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health

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the allure of minimalism

Lately, I’ve been getting into minimalism (*gasp*). Minimalism has been a rising trend for a few years now, and it has swamped a good portion of us into it: Marie Kondo-ing our rooms, downsizing our furnitures, and capsule wardrobe-ing our clothes. Before this concept started gaining traction, I was… a bit reluctant. The few minimalists out there seemed too much, the concept too foreign. But as more people hopped into the wagon, the idea of adopting this lifestyle started to tease me.

I’m not someone that’s immune to trends, but I also don’t adopt them blindly (at least, that’s what I would like to think). Trends dictate the flow of something, for a period of time. It’s hard not to go along with it, and I know that what I do is at least in part influenced by them. You can see it as inspiration, or you can see it as lack of individuality. Either way, trends influence me whether I’m aware of it or not. I can see it in all the Instagram themes that I’ve adopted and all the fashion “phases” I’ve been through. Something that I really appreciate is that, after every trend I’ve attempted to embrace, I have gotten a little closer to the style that represents me best.

Minimalism is the latest trend I’m adopting, and I think it’s here to stay. As an aspiring minimalist with a maximalist heart, I’ve realized that “minimalism” places emphasis not on ridding yourself of 90% of your belongings, but on digging out those few treasures that fulfill your life. To be minimal is to free yourself from the fetters of materialism. To show greater appreciation for the things that you have, and to be more creative in how you use them. 

To be minimal is to free yourself from the fetters of materialism. To show greater appreciation for the things that you have, and to be more creative in how you use them. 

In terms of fashion, I’ve been shifting towards basic colors that I know for a fact I like: black, white, and pastel pink. With the occasional pop of color here and there. This shift in mindset has been so freeing for me. I don’t think about all the clothes I liked but didn’t buy, because they are not an “option” in the first place anymore. I feel more justified in sticking to those same few outfits, because that’s my style. It also makes reducing the size of my wardrobe easier, as I feel less guilty for giving away an item that no longer fits my color scheme.

Perhaps the biggest improvement in having a distinguished fashion style and reducing my wardrobe is the confidence I get from it. By reducing my options, I created more freedom in my mind to be more sure about my choices. I want my style to be distinguishable. I want you to look at me and see what my style is. I want to surprise you with the occasional bright yellow dress or velvet red skirt that you didn’t know I have, but only occasionally.

By reducing my options, I created more freedom in my mind to be more sure about my choices. I want my style to be distinguishable. I want you to look at me and see what my style is.

I’m also drawn to this lifestyle because of my current living circumstances. As a college student, I’ve moved 4 times and lived in 5 different places over the past 2 years. Moving is a huge hassle in itself, but having to drag bags and boxes of stuff that you might not even use is an even bigger annoyance. I’m slowly ridding myself of things that have been collecting dust in my drawers for the past year or so, and it doesn’t feel like I’m depriving myself when I do so. It feels like I’m making space for the things that I do have, need, and enjoy.

I know minimalism is for me because just thinking about it, the idea of it, is so alluring to me. I’ve always been a neat freak, and though I’m not a huge hoarder, I’ve always been annoyed at how I tend to hoard the stuff I don’t want to get rid of (aka “sentimental items”), even though I clearly don’t need nor want them. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not embracing extreme minimalism in the sense that I want to rid myself of non-minimalistic things that make me happy. An un-minimalistic dream of mine is having my own library. Imagine a walk-in-closet of books. Not exactly minimalist, but it’s meaningful to me, and it’s me. I guess this comes to show that minimalism is merely a guiding principle to lead a more fulfilling life, not a law enforcement that you will be penalized for.

But minimalism is not for everyone. Some people thrive in the very antithesis of a minimalist space, and I respect that. It’s important to find what fits your personality the most, and embrace that. If having a messy work space with books invading your space and pictures plastered over your walls – own it. 

Minimalism is also a luxury. It’s not something that you can exactly worry about if you’re living paycheck to paycheck and have other priorities to take care of. It’s by no means a necessity to life, and I think it’s important to acknowledge this because I need to acknowledge my privilege of being able to make these choices about my lifestyle. Some people simply can’t afford to be minimal when going for the cheap and quick option is the most feasible choice in their life right now. Others may be minimal not by choice, but because they are simply too poor to be anything other than that. 

However, the thing about minimalism that I believe everyone can benefit from is letting go of hoarding. It’s such a vicious hole to fall into, and I think we all hoard things to some extent, even if unintentionally. It’s so easy to pile up your drawers with clothes that you no longer need, but have forgotten about due to their unuse. It’s easy, but it’s not fair for you or your (precious) space. To combat this unintentional hoarding, I try to clean out a part of my space – my desk area, closet, or other drawers – about once a month, and I always find things that I know can be put to a better use if I gave them away. And it feels good when I finally have that drawer cleaned out. It feels good, and it makes me want to keep my space uncluttered for longer.

-Michelle

a tough balancing act

Oftentimes, I find myself unable to shake off the noise buzzing in my head. I soon realized that a lot of it came from (surprise!) my passive consumption of social media. While I get so inspired and creative from looking at how people create their photos, videos and blog posts, I also find myself thirsty for more content to the point of spending mindless hours a day just consuming.

I decided to delete the Instagram and Facebook apps on my phone, giving myself the option to reinstall Instagram over the weekend to “catch-up.” I could also access both sites on my laptop if I really wanted to. After a week of doing that, I realized that not only did I get rid of that urge to check and mindlessly scroll through my phone, I was feeling calmer inside as well. Most surprisingly, I realized that I didn’t miss checking Instagram. I got a little FOMO, but after catching up with my favorite content creators over the weekend (within the span of half an hour or so), I felt like I had consumed enough. I thought back to when I deleted Snapchat from my phone a year ago, and how much more relieved I felt when I did that.

I always thought I’d have enough “willpower” to control how I consume and use things, but in a world where apps and devices are designed to constantly demand our attention, sometimes literally removing ourselves from it is all it takes to relieve us of that noise.

It’s been a few weeks since summer break started, and I’ve found myself reflecting about my usage of social media once again. I let myself reinstall Instagram on my phone for a few weeks, and I’m also consuming Tumblr and YouTube, and occasionally Twitter, on a regular basis.

But I’ve decided that if I want to maintain my sanity, I have to set some healthy boundaries. I’m going back to the weekend rule for Instagram, as I feel that doing so will make it a habit and thus break the loop of scrolling aesthetic feeds whenever I’m bored. I’ve also found my way back to books, as I always do when school isn’t kicking my ass. I take my precious Kindle Voyage pretty much everywhere I go, and read a few pages here and there instead of reaching for my phone.

I often think about finding that sweet balance between time spent alone and time spent with others. Though I claim to be an introvert, being alone makes me too well-aware of my self-consciousness, which often sends me down a spiral of self-doubt that ends up being counterproductive. In other words, spending too much time with myself can make me want to isolate myself to the extent of thinking that the world is conspiring against me. It’s very dramatic inside my head. I’ve now accepted that there’s no “sweet balance” in terms of my social life, and I don’t expect to find that with social media either.

Because social media is such a 24/7 accessible space, I do believe that limiting my usage can only have positive effects for myself and my social life. Social media may be an extension of social life, but it by no means can replace the quality of bonding with people in real life.

-Michelle

my struggles with chronic back pain

It started when I was around a junior in high school. I’m not sure when it “started,” as my memories only go as far as when I was already having daily back pains that prevented me from sitting or standing for too long at a time. They spread throughout my back, and my attempts to relieve the pain were futile. I would stretch, stand up, move around, but I knew that it would always come back.

I guess a source of comfort during this ordeal is the fact that my dad also experienced a very similar thing himself, for many years. He believed that he got it from long hours sitting as his deck, tension rising from his back. A very tense person myself, I believe the same happened, and is happening, to me. My dad was able to treat his pain through endless massage sessions. He no longer struggles with it now, but continues to use a massager and stretch every day. It took him a lot of time, patience, and persistence to now be able to say that he has it under control.

My family is Taiwanese, so by culture we referred to Chinese medicine for treatment. We happened to know a Chinese massage therapist back in Peru, and I paid him several visits throughout my junior and senior year. Through his massages I found out just how tense I (or at least my back) was; my muscles would contract in sharp pain whenever he stabbed his knuckles into my back. Your muscles don’t contract in pain unless you are that tense.

Living in Peru, however, my parents and I have naturally experienced both Western and Eastern medicine first-hand, and have found our ways to refer to one side of the medicine or the other depending on the circumstance: Western medicine for illnesses or diseases that need immediate treatment, and Eastern medicine for slower and more chronic ailments. In my parents’ eyes, my back pain fell in the latter category. It came slowly but persistently, and it didn’t seem like something a Western doctor could do much about.

To have an ailment that my parents believed was untreatable in the Western world was nothing but confusing: how did Western people with similar conditions to mine get treated, especially without knowledge of Eastern medicine? At the time, the dichotomy between what I believed were the two “sides” of medicine seemed just that – black and white. Either you had access to it, or you didn’t. But then again, having access to both didn’t relieve the confusion of being treated in one form of medicine, but not in the other. This confusion expanded to confusion with my own identity – which “world” did I belong to? I guess this is where my interest for Traditional Chinese medicine, and holistic medicine overall, stems from.

Nevertheless, as a high school student, I was torn. I was only 16 or 17, and to have inexplicable chronic pain was the last thing I needed. As years went by and I got more used to it, the feeling of shame that I had on myself never went away. But it wasn’t always downhill.

Something that hugely contributed to the release of my tension and back pain happened during my gap year. I was no longer being pulled by my teachers, friends, and parents about what I was supposed to do, and I was finally starting to hear my own voice. I no longer played the cello intensively nor practiced with the symphony orchestra. I was taking yoga classes, even took some ballet and self-defense classes, biked and was active pretty much every day. Slowly but surely, my back pain dissipated. And as it did, I gradually left behind those memories of pain that had troubled me for the last two years of high school.

Through this experience, I realized that it’s hard to be empathic of other people that are going through something that you have gone through. I may have had back pain for 2 years, but when I stopped feeling pain on a daily basis, I don’t think I could relate to someone who was going through my pain on that same level. Memories and feelings fade as you get through an experience. If one day my back pain does truly go away, I would find it hard to empathize with someone who is going through the exact thing. Sure, I would be able to understand where their pain stems from and relate to their inexplicable pain that never seems to go away. But I would no longer be able to feel that pain.

As I’m now typing this in my second semester as a college sophomore, about 2-3 years since my gap year, all these thoughts race past me. One more that also often crosses my mind is my ability to access healthcare whenever I need to. In Peru, my mom frequently took me to the Chinese masseur. In Taiwan, I was taken to see doctors and other masseurs to treat my condition. Now in college, I may not have my parents to take me to places, but I still have access to an acupuncture clinic or even my school clinic whenever I need to. I have (an arguably sufficient) health insurance, and my parents can afford any incurring costs. I wonder what state I would be in if I didn’t have this kind of healthcare security, if I felt that I couldn’t afford something, and therefore couldn’t get treated for it. My condition is not something that I believe can be treated one-time, so having access to these different healthcare venues hasn’t been the most helpful. But just knowing that I do, that if I ever need anything urgent and I can get treated for it, makes me feel so incredibly grateful to have my parents.

Something that I have been reluctant to do, but eventually succumbed to, is getting a massager. After my dad went to the countless massage sessions and got better, he gradually shifted to stretching, exercising, and using the massager instead. It costs $50 on Amazon, and my dad swears by it now. I tried using it for my back for some time, but I never got around to it. I was afraid that it would put pressure on the wrong parts of my body and end up worsening my pain. But after having continuous lower back pain for a few weeks now, I knew I had to do something about it. I could only do yoga and get acupuncture (which are $30 here) so many times before life got busy and I stopped doing them consistently – not to mention the financial costs.

Thus, I begrudgingly asked my dad to get me the massager, and have been using it every night ever since. I have a different experience using it now than when I first used it before. The massager seems to get all the knots in my back, and though it hurts nearly as much as getting a massage from a person, I have more control over it. The pain that comes from the massage shows how tight my back is, and how much I still need to loosen it. I use it every night now, just like my dad does. I’m wide awake as I turn on the massager, as the pain prevents me from falling asleep, but I’ve noticed that I fall asleep soon after – or sometimes in the midst of it – unknowingly. It relaxes my muscle, and it relaxes me.

I don’t know how long I’ll be using the massager continuously. I just know that, for now, it’s the most sustainable solution to my chronic back pain. A part of me is still ashamed of having to rely on a device to treat my condition, but I’m trying to see it under a more positive light. At least now I can see why my dad swears by it.

Throughout this continuing ordeal, a more overarching thought has also crossed my mind: my parents. I not only have my parents’ full financial support, but I also have their counseling, guidance, and consolation in virtually every aspect of my life. They are there for me, always. As isolated and whiny as I can get with myself during these moments of struggle, I can count on them to take care of me. Even if they don’t have the “best” solution, their reassurance that I will heal is healing in itself. Their efforts to help me be the healthiest version of myself in all the physical struggles that I’ve had thus far is testament of their unconditional love towards me. I wish to someday be as patient and caring towards myself, and them, as well.

-Michelle

things that make me happy

Hello 2019! It’s insane how fast time has flown by, and it’s somewhat scary what lies ahead of me in this new year. There are a lot of things that I’m looking forward to, but there are also some things that worry me as well. Last year was filled with a lot of amazing moments, as well as some internal struggles, but nothing that I wasn’t able to conquer. This post is dedicated to the moments that make me happy. The process of doing these activities may not be perfect bliss, but they may put my life more into perspective and help me see that there are in fact few things in life that can bring me down.

Dressing up, just because. As a kid = like all kids – I had a wild imagination. My mind often wandered to the made-up worlds that glorified reality, and I would materialize them in the world that my dolls lived in. Though now I channel my imagination through other hobbies more rooted on reality, every once in a while, I find myself going through my wardrobe for more than just finding an outfit to wear. Normally, I’m just looking to see if my clothes still fit me, if they match with such pair of shoes, if they go with that set of jewelry. Sometimes, I dress a bit out of my comfort zone, putting on outfits that I would never dare walk out the door with. Dressing up in these outfits is a reminder that I still have that wilder side of me, if I allow myself to. And sometimes, I do.

Eating yummy food to enjoy the small truffles in life. In the past nearly two years, my relationship with food has been rocky, to say the least. I’ve let loose and I’ve gained weight, often with a guilty conscience. I’ve obsessed over my figure and distorted my once healthy view on food, spiraling me down in a negative cycle that seemed unbeatable. But now that I’m more settled in college, so are my eating habits. I have learned to use food to not only nourish my body, but also nurture my soul.

As a major food lover, I consume food as a way to make me happy, but I don’t feel the tendency to abuse of it anymore. I love tasting different cuisines and fusions, especially in the company of others. But I stick to a pretty simple diet on a regular basis, as this makes those food outings particularly memorable.

Learning a new skill that fascinates me. Especially when I invest this skill into something that channels my creative side. I love having a side project that I can work on by myself, such as this blog. It provides a safe place where I can try out different interests and learn more about them. Over the years, I have blogged about different topics and explored different writing styles. I have also somewhat learned to use different programs to improve the visual experience of my blog. These small developments have allowed me to learn more about my inner interests, and to better show them to others. My blog is particularly special, as it allows me to look back on earlier posts and see how different I am today.

Accomplishing something that scares me. There are some things that I do because it scares me. I take classes that I know will be challenging for me, because I know I will learn from them. I convince myself to talk to people on a regular basis because I know I’ll enjoy spending time with them, and learning from them. I take on leadership roles because it pushes me to be a better version of myself. I do things that scare me now because none of my mistakes have consequences that put my life at risk, so the real reason why I get scared lies within me. These situations challenge the person that I think I am, and prepare me for all kinds of difficult situations that I may encounter later on.

Sweating it out. Health is always at the top of my list, no matter what. With exercise, I am able to take care of both my physical and mental health, and it’s much needed on a daily basis. Exercise – any form – clears my mind, makes me feel much more relaxed and focused, and helps me sleep better. It’s a form of therapy that never fails.

I recently joined my college boxing team, and have been loving it so far. The conditioning, boxing classes, and working out with people who continuously challenge me is an environment that I really enjoy. Of course, I continue to strength train, do cardio, and take fitness classes on my own time as well. Keeping it exciting and novel is something that really helps me be consistent in this area.

Spending time with the people I love. As I’m getting older, I realize that I get a lot from spending time with people. I am majorly an introvert and enjoy my own company most of the time, but I have come to enjoy spending time with both old and new friends as well, and I learn a lot from these moments too. Most importantly, they make me happy. They allow me to see things from their eyes, and rethink about my own ways.

Something that I’ve also been learning to do is to let go of the fear of spending time with people whom I know won’t always be in my life. I have to remind myself that it’s a blessing to have them part of my life for however long they stay, and to move on when we part ways.

With this in mind, I have also started to appreciate my family more. I rarely see my extended family, but I’m in quite close contact with my immediate family – especially my dad. My family are the only people that I know will always care about my wellbeing, even if we aren’t in constant contact. I owe my life to them, and they are literally a part of me.

Doing things that soothe my mind. Journaling is something that I have consistently done since middle school. I have been consistent in that I’ve always had at least one journal or diary every year, but I have been inconsistent in that I tend to journal more when I’m dealing with a lot of emotional turmoil. And when I read back on these moments, they’re golden. They’re full of emotion, meltdowns, and the questioning of why I let myself go through such shitty moments – but they are precious memories. They are tangible reminders that I lived to look back on them, that I conquered these difficulties. It’s treasure.

Listening to music that rocks my world. I live on music every day. While I’m working, reading, exercising – pretty much when I want that background distraction. Different types of music may evoke different emotions in me, or influence the way I feel. But as much as I live by music, it has also made me appreciate the moments of silence, when I’m stuck with nothing but the sounds of nature, and my thoughts.

Reading a book that takes me on a journey to another world. Reading  has taken me on some of the best journeys in my life. To be honest, I don’t remember the details to a lot of them, but the way these stories made me feel will remain ingrained in my heart. Books are unlike other forms of entertainment because they preach focus on one sole thing. They are the product of endless hours of creating and editing, and they provide room for your interpretation of the story.

Traveling to experience the cities and landscapes foreign to me. Seeing things with your own eyes, witnessing the marvels of life. It’s quite a hassle planning a trip – paying for plane tickets, planning the places you want to visit, packing all the necessary documents and clothes, and preparing for the unexpected to happen. There are unplanned things bound to happen during the trip, and though these can be somewhat stressful, they’re also part of the experience. The experience of going with the flow, and seeing where these accidents take you.

Being part of a community – virtually and in real life. As much as I may have wanted to deny it, I’m no less of a social creature than you are. It’s our nature, and no one should fight it. Being in a college with tens of thousands of people, having a small community of people that care about me has done wonders to my happiness and self-esteem. I was lucky to join a club that suited my interests, and the people that I met there have taught me what it means to care for others without expecting anything in return.

Being of service to othersThere’s nothing more humbling than detaching from my own greedy needs, and learning to see from other people’s eyes. While we commonly associate the term “service” with helping those in need, i.e. community service, being of service to others can be to those around us, too. It can be towards your family, your friends, and those around you, when you see fit. When you give your time selflessly to those around you, you inspire others to do so as well. You learn to value other people’s time as much as your own, and that’s something that we should learn to do.

Being of service to others is as much about helping others as it is about helping oneself. It’s an act that benefits both parties, which in turn benefits those around us.

Immersing myself in the beauty of nature. There is something inexplicably healing, beautiful, and peaceful in nature. On some of my wanderlust adventures, I have had the opportunity to visit places like Yosemite and Lake Tahoe, which have blown my mind away with the vastness of their beauty.

When I’m at home, busy with school and life, I resort to taking walks outside, especially when I’m feeling particularly stressed out. I know this makes me sound like an old lady, but if I don’t make a conscious effort of stepping out, sometimes I end up holed at home for an entire day and that just brings my mood down. Stepping out is a way to recharge and feel the natural pace of life.

-Michelle

living alone as an introvert

For the past 3 months this summer, I have lived in a studio apartment by myself. My roommate recently moved in with me, and I thought I’d share some things I’ve learned from my first taste of adulthood. I feel incredibly lucky to have been able to have a place to myself for the summer, as renting around this area is ridiculously expensive (but still cheaper than living in the dorms). Living alone has forced me to be more aware of how I cook, use my space, and spend my time all by myself. Waking up to myself every day has forced me to become more aware of how I truly behave when no one is watching. It’s been truly liberating at times, yet imprisoning in moments of insecurity. But all these experiences have naturally led to lessons that I am grateful to have learned:

To appreciate my parents’ support more. I was determined to stay in college and move into an apartment on my own with the hopes that it would allow me to not only learn to become more independent in all aspects of my life, but to also appreciate those that have made it possible for all this to happen. Ever since coming to college, I phone my parents at least once a week to update them on my life, as well as ask for their suggestions on issues that I’m dealing with.

Over the summer, I have come to rely on their mentorship even more. I would often phone my mom to ask her if it was still okay to cook a sprouted potato or what to do about the mini-slugs that kept appearing in my bathroom, and her answers always reassured me. I grew up watching her maintain the clean, beautiful and organized home that I was raised in, and I have naturally grown accustomed to living in such conditions when I came to college. Though not having her by my side made things more difficult, it forced me to tackle every issue on my own (after having googled it or asked my mom first, of course). I would phone my dad on issues about academics, health, and other issues of living alone. My dad has always guided me throughout my academic career, and though we certainly have differing views on education, his words never fail to comfort me. When I’m feeling frustrated about my classes or confused about what I’m supposed to do about anything, he gives me his take on the situation and lets me think about it myself.

My parents trust me enough to let me make my own decisions. Though I would like to believe that I am a very independent person, more often than not I’m very insecure about the choices that I make. But I notice that whenever I resort to my parents for their guidance and they give me a nod of approval (or disapproval), it eases my anxiety. It makes it easier to make a decision when I know that my parents support me. This has made me realize how similar I actually am to my parents, and how much I rely on their support and confidence that I have not yet fully developed on myself.

To listen to myself and nurture my needs. I don’t think I will ever stop surprising myself with newfound feelings and emotions. Living by myself meant that I was stuck with myself even when I didn’t want to. I did not truly put myself out there socially this summer, mainly because I wanted to spend a lot of my time cooking, reading, writing, and just seeing how much adulting I could do by myself. But as much of an introvert as I am, I think I may have secluded myself too much. It made me realize how bad I am at keeping in touch with people, at making plans with others, and simply initiating conversations.

This summer I also experienced some minor health issues; I started experiencing knee pain (on both knees, lucky me), an old injury in my left foot started up again, and I was also waking up in the middle of the night almost every night. I was working out more and pretty active most of the time, but beneath it I was and am not handling life as well as I could be. Though I had successfully moved into a very nice apartment, there were issues with the current tenants that intruded my thoughts almost daily. Unfortunately, I let my thoughts get to me, and I did not handle them as well as I could have. This showed me how intricately connected my mental and physical health are, and the dangers of dwelling over things for too long.

Understanding my relationship to food. I spent a lot of my time learning to cook, planning meals, and understanding how to feed myself balanced meals of protein, carbs and fats. I think this is a huge investment for anyone at any point in their lives, as you get to use it for the rest of your life. It’s one of the most essential survival skills, and one of the most healthy and helpful ones that you can cultivate. I learned to buy weekly groceries, plan meals, try out new (albeit simple) recipes, and mainly learned to not be afraid of cooking, which is a big victory for me! I experienced a few burns and small cuts here and there, made some disgusting and/or failed meals, but nothing that would deter me from learning more about cooking.

To be okay with not being clean all the time. Back when I was living in the dorms and sharing a room with two other girls, I only had to make sure that my desk, bed and closet space were clean enough for me. We vacuumed the carpeted floor one or twice a month, though it didn’t really matter because the carpet’s dark color masked any dirt on the floor. My dorm floor shared a co-ed bathroom on the floor and I ate at the dining hall, so cleaning the bathroom and kitchen were not an issue.

But now that I’ve moved into my own space where I have to clean my room, in addition to the kitchen and bathroom, I noticed that I had a slight obsession with keeping things a little too clean. The first few weeks of living here consisted of me cleaning and wiping every surface immediately after using. It seemed like a reasonable me-thing to do, but I gradually accepted the fact that not only was this unreasonable, it was also needlessly time-consuming. I had enslaved myself as a maid to myself. I gradually told myself to just stop it. Now I only clean my apartment about once or twice a week, and wipe the surfaces and vacuum whenever I think it’s necessary. A little mess doesn’t really bother me, as long as my bed and desk (my precious areas) are clean enough on the surface.

It’s absolutely liberating at times, imprisoning in others. Not having to close the door when going to the bathroom. Not putting on clothes immediately after showering. Playing soft background music all day long. Watching videos without ever having to put earphones on. Knowing that no one will ever walk through the front door, but me. Dressing up in different outfits and being able to walk around the apartment in them. Putting makeup on myself poorly, and laughing at myself about it.

But it also meant that I had to take extra precaution about my living environment, ensuring that I locked the door when I went out or came home, or making sure I hadn’t let anything turned on. Coming home and not having anyone to talk to. Not having anyone drag me out when I was stuck in my introverted shell. This led me to…

Dealing with solitude. As much time as you have to work on yourself when you’re living alone, solitude can be imprisoning at times. I feel that I am my best working self when I know that no one is watching me, judging me. But sometimes it was hard to keep up my motivation when I wasn’t feeling very perky myself. However, this feeling of solitude led me to reflect upon the type of solitude that I wanted for myself in the future. Somewhere not too busy, not smack in the middle of a city. Maybe in the suburbs, surrounded by parks and nature, where I can go to whenever I’m seeking some alone time in nature. Where I can drive or commute to convenience stores that are not too far away. Somewhere where my thoughts are not easily distracted by random external factors all the time.

This reflection on solitude also made me realize the type of company that I want in my life. Earlier, I talked about how much I have come to appreciate my parents’ presence and support in my life. I feel more appreciative of them now because there is now a palpable distance between us. The physical time that we spend together is limited, and they understand me enough to call me no more than a few times a week. Our relationship has become sustainable and satisfying, at least from my side. That’s the type of company that I want when I look for friendships and relationships.


During the academic year, I meet lots of people who easily become acquaintances and, some, even friends. But few of them will ever become close friends; not because they’re flawed in some way, but simply because. But their company will bring me a lot of memories and experiences, and that’s the beauty of meeting new people, regardless of how long they stay in my life. Though I certainly have a lot to learn about meeting people, making friends, and just putting myself out there, this reflective period has enabled me to see the value of company as what keeps us alive, inspired, and happy.

Living alone these past few months has also showed me how I’m not fully ready to live on my own – just yet. It has also made me realize a lot of things about myself (even if in a hard way), which are things that I can now work on. As much of an introvert as I think I am, I depend on the few important people in my lives to thrive. I still get FOMO when I see what others are doing on social media, I still let negative thoughts get me down, and I’m totally not fully comfortable in my own skin yet. All of these things have truly surfaced in these past months, so I guess that means that I’m still my parent’s little girl 🙂 Even though I’m almost 21!

-Michelle

 

dear insecure self,

I’m embarrassed to admit that you care more about your appearance and physique than you would like to admit. I’m particularly embarrassed that you gained at least 15 pounds during your first year of college. You have never gained more than a few pounds here and there ever, and you’re also realizing how hard it is to shed those pounds. You were never fat, and you’re not fat now, but it doesn’t change the fact that you gained 15 pounds in just one year. You can now see all that fat accumulating in your thighs and tummy, and it’s frustrating to see that in the mirror every day. Your old pants, shorts and skirts no longer fit you, and the new jeans that you got don’t always sit so well around your stomach either. You keep on thinking you’ll lose the pounds and go back to wearing them again – but it’s been a year. Who are you kidding?

I’m scared to reveal to anyone too much about yourself. I’m scared to tell people things they probably don’t even care about. I get anxious when college peers ask for your age. Would they judge you for only being a sophomore when you should be a junior and could even be a senior in college? I’m scared to tell people about this, your space on the internet, “mistyprose”. Would they judge you for making stupid videos and blogging about stuff that doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things? I’m scared to let people on the internet know about you, too. What if they don’t like the way you sound or how you look? What if people from real life find out? What if they think you’re this spoiled, fake girl? What if…??

I don’t like how obsessive you get about doing things the right way. Getting exactly 8 or 9 hours of sleep every night; going to sleep at the right time. Eating at the same time every day; eating the right food, and the right amount. Working out at such time of the day; working out this many times a week. Don’t you see that being so uptight prevents you from enjoying life? Don’t you see that this obsessive attitude is actually making you gain weight and feel miserable?

I’m not sure how I feel about you spending time alone most of the time. It’s great when you’re at home and doing your own thing – you’re a great company, but when you walk out and are surrounded by people, something changes. It feels like people are watching you all the time. If you eat by yourself, you can’t help but feel eyes prying on you, wondering why you’re such a loner. Walking alone. Hanging out alone. These judgments come from past experiences, but now it feels like you’re just repeating them all over your head, again and again. When are the voices ever going to stop?

I don’t understand why you put so much on your plate. You want to do the things that you’ve done before coming to college, yet you still want to explore new things in college. But life is limited, and you seriously have to just choose. Or else you’ll end up so overwhelmed that you just end up doing… nothing. Except watch videos all day and bingeing on food, just to take your mind off from all your insecurities and unaccomplished goals. Which happens more often than you’ll admit to everyone.

I worry that you will not be successful in life. You are brave in choosing to study the subjects that you are passionate about, but sometimes you can’t help but wonder if you should have tried harder in other fields. If you should have given math or medical school a second thought before you decided on your path. Or maybe you shouldn’t have given up on your creative aspirations, and could be pursuing an art field instead. What do you even plan to do with your majors, huh?

dear self,

I am pleasantly surprised at how strong you have gotten ever since coming to college a year ago. Not just mentally stronger, but also physically stronger. You don’t fear the cold as much as before – heck, you wear more clothes that show skin and you feel great in them. You’ve started lifting weights, and you can actually see your thighs becoming more toned and defined. Most surprisingly, your immune system seems to become stronger each day. You still get the occasional cold-like symptoms – but they rarely blossom into a full-on cold or flu like before, and you rarely need medication. Your body is learning to fight back.

I am so proud of how much you have matured and how much you continue to do so. You may still feel conflicted about what you need to do in life, but you are progressively gaining control on the direction of your life. Your interests are no longer influenced by those around you; rather, they inspire you to learn more about the world that surrounds you, and have also helped you become more certain about what it is that you want to spend your time on. It’s okay to keep things to yourself. It’s not okay to feel like you have to hide them from people, or that you’re constantly being judged by the things that define you. This is something that you still need to work on, but that’s okay, too. You’ve got time.

I applaud you for your top-notch organization skills and mindset. Your thoughts may not always be in order, but you bet you keep your life in order with your calendar, sticky notes, and reminders. When you have to do something, you write it down and do it (most of the time, at least). You plan your weeks in advance to make sure that you’re working towards your goals – even if they are just baby steps. You make sure to eat right, sleep well, keep your space clean, and exercise consistently. Even though you most likely plan your ‘spontaneous outings’, you feel happier when you give yourself the time to do them.

I encourage you to love yourself more. Your insecurities will never leave you, but that doesn’t mean you can’t take the reins and still live your life. Even if it means doing them by yourself. You should go out, have fun, and meet people. You feel great when you do that occasionally. But you also feel awesome when you have the day to yourself, to do whatever your heart desires. I know it’s hard to always be comfortable when everyone around you seems so sociable all the time, but you shouldn’t let that guilt dictate your life. Your life is written by you and no one else, after all.

I love how ambitious and self-motivated you are. Whatever you’re doing, you always seem to find an intrinsic purpose for the things that you do. And if there’s no tangible end goal to what you do, you make sure that you’re doing it because you want to. Because you enjoy it. Because it aligns with the values that you strive to live by. You’re also realizing that it’s okay to find something that you really enjoy doing for a while, and then realize that it wasn’t meant for you.  You’re realizing that it’s okay to quit some things in order to make time for others.

I admire the choices you have made, even if they  don’t always provide you with a clear path ahead. You are not only studying the subjects that you’re passionate about in college, you’re also learning so much about the subjects that you didn’t know about before. You have learned the meaning of a liberal arts education, and are taking full advantage to explore the subjects that ignite sparks of joy in you. You know that your interests will change, and you know that it will be completely okay when that happens. College is not about studying that one thing that you’re set to do for the rest of your life; rather, it’s supposed to propel you towards different directions and provide you with options that you might not even know yet. So pursue knowledge with passion, and let go with satisfaction. This also applies for life after college too – nothing you do will ever ‘stay’ the same. And that’s the excitement of life. So fret not, because there will be a time and place for all that you wish to do in life.

dear loving self,

Llife is bittersweet. I’m not gonna deny that you’re full of flaws, because you are. You are flawed in many things, and flawed in seeing all those things as flaws in yourself. You pick fights with yourself, constantly. Every day. Your insecurities are persistent, but so are the strengths that come from them. You may look at yourself for the insecure person that you are, but it doesn’t change the fact that you have grown and blossomed because of these insecurities. Remember that both the flaws and strengths are what fill your life with meaning. And I know you will continue growing, slowly but surely, into the worthy person that you are and have always been.

weight gain insecurities

Food and weight have been on my mind recently. A lot, actually. Ever since I came to college a year ago, I have gained over 15 pounds – and have kept all of it. It made me feel insecure and fat. But the worst thing was feeling like I had no control over my own body. How could I have gained so much weight in such a short time, when I had been fairly skinny for all my life? How could I have let this happen? My weight gain was a blow to my self-esteem, my discipline.

It occurred mostly during the first half of the year, a result of many factors. Though I had ate relatively healthy for most of my life and continued to do so in college, I also tended to overeat and overindulge in my all-you-can-eat dining halls; I often ate until I was full or even stuffed, to ‘maximize’ the money that my parents were paying for each of my meals. I continued exercising, but only did yoga and cardio for the first half of the year, thinking that this was all I needed to ‘tone’ my body. I stored snacks in my room, and only later did I realize how often I would munch on them mindlessly while I was stressing over school work.

In the second semester, I learned from these mistakes – but I also made others. I started controlling my portions when I ate at the dining halls; however, I started eating out more often with friends, and still ate until I was stuffed. Sometimes, on my attempts to ‘restrict’ myself from overeating, I would find myself insatiably hungry on certain days, and just eat all day. I was exercising regularly, and this time I did more than just cardio – I started strength-training as well. But I seemed to be hungry more often than not. I was eating all my meals during the day, and often had healthy snacks in between my meals. I became obsessed with eating at the right times, and getting all my ‘nutrition’ in that I wasn’t really listening to my body.

I gradually learned that my ‘binges’ tend to result from restricting my food intake too much, even if it doesn’t feel like it. If I don’t restrict myself, if I eat just enough food to keep me satiated, I won’t crave food. I won’t think about food as much, I won’t want sugar as much, I won’t torture myself as much. Most importantly, eating until I’m satisfied will prevent me from falling into a negative cycle of restrict-binge, and feel a level of shame and self-hatred that no one should ever feel about their own bodies.

As I’m writing this, it’s summer and I’m currently living by myself in a studio apartment. My roommate won’t move in with me until the end of summer, so I’ve had plenty of time for myself. A lot of this time has been spent learning how to buy groceries, cook, and understanding my body’s relationship with food. There are so many things that I still don’t understand, but I know that by being by myself and trying out different recipes and ways to eat, I will eventually understand it better. Cooking by myself has helped me appreciate how foods turn into proper meals, and have also helped my palate adjust to a more whole-foods approach. By enjoying cooking, I am enjoying eating more (it’s hard to not enjoy what you cook, to be honest).

Despite my weight gains and insecurities, I also saw how my body changed positively. For one, I no longer get cold as easily. For all my life, I would get cold so easily. I would walk around the house sporting fuzzy socks and a scarf all day long – except when I was exercising. I no longer need to do that (I still wear socks though – it’s become a habit). I wear more reasonable clothes when I go out, and it makes me feel so much stronger and better about my body. And with this new strength, I have also noticed that I no longer get colds as often. I was actually sick for most of the time during the first half of the year for reasons that I don’t yet fully understand, but when the second semester came around I rarely got sick; I would get cold-like symptoms that would go away by themselves in a few days or so. My immune system had gotten stronger. I also felt stronger. Starting to strength-train and lifting some weights allowed me to turn my body fat (or some of it, at least) into muscles. I started seeing my muscles slightly become more defined, and this allowed me to train much better. Overall… I feel better than I have ever been. I feel physically stronger than ever. Now I just have to convince my mind too.

I decided to write this post because I happen to have just finished reading Portia de Rossi’s memoir Unbearable Lightness recently, and it spoke to me on so many levels. Portia wrote a strongly emotional memoir about her eating disorder (anorexia, and then bulimia) and sexuality (she’s gay, and now happily married to the one and only Ellen DeGeneres). She talked about her self-imposed pressure to attain perfection ever since she was young, whether it be in school, law school (which she later dropped), modelling, acting, or in life. Because she was constantly being judged on her appearance, she began to have a distorted view on herself. She didn’t want to be just thin, she wanted to attain the unattainable ‘perfect’ thin body. At her lowest point, she was only drinking wine on a given day – wine that she would purge at the end of the day. She talked about how, no matter what the scale said, she could still see fat in herself. No matter how thin she was, she still saw flaws in herself. Until one day, she almost died.

Then, her road to recovery was a rocky one too. She went from skinny anorexic to ‘fat’ bulimic in a short span of time. Through months of counseling sessions and time, she learned to regain a more clear view of herself. But she continued to fall back into the black hole time again. Recovery wasn’t easy.

In her epilogue – which takes place years later-  she talks about how she actually got better. At one point she talks about this girl who seemed like the type of girl that eats what they want to without getting fat. Ice cream, pasta, chips, etc. Most surprisingly, she would sometimes forget to eat a meal when things got busy at work, or not finish her meal at a restaurant because she was full. But alas, that was the secret to her well-established eating patterns: eating until she was full and satisfied. No restricting, no counting calories, no overly obsessing over what kind of food she was eating or when she was eating. Just intuitive eating. There was no need to overthink about food, or think about food at all, if she was having enough of what she wanted.

Because I knew I could eat pasta and ice cream again the very next day if I wanted to, I stopped wanting it in excess. If it were going to be available to me anytime, why eat like it was the last time I’d ever taste it? The fact that I stopped restricting food made it less appealing.

If you currently suffer, have suffered, or know someone who suffers from an eating disorder, sexuality issues, or just any sort of insecurities, I highly urge you to read Portia’s book. Not only does it talk about a highly relevant topic for many of us today, it also talks about it in such a raw, honest and utterly pure way. I could not have read a better book with a better story and ending.

-Michelle

yosemite, a temple of beauty

This picture above is probably my favorite scenic shot from Yosemite. I was trying to capture the misty essence of the weather that day, and I feel that this picture not only captured that, but also the booming greenery and the fiercely strong wind that got me back in the car seconds after taking the picture.

I had the wonderful opportunity visit Yosemite with my dad a few weeks ago. Spring was just coming to an end, and the weather seemed ideal for an outdoors trip. Having never been to Yosemite before, I had a very vague idea of what to expect. I knew there would be nature and hiking, and that’s pretty much all. We stayed at Mariposa, a town just on the outskirts of the heart of Yosemite, and drove to Yosemite early in the mornings.

We visited Yosemite for two full days, and got to see the polar opposites of the weather in this short time. The first day had a beautiful weather – it was bright and sunny all day. As we drove into Yosemite, we had to make several stops because the scenery was just too mesmerizing to not stop and gaze at it.

The weather was also hot (but not unbearably so), especially when we were hiking to the top of the Yosemite Falls and the sun was directly above us – but the view, the view was absolutely breathtaking the higher we went up.

The Upper Yosemite Falls Trail is hands down the most difficult hike I have ever done. It took us six hours to complete the hike – taking into account the multiple pit stops that we had to make along the way and the nearly one hour lunch break that we had at the top of the trail. The hike going up was hard because it was mostly walking up an eternally long and rocky hill; the trail going down was just as hard as it was both rocky and slippery, and I did not have hiking shoes so I had to be extra careful. Thank god my dad was there for me to lean on whenever the path got too slippery.

We were so proud and happy when we got to the top. But when we got back down, it was almost like we couldn’t remember how to walk like normal people anymore. We spent the rest of the day replenishing our bodies with good food, resting, and doing some light walking.

The next day was so unexpectedly gloomy and cloudy. My dad and I were pretty beat from the 6-hour hike the day before, so we did not do any massive hiking, and instead went to some places that only required some walking. This also meant that we had to drive around Yosemite a lot, and man, it was hard to see the road with the clouds and mist blocking our view.

We could barely see the beautiful scenery hiding behind the clouds too, *sigh*.

But there were moments in which the mist would subside and we would get glimpses of the untainted nature behind it. It wasn’t summer weather yet, so part of nature was still transitioning into the incoming season, which made the view even more colorful and mesmerizing.

At times when we were walking, we would stumble upon the creatures of this beautiful temple. I wasn’t sure how to approach them (and I didn’t), so I just zoomed in on my camera and captured them in their natural habitat.

One of the best things about this trip to Yosemite was that it felt like we had stepped into another world – literally. Everywhere I looked seemed like a painting that was too beautiful to be real. I would then look around me, and see everyone else gazing at the beautiful scenery, and realize that only nature has the power to create such a flawlessly beautiful landscape. Though Yosemite has been somewhat urbanized to allow for tourist visits, it is still highly a temple of nature. Walking around with my dad and occasionally passing by other people gave me the sense of comfort of being alone, but not lost, in the deep wonders of nature.

Compared with the intense purity and cordiality and beauty of Nature, the most delicate refinements and cultures of civilization are gross barbarisms.

Thank you, John Muir.

-Michelle

the importance of taking time off

I am back home for winter break for a month, and it feels great. It’s allowing me to take a breather from school, wind down, prepare for the incoming year, and do the things that I personally love to do. My home is not as saturated as my college is. I’m not surrounded by multitudes of people everyday, I don’t have as many external demands, and I can sleep in without feeling guilty. My life at home doesn’t feel as fast-paced as it does when I’m in college, but this is what allows me to recharge for the incoming year.

To resume old hobbies. A lover of books, I realized a week into my winter break that I hadn’t touched my kindle once. I then consciously started reading, and the old habit kicked in. Other hobbies like playing the cello, taking pictures, learning about Photoshop, and catching up with films also followed suit. 

To reevaluate and set new goals. Winter break is a transitional moment, as it marks the end of a semester, a year – and the beginning of a new one. Reevaluating your goals allows you to see what changes need to be made for the coming year. Setting new goals allows you to be excited for the path ahead of you. The beginning of a new year always marks the start of a clean slate, and setting concrete goals allows you to not lose track of them as you go on with your life.

To plan ahead. As you go about your break from school, your thoughts might also drift towards where you see yourself in the incoming year. In addition to setting goals, you should have plans that will lessen your anxiety when the time comes around. I look at planning as the micro steps that I need to take to achieve my goals. Plans are not meant to cement your actions once and for all, as things are bound to change with time. But following through your plans will ensure that you’re going towards your desired path – progressively.

To reconnect with loved ones. For me, these are my family, friends from back home, and also keeping touch with new close friends I’ve made. I’m not the most sociable person by nature, but I value the few friendships and relationships that I have. While I had the excuse of being too busy while at school, there’s nothing standing in my way of spending more time with the people I care about at this time, especially my family.

To relax. This is necessary to restore calm and focus. I find that when I find myself free from demands, my mind starts creating new ideas, thinking of new things to do. I like to enjoy breaks by reading, learning and coming up with possible goals and things that I want to do, but I also have to remind myself that I can’t do them all at once. The world demands us to be in constant motion, but it’s also important to be patient with ourselves. Time is not unlimited, but neither are our abilities. Taking time to slow down is important in allowing us to see clearly what is most important to us – and to truly focus on those things.

Even with all the things that I’ve mentioned above, I reserve most of the time for myself. That means catching up on films that I personally want to watch, going shopping, sleeping in when I need to, catching up on reading, and simply enjoying my own company doing the things that I love.

-Michelle

staying healthy in college

Sleep, eat and exercise. Three simple things, yet when life’s demands get in the way, it’s easy to push these things aside. But for me, these three things are non-negotiable. As someone who fusses over the smallest things, mulls over assignments and stresses about school work easily, I have learned to prioritize my health. I may not always be able to control my emotions or how I react to particular situations, but I can control my lifestyle. By controlling the physical aspects of my health, I am also helping keep myself mentally and emotionally sane.  Now that I’m in college, it’s easy to fall into the temptations of social pressure and delicious food places that surround me. But, as my life has gotten more regular and stable, so have my habits. This is what I *normally* do to keep that up:

Sleep. I need at least 7 hours of sleep each night to function like a normal person – ideally 8-9, so I go to bed between 11pm-12:30am, and wake up around 7:30-8:30 every day. All my classes start in the morning and end early afternoon, so it’s crucial that I wake up feeling rested in order to be able to focus well.

I often find myself in need of a mid-afternoon nap. I combat this by letting myself take a nap, for ideally 30 minutes. Even though power naps can help you focus better, they can also be dangerous. Over-napping is a real thing, and it’s an awful feeling waking up from a nap and seeing that it’s already dark outside. So other times, I drink coffee during lunch if I have the stomach for it; however, it’s not always the most efficient option for me, and personally I would rather not grow ‘dependent’ on it.

So, the best way to combat this is by actually getting quality hours of sleep at night, and finding other activities to prevent me from falling prey of z’s, such as taking a walk after lunch before heading back home to do work, doing some light exercising to increase blood flow, or just pausing from whatever task I’m doing lest I grow even wearier.

Eat. I live in my college dorm, which comes with a meal plan, so I eat most of my meals at the school dining halls. The tricky thing about this is that all the dining halls are all-you-can-eat, so it’s easy to overindulge in foods when you’re really hungry or stressed about work. So this is what I’ve been doing:

  • Breakfast: I make porridge with milk and granola (or just milk with cereal), paired with a fruit (usually a banana) that I eat later in between my classes. About once a week, I have a full meal at the dining hall with eggs, pastries, and bagels (and other yummy food).
  • Lunch: I am hungriest at this time of the day, so I eat at the dining hall and get most of my nutrients of the day: veggies, eggs, some meat, sometimes a bagel (if I haven’t had it for breakfast) and coffee.
  • Dinner: Sometimes I buy a wheat wrap with chicken and veggies from the school’s food cafe/market. If I’m not too hungry, I have milk with cereal, coupled with a fruit and/or a pastry that I brought home from the dining hall.
  • Snacks: I have a big Kirkland Mixed Nuts jar sitting on my desk, and I snack on it every time I crave something. I also take small packs of nuts or granola bars in my backpack in case I get hungry in between classes. I also have chocolate, sometimes cookies and other not-so-good snacks lying around in my room. The way I control my intake of these snacks is by limiting myself from buying such snacks to 1-2 times a month.

One thing to note is that because I’m living in my college dorm, I can’t really cook. My meal plan allows me to have 10 meals a week, but because I’ve used part of the meal points to buy groceries (milk, cereal, and other foods), I have started to ration my meals so I have enough points till the end of the semester. I make my breakfast most days and don’t eat at the dining hall for dinner (when it’s the most expensive), but I always make sure I eat there for lunch to get my nutrients of the day.

Even though campus is surrounded by myriads of food places, I don’t eat out by myself that much. Lately I’ve been eating out about once a week, and if I eat out it’s usually with someone else or to treat myself. I spend money on groceries, because I believe that eating well is worth every penny, but I don’t think eating out is that worthwhile, especially as most restaurants (and even the dining halls themselves) don’t offer the healthiest food options.

Exercise. This is where I like to have the most fun in. I like to mix exercising with sports, so I joined my uni’s recreational figure skating team at the start of the year. Besides that, what I have been doing on my own is explore the exercise opportunities that I can do. As a student at my university, I get free access to the gym – including the myriads of cardio, strength-training and other group classes that it offers. Lately, I’ve been very into power yoga, which I do about 2-3 times a week. On other days, I like to combine nature with exercising, so I go hiking or for a run. I don’t exactly live in the safest neighborhood, so I can’t really go that far, but I can go far enough.


All these three things are bound together: if you sleep well, you will eat well, and you will exercise well. If you fail on sleep, you will need to compensate it with a nap during the day, depriving you of your exercise-time. If you don’t eat well, you will most likely not have the energy to do things as well, such as exercising. If you don’t exercise, I find that it makes it harder for me to sleep at a consistent time every day, thus disrupting my sleep cycle.

I was down with a cold for nearly 2 months since the start of the Fall semester, and it most definitely took a toll on my performance. There were some weeks in which my cough prevented me from falling asleep peacefully at night, or I coughed so much during class that I found myself not able to speak up when I had something to say, or not being able to breathe normally because my nose was so clogged up. I would come home from school tired and beat. This persistent told made me realize that I have a weak immune system, so it’s even more important that I take care of the aspects of my health that I do have control over. Stress, anxiety and other worries affect my immune system, but if I take control over my lifestyle, I will be able to manage my health much better.

This just comes to show that we each have different needs, strengths and weaknesses that are individual to each of us. I’m prone to getting cold (and getting a cold) easily, which means that I have to pay special attention to how I take care of myself accordingly. Understanding what your body needs and finding your own balance is the key to keeping you healthy.

-Michelle