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UCI Gave Me the Fresh Start I Did Not Know I Needed

When I was filling out my college applications in high school, I had the very normal expectation that I would go to a school, get my degree and graduate in four years. It was just one of those things that I counted on. I remember receiving my acceptance to UCSD and being filled with this sense of excitement. I would be moving across the country, but I did not care because it was finally my chance to get out of a town that was as small and gossipy as Stars Hollow. However, my life has never really worked out the way I thought it would and my college experience turned out to be no exception. Before I get into everything, I want to say that my time at UCSD is by no means a reflection on the school itself. I think it is a prestigious academic institution and offers a lot of great programs. It was simply where some of the hard times in my life have taken place but that has nothing to do with the school. 

For as long as I can remember, I have made the worst possible choices when it comes to my love life. It is almost like I have this pathological need to only go for guys who either treat me like garbage or who turn me into the worst possible version of myself. And the most frustrating part is that it takes me way too long to realize a relationship is unhealthy even when it is obvious to everyone else. The need to be in a relationship, any relationship, was like some kind of drug and I did not know how to kick the habit. I would tell myself that it would be different with this guy, that it would be better. It usually was different, but it was never better. My high school boyfriend was this seemingly perfect guy, but underneath it all he was cruel and manipulative. I stayed because I was too afraid to leave, but even when the relationship finally ended the repercussions of the trauma were still very much there. Going to college was my escape, he was 3000 miles away and I would be in a place where he would never show up. I figured that since he was out of my life, things would go back to how they were and that moving on would be easy. I wanted every relationship after that to work out so badly because I needed to prove to myself that I could attract a decent guy. But instead, I found myself in abusive relationships or relationships that I was not ready for. I was blind to the red flags. Every fight, every late night spent crying, every weak attempt to convince myself that things would change, completely drained me. It would be really easy for me to blame the guys here and say that they screwed me up and destroyed my mental health. But, I do not like the idea of victimizing myself and I am starting to realize that placing blame is useless. It is more important for me to take responsibility for my role in all this.

I have been so lost the last two years. Everyone told me college was about finding myself, but if this is what I had found, I seriously wanted to ask for a refund. After a particularly rough breakup, I realized I could not keep doing this to myself. I could not keep getting into relationships and expecting these guys to fix what I could not be bothered to take care of myself. I was tired of looking in the mirror and seeing this person who vaguely looked like me and yet was acting the exact opposite of how I wanted to. I felt so empty and nothing I did seemed to erase that. I needed to get out of this environment. I needed to give myself a second chance and a real shot at happiness. Most importantly, I needed to be ready to accept my flaws and start taking better care of myself. You know what they say about rock bottom—there is only one way left to go.  

UC Irvine came on my radar when I realized that the UC system has a program that lets you spend a quarter at another campus. I was in the midst of filling out transfer applications for the fall, but I needed to find a way to continue my education without being in San Diego. Irvine made sense from a geographical standpoint and, at the time, it was just a place that prevented me from completely derailing my graduation plan. I had no real feelings toward the school mainly because I did not want to get excited about anything. After everything that happened, I figured it would just be easier if I kept my expectations at bay. It was when I started planning out my schedule and really looking at UCI as more than a temporary stop that things started to change. I am a complete nerd about the things I love and being a Neuroscience major is one of them. When I saw classes that were exactly in the area I wanted to specialize in, the notion of not having feelings toward UCI went out the window. I refused to let that feeling subside as it was the first time in a while that I felt hopeful. There had been so much anxiety and uncertainty about my future and I stubbornly refused to admit that my decision to leave UCSD may have been hasty. UCI gave me the conviction that I could make a good choice and that something of value would come out of this mess.

On the first day of classes, I remember being thrilled at the seemingly inconsequential act of picking out a cute outfit. I tend to dress according to my mood and in, what I now look back as the “dark period”, sweats were the majority of my wardrobe. So, this was a huge victory for me because I usually take pride in how I look and I was regaining that sense of myself. It was just an ordinary day of classes, but it meant so much to me because I finally felt like I was not being weighed down by my past. Sure, it would always be a part of me in some way but I was not faced with constant reminders and there was something incredibly liberating about that. I had not realized that there was a real sense of fear that had essentially paralyzed me during the hard times in my life. It was a fear of the guys or a fear of myself and I had let that consume me because it was easier than fighting back. But enough was enough.

Although I will only be at UCI this quarter, the environment of this campus has been exactly what I needed and I plan on making the most of my time here. I think it is the things that happen to you in life, both good and bad, which show you what you are really made of. No, this is not how I saw my life panning out, but there is no point living in regret because that is all in the past. And yeah, part of it really sucked but I do not resent it as much anymore. I am on my way to being a person that actually portrays some resemblance to who I always thought I would be. I am sure there are some who will see my decision as a means of running away from my problems but, there is no way for me to control the perception of others. And honestly, I no longer care. It is not about them. It is about me doing what makes sense for me and there is no doubt in my mind that I did just that. It has been a long time since I have been able to say I am actually happy and I can do that now. I am not naïve to think that all my problems have been solved forever. If life was that easy, the world would be a perfect place. I have work to do, there is a lot of history and pain to unpack and deal with but I am ready to do it. UCI is not the place where I will receive a degree, but it is always going to be a very special place to me because it was where I started to believe that things would be ok.

Surya Swaroop

UC Irvine '20

Surya is a third year intercampus visitor student at UCI majoring in Cognitive Science/Neuroscience. She enjoys knitting, experimenting with vegan baking, and yoga.
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