That time when…

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.

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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 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.

New hair, truer me

I chopped off most of my hair this Halloween. While my team left work at 5pm to go trick or treating, I rushed to my hairdresser’s to do the adult version of dressing up: getting a makeover.

It started off normally enough. “Are we doing the usual?” she asked, which is funny because I don’t think I’ve had any “usual” with her. Just look at what she put me through between December 2014 and June 2017:

Most of those changes were not particularly my choice. She told me I would be cutting my hair short, just like she announced to me that I’d be going blond. The last time I saw her (July 2018 – top right in the pic below) I asked to begin transitioning to a darker hue. I felt a little too unremarkable as a blond. That was the first inkling that I wasn’t comfortable in my skin.

“Are we doing the usual?” No. No, I want my short hair back. I don’t feel beautiful, I haven’t felt beautiful in a long time. Long hair is easy, requires no maintenance, just pin it up and forget about it, but it makes me feel like a slob. As I’ve been waking up from my vicious depression, I’ve been consumed by the overwhelming challenges at work. I’ve been unable to eat healthily or organize myself to go to the gym more than 3-4 times a month. I fight daily the feeling of shame of knowing I’ve let myself go. While my long hair pinned up might look proper and even pretty, I know it was just more evidence that I am not beautiful smart or capable. Short hair might be more maintenance, but it will force me to take care of my appearance, and hopefully regain a sense of pride in how I present myself to the world. “Are we staying blond?” No. Enough. I no longer feel blond at heart. “Want to go full dark?” Not not really, either. I want something new. Something different.

My hairdresser/stylist/artist/genius is the best. She delivered, as she always does. Voilà.

After the fist snip, I felt huge relief. Then the second snip. A third. I tried to explain how much this meant to me. Instead, my go-to reaction for any overwhelming emotion: tears.

I felt the weight of these past 16 months fall away from me. My slide into the Great Depression of 2017-2018 began in June 2017. Since then, I:

  • went through hell and back with Hickster;
  • had the worst depression ever, absenteeism issues, a new found understanding of suicide, poor performance reviews at work, strained friendships, culminating in a confirmed diagnosis of Major Depressive Disorder;
  • was put on a waiting list to see a psychiatrist to rule out Bi-Polar Disorder II;
  • put in the hard work of clawing my way out of depression. That meant quitting my beloved dance squad, so as to focus on myself and saving my career. I was doing much better when I met ICB, and our trip to Paris showed me that I was healthy enough to see all the colors once again;
  • I found unexpected closure from the Beaut saga;
  • after waiting for 6 months less 4 days, my diagnosis is Borderline Personality Disorder. I’m still reeling from that. Everything I thought I’d understood about my interactions with others, all my memories, are being revisited through this new mortifying lens. I am grateful to have a better understanding of who I am and why I react the way I do, but I see now that I am a wrecking ball in my own and others lives, and how far I have to go until I can build stable, sustaining relationships. I want to weep daily;
  • a series of unforeseen events resulted in me getting a promotion at work. It’s been kicking my ass. I have been putting in 70-75 hours since the last week of August. I submitted an expense report this week for all the times I’d taken an Uber because I’d stayed at the office past 10pm: 12 times, $336. The day I submitted it, I stayed at the office till 1am. I’m exhausted, and I wish it were only because of the workload. It isn’t. It is managing a much bigger team, one that is in turmoil due to difficult workloads and lots of turnover. Everyone has emotions, and everyone is turning to me with their emotions, and somehow I must take my self out of the equation, hear their emotions and figure out how to align their emotions with their responsibilities. It is exhausting. One girl told me I touch people’s lives. That’s great hun, but how about you do your job now, the way you are supposed to, on time? But I can’t say that. I gotta stay neutral, me the walking emotional volcano, and make sure everyone is able to show up emotionally to do their work. All I want to do is take a nap, lock myself in a room and get my shit done. Instead, I smile, eat too much candy, and try not feel fat and overwhelmed. I’m learning SO much, but I’d wished someone had given me a heads up that to do this role I needed a masters in psychology, human resources, mediation, sociology. I’m no high performing Buddhist monk, y’all.
  • ICB and I came to an end after 6 months. It was the right thing to do, but there went some hopes and dreams I was overly attached to. Clearly I have some more growing up to do.

I’m tired. I’ve learned so very much these past 16 months, but at the cost of a lot of pain and grief. I am better off now than I was before, but I want no reminders of all this sadness. My hair was damaged, limp, and unbeautiful – a reflection of my state of mind. It had to go, along with much of my sorrow.

Top left: October 31, 2018 Bottom right: September 21, 2017

So here I am, with hair that is the same length as it was before my life skidded sideways in June 2017. But a different color, because I am a different person, forever changed by all I’ve been through.

A fresh start never felt so good.

Today is the day. I feel apprehensive.

August 15, 2018

10:27 am. I saw No Caller ID flash on my cell. Y’all. I hate phone calls, even from friends and family. Especially unexpected ones. Why call when we can text? Unexpected phone calls from strangers? Hell nah. Besides, I had an important meeting at 10:30 that I couldn’t be late for. I let it go to voicemail.

12:01 pm. Get back to my desk. Catch up on emails. Place a few work phone calls that left me grumpy. Deal with a few emergencies. Check my cell, answer the texts from friends. Eat lunch.

12:36 pm. Remember that I had that phone call in the morning, sigh, check the voicemail.

Bonjour Mademoiselle Vanilla, it is Mme. L’infirmière from the psychiatry department at the Big Hospital. We received the recommendation from your family doctor that you required a psychiatric evaluation. I have 2 openings. Please call me back at your earliest convenience if you would like to take advantage of this opportunity.

12:37 pm. Call Mme. L’infirmière back. Get her voicemail. Spend the next 43 minutes biting my fingernails, an anxious miserable mess, convinced I had lost out on an opportunity I’d been waiting on forever, because of my dislike of answering unexpected phone calls and my new found productivity at work. Stupid stupid me. This was proof I should have my cell phone on me every second of every day.

1:21 pm. Jump 3 feet into the air when my cell phone rings. Mme. L’infirmière confides in me that there was only 1 of the 2 spots still opened, and she had purposefully blocked it off for me for 3 hours, to give me a chance to reach her. I’d called her back just in time.

1:26 pm. I burst into tears at my desk. I had a massive headache from sudden and deep relief.


February 27th 2018

My GP identified me as being in the midst a severe major depressive episode, confirmed my diagnosis of Major Depressive Disorder, and referred me for a psychiatric evaluation to rule out the possibility of Bi-polar disorder. I was put on a waiting list. Quebec’s lovely public healthcare system is such that the waiting times to see a psychiatrist are between 2-6 months, depending on the urgency of each patient’s case. Given that I was still employed and not prone to self-harm, I was not deemed an emergency.

August 23rd. 9:30 am. 4 days shy of the 6 month mark, I will finally be seeing a psychiatrist.


August 23, 2018

Here I am, at the hospital, 15 mins early for my appointment. Me. We have established that I am the least punctual person and the opposite of a morning person.

I feel apprehensive.

I’ve tried to write out my emotions for the past week, but couldn’t formulate anything coherent. Same thing at work. Racing thoughts, zero productivity. Fear.

I’m worried that they will determine nothing is wrong, at all. No ADD, nothing. “Mademoiselle Vanilla, clean bill of health. You are just incompetent at the whole adulting concept. We recommend you grow up sooner rather than later.” Most of me knows that isn’t true, my depressions were real, I’ve had too many friends and family and professionals and coworkers notice the difference between “healthy” and “off” Vanilla.

My blog helps. I reread all the posts of the Great Depression of 2017-2018. I’ve not been fully myself for a YEAR now. And it isn’t because of my issues with Hickster. I thought it might be. But then I reread the rest of my posts, going back to 2014 and there are whole stretches of misery that had nothing to do with any boy. My blog keeps me accountable. There’s been a whole lot of tortured anguish this past decade.

I wonder if I will get the answers I need today. If maybe I will soon be able to live in a reality where I know what’s real, and what’s the product of my sick brain. Where I know what emotions are mine. Where I can access the potential I know exists inside me but I never seem to manage to nurture into daylight. Where I can see the sun shine brightly. Where I can love and not inflict the burden of my volatile and unregulated emotions on my close ones, or experience so many episodes of cognitive distortion.

I wonder if soon I will finally have the tools to level the playing field. To know peace. To have a break from my shadow wants me to give in to despair.

I wonder. Maybe, maybe, I too can one day access happiness?

Maybe there are explanations. Maybe there are answers.

Maybe there is hope.

3 words that produced an emotional hangover

Rainy night. I picked up a bottle of wine. ICB cooked supper. In all these years since that ancient breakup in 2010, I’ve only had supper made for me twice. The first time was part of Beaut’s grand seduction. The second time, I figured out much later, was because Beaut felt guilty for neglecting me for Main Girl. All these years. All those dating stories. Not one guy felt like sharing a slice of his life with me, without an ulterior goal. Until now.

As usual, the conversation was all over the place: Cardi B, the Pope, feminism, boundaries/invasion of privacy, and then,

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

What is this, an interview? I dunno, I don’t really have goals. I have a dream so big I’ve stopped believing it will happen: moving to Paris. It keeps getting delayed because of my fear and because every time I start to get my shit together, another depression comes along and robs me of 1-2 years of my life.

Ok, fair enough, but if you aren’t sure that it will happen, why don’t you buy yourself a condo? That way you are investing in yourself, and if you leave, rent it out, and if you don’t leave, nothing lost.

I hate these questions. Because. I can’t adult.

What do you mean, you can’t adult?

I don’t have it together to take care of something of value. There is a reason why I don’t have plants or pets: I kill them through neglect and then feel awful. I know myself, I will NEVER take care of any form of real estate, big or small, enough to prevent a loss of value. It took me SEVEN YEARS to go to a dentist. Extrapolate that degree of neglect over the surface area of a small condo vs a few teeth, and you can see why I don’t wanna spend any money on what is gonna turn out to be a self-made bad investment. I live like a college student with a roommate, not because I can’t afford to live alone, but because if I don’t share my space with someone, I will live in a pigsty. Living with someone forces me to do the dishes, to occasionally remember that brooms exist, and most importantly, limit my un-tidyness, out of respect for the other person. But there is no interior decoration, you’d think I moved in 2 weeks ago instead of 3 years ago.

It’s just a matter of discipline. You can do this. Start small, it’s no big deal.

It is tho. I am 34, and this is the best I can do. It isn’t sexy. It isn’t admirable. That is what my shadow does, even when I am doing ok. It takes all my energy. All I have left is funneled into my job which I love, it gives me purpose and identity.The bit of energy I do have left, I use to try show up to my friends and family. I can’t do better.

Can we change topics now? I don’t like showing you the underbelly of my despair, boy. I am ashamed of it, and it is not attractive. I like you enough to want you to think well of me. Please. Let’s talk about the weather.


Helping ICB on a project of his, because I can, and because I love discovering the odd quirks and personality traits that come from watching him do something.

He disappears into his bedroom and reappears with a laptop bag. He takes out the few items stored in it. Checks that it is in pristine condition. Fidgets, nervously.

Vanilla, I’d like for you to have this. You lug around that big bag, it’s falling apart. See how light and lean this bag is? Look at the reinforced shoulder strap for when you walk home after one of your long days at the office, it won’t cut into your skin the way your bag does. All these compartments that don’t make it bulky, you’ll be able to store your books and notes neatly. I know you are very worried about an eventual theft of the confidential info on your laptop, so see how you can add one of those mini locks to the zipper? Your bag’s zipper is broken, you are walking around with a ginormous open purse. It’s not suitable for someone in your role. This bag is lighter and slicker. Yes? It will be good for you.

He waits. I look at my old computer bag, discarded in the entry. I bought it in 2012, a couple of months after my mother’s death, in anticipation of my first professional trip to Paris, the first of many trips to that city that always helps me see the colors. It is a tired bag, misshapen, with peeling pleather. I should have retired it 2-3 years ago, but I never noticed. It was still doing its job. I look at ICB. In that moment he reminds me of my Baba, who never let anyone she cared about leave her house without giving them something she thought could be useful to them, be it new or used. She was always on the lookout for ways to practically increase their well-being, in small ways. Humbly.

8 years. Not one gift from a boy. Flowers on a first date, once. No Christmas presents, no birthday presents, and never, not ever, an unbirthday present.

Sometimes “Thank you” is inadequate.


Time for me to leave. Kiss goodbye. ICB references the earlier convo.

Vanilla, if you think of your home as an extension of yourself, it becomes easier to care for it. Just like you enjoy taking of yourself, nice clothes, good style, jewelry, and making yourself pretty every morning, you’ll feel better if your home is beautiful.

Bro, you have it all wrong. I don’t enjoy making myself pretty every day, haven’t for over a year bc of the Great Depression of 2017-2018. I shower because I workout and sweat too much. All my clothes date from 2-10 years ago, bc shopping gives me panic attacks and anxiety. Yes, it’s true, I usually look well put together, but that is because I only buy very easy to maintain, well cut, flattering clothes – it’s worth spending a bit more effort/money when I do shop to make sure the clothes are solid, so that I don’t have to think in the mornings when getting dressed. I also can get away with minimal effort because I have a good silhouette – I’m in pretty good shape because I try (but have been failing lately) to workout 2-4 times a week for my mental health. So clothes look good on me. I’ve let my hair grow out, because it is much easier to do simple updos that look classy and neat but don’t require me to dry my hair or style it. Most days I remember to put on mascara, at the office, after 1-2 morning coffees. That isn’t me taking pleasure in my appearance – that is me doing the bare minimum to avoid looking too unprofessional or sloppy, and taking advantage of the fluke of my genetics to look better than I deserve. I’m way too tired to invest in my appearance, and it shows, and I know how it impacts people’s impression of me, but I just can’t find the energy to try harder.

Seriously, Vanilla, you are so hard on yourself. Believe in yourself a bit more. You know, from time to time, it helps to say “I am beautiful, I am smart, I am capable.”

His tone was light, slightly teasing. I stayed silent. How to explain that I get that it looks easy, but honestly, I am trying as hard as I can, and I. just. can’t.

Go on. Say it. “Je suis belle. Je suis intelligente. Je suis capable.”

Hoping ICB would let it drop, I laughed and said, “Bro, I am fucking smart”.

No, Vanilla. 3 words. Say it. “Je suis belle. Je suis intelligente. Je suis capable.” Say it. I want to hear you say it.

I couldn’t. I lost my words. I couldn’t say anything. And as I watched the smile in his eyes fade to concern, I started to cry.

No, Vanilla. Please don’t cry. Please believe it. “Je suis belle. Je suis intelligente. Je suis capable.” Go on. Say it. Please say it. Come with me – look at yourself in this mirror, don’t you see what I see? You are so beautiful, your smile is contagious. You are smart, your company invests in you despite your legendary lack of punctuality, your team loves you and looks up to you. You are competent, people are always coming to you for help. Look at yourself. Can’t you see it? Say it. “Je suis belle. Je suis intelligente. Je suis capable.” Say it with me. Please, say it with me.

My tears turned into sobs. ICB stood beside me, holding my hands, waiting patiently, comfortingly, repeating the mantra every few minutes. I don’t know how much time passed until, embarrassed that ICB witnessed my ugly cry, and really needing to blow my nose, I whispered “I am beautiful, I am smart, I am capable.”

Good girl. Say it again. Loudly. I want to hear it.

FFS. This is cheesy and awful, and dammit, as far as vulnerability goes, this SUCKS. I never reveal my bottomless pit of pain and shame to anyone, much less myself. I wasn’t even aware that it had such a grip over me. Fine. FINE. “I am beautiful, I am smart, I am capable.”

Like it was no big deal, ICB smiled as he watched me blow my nose thoroughly, gave me a hug, a kiss on the cheek, a slap on the ass and accompanied me out the door.


I feel hungover. Mildly concussed.

But as I enjoy some emergency recovery cuddles with Mimi, we both agree: ICB is good people.

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, Ted 2012

I am still ashamed. But somehow, my shame feels less crippling than before.

Overheard after 6pm

Working late at the office.

The cleaning man is doing his rounds. 1-2 cubicles over from my desk, he takes a call.

Hello? Who is this? Who?! Why you keep bugging me?! Why? Imma come find you, ok? Imma come find you.

I’m torn between curiosity – what kind of life does this cleaning man live?!- and more than mild concern. I kinda wanna get on the phone and tell the person on the other line,

If I were you, I would stop bugging him. He is a rather intimidating individual, and while I am not an expert in these matters – I am an accountant, you know – I can’t help but feel he might actually come and find you, and know what to do with you once he did. I thought you should have all the facts before making any further decisions. Good night!

But I didn’t. I just kept working my Vlookup formulas like a boss. #excelisbae #microsoftofficeismylife Still. I wonder if I ask nicely in a week from now, whether the cleaning man will give me a synopsis of the situation, a high level update. #nodetailsplease

If only my peeps at my gangsta boxing gym could see me now. #ratchetwhat?