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.

Ironic times

I’ve been friends with Blond ‘Fro for almost 15 years now. While we don’t see each other as often as we used to, seeing as we are both attempting to live #adulting adulty lives, him in the ‘burbs with his sweetheart, me clueless in the city, there is something comforting about having a person who has shared moments of truth with me through so many years. I value those few people who help me stay grounded, and who take on the burden of maintaining these friendships, as I drift through life rudderless.

I met up with Blond ‘Fro for our quarterly drinks & talking shit session, and he gave me a belated Valentine’s day gift. “You know, whenever I see anything that relates to failed relationships, the first thing that pops into my head is “Hey! This is a good gift idea for Vanilla!” I can’t help it.”

We’ll store that under #annoyingtruthsonlygoodfriendscangetawaywith.

Blond ‘Fro expected me to ruefully laugh, which I did. He didn’t expect me to open the box of chocolates, right then and there in the bar, and eat two of them, as I explained the perfect timing of his gift. For how could he have known that I’d seen ICB earlier that day?

ICB and I went to Ikea on March 2nd, we had a great time. I felt cherished and taken care of, a novel experience. I don’t let people take care of me because I don’t believe I am worthy of such treatment and I know I am incapable of adequately reciprocating. But things between ICB and me had lately grown to levels of cautious mutual support and comfort, such that when he took action to care for me, I felt secure enough to let him.

A few days later ICB called me up in the middle of work and announced a bombshell. The growing preoccupations in his life had reached a stage that he felt no choice but to take drastic action. If he didn’t resolve satisfactorily the situation by his birthday in 2 months time, he would move back to his home country and start fresh. I was stunned. It’s true, this was something he had briefly considered in the past, but I never took him seriously because he acknowledged the many serious drawbacks of this option, including the volatile economy, deep political instability and violent uprisings in his home town. He asked me if I would help him accomplish part of this, by taking on some of the admin work required for this option, seeing as I am really good at all things bureaucracy. Incapable of processing what was happening, I agreed.

As the minutes ticked by, the hurt threatened to overwhelm me. For the first time in a long time, I cried uncontrollably at the office, grateful for the door that gave me privacy. We exchanged increasingly tense texts for the next few hours, until finally another phone call. He didn’t understand why I was making this about me. I tried to explain that I wasn’t exactly, but that it was a pretty brutal way to find out that all my hopes and dreams and happiness regarding him were not to be. He reminded me that it wasn’t a certainty, he would only pursue this option in 2 months time, if nothing worked out between now and then. I agreed with his relatively measured approach, but pointed out that regardless of what happened in 2 months, he’d taken the decision now to prioritize me out of his life. And that hurt me, deeply. So deeply that I needed a time out, because I didn’t trust myself to interact with him without lashing out. I needed 2 weeks to work through my stages of grief from his decision.

Those 2 weeks turned into 3, and then almost 4. We finally saw each other yesterday to clear the air. Being a man, and therefore not in touch with his emotions, it took a few tries before he admitted that he’d been hurt by my sudden withdrawal from his life, that he felt betrayed that I could abandon him in his hour of need. I apologized, explaining that it was the best I could do in the circumstances. I tried to get him to understand my hurt, but instead all I heard was, “I don’t understand how you could react so strongly about a decision about my life; you know how much I need to fix this current situation, how much it is holding me back; you and I would have never worked out anyhow; there were no promises between us.”

As he left, he asked me, “We cool? I really value our friendship.”

So did I. While I might not hold any grudge against ICB – I care about him too deeply for that – all trust has been destroyed. It takes me hundreds of hours of time spent with a person to slowly reveal myself. ICB had a talent of breaking through my defenses and forcing me to reveal more truths about myself than I was willing to show. Despite my fears that in getting to know me, he’d eventually see how worthless I was and run away, he stuck around. I’d gotten to the stage where I trusted him, allowed myself to be vulnerable around him, and that safety was a source of joy and stability in my life. But that is all gone now. I cannot be vulnerable with someone who has made it clear that my place in his life is optional.

What is friendship, if not the sharing of moments of authenticity and truth? Once upon a time, we shared moments of joy. Now, we share those memories, I suppose, and careful talk about the weather.

I wish him success, I do. He is right to try fix the issues in his life, as only he can. I acknowledge that ours was probably not destined to be a great love story. But it remains that as I trusted him enough to show him parts of myself that I keep hidden from the world, I imperceptibly came to rely on him as a steadying presence in this dizzying life. It is disappointing to learn that the value I placed on that connection was not shared equally. Nobody’s fault, I suppose. But it fucking sucks.

I’m sad.

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Know Thyself

I recently attended a 4 day workshop on managing. We covered a lot of topics, but as the days went by, we all realized that managing has much less to do with managing others, and a whole lot more with knowing oneself, and then figuring how to interact with others with simplicity and authenticity.

On my way to the training, I read the HBR article “How Will You Measure Your Life?” By Clayton M. Christensen, wherein he argues that ever known business model can be applied to build a successful personal life as well as professionally. Written in 2010, at the height of the last recession, it’s based on a speech Professor Christensen gave to his graduating Harvard class, where most of the students faced poor chances of employment.

Management is the most noble of professions if it’s practiced well. No other occupation offers as many ways to help others learn and grow, take responsibility and be recognized for achievement, and contribute to the success of a team.

Clayton M. Christensen, How Will You Measure Your Life?

Professor Christensen urges us all to ask of ourselves three questions.

How can I be sure that I’ll be happy in my career?

Through finding one’s own unique life purpose. Similar to a company that needs to know what unique value it brings to its shareholders, we all need to know what we are called to do here on earth.

I promise my students that if they take the time to figure out their life purpose, they’ll look back on it as the most important thing they discovered at Harvard. If they don’t figure it out, they will just sail off without a rudder and get buffeted in the very rough seas of life. Clarity about their purpose will trump knowledge of activity-based costing, balanced scorecards, core competence, disruptive innovation, the four Ps, and the five forces. (…)

The choice and successful pursuit of a profession is but one tool for achieving your purpose. But without a purpose, life can become hollow.

Clayton M. Christensen

How can I be sure that my relationships with my spouse and my family become an enduring source of happiness?

Through the wise allocation of resources (time and focus) between work and family and the active creation of a family culture based on respect, kindness and honesty.

How can I be sure I’ll stay out of jail?

By knowing thyself: defining what one stands for and drawing a line that cannot be crossed.

I asked all the students (at Harvard College) to describe the most humble person they knew. One characteristic of these humble people stood out: They had a high level of self-esteem. They knew who they were, and they felt good about who they were. We also decided that humility was defined not by self-deprecating behavior or attitudes but by the esteem with which you regard others. Good behavior flows naturally from that kind of behavior. For example, you would never steal from someone, because you respect that person too much. You’d never lie to someone, either. (…)

If you have a humble eagerness to learn something from everybody, your learning opportunities will be unlimited. Generally, you can be humble only if you feel really good about yourself – and you want to help those around you feel really good about themselves, too.

Clayton. M. Christensen

On my flight home, I read another famous HBR article, “Managing Oneself” by Peter F. Drucker. In it, Professor Drucker argues that it is the individual’s responsibility to manage themselves before attempting to manage others. To do so requires understanding the following 7 items:

  1. What are my strengths?
  2. How do I perform?
  3. What are my values?
  4. Where do I belong?
  5. What should I contribute?
  6. Take responsibility for relationships
  7. Plan for the second half of life.

And yet, a person can perform only from strength. One cannot build performance on weaknesses, let alone on something one cannot do at all. (…)

The conclusion bears repeating: Do not try to change yourself- you are unlikely to succeed. But work hard to improve the way you perform. And try not to take on work you cannot perform or will only perform poorly. (…)

The existence of trust between people does not necessarily mean that they like one another. It means that they understand one another. Taking responsibility for relationships is therefore an absolute necessity. It is a duty.

Peter F. Drucker, Managing Oneself


I’ve thought long and hard about the answers to those questions. They come at a good time, as I am slowly putting myself back together following the complete breakdown of my identity in 2018. In fact, they are a continuation of my 2019 resolutions to invest in myself through meaningful experiences in my career, with my close friends and family, and education and travel.

I am not sure who I am, yet, but for the first time in a long time, I’m inclined to want to find out. What this fall taught me is that I can’t change who I am: my brain is the mess that it is. But what I can do is learn to manage it better, and optimize that which I know to be true about myself: my intelligence, my work ethic, my deep passion for what is right. Borderline might prevent me from ever entering into a stable, long term romantic relationship, but I know I have a lot of love, caring and wisdom to give to this world.

Basically, I’ve discovered that who I am has meaning. And I am one step closer to finding my purpose.


I attended Teacher‘s annual dance festival this weekend. One of his invited artists was Eliza Sala, Queen of Ginga.

Ginga means absolute bliss or happiness. It means “not to take life too seriously and to confront hardship with the right combination of toes, heels and hips”.

I was so excited to see her again, as she was key in getting me to consider my own beauty, a year ago. This time, her message to her female students was about the importance of knowing oneself.

Ladies, you must know what you like and don’t, and understand who you are. Remember, you bring your own unique style to every dance you share with a guy. He has to know that he has danced with you; your job is to follow the steps, not to disappear entirely and lose your personality. Your personality is what makes dancing with you different from dancing with any other woman. You must show who you are, and a good leader will respect you and adapt his style to suit yours. That is your power. Don’t give up your power to anyone.


Eliza’s quiet self-acceptance brought me to tears. Here is a woman who knows who she is. Her knowledge cannot be taken from her; she is, and she invites everyone to enjoy life with her. She doesn’t give herself, only to be depleted – she shares her joy while remaining whole.

A year ago, I found her beauty and power riveting, but I couldn’t imagine feeling as grounded and solid myself. This weekend, watching Eliza, I felt recognition: I too have a similar strength, that I need to cultivate and nurture. Even as my brain tries to poison me, even as I live through periods where I am not sure of my grip on reality, I am still here.

My strength is my BPD. I own this very complicated painful side to myself now.

The conclusion bears repeating: Do not try to change yourself- you are unlikely to succeed. But work hard to improve the way you perform.

You must show who you are (…). That is your power. Don’t give up your power to anyone.

Dancing and life. Not so very different.

When a desk is a good omen

It’s been one month since I seriously cut back my cell phone usage. Life-changing. All the benefits I noticed after the first week are still there, only better. I’ve re-discovered reading, my new favorite way to combat my anxiety and negative thoughts: I simply fill my brain with different, interesting thoughts. Thoughts so interesting, my sick brain gets distracted and continues to ponder them long after I’ve put down my book. Turns out there are a lot of topics more interesting that my self-hatred, insecurities and fear. Motivated by my first book of 2019, The Power of Why, I’ve subscribed to Harvard Business Review, to learn about business topics that interest me. Who knew, rather than making all possible mistakes myself, I can read articles by famous academics and business leaders about their struggles and lessons learned, and benefit from them? My brain feels lit up by this limitless potential for knowledge. The more I read, the more questions I have, the more I thirst for a free moment to finish the article I am currently reading and move on to the next one. I feel alive.

However, all this mental stimulation is exhausting. At first I thought it was the jet lag from my vacation, but it’s been 2 weeks and I am still crashing into bed by 10pm. Even with 8 hours of sleep, I’m waking up voluntarily by 6:30 and making it to the office by 8:30 without breaking a sweat. (I am no longer spending all my money on Uber. It’s a wondrous thing!) As I adapt to this new schedule, I also try leave the office by 6:30pm even on non gym days, so that I can go home, eat real food for supper, before putting in another 2 hours of work. Coupled with my habit of putting in 5-7 hours every weekend, it was time for me to invest in a home office for myself. A real desk, a real chair to support my back, a 2nd screen, a surface to write. I mentioned my idea to ICB.

He started by sending me pictures of various desks. It soon became apparent that he and I have very different tastes in furniture. He likes modern, slick minimalist looks. I like dark wood, the heavier, the better. “I’ll take you to IKEA” he offered. I thought he meant “I’ll take you to IKEA eventually“. He meant “I’ll take you to IKEA this weekend“.

One hour in… no sign of a desk.

I was a little embarrassed, since every man on the planet presents being dragged to IKEA as modern-day torture. But not ICB: he made me smile often. ICB had strong opinions on the type of chair I should get, to make sure my back would be properly supported, because I have terrible posture from working so much. Once he understood what my criteria for a desk was, he kept me focused: “Vanilla, yes that is a really nice desk, but you said you absolutely wanted drawers and that one doesn’t have any.” He disapproved of my tendency to overlook the combined aesthetics of chair and desk – it was important my work space made me feel good. When I struggled to imagine the set up of my office space, he explained away my worries. Within 45 mins, I had a desk and chair picked out.

After 2 hours of desk building, I needed a break. Went to my favorite coffee shop for a snack and some HBR reading.

ICB didn’t let me lift the heavy boxes in the IKEA warehouse; he did it all himself. I caught him carefully inspecting the boxes for any indication of damage as we waited in line at the cash register – something I’d forgotten to do. He loaded everything into his car, leaving me with nothing to do except bring the cart back to store front. Drove me home, helped me carry everything up into my apartment, and promised me he would drop off the 2nd screen he’d already picked out for me this week.

I take pride in being a strong, smart, independent woman who don’t need no man, but damn, it felt lovely to be taken care of. Watching ICB pay so much attention to the little details, not because they mattered to him, but because they mattered to me, made me feel precious and feminine. Valued. Valuable.

This is what 4 hours of IKEA desk building looks like.

Still, I got plenty of opportunity to prove to myself that I am the strong, smart, independent woman that I pride myself in being. I set out to build my IKEA desk and chair BY MYSELF today. I figured it would take me 2-2.5 hours, and then I could spend the afternoon working and maybe even squeeze in a visit to Allie, William and their baby.

Naive.

After 2 hours, I had one drawer, and half a cabinet. Nothing resembling a desk. I decided to give myself a little break, and went to my favorite coffee shop, les Méchants Pinsons, one street over from my place. Nothing like a yummy latte and a warm cinnamon bun to keep my energy levels high. I enjoyed a cozy 40 mins there, chatting with the barista and owner about my IKEA saga, and listened to their eclectic anecdotes of the moment. I left re-energized, ready for whatever IKEA threw my way.

3.5 hours later, I had almost cried, accidentally hammered my thumb twice, uttered several unlady-like expressions. I had a desk. A boss desk. Ha! Look at me! Strong, smart, independent woman who don’t need no man!

Fatigued, but eager to be done with all things assembly, I opened the box for the chair carefully picked out by ICB. To my dismay, this boss chair required a power drill for assembly. I do not have a power drill. What to do? I could wait till my father was back in town, of course, but I wanted my office set up noooooooooow.

Why not have a little something while waiting for a power drill to magically appear?

On a whim, I went back to my favorite coffee shop. The owner was surprised to see me, and more surprised still when he heard my request to borrow a power drill. Still, he went into the basement to fetch it for me, only to come back despondent: the other owner had borrowed it for the weekend.  Slightly daunted, I turned to leave, making a mental list of who I could reach out to – Allie? currently at the swimming pool with her son. ICB? He’d mentioned he had a busy day running errands. Dynamo? Hahaha, Dynamo wouldn’t know what a power drill is, he would hire someone to build his furniture – when one of the employees called me by name. Her boyfriend was about to leave their home to come pick her up, so as long as I didn’t mind waiting around for a bit, I could have her power drill.

THAT is why I love that coffee shop. They embody the lost art of community. Fun fact, their coffee shop is a wifi-free zone. They want their patrons to have conversations: with each other, with the staff, with passersby. The place feels alive, because people are connected.

I ordered a hot chocolate, and read some more. 30 minutes later, I had a power drill, and I left, their enthusiastic wishes of good luck for my new office echoing behind me.

That painting, at my back, to motivate me whenever I am down.

7 hours. It took me 7 hours to build myself my new home office. I’m so happy. Between ICB yesterday and today’s coffee shop moment, I can tell, good things are gonna come from this desk.

The first being this blog post of happiness.

Vacation over therapy any day

I feel whole.

It’s a disorienting feeling, and I worry that it is somewhat temporary, like most lessons in life, one that I will be forced to learn over and over again. But after 19 months of the voices telling me I am worthless/not enough turning into howling hurricanes, causing my grip on reality to slip with increasing frequency, publicly, scarily, filling my gaping wounds with shame, I’m grateful for every minute of this reprieve.

I spent the first half of this vacation struggling to disconnect from work. Work is such a big part of my identity. Who am I, if not a brilliant accountant, capable of delivering more than can be reasonably expected from one person? Luckily for me, I was travelling with DD, and she don’t mess with her vacation time. I was on a strict time table for checking my emails: 20 minutes a day, preferably before she woke up so that she wouldn’t witness me failing at vacationing. By the 4th day of our vacation I was accustomed not thinking about work, and began rediscovering myself. It turns out, I am lot of things other than a brilliant accountant.

I am Vanilla, who loves discovering all she can about the history of her surroundings. Vanilla, who loves to read, but who has an attention span of a squirrel. Vanilla, who loves good food and wine. Vanilla, who enjoys taking the best pictures she can with her iPhone. Vanilla, who feels comforted by walking through the streets of European cities, accompanied by the memories of all those that have walked them before her.

DD and I talked a lot during this trip, of our careers, our struggles, the various ways our personal growth has been stunted, and how we try deal. We talked of our failures. DD is an old soul, wiser than her years. She has come to find strength in the lessons learned from her failures, no matter how painful they were to her at the time and sometimes still sting. It made me reconsider some of my biggest failures of the past 2 years, both personal and professional, festering wounds of shame. I can see now that through these 24 months, I was trying my best, and while my best was not enough to prevent costly mistakes and achieve successful, happy outcomes, I feel pride for having tried so hard. My failures are examples of courage, not of worthlessness.

Budapest is a beautiful city which bears the scars of a tumultuous past. Buildings darkened by bombs, memorials big and small to the horrors committed during WWII. The very ugly parts of Budapest’s past are not celebrated nor are they hidden. They are treated with care and integrated into the very fabric of Budapest’s character; as a result, Budapest’s beauty is enhanced because of its flaws. I felt less broken there. What used to seem impossible to reconcile in myself became tolerable. I have done ugly things, and have a side to me that I am not proud of. But rather than fight those parts of myself, what if I just accepted them, and worked to integrate them to the parts of me that I am proud of, while taking every possible precaution to not repeat the mistakes of my past?

‘Shoes on the Danube’ is a memorial dedicated to the 2,000 Jews that were shot into the river in the months of December 1944-January 1945 (easier than having to deal with the corpses) by their fellow Hungarians, members of the Arrow Cross Police.

Bucharest might be Romania’s largest city, but it remains a city in a third world country. Dirty, focused more on survival than aesthetics. And yet, if you look hard enough, past the graffiti, poverty and utilitarian buildings from the communist era, there is much beauty to be found. There is an edge to its beauty, as if the city is not ready to own it yet. Much of Bucharest’s beauty is unconscious. But at night, the city comes alive. The energy changes, people have a spark in their eyes, sharp wit, a naughty tenacity. Bucharest is finding its feet, and enjoying itself in the process. Relatable.

Pretty building, a former palace now a bank, that is filthy with dirt.

I attended a dance festival organized by Froman in Bucharest. I was anxious. My relationship with dance has been a fractious one at best, especially as my condition worsened in 2018. Add to that 350 strangers and no familiar faces other than Froman and a handful of his friends, all of whom were busy running the show with no time for chitchat? Overwhelming. I was worried about what I’d discover about myself. Would I have another rejection of vulnerability? Maybe I don’t actually enjoy dancing for dancing’s sake and do it to feel self-important, for recognition and validation. Was my friendship with Froman even real? I hadn’t seen him in 19 months, a shared love of kizomba does not a friendship make.

I shouldn’t have worried. I showed up at the pre-party to the festival, in a bar filled with people whose language I do not speak, and after a few minutes was asked to dance. And again. And again after that. Dancing doesn’t require spoken word; all it requires is two people willing to share themselves as authentically as possible for a few minutes. An hour so later, one of Froman’s friends showed up, and his delight in seeing me was touching. We spoke as if no time has elapsed, when in fact, all 2 conversations we’d shared occurred in June 2017. Froman appeared a short while later, and his happiness was real and needed no words.

The festival itself was great. Many of the instructors spoke of the importance of kindness in dance, and that translated into one of the most respectful dance floors I’ve ever been on. No groping or uncomfortable stances, no attitudes or snobberies. Everyone danced because the music moved them to. I had almost as much fun watch the other dancers as I did dancing myself. It was a place of goodness.

I danced with an instructor, one with a star/celebrity status. I normally avoid dancing with instructors because I get really nervous that they will find me lacking, or my mistakes will make them look bad, as there is always 20-30 people watching them dance. But this instructor had spoken of kindness, so I trusted him. I made mistakes, but rather than freezing up, I laughed with joy, because I was having fun, despite my imperfections which he could see far more clearly than I could. The next day in class, that same teacher pulled me aside to give me one sentence of feedback. In 12 words, he not only identified my biggest weakness, but gave me the solution to work on it. Whereas I would normally have felt mortified that my weakness had gone on unfixed for so long, interfering with all my partners, this time I felt gratitude. This stranger had understood the root cause correctly, witnessed my strong desire to build connections and gave me the key to unlock my next level of dancing. I felt seen. I put his words into practice for the rest of the weekend, and noticed a sharp improvement in my ability to follow.

On the last day of the festival, I was approached by a girl who I’d noticed throughout the weekend (she resembled a toned down Paloma Faith) but with whom I’d not interacted. With English broken by a very strong Romanian accent, she asked me who I was. I explained I was just an attendee like everyone else, nobody special. “You are spiritual, yes?”, nodding at me for confirmation. Startled, I admitted I hadn’t really thought about it, but I suppose I am. I feel things strongly, seeking connections where I can find them, to people, places, objects, music. She nodded. “You are spiritual, I can tell. I watched you this festival. You have a beautiful energy, very peaceful. I was happy you were here. Have a safe trip back home.”

It’s taken me 2 days to understand why that girl’s words touched me so deeply. It’s because for 19 months, I’ve been told over and over, in some form or another, that I was not enough. And here, through me being myself, not hiding behind any persona or character, just showing up to dance and learn in a spirit of humility and vulnerability, I had made a tiny difference in a strange girl’s life. I was enough.

In Bucharest I made connections aplenty, was grateful for them, but did not try turn them into anything but what they were: wonderful moments. Those connections that are meant to grow into something deeper will, in manners I cannot and should not try predict. They were enough. 11 days of connections: with DD, with Froman and his crew, with that Kizomba instructor and many other dancers, and mostly, with myself.

What a vacation.

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.

 

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.