Family myths

Phase 4 feels like resignation

Coming to terms with the implications of my diagnosis, and the severity of it feels a lot like working through the 7 stages of grief:

  • Shock & denial
  • Pain & guilt
  • Anger & bargaining
  • Depression (lol!), reflection, loneliness
  • The Upward Turn
  • Reconstruction & Working through
  • Acceptance & Hope

Sometimes Facebook memories suck.

One year ago today, I shared this post on my wall, along with the query “To my people who’ve taken huge risks to follow their dreams… any advice for a risk-averse accountant that has a list longer than the Income Tax Act of all the reasons why my dreams won’t work out, which paralyses me? Is it really just a case of “Just doing it?” Anyone ever succeed by “Just doing it gradually”?” To which I got a lot of comments of encouragement and advice that boiled down to, “Just do it consistently, grind away with persistence and determination. Achieving your goals is worth the effort.”

One year later, and I am no closer to any of my goals. If anything, I’m farther. That’s depression for you. Being alive without being alive. Zombie-state, drifting through life, unable to summon the energy to even dream, never mind follow through on those dreams. Until this past year, I was ashamed of my drifter status. Now, having barely survived the worst depressive episode of my life, my life in shambles, I realize that really… surviving was a dream in itself. On the darkest of my dark days, when all the voices in my head were screaming in anguish, I clung to the dream that my misery would one day lessen. And as the worst of the trough appears to be over, and I am “only” in a moderately-severe major depression, technically on the upswing, I now cling to the dream that I might one day find peace. There has been no room to dream for anything more luxurious than that.

My blog keeps me accountable: I’ve been having the same realizations, followed by progressively worse depressions, since 2014. I’m trying. I’m trying so fucking hard.

4 years of battling this shit and nothing to show for it, other than I am still alive. I’m exhausted. I’m broken.

It scares me, this capacity for drifting. The last time I hung out with friends was 2 weeks ago. I spent this weekend doing nothing. Isolated in my apartment, because I just didn’t want to see people, too exhausted from trying to appear normal at work. I craved nothingness, I managed to write this blog post (after trying to concentrate for 3 days) and do a bit of coloring. That’s all. This version of the depression is such that I am relieved that I’ve given up on my dreams, because that saves me from the bother of feeling shame for not being able to accomplish them. Haven’t gone on a date in over a year? Sweet, one less social situation I’d rather avoid. Friendships falling to the wayside? Too bad, but oh the effort of caring was too big. Family calling me to check up on me? Please don’t, I don’t have the energy to reassure you about something that I can’t reassure myself about. Dreams? Yeah no. Day-to-day mini-goals only. Stay employed. Shower. Clean laundry. The odd vegetable. Gym.

I say this fully aware of the incredible privilege of my circumstances: for the first time in my life, I accept that this is the best I can do on my own, and I deem this is not enough. I accept, now, with humility, that I need help in order to access a life that is more than just endless struggle, foisted upon me by my sick brain. I accept the need for a psychiatrist.

Hopefully the Qc healthcare system will not fail me, and my time on the waiting list will be only 1-2 months. I want help, I want to move on with living. For once.


Recap of this recent battle with depression:

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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

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.

#loveandgrief

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.

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.

Office views

Today, from our offices in Paris:

Meanwhile, in Montreal:

Not the same thing.

I love Paris. So much. I feel alive, here. I feel connected to my history and my culture. Because for all I am of Russian and Belorussian descent, France shaped my family’s life.

My paternal grandmother’s family fled the Russian revolution, lived in Nice for years. She was in Paris when WWII broke out. My paternal grandfather made his way from Finland to France, and met my grandmother in Paris soon after the war. My father and his two elder brothers were born in Paris, before the family relocated to Canada. I’ve walked by their former appartements. I’ve been to the church where my father and uncles were baptized.

My mother was born in Montreal, soon after her parents moved to Canada, met and were married. My mother grew up in the province of Quebec, during the rise of the separatist movement, and the often tense, occasionally violent interactions between the anglophone and francophone populations. She witnessed the first independence referendum that failed. I grew up in Montreal, learning French, attempting to embrace the francophone culture. I lived through the 2nd independence referendum. To understand the current day demographics and political landscape is to understand the history of this province and continent. To understand that history is to know of the French colonization of Canada. French history – to this day – impacts my every day life.

To walk about in Paris, in the streets steeped with history, my history… incredible. My identity is only complete when I am in France.

#IwillmoveherebeforeIturn35

#promisetomyself

 

Recap of previous posts involving Paris:

My Russian genetics are MIA

My father and I celebrated Christmas Eve by eating an excessive share of 2 large pizzas (All Dressed and Hawaiian, pineapple totally belongs on a pizzathankyouverymuch) and drinking an entire bottle of port, while watching It’s A Wonderful Life (I bawled my eyes out) and White Christmas, which I maintain is the greatest movie ever made. Growing up, I thought Danny Kaye was my father. My mother always felt Bing Cosby looked like her father. So really, this movie is autobiographical. I mean, just look at this:

#lyricsonpoint The best things do happen when you dance:“Kizomba Will Change Your Life”. Now that I have 15 months of social dancing experience, I watch the above clip and realize just how masterful Danny Kaye and Vera Ellen’s dancing of that choreography is. I mean, I always knew, but now I understand.

Anyhow. 1st important takeaway: not a single drop of vodka was drunk. #failedrussian

I woke up on Christmas to many texts of good wishes from friends and family. #warmfuzzyfeelings As I lay in bed, reconciling myself to the notion that I’d eventually have to get up, my phone pinged. Froman, sending me pics of his most recent trip to Morocco: he is organizing a new festival in Marrakesh and takes an absurd pleasure in triggering my wanderlust #whatarefriendsfor.  So there I was, trying to ignore the mild headache that had nothing to do with the absurd quantities of alcohol consumed the night before, looking at pictures of beautiful mosaics, sunshine, pools and beaches. Up I got, opened the blinds, and sent him the view from my room. Snow. So much of it. To which Froman responds, “oh how pretty!! All that snow!” Really?! Boy, bye.

2nd important takeaway: snow does not fill my heart with happiness. White Christmases are overrated. #failedrussian

Off to Quebec city to spend time with my fam, my darlings. Upon arrival, Quebec Cousin #2 enthusiastically announces, “Vanilla!!! I have this GREAT idea. We are gonna build a fire in a snow pit, and drink mulled wine outdoors! It’s gonna be SO MUCH FUN!”

Fun fact #1: my entire Quebec family own snow-pants. I wouldn’t even know where to purchase snow-pants.

Fun fact #2: There was 3 feet of snow. We shoveled for an hour to make the snow pit. Much discussion was had as to how to build a sturdy snow fort, so that our seats would be solid, with appropriate walls to lean our backs into, and protect us from the wind.

Fun fact #3: IT WAS MINUS 25CELSIUS. MINUS. NEGATIVE. VERY NEGATIVE. AKA COLD. VERY VERY VERY VERY COLD.

Behold the results of all our efforts.

We so cute.

Cozy. Body heat is a very important concept in the outdoors!

3rd important takeaway: mulled wine. Again, no vodka #failedrussian

(Full disclosure: shhhh, don’t tell anyone: I really enjoyed myself. BUT, I’m NEVER voluntarily exposing myself to that kinda of cold ever again. MY ovaries are still thawing.)

How you doing? Oh, just like Rachmaninoff’s 2nd piano concerto

“So, how’ve you been doing? Whatcha been up to? What’s going on in your life lately? Anything? Nothing?!”

I hate those questions. They suck. They are only ok to answer if you have something to boast about, when your life is all gold stars, rainbows and unicorns. My first half of 2017? I LOVED talking about my life. I visited 5 different cities, and went on the most transformative trip of my life (Dubai). Work was exciting, dating was ok, dancing was incredible, I was happy. Then my shadow woke up from its nap, and the 2nd half of 2017 sucked, despite some pretty sweet moments:

“Everytime I wanna know what is going on in your life, I just read your blog.”

Ok, so then why are you asking me what I’ve been up to? I have not been up to much, although the above list of blog posts proves that I witnessed a fair bit of other people’s lives. If you read my blog then you should be aware I’m struggling with depression these past few month. Yes, still – that is what depression does, it robs one of one’s capacity to live for months, if not years. Reminding me that I am still stuck in this garbage zombie state isn’t doing me any favors. At best, I feel equally irritated and anxious about my inability to prove that I am living life in a manner worth living, in accordance to wtv standards of the person I am talking to. At worst, I feel shame, and my shadow goes off on a rant about how much of a fucked up train-wreck I am, still with nothing to show for all my talent, intelligence and privileged opportunities I’ve been given, just a disappointment to everyone, really. It is taking most of my energy to survive, and still be a semi-useful employee, worth employing. Just because I blog about my struggles doesn’t mean that I want to talk about them all the time. I am a depressive – I fucking hate vulnerability. Talking about my depression, unexpectedly, face to face, with acquaintances or not close friends? Ummm, no. And if y’all don’t read my blog… then I am just as unlikely to say “Oh hey nothing really has been going on, just fighting my way through my latest bout of depression. How about you? Still happy as fuck? That’s nice.”

“So, how you doing? Whatcha been up to? Work, work, just work? Anything else? Dating?”

Look, bro, I know at this point you are just fishing for a topic for conversation to make this less awkward, but I am not gonna make this any less awkward. YES. WORK. THAT IS ALL. THIS IS AWKWARD BECAUSE PERSONAL QUESTIONS ARE IMPERTINENT. Didn’t you ever read Miss Manners??


How’ve I been doing? Ok-ish. Work has been nuts – I am on my 3rd consecutive week of 65-70 hours. It feels nice to be given a challenge, and to feel myself stepping up. Just in time, too – my funk noticeably affected my performance at work from July-September. I really don’t have much time for anything else. I’ve been trying to stay semi-constant at the gym, my happiest of happy places, and manage to squeeze in 6-8 hours of dancing a week, down from 15+ in Sept-Oct. Work, with its series of definite goals (Nov 25, Dec 22, Jan 23) gives me structure. Every day is a new day, must continue moving forward, one step in front of the other, no time to think or feel too much.

Except that of course, I do. Feel.

While working yesterday, I put on some classical music (latest coup de coeur: Max Bruch’s violin concerto no.1). Youtube is a wonderful concept, really. One beautiful piece after another, old favorites, reliable staples. And then… familiar notes, forgotten from my youth. I stopped working, and listened from beginning to end.

To try limit my mother’s “favorite” piano concertos to less than all of them would be hard, but without doubt one of the top contenders would be Rachmaninoff’s 2nd piano concerto. Rachmaninoff wrote it after a serious, almost career-ending depression that lasted 3 years. Friends and family urged him to seek professional help, which he did reluctantly. His therapist, an esteemed expert at the time, used hypnosis on Rachmaninoff with success. The result, a few months later, was the 2nd piano concerto. Rachmaninoff dedicated it to his therapist, and credited the man with saving his career and life. My mother always felt that the origins of Rachmaninoff’s 2nd piano concerto could be heard in the score. A tormented first movement, an awakening of hope in the 2nd, and a verve, readiness and capacity for life in the 3rd.

An awakening of hope, she thought. “It sounds like a blind man seeing his first sunrise on a new day”, she would say. Then why does it make me weep with sorrow? Every time.

How’ve I been doing? I’ve been doing as good as the 2nd movement of Rachmaninoff’s 2nd piano concerto. In theory, I am headed towards a happier ending, but right now there is more sadness than joy.


It doesn’t help that this weekend was a true fall weekend. Cold, rainy, grey, with winds that cut to your bones. Bright leaves falling, turning into damp rotten mush on the sidewalks. Just as in years past, as the leaves fall, grief bubbles up, and I miss my Ma terribly. I suppose it is only fitting that I listen to Rachmaninoff’s 2nd piano concerto on loop. Memories of sitting in the passenger’s seat of the car, listening as it played on the drive home from the Pointe-Claire library (her favorite place ever – her body prevented her from physical travel, so she found solace for her mind by reading everything. No joke, she never borrowed less than 5 books at a time, every week). Of sitting parked in the driveway of our home, till the concerto finished. Of her sigh of contentment. Of the click-clack of her canes on the pavement, as she climbed slowly up the front steps of our home, while I carried her books for her.

I’ve not been back to Pointe-Claire library since her death 5 years go. A place I spent thousands of hours in, growing up.

“So, how’ve you been doing? Whatcha been up to? What’s going on in your life lately? Anything? Nothing?!”

Oh, nothing much, just the usual weeping whenever I hear a piece of music I strongly associate with my mother. That’s all.


Here is a recording of Rachmaninoff’s 2nd piano concerto. Although Arthur Rubinstein is primarily known for his Chopin, he does a brilliant job. Jack the volume up, make sure you have surround sound, and enjoy.