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25th birthday landmark!

I started this blog post a week before my 25th birthday. I think everyone will have a "weird" birthday this year thanks to the novel Coronavirus. Despite the chaos we all have endured and continue to experience this year, I am very happy with my progress in life and the person I currently am, and who I will become. If Andrea, who typed this blog post, had the opportunity to speak to past Andrea from four years ago, I would have laughed or cried in disbelief. I was so incredibly miserable and unhappy during my early 20's. It wasn't until I turned 24 that my life and life situation started to improve.

I pursued a degree in music performance when I should have put my violin down long before then. I was not cut out to be a music major. I hated practicing, and I lacked the discipline to be a good musician. I should have gotten a Computer Science degree as that would help me out now, as a game designer and developer, but hey maybe one day, right?

Graduating from college should be a happy moment, and for most, it is. Family and friends gathered around to celebrate and cheer you on. Not I. I was in a terrible position with my family, and none of us could stand to be around each other. Years of baggage and emotional turmoil had built up and overflowed and had really severed whatever remaining ties we had. I played a huge role in why the fallout with my immediate family happened. Mistakes were made by both sides. Could I have done things better? Absolutely but like I said, mistakes were made. I was only 21 and blissfully aware of how cruel life was about to be. Unlike other friends who were traveling after graduation or enjoying their newfound freedom, I had to start working at a call center that paid nothing. Then I had to become a music teacher for a local public school.

I became a teacher because I had no choice. I was kicked out of my family's apartment and lives (exiting their lives was my choice and it had to be done). I needed a job that would help pay my rent and feed not only myself but also my beautiful cat Booster. I was not a good teacher; in fact, I was the worst teacher ever. I lacked passion and motivation. Now, my students weren't the best either, but it was no excuse. I do hope those students have found better teachers who inspire them and make learning fun. I was fortunate to have one or two classes of excellent students, and I hope they are doing well and succeeding in all the ways I know they can. When I was a teacher, I was empty. I had no goals, and my life seemed like a constant repeat of the same nightmare. There was no light at the end of the tunnel, and it felt that I was going to be a teacher forever. I was living for the weekend, and every Sunday night before having to go back to work, I would cry. This went on every week for more than eight months. Eventually, I was able to quit and started my path in the administrative assistant world. Then I lost my job that I quit teaching for, and THEN my cat Booster got so sick he had to be hospitalized for 3 days. He was diagnosed with a rare blood disorder that would put him in an anemic state. He was so anemic, and yet he was so loving and happy. He never stopped cuddling or being the fluffy companion I always loved. So there I found myself unemployed, broke, and stuck with a $3k hospital bill. Booster is perfectly happy now, and thanks to his medication, he is alive and happy with me. I was incredibly fortunate to have a friend who paid for Booster's blood transfusions/hospital bills, so I paid nothing. If I was truly alone, my baby Booster would not be here next to me, sleeping and dreaming of chasing mice.

After that hospital scare, I had to move to a different apartment in a different neighborhood because my old apartment was too expensive. It was excruciating to say goodbye to my first apartment that was my first home where I learned to be by myself and Booster's first home. Plus, I had lived in that neighborhood my whole life. It was tough to leave it, and even now, I still miss that apartment. It was my first home.

What I did while I was unemployed was get into game design. I started with Unreal Engine making landscapes with assets from the marketplace. I even entered an animation contest for FIEA (Florida Interactive Entertainment Academy) and somehow got 4th place. I was encouraged to apply, but I could not afford it financially or time-wise. I had to work full time to support myself and Booster. I was so mad at my family. After all, I felt that they were once again ruining or negatively affecting my life. Without their support, I had to sacrifice a lot of things. And while it is true, their actions put me in an unfair position, it is not like I played no role. As of today, I hold no ill-will towards them. I struggled and continue to do so but I can say loud and proud that I am here in a happier place because of me and my hard work. The pride that comes with that is truly unique and something that I cherish and helps define who I am.

I got a job as an administrative assistant for an incredibly disorganized sushi restaurant. My boss gave the word incompetent a whole new meaning. Most of our interactions resulted in me looking in the camera from The Office. I decided it was time to get my life together. You see, I had been so broke for so long my loans were close to defaulting. If I ever wanted to go back to school, my student loans would need to be in good standing. I was making $16 an hour as an admin assistant. Booster's vet visits were about $300 each, and my rent was $750, not including utilities and other expenses. How could I even think about school? Plus, it's not like I could attend classes. I had to work 40 hours a week to barely afford rent. I contacted the office for student loans and explained to them my situation. They must have taken pity on me because the person I spoke to cleared out all the interest I owed, consolidated my loans, and put me on an income-driven repayment plan. This gracious gesture allowed me to start paying back my loans and get them in good standing. I researched online schools for Game Design and Development and found myself at Lindenwood University, who accepted me in the Master's program for Game Design.

Despite the significant improvements in my life, I also experienced great loss. My grandma died in October. This is the first birthday where I won't get to hear her say "Happy birthday" to me. Despite the turmoil and toxicity of my Hispanic family, my grandma was the light of my life. She would tuck me in at night. She would sleep in my small bed that was too small for the two us until I fell asleep because I was scared. She believed in me and always supported me. I was incredibly spoiled by my grandparents. My mom was a single parent, so she couldn't afford to be around as much. I spent the first half of my life with my grandparents. I don't know what it is like to grow up with two loving parents who respect and care for one another. While it would have been nice to have that, I did have an unconditional love from my grandparents that I wouldn't trade for anything. I guess, in exchange for a father, I got two older parents who I owe everything to. They were there for me every day of my life. Every birthday, every holiday, every violin recital, every big moment, they were there. I would give almost anything to wake up on Sunday in my old house, watching cartoons with my brother, and hearing them open the door. My grandpa would come into our rooms and say, "Here comes the shark" and tickle us. My grandma would go into the kitchen and talk with my mom and bring us Peruvian breakfast (homemade). For a few hours, we would experience what I imagine a healthy family does and enjoyed pure quality time.

Despite all I have been through the past few years, today, I have a cool website, made some games with Unity (made the switch from Unreal Engine, thoughts on that later), attended GDC, mentored students who want to become game designers, and my professors love me. I also have an internship doing actual game design/QA testing. When I graduate, I have something to put on my resume as work experience. I work incredibly hard. I go to work, come home, do homework, exercise (weight lift 3 times a week and yoga 4 days a week), do some QA testing, play games, and sleep. This repeats 7 days a week. Have I had it easy? No. Have I sacrificed a lot and continue to do so? Yes. Are am I actually happy? Yes, and I continue to change and learn what happiness means to me. Believe me, I have my moments where I am so tired and overwhelmed but look how far I've come? I keep pushing because I can do this and so can you.

The moral of the story is that life can get better. Life isn't easy for most of us. We all have issues, baggage, and hardships to overcome. To anyone who has read my whole post, please understand that you can accomplish any dreams you have. My advice to you is

1) Find what fills you with joy. Find what gets you out of bed energetic and ready to take on the day. Follow your dreams and never look back.

2) Find good people/friends who build you up and support you. Also, make sure they give you a healthy dose of honesty. You don't want people who just tell you what you want to hear. You will never grow that way.

3) Adopt a pet if you're lonely and see how much joy they bring to your life (if you can afford it)

4) Set up healthy habits of thinking and living. Don't eat junk and stop eating out. It's a waste of money and calories. Make a quality meal for yourself. Get exercise and sleep well. Don't beat yourself up and learn to treat yourself with compassion. You can be your greatest asset or your greatest self-detriment.

5) Work on your dreams and goals every day of your life. Find the time and make the time. Ideally, you would want all day but sometimes that isn't possible and that's okay but make the time!

6) Remember that life can and will get better. Never give up on life or yourself.

Happy birthday to me!

I would like to dedicate this blog post and my success to 3 people.

1) My grandma. I miss you every day of my life. I hope I make you proud, and I love you. I work hard thanks to you and your unconditional love and support.

2) Booster, my beautiful cat. Thank you for letting me kiss your paws and that you sleep next to me all curled up. You make me so happy.

3) To my best friend in all the land, thank you for being my friend through all the ups and downs. If not for you, I would not be here. Thank you.

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