BPD

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.

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BPD series: a case study

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

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

So here we go.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AF: Ok.

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

AF: Fine, its fine.

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

AF: I’ll stop offering.

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

AF: Misunderstanding. All good.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vanilla: I don’t care about the future.

AF: Why?

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

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

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

AF: Lol. Look.

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

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

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

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

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

AF: Reality???

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

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

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

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

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

AF: Trust me, this isn’t normal.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vanilla: (thumbs up emoji)

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


Am I crazy?


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

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

At 2am, I fell asleep. Still crying.


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

Am I crazy?

The gift of being enough

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

Dr. Harriet Lerner, the Dance of Connection.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s a rare gift.

A different take on the holidays

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

I’ve always found the holidays tricky and uncomfortable.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I can’t wait.

BPD series: the ability to see colors

I adulted!

6 months after ICB gave me the best present of my life, I looked up a store that does frames. I felt like such a grown up, discussing standard frame sizes, methods, style. I was so excited. I learned mounting a painting onto a frame requires time: it would be available for pickup in 1-2 weeks.

I picked it up yesterday. ICB came along. I was jumping up and down in the store while I waited for the clerk to fetch my painting from the back. ICB didn’t understand, it had been 6 months, what was a few more minutes?

So rational, that guy.

Well, that rational guy had a little something in his eye when he finally saw the painting mounted on its frame. We walked to my home in silence, both of us deep in our memories. I put it in my favorite room, the room where I write most of my blog posts.

It’s an interesting dynamic I have with ICB. He is a dependable rock, always there for those he cares about. A good, solid man. He uses few words, but he cares deeply. Observant. His stability makes me feel more grounded.

But.

He does not accept my mental health issues. At all. More than once, he has told me that while he rationally accepts my diagnosis, he can’t reconcile that someone as “beautiful, smart, and wonderful as you could have such problems. I know you are emotional, I can see sometimes you struggle, but part of me thinks that if you just learned how to not let it get to you so much, you would be fine.

His good-natured non-understanding has both been an inadvertent motivator and a burden. Like a child, I try work on certain aspects of my behavior, and proudly announce when I’ve succeeded on something small, like cleaning my floors or keeping my temper. The benefit of that is clear: I have a less messy apartment, and I have navigated some social situations better than I would have had ICB not given me advice. But it’s that wanting to please him and make him proud of me that is a problem. Because it implies that who I am, my baseline, isn’t something he would be satisfied with. Which, considering that I want him to be proud of me because I inconsistently and haphazardly manage to do Adult 101 tasks and avoid brutal, exhausting and mortifying emotional meltdowns… isn’t a stretch. The more I want him to be proud of me, the more I believe that who I am is not enough for him. And that is without him saying things like, “I worry I won’t be strong enough to handle your emotional swings. That I won’t be what you need from me. The intensity scares me.” Bro, if only you knew how much it scares me too.

Who can blame him? I am the girl who had a week-long meltdown about some Instagram likes. It isn’t unfair for him to wonder what my reaction would be like if ever we hit a real hiccup or problem. BPD is the most associated with suicide amongst personality disorders; it is estimated that 40-65% of suicides have a personality disorder; among BPD, 8-10% commit suicide, up to 75% attempt suicide and 69-80% self-mutilate. That knowledge is a heavy load to carry. Heavier still is my realization that I have on multiple occasions this fall considered that not living would be an acceptable option for shutting out the whirlwind in my head. Most days, I can easily see that I have many other options, and that not living is a pretty terrible option, but whereas I used to not have these thoughts, with every year that goes on, I understand more and more why people chose to end their lives. That is something I have to deal with, but is not easy knowledge for those who care about me.

I wish I could explain to ICB, I know the burden I am to those around me. I value so very much those that love me as I am, including these very imperfect sides of me. Those who are proud of me whether or not I clean my floors, because they know I am trying. The ones who try to fight away my pockets of shame, because there is no side of me too awful for them to love. The Allies, DDs, Dynamos and Coaches of this world, who hear my paranoid rants, realize that I am in one of my episodes and offer practical suggestions while patiently waiting for me to ride it out, always speaking to the Vanilla they love, ready to give me a reassuring hug once I’m back on the other side of paranoia and cognitive distortion. They give me the gift of acceptance. I give them… not sure what, but their love for me is so deep I don’t worry about my inability to reciprocate like a normal adult.

I want to tell ICB – my inability to see the world as he does doesn’t make me any less lovable, it just makes me different. Occasionally, I do manage to see the colors in the world. This duality, living mostly in a world of greys, with flashes of colors, is what gives me my capacity to love – I am in tune to others’ suffering and shame, and it doesn’t phase me. It gives me my humanity.

I wish my humanity were enough.

To the extent it is not, I retain a friend who does not understand but who cares.

Vanilla, I know you slide into a world of no color, of black and white and grey. I know you find it hard, that it makes you suffer. Paris is your happy place, where you feel alive and see clearly. I want you to have this, so when things are not going well, you can look at it and remember those colors that you can and sometimes do see. I want you to remember the colors. I want you to see them.

All the colors in Paris

What RuPaul’s Drag Race taught me as a straight woman

I don’t do reality TV, never have. I believe that if I am going to waste my time doing something non value added, I can scroll on social media, see memes that occasionally make me think, and watch self-help motivational videos. The digital version of popcorn as nutrition for my brain and my soul. However, when my depression started last year, I found myself unable to concentrate on anything. Movies stressed me out, TV shows required too much concentration. Till one day, unable to listen to the negative soundtrack in my head, I began watching episode 1 of season 8 of RuPaul‘s Drag Race. I was hooked. Still had trouble concentrating, it would take me 2-3 hours, sometimes days, to watch a 40 minute episode. But something about this show kept me coming back. I thought it was the fashion. I do love clothes, even though for the past 2 years, as I struggle with my mental health, I can’t be bothered. I thought it was the competition. I thought it was the pretty colors and the funny one liners. I finished season 8. I started following most of the queens on Instagram. I was done my foray into reality TV.

I got my diagnosis of BPD in August. In the past few months, I’ve been struggling to find my identity, as I realize how much of my reality has been skewed and unreliable. I feel lost, very broken, and in a lot of pain. I went back on Netflix to the earliest available season of RuPaul’s Drag Race, season 2. It was not slick, not beautiful, full of awkward moments. Lots of catfighting. It was so interesting to me to see these fierce women stand up and say what was on their mind with poise, grace and shade. In the solo interviews, they are back to being men, talking about their hurt feelings and fears, in an articulate manner that I wish I could achieve. These queens were effectively acting as role models to me for what a strong woman can be like. I found it disorienting to remind myself that they were actually men, with insecurities that sound identical to my own. Except, who cares? I need role models, and these girls are fierce.

Season 3, the show morphed into a version that more closely resembles the current version. Less traditional drag, much more creativity and diversity in both the candidates and their self-expression. Fairly early on in the season, one of the candidates from NJ was chatting with another girl from Puerto Rico. The New Jersan dude was dressed in guys clothes, with a face semi contoured. The Puerto Rican was sewing a gown, 5 o’clock shadow to the max, wearing a fabulous pink wig. The Puerto Rican was confused, what did the other one mean, she was married. To a boy?! Yes. Legally? Yes. You can get married in NJ? Yes. So girl, you are stuck in America’s armpit because most other states won’t recognize your marriage? Yes. That is when I realized season 3 aired in 2011. Gay marriage, which I take for granted being a Canadian (it became legal nationally in Maple Syrup Land in 2005!), was legalized across all 50 states in 2015 – 4 years after these contestants were chatting. So here I am watching a show where half of the contestants cannot legally marry their loves, and what does RuPaul do? One of the challenges for his queens is to have them film a 4th of July PSA for the overseas troops. In full drag. It had to be uplifting, a message of humor and love and gratitude, because that is what drag is all about and “we are all grateful to those who serve our country”. Stop. Check. Google. Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was in effect until September 2011. I realize I am watching a beautiful example of what it means to forgive and accept those who are different – RuPaul encouraging his queens to forgive and accept us, the privileged few that dictate who does, and does not, fit an arbitrary definition of normality.

Drag has this message of preaching love and preaching acceptance of difference and celebration of difference and strangeness. I think we all need go out into the world and just fill it with that spirit because this is a time where we need love and light instead of darkness and hate.

Sasha Velour, RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 9 Winner

Season 9, one of the contestants was in his 50s. He admits to deep loneliness, because most of his fellow drag queens he grew up with are dead from AIDS. Another queen admits to struggling with severe eating disorders. Another queen admits to being transgender. Season 9 made me cry multiple times. It explored the back stories of the queens a bit more than in the other 3 seasons I watched, and it became obvious to me that all the queens share pain, and all they want to do is find out who they are, and what they want to do with their lives. Me too. RuPaul makes no secret that the goal of his show is to challenge these girls to go beyond their limited perception of themselves. Why? Because we only find our true power and purpose when we embrace who we truly are – not who we think we are, or what society tells us we are. And on his show, under all the sequins and fake eyelashes and padding and gowns, these men, these girls, struggle to do just that, beyond the journey they have already undertaken to even make it on Ru’s show. Not all queens rise to the challenge, and it’s oddly heartbreaking. Their struggle is my struggle, that I fight every day.

Oprah: You’ve become this symbol that inspires, not just young people, but so many people in the midst of their own questioning, their own pain, their own identity. You must hear from so many?

RuPaul: I’ve heard from a lot of young people… from everyone, from everyone. It’s not just gay or drag queen, or any of that. It’s people who not only dance to the beat of different drummer but who are super sensitive. And sometimes too sensitive for this world, because their hearts are so open and they have been beaten down so much that they see in what we’re doing a place where it can be celebrated.

 

I realize that as a straight white woman, I have little to complain about, comparatively. (Although, glass ceilings are a thing! #genderbias!) I know I live a life of privilege compared to so many. Yet through my mental health struggles, my identity is in shambles – it’s hard to figure out who I am when my grip on reality is tenuous at best. A life of unstable relationships, paranoia, dissociation, extreme emotional mood swings and unclear/unstable self-image does not allow me to have much of a perception of self, never mind discover my true self. I watch RuPaul’s Drag Race, and I feel like these queens are my people. They can mentor me. They can show me what it means to fight to be fully alive, and fully myself. They have thick skins, they are fierce strong women, and sensitive artistic men, all at once. They refused to be defined, and they embrace the messiness of life. I feel, through their very existence, a bit more able to accept who I am and my struggles.

Who knew reality TV could do so much?

If you can’t love yourself, how the hell you gonna love somebody else? Can I get an Amen?

Mama Ru

 

Epilogue: boxing

I went to a boxing gala at my gym on Friday.

Since quitting boxing 2 years ago, I train in the conditioning section of the gym. Great vibe, different people.

It was nice to see Cap again. I ran into Bradley, in town for the first time in over a year. I didn’t recognize him. No longer a wee adolescent boy, he is a grown-ass man now. In the 2.5 years since this hilarious mortifying story, he’s grown a foot taller and 50lbs of muscle heavier. Still shy and modest tho. He is gonna make some young girl very very happy one day. Good kid. #notanasshole #thosestillexist. Chair Thrower was at the gala, as was Cereal.

I felt at home, on Friday. In my life which is more tumultuous than one would expect for an accountant (now we know why), this gym has been my constant, my refuge, my safe place since fall 2012. 6 years. That’s longer than most of my friendships. This is the place that has given me the space to grow. To risk. To try and fail. To discover myself. It is the birthplace of Vanilla.

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

“I’m so glad you are part of my family”

I remembered something on Friday, that I’d long forgotten: boxing is a team sport. Yes, it’s true, no one can fight an opponent except yourself, no one can climb into the ring for you. And yet. Watching the teammates cheer on my gym’s fighters until they lost their voices, seeing them weep for their fellow fighters’ losses, jump for glee with every win, I remembered. I remembered what it feels like to stand in the middle of that ring, petrified and exhausted, and the wave of energy that would wash over me as I’d hear my friends cheer me on.

Lately, as life has been very hard, throwing me too many curve-balls professionally and personally, I have felt so alone. Friday reminded me: no one can fight my battles for me, but in the ring as in real life, I am not alone. At least at this gym, for a few hours every week, I am seen and I am understood.

Everyone who walks into the gym is looking for an escape from the outside world. Yes, the same can be true of a yoga studio. But here, people are looking for a reprieve from the tangle of thoughts, emotions, and frustrations that is a necessary by-product of being alive through the action of hitting an inanimate punching bag over and over again. It’s a safe haven that allows a person to work through whatever they need to work through, surrounded by people doing the exact same thing. The particulars of each individual’s tangled mess is irrelevant; everyone has preoccupations, and the gym is our way to work through our shit. People who walk through the door are looking for the freedom of a few hours when socially acceptable constraints are no longer required. The punching bags become the recipient for every harsh word that was bitten back through the day, every slight that was received, every injustice, every worry. For a few hours, the world stops pushing, and we can push back as hard as we want, without any consequences. Bliss.

“I’m so glad you are part of my family”

It feels good to not feel alone. It feels good to have a family.