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health

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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

blissful morning walks

I love when the sun rises early in the morning, and sets late at night, making the days seem longer and fuller. I enjoy walking out of my building and being greeted by the sunlight, even when it sometimes greets me too fiercely. I particularly relish my weekend morning walks around other parts of the neighborhood that I don’t normally pass by during the week. I love how the college dorms here are not inside campus, but rather in the areas surrounding it; it gives me the freedom to explore other parts of this town-like place, and it allows me to take these blissful morning walks. I am someone who believes in enjoying the small things in life, especially when nature is part of it. Taking a walk is the simplest way to wind down from the frenzy of life that surrounds us each day.

Taking a walk means challenging life’s demands. When I find that I’m overwhelmed by the demands of life, I make a conscious effort to walk in the places where nature is my surrounding company. It reminds me that I can choose to either rush my day to get as many things done as possible, or do a few things with thoughtful consideration without overstimulating myself. The world won’t end regardless of how much I squeeze into one day, so I might as well choose to spend it in the best way possible for me.

Taking a walk means doing something for yourself. By yourself. We easily spend so much time stimulating our senses artificially  that we deprive us of true alone time. We listen to music on our phones whilst we type away on our laptops, we watch videos or read articles online when we’re bored, we text people while we walk. Whenever we’re not interacting with others one-on-one, we fill our voids with the immediate stimulation that our devices can offer. But when we do this, we lose being in the company of ourselves. Taking a walk means listening to your footsteps, looking at the path in front of you, and noticing the details that surrounds you. Though I often feel like distracting myself with a good movie or burying my head in a book, it’s good to ground oneself back to reality at the end of the day.

Taking a walk means noticing our surroundings with a childlike curiosity. There are increasingly more places to see, cities to travel, and adventures to have. It’s always fascinating to go on a roadtrip adventure or visit an exotic place, as it’s literally an escape from our more mundane reality. It’s fun and important to travel somewhere where the culture and reality is different to that of your own, as it’s a valuable experience in itself. But it’s also important to remember that the things that surround us every day can be just as special. You don’t need to travel long distances to find novelty; you can find it exactly where you are right now, if you choose to do so.

I believe that it’s important to accept this before you decide to go out and explore more. It’s important to accept this because only then can you see everything that surrounds you with curiosity, not just the grand exotic places. It’s important to appreciate the richness in all the big and small things.

So, take a walk around your area, but take a different path this time. What story are behind the homes that you see? How do you feel, walking along a calm residential area as opposed to a busy city street? What sounds do you hear – are they human, animal or nature sounds? Welcome any thoughts that come into your mind as you walk along.

-Michelle

things i did in my gap year

One of the hardest things about my gap year was keeping track of my progress by myself. With no teachers grading me and no classes to attend to, with what means do I even measure my progress?

For me, it was a matter of trial and error before I found out what worked best for me. I started my gap year with a list of things I believed I wanted to accomplish, and every month I would review and tweak parts of it. You can see how my goals changed from 2016 to 2017 on this page. Below, I will comment on each of the 5 categories that I worked on in the past year. I hope you enjoy!

work

This involves college applications, classes I took online, and anything academics-related.

2016: A lot of my focus inevitably went towards my college applications – retaking a few standardized tests, researching for colleges, drafting dozens of essays, and all that stuff. The only part that I truly cherish from this arduous process are the essays. I could see how much my thoughts, mentality and writing style had changed since the previous year. As someone who writes, blogs and journals frequently, it was really uplifting to tangibly see my progress.

Additionally, I took some classes that I was interested in academically. This included psychology (one of my intended majors), coding, and a little of web design. I took these courses on Coursera and Codecademy, and though I didn’t love taking classes, they gave me the general insight I needed to become familiar with these fields.

2017: This year was very different. I focused a lot of my education in other ways (that you’ll see later in this post), and mainly brainstormed and planned long-term goals for college. I realized that I am very much interested in psychology and cognitive science in college, looked into other possible minors, researched the clubs and organizations available at my college (once I knew where I would be attending), looked into the ‘different’ types of classes and opportunities available, and mapped out a general 4-year plan for college. So, very college-focused, but also very concentrated on my interests.

health

This includes activities directly related to my emotional, mental and physical wellbeing.

2016: I tried out so many activities and classes this year: meditation, yoga, Pilates, Systema (a Russian self-defense martial arts), ballet, and strength-trained jogged, biked and roller skated on my own. I did not stick with all of these, but they allowed me to understand and take care of my body much better.

2017: I continued taking classes on ballet and Systema – both which I absolutely loved. I learned about beauty and poise in ballet, and the myriad of bio-mechanic skills that Systema taught me opened my understanding about the human body. I also started jogging more, and experienced runner’s high in my first 10k (6.2 miles) race for the first time! I continued to meditate when I needed to (though not as religiously as before), and strength-trained when I deemed it fit. This year was a continuation and consolidation of the activities that I believe helped me most.

personal

All about things that I deeply love and cherish: books, mistyprose (blogging), writing and creativity-related activities

2016 and ’17: I read 100+ books and started a new challenge of reading the world. I got more into photography and learned more about my ‘aesthetic’. I joined the bullet journal community, explored different styles of journaling – morning pages, 5-minute morning journal, gratitude journal, among others. I loved all these activities.

But my proudest personal achievement was creating mistyprose. It started out as The Sapphire, a blog about books, but as my passions started to shift during my gap year, so did the focus of my blog. Earlier this year, I ‘re-branded’ my blog as mistyprose, and realized that my content was varied, but also with a touch of my own style. I promote my blog through Instagram and Tumblr, platforms where I could share my photography too. A few months ago, after getting my (first) camera, I decided to try making videos. As more of a blogger person, this became a new but exciting field to me that I’ve yet to explore further.

wanderlust

This is about traveling, learning new languages, socializing, and volunteering.

2016: Fresh out of high school, I was so eager to travel during my gap year. I thought that backpacking around the world would make me into an independent adult, and I couldn’t wait to get started. However, my (tiger) mom thankfully prevented me from making such rash decisions, as I am a young and naive girl, fresh out of high school. So I started learning languages. I got into German, but couldn’t find my connection with it so I dropped it. I took up American Sign Language (ASL), having learnt Peruvian Sign Language already. I then also started learning Italian, and I loved it.  I also became the translation coordinator for this huge and admirable NGO, something that makes me proud to say.

2017: This year, I realized that I don’t need to physically travel to satisfy my wanderlust soul. I travel when I read books. I travel when I walk to the park and see the sky and the trees with a renewed sense of wonder. I can travel whenever and however. Traveling can be fun, and it’s always an amazing experience to have. But the fallacy in only wanting to travel is not seeing the value of the things that are surrounding you already.

Additionally, I continued learning Italian and ASL, by taking online lessons and/or reading about them. The most important step, however, was my decision to start learning Chinese again. Mandarin Chinese is my first language, but I barely know how to read or write in it. It was after visiting my family in Taiwan in early 2017 that I realized that I needed to learn to communicate properly in Chinese.

music

Instruments and music-related endeavors.

2016 and ’17: Music has been an integral part of my life ever since I was young. I still remember seeing a cello for the first time back in 3rd grade, and watching my cello teacher play the instrument with such expertise and ease. Thus, I learned the cello for several years at school, and then got into the national music conservatory. A year later I joined the national youth symphony orchestra, and then went back to taking private lessons again.

Though I am far from being able to call myself a true cellist, my journey with my cello has been a wholesome one. I learned what ‘passion’ means from other musicians; I saw the hardworking class of the music industry in Peru; and I learned a valuable skill that I will try to cherish for the rest of my life. My gap year allowed me to understand why music is important to me. I went out of my comfort zone and taught violin at a public school; violin’s not my specialty, but I know the theory well enough to teach beginner students.

Something new that I started doing in 2017 was teach myself the piano. My brother used to play the piano a lot, so we have a keyboard at home. I purchased a few beginner books and easy pieces on the Kindle, and that got me started. I love the sound of the piano, but whether I will continue this during college is another matter that I’ll have to decide later on.


So. I read, learned and discovered many things in my gap year, but I did not do so without endless nights of pondering about my personal interests and periods of self-doubt and distress. However, as I look back into this year with sweet reminiscence, I cannot help but be grateful for all that I’ve gained since then. My ‘hardships’ cannot compare to what many have to endure in their lives, but it has allowed me to see past my insecurities with greater faith. As Viktor Frankl once said,

If there is meaning in life at all, then there must be meaning in suffering.

-Michelle

I ran 10k for the first time and I liked it

I am not a runner, and have never run 10 kilometers consecutively before signing up for this 10k race. My body had always given in after 5, 6 or at most around 8 kilometers. But then something interesting happened on the day of this event.

If you’ve ever run a few kilometers/miles long, you would know that the first part of the run can oftentimes be the hardest. Your body is just warming up, your feet are getting used to the speed, and your heart is still adjusting to the new pace. For me, those first few hundred steps are always unfamiliar and uncomfortable.

On the day of the race, I was not feeling my best self. My legs were a little sore from the previous day’s workout, and my stomach was jittery with nerves. Unsurprisingly, the first half of the race was gruesome; I was counting the kilometers as I passed each marker and thinking to myself, “I won’t be able to make it” over and over again. Having my dad run alongside me – motivating me each step of the way – was very helpful as always, but it couldn’t ease the discomfort that had already taken over my body.

My iPod decided to go dead nearly halfway through the race – something that has never happened before. I gave up trying to revive it after a while, and this surprisingly made my run more… bearable. I had prepared a pumping music playlist specially for this day, but I realized that I was actually better off without it.

Running is usually such a lonesome activity, and I usually rely on music as my companion. But having thousands of people running behind, beside and in front of me was the best companion of that day. Yes, I could hear people’s steps akin to the sound of fat raindrops – incessant, notorious and all around me. Occasionally, we would pass by someone gasping heavily for air, and at several points we were in par with a guy whose keys jingled exasperatingly in his pocket.

But that didn’t matter. We were, after all, in this together. The people in front of me were the ones showing me the way; those beside me kept me company and urged me along; the ones behind showed me how far I had come, pushing me to keep on going. This was enough motivation to keep me going, regardless of how slow my pace was.

But something curious then happened after hitting the 5k mark: I started gaining momentum. It was as if my body had rejuvenated itself, and I found myself running more vigorously than before. My breathing came under control, my steps became wider, and I felt stronger. Like I said before – I am not a regular runner, so I don’t know what exactly happened at that moment. Basic research on the internet tells me that I might have experienced what is called a runner’s high – a rush of endorphin. It was a great feeling that spread all over my body physically and emotionally, enabling me to get a glimpse of why long-distance runners do what they do.

The feeling of power and control over your own body. The sense of accomplishment even before you finish the task. The genuine pleasure that comes from inside you while you’re still running, your mind free from any burden. You hardly get these feelings of triumph while doing other (healthy) activities.

I have never experienced this in any cardio exercise before, because I have never challenged myself to such extent. I am curious to see whether my runner’s high will continue to kick in the next time that I run the same distance, or how it will change as I (hopefully) run longer distances. As for other sports, it’ll be interesting to see if this ‘high’ happens too!

-Michelle

how to recover from a burnout

BURNOUT: physical or mental collapse caused by overwork or stress.

We are all familiar with this. That moment when… anything and everything seems to be too much all at once. When you just want to shut the world down, and make everything stop. When you’re no longer stressed, but on the verge of falling apart. When you lose that drive and sense of motivation that you used to have.

I have experienced my definition of high stress, social anxiety, and demotivation for short periods at a time. I don’t think I’ve actually experienced burnout to the point of being unable to go back to work, unless it was due to some external reason. However, I do have a few methods, that I have used myself, to help you recover from any form of short-term burnout (if you experience a heavy, long-term burnout, please consult a professional):

1. Schedule time for yourself.

Turn off the notifications in your phone, stop checking social media, and let the emails go. One cannot truly relax if one is constantly being interrupted by things as distracting as Facebook, Instagram, and emails. You live in the now, in the present moment, not in the pictures that random people post on Facebook, nor the chaos in the news nowadays.

Acknowledge it, value it, live it.

2. Do something creative

Whenever I delve into something fun, like practicing brush lettering, taking pictures, or even just journaling, it feels therapeutic. I put on some soothing music, and it becomes me and my art. It allows me to recharge creatively and lose myself in the beauty of it for a while.

Simply choose something that you consider fun, creative, simple and relaxing. For me, it usually has to do with some form of pen and/or paper. I love journaling, planning, brush lettering, doodling and painting in a coloring book. It’s easy and soothing, and it gets me going.

3. Get out.

This one never fails me. Whenever I feel stuck, stressed, and even on the verge of a breakdown, I force myself to go out if I can muster the energy to do so. I’m lucky to live in a neighborhood surrounded by parks, and that’s where I go. Not somewhere crowded with people talking; just nature, people walking with their doors, and cars passing by.

Nature, besides it being there to allow us to live, is the best natural form of therapy. It will allow you to breathe in the fresh, fresh air. Let you slow down for a bit, and enjoy your view as it is. Get you up and walking, without going anywhere in particular.

4. Get active.

Following #3, once you’re outside – take it to the next step! You could start by walking or jogging, or skating, or biking, or taking your pet for an afternoon together. Make it an event. Get your body moving and your blood pumping. You will have to focus on your task at hand and, consequently, get your mind off your work. Your body will also automatically release endorphins, which will inevitably relieve you of the stress you were experiencing, and make you feel much, much better overall.

You can get active by going out for a simple activity like the ones named before – walking, jogging, biking, etc. or by signing up for a class that you’ll have to go a few times a week. I do both, so I get my dose of endorphins pretty much everyday – whether I feel like it or not – and always end the day feeling sore, but refreshed.

5. Get your zzz’s.

I know, I know. There is not enough time to sleep. But there is if you make it a priority. I prioritize sleep because:

  • It allows me to perform hours of productive and concentrated work everyday; if I don’t, I end up spending twice as much time in each task and accomplishing half as much.
  • I maintain my body’s health and weight by doing so; if I don’t, I end up eating more than necessary, oftentimes caffeinated products or just food my body doesn’t need. Your body should not be dependent or coffee or any other food at all if you get your sleep.
  • I love to wake up early. I’m not an early bird, but I can wake up relatively early if I sleep at a proper time, and a consistent schedule is what allows me to be the best version of myself every day.

This is also key to prevent oversleeping, which will most likely depress you even more, as you’ll feel like you’re sleeping your life away. In order to take care of your body, maintain your health and recover from a day of work, is to sleep no more than necessary. Lie in bed for a while after waking up, but don’t fall asleep again if you’ve slept enough, or you’ll wake up more restless than before.


Lastly, forgive yourself if things don’t go your way. I cannot reiterate this enough. More often than not, your day will not go as planned. When that happens, acknowledge your mistakes, forgive yourself, and move on. It will all be alright at the end.

-Michelle