10 Things I Learned in My First Week of Work

Fruit Basket

Chocolate-covered strawberries = another reason why I have the best job.

When I first decided to take a gap year, I thought I knew exactly what I would be doing. Either a Fulbright or Princeton in Asia scholarship, one that would take me overseas and thousands of miles away from Ann Arbor. I didn’t allow myself to consider the possibility that both would reject me. Okay, well maybe my parents forced me to consider it briefly. Even then, however, I was confident that I would find a nice-paying yearlong position in NYC or DC or even Paris. When my plans started unraveling one by one, my trepidation grew. What if I couldn’t find anything to do for an entire year? The workaholic in me blanched. What if, because I didn’t have the prestige of Fulbright or PiA attached to my name, my law school application failed? The overachiever in me stewed. What if, because I made a mistake in my applications, it prevented me from having a once-in-a-lifetime experience? The idealist in me mulled.

My decision to stay in Ann Arbor was less a decision than a consequence. After applying to positions all over the globe, most in the nonprofit legal field, I realized that these jobs were 1) far and few between and 2) highly competitive. Less than a week after I emailed MIRC about internship opportunities, however, my now supervisor responded. He said that they were always looking for interns, and that I should come in for an interview. At first, I was skeptical. This was just too good to be true — their website stated that they only looked for law students for interns. During the interview, he asked me more questions about my schedule than my experience. I’m pretty sure he barely glanced at my resume. Just like that, I was hired.

Then, I proceeded to spend a month visiting various friends and family around the world. I had no idea what awaited me upon my return. On Tuesday, July 8th, I got up after a less-than-ideal night of sleep, gave myself a pep talk, and walked over to Huron Street. This past week, I had my first full week of work. It was more challenging, rewarding, inspiring, fulfilling, and interesting than I could ever have predicted. Though I still have a lot to learn, I’m starting to realize why taking a gap year is so important. And I wanted to share all the things I’m learning with you.

10 Things I Learned in my First Week

  1. How to operate a phone. All you older people can laugh at me now. It’s been a while since I used a phone with an actual cord and receiver. Apart from technical issues, I’ve always dreaded talking to people over the phone. I stutter, I’m awkward, and I forget what I wanted to talk about. After answering the phone dozens of times a day and speaking to people in formal Spanish and French, however, I’m just relieved when I can begin with a simple, “Hi, Michigan Immigrant Rights Center.”
  2. How to operate a copy/fax machine. Similar to the dilemma above, I’ve always had an irrational fear of copy/fax machines. Seriously, I think they will eat me or give me cancer, something like that. Unfortunately for me, I’ve had to get over this phobia pronto, as everything we mail in our office must be copied and stored in the client’s file.
  3. Every question on the N-400 in English, Spanish, and French. This is the naturalization form and it’s 21 pages long. My favorite question is 13A, especially the WTF faces it always gets from the client: “Between March 23, 1933 and May 8, 1945, did you work for or associate with in any way with the Nazi government of Germany?”
  4. That I’m okay with Spanish and French. I was terrified that my language skills wouldn’t hold up in daily conversation or on-the-spot interpretation, but I’ve fared better than I thought. I still have a long way to go, but I feel proud to be able to translate entire legal documents on the fly.
  5. That abuse doesn’t discriminate. Many of our clients seek our guidance because they are trapped in domestic violence situations. Sometimes, they are women. Sometimes, they are men. Sometimes, they are old. Sometimes, they are young, younger than me.
  6. That citizenship is a huge privilege. Many of us born in the United States take our American citizenship for granted, but it is such a privilege that we didn’t earn. So many people around the world would give anything for that status. Lack of citizenship makes it impossible for people to work, to see their families, to escape totalitarian regimes.
  7. That marriage is a big deal. Legally, I mean. Just looking through divorce and child custody agreements makes me think twice about getting married. No matter what you do from the moment you are married, like file for a tax return or apply for naturalization, you are bonded to your spouse. There’s even a question on the N-400 that deals with your spouse’s prior spouses. You have to know their date of births, immigration status, date of marriage. It’s absolutely insane, especially for a client who isn’t in contact with her spouse because he was abusive to her.
  8. What I want in a job. I know now, more than ever, what I’m looking for in a future career/job. I always knew that academia wasn’t for me; it’s too abstract and not sufficiently hands-on. I like to see immediate results and work directly with the people I’m helping. Moreover, I want to look around at my colleagues and realize that everyone is working for the right reasons — not for money or prestige, but for passion and the desire to change the world.
  9. That I’m definitely going to law school. You might wonder why I’d even doubt this, as I’ve already taken the LSAT and started my applications. But I’ve always been a fickle person, and I left room for myself to change my mind. Now, I’m more sure than ever than a legal education is necessary for me to make the kind of impact I want to in society. After talking to several people in law school, I’m hopeful that I’ll enjoy the process as well as the result.
  10. That my life is damned good. I’m not trying to brag or anything. Happiness is relative, after all. But working with under-privileged people every day makes me feel so, so lucky for the life that I have. They remind me of what really matters in life — being safe and being with the people you love.

In short, I couldn’t be happier with my job. I’m excited to get to the office every day and I couldn’t think of a better place to spend my gap year. Things really do work out for the best.

Did you take a gap year? How did starting you first job change your perspective?



Life Is Good

I’ve always been bad at recognizing when my life is good. Alternatively, I’ve been just as bad at recognizing when my life is bad. Like many who have suffered, the one thing I constantly sought was familiarity. In my mind, familiarity was good. It didn’t matter if I was trying replicate abusive relationships. Or if I was chasing after people I knew would abandon me. Or if I was deeply unhappy. What mattered was that it was familiar. For a long time, familiarity was all I had and I learned to take comfort in it. A few nights ago, I was telling my friend about how the happiest times of my life were during college. He looked at me and shook his head. “No, Rebecca, all I remember from that time is you telling me how unhappy you were.”

I don’t know which one of us is right — Rebecca circa 2011 or present Rebecca. It could have been that I was happy then and I didn’t know it. More likely, I really wasn’t happy then, but it was familiar and, with all the change in my life recently, I long for familiarity.

These past few months, though, I’ve been fighting hard for what I actually want and deserve. I’ve been fighting to let go of familiarity. It’s a tough fight. This morning, I walked to the CCRB from my apartment in Kerrytown. As I passed East Ann, the street behind my old church, I let out a cautious breath. I was nervous to run into one of them, the churchgoers. Under their judgmental eyes, I always feel defensive, like I have to prove to them that I’m better off now then I ever was with them. But I knew that it was pointless, that they would believe whatever they believed, and I could do nothing to change that. With a shrug of apathy and acceptance, I was on my way. While I was on the treadmill, I smiled to myself and thought, “Every Sunday morning that I’m in the gym instead of church, that is a good thing.”

There are many other good things in my life right now. Last week, I started my yearlong internship at MIRC, and I couldn’t be happier. The people I work with are amazing, from my heart-of-gold boss to my fellow intern to the clients who need so much help. As an extrovert, I love getting to interact with people every day, 9 to 5. Although I used to feel overwhelmed and trapped by routine, I’m appreciating it more and more these days. I guess I’m getting old. Last night, the house party next door was blasting horribly obnoxious techno music. Instead of feeling left out of the fun, I growled, “Ugh, kids these days” and went to sleep on my spare bed to get away from the noise. Jesus, I’m ancient.

I’m learning to live for myself. I cooked one of my signature dishes yesterday, teriyaki chicken with peppers. It was the first time I’d made it for just myself, and it tasted just as sumptuous as ever. I’m still enjoying my apartment — while it has a few shortcomings, it’s by far my favorite place I’ve ever called home. I’m realizing that there are many people who loved me and do love me, from my family to my friends to my former lovers. They have given me so much and taught me so much; I feel incredibly grateful for the way they have loved me. Though I’m no longer speaking with all of them, their words of encouragement, support, and criticism still echo in my head.

The best part of my life right now? This face:

Green-eyed Blueberry

Blueberry Likes Windows

Blueberry Naps

Seriously, look at that face! How can life not be good when you wake up to and come home to this pretty girl?

Are you content with your life? What does it take to make you happy?

À la prochaine,


I’m Obsessed with My Apartment (and Candles)

Since I flew back to the states on Monday, I’ve been fighting jetlag to turn my apartment into somewhere I’m happy to live. As of today, now that my beautiful hardwood floors are finally clean, I think it’s time to call it a success! I even managed to do all the moving myself. The apartment was already furnished, so I didn’t have to do that much heavy lifting. I made a few mistakes (note to self: silk sheets are highly overrated), but I’m really satisfied with the result. There’s nothing too fancy — most of the decor came from my previous dorm room life. However, the place looks decidedly un-dorm-room-like. It’s all grown up, which means *gasp* maybe I am too.

In other news, I’m now obsessed with candles. I’ve been going through tealights like chainsmokers go through cigs. I’m afraid I’m gonna burn the place down one of these days…shh, don’t tell my landlord.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Without further ado, voici mon appartement!

That rug is so ridiculously plushy. And soft mm...

That rug is so ridiculously plushy. And soft mm…

Spare bed for friendly people.

Spare bed for friendly people.

I have a plant!

I have a living plant! (For now…)

Unhealthy obsession with candles.

Unhealthy obsession with candles.

Much better after replacing sheets.

Much better after replacing sheets.

Monet is my nightly inspiration.

Monet is my nightly inspiration.

So who’s coming over to visit?

À plus tard,


CW: The Single Life

Coping With...This post is part of the Coping with… series, in which I will share my experiences with Borderline Personality Disorder. Whether you also have BPD or you struggle with depression, anxiety, and stress, I hope this series will be helpful to you.

There are many reasons why being single is so difficult for those of us with BPD and other similar disorders. I think it’s really important to acknowledge why it’s so hard before attempting to get past it. In Plato’s Symposium, he tells this myth to explain romantic relationships. According to him, humans used to be both male and female, therefore whole. But in their contentness, they had no need and began to rival the gods. As punishment, Zeus split all humans into male and female. From then on, they were condemned to wander the earth searching desperately for their other half, imperfect in all the ways they were. This lack of wholeness, or emptiness, is amplified tenfold in people with BPD. Ever since my first real crush at 16, I have believed that I needed someone to complete me. I chased one guy after another because the brief euphoric high I felt when they liked me back, kissed me back, touched me back, made it all worth it. Freshman year, I fell into a religious cult after they convinced me that God was the one who would make me whole.

Months of prayer later, I felt as empty as ever.

When you have BPD, you often forget who you are. One therapist described BPD as such: it’s like you’re always standing in the midst of a hurricane and your likes and dislikes are road signs. They exist, they are there, but whether they are visible entirely depends on the intensity of the storm. When every fundamental thing about you can change at any moment, you end up in a perpetual identity crisis. This not only makes you feel empty, it also makes a romantic partner all the more appealing. Although everyone desires on some level to be known, BPDs need someone to be their baseline, their sanity check, their historian. Correction — they believe they need that person. Because non-BPDs make it so easy. I often relied on my ex-boyfriends to tell me who I was. “When I see you, Rebecca, I see someone who’s terribly naïve and innocent, but badly scarred by life.” “I don’t think you know what you want.” “I make you happy, but you’re never going to be satisfied with me.” The problem with my behavior was that 1) my exes weren’t always right about me and 2) it made for horribly codependent relationships.

Taken before heading out to explore Shanghai solo. I made it to the National Museum, the Bund, and Din Tai Fung, but it wasn't pretty. As in, I spent a few hours crying in a fully packed movie theater.

Taken before heading out to explore Shanghai solo. I made it to the National Museum, the Bund, and Din Tai Fung, but it wasn’t pretty. As in, I spent a few hours crying in a fully packed movie theater.

The biggest lie that we BPDs tell ourselves every day is that we cannot be alone.

It’s simply not true. Yes, it’s damned hard to be alone. Sometimes, it feels like we don’t exist anymore. Sometimes, it feels like nothing is worth it anymore. Sometimes, it feels like we could die and it wouldn’t even matter. The temptation to chase another forbidden fruit is hard to resist. I’ve been single for all of 21 days (woohoo!), and I really wanna text my hookup buddy. But I know that, at this moment, I’m too fragile to handle a casual relationship. Plus, I’m pretty sure he had feelings for me towards the end and was pissed I started dating someone else. Even though I don’t owe him anything, he’s still human, and he doesn’t deserve for me to bait him back into my life only to ditch him for another dude. Because the truth is that, as cute as hookup buddy is, he’s not someone I really want in my life. Admitting that is much more difficult than you might think.

Yes, all of this is hard, but we can do it. The day we learn to be our own baseline, sanity check, and historian is the day that we begin to feel whole.

Has your mental illness threatened to turn you into a serial monogamist?



Post-grad To-do List

Despite the unparalleled views of Taiwan, I'm raring to leave.

Despite the unparalleled views of Taiwan, I’m raring to leave.

I need to go back to America.

In all my years of racking up SkyMiles, this is the first time I’ve found myself uttering these words. Rebecca circa 2012 would have been horrified to hear such a sacrilegious thing. She used to think of herself as a citizen of the world, a nomad, an un-American. Moi, une américaine? Mais non, tu plaisantes! But today, I say without shame, as much as I’ve meant anything in my life: I need to go back to the US of A. All signs are pointing that way. An old friend invited me to spend the fourth of July weekend in New York. The US is doing surprisingly well in the World Cup. I know this because all my Facebook friends seemingly became soccer fans overnight. I’m moving in to my new apartment (all to myself!) in Kerrytown.

I’ve been traveling for 42 days now and I’m tired. I just wanna go home. What’s more, I feel like I need to go home so I can get on with my life. Since my graduation almost two months ago, my physical meanderings have reflected my inner turmoil. Without the routine of classes and the excitement of registering for a new semester, I felt lost. My agent kept asking me for more edits, but gave me inconclusive feedback. More than six months after I finished the first draft, the manuscript had made little progress towards publication. I knew I would be applying to law school in the fall, but it still seemed distant and intangible. I focused on my relationship, but quickly found that unraveling. After eight straight years of chasing one stepping stone after the other, I looked up and saw nothing but quiet waters in the distance. It terrified me.

For the last month or so, I’ve been sitting down on that rock, arms folded, scowling at my surroundings. Today, I stood up, waved my arms around to clear the fog, and created my own stepping stone. I promptly paid off my registration fee for the website that handles all law school applications. I sent NYU law admissions an email to ask if I could take a self-guided tour the July 4th weekend. Next, I pulled up NYU and Columbia’s sites in side-by-side tabs and made myself find real reasons why I wanted to apply, other than their rankings in US News. By the end of the afternoon, I was surer than ever that NYU was my top choice. Even better, the fog had disintegrated, and I could now see the stones aligning themselves to create a path.

Voici Rebecca’s Post-grad To-do List:

  1. Call DTE Energy. If you were expecting this list to be exciting and romantic, then clearly you’ve never been a recent grad. I have to call DTE to get my energy bill transferred to my name before I move in.
  2. Attempt to move in by myself. I’ve never moved by myself before, thanks to friends and family, but I’m pretty sure I can do it. All my stuff fits in my car and I don’t own anything heavy. If you feel like offering an extra hand, though, please come over and I’ll buy you a beer.
  3. Adopt a kitty. Preferably one that likes to cuddle and doesn’t set off my allergies, but I’m not picky. After all, I used to live with the bitchiest cat on earth. The one time she graced me with her presence in my room, I almost cried I felt so loved.
  4. Go to work. July 8th is my first day at MIRC, woohoo! I’m also starting a new GRE class.
  5. Revise my personal statement. I already have a rough draft of my PS, but I think it can get a lot better. I’ll also have to write extra essays for Yale and IILJ, which I’ll get to in a second.
  6. Figure out letters of recommendation. Ugh, I’ve dreaded this part of applications since high school. Hopefully, the people who I asked to write me letters haven’t forgotten all about me. If I’m really lucky, maybe they’re the type of people who view the past through rose-colored glasses and they’ll only remember all the goods things I did.
  7. Get back on the horse. Literally. I haven’t been to the barn in ages and I keep having nightmares that everyone’s moved on without me.
  8. Work through reading list. I’m almost done with Love in the Time of Cholera. Up next is One Hundred Years of SolitudeThe Moons of Jupiter by Alice Munro, and Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder. I’m reading Márquez in the original Spanish, but I chose French translations of Munro and Gaarder to get extra practice.
  9. Watch Spanish/French/Mandarin movies. To keep up my listening skills, I’m going to watch at least one movie in each language every month. I’ve seen tons of French/Mandarin films, but not very many Spanish. If y’all have any recommendations, please send them my way!
  10. Join Spanish/French conversation circles. I know they meet weekly at Sweetwaters, but I’m not sure how I can sign up. Anybody know?
  11. Make new friends. I’ve met tons of awesome people over the past four years, but a lot of friends have left and/or I lost contact with them. I’m planning to pick up a new hobby to meet people — volunteering, people-watching at bars, salsa dancing.
  12. Worry about my credit score. Don’t worry, it’s not bad or anything…it’s just nonexistent. I’ve been meaning to start using credit cards, but I’m always paranoid that I’ll forget about paying. These days, thanks to technology, it’s as simple as checking a box so your card is paid automatically.
  13. Start budgeting/saving. My idea of saving over the past few years was leaving x amount of dollars in my account and spending everything else that came in. I’m gonna try to stick to a monthly budget and put away a percentage of my paycheck.
  14. Apply to law schools. I’m applying to nine schools, but there’s one program I’m especially interested in: IILJ. It’s a scholarship run by NYU that offers a great opportunity to those interested in international law. You get up to full tuition paid for, you participate in internships/research projects/journal publications, and you can do a four-year JD-LLM. This is an absolute dream for me, and I’m excited to give it my best shot. Looking at the current scholars’ profiles, I feel like my application would be competitive, but they only select five people a year, so I’d need a lot of luck.
  15. Stay away from monogamy. I don’t think I’m ready for a serious relationship right now. For me, the benefits of being single outweigh the advantages of a boyfriend. I still have a lot of growing up to do before I can make commitments to another person.

Now, you can probably understand why I’m eager to get back to the states. It’s not that I’m overwhelmed by everything I have to do. It’s very much the opposite — I’m so excited by it all, I can’t wait to get started. This is going to be one of the most challenging and interesting periods of my life, and I’m ready to make the most of it. Thankfully, I only have a week left of vacation. Then, I’m homeward bound.

What are your post-grad plans? Do you enjoy leaving the future up in the air or do you like to have a clear direction?

À la prochaine,


Broken Up, But Not Broken

Time to piece myself back together.

Time to piece myself back together.

Four years ago, I was in almost the exact same position as I am in today. I’d just gotten back from a life-changing summer in China, I’d convinced myself that I needed to break up with my high school boyfriend, and I decided that I would be single for a long time. I wrote a blog post about my self-imposed chastity, vowing to spend the next year doing a lot of soul-searching. Well, that didn’t work out so well. As soon as I got back, I spent most of the summer chasing unrequited love #1. As a completely irrelevant side-note, this unnamed person had the best pseudonym, hands down, of any blog I’ve ever written: Yeti. Yeti, I don’t know where in the world you are now, but I’d still love to grab drinks sometime for old time’s sake. Shortly after school started, I hooked up with unrequited love #2. After tiring of my drinking buddies around Halloween, I made a best friend. Unfortunately, I turned him into unrequited love #3, except I was the one this time who couldn’t requite the love.

Since that time, I’ve been physically single for a grand total of…three months? Emotionally single for zero.

Fast forward to now. I’ve just broken up with Hans. The details of why are unnecessary—every single breakup in the world can be summed up as such: something wasn’t working. If it wasn’t working for one person, or for both, that’s for the parties involved to figure out. I realized it wasn’t working and I told myself not to be a coward and did the right thing. Just like my breakup four years ago, though, this one is not easy. But I’ve learned quite a bit since then. If I could go back in time and give my 18-year-old self relationship advice, I would tell her the following:

“The hardest part of a relationship is figuring out if you actually want to be in that relationship. Because love is intoxicating and companionship is comforting, you are probably always going to be happier in a relationship than without. Even if, deep down, you know you’re not attracted to him as you should be. Even if the way he breathes, or orders coffee, or boils water annoys the shit out of you. Even if you don’t love him.

Sometimes, he doesn’t love you either. That’s almost easier. Because then you can enjoy your time together and let it fizzle out on its own. If he loves you, though, you have a responsibility to protect him. Not because you love him back, but because at some point you liked this person enough to commit to seeing him more than anyone else in your life. Because we have all been that person who loved more. The best way you can protect him is to let him go. And then, after that, don’t go back. Even if you’re lonely, even if you doubt your decision, even if you need a prom/wedding date, even if he just wants to snuggle. Don’t go back.

Except when you should go back. More than anything else, the rules of love are meant to be broken. If you do go back, though, do it out of love and not necessity. If you choose not to go back, then for the love of God, give yourself some time to be single. The obvious reasons are the ones that everyone and their mother tell you: rebounds never work out, you need time to heal wounds, focus on yourself. The reason that we tend to miss is also the most simple—do it just to know that you can. If you jump from relationship to relationship, you are enforcing your own fear that you can’t be single. That you will never be loved again. That you will never find love like that again. Fear is not an effective motivator for a healthy relationship.”

I do wish somebody had said these words to me back then. But the truth is that I wouldn’t have listened. Even if I had listened, I was nowhere near the level of maturity required to follow through. I had to learn this lesson the hard way, and I’m still learning it now. For the first time in my life, though, I think I have what it takes to be single. This sounds stupid to most people, who have been single for the majority of their lives. Single is the default status, and there’s nothing you have to do really to achieve it. For those of us who are serial monogamists, however, singlehood is the most terrifying motherfucker on this planet. I’ve gone through very difficult things in my life, and none of those things has been as hard as being single.

I think it’s important for me to recognize that. That way, if I suddenly become an unproductive member of society, I won’t chastise myself. I’ll let myself be lazy and self-indulgent and depressed for a while. But then I know that I’ll learn something critical—it’s not that bad to be single. In fact, I love traveling alone. I love knowing I can move to another city without considering someone else. I love flirting up a storm with strangers without having to drop a “my boyfriend” into the conversation. If I shed the part of me that is a BPD-driven identity crisis, I am the kind of person who thrives on singledom. I am strong, I am independent, I am free.

I can do this.

Are any of you serial monogamists? What do you find hard about being single?

Au revoir,


CW: Stop Apologizing

Coping With...

This post is part of the Coping with… series, in which I will share my experiences with Borderline Personality Disorder. Whether you also have BPD or you struggle with depression, anxiety, and stress, I hope this series will be helpful to you.

Chances are, if you have BPD or any mental disorder, you’ve done a lot of apologizing. Why? Because you’ve probably made a lot of mistakes. We tend to make more mistakes than society deems acceptable. We’re the crazy girlfriends who run through streets screaming “rape” while our bewildered boyfriends chase us. We’re the sloppy drunks who inevitably end up passed out on bathroom floors at every party. We’re the college dropouts who cannot “achieve our potential” no matter how our parents encourage us, threaten us, manipulate us. When we get rich and famous, we’re the ones on the tabloid covers, cheating and getting high and killing ourselves.

It’s no wonder we apologize. We apologize over and over again. We don’t know why we can’t just suck it up and be like everyone else, an upstanding citizen. We believe we are weak, and we try harder. Then we fail, and we apologize some more. At some point, those who love us are sick of our apologies, and those words “I’m so sorry” sound false even to our ears. Inevitably, we come to the conclusion that we are simply bad. That we are terrible people, bad influences for our children, unfaithful lovers to our spouses, unending disappointments to our parents. This realization fills us with shame, which then drives us to commit more mistakes, fueling the cycle once again.

Today, I’m saying these words for all of us, me included, to hear: stop apologizing. Please, for the love of God, stop apologizing. Obviously, I’m not saying that you should avoid “I’m sorry” at all costs. If you hurt someone, apologize. But stop apologizing for who you are. Stop apologizing for the fact that you make “shitty” decisions, for being “weak”, for not being good enough. Stop apologizing for the fact that, on some days, you can’t get out of bed. Stop apologizing for the fact that, on other days, you can’t get in it. Stop apologizing for the fact that, today, homework wasn’t done and job applications weren’t submitted and laundry is yet to be done. Stop apologizing for who you fall in love with. Stop apologizing for not knowing who you are or what you want.

Why? Because you are not who your family, friends, or therapist says you are. Your reality is not theirs and they cannot judge you. You cannot be expected to function according to their rules when you were given a different set of tools to work with. You are not sick; you are simply different. You’re the duck in a gaggle of geese and no matter how much you stretch, your neck will never be as long as theirs. But that’s okay. Because you’re the one with colorful markings and you will never shit as much as they do.

The sad truth is that there will always be more of them than you and they will rarely be able to understand you. So you will have to learn to adapt, to blend in, to interact with them. You will never be the same as them, but you can learn to love them and they you. You can give them a chance to love you, even when by their standards you’re not “worth it”. You’re not the one who gets to decide if you’re worth loving.

If someone is able to see you for who you really are and accept that, listen to them, but never without caution. If someone judges you without knowing you, then tell them to fuck off and don’t apologize for it. Let yourself make mistakes. Make life-changing, earth-shattering, irreversible mistakes and then wake up the next day and realize that you’re just human, like everyone else. So maybe we’re not so different after all.

Do you find yourself apologizing often? Do you ever think of yourself as simply “bad”?

À bientôt,


What I Learned in Germany

Dogs enjoying the German countryside.

Dogs enjoying the German countryside.

Don’t worry, guys. I haven’t fallen off the face of the earth after graduation. I just spent the past two weeks in Germany with Hans. I’ve never been one for travel blogging, with the exception of the Asia series, so I won’t tell you how to spend your next vacation. Instead, I’ll tell you what I learned about myself during my repose, most of which has little to do with Germany. For a little bit of context, this trip came at a precarious point in life, in many different respects. We left the day after my graduation and it felt bittersweet, like running away from a former lover with a new one. Oh college, how I would miss those four years of time during which I learned how to learn, how to love, how to fail. How I would miss the joy and forgiveness that accompany the privilege of experiencing adult freedoms without adult responsibilities. I took mementos of my former lover into my new world — during bouts of nostalgia, I sought solace in Gabriel García Márquez’s lyrical Spanish in Love in the Time of Cholera.

Ready for my flight!

(Somewhat) ready for my flight.

For the most part, while I was in Germany, I was happy to be disconnected from my life in Ann Arbor. Besides the occasional nightmare about failing a class and the job situation, I successfully avoided thinking about the past and the future. All that, I thought, could wait for my return. Surprisingly, though, I must have tackled many of the question marks looming over my head without recognizing it. Because now, as I sit at my laptop less than 24 hours after setting foot on American soil, the answers are sitting patiently at my fingertips.

This morning, the first thing I felt was the urge to write. Once I opened up a blank page in front of me, I knew, the rest would come. So without further ado, new revelations in the life of Rebecca Cao, courtesy of Germany:

  1. Even the most experienced travelers can experience culture shock. At this point, I thought I’d seen it all — neither China’s squatting toilets nor Paris’ homeless families appalled me. Yet being immersed in a foreign culture, one that I knew little about prior, was overwhelming.
  2. I still don’t like traveling. I don’t mean that I don’t like to travel to other countries; I mean that I don’t like to do the typical tourist hit-and-run. This is why I enjoyed my time at Hans’ parents’ village home more than our brief voyages to Budapest and Munich.
  3. America is, undeniably, one of the best places to live. I never really understood why people from all over the world come to the US. I thought that China was more fun, Taiwan had better food, Spain had more history, France was more beautiful. Now, I finally understand that America is comfortable in a way that nowhere else matches.
  4. I didn’t make a mistake in signing my lease. After apartment-hunting for one grueling month, I ended up taking a place rather hastily. As I worried about making rent and being flat broke, I wondered if this was a mistake. This morning, as I contemplated the prospect of staying home at my mom’s place all day, I realized I couldn’t live here another year.
  5. I’m going to work hard, play hard. Now that I’m on a budget, I didn’t know if I could keep up luxuries such as driving, horseback riding, and my unpaid job. I now know that I want to keep those things, for my own happiness, and I’m going to take on as many additional jobs as necessary to do that.
  6. I’m going to keep editing and writing. I’ve been less than productive on the novel end, partially because I’ve been waiting on my agent’s feedback. When I go to China in a week, I’m going to get back to editing, even if I haven’t heard from her by then. After I’m finished editing, I’m going to start a new novel.
  7. My happiness is my own responsibility. This is something I’ve known for a while, but I’ve been reminded of it these past few weeks. Sometimes, you have to take care of yourself, because no one else can.
  8. You will always hurt people and you can never be completely fair. Sometimes, the least and the most you can do is to be honest.
  9. I’m still dependent on my parents, and that’s okay. I’ve been putting pressure on myself to be financially independent of my parents and to live as though the savings in my account are all I have to fall back on. But the truth is that I am lucky to have supportive parents and it’s okay to lean on them a little if I need it.
  10. I want to attend NYU law. So it’s a bit early for that, and I’m still applying to a handful of schools in the fall. But I’m increasingly convinced that it’s the right place for me, and that international law is what I want to do.

What are some post-grad lessons you learned? What do you miss about college?



CW: How to Be More Mindful

Coping With...

This post is part of the Coping with… series, in which I will share my experiences with Borderline Personality Disorder. Whether you also have BPD or you struggle with depression, anxiety, and stress, I hope this series will be helpful to you.

Mindfulness. It’s one of those buzz words that Life Coaches™ use to draw you in, and before you know it you’re wondering what color your aura is and if you should rearrange your furniture to be more zen. I’m the last person to buy into New Age bullshit and the word meditation makes my blood pressure rise — sitting still and doing nothing makes me more angry than anything else. Yet these days, I’ve been trying to be more mindful without actually thinking about that particular word. Because really, mindfulness is at the core of DBT, the only form of therapy that has been shown to treat BPD. When I was in therapy, I never received DBT because my therapist was a PhD-in-philosophy, psychoanalysis-certified, no-labels woman who was probably judging me for the way I signed my checks while wondering about the purpose of my life. After learning a bit more about DBT, though, I’m considering going back to therapy for it.

My face when people talk to me about mindfulness.

My face when people talk to me about my aura.

You see, mindfulness is essentially the opposite of dissociation. In layman’s terms, dissociation is when you disconnect from reality and from yourself. Almost everyone experiences it in the most harmless form — daydreaming. For those of us who struggle with BPD and other disorders, however, dissociation becomes a serious issue. I remember having frequent out-of-body experiences as a child, during which I’d wonder where my mind would go after my body had died. My nightmares were of being able to fly or jump really high, but not being able to come back down. When I drank a bit too much, I’d stare at my reflection in the mirror and not recognize myself. Even now, driving is stressful sometimes because I think about all the ways I could possibly crash. Just a little turn of the wheel and I’ll cross into the other lane, in front of the oncoming traffic. What would it matter if I died? Is life real anyway, or is it all an illusion? If I spun my car into that ditch over there, would I just wake up in an alternate universe? 

I try to stay away from cliffs, roofs, and balconies for the same reason. The urge to jump is almost unbearable sometimes. It’s not that I’m suicidal; it’s that I’m not quite convinced this life is real.

Over the years, I’ve been using DBT/mindfulness coping mechanisms, unbeknownst to me. When I’m overwhelmed by my emotions, so much so that my body begins to react to stimuli that doesn’t exist, I’ve been known to hide in closets. Feel free to make as many “coming out of the closet” jokes as you like. I love closets. I used to sleep in them instead of my four-poster, king-sized bed. In the darkness and safety of a closet, I feel that at last I’m in harmony with myself. For once, my mind and body are in the same place. I also enjoy activities that require physical exertion and hand-eye coordination, like sports and playing piano. The cold surface of black and white piano keys against my freshly trimmed fingernails is one of the most satisfying feelings in the world. I study in coffee shops because I need the constant chatter around me to remind me that I’m human. I love the airport because it’s one of the only places where I can be alone and yet fully present.

The problem is that some of my preferred activities have an anti-mindful effect. Or, perhaps, you could say that they require a state of dissociation. When I’m writing, I’m as detached from reality as possible — I even enter a parallel universe that is often as real to me as this life. Music, films, TV shows all take me to a similar place. This type of escapism can be healthy, but in moderation. Especially as someone with BPD, I have to be extremely careful.

Lately, I’ve been swept up in a swirl of emotions that have made mindfulness difficult. In light of that, I’ve composed a list of exercises BPD ass-kickin’ skills:

  1. Hide in a closet. Because, well, duh. Okay, this might not be the healthiest thing to do…I’m not sure “hide” is a very positive word either. But until I find more socially acceptable yet effective methods, this will have to do.
  2. Write about your feelings. Lately, I’ve been writing things I can’t say on paper. Sometimes in Spanish. I wrote an email to someone I no longer speak to, and then deleted it because I no longer needed to say it.
  3. Get a pet. There’s nothing like a warm, fuzzy friend to bring you back to earth.
  4. Cuddle. Whether it’s your dog, your boyfriend, or your body pillow, don’t forget your daily cuddle time.
  5. Smell things. I bought myself Rosemary-Mint, Lavender, and Rose candles to light when times get tough.
  6. Work out. That or general physical labor. It’s easy to forget you have a body when you don’t feel your body.
  7. Walk around naked. You’ll feel lots of stuff.
  8. Describe an object. When you’re feeling overwhelmed, stop thinking, pick up something — a rock, a shirt, a phone — and describe it, i.e. “This is soft and stretchy, and it smells like armpit.”
  9. Limit your alone time. Alone time is healthy, but it can lead to severe dissociation. Sometimes, you just have to get up and go somewhere with humans in the vicinity.
  10. Get alone time. Yeah, I know what I just said. Sometimes, though, being with certain people can trigger dissociation, and it’s better to just leave the situation.
  11. Find an ice pack. Put it against your forehead or your stomach if you’re especially masochistic. Cold showers also do the trick.
  12. Cook something. It doesn’t have to be fancy. Just physically handling the food and tasting it and feeling the texture will help.
  13. Turn off the music. When your Pandora playlist leaves you feeling lost and confused, turn it off and listen to the ticking of the clock, the creaking of the house, the howling of the wind.
  14. Talk to yourself. This seems counter-productive, since you’re kind of treating yourself like a separate person, but it can help you reconnect with reality. Don’t be surprised if you catch me saying to myself, “Come on, you, let’s go. Get up now, attagirl.”
  15. Talk to someone. It helps to hear about other people’s life crises. If no one’s around, you can always talk to the air. I know someone who takes nightly drives just to scream at the top of her lungs.

That’s all I’ve got for now. Have any of these worked for you? Do you have any more to add?

Hasta pronto,


Spring Update

It’s been a while since I blogged. Life has been surprisingly hectic as of late. I haven’t been busy in the traditional sense — after all, I only had 13.5 credits this semester. My earliest class was at 1 pm. Yet I feel like I’ve been running around without a moment to breathe in weeks. And now, I’m at the espresso bar and it’s slowly starting to sink in. Yesterday, when I left painting early because I was sick of my mandala, that was the last class of my life. As an undergrad, at least. I’m not sure what kind of classes await me in law school, but I know I’ll never again get to analyze medieval Cult of the Virgin Mary mystical poetry. I’ll never again get to argue the merits of African feminism. I’ll never again see my openly gay professor grab her crotch in an imitation of Celestina, the first pimp in history.

My professor wanted to know what "personal narrative" the squirrel symbolized. I stared at her blankly.

My professor wanted to know what “personal narrative” the squirrel symbolized. I stared at her blankly.

A few minutes ago, I went to see an apartment on Kingsley because I just found out I’ll be staying around for another year. Oh right, I should probably update you guys on that! As you may remember, unfortunately I didn’t get the two scholarships I applied for, the Fulbright and the Princeton in Asia. After job hunting across the continental United States, I ended up finding the perfect internship here in Ann Arbor. For my gap year, I’ll be working at MIRC, the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center. Their Ann Arbor office focuses on doing legal work for victims of violence, which could be anything from divorce to citizenship. I’m incredibly excited to be exposed to immigration law and to work directly with Spanish and Mandarin speaking clients. My translation skills in Mandarin are null, as I’m illiterate (even after nine years of Chinese school), but I can interpret. Hopefully, this will be an awesome way to keep up and improve mi español.

As I slip off the cloak of safety that is being an undergrad, my search for an apartment perfectly embodies my reluctant yet inevitable descent into adulthood. You see, when I started looking for a place, I thought it would be simple. After all, historically I have not been picky about living situations. The dorm life was, for me, amazing. I loved communal showers, building block furniture, dirty roommates. When I half-lofted my bed sophomore year, the stands holding up the bed frame were uneven. To resolve the rocking issue, I stuffed tissue paper in one of the corners. NBD. On some level, I even enjoyed the house parties that woke me up every Saturday morning and the fire alarms that would go off in the dead of the night. Though I complained about the food, the dining hall was a haven for me — no matter what was going on in my life, I could go there and feel safe. Junior year, I had an apartment at Corner House with three other girls. Though I had to share a room and living space, I didn’t mind. This past year, I’ve been living at home, something I never thought I’d do.

So yeah, when I started apartment hunting recently, I thought I’d done it all. I could live anywhere — there was nothing that would faze me. Boy, was I wrong. In just a few weeks, I’ve gone from anything-goes to picky as hell. Unfortunately, that means that 1) I still haven’t found a place, 2) my budget has increased $400, and 3) I now need a paying job to support my unpaid job.

Story of every recent grad’s life: how do I make rent while working a job I can actually stand? Recent grad life lesson #1: you are not as employable as you think you are. Recent grad life lesson #2: go back to school. Recent grad life lesson #3: you are still dependent on your parents.

Yup, I think I’m officially an adult. What’s something you learned/are learning as a recent grad?

Ciao ciao!