It seems just like yesterday I blew out candles for my sweet 17th birthday party. Gone are the up-and-down days of awkward puberty. All of a sudden, I’m turning 25 this year. Am I getting wiser or just older?
There are many things that I probably should be able to achieve by now. But here I am, in San Francisco, still in my first year in college, worrying about my GPA. I am completely bewildered about the future and am questioning my life goals. How did I end up here?
I was a straight-A student for as long as I can remember. My mom taught me how important it is to be a perfectionist, which I often resent. She enrolled me in a drawing course, ballet lesson, and classes in just about every instrument: guitar, electronic organ, trumpet, and drum – a little too much to handle for a child. I used to win every academic competition the school urged me to join, and was one of the very few to be chosen for the gifted program.
At 14, I became an Indonesian delegate for UNEP international children’s conferences. It was not unusual for me to be in social situations with the president. As the Princess of the Environment 2005, one of my duties was to escort political leaders. I clearly remember one afternoon when, at 15, I accompanied the Indonesian Minister of Environment to plant the first tree at my hometown, Surabaya’s family tree campaign. The media were taking picture of us; it was chaotic and crowded. Ignoring the entire ruckus, one thing popped in my head: “Everyone is proud, but what do I really want?”
By 11th grade, after a terrible first breakup, I went from a top student to being on the brink of expulsion. My ex cheated on me with a very pretty girl, and then I became obsessive about my physical appearance and how I dressed. My interest in fashion was building during my high school years, and I was sketching clothes in class instead of listening to the lectures. I came to school for the art classes and ignored the rest. My thought was: High school is not important if I want to be a fashion designer. I missed six months of school but luckily, my parents, the school principal, teachers, and classmates pushed me to take the national final exam (they physically dragged me out of my house, all 42 of them), and thank God I still managed to graduate!
I wanted to be the next John Galliano; that was my life goal when I entered the fashion design program at Raffles Design Institute Singapore. I am pretty sure all of my lecturers remember me; not just because of my perfectionist projects, but because I failed to show up for most finals. Once the final was looming, I stopped going to classes and curled up inside my room, having panic attacks. I dropped out of college when I was 21, three months before my final graduation fashion show.
All through the ups and down of high school and college, I struggled with mood swings. I had multiple breakdowns and decided to seek professional help. Four doctors diagnosed me with severe bipolar disorder. I had no control over my emotions and suicidal thoughts often crossed my mind. I spent a year doing nothing, depressed, gained 40lbs, and was too ashamed to leave my room. The next two years were still very rough. I helped my mom’s business, selling machinery for factories and laboratories. The position was not for me and I wasn’t happy even though I could earn good money.
When I was 23 I got a job at the largest event organizer in Surabaya. It ended with a huge fight with my ex-boss because of my insubordination. He threw stuff from his table all over the room while yelling at me. I simply stopped coming to work and was hospitalized because of several major panic attacks that immobilized my body. My parents were very sad while trying to be supportive. My friends were scared of me. People called me crazy.
In 2014, I scrolled through an Instagram post: Dewi Magazine, one of the most prominent fashion magazines in Indonesia, was looking for an intern. I quickly applied, and it was the best decision. Life started to get better after I moved to the capital city of Jakarta. I enjoyed every bit of the internship, which surprised me – I’d never considered being a journalist or a stylist. My understanding about fashion was limited to the title “designer,” and I never saw any other possibilities to work in fashion industry. From then I realized that I love to write, I love to go to fashion events and review them for the public; I ultimately want to work for a fashion magazine.
Even though Dewi wanted to renew my contract, I couldn’t resist an opportunity to go to China for four months to learn the Chinese language. It was another good decision – I needed a change of atmosphere, and I learned about myself more than ever.
I was sitting in my Shanghai hotel room on my last day in China, alone, sipping my hot cup of Twinning’s tea, while watching The September Issue, a Vogue documentary featuring Anna Wintour and Grace Coddington. The two hours of magical moments made me decide to move to the United States and pursue my dream to build my career with an international magazine company. Over the next three weeks, I applied for my U.S. visa, grabbed my passport, and was ready for the next adventure: San Francisco. The Academy of Art University is the only school that offers a fashion journalism undergraduate program, and here I am happier than ever.
As an aspiring professional writer, my life philosophy is quite similar to the writing process. All writers know the idea of shitty first drafts; very few really know what they are doing until they’ve done it. Let the words pour out without being afraid to make mistakes. If I try to hold onto the obsessive idea of perfectionism, I will be insane my whole life. The only way to get anything done at all is to write the shitty first draft as a taxing first effort. The same thing with life; I needed to start somewhere. (MT)