That time when…

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.

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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 am 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?

 

Phase 7 feels like a reawakening

Friday evening, I landed in Montreal at 6pm. By 7pm, I was home. I weighed myself, and realized that my diet in Paris had been a tad too decadent, and there was no way I would fit into the dress I’d intended to wear to Dynamo’s sister’s (#family) wedding the next day, Saturday evening. Time for some impromptu shopping.

25 minutes, 1 store, 2nd dress I tried on, $100CAD (aka monopoly money), I was done. In bed by 9:45pm.

Y’all, the jet lag this time was no joke. I woke up at 10am on Saturday feeling concussed. I dragged myself to the nearest coffee shop by 11am, determined to pass the time vertically until my 2pm hair appointment. Not because I wanted to be vertical, but because I was pretty sure that sleeping 15 hours was not gonna help me recover from jet lag, nor was I certain I would be able to wake up again. My brain felt like it was cotton candy. I drank two lattes, and pinched myself to stay awake.

And I read.

One of the side effects of my depression has been an inability to concentrate. Brutal. For months, I couldn’t even bring myself to watch Netflix. I could only handle about 10 minutes at a time of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee or else RuPaul’s Drag Race (don’t ask – I hate reality TV. But those girls are just so shady and so funny and so real, you know? #goals). Movies? Forget about it. Poor DD. We used to go to movies on a bi-weekly basis. I think I’ve seen a total of 2 with her in 2018, the most recent one for her bday at the start of the month. Well. At the airport on the way to Paris, I spotted a new book by my favorite author, Susanna Kearsley (she’s Canadian, weeee). Figuring this was a good omen for the trip, I bought it. It was a good omen… but I didn’t read it while in Paris. Too busy seeing all the colors, which was most lovely and deserving of my full attention. But to come home and realize that those colors translated into a concrete improvement? The ability to read 30-40 pages in one sitting, despite a brain that desperately wanted a nap? SO EXCITING!!!!

I celebrated by getting myself a third latte and going to get my hair done for the wedding. Y’all. I’ve never done that. Never had hair long enough that I could do it, and never had an occasion where that seemed worthwhile. Some people do it for their annual Christmas party, but I’ve always been too much of a lazy tomboy to bother. Still, I knew what was expected of me for this wedding (Arab weddings are fancy, y’all).

After getting my hair teased and curled and pinned, no choice! Had to stay vertical up until the wedding time. So I went for a walk to buy some lacy undergarments (I do love me some lingerie!) and makeup. I then came home and, like Cher’s character in Moonstruck, reveled in the gradual and luxurious process of getting ready. I did my nails, slowly, while sipping on mimosas. I played classical music, loudly, on all the speakers in my home. I read some more. I did my make up bit by bit. With nice long rests in between each step, and a lot of boozy hydration. I was alone, and I really enjoyed my gradual transformation into a duchess for a day.

This past year stripped me of the energy or the resolve to take care of my appearance. As long as my body stayed relatively ok, I just couldn’t be bothered to try. Hair in a knot on the top of my head, no makeup, clothes that were clean and that were flattering, purchased back when I took pleasure in my appearance or could enter a store without anxiety or dread. With an overwhelming list of things draining me of my energy, I cut corners where I could, and that meant dispensing myself with the obligation to spend anything more than the bare minimum time required to shower on my appearance.

So, I’d forgotten. I forgotten that I quite enjoy feeling pretty. That I can feel pretty. That I like feeling pretty. That I like spending time on myself in order to feel pretty.

Remembering that was very satisfying.

And if I am gonna spend a few hours getting all glammed up… you know I am gonna knock it out of the park. #perfectionismevenwhendressingup

I’m loving these concrete indicators that I am doing better.

#allthecolors

#ifinishedthebookyesterdaymorning

#itwasakickasswedding


For a recap of this recent battle with depression, I have created a new page under the section Vulnerability – check it out: The Great Depression of 2017-2018.

Parisian flashback to a Portuguese situation

Friday morning, on my last day in Paris on this work trip, I took a detour. A 30 minute walk, from my hotel to the Canadian Embassy, to take a few snap shots of the building. This was important to me, something I’ve been both looking forward and dreading the entire time. A pilgrimage, of sorts.

Let me tell y’all a story.

June 1, 2017. Teacher and his dance partner (Q – short for queen) were traveling to a dance festival in Lisbon. While waiting for their connecting flight in Barcelona, their backpacks were stolen. Passport, wallet, credit cards, money, ID, everything. Gone. If that had been me, I would have died from dehydration from endless crying. Teacher? Attended the dance festival because 1) Canadian Embassies are closed on weekends 2) he was gonna be short on money in the near-future, so might as well earn his last paycheque for a bit.

June 6, 2017. After 4 days of hard-core partying and dancing, Teacher dragged himself to the embassy to sort through his “situation”. Teacher is famous for his flamboyant style of self-expression (#realtalk) but even so, his update alarmed me: “Vanilla, I’m fucked. They say I have to pay $500 CAD and go to Madrid to a visa office and then if I have more questions I can email this email address for the Canadian Embassy in Paris but I can’t call because that office doesn’t have any phone lines. Oh and I need to provide my leases for the past 5 years. I need a drink. FML.”

June 8, 2017. After 3 days of Teacher and Q visiting the embassy daily, me reading up online on proper processes to follow in their situation and calling the local government helpline, we knew what needed to be done. For Q, easy peasy. She is a Canadian Citizen, the Lisbon embassy completed her application for a new emergency passport same day, all she had to do was sit back and wait. For Teacher? A little more compliqué. Teacher is not a Canadian citizen; he is a Canadian Permanent Resident and must apply for a Permanent Resident Travel Document (PRTD) through Immigration Canada. Fun fact: not all embassies offer immigration services – the closest embassy to Lisbon to do so is in Paris. Fun fact 2: the government of Canada has outsourced all Immigration cases to 3rd party Visa Application Centers (VACs) – the 2 closest VACs to Lisbon are in Madrid and Paris. Fun Fact 3: Teacher cannot cross borders with no ID. The application for a PRTD is rigorous, requiring that the applicant demonstrate that they’ve lived in Canada for the past 5 years by submitting proof such as leases, tax returns, bank statements. Standard stuff to carry with you when travelling to Europe. Teacher started the painful process of trying to gather all that documentation. From a distance.

June 15, 2017. It was obvious that it would be impossible to gather the required levels of documentation. The standard application time for PRTDs is 66 business days – from the moment documentation is complete and accepted by Immigration Canada. Meanwhile, Teacher and Q were stuck in Lisbon, with no sources of income, no credit cards, nada. Sure, he was hustling, networking, landing some small gigs here and there, sure his students across the world were organizing fundraisers to try help them out, but this was clearly not a sustainable situation. I happened to be travelling to Paris for work on June 20-23. I offered that Teacher appoint me as his representative, so that I could physically go to the VAC and Embassy and intervene on his behalf, since he couldn’t leave Lisbon.

June 19, 2017. Q’s passport was ready for pickup at the Lisbon office.

June 20, 2017. Q flew back to Montreal, to resume teaching dance classes at Teacher’s school, to alleviate some of his financial burden.

June 22, 2017. I visited the Parisian visa office. I took a number, sitting in a stuffy non-air-conditioned office, with very Parisian employees. It was upsetting see them speak disdainfully to people with similar problems to Teacher’s, just trying to get into Canada. To the extent a person didn’t speak French? Oye. Spoken to like a retarded toddler, and dismissed. Boom. Casual derailment of somebody’s life. My turn. I waved my Canadian passport, smiled, and spoke in French. Initially, the conversation went smoothly. Then the clerk asked me if Teacher had his passport with him. Umm, no, it was stolen, that is why I am here.

“But mademoiselle, without a passport he cannot apply for a PRTD.” K, lady, you realize that makes no sense?

“Mademoiselle, if you are going to doubt my explanations, you can always read on your own time Immigration Canada’s website.” I already did. That is why I am here. Because there is no way that Teacher needs to first apply to have a new Angolan passport reissued, in order to then apply for a temporary PRTD so he can reenter Canada.

“Mademoiselle, I am not responsible for international flying regulations. Without a passport he cannot fly. If you doubt me, please make your way to Charles-De-Gaulle airport, they will happily explain to you the required documentation to board a plane.” LADY. You are pissing me off. Let me show you the document I need for this visa office to reissue, so we can be sure we are talking about the same thing, and then move onto the practical aspects of how we can get Teacher home before Christmas. As I reached for my cell to show her a picture of Teacher’s stolen travel document, the clerk stopped me.

“Mademoiselle, it is prohibited to use your cell in our offices. Please turn it off immediately. If you have something to show me, you must print it and present it to the front desk. No, we don’t offer any printing services: you must come prepared. Yes, I know it says on our website that we offer printing services, but we don’t. That is isn’t my problem. Come back another day. Mademoiselle! I insist that you shut off your cell phone immediately, you are violating our security regulations.” I lost my temper. I replied that she was Parisian, she should know from recent experiences that terrorists aren’t typically white blond girls, with Canadian citizenship, so could she stop being a bureaucratic zombie, and help me help my friend avoid destitution and make it back to Canada?

And that is how I found myself escorted out of the Visa office by 2 security guards.

I was SO mad. But I was also scared. Very scared. What if I couldn’t do this? What if that had been my only chance to help Teacher? If I failed, who else could help him? I sat down unceremoniously on the sidewalk in the middle of Paris and collapsed into tears. I called Teacher, waking him from his nap, sobbing incoherently on the phone about how he would have to spend the rest of his life as an illegal alien in Lisbon.

I had 1 more hour of free time before heading back to work. I decided to try my luck at the Canadian Embassy even though, at the time, the Canadian Embassy was not open to the public, functioning as an administrative office only (since February 2018 it is now open to the public). I showed up, tear-stained face, visibly distraught. I pleaded with the security guard on the sidewalk, showing him on my cell that infamous pic of Teacher’s stolen travel doc, “Please, it’s been 21 days, he is stuck with no money, he cannot travel to Madrid or Paris without ID, I am only here for 1 more day, I cannot skip work in order to be kicked out of visa offices because I forgot to print one miscellaneous paper out of the 457 required docs. Please. I just want to talk to someone to gain clarity on how we can solve this. Please. My friend needs help. Please help me.”

Y’all. Men and tears. It’s a thing. The security guard urged me to calm down – crying in public is not dignified, healthy or Parisian. He disappeared inside the embassy. I sniffled on the sidewalk, waiting. He reappeared 5 minutes later with a coworker who asked me further questions about Teacher’s file. This 2nd guy ushered me inside – success! He brought me water and kleenex, and reassured me that everything would be ok. Finally, the Immigration Guy appeared. He listened to Teacher’s story and was particularly outraged by my treatment at the Visa office – “anyone would have lost their temper, mademoiselle, but perhaps, next time, refrain from using the word terrorist? That is a sensitive topic here in Paris.”

Immigration Guy was SO helpful. We went through the required documentation vs what Teacher had managed to gather over the previous 2 weeks, and determined what could be waived vs the absolutely necessary requirements. I called Teacher as soon as I left the Embassy, gave the news, and went back to work. By midnight, after a flurry of phone calls, we’d completed his application.

June 23, 2017. The day of my flight home to Montreal. I returned to the Embassy to review & submit Teacher’s application with Immigration Guy. Immigration Guy validated it as complete, approved it and classified it as “urgent” which reduced the processing time from 66 days to 14 business days + mailing time.

July 23, 2017. Teacher received his one-time entry into Canada document (PRTD).

July 30, 2017. Teacher flew back to Montreal from Lisbon. 2 months after having his documents stolen. 2 months of lost gigs, minimal income, trapped in a country, relying on strangers and friends generosity to survive. TWO MONTHS.

That’s a story.

It remains one of the most stressful experiences in my life. I’ve never before felt such crushing responsibility to not fuck up, painfully aware that someone’s life was dependent on my ability to successfully execute the mandate I’d been given. I am amazed and perturbed at how much luck played a role in the happy outcome of Teacher’s Portuguese situation. What would have happened had I not happened to travel to Paris for work? Teacher’s life had been derailed for almost 1 month at that point, and with no clear solution to his problem, and no ability to intervene directly on his own behalf, he was trapped. Helpless. What do other people do?!

Lives change in a moment, I guess.