The intersection of mental health and a career

Oh the irony. After writing yesterday about punctuality and my inability to wake up at a reasonable hour, I woke up this morning at 8:30am, despite 3 phone alarms set to max volume. I made it to work at the reasonable hour of 9:45. Oops? My colleagues teased me, “Vanilla, you should go to bed earlier!”

Kinda, maybe. I typically go to bed between 11-11:30pm, so 8 hours of sleep brings me to 7-7:30am. Yet, periodically, I need more than 8 hours of sleep. My sweet spot is 9 hours per night. After many years dealing with my unregulated emotions and my delightful brain, I have learned that it is in everyone’s interests that I be well rested: from a productive standpoint, and from a human interaction perspective too. It is much harder for me to manage my anxiety when I am tired, and there have been many times in the past where my paranoid brain has taken over in the workplace, and resulted in a unfortunate meltdown or overreaction, which can have real consequences on client relationships, staff development and smooth teamwork. I refuse to excuse those moments by my mental health moments: I am a professional. It is my responsibility to manage all the circumstances in my life and work environment such that I can deliver the services that I am paid very well to provide. So when I have an anxious meltdown – that’s on me. I debrief what my triggers were, how to avoid and manage them such that I don’t repeat the same behaviour.

So yes. I should wake up earlier. Get more alarm clocks, louder ones, be disciplined and not hit the snooze button. All that is true.

What is also true is that last night, I was asleep by 11pm. I woke up at 1am in a full-fledged anxiety attack (as mentioned, my anxiety and depression symptoms have resurfaced this summer). It took an hour of breathing exercises, self-talk, and other coping techniques to fall back asleep. It was exhausting. So when I woke up an hour later than expected this morning, while a little embarrassed at how it would be perceived at work, I was aware that clearly my body and brain needed the extra sleep to recover.

I have 2 bosses. I functionally report to CFO-boss approximately 40% of the time, and I directly report to Direct-boss the rest of the time. Year-end evaluations, etc are all handled by Direct-boss. Direct-boss doesn’t have (to my knowledge) any mental health issues. However, she knows mine (ADD, anxiety, depression). She has made it very clear that as long as I deliver on all the objectives and projects that are given to me (there is no special consideration in the allocation of these: they are challenging, just as I like them) and provide the support and mentorship required of me by my team, she does not care how excentric my behaviour. Basically, as long as neither the company, nor any of the staff, have negative consequences from my quirky behaviour, I can do me as much as I’d like. She’d much rather I be unusual in my work habits, but work to my full capacity, than I try unhappily standardize myself, and expend useless energy on non-value added behaviours like showing up on time. Wise boss.

Having had a wide variety of bosses, I’ve learned to value such open-mindedness. It allows me to concentrate on the important stuff and to showcase my strengths, instead of stressing about minimizing my weaknesses.

Would that more bosses adopt similar attitudes (when appropriate – I’m not advocating this in all circumstances, obviously). I bet the stigma of mental health would decrease dramatically.

#grateful

 

Punctuality really isn’t my thing. Mornings neither.

Back when I worked at a Big 4 accounting firm, my tardiness was legendary. I periodically rolled into the office at 9:30, 10:00, 10:30… But as I worked 60 hour weeks, frequently staying until the wee hours of the morning, nobody really complained. I had my staff and all the partners trained to never bother scheduling any client meetings with me before 9:30 at the earliest, because I just wouldn’t show up, sleeping right through it. It wasn’t that I didn’t value punctuality, teamwork or the importance of good customer service, it was just an accepted fact that I couldn’t wake up that early.

When I quit that job to head into industry 2 years ago, all my coworkers roasted me on the necessary changes I’d have to make to my lifestyle, as that kind of tardiness just isn’t acceptable in most companies. At my first job in industry, I cleared it with my boss (VP Finance): as long as I showed up by 9:30, he wouldn’t consider me late. In appreciation of this reasonable concession, I made a point of always showing before 9… sometimes even as early as 8am! I boasted of my earlybird timing when interviewing for my current job, last September. My prospective boss was all admiration, but told me that most of the team started around 8:30, so really no need to come in earlier.

Inevitably, since starting my current job 10 months ago, I’ve succeeded in showing before 9am maybe 4 times. I can’t explain it. Its not a question of commute, as it is almost next door to my former job, approximately 10 minutes closer to chez moi. My body just cannot get out of bed before 7:45… which makes it pretty damn hard to get to work before 9am when my commute is 40-50 mins long! Two months ago I showed up 45 minutes late to an 8:30am meeting with my two bosses (one of whom is the CFO of the division) and a supplier – the only explanation I could offer was an apologetic shrug, and a “I can’t do mornings”. CFO-boss could see how very contrite I was, but he was confused: he is a morning-type, usually at the office typing away at his laptop by 7:30am.

Well.

Next week, on Monday-Tuesday, we (CFO-boss and myself) will be hosting an important visitor from our parent company, flying in specifically to see us in Montreal from head office in Paris. To be fully ready for that meeting (day kicks off at 8:30am! YUCK!) I need to follow up on some issues with one of our subsidiaries in Germany. Unfortunately for me, the controller in Germany is on vacation this week, so the only time I can get the required information from him prior to the appearance of my visitor is by having a 7:30am (SEVEN THIRTY!!!!!!!!!!!) conference call with the German controller on Monday morning.

CFO-boss has kindly offered to call me on my cell at 6:30am to make sure I am awake and headed to the office. This is both embarrassing and the only practical solution to this disaster in my life.

#preemptivefail

#noshame

#fml

Saying goodbye to boxing

I quit boxing last night.

I could walk you through all the scheduling problems I was facing caused by my decision to go back to school part time in creative writing; how I was doing crazy contortions trying to figure out how to squeeze in the mandatory 3x/week boxing workouts to remain in our gym’s competitive program. But really, those details don’t matter. Because at the core, I knew that if I was still in love with boxing, I’d find a way to make it work – the crazy schedule would feel worthwhile. Instead, I was filled with dread. Warning sign #1.

Warning sign #2 has been growing over the past several weeks. Boxing and its emotional impact has always been closely related to my mental health – I explain that in detail here. Boxing has taught me so much about myself, lessons that I have taken from the ring and applied to my life.

My latest breakthrough in sparring has come with a surge of confidence. Hit me? I’ll be sure to hit you back. To dissuade you from wanting to hit me, I’ll occasionally hit you first, and I won’t hit kindly. Similarly, in my real life, I’ve come to terms with the fact that I will not please everyone. I’d rather be respected, stay true to myself, and live with the knowledge that I am not universally liked, than expend energy constantly molding myself into a persona that will please everyone and all their quirks. That means I’ll say what needs to be said, regardless of whether or not my audience will like my message. I’ll formulate my message with respect, but I will no longer edit the content.

I am SO grateful that I have learned this crucial lesson of assertiveness – with every day, I am increasingly comfortable with my right to assertiveness. It is rewarding and liberating to speak my mind and own my life.

However, as my struggles to avoid the seductive pull of depression have increased over the summer, I noticed that boxing did not continue to bring me positive lessons. My challenge has been to resist the perpetual negative voices in my head that chip away at my self-esteem, brought on primarily by staying involved with a boy who had no intention of making me his girlfriend as well as navigating the difficult circumstances of supporting a friend in need who has no desire to be supported. I have chosen to place myself in both of those situations, and I am aware that the strain on my well-being is the cost of making those choices. Overall, I still am at peace with my choices – I chose to err on the side of generosity, love and friendship; the failure to achieve a happy outcome can never be laid at my door, nor would it have justified not trying. It remains, however, that I feel like I have fought a season-long battle against my paranoid brain that delights in taking the plethora of little incidents and twisting them into food for my deep insecurities of being unloveable, inadequate and undesirable. Being aware of my brain’s tricks makes its assault no less exhausting.

It is that constant assault that has ruined boxing for me. Every time I’ve stepped into the gym, I feel dread at having to steel myself enough to throw a punch, or take one. I don’t have anything left for this optional battle. What I want is the absence of punches, either metaphorical or physical. I need a break, a wee vacation. Life, and my brain, are throwing plenty my way, and I am fighting back as hard as I can. I don’t want to fight additional fights, that could be avoided by my simple decision to pursue other activities. Activities such as dancing, writing, ballet, yoga, running, or spending time with friends who love me and provide an essential counter-narrative to my paranoid brain that tries to drown out happiness with sorrow and misery. In boxing, a complete boxer needs a variety of skills: blocking punches isn’t enough. By choosing activities that bring me joy, I am counter-attacking my paranoid brain with skill and determination.

I am, and always will be, a boxer. But right now, the ring is my brain, as I fight against its determination to make me its victim once again. Like all the greatest champions, I have conviction I’ll win this battle.

Possibly the only thing he has ever said that I agree with. Beautiful boxer though.

And the award for best prank goes to…

I awoke this morning to this delectable item on my Facebook newsfeed. Bballer got pranked!!

Cat prank

And in case you are wondering what these cat facts might look like; relax and enjoy the following.

Bballer started off the fight swinging:

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But then he fell asleep.

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By this morning, he’d admitted defeat.

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Ailurophilia that!

After a few hours of detective work, Bballer identified the culprit. His revenge? The culprit will be receiving a LOT of kijiji (Qc’s version of craigslist) calls…

#somanyLOLs

Navigating someone else’s depression

Remember Porcupine? My good friend who not only has had a rather shit life, but currently is going through a firestorm of an unfair, disastrous crisis? Of course, since it is Porcupine, the Universe is making this affliction as drawn out as possible. It started 3 months ago, and has no end in sight for another 6-12months. It breaks my heart. As Porcupine’s firestorm worsens, I’m as confident as a non-medical practitioner can be, he is tumbling ever more deeply into a depression. A bad one. Surprising? Hell no. What IS surprising to me is how he avoided depression before these past few months. The guy is a source of never-ending inspiration.

Most of the time.

Here’s the thing. As the weeks go by, I’m finding it harder and harder to ignore just how much of a dick Porcupine can be. I’m uncomfortable acknowledging this, even less writing it, without rushing into paragraphs of disclaimers proving that I understand how depression can appear as selfishness to the outsider, when it is actually caused by the overwhelming pain blotting out almost every other possible sensation. I’m not sure if, because of my own history of depression, he knows he can let his guard down around me, take a breather from the burden of appearing normal. I’m delighted to give him that gift of space and not having to keep up the pretence of being normal. But when he lets his guard down, what he shows is sometimes hurtful and repellent. I don’t expect him to be a saint with all he has going on, and the injustice of it all makes his anger and rage very understandable. I try discount most of it. I try ignore a lot of it. I tell myself is not the time to expect the normal reciprocity of friendship.

But I am finding it hard. The rudeness of his frequent silences, born of apathy of being unable to muster the energy to answer texts; the resentment of feeling taken for granted – he knows I won’t get miffed. Walking on eggshells – trying to get him to talk about anything, only to be met with sighs of disinterest. Occasionally asking how he is doing, only to get snapped at that he doesn’t want to talk about it. Trying to be there for him, only to get what seems like endless reminders that he does not fucking want me there.

I’m torn with accepting the signals I am getting, leaving his unpleasantness miserably alone, and real concern with how badly he is doing. He has isolated himself from most of his friends, I know, and has limited how much most of them know about his current mess – I think they believe he is just a bit busier than normal, and is taking a bit more time for himself, not aware that this time, he needs support and help. I don’t think he realizes he is being a total asshole with me. I tried to make it clear that I am separating real-Porcupine-my-friend from stressed-out-rude-unpleasant-possibly-depressed-Porcupine, and that I only have issues with the 2nd alter-Porcupine, but basically my message was internalized as another example of how quick people are to judge incorrectly. Which isn’t totally false right now – I am judging, which is a failure in and of itself.

I’m worried for myself. I know that my trials and tribulations must undoubtedly appear like Marie-Antoinette’s to him. I feel a little ashamed at how weak my mental health is. But it is what it is… and I have seen my own symptoms of anxiety and depression reappear with increasing frequency over the past 2 months, as I continue to hang out with him. He is a vortex of despair.

So yeah. Don’t want to bail on my friend when he has so few ppl around him, and when by ANY possible yardstick, his life sucks balls right now. A friend in need is a friend indeed. But I’m having a real hard time staying there for him, and have no idea how to navigate this – how can you be there for someone who 95% of the time is hurting so bad, he just disappears, and when he does surface, it is self-evident he is counting down the seconds until he can disappear again? I wish he would get help, but my hints have fallen on deaf ears. I think I am supposed to give space, something I am rather skilled at doing… when my friends are NOT going through a crisis. I have trouble staying away when I am very concerned about my dear ones. For all I know, I am just another source of stress for him. Trying to get that line just right between giving space, and keeping a steady line of support, and my selfish worry/anxiety everytime he goes silent for close to 36 hours because I am scared of what that means.

Anyone with any advice of how to actually practice love… your advice is welcome. Help me be a true friend, without jeopardizing my own mental health.

Aiming for happiness

I’ve been single for 6 years, during which time I’ve only met 1-2 guys that I would have liked to see develop into a relationship. During these 6 years, I’ve heard ad nauseum “you’ll only ever meet someone once you are truly happy with yourself” and “the more you want it, the less likely you are to meet anyone because you’ll come across as desperate. Just stop caring about meeting anyone, and then it will just happen”.

Talk about the most annoying advice EVER. If Oprah says it, it must be true.

I could see how the first part applied to me, when I was in throws of depression – not exactly the best mindset for vulnerability and intimacy. But now that I have been symptom-free for over a year, that statement was no longer was relevant to me. I have a good job, I travel, have amazing friends… Life is aight, y’all. As for the 2nd statement, I also didn’t feel it particularly applied to me: sure, I want to meet someone, and build a life with them, start a family… but as that is something COMPLETELY outside of my control, I don’t exactly spend my days worrying about it. Occasionally, I do stay awake at night, anxious about dying a cat-less cat-lady, but really, after 6 years and no prospects, can you blame me? Overall, I’m doing alright, living my life.

Well, according to Qc cousin #2, nope. I got it all wrong. By yearning low-key for the couple lifestyle, I am not enjoying what I currently have. And if I am not enjoying what I currently have… logically, I am not fully happy.

You know when you come face to face with a truth that you’ve been doing your darndest to avoid acknowledging? Yeah. That moment is both awesome and uncomfortable.

I’ve spent so much of my life trying to get my depression under control. The relief of not being depressed seemed like such an improvement that it didn’t occur to me that I could actually aim for more: aim for happiness. I never believed that I was worthy of happiness, nor did happiness ever seem within my grasp – as I was too distracted by the demons trying to drown my mind. I never realized that the pursuit of happiness was something that applied to me, a worthwhile venture. The accountant in me always thought that for something to be worthwhile it had to have a practical, value-added purpose. And while I do enjoy the practical aspects of my job, and the opportunity to exercise my intelligence, there are so many other aspects to my personality that aren’t getting expressed. My life is not fulfilling.

I have no idea if or when the Universe will throw Mr. Right my way. Apparently, the Universe doesn’t mind making me wait a helluva long time. That is a helluva long time to have an unfulfilling life. I better get cracking and start enjoying myself. Truly enjoying myself. Owning that some of the things that will make me happy are completely trivial and frivolous. But that’s ok – because I will be happy.

Suddenly I have dreams, goals and projects. Off the top of my head, these are the things that I want in my life that will make me happier.

  • I like dancing. So I have signed up for salsa once a week.
  • I love ballet. So I have signed up for a weekly beginners class for adults. I always thought there was no point for me to take classes, because I know that I don’t have the body to be a ballerina. It never occurred to me that I could still do it just because it gave me joy.
  • Writing matters to me – my secret dream is to one day get published. A dream so impossible I am almost ashamed of it. Be as that may be, might as well work towards it. I will do a diploma in Creative Writing at my local Uni’s department for Continuing Education.
  • I’m definitely going to continue with boxing. But at least I am honest enough now to admit that my main motivation is vanity – there is no better workout, and I love having an admirable figure. All the other benefits to boxing are also nice: the social interaction with my awesome teammates, the personal challenge, the mental toughness. I appreciate them. But really? I just want a cute ass. I am ok with admitting that.
  • At the ripe old age of 32, I’m finally admitting that I want children. But as that is something outside of my control, in the mean time, imma channel all this love I have to give by volunteering with children. This is still TBD – I *think* I want to read books to children at the children’s hospital, but imma take the time to find the activity that feels just right.
  • The list of places I want to travel to is looooong – I’ve revisited the budget to make sure I can take 1-2 good trips a year.
  • I’ll buy my dream condo within the next 2 years. And when I do? Pretty sure I want a puppy.
  • I really like nail polish. Imma set aside a couple of hours every week or two to do my nails. Because having pretty colors on the tips of my fingers brings a smile to my face during the week.

Suddenly, life seems a LOT more interesting. And my singleness rather irrelevant – I got shit to do!!

Cue Frozen’s Let it Go.

I fail at feeling sorry for myself

I’m feeling slightly raw from my non-breakup with my non-boyfriend. Reasonable. It is sad.

Today, Eminem is not helping. I drifted to one of my other favorite bands, Walk Off The Earth. Listening to their playlist on loop. Not noticing that I was hitting repeat on one song in particular:

And even as I gloried in all the hyperbolic feels, letting the lyrics move me, bringing a tear or two to my eye, part of my brain was mildly concerned that this was a symptom of psychosis.

Is this a bad thing? Am I really that immature? Can I even listen to this song if I am not wearing any tighty whities? At least we have the same hair. WHAT IF THIS IS CAUSED BY ALL THE BLEACH IN MY HAIR? I must have brain damage.

Except I really like this song. Nah, Imma own my feelings. This is beauty. Art transcends Miley Cyrus. OMG I just associated art with Miley Cyrus. OMG I just said OMG. I AM BECOMING HER. Which, I suppose, isn’t that bad if it means I get to bang Liam Hemsworth… I was planning on becoming a nun and/or a cat-lady and avoiding men for the rest of my life, but I suppose I can make an exception for him…

HOW CAN I SAVE MYSELF? I need an intervention from this meltdown!!!

And before I know it, I’m watching Anne Hathaway and giggling hysterically.

I clearly don’t understand how to properly do a bruised heart.


During the past few weeks as I realized where we were headed, I listened frequently to these two songs:

In both cases, I could fancy that the lyrics had been written by Beaut & my own common sense admonishing me to accept that ours was not destined to be a happy outcome.

Today I listened to them again, regretfully. But such is the power of music, that I was comforted by the reminder that I am clearly not the first to live through this kind of disappointment, nor will I be the last. These songs are testament to good things coming out of what ought to be a sad scenario.

Can’t exactly see what good things will come out of my own situation, but I’ll stay open-minded. Afterall, Liam Hemsworth is on the line.