class (or anywhere). I dated this guy who went out of his way to talk to new people and stopped to talk to acquaintances everywhere he went, and eventually I started doing it too. I still hate getting into awkward conversations, but you’d be surprised at how many good friendships and connections you can make by biting the bullet and talking to people even if you don’t feel like it at first. Even if you don’t feel super confident or comfortable talking to people you don’t know, start small—talk to whoever is around you or find another person who is alone and talk about how awkward it is to talk to new people (how meta).

Join clubs and go to meetings. I can’t stress enough how important this is to figuring out who you are and what issues are important to you, and making lifelong friends. I reluctantly dragged myself to meetings for the Pacific Islander Student Association, and I ended up becoming the co-chair by the end of the year, and learned a lot about what it means to be a Pacific Islander. I joined the Student Commission on Racial Equality and discovered a passion for social justice—I didn’t even call myself a feminist until I joined this club. Putting yourself into groups with other people who know more about things than you do but have similar interests helps you learn so much. Joining clubs will help you make the most out of your college experience.

Everything will be okay. I’m a naturally anxious person and I go into spirals of bad thoughts and worries. It took me a long time to learn that even if it doesn’t seem like it at the time, things will always work themselves out in the end. It’s cliche, but bad situations help you grow so much. They even turn out to be funny stories you can tell people later (like the time I was engaged, lol what).

Fall in love with yourself. This is 100% the most important thing you can do as a young adult. I’ve dedicated this entire blog to falling in love with yourself, which goes to show how important it is. Friends and girlfriends/boyfriends will come and go and you won’t always get to live near your family. The only person who will always be in your life is you, so you might as well get to know her and enjoy her company. Take the time to think really hard about what makes you happy and find ways to enjoy being alone, because you are going to be alone a lot (and I’m sorry if that sounds depressing, but it can actually be a good thing!). When I was 20 and started my journey of self-love, I even went so far as taking myself on solitary dates to the beach or out to get food and talking to myself (only when I was completely alone lol) and wearing a ring to remind myself to honor my own needs and happiness. Be completely selfish! Post a bunch of selfies! Eat as much as you want and love your body! The sooner you learn to love yourself and be okay with being alone, the happier you’ll be in life.

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.