5 years ago my life changed

Anniversaries. I’m not the best at taking the time to celebrate those people and moments that matter. I forget, caught up in the current of every day triviality.


May 2012: I blew out my knee in kickboxing. Diagnosis: crutches and cane for 3 months + 9-months of daily physio to recover, with the possibility I’d never kickbox again. My identity as a cripple: confirmed.

July 2012: my mother died in her sleep. The depression I’d been fighting off since summer 2011 exploded with full force. I was a broken person. Drifting from day to day in a fog of misery.

Fall 2012: Superwoman suggested that I join the boxing gym she’d just discovered. It would allow me to work on my boxing skills, avoid losing too much of my fitness, keep me distracted through the long months of physio and rehab. I agreed to show up for one class. Limping down the staircase, hearing the sounds of the ring bell, the thuds of the punching bags, and the coolest trap music I’d ever heard, I felt like I was coming home – odd, considering that this was an environment in which I, crippled vanilla AF nerdy accountant, did not belong.

For the first year or so, I trained with Coach’s younger brother Slick, a pro-boxer and a coach in his own right. Slick did not have the time to impart much boxing knowledge on me, because he spent all his time trying to get me to work on my mental and emotional state. We didn’t use the word “depression”, but he could see I was not well. He made me do pushups every time I said something negative or mean about myself, even if it was funny. He encouraged me to read James Allen’s As a Man Thinketh:

“Doubt and fear are the great enemies of knowledge, and he who encourages them, who does not slay them, thwarts himself at every step.”

“Men imagine that thought can be kept secret, but it cannot; it rapidly crystallizes into habit, and habit solidifies into circumstance.”

“As the physically weak man can make himself strong by careful and patient training, so the man of weak thoughts, can make them strong by exercising himself in right thinking.”

Slick’s insistence that my thoughts trapped me in a self-fulfilling prophecy of unhappiness, turned my whole worldview upside down. 2 years later, when I started therapy, I chose an expert in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: “guided by empirical research, CBT focuses on the development of personal coping strategies that target solving current problems and changing unhelpful patterns in cognitions (e.g. thoughts, beliefs, and attitudes), behaviors, and emotional regulation.”


By late 2013, I joined Coach’s team. In 2014, I fought my first fights.

What do you do after a day at a boxing tournament? Watch the pros! #bronzegloves #teamspirit #teamunderdog

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In August 2014, I slid into the most terrifying depressive episode I’ve ever experienced. Overnight, I transformed from a fighter into a fragile girl who would cry for 3-5 hours a day. Coach didn’t understand, but he could see. Scary Coach became Gentle Coach. The team accepted my quirks, and continued to cheer me on every time I stepped into the ring. They didn’t know the particulars of my struggle, but they could recognize someone fighting the good fight of life.

The night I first met Beaut.

Boxing is an unforgiving sport. By stepping into the ring, every boxer tacitly accepts to show their true self to their opponent, coach and whoever is watching. You can’t mask cowardice or fake bravery when getting punched in the head. Every hesitation, fear, bluster and cockiness is blatantly obvious to anyone who watches. There IS no socially constructed mask to hide behind. To step into the ring, every boxer, no matter their level of experience and proficiency, has to be willing to be vulnerable, and to be seen. As such, I’ve noticed that most people at the gym don’t cling so tightly to their social personas – there is no point, when we’ve all seen their true colors in the ring. As a result, everyone is more authentic at the gym than they otherwise might be. Vulnerability + authenticity = key ingredients for friendship.

#selfietime #selfie #selfienation #udfamily #underdognation #thisisreallyaselfie #jd40ko #boxingwayoflife

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By the end of 2015, I knew. These people were family.


2016. A transition year. I joined Coach’s new project, weight-lifting and conditioning designed for athletes, specifically boxers. The immediate benefits were weight-loss and a changed body shape. For the first time in my life, in my 30s, I wondered: maybe, sometimes, I might be beautiful, possibly sexy. For someone who struggled with eating disorders (binge-eating until I was nauseous and abusing laxatives) during my late teens and my twenties, the gradual silencing of the vicious body-shaming voices in my head was an unexpected liberation.

Even better? Thanks to Coach’s extensive knowledge, patience and careful coaching, I shed, permanently, the lifelong identity of a cripple, of inhabiting a body that betrays me. I am athletic. I used to be embarrassed to admit I boxed, as though somehow associating myself – me – with that sport was arrogant. Not anymore. I was a boxer.

I understood what life lessons this sport was teaching me. It taught me that I can take a hit and still keep moving forward. It taught me that I can fight back. It taught me to own all of who I am: sweet Vanilla and angry Vanilla. It taught me that who and what I am is worth fighting for. It taught me not to wait for any saviors: I alone dictate my destiny, through my actions.

I understood why I needed to move onto dancing. Saying goodbye to this sport was hard, but necessary.

I kept training with Coach (aka Dr. Booté). I kept partying with my boxing peeps, with hilarious results (please refer to exhibit A and exhibit B). The friendships are still strong.


2017. This year was hard. Life, my shadow, got in the way of my joy. I drifted from the gym. But when things got too confusing, too overwhelming, like a homing pigeon, I made my way back. Sure enough, Coach and my crew were waiting for me.


How do you celebrate a place that has shaped my very identity, freed me of decade-long insecurities, given me deep and constant friendships, keeps me sane, gives me the tools to face life as an adult?

How do you celebrate family?

#udnation

#udfamily

 

 

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The D has arrived

Update on my funk/shadow situation: I’m ok-ish. Not getting worse or better, just meh. Treading water. I appear functional to the outsider: I make it to work every day, I am mostly delivering on my projects, I smile, laugh and occasionally have a sense of humor. But there is a huge cost to appearing so normal: I am permanently exhausted, my concentration is nowhere where it should be, I’m apathetic about my career, friends, blogging and dancing. I require a lot of naps and time-outs. But I know that as long as I am patient and persistent, eventually this cloud of grey through which I see the world will fade, and bit by bit the colors of the world will reappear. In the past, I used to feel shame of how I was wasting my life, drifting aimlessly. Now, I understand that this is the cost of depression: delayed career goals due to unrealized potential, strained friendships, and loneliness because I am in no state to meet anyone, practice vulnerability, and take risks. It is too bad, it is slightly unfair, but the Universe loves to dish out shit to everyone, and this is my particular cross to bear. There is no point feeling shame, or beating myself up. I am trying my best, I refuse to give up on the dream of one day achieving happiness, and that tenacity is something I should be proud of.

Part of taking care of myself has involves training at my boxing gym with Coach aka Dr. Booté. The vibe and the friendships run deep. One of these friendships is with TooWhite, a mini-me: with skin that is blinding in its whiteness, she is a 25 yr old kickass smart accountant that struggles with similar insecurities to mine. I feel very protective towards her, like a mentor professionally and personally. Yet she can squat 250lbs, has the best taste in trap music ever and is infinitely cooler than I will ever be. My little gym-bae. Soon after resuming regular training at the gym in August, I texted TooWhite admitting how much I’d missed the gym & Coach.

Isn’t she the cutest? She’s the cutest. #squad

The past 2 weeks have been very hectic, causing me to miss 2 workouts because of Canadian Thanksgiving and because I had another show on Thursday night. I missed my dose of TooWhite. When I showed up to the gym on Saturday, at the front desk was one of TooWhite’s close friends, J-dawg (he’s badass by association). Even though I’d had two coffees at that point, my brain clearly was not awake:

Hey! Long time no see! Is TooWhite already here? Yeah? She is! Sweet. Imma go get changed, but meanwhile can you tell her her D has arrived?

J-dawg blinked. I realized what I had just said. I stammered an explanation, “I’m her D, as in the letter, not as in the male genital, because you know, I’m a woman and all, and even if I wasn’t I would be broadcasting the intimate nature of our relationship, if any. D as in #squad, oh god, I’m not making this better, am I?” TooWhite’s friend solemnly promised me he’d pass along the message. When I strolled into the weight-lifting room 3 minutes later, I found him & TooWhite uncontrollably giggling. I’m a walking eggplant emoji, apparently.

#squaD

Recap of various vanilla Vanilla highlights at the gym:

Introducing Harold

Canadian Thanksgiving. It’s the one weekend annually where my mom’s family gathers to spend time together. As we are scattered here and there (NYC, Boston, Mtl, Quebec city), most of us are working – the youngest cousin is 22, I am 33, and only 2 of our parents are retired – the logistics are tricky. Christmas? Impossible. Easter? Too short. Vacations don’t coincide, life is busy.

This year, my cousins and I decided to recreate a famous family portrait taken 21 years ago at my Baba’s:

My cousins took this project seriously. Boston cousin #1 purchased a jumper. Qc cousin #2 reached out on Fbk to all her network asking to borrow 3-5 barbies. NONE of her friends answered her plea, so she went shopping. Not to be outdone, I got myself a wig. His name is Harold, and he will be my +1 at all future family gatherings.

My father, upon meeting Harold, “You’re crazy. I mean, you’re all crazy, you Baba-offspring. I don’t mean to single YOU out as being particularly deranged. But that guy there, what’s his name.. Joe, Josef, wtv (Boston cousin #1’s fiancé)… poor guy. He has no idea what he’s getting into.” I suggested that Josef probably had scoped out the situation prior to proposing, “Nah. He has no idea what’s coming at him. I certainly didn’t.”

I think Josef is lucky to be integrating himself into this much awesome:

My family was supposed to show up anytime after noon, with the goal of sitting down to eat at 2pm. At 12:05pm, my father uttered a sad sigh.

Pa: “That’s it, nobody’s coming.”

Me: “You’re absolutely right. Nobody loves us.”

Pa: “I don’t care if they love us or not, I want to start drinking, and I can’t drink alone.”

Me: “…”

Pa: “Oh, you count as a person?! Hurrah! Go get the booze.”

He loves me, he says.

The solution to my father’s drinking problem: he will never be alone ever again. Party!

Creatures of the underworld can’t afford to love

But Vanilla… why do you go for such LOSERS?

I gravitate towards ppl that I can relate to – the broken ones trying to overcome their struggles, whether external or self-inflicted. While my friends all have their shit together, successfully adulting and don’t ever make me feel judged, I don’t want to sleep with any of them. I’m attracted to the complex and the tricky. Unfortunately, complex, tricky and broken individuals, while fascinating, are rarely capable of kindness and empathy bc they are too busy trying to work through their own demons. And so I break even more, and my shadow celebrates.


June: During my annual bday workation in France, a senior VP invited me out for a business supper, networking with a client and our Eastern European sales team. That night, SVP met professional Vanilla, which is the best version of Vanilla: smart, sassy, charming, authentic, with integrity and drive. A good evening.

July: One week-day, in the middle of the afternoon, I got a phone call from Hickster. Hickster is Hickster – swept me off my feet, without warning. One is never sure what the outcome will be: like a hurricane, he sometimes strips away superfluous stuff, revealing underlying beauty that got muddled by life’s modifications and sometimes inflicts deep wounds and scars. On this July day, the conversation went sour, fast. I sought refuge in a nearby conference room, to spare my coworkers the distraction of overhearing a vicious, petty fight. Mid-fight, SVP walked in: unbeknownst to me, he was visiting our Mtl offices as he is wont to do every 6 weeks, and had set up the conference room as his temporary office. He paused in the doorway, shocked by my tear-stained face. I tried to end the convo with Hickster, who was too busy ranting to realize we’d been interrupted. SVP whisked himself out of the room, and I wrapped up the fight, mortified.

Later that day, SVP came by my desk, “Is everything alright? Don’t answer that. But if I may: in all my years experience, it is never warranted to let anything or anyone upset you that much. Nothing in any area of your life should dim your joy, fix it so it doesn’t. And if you need help fixing it, find the people that will help you and be sure to ask them for help.”

August: SVP was back in our offices, set himself up in the same conference room, near my desk. I was working late one night, when Hickster called me. A normal conversation until I blinked and Hickster displayed his mean side. I never could handle mean – I cave and cry. And cry I did, listening to Hickster’s diatribe of how I’d slighted him. SVP sauntered up to my desk, I believe to ask me to join him and some other managers for a night cap. Seeing my tears, he left me my privacy. We did not mention it when we saw each other the next day.

September: Another SVP visit. He looked rather apprehensive when he saw me, no doubt anticipating the moment I’d morph into an unstoppable fire hydrant of tears. With every day that I behaved with typical professional decorum, he relaxed. On the last day of his stay, in an avuncular manner, he asked me whether everything was good, at work and in life? Yes? Good.

Traumatizing senior management by hysterical and sudden meltdowns, due to an inability to keep my personal life under control: NOT a recommended approach to being noticed at work by the higher-uppers.


Tuesday afternoon. Phone call from Hickster. I could tell from the moment I answered that it would be a bad one. There’s no point avoiding them: he calls repeatedly, leaves upsetting voice notes and texts that echo in my head and make me feel dizzy from hurt. I naively believed that if I appealed to the Good Hickster, Broken Hickster would subside. Broken Hickster did not subside. I took the call in the parking lot, hidden from my coworkers. It was a short and brutal call. I felt something break in me – no matter what I did, or how much I showed I cared, it would never be enough. Good Hickster had skipped town, and Broken Hickster enjoyed bullying me.

For 45 minutes, I hid in that parking lot, unable to stop the tears of shame and grief, worried that my absence would be noticed, yet too distraught to sneak back into the office. I noticed I had a missed call from CSD (update: he is back at the office, periodically runs 10k, and is kicking ass. He celebrated his birthday this weekend, a poignant moment, given that doctors had told him in the spring that without a liver transplant, his odds of surviving till September were slim. What a dude!) I called CSD back, still sobbing, and asked if could he pretend he wasn’t talking to Emotional Vanilla, but talk to Kickass-Accountant Vanilla about wtv work issue he wanted to talk about, to distract me until I’d calmed down? Without skipping a beat or asking me to explain, he did. We discussed operational vs financial issues, strategy and approach, and after 20 minutes, I was all fired up and ready to fix all the problems of my company, my face still red, but more Bad-case-of-Allergies red, not OMG-my-entire-family-and-my-dog-got-hit-by-a-bus red. I thanked CSD for not thinking any less of me professionally when clearly my personal life was a trainwreck. “Don’t mention it. Everyone has shit going on. I would never judge you. Sides, I know you’ll fix this, your way, some day.”  


But Vanilla, why do you go for such losers?

Because I am a creature of the underworld. This time last year, I was ending things with Beaut. I think back fondly on the quaint dysfunction of that relationship, now. #perspective

In all my years experience, it is never warranted to let anything, or anyone, upset you that much. Nothing should dim your joy, and if it is, fix it so it doesn’t. And if you need help fixing it, find the people that will help you and be sure to ask them for help.

It took me 3 months to apply SVP’s words of wisdom. Better late than never. Too shaken by the end of wtv-it-is you call the interactions with someone who mattered but never had an official title, I needed someone to kindly nudge me along.

If Oprah says so, it must be true.

Bread with chips

Previously, in the series of Google Translated Kizomba lyrics:

 

Hold me
Scrub me
Give me only a kiss on the cheek.

Hold memo
Press memo
Very strong, it gives only good sweetness.
You have hair
But this is all yours
Your beauty covers my eyes.
I’m in love with uhh
You’re a show
Because you do not have one
Your sweet smell is so sweet.
And finding you I want a baby.
I’m your ass.
Let’s make it happen like
Bread with tea
Grab me now
Long brunette plus eh
It’s cool
baby come to look at me
Come, come and love me.
Come come
Let’s make it happen like
Bread with Chips

There is a lot to unpack in this song. The dude practices good hygiene, and engages in chaste sexual behaviour. He likes a girl with hair – no wig – who smells good. Very specific. But he can’t actually see her, because her beauty is in the way. She seems to be having a bit of an identity crisis: she is show, but does not have show. He, meanwhile, is undergoing some biological confusion, both wanting a baby, whilst finding himself bound inside her posterior chain. Rather than consulting a doctor or a physiotherapist – foam rolling does wonders for soft tissue problem areas like the butt- he seeks remedy via natural treatments: bread with tea, with a side dish of chips as a snack. I suppose being in love is a good excuse for food.

Kizomba lyrics, yo. They never disappoint. Yet kizomba undeniably remains a sensual dance.

Bread with Chips!

Depression and exit strategies …….. the holy grail of depression sufferers

I went for drinks with some friends and friends of friends last night. One dude, who I’ll call OG, recounted a story of how he broke up with his ex after her 2nd suicide attempt. How he’d felt trapped and tricked. She’d looked so normal for the first 2 years, emotionally volatile, sure, but normal. After the first suicide attempt he learned she’d tried other times, before him. This was a recurring mental issue, one that might kill her and would inevitably derail his own life. He felt he had no choice but to make the best decision for his own life and future, and leave her. Leaving her freed him up to focus on building up his own life, success and well-being. However, almost a decade on, she still refuses to talk to him. One of his friends hypothesized that his ex felt shame, “Sometimes, when you’ve acted in a way that was just too awful and unacceptable, you can’t face any reminders of that, the shame is too painful.”

I stayed quiet throughout that conversation, which I regret.

I didn’t say that I suffer from depression.

I didn’t say that OG’s comments confirms one of my deepest insecurities: anyone who gets to know the real me, and meets my shadow, will run, will deem me unworthy the effort of loving, I come with too much baggage.

I didn’t say that this is why I’ve chosen to remain single for 7 years now. I don’t think I can survive another instance of giving all of myself, working through the terror of vulnerability, attempting to build a life with someone, only for it to fall apart because the burden of my shadow is too heavy to bear. I chose a life of loneliness, limiting how much I inflict my depression on friends and family, rather than face the unbearable pain of being rejected. I also chose loneliness because I don’t ever want to be the reason someone holds back on living their life, choosing to stick with me & my sickness out of loyalty. My shadow stifles my dreams and happiness. I don’t think I could accept if it stifled anyone else’s too. I completely understand and respect OG’s decision to leave the girl.

I didn’t say that they’d gotten it all wrong. The shame is not derived from the “unacceptable” act of trying to take one’s life – only someone who has never suffered from depression would think that suicide is unacceptable or selfish. Without ever having met the girl, or been present in that decade-old saga, I would argue that the girl deems OG’s actions as concrete proof that she is unlovable, something to be abandoned once her true self is revealed. A depressive spends all day every day trying to survive, look normal, hide the mess from the world. On the rare occasions that a depressive reveals their true self to anyone – something incredibly traumatic and shameful – being rejected gives their sick brain all the ammunition necessary to convince them they are worthless. Having to face a reminder of that? Unbearably painful. I too would be incapable of facing such a reminder.

I didn’t say that I admired the girl – 10 years is a lot of years to put up with a sick brain, good for her for still being alive.

#weallhaveexitstrategies

black dog

I was speaking to another “depressive”(someone who suffers from depression – usually with Generalised Anxiety Disorder and possibly Stress thrown in for shits and giggles — I might have just made that word up, but it seems to work, so I am going to leave it there) a week or two ago and we were chatting about shit and things and really playing catch up.

We had not seen each other in quite some time, so it was a very nice catch up and we did spend a lot of the time laughing, and snorting.

The conversation took a turn and we started speaking about the fact that we both suffer from Depression — not the “here take one pill and call me in the morning kind” but the sort that takes you 13 years of therapy to really understand what it is you are working with.

Years of enduring…

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The show must go on

Moulin Rouge. Baz Luhrmann’s fantastical take on the novel La Dame aux Camélias & the opera La Traviata (my favorite opera). Nicole Kidman’s character is a blazée, beautiful cancan dancer who falls in love with a penniless but respectable writer (Ewan McGregor). Practical considerations (money) trap her in her lifestyle, subject to the patronage of a vain, occasionally violent, jealous, rich Duke. The decision to renounce her true love leads to heartache, and misery. She finally breaks free from the Duke only to die in Ewan’s arms from tuberculosis, contracted from a previous client.

Moulin Rouge is a movie about “truth, beauty, freedom and love“. It is also about the struggle to achieve each of those virtues, in the face of Life’s propensity to repeatedly sucker punch all of us. Those who dared to dream in this movie were rewarded by heartbreak or death. Watching it at 15 years old, I was swept away by the romantic pathos of it all. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to realize that it is a very melancholy movie, albeit delightfully packaged with style, humor and dramatic flair. One particular scene that is not frequently cited (unlike Jim Broadbent singing Like a Virgin, or the brilliant/disturbing Roxanne scene) has always haunted me. It is the moment when Nicole Kidman gives up her fragile belief in her right to happiness.

Zigler: You’re dying, Satine. You’re dying. (…)

Satine: I was a fool to believe, a fool to believe. It all ends today. Yes, it all ends today.

Zigler: (…) You are a great actress Satine, make him believe you don’t love him. Use your talent to save him. Hurt him to save him. There is no other way. The show must go on, Satine. We’re creatures of the underworld. We can’t afford to love.

Satine & Zigler: Today’s a day when dreaming ends.

Zigler: Another hero. Another mindless crime, behind the curtain in the pantomime. On and on, does anybody know what we are living for? Whatever happened? We leave it all to chance. Another heartache, another failed romance. On and on, does anybody know what we are living for? The show must go on, the show must go on. Outside the dawn is breaking on the stage that holds our final destiny. The show must go on, the show must go on!

Satine: Inside my heart is breaking, my make-up may be flaking but my smile still stays on.

Zigler: The show must go on. The show must go on.

Satine: I’ll top the bill. I’ll earn the kill. I have to find the will to carry on with the show.

Zigler : The show must go on.

 

Watching it, 16 years ago, I felt an odd recognition – this scene captures how I see life.

“Inside my heart is breaking, my make-up may be flaking but my smile still stays on.” 

I didn’t know at 17 years old that my shadow would turn out to be my constant companion. But I did know how to appear normal, even though I felt anything but normal on the inside, like my heart was about to split open from the sadness it carried. As I’ve gotten older, this has become even more true: I’ve become an excellent actress so as to avoid vulnerability: nobody asks questions when it looks like you got your shit together.

“We’re creatures of the underworld. We can’t afford to love.”

A coworker asked me recently, after a few too many beers, “Vanilla, this is going to sound awful, I can’t find the words to phrase this properly, but you are a beautiful, sexy, smart, accomplished professional, with an amazing life ahead of you… why do you go for such losers in your dating life? Why don’t you find somebody with the same life situation as you?” My coworker was referring to Athletico, Beaut and Hickster. I pointed out that each one, although not as educated as me, nor pursuing a traditional corporate lifestyle, had risen to the top of his respective field, and was respected for his athletic track record; any athlete that can successfully monetize their skills has street smarts, dedication, perseverance, talent and work ethic. So however terrible their grammatical skills, they can not be fairly labeled losers when it comes to their careers. But my coworker didn’t mean that. He meant that they are living trainwrecks and haven’t mastered the concept of honesty.

It’s taken me months to figure out why I gravitate to these guys, and why I feel so alive in the boxing and dancing world. I belong. These guys all have good streaks, so much of their characters is worthy of admiration and respect. But they also have this dark side to them, and they are caught up in the struggle of their two sides. Often their dark side wins, causing them to act in ways that is harmful to themselves and those around them. I get that. Every day is an internal struggle -against my ADD, my shadow and the lazy, mean, irresponsible and cowardly Vanilla that constantly undermines the hard work of good, kind and sweet Vanilla. So many of my friends and coworkers appear to have mastered the whole adulting concept, lives cleanly scrubbed and responsible; while I kinda wish I could adult like them, I also know that I’d hate it. I love/hate the struggle, but it is my struggle. It proves to me I am alive. These men that struggle and periodically fail at realizing their best selves makes me feel less different. I relate. I too am a creature of the underworld.

“On and on, does anybody know what we are living for? Whatever happened? We leave it all to chance.”

I haven’t found my purpose. I drift through life, too exhausted by the fight against my shadow to dream, or pursue proactively my happiness.

“The show must go on.”


Disclaimer: I know my posts sometimes alarm my readers, especially friends and family. My funk is still firmly in place, but it is not spiraling out of control: I’ll take treading water over being swept willy-nilly by the current of depression. I’m doing my best to fight it, but it’s hard. I promise I am trying.

Recap of the current funk: