A need for distance… from my cell

Y’all. I just discovered the greatest thing ever. EVER.

Did you know that iPhone has a feature that allows you to monitor and limit your time spent on your phone? It’s called Screen Time, and it’s the best digital thing since sliced bread.

It allows you to decide during what hours your phone is in Downtime, during which all access to apps is limited, except for the ones you specifically designate as being always accessible. In my case, those are my Phone, Messages, Calendar, Emails, Music, Camera, Uber, and Google Maps. I’ve chosen to have Downtime from 11:15pm to 8:30am every day, to avoid me scrolling for hours before bed, or when I wake up, after hitting the snooze button 6 times. When 11:15 hits, my phone locks down the apps.

Better yet? Screen Time allows you to limit your daily time usage of any subset of apps on your phone (e.g. social media, games, entertainment, creativity, etc). In my case, I sink HOURS every day on social media , entire weekends go by and all I have done is seen all of Facebook and Instagram. I initially set my usage at 3h45 per day (including Messenger and Whatsapp). It’s been a week, and I have gradually lowered my limit to 2h45 and I intend to reach a 2h limit by the end of the month.

There are a whole lot of other great features for Screen Time, like programming limits for all phones in a family, or all Apple products belonging to a same person, so for readers who are interested, here is a good overview.

I discovered this feature after writing my 2019 New Year’s Resolutions post. One of my readers reached out to me to ask for more info about the book I’d featured, and I was going on and on about how amazing it had felt to disconnect from my phone and read an entire book in a weekend. My reader agreed that her life had improved drastically since she had given herself daily quotas, and shared with me the Screen Time feature.

It’s been a week since I’ve used Screen Time, and I am enamored.

  • My sleep quality has significantly improved.
  • I am getting to sleep earlier. While I am still hitting the sack at around the same time (11ish), the forced disconnection from my phone helps me fall asleep by 11:30pm latest, as opposed to my normal range of 12-1am.
  • Funny thing, I am waking up earlier, around 6:45-7:30am, as compared to my previous range of 7:30-8:30am.
  • The time it takes me between waking up and leaving the house in the morning is now 45mins or less vs 1.5-2hs before. I have nothing to scroll through, no messages to respond to, no notifications.
  • Instead of showing up to the office between 9:30-10am (often having used an Uber to make it in that “early”, inevitable if I am only waking up at 8:30…), I showed up between 8:45-9:30am every day last week, without any stress or difficulty.
  • It is a whole lot easier to leave the office at 6pm twice a week to make it to the gym on time when I am showing up at normal hours. One of the reasons I was missing the gym so often in the fall and January is because I would only clear the day’s “must have” deliverables by 6:45-7:30pm, by which time it was too late to make it downtown for my 7:15pm gym session. It isn’t just a matter of putting in 60+ hours in a week, a lot of my workload has implications on other people, so I have to get stuff done same day or else risk making my coworkers’ lives more hectic, something I hate doing. Our work is hectic enough without me adding to it.
  • I have read 2.5 books in 8 days. I only managed to read a total of 3 books in all of 2017 and 2018. I can feel my concentration improving, and my interest in a broad range of topics awakening. I am learning once again, something I genuinely love to do (#nerd) but had felt unable to do due to my anxiety and depression, which made concentrating very difficult. It is still difficult. I had trouble reading 2 pages without checking my phone last week. By yesterday (3rd book), I can finish a chapter uninterrupted.
  • Ive written 3 blog posts in 8 days. I didn’t do that once in 2018.

I feel much better.

Social media has a long history of making me crazy (IG tantrum with ICB, Beyoncé moment with Beaut). So much of my phone addiction came from a place of insecurity and FOMO. Because I was working too much, and very unhappy with my life, I desperately wanted to stay connected to the world and get validation that people want to be connected to me. Turns out, most of them don’t. When my phone hits 8:30am, I don’t have that many notifications. And that is ok. Because the people I am super close to text/call me anyhow. I might not see them often (although with my NYE resolution, I am gonna work on that), but I shouldn’t fill that void by meaningless interactions. Rather, I should focus on MY life, with MY goals and MY interests. Reclaim my power. Center myself.

(I shared this new development with my gym crew who are fed up of my broken promises to return to 2-3x/week training sessions. They were cautiously hopeful. As one of them sassily commented, “Vanilla, could this be the beginnings of maturity?” Bruh.)

I’m excited by this new chapter in my life.

 

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BPD series: a case study

“Vanilla, please tell me. You’ve been sitting next to me, crying for 2.5 hours straight. What is going on?”

Gotta hand it to ICB. My go-to gal, Allie, is out of town. Yesterday, I needed a safe space to feel seen and accepted. ICB was my substitute. Unphased, he played video games as I curled up next to him on the couch and cried and cried and cried and cried until my skin on my nose gave way to red sand paper. 3 times ICB asked me what was going on, 3 times I couldn’t find my words.

So here we go.


Remember Applefriend? Dude whose innocent remark catapulted me headlong into the brutal depression that had me end up on a waiting list to see a psychiatrist. Long-time reader of my blog, familiar with my BPD struggles, confidante. To answer the question most of y’all are too polite to ask, no, there isn’t and never was anything between us. Strictly platonic, guy is married with 2 kids. For all I know, he prefers cats over dogs. Life has thrown a lot at him, but he maintains a deep positivity in all things. He firmly believes in his agency.

On Friday, we were talking about a situation (Situation X) I am living through that I am finding very upsetting. I’ve spoken to him at length about it, often sounding like a broken record. As is happens, Situation X triggers many of my insecurities about people’s perception of me, my worth and my value, yup, you guessed it, it has been the cause of much paranoia and cognitive distortion. Add to that my general collapse of identity since my Borderline diagnosis, Situation X has been a source of a lot of confusion and heartburn to me over the past weeks. On Friday, Applefriend took it upon himself to try coach me, because, he tells me, BPD is highly coachable. Only problem? I do not particularly want to be coached at the moment. I want to feel supported. To be heard. To be reassured that I am NOT living moments of paranoia and cognitive distortion, and gentle suggestions when it sounds like I might be. I am a broken record, it is true, but suck it up buttercup. I need my friends to just be there for me. To Applefriend, being there for me meant a serious attempt at psychoanalysing me. Trying to understand why Situation X upset me SOOOOOOOOO much. Why I was stuck in the past SOOOOOOOOO much. Why I couldn’t move on. Why I had no goals. Why I didn’t believe in myself. Why I kept blaming BPD. “Vanilla, you have such a victim complex, you can’t keep blaming BPD for these aspects about you.”

Actually, yes I can. I spent my WHOLE DAMN LIFE not knowing what I have, thinking there is something bizarre about me that if I just tried harder would somehow make everything right. Its been 5 months since I have a legit explanation about why I am the way I am, why I react so damn much, why I am so sensitive, why I seemingly always push away through my behaviors those who matter the most. It all makes sense now. I have an explanation, finally, thou shalt not strip me of it. An explanation is not an excuse. But 5 months, after struggling with something for 33.5 years, isn’t much. I might have the explanation, I definitely don’t have the solution yet. Back off, give me time to figure this out. And FFS, don’t try fix me. I am not some pet project.

At some point, on Friday, I stopped answering Applefriend’s texts. I’d hit my annoyance threshold, didn’t want to pick a fight over his clumsy but well meaning efforts to snap me out of my month-long episode/depression. Applefriend called me 40 minutes later, freaking out. How could I go radio silent in a convo about how bad I am doing, when I’ve previously said that I have an exit strategy. He was worried! I found it cute, and funny. Tried explaining that I am not suicidal. At all. I just have a more pronounced awareness of my exit strategy than I do when things are all shiny and rosy. Applefriend didn’t find it cute or funny. He was mad that I’d caused him to worry.

On Monday night, Applefriend texted me, wanting an update on how some of the developments of Situation X were going. I’ll save y’all the play by play, and give you an executive summary instead.

7:30pm – Vanilla gives factual update and expresses sadness and grief/shame at the developing Situation X.

7:32pm – AF begins offering advice. “Every situation is only an opportunity”

7:33pm to 7:42pm – Vanilla tries to justify why she is entitled to feel what she feels in light of the developments of Situation X.

Cue the catalyst to the situation going very very very sideways.

7:50pm – AF writes “… But I do think you need to be extremely aware of your own influences and how you impacted Situation X. Don’t pretend you were a victim in this, otherwise you’ll never become better”

7:51pm to 8:01pm – Vanilla tries to explain that her awareness of her contribution in no way diminishes her capacity for being very very upset about the outcome. “I don’t want advice. I want the space to be upset.”

At this point I am crying so hard I call up ICB to ask if I can show up chez lui for cuddles and acceptance. From 8:11pm – 8:23pm, the dead end gets deader.

AF: Oh boy. How to engage your enthusiasm without fully supporting your approach… There’s a balance Vanilla. It’s not one or the other or you’re fully vindicated or they are. It’s in the middle.

Vanilla: AF, I am not asking for that. You asked me how my day went. You told me I was wrong to be emotional about the update that occurred.

AF: Ok.

Vanilla: And when I explained why I am so emotional right now, bc I am going through this and it makes me feel a certain way…

AF: Fine, its fine.

Vanilla: You try to get me to understand how I am partially responsible for the situation.

AF: I’ll stop offering.

Vanilla: But it’s not offering. It’s telling me I am wrong to feel how I feel. I wasn’t asking for you to endorse me. I was explaining why I am upset and how I feel. And you basically told me I was wrong to feel how I feel. Where I am wrong is if I act on it. But that isn’t what I was doing. I was explaining why I feel all this negative shit.

AF: Misunderstanding. All good.

This is the point where I should have stopped. It was clearly a well meaning attempt at a conversation gone sideways, no harm intended. I needed to walk away. Instead, from 8:23pm to 8:43pm, I wrote another 361 words to AF’s 123 rehashing the same thing damn thing. At 8:45pm, I showed up at ICB’s. Crying. Took off my coat. Crying. 8:46pm. Please note that we have now been hammering away at this dead end conversation for 76 minutes.

AF: You’re being too emotional. Like it matters.

Vanilla: It matters to me. I gave everything and it wasn’t enough.

AF: Look, you don’t get it. It’s fine. I get the wanting like what you did was valuable.

Vanilla; It’s the only thing I care about.

AF: But reality is… it’s irrelevant. It changes nothing for the future.

Vanilla: Ok. So let me be upset about THAT. It’s like my whole understanding of my life got ripped out from under me.

AF: You need to focus your attention and energy on the future.

Vanilla: I don’t care about the future.

AF: Why?

Vanilla: I need time to recover from all that’s happened.

AF: Lol, Jesus Vanilla. Ok. But I don’t agree.

Vanilla: That’s nice. More telling me how wrong I am.

AF: Lol. Look.

Vanilla: I get you think you are somehow being helpful. But you are just invalidating me even more. And it’s confusing because you claim to be on my side.

AF: Do you what you want, feel how you need to feel, but don’t ask me to be a pawn. It’s frustrating and I feel culpable.

Vanilla: I am not!!! You asked me how my day went. And then proceeded to tell me how everything I feel is wrong. I didn’t ask you to be anything.

AF: I did and you offered what you said like I would just be an autobot.

Vanilla: AF, If I can’t share my reality with you, I won’t.

AF: Reality???

Vanilla: This is my reality. My feelings are my reality.

AF: WTF. Look, you live in my reality. We share the same one.

Vanilla: No we don’t. When you ask me how I feel, I am gonna share how I feel. I don’t want fixing. I am not asking you to be anything.

AF: Sorry, you’re being crazy right now.

Vanilla: You thinking I am asking you to be a pawn is all on you.

AF: Trust me, this isn’t normal.

Vanilla: And you telling me I am crazy is definitely not helpful.

AF: You need to take a step back. And go to sleep. And talk tomorrow.

Vanilla: You need to explain how any of this was helpful.

AF: Tomorrow, you’ll re read and understand.

Vanilla: What did you hope to accomplish by asking me how it went if you wanted to then explain to me how I am wrong?

AF: Honestly, I am super supportive, always. But you aren’t being rational right now. Seriously. It’s not me. Go sleep and re read it tomorrow. If you disagree tomorrow, fine. Then I’m a horrible person.

Vanilla: No. I’m just saying you invalidated my feelings. And I don’t understand why you would ask me about them if it was just to say how I was incorrect to feel them. I didn’t say you were horrible. And I still don’t see how you feel I could ask you to be a pawn when I wasn’t asking anything. But now I am left with shame, more confusion, and someone telling me I am crazy and irrational for trying to explain why this convo went sideways.

AF: Vanilla, honestly, you’re being way too literal. I’m telling you, your answers from my perspective are why I think you’re not on the right element. Just take a step back, nothing I’ve said was anything but supportive. It’s not a constructive conversation. It’s me offering opinions and being attacked for being someone with an opinion regardless of why. Your normal self wouldn’t say those things. This isn’t healthy right now. So my suggestion is you ignore all of this for now, when you’re ready, engage me.

Vanilla: (thumbs up emoji)

9:15pm. Conversation over. I felt as dazed and confused as the time I got an ass-whooping in boxing so bad Coach had to throw the other boxer out of the ring, bc I was helpless against the ropes, hands down, crying as my opponent pummeled me. How did I get here? Why does AppleFriend sound almost verbatim like Hickster in the midst of our most vicious fights? Did I just have my first big noticeable meltdown with someone other than Hickster or ICB? But how tho? I just wanted to be allowed to express how I feel. Why was that so wrong? Why did I need fixing? Why do I have to justify that my feelings are legit? Am I crazy? I’ve never been called crazy by anyone other than Hickster before, when he is in a rage and trying to wound me. I don’t think Applefriend was making a cheap shot. Rereading it, it sounds like he genuinely believes I lost my grip on reality – my border moved mighty close to that border line – during that convo. Did it? Why can’t I tell? Am I really so out of touch about my impact on people, that they feel the need to let me know my behaviour is irrational, crazy, not normal?


Am I crazy?


At midnight, I began telling my story to ICB. Still crying, as he patted my head, murmuring “There there, no, you aren’t crazy, you just feel things too hard. No, you are not crazy. You can get through this. You will learn to let things go. Not crazy.”

At 12:45, still crying, I left ICB, the poor boy was dead tired and had a big day ahead of him.

At 2am, I fell asleep. Still crying.


I’ve spent the day in a fog, stunned by the conversation. Unable to answer the question:

Am I crazy?

New Year’s Resolution: investing in myself through meaningful experiences

I know, I know, it’s almost February, and here I am mentioning New Year’s Resolutions. What can I say? It’s been a bit of a hectic start to the year, and I am a little behind in my posting. I’ve been really taking the time to think through where I want to take my life this next year. Sounds basic, right?

Well, not really. The thing with depression and my mental health struggles is that they rob me of my ability to dream or have goals. I spend my time fighting depression, or recovering. My times of contentment are brief. I wrote the Terror of Joy in December 2016, where I marveled at having navigated full year without depressive symptoms.

I’ve thought about it a lot, and I think it’s because we think right behind joy is a knife that will cut our throat if we really feel it. It’s almost like a laugh – your chin goes up and your throat is exposed. “if I laugh too loud, someone will slit my throat.” That’s the terror of joy.

Judd Apatow, Sick in the Head

A mere 6 months later, I had begun my inexorable slide into Depression, which lasted 12 months, with a few slivers of happiness in Summer 2018, before my diagnosis of Borderline in August 2018. It’s been rough. Recently, I realized I was sliding back into a depression. It’s pretty damn hard to have any goals or dreams when your brain just wants you to give up, already. These past 2 years have been the absolute worst of my life; I’ve experienced more pain than I thought possible and a complete collapse of my identity. And yet – I am still here. My career is not where I want it to be, I still can’t hold down a healthy romantic relationship, I’m not adulting by any normal benchmark, but my circle of people who accept me as I am, have got my back and will take a bullet for me grows. I am still employed with as many wins to my name as battles I’ve lost. That’s something.

I am not ready to dream, and I definitely don’t believe in my capacity to accomplish anything significant – I’m permanently exhausted by my ongoing internal warfare. I might not have much of an identity left, but I am sure of 3 things:

  • I am extremely smart and I am rather unique in my genuine passion for the role that accountants can play in business;
  • I am blessed to have solid, good friends, that care and believe in me: I feel peace around them, and they increase my moments of happiness;
  • One of the best ways to counter my brain that tries to convince me to not live is by living fully: I might have a tenuous grip on reality sometimes, but in those moments I need to ways to ground myself in the present by finding ways to jolt myself out of the grip of my unreliable emotions.

These 3 areas seemed like a pretty good place to start when pondering my New Year’s resolutions. I figure if I can turn these 3 little nuggets into 3 bigger nuggets of well-being, that will be a solid foundation upon which I can continue to build my quest for peace and happiness. And because we all know that goals are more likely to be achieved if they are written down and shared, here we go.

2019 career goals:

  • 1 very big project and 1 smaller project at work that fire me up and make me wanna jump out of bed in the morning (except not really, I ALWAYS hit snooze for 60-75 mins!) Knowing I am making permanent changes to the business for the benefit of multiple stakeholders makes me feel like I matter. I am building a legacy.
  • I am happiest when I am a nerd. I’ve decided to enroll in several continuing education trainings above and beyond what is required by my CPA title. These will help me develop my (non-existent) soft-skills and to learn about business aspects I wouldn’t normally be exposed to in my role at work. I’ve always worked best when I can see the big picture, so as to understand how to position my contribution to be of greater value to all stakeholders. It’s hard to do that when there are many aspects to management, financing and strategy that I am barely conversant with. Time to learn. It feels damn good to be investing in myself.

2019 friends goals:

  • Face to face time with my closest friends 1x per month each, despite them being either married with wee children (Allie and Dynamo) or else living across the ocean (DD), with busy booming careers. In DD’s case, I’ll rely on technology, although so far I’ve managed to plan one trip in 2019 to see her, and I hope to squeeze in another. Gotta make time for those I love.
  • See each one of my cousins twice a year. This is not as easy as it sounds considering that the closest one lives 2 hours away, and they are all grown with significant others and busy lives.
  • Go to the gym 10x a month, even if I am traveling for work/leisure. Surprised that this is under the friends list? Y’all. The gym is my happiest of places, Coach and my teammates are my family. The workouts are a happy side effect to hanging out with them. (Exhibit A, B, C, D, E)

2019 life experiences goals:

  • Travel. 3 weeks of exploration per year. I took 2 days in 2018 and 1 week in 2017. And I wonder why I feel burned out.
  • Read 2 books a month. I don’t care what I read, it can be teen fiction or a half-baked non fiction, all I want is to put down my phone and rewire my brain for sustained concentration. When I am depressed, I shy away from crowded experiences, which leads to isolation. I seek refuge in endless scrolling through meaningless social media on my phone. Instead, let me discover different thoughts and world views, from the safe vantage point of my home, snuggled with my teddybears.
  • Go dancing 2x a month. Dancing is my joy, but I always find a reason to avoid it when I am feeling raw – the vulnerability required is scary. I need to continuously embrace that vulnerability, as it is a magic bullet against depression.
  • Do 1 new thing a month. Go to a museum, see a play, visit an art exhibit. Alone, or with friends. To force me out of the house on weekends.

Depression turns me into a zombie, time slipping through my fingers, which is why I am 34 with no significant life goals or achievements to my name. By consciously choosing to live, through incremental moments fully in the now, I can slowly, so slowly, build a life of meaning and purpose for myself. At this rate I’ll be 40 before I can adult properly… but at least I will be alive, and making a difference.

This book was my 2nd book of 2019, and it rocked my socks! I knocked it off in about 8 hours this weekend, and I am super motivated to apply some of its premises to my personal and professional life. Asking “why?” is an easy way to stay curious, and make incremental innovations. I highly recommend this book to pretty much anybody.

Just like that, I:

  • stayed away from my phone for a weekend – I feel significantly less anxious today.
  • invested in myself.
  • dramatically increased my motivation for work, I can’t wait to get back to the office and spread some of this curiosity to my team.
  • have the satisfaction of completing a small objective for myself – something depression likes to convince me I am incapable of doing.

Yup. I think these New Year’s Resolutions are the way to go.

The gift of being enough

We cannot survive when our identity is defined or limited to our worst behavior. Every human must be able to view the self as complex and multidimensional. When this fact is obscured, people will wrap themselves in layers of denial in order to survive. How can we apologize for something we are, rather than something we did?

Dr. Harriet Lerner, the Dance of Connection.

I haven’t been doing so well, lately. I found a copy of the medical evaluation my GP made back in February 2018, where we discovered is was experiencing a Major Depression, moderate-severe. I retook the test (for anyone interested, it is the questionnaire PHQ-9) this week. Turns out I am experiencing a Moderate Depression. Can’t say I’m surprised, but it sucks to have confirmation that what I’m going through is more than just a wee rough patch. At least this time, I’ve recognized the symptoms early enough to try contain this episode before it slides further and further out of control.

Instinctively, I’d already begun adapting. I’ve resumed my rude colouring books. Last weekend I coloured for 10 hours. Felt great. I’m trying to make it to the gym 3x a week, but what with year-end, that hasn’t been possible. I tell myself that as long as I keep trying, busy season will soon be over, and I’ll be able to get back into my physical and mental health routine. I’ve cancelled all social events that aren’t low key one on ones: it isn’t worth putting that strain on myself. When I am depressed, being around people stresses me out, and I spend most of the time worrying whether or not I am appearing normal, which leaves me depleted and unable to be in the moment. It’s taken several rounds with depression to learn that it is ok to give myself permission to be alone and recharge my batteries. I’m trying to blog, but depression steals my voice and my ability to concentrate. So I jot my ideas down, and patiently wait for the moment when I can share my story.

I was supposed to see ICB today for brunch, to celebrate the end of a project. But the forecast called for a blizzard. Yesterday afternoon, as we were ironing out the details for when and where we’d meet, I told him that in the event of a blizzard, I’d totally understand if he postponed the brunch. Celebration is important, sure, and brunch is one of the best inventions known to mankind, but Canadian winters ain’t something to mess with. Everybody knows this, but since I am the girl who threw a week-long tantrum over some Instagram likes, I thought I’d explicitly mention that I too deem blizzards to be a socially acceptable reason for cancelling brunch. ICB was relieved.

“Whatcha doing right now?” he asked. Nothing, I’m too spazzed out to read or write. Wasting my time scrolling through social media to deal with the perpetual pit of anxiety lodged deep in my stomach. The usual. “Why don’t you come over, I’ll whip us up something to eat and we can watch a movie and chat?” Sir, that sounds like a great plan.

It was perfect. ICB cooked, we ate. He played video games and I cuddled on the couch – the hardest part of being single, I find, is the absence of touch. I am a tactile woman, and human contact makes me feel grounded. We talked non stop, in no particular order about our goals for 2019, our respective areas of shame, the genius of my hairdresser, the difficulty he was having in finishing his Mad Max game. Time flew by, until it was time for me to make my way home before the blizzard.

I spent the better part of today trying to figure out why last night made me so happy. Not a little bit happy, no. Deep happy. In my bones happy. And I think I’ve got it.

ICB gave me the space to just be. I wasn’t Vanilla, the person who was helping him on a project. I wasn’t Vanilla, the overachiever accountant. I wasn’t Vanilla, the girl with borderline and mental health issues. I wasn’t Vanilla, sexy and always ready for some hanky panky. In a time where I feel unable to bear the weight of all the labels that are assigned to me, ICB didn’t want anything from me. I was free to just be me.

Borderline feeds me the lie that I am not enough. For a few hours last night with ICB, the same guy who has admitted to struggling to accept my mental health issues, I felt peace and fully seen.

That’s a rare gift.

You can’t take the accountant out of the blogger – 2018 edition

I’m an accountant. I like my job. I think accounting is the art of story telling through a different vocabulary: the language of numbers. Numbers have their truth, if one takes the time to dig. So lets see what the numbers of 2018 say about my blog.

If we exclude 2014, which was a partial year – I began blogging in July/August; 2018 was the year with the worst metrics. Less visitors. Less posts. Less likes. Less comments. Less words. This is coherent with my reality. 2018 was hard. Harder even than 2017, which at the time I thought was the hardest year of my life – stats also corroborate that impression: 2017 was my second worst year, blog performance wise. Looking back, I see that 2017 was the year I started to crash and completely fall apart. But 2018? 2018 is the year I hit rock bottom and began the difficult journey of climbing back out of the abyss.

My year was defined by borderline. The first half of it was spent pulling myself out of a scary depression caused by my inability to handle the emotional strain of my failing relationship with Hickster as well as work pressures. Pulling myself out of that depression meant getting professional help, but also learning to identify unnecessary sources of stress and impose boundaries professionally and personally. That caused me to discover much about myself. I had a few flashes of happiness halfway through the year, and then in August I got my long awaited diagnosis. The 4 past months have been very difficult, professionally but also personally, as I struggle with this new understanding of myself and most upsettingly, the negative impact I have on those I interact with in all areas of my life. I’ve always known I was different; while I am relieved to understand why and how, I mourn the loss of innocence that comes with this knowledge. Every memory, every interaction is now colored by this disorder. My darling Mimi, constant companion through my life, source of stability and joy, my teddybear with whom I still cuddle every night and have conversations with, is no longer merely the product of my overactive imagination: borderlines are prone to transfer their affections to inanimate objects as a coping mechanism for their unstable relationships and sense of self – all my memories of Mimi are now tainted by the understanding that even at a young age I was demonstrating the undetected symptoms of this significant disorder. Rewriting history is no easy feat. I grieve daily.

A different take on the holidays

The stats say one more thing. I wrote less, had trouble finding a voice. But when I did write? Boy did I have a lot to say (avg words per post). My posts gained in depth in 2018. 2014 and 2015 were light fluff pieces. 2016 was me exploring dating for the first time since my 2010 breakup – there is only so much one can write about boys, y’all, before it gets boring. 2017 was confusing highs and lows. 2018 was the year of hard work, understanding WTF was going on. Understanding takes time and rarely are the explanations simple. Understanding mental health and a breakdown in identity?? Definitely not fluff pieces. This is corroborated by the top 10 performing posts of 2018.

10. Phase 3 feels like humility

March 2018. 6 weeks after my diagnosis of Major Depressive Episode, Moderate to Severe, I was struggling to perform at work, and accept the need for me to be on medication for my ADD. My GP and CSD both gave me a lot of food for thought, and some hope.

9. That time my dating life was an Instagram meme

Part 1 of a week-long, 3 chapter overreaction to ICB liking some random girl’s pics on IG. I was afraid to write this post, to give voice to these emotions that were overwhelming me. I was worried that it would have an impact on the good, sweet, simple thing I had going on with ICB. But I believe that the first step to gaining understanding of myself, and this twisted disorder, is to acknowledge my emotions and work through them. Ultimately, my mental health did prove to be too much for ICB. Our sweet thing ended, and I am working through the shame and fear that I am too much of a burden for someone to date.

8. Today is the day. I feel apprehensive.

August 2018. After 6 months on a waiting list to see a psychiatrist, I got my appointment to determine whether or not I was bi-polar. Sitting in that waiting room wasn’t easy.

7. Dancefloor drama V: an irrelevant question of weight

Weeee! A post that is unrelated to mental health. A chance encounter in Paris with a female dancer who was insecure about her weight made me grateful for Teacher, and the attitude that he instills in all those he trains. Teacher believes that any one can experience joy on the dancefloor, and that it is our collective duty to ensure that everyone partakes in that freedom. Weight, appearance and skill set are irrelevant factors. Would that more instructors share that same vision.

6. Parisian flashback to a Portuguese situation

Another post that is mostly unrelated to mental health. This story is one of the things I am most proud of in my life – I helped a friend, against some pretty phenomenal obstacles. I am proud of what I did, but I never want to be in a situation of that much responsibility and stress again.

5. The Imitation game

February 2018. On my downwards spiral, I didn’t understand what was going on in my brain. I described my reality, without using labels. This is what it feels like, on the inside, being me around others.

4. New hair, truer me

Halloween 2018. A makeover that is more than just physical. A fresh start, emotionally.

3. Is this acceptance?

Weight gain sucks. Trying to be compassionate towards myself. Mostly succeeding.

2. Well… fuck

August 2018. A few hours after post #8… I had my diagnosis. Borderline Personality Disorder. My identity fell apart. I still haven’t managed to reconstruct who I am, following this diagnosis.

1. A moment of reckoning

January 2018. A doctor’s appointment that forces me to see the gravity of my situation. Seeing the truth is never easy. But I am grateful for what this doctor did, because without him, I would have never been given the opportunity to address the real mental health issues that were wrecking my life.


2018 was a year dedicated to mental health. Not exactly a fun topic. Hard to live through, hard to write about. But boy, am I proud of this blog. It’s small way, it is fighting the stigma around mental health. To everyone who reads, thank you. To everyone who has written me to tell me that my blog made a difference, in their lives or in how they deal with their loved ones who struggle, merci.

The phenomenon of empathy is basic to all our relationships. Either we deal with the feelings that are inevitably present in our interactions by turning to each other, or we turn away. If we turn away from others without conveying recognition of the existence of their feelings, we inevitably leave the other person feeling diminished in some degree. We also are inevitably turning away from engaging fully with our own experience, dealing with it in a less than optimal way – that is, in isolation.

Jean Baker Miller and Irene Stiver, from Brené Brown’s I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn’t)

This blog is about mental health, sure. But it is also about learning compassion and empathy. By my writing and your reading, we are allowing ourselves to say “me too”.

That is a powerful thing.

“So tell me, have you ever fallen in love?”

Not bad for a conversation starter, don’t ya think?

I was sitting at a bar in Ottawa airport on Christmas day, working on my last post in 2018 about my impending trip to London during my 3 hour layover. A pilot slid into the bar stool next to me, clearly in a chatty mood. I tried typing really really loudly, but the dude didn’t take the hint. Figuring it wouldn’t hurt me to demonstrate a smidgen of non-Grinch spirit, I put my laptop away. I think he was a little lonely, having to truncate his family celebrations in order to fly out to London for a reason I didn’t catch. And then.

“So tell me, have you ever fallen in love? Yeah? What’s his name?”

Hickster.

Full stop.

His name was out of my mouth before I could think.

Not my ex, with whom I spent almost 6 years, until he called me up one day not long after we’d discussed the broad details of getting married and moving across the country to be closer to his family. He was distraught at having woken up half naked next to a girl. “Why did you do that? You aren’t a cheater. You are an honest, good man. So what’s going on?” Turns out he’d gone ring shopping, and that is how he figured out that while he loved me, he didn’t love me enough to marry me. And rather than deal with that like a grown up, he got drunk and did the one thing that would ensure I would never want to talk to him again. Took me years to reconstruct my identity after that breakup.

Not Beaut, even though there was some love shared between us.

Not ICB. I’m still processing the ramifications of that realization. Just like I am still working through his comments about my mental health, which have left me with the unshakeable feeling of being a commodity – specifically, damaged goods.

“But you’re not married?”

No.

“Divorced?”

No.

“So what happened?”

Sometimes love is not enough. From the moment we met, we both felt our worlds tilt and shift. We knew with certainty that our lives were going to change. And change they did, in ways we never would have predicted.

But he is a broken man. And I am a broken woman. He sees me, all of me. I see him, all of him. Unfortunately together, our brokenness destroys and maims the other. We aren’t ready for this love. We have too much healing to do, respectively.

You guys still talk?

Yes. After a lot of ups and downs, we seem to have figured out how to carefully stay in each other’s lives.

Is that him calling now?

Yes. To tell me a silly shenanigan he was up to and wish me a good trip.

Well, it sure sounds like you guys have a great connection. Pity it didn’t work out.

Yes, we do. And no, it isn’t a pity. This is life.



I can’t bring myself to think of Hickster as a regrettable mistake.

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.

Creatures of the underworld can’t afford to love

I see, now, that his purpose in my life was to turn everything upside down, and get me to feel. All the feels. Uncontrollably. Had he not pushed past my vulnerability and just taken over, I would never been triggered to the point my symptoms became unmanageable. None of my coping mechanisms worked last fall and winter. My emotions were everything, so scary, to the point I was forced to get help.

It is funny that the guy who was the source of so much emotional volatility in me, to the point that I snapped into one of the scariest and darkest depressions in my life was also the reason I fought so hard to survive it. There were many days in winter/spring 2018 where I couldn’t comprehend how to make it through the day. But I would because Hickster expected me to. Not kindly, not empathetically, but because our lives were so completely interwoven, even as we were ending our relationship, we needed to remain in contact to figure our shit out. Those were scary days. I had no idea what was going on, other than the certainty that my brain was trying to kill me. I was scared I would not be able to bear much longer the invisible screaming pain in my head. Looking back, I see that I was frequently experiencing paranoia and cognitive distortion, my grip on reality slipping. But I had no idea then, and wouldn’t till August 2018 when I finally got my psychiatric diagnosis. What did I know? Despite the yelling, the sometimes awful accusations and betrayals, Hickster saw me. He was a hurricane in my life, but when he was around, I was in the eye of the hurricane, the screaming voices in my head silenced. Those moments of silence gave me strength to keep fighting my brain.

This borderline personality diagnosis has broken me. I am relieved to finally be able to name what has been causing me endless tormented sorrow and failed relationships for as long as I can remember. But I feel shattered by this new understanding of who I am, and just how much of me is broken. I don’t forgive ICB for his fears about my mental health, because I struggle with the feeling of being damaged, dangerous goods already. The list of interactions I’ve ruined, personally, professionally, anecdotally, is a long one. I’ve been described as an agent of destruction too – not a hurricane, like Hickster, but a heartless bulldozer. I damage all who come near me. I grieve and rage daily.

It is fitting that the person who made me so unhinged I had no choice but to uncover my underlying brokenness is also the same person who has made me believe that I can feel whole, through his complete acceptance of all of me. Hickster is more familiar with my brokenness than possibly anyone, he bears the scars I inflicted on him, and yet, he has forgiven me as I have forgiven him, and continues to believe in me and my capacity for joy as I do for him.

I fell in love with Hickster, alright. I still love him, fiercely, albeit from a very safe distance.

I hope I never experience a similar love again. I’ve no interest in reinacting Romeo and Juliet in my middle age. I don’t know that I ever want to fall in love again. I want to grow into love. I want to grow old with someone who knows me inside and out and accepts me.

I have fallen in love. It almost killed me. Now, I want peace.


I’m hoping the next time I get besieged by a chatty pilot at an airport, he is a wee bit less nosy. Damn, those questions had me thinking!

A different take on the holidays

I’m writing this from an airport on Christmas Day.

I’ve always found the holidays tricky and uncomfortable.

I remember the love, sure. The magic of dressing the tree. The cuddles and cookies around the fire. Watching Christmas movies. I also remember the endless fights about how naughty I’d been. From a young age, Christmas became associated with the wars my mother and I waged during the year; either we were still fighting and Christmas was a temporary truce, with the resentments shoved under the surface, waiting to boil over or else we were in a good patch, and then my mother would write me cards about how the next year would be better, and I’d be reminded with shame of how hard I made her already difficult life. I remember the fights in the car rides going to my godmothers. Either it was me getting a disciplinary raking for something I’d done (I was a difficult child), or else my parents’ marital problems would take center stage, every Christmas Day, like the worst possible type of fireworks. As I grew older, Christmas became twisted with my growing shame for my inadequacies as a daughter to a mother who loved me so much, and who was so ill. Older still, I grew to dread the annual reminders that I still hadn’t accomplished the life I reasonably should have: no car, no house, no boyfriend, no marriage, a middling career that took up all of my energy. Shame and love, that is what I associated with Christmas.

Then my mother died in 2012. And since then, I associate the holidays with grief. My father and I have struggled to build any tradition that satisfies us, so we latch onto other people’s Christmases: my godmother’s, my Qc uncle’s, my Boston uncle’s. I’ve had some really good Christmases since my mother died, unpoisoned by shame, but heavy with her absence. We’ve been drifting for years, my father and I.

My father became a priest, in the Russian Orthodox Church, this spring. That was something. He was ordained as a deacon 4 years before my mother died. Her sudden and unexpected death left him gutterless. He wrote to the Bishop in the first year of his grief to state his readiness and willingness to be ordained a priest. In his wisdom, the Bishop chose to not acknowledge that letter until this year. Identifying and following through on one’s vocation is a significant decision, one that should not be taken following a tragic event. This year, 6 years after her passing, the Bishop was confident my father was no longer reactive in his grief. He broached the topic, my father was still desirous of being ordained, and poof, one month later my father was a priest. A couple months after that, my father was appointed rector of a parish in Quebec city and is now in the process of moving to that city permanently. He’s happy, and has found his purpose. Christmas is now a community affair, with gift baskets and liturgies and little children learning about this major feast day.

My 2018 was less happy, but equally significant. My year was defined by borderline. The first half of it was spent pulling myself out of a scary depression caused by my inability to handle the emotional strain of my failing relationship with Hickster as well as work pressures. Pulling myself out of that depression meant getting professional help, but also learning to identify unnecessary sources of stress and impose boundaries professionally and personally. That caused me to discover much about myself. I had a few flashes of happiness halfway through the year, and then in August I got my long awaited diagnosis. The 4 past months have been very difficult, professionally but also personally, as I struggle with this new understanding of myself and most upsettingly, the negative impact I have on those I interact with in all areas of my life. I’ve always known I was different; while I am relieved to understand why and how, I mourn the loss of innocence that comes with this knowledge. Every memory, every interaction is now colored by this disorder. My darling Mimi, constant companion through my life, source of stability and joy, my teddybear with whom I still cuddle every night and have conversations with, is no longer merely the product of my overactive imagination: borderlines are prone to transfer their affections to inanimate objects as a coping mechanism for their unstable relationships and sense of self – all my memories of Mimi are now tainted by the understanding that even at a young age I was demonstrating the undetected symptoms of this significant disorder. Rewriting history is no easy feat. I grieve daily.

This year, as I tried to make plans for the holidays, I was beset by the urge to get away. Away from the work pressures, family, complicated memories, regrets and the temptation to shame. I wanted something to re-energize me, to give me enough hope to keep on fighting the good fight for one more year. 2018 saw me learn who I am, truly, and begin to reclaim my life. I didn’t want to end it the same way I have ended every year so far this life. Time for a clean break.

That is why I am writing this blog post from an airport, in the evening of Christmas Day. I am flying to London, to visit my dear friend DD, who moved there 6 months ago. Instead of dealing with the Ghost of Christmas Past, I’ve opted to see what the Ghost of Christmas Future has to show me. Unlike Scrooge, I’ve already begun my transformation into a Vanilla who is more self-aware, a Vanilla who will find a way to build a fulfilling life crammed with meaningful relationships and interactions, all while advocating for the humanity that underlies mental health issues. And that means doing things differently. The holidays don’t bring me joy? Well then time for a new approach to new memories and new hope.

I can’t wait.