Author: balletandboxing

I am an accountant, who loves to laugh. I have been told I am flamboyant. I box and I work, and somehow, I often find myself in hilarious situations. Which I like to share.

Phase 1 feels like capitulation

February 28 2018, I posted my recent mental health snafu. So much to think about.

My father has been texting me almost daily, checking in on me. Allie and William tried to convince me to move in with them for a few days so I could have an unlimited quantity of cuddles and home-cooked food. My fairy godmother offered to accompany me to my first appointment with the psychiatrist, and referred to GAB and CSD as my angels for giving me the necessary push to get help. People I haven’t spoken to in months messaged me, to wish me good luck and positive vibes. One friend opened up about his own mental health struggles – something I’d have never guessed about him, I’d always pegged him as the party animal over-achiever. He gave me practical pointers on how to handle my sudden loss of bearings, and encouraged me without being over-familiar.

I’ve been strongly recommended a book on empaths, for fear that I will fall victim to the narrow-mindedness of traditional Western medicine. Teacher got mad at me, “Vanilla, your brain is beautiful, how can you believe this shit about yourself? You are smart, you are brilliant, you give up on yourself too easily. Keep fighting!” My boss blinked. “Transparency is the best policy, I agree. I hope you get the tools you need to reach your potential. Good timing too, that this is happening now in the slow months before busy season. You have some breathing room to try find your bearings.”

I started back on Concerta for my ADD immediately, and as expected, the loss of appetite (common side-effect) was extreme. For the first 4 days I barely ate 700 calories/day despite trying to eat. I almost fainted in dance class, and when I showed up to the gym, I was so light-headed I couldn’t walk straight. I brought Coach up to speed, warning him it would take me up to 2 weeks to adjust to the medication, and who knows what might happen should I eventually see a psychiatrist. Coach was silent, because that was a lot to process, and immediately modified the group workouts so that I wouldn’t risk injuring myself but could still trigger the endorphins that I needed. I admitted that my doctor had reprimanded me for ignoring my therapist’s long standing instructions to workout intensely 3x a week if I wanted to avoid anti-depressants. Coach reminded me gently, “I’ve always been here for you – even when you wouldn’t show. I got you.”

I was called braved on Facebook for sharing my story, putting myself out there. It’s not bravery. It’s a coping mechanism to try disarm the shame of all this.

Shame drives two big tapes —“never good enough” —and, if you can talk it out of that one, “who do you think you are?” The thing to understand about shame is, it’s not guilt. Shame is a focus on self, guilt is a focus on behavior. Shame is “I am bad.” Guilt is “I did something bad.” How many of you, if you did something that was hurtful to me, would be willing to say, “I’m sorry. I made a mistake?” How many of you would be willing to say that? Guilt: I’m sorry. I made a mistake. Shame: I’m sorry. I am a mistake.

There’s a huge difference between shame and guilt. And here’s what you need to know. Shame is highly, highly correlated with addiction, depression, violence, aggression, bullying, suicide, eating disorders. And here’s what you even need to know more. Guilt, inversely correlated with those things. The ability to hold something we’ve done or failed to do up against who we want to be is incredibly adaptive. It’s uncomfortable, but it’s adaptive.

(…) empathy’s the antidote to shame. If you put shame in a Petri dish, it needs three things to grow exponentially: secrecy, silence and judgment. If you put the same amount in a Petri dish and douse it with empathy,it can’t survive. The two most powerful words when we’re in struggle: me too.

Brené Brown, Listening to shame, Ted2012

Secrets are shameful. Shame is toxic, eating away at you till you are nothing but a hollow shell. I don’t have the energy to fight this fight against my brain and fight the corrosive effects of shame. So I publish my struggle with the world to prove to myself that it (it = my struggle = me) is not shameful, thereby disabling shame. It is not without consequences: it does impact people’s perception of me, sometimes negatively. But I feel that the consequence of those negative perceptions on my friendship, dating and career prospects are worth it vs trying to cope internally with the destructive negative soundtrack shame pumps into my already sick brain. I’m not brave. I’m exhausted, and if I am to have a shot at surviving this bitch of an illness I need to be pragmatic.

I’m taken aback by my rejection and discomfort with the potential diagnosis of bi-polar disorder. I who prided myself on being a mental health advocate… turns out I’m fine with vanilla mental health issues, but faced with one of the more heavy duty issues? Nah man, not cool. I guess that makes me a depressed hypocrite. That my doctor would even entertain such notion about me was a wake up call. I’ve been down-playing the gravity of my mental health struggles. A form of pride, I suppose, refusing to admit just how hard I’ve been finding life, how exhausting and frustrating to keep up the appearance of being normal, at the expense of friendships, interpersonal relationships, and a real chance of happiness. And now that I am being honest… it has been brutal. I have no fight left in me. I’m totally spent.

This has forced me into an unnatural state of humility. Whereas I’ve always struggled with the implications of taking meds for my ADD (how much of my success is my own, how much is the by-product of my privileged circumstances that grant me access to Big Pharma magic?) this time round I feel nothing but gratitude as I begin to notice the drugs taking effect: a slight moderation in my crazy roller coaster emotional swings, 1-2 moments of clarity during the day, 5-60 minutes of actual concentration on most days, the ability to answer emails, knock off the occasional item from my overwhelming to-do list, do laundry, or read a chapter from my favorite books every few days. I’ve a very long ways to go, but when I have these flashes of the Former Vanilla, I honestly don’t care if it is me or the drugs making the difference, I am just relieved.

Relief is sweet, y’all.

CSD was hesitant to send me his newest favorite Spotify play list. He didn’t want me to think he was laughing me. I wonder why?! Just because I am depressed AF doesn’t mean I can’t find the humor in the absurd. “The Drugs Don’t Work” has got to be one of the best song titles EVER. Shitty song tho.

Update on the psychiatrist: Quebec bureaucracy, yo. I’ve been seen by a social worker to evaluate the urgency of my situation, who filled out a report I never was given an opportunity to read and have not heard back since. Apparently waiting times to consult a psychiatrist range from weeks (super urgent cases) to months (for run-of-the-mill cases… totally acceptable description of the lives of individuals that require a psychiatric evaluation). #ourhealthcaresystemenragesmesobad


A moment of reckoning

Friday, like a good girl, I went to the doctor’s appointment GAB had scheduled for me at a random clinic. The doctor asked me why I was there. “Because my coworkers got fed up of hearing me complain about how unwell I am. I had the flu on NYE, I had aching kidneys in mid-January, I had some sort of bronchitis end of January, and ever since, I am just so tired.” He took my blood pressure, made me say Aaaaah, and tested my knee reflexes. “You seem perfectly healthy.” Bro, really? After 3 minutes, no questions about my medical history, you feel you’ve done enough to give me your professional opinion? I look ok, but I’m not ok. I used to be an athlete. I know my body inside out and I am telling you this fatigue is not normal. I am exhausted, always. “Fine, we’ll do some blood tests.”

$378 later (thank goodness for insurance!), I was told that the clinic would contact me if and only if any of the tests came back positive. I was dismissed.

On impulse, I called the clinic where I’d last seen the GP with kind eyes that saw past my social front, and first diagnosed me with my shadow.  I was way overdue to see him. Last spring, he’d prescribed me with 6 months’ worth of medication for my ADD, and requested a follow up appointment. Bureaucracy and an unfriendly receptionist resulted in me missing the appointment; my medication ran out in beginning November. To my surprise, I got an appointment immediately. I saw him yesterday.

Ever the professional, he insisted on taking me on as a patient because he was not comfortable prescribing a controlled substance (ADD medication) to someone whose file he couldn’t properly follow (I NOW HAVE A FAMILY DOCTOR FOR THE FIRST TIME SINCE I MOVED OUT IN 2005! THE RELIEF IS REAL!). In doing so, he got access to my blood test results. Clean bill of health, other than some slight anemia, which is normal amongst menstruating women. So why the fatigue?

And so started the conversation of my shadow, because fatigue and unusual sleep patterns are a major symptom of depression. Yes sir, I’ve had another episode since we last spoke. Just pulling myself out of it, actually. He made me fill out a standard questionnaire used by professionals to monitor the severity of the patient’s depression. To my surprise, my score indicated that I am currently suffering a major depression, moderately severe. “Impossible! I’m BETTER now. Sir, you should have seen me in Nov-Dec, I was a wreck”. We went through the questionnaire again, only to conclude that in December, I’d been undergoing a severe major depression, one that would have required antidepressants AND psychotherapy AND a leave of absence. One that I’d navigated alone, and survived. Barely.

So here I am. With a referral to a psychiatrist. My GP has requested that I be assessed for bi polar disorder.“Bi-polar?! Me?!! No. I’m not manic. No. Impossible.” My GP smiled. Not all manias manifest themselves the same. He’d feel more comfortable if we could rule out that possibility, given the increasingly disruptive frequency and intensity of my depressive episodes. He gently suggested that I’d done all I could do to manage this burden on my own: it was time to consult a specialist, someone who could determine what exactly was going on, and what drugs/treatment, if any, could alleviate my condition.

I admitted that part of me had always hoped he was wrong – maybe I didn’t have a shadow, I didn’t have major depressive disorder. Maybe I’d just been unlucky. Maybe blowing out my knee and having my mother die unexpectedly in her sleep within 3 weeks of each other was enough to make me depressed (2012). Maybe finding out the guy I’d been sleeping with had forgotten to tell me he had a girlfriend, a bunch of terrible bad dates, a stressful job and a boxing concussion was enough to make me depressed (2014). Maybe all the minor blips in 2016 the result of that concussion + my terrible taste in men. Maybe I just couldn’t handle stress well, and boy, had 2017 been stressful. Maybe I was just insecure. Maybe I just needed to eat better, exercise more, try harder. Maybe I was actually ok?

No. My GP was as confident in his diagnosis (major depressive disorder) now as he had been a year ago. It was time, he felt, to leverage a specialist would give me the tools to free my brain from its poison, and allow me to “access the full potential of this amazing gift you have been given of your intelligence. It is your extreme intelligence that allowed you to get this far without help. Even now, as I talk to you, you fool me. Your mannerisms and demeanor are that of an overworked, tired professional. You look healthy. But your eyes give you away. Your eyes show suffering.

I pride myself on being fairly self-aware. Yet I had no idea it was this bad. I knew my year-end evaluation was not great (inter-personal difficulties), I knew my dance squad has repeatedly mentioned I’m too intense, too emotional to be around. I knew I was dangerously apathetic towards work. I knew my meltdowns were still happening (on Monday, a relatively innocuous convo triggered a two hour sob-fest at my desk that I couldn’t control, such that I had to leave work, take a sick day and I continued to cry uncontrollably all afternoon. I am still dehydrated from that experience, 48 hours later). Yet… I couldn’t see these signs for what they were: I am not ok. Really not ok. I was in denial.

It feels like grief, accepting this sentencing to a life of struggle and suffering. I don’t know that I have the energy to keep fighting this hard, forever.

It feels like fear. My career, my beautiful, precious, wonderful career, my biggest asset, my pride and joy, jeopardized by the very brain that got me here.

It feels like paranoia. The inevitable labels of ‘weak’, ‘crazy’, ‘unpredictable’, ‘unable to cope’.

It feels like loneliness. Few are those that can sustain the burden of loving someone like me. I tire myself, and I definitely wear out those around me.

It feels like exhaustion. Bone deep exhaustion.

But today, 24 hours later, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that it also feels a tiny bit like the possibility of hope.

It’s a lot to process.

We are not immortal

I am going to a funeral on Sunday.

By the time I met Sandra in grade 9, her scar above her left eye had started to fade. She didn’t make a big deal about it. She’d had cancer in grade 6-7. She survived. That was all. I liked Sandra, everybody did. She was petite and sweet and kind and funny. One of the popular kids, without ever being a Mean Girl. She had a light about her that everyone – including teachers – gravitated towards. She lived near me, and sometimes her Ma and my Ma would chat and encourage each other through the trials and tribulations of raising headstrong adolescent girls. I liked her Ma: a little lady with twinkling eyes that could worry like the best of them, but always had faith, a smile and a hopeful word. Although I never was close to Sandra – I never was close to anyone particularly in high school, that’s how I survived – I always felt seen by her. Seen and accepted, which is a gift.

According to Facebook, after graduating, she went on to Cegep and University, tried her hand at various entrepreneurial ventures, met a guy that was absolutely nutty about her and got married. A while back I saw a GoFundMe being shared by my former classmates. I read it, it mentioned Sandra & medical bills. I didn’t pay attention, I saved the link, and never looked at it again, distracted by life.

Her cancer came back.

That doesn’t make any sense. I don’t smoke, I don’t drink. I recycle.

I haven’t seen her in 10 years, but somehow the world spins slightly differently now that her smile is gone.

I feel shame. Shame that I have been distracted by the triviality of my life, rather than being present in the lives of those that matter. We are not immortal. Time lost now is time lost forever. I made that mistake with my mother. Clearly, over time, I’ve forgotten that lesson. Would that I not do so again.

Recently, I’ve been trying to clean up my diet, start going back to the gym, in an attempt to feel better, for real. Despite a stable weight – even some weight loss! – and looking really good, I can’t remember the last time I’ve had such a long stretch of feeling so meh. My mental health is also clearly affected, as evidenced by my 8 month struggle with this depression shadow shit. My tool box dictates health starts with nutrition and exercise. I’d forgotten, until I got hit with the flu on NYE.

I complained at work about feeling under the weather, again, today. CSD rolled his eyes at me, “GO SEE A DOCTOR”. I pointed out I didn’t have anything specific to complain about, other than not feeling myself for the past ever. I used to be an athlete. Now I sleep 8 hours and can barely drag myself out of bed. “GO SEE A DOCTOR”, he said. “Ask for blood tests, see what they say. You’ve got nothing to lose.” I dithered. Maybe. GAB heard that maybe and stood by my desk until I gave her my Medicare card. She found me an appointment tomorrow at 11:30am. She even paid the $19 registration fee to ensure my spot was reserved. Then she did a happy dance and high-fived CSD 15 times as they congratulated themselves that they’d saved me from impending renal failure.

They teased me that I was too quiet. How to explain how much that meant to me? They did not let themselves be distracted by life, even as I was too distracted by life to take care of my own.

We are not immortal. But love is.

Sandra, Vechnaya Pamyat.

“In a blessed falling asleep, grant, O Lord, eternal rest unto Thy departed servant and make her memory to be eternal!”


This is true love, part 2

I have the best team ever, right? Right. My darlings. They keep me going when nothing else does.

For the 2nd year running, my little GAB surprised me on Valentine’s day with a deluxe grilled cheese sandwich. Grilled cheese… with BACON.

I was so overwhelmed, I hugged her. #professionalheartemoji

It was delicious.

Yesterday (Feb 15) I showed up to work, around 9:30 as usual (#earlybird), and as I walked past GAB’s desk, she looked at me with reproachful eyes.

I was SO sure you’d show up with chocolate today.


So like any good manager, after getting such direct feedback, I addressed the situation.

Last night:

Little GAB looked quite touched when I gave her her Lindt flower stem.


Do y’all remember Nene? You should. He’s cool. He sent me this. #goodtiming

Cheese wins @funnieronline

A post shared by Shitheadsteve (@shitheadsteve) on

Where is the lie?


More than a watch

Back when I still worked at a Big 4, I wanted a watch. Classic, timeless, elegant, that I could wear in the day time, or at a swanky 5à7-8-9-way-too-late-for-a-weekday, at drinks at a pub or even at a wedding. Not a statement watch, but something graceful. That criteria effectively ruled out 99% of all watches, which typically have thick bands/straps. I searched high and low, but nothing was quite right. For months, I kept an eye out. It bugged me. A watch is the new status symbol: it serves no practical purpose, now that cells are omnipresent. But pulling out one’s smartphone at a meeting, during a conversation or a party is so much less well mannered or elegant than glancing at one’s watch. I craved that elegance.

Christmas 2011. I’d just successfully passed the UFE, the last step of my 5 year journey to obtaining my professional designation. My mama was proud. I was exhausted.  That was the first year I hadn’t had the time to decorate their Christmas tree for them – too busy at work. I was ashamed at not having taken the time to make my parents a priority. My mama’s health was on a sharp downward spiral. We’d started having the conversations about her life expectancy, which was under 5 years. Christmas day, we delayed opening presents till almost noon, to give her time to sleep – she’d only fallen asleep in the wee hours of the morning, because of a massive flare-up of her painful symptoms. We opened the presents in the family room, I remember her sitting on the couch in her fluffy cyan blue bathrobe*. She looked so cuddly, I wanted to squeeze her to bits except I couldn’t because it would hurt her. My heart ached. My heart ached even more when I saw her Christmas present for me: a beautiful watch. Perfect. If I could have conceived of a watch that was exactly what I wanted, it would be the watch she gave me. She’d hunted for months to find it, bad health and all. It immediately became an extension of my body, the first thing I would put on every morning when I woke up, and the last thing I removed at night.

Summer 2012. The battery died a few days after her funeral. I took it off, and stored it in my jewelry box.

February 2017. I was going through a pretty intense wave of missing her (Letter from my Mama and Memory box). Since I find the tangible reminders of her so helpful, I dug out my watch and put it in my purse to have the battery changed. For ONE YEAR I carried around that watch in my purse, because I couldn’t bring myself to hand it over to a stranger, lest they lose or damage it. Instead, I would slip my hand into my purse and touch my watch for strength.

This week, I was walking through a shopping mall in downtown mall, near my gym, distracted by work and life, when I spotted a boutique jewelry shop. Two middle-aged Arab men were at the counter, with a teenage girl helping out. A family business. It was the angle of one of the men’s head’s that caught my eye: his body language was one of careful concentration. The whole energy of that place reminded me of Dynamo and the love that I always feel from his family. On impulse I went in, and asked for them to replace my battery. My hand shook as I handed them my watch. I watched nervously as they did the simple repair, and then they cleaned my watch for me, just because.

I couldn’t explain why I was crying. But they looked at me with kind eyes, and reminded me that even a $5 watch was priceless if it was a gift of love.

And that is how, on February 8, 2018, a nothing special day, I wore my mother’s watch for the first time since Summer 2012.


Alphonse keeping track of time, making sure I get stuff done at work.

*Her cuddly cyan blue bathrobe:

My father lived for 3 months in their home, constantly surrounded by all the reminders of her. Her slippers. Her coats hanging on the coat-rack in the entry. Her towels in the bathroom. He wasn’t ready to change anything. Then, after 3 months, he agreed it was time, and it would help if we sorted through her clothes, and removed them from the house. My uncle and aunt came down from Quebec city to help with that god-awful task.

I insisted on keeping her blue bathrobe. My aunt offered to wash it for me. I agreed, for hygiene purposes, but it made me so sad. Her smell would be gone.

I use it as a blanket now, whenever I am sick. Wrapping myself in it, with Mimi overseeing the cuddles, is the closest thing to having my Mama take care of me.


Dancefloor drama V: an irrelevant question of weight

Recently, I’ve started to learn how to lead as a dancer. I’ve a long ways to go, I only know about 6 moves, but what a thrill. Following is one thing: it is about embracing vulnerability and connection. But leading? Leading is different. Is it accepting to be seen – poor technique, undeveloped musicality, errors in judgment and timing. It is accepting the precious gift of vulnerability offered to me by my dance partners. It is the opportunity to treat them with kindness and patience whilst laying bare my own imperfections. Leading is self-expression and creativity and team work. Every dance is different and wonderful. I. LOVE. IT.

You can see it in my concentration & smiles.

In Paris, I took a semba workshop with one of Teacher’s besties.  Cultural difference #1: Semba is not as popular in France as it is in other kizomba dancing countries like Canada, Portugal, Netherlands, Italy or the UK. There were way more girls (followers) than guys (leaders), so I switched my role from follower to leader to help even out the pairings. Cultural difference #2: female leaders are an anomaly in France.  I definitely got a few stares, curious questions from my female dance partners, and that night, more than one dude commented, “Oh so you are back to being a female, now?” #verytraditionalgenderroles I didn’t have the energy to debate with any of them, or to point out that originally in Angola,semba is not a gender specific dance. It is most commonly danced between men and woman, but it can be danced between children, men and men, women and women, youth and senior citizen, whomever. It is a partner dance. Partners. 2 individuals. I ain’t about to stand around waiting for the better part of an hour for a dude to ask me to dance, when I can lead and dance with anybody I want!

(Aside, I survived leading in an intermediate class taught by Fabricio. This guy. Yeah! #majorvictory).

As is customary in class, the leaders practiced the step combo being taught by cycling through the followers. This allows for socialization and better learning opportunities: it is easier to identify common mistakes and strengths when the number of people one is practicing on is high.

Fabricio was teaching us a complicated move: swipe the girl’s leg, and make her do a very slow spin on one bent leg, which can only successfully happen if the leader properly supports her and keeps her center of gravity immobile. To the extent the leader messes that up, the follower will have no choice but to shift her weight onto the leader to avoid face-planting. Tricky. I flubbed up the move with my first few partners, much to our mutual enjoyment and giggles. By girl 4 I was getting the handle of it. By girl 6, I almost had swag. Girl 7 went smoothly, but she was very tense, which made it a little harder for me to execute, but no big deal – I would be tense too, trusting a stranger to not trip me, drop me AND spin me! Fabricio stopped the class to give some clarification. Girl 7 used that unexpected break to whisper to me:

Do you mind, I hope this isn’t an awkward question, but could you tell me, for real, honestly…

When you dance with me, am I heavier than other girls? Do you find me hard and heavy to dance with? You can tell me, I want to know. Do you enjoy dancing with me like with other girls?

She looked so embarrassed. Ashamed.

A rush of reactions, all jumbled:

  • Poor darling.
  • I wanna punch wtv loser(s) made her think she is fat and heavy. Girl had the same curvy shape as me, just a wee bit shorter. She weighed 145lbs tops, 5ft6-5ft7.
  • Why is she asking me this now, when Fabricio is talking? How on earth can I properly answer this, without disrespecting him by talking in class?!
  • How long has she been waiting to find someone she feels comfortable enough to ask this question to? It must be because I am a girl, so she feels less scared to ask me this. I hope I don’t fuck this moment up

I whispered back my honest answer that, no, she is FINE. She is a good follower, maybe a bit tense, but the heaviness of the follower, ESPECIALLY for this tricky spin, is a function of the leader’s ability to keep her center of gravity stable, not a function of her weight. And besides, I’ve danced with women that weigh well over 200lbs, and they can feel lighter, easier to lead, more responsive than some cute little twig bombshell hottie. Fabricio turned to look our way, so I kept quiet so as to not further disrupt the class. I could have said more, but she left class before I could find her and wrap up our convo.

I am by no means a small girl (5ft9, 160-165lbs/74-75kgs on a slim week). I’ve battled my body insecurities for years (here and here). I am taller than all my dance partners, even the ones that are not wee:

My bigger proportions (weight and height) has been problematic in the team – I am limited in who I can partner with for fear of injuring the guys’ backs on some of the lifts. It shouldn’t upset me, but it definitely makes me self conscious. At the same time, I can’t exactly fault them for occasionally struggling with catching a moving airborn target of 165lbs. Obvi, in those cases, they prefer dancing with a twig bombshell hottie. #backinjuriesaretheworst

I wish I could have convinced her that my enjoyment is not based on the girl’s weight but on her ability to embrace the connection. That its a question of vulnerability. Something that I struggle with too as a follower, and that is ok.

I wish I could have told her that any dude that tried to blame her for being difficult to dance with – specifically on her weight – was a jackass, a loser with an ego too fragile to own up to his failings as a leader, so he had to go crush her self-esteem instead. It is ALWAYS the leader’s fault. It is the LEADER that must communicate, guide, adapt to the follower. I wish she could take a class with Teacher, because Teacher goes ape-shit when he hears of some of the bullshit “his girls” are told by dudes on the dancefloor. Teacher’s famous piece of advice:

Leaders, if you bust out a move with a girl on the dancefloor and she doesn’t get it, ok, maybe you messed it up, you weren’t clear, your timing was a little off. Take a time out, calm yourself, get that adrenaline under control, do a few a basic steps. If you bust out that move a 2nd time, and she doesn’t get it again, ok maybe she is a beginner or a bad follower. So do a little 1-2 step, get her to relax and smile. That’s your job.

But leaders, if you then bust out that SAME move a third time in the same song… you’re just an asshole.

Dancing is about making sure your partner is having a good time, not about you going on an ego trip and putting your need to succeed a move ahead of your partner’s skills and enjoyment.

Nothing to do about weight in there.

I wish I’d told her she was beautiful.

I wish I could have told her to own her ginga.

I hope she believed me.


The Imitation Game

After class on Monday, Teacher explained that the key to improving in kuduro was to never miss a class, “It’s like math class in university, you know? Miss one class, and you show up at the next one, and you’ve completely lost, with no fucking clue what’s going on.” Everyone agreed, missing math class was the worst. I stayed quiet: I knew that saying “yeah no, I actually have no idea what you’re talking about” wouldn’t go over well, perceived as being attention-seeking, or showing off.

But it’s true, tho. I actually have no idea.

All through Cégep and University, for all non-calculus math classes and all accounting classes that did not have “participation” marks or group projects, I didn’t bother attending class unless I found the teacher inspiring. For the most part, I found my teachers insipid and incompetent, my classmates annoying and frighteningly stupid and the whole experience a waste of my time and a trial to my patience. So I’d buy the textbooks, skip class, and teach myself the content of the syllabus, sometimes more if the topic was interesting. I’d attend the review class before each midterm/final and write the exams. Twice that I can remember, I was approached by teachers, so offended by my behavior that they promised me they would personally see to it that I failed. I’d laugh at them, “You can try. You won’t succeed, sir.” I graduated University with a 4.13 GPA (between A=4.0 and A+ = 4.3). I never got below an A- in my undergrad, and I challenged myself to never finish out of the top 3 in any acco class, and top 5 in any business class. I won an award at graduation for the best GPA in accounting.

I always knew my transcript was a thing of beauty. But it is only this week, after Teacher’s comment, that I realized just how unusual my story was. Sad, too.

When I was very young, my parents had me tested for autism, because I had some odd quirks. Refusing to speak when spoken too, easily overwhelmed, bigger meltdowns than typical toddler tantrums. Ultimately, I was deemed to not be autistic. The doctor concluded I refused to speak when spoken to whenever I felt the person speaking to me was not saying anything worth responding to. Ask me what sound a cow made? Silence. Ask me if I was hungry? I’d answer. This was back before the notion of the spectrum or Asperger’s was a thing.

I had difficulty integrating in social settings (e.g. kindergarten woes). In Grade 5 I transferred from a French immersion elementary school to a local French school next to my house. Despite excellent marks at the previous school, I could barely string together a sentence in French. My new school had a very homogeneous population, all Québécois families, except for 2 anglophone families (including mine). Because of my mother’s intense tutoring, I immediately started scoring the top marks in all the tests and homework. The kids resented me – the anglo new kid that couldn’t speak French to save her life, being the top student. A rumor started: I must be cheating. The rumor spread like wildfire, such that the younger siblings of the kids in my class would point at me in the schoolyard during recess, “tiens, c’est la tricheuse” (“hey, there goes the cheat”). Coupled with the fact that I busted my knee and was in and out of the hospital for all of Grade 5-6 and STILL getting top marks… the rumors persisted. I didn’t have enough command of the French language to defend myself, nor did I understand how bullying worked. It was so unfair. I was busting my ASS at home to get those grades, under Sergeant Mama, and these punks were claiming I was trying to get something for nothing, just because I was different and didn’t fit in?!

As I grew older, my mother set out to train me, explain me the rules, so I could mimic socially acceptable behavior: someone smiling without showing teeth = polite not genuine smile, probably pissed off. Don’t ask personal questions, it’s perceived as invasive not friendly. Touching people is not affectionate, it is considered a lack of boundaries. Interrupting is not a sign of interest, it is considered rude. Speaking too rapidly or in too loud a voice is not seen as being animated or interested, it is deemed aggressive. Smile when you say thank you or people will think you are insincere – it doesn’t matter if you don’t mean it, they expect you to smile, so smile. All the lessons and rules I needed to learn to not ruffle feathers, my mother drilled into me. I became rather good at pretending to be normal, so much so I had to convince a doctor that I really do have moderate ADD and a perpetual shadow. It’s not flawless, I often make small slip-ups and frequently get the feedback that I am phony/aloof and my favorite: a “bit of a bitch”.

Pretending to be normal, however, comes at a cost. It implies that parts of me deserve to be hidden, are shameful. Fertile ground for my shadow. After my 2014 depression, I reorganized my life such that I didn’t have to pretend so much. As a consultant, my success had depended on my clients liking me. By moving into industry, all I need is for my coworkers to tolerate me and deliver on my projects. I can be more myself, quirks and all. Still, my inability to sit in a room of people that cannot keep up with my brain – I find it physically painful, my blood pressure rises from the strain of holding my tongue and not lashing out in frustration at their uncomprehending questions, off-topic reasoning, I just want them to understand for all our sakes – is starting to limit my career growth, just like it has limited my social life, and my ability to make friends at school. I might not actually be arrogant, but I definitely come across as displaying, an attitude of superiority manifested in an overbearing manner or in presumptuous claims or assumptions”. I know this, I can see people withdraw and judge me with contempt, but I don’t know anymore how to address this. I’ve reached the limit of my social (un)savviness.

Here’s the thing. I’m mad. I am so fucking mad at all the people who judge me for being different. For being quirky. For being arrogant. I am DONE with having to hide who I am, change who I am, so I don’t ruffle feathers. Heaven forbid who I am generates a sense of insecurity or takes people aback. I’ve spent 34 years accepting people that cannot keep up with my brain through no fault of their own AND trying to mold myself according to arbitrary social norms. I am not normal. I am close to normal, but I am not. I am smart and I am poor at matching my outputs to social inputs, through no fault of my own. WHY IS THAT SO HARD FOR PEOPLE TO ACCEPT.

Just like in university, I’ve decided to pay the price by isolating myself, to spare myself from the masses of judgmental assholes. If that means taking a hit in my career or socially, so be it. It’s either that or a hit to my mental health.

I’m done. I’m tired. The cost of appearing normal is not worth the benefit.

I am nowhere near as smart or awkward as Alan Turing. But boy oh boy can I relate to this sequence. Thank goodness for the few people in the world that can see past quirks and differences to a person’s real merit.