That time when…

Mastering Parisian manners

There is a commonly held belief that Parisians are rude. So common, in fact, that the Parisian Chamber of Commerce has published a guide for Parisians on how to handle tourists of different nationalities. I am not making this up. It is called Do You Speak Touriste? In my experience, Parisians aren’t rude so much as incredibly blunt, with an endless capacity at pointing out what should have been obvious. Tact? Not their forte. But seeing as I am often at risk of an aneurism when faced with people’s lack of common sense, I rather appreciate Parisians’ approach. Furthermore, it grants me carte blanche: they can be as blunt as they chose, I will reply in kind. I find it rather freeing, frankly, since diplomacy, tact and restraint are not instinctive concepts for moi.

Exhibit A: success

On Friday, I was told by a Parisian employee at the airport to stop “talking down to him, from my high perch of condescending attitude.” I replied, curtly, that if being asked repeatedly the same question due to his inability to provide an on-topic answer was condescending attitude, he must receive a lot of it – rather than pass a comment on my communication style, could he please finally provide me with the requested information?

And then I danced a jig, bc clearly I’ve fully integrated into the Parisian lifestyle.

Exhibit B: less success

Today, I got to the Paris office before lunch, and was happily reunited with my colleagues (internal audit). I really enjoy them – good thing, too, since I find myself spending a whole lot of time with them! We went for a coffee break on our floor, for a quick chit chat and update on our lives. One of them just got married, another one was going on vacation, and me? Well, I had just been to Toulouse. I was mid-explanation/demonstration of the really cool outdoor salsa festival I’d attended, when the head of Group Tax unexpectedly walked in. He stared at me as I twirled, blinked, and sighed. “Normally, I would find anyone dancing salsa in front of internal auditors, of all ppl, slightly odd. But somehow, I do not find it surprising when it’s Vanilla. I did feel a slight earthquake earlier this morning on my floor, but said to myself – impossible, Vanilla is only arriving tomorrow. I should have known. Vanilla, you do realize that it is not standard behaviour to dance salsa at the office when in Paris? We typically adopt a more restrained demeanor. Unless… of course. This IS your more restrained demeanor.”

Defiantly, I told him of my successful moment with the Parisian airport employee. Group Tax congratulated me on my mastery of Paris manners, and then asked me if I had danced salsa throughout that interaction?

Hmph. Who would have thought that a tax guy would have a sense of humour? #ifwearegonnabedealinginstereotypes #brownsocks

I’m a creature of habit

This time last year, I was getting ready for a hybrid work-pleasure trip to France for my 3rd 30th bday. Today, I’m sitting at my desk, watching my inbox fill-up with reminders of my impending trip to France that begins tomorrow.

  • 4 days in Toulouse (pleasure – sight-seeing à la touriste)
  • 4 days in Paris (work)
  • 2.5 days in Nîmes (pleasure – a mini dance festival)

I’m really digging work’s habit of sending me to France around my bday. This is a habit I am embracing wholeheartedly – may it continue for as long as I turn 30.

Like last year, I intend on cramming all of my clothes into 2 carry-on bags, to facilitate flopping about cities. Like every trip ever, my plane is leaving in 24 hours and I haven’t started packing. I haven’t even done laundry. I’ve no idea what to bring, the weather, anything. Will I rush home after work, and get cracking? Nah. Dance class, y’all. No way I am skipping my weekly 4-5 hour dose of kizomba. #priorities Will I have an exhausted meltdown tonight, as I try finish packing at 1 or 2am? You know it. #thepoweroftradition

Still…

I’m hyper. What else is new?

That time I didn’t go to Italy

Teacher. I haven’t quite figured out how I feel about him: a mix of horrified fascination, admiration and friendship. He has the knack of inspiring loyalty amongst his students even as the ones that have known him for years confess to a frequent desire to punch him in the solar plexus. Seems about right.

Much can be forgiven in a man that has all of the moves, and dances for dancing’s sake. Where Teacher goes, people follow, because he is sure to spread laughter and the contagious joy of dancing.

He makes me shake my head in amazement, often.

Exhibit A: an international wake-up call

I got an unexpected call from Teacher this morning. He is at some dance festival in Italy, with his dance partner and one of his best friends (a brilliant dancer and DJ). Teacher had been looking forward to this festival. So why on earth was he calling me at 7am on a Saturday? Groggily, I picked up.

Vanilla, these niggas tried to start a fight with me. Yo man, I’m so pissed right now. That’s not nice, what they did. That’s not nice. Why?! I dunno, they tried to fuck with the wrong nigga, thinking I’m all soft. Who? These niggas, I told you. No no, I’m ok, I’m fine, you don’t have to get on a plane and come here and box the shit out of them.

Oh I don’t?! Good he mentioned that just in time, of course I was half way out the door, toothbrush and passport in hand. Vanilla the boxing bodyguard, that’s me.

He hung up shortly after that, without telling me who or why. I haven’t heard from him since. In normal circumstances, with normal people, I would be wretched with worry. With Teacher, I am resigned to the fact that there is a 25% chance he will end up in an Italian jail, a 25% chance “those niggas” will end up in an Italian jail while Teacher is praised in all the newspapers as a local hero, and a 50% chance that in 3 weeks time I will stumble on some pic on Facebook of Teacher hugging and laughing with those dudes with not a care in the world, because they are actually cool people and “it was just a misunderstanding”.


I shared this story with Coach, who loves a good laugh. Specifically the part where I’ve now learned that the appropriate reaction to being woken up at 7am bc my friend got into an almost-fight overseas is to say “Stay put, imma be right over in about 9-12 hours and then I will fuck shit up.”

Coach shook his head, and then commented innocently, “Yes, Teacher is a rather passionate guy.” Ya think?! But then again… That time I got mugged, Coach promised to hunt the guys down and give them a “talking-to”. I am wondering if this is a bit of a cultural thing; demonstrating honor and loyalty to one’s friends in hyperbolic phrasing of grand gestures that don’t necessarily need to materialize.

You don’t have to get on a plane and come here and box the shit out of them.

P.S. I did say that Coach knows all the black people in Montreal, yeah? Further evidence. Of course, Coach knows Teacher. I should have known.

 

I lied about my shadow

Ridiculous bureaucratic reasons resulted in me seeing my third GP in a year. I explore my rage about the Québec healthcare system here; that’s not the point of this post. Tuesday’s doctor was kind. He cared. Despite the two previous doctors at the same clinic prescribing medication for my ADD, he grilled me about me & my family’s medical and mental history.

“Your behaviour does not suggest ADD to me. You are un-medicated right now?” Sir, at the risk of sounding vain, I am extremely smart. I graduated with a 4.0 GPA; I ranked above average/excellent performer at all 3 multinationals I’ve worked at during my career. I am deemed quirky and “unusual”, but I can – I must – succeed with or without my drugs. I excel at appearing normal (or as normal as I’ll ever be). Nobody need ever know at what personal cost: the depressions, the failed relationships, the stunted dreams, the years of therapy. “I see. You are what we call a gifted, high-functioning patient. My son is in accounting. Bright kid, good attitude. No mental health issues that we know of. He struggles to maintain a 3.4 GPA.” I forget, sometimes, that what I view as a commonplace performance (of course I graduated with a 4.0/was an excellent employee at a Big 4: anything else would be beneath me) is not commonplace for others. Rather than appreciate my accomplishments, I’m aware of how much more I could’ve done, had I been more disciplined. Had I not had ADD.

“3 depressions in 5 years. Where any of these circumstantial? Diagnosed by a professional? You woke up crying one day, for no reason, and cried for 3 hours a day every day for 3 weeks straight? Ok, that’s a real depression.” Yes, my 2012 depression came on the heels of my serious knee injury, followed by my mother’s death a few weeks later. Circumstances in 2012 sucked. But I was already unwell, battling symptoms for months, when the “justifiable” depression started. How lucky I am to have experienced my scary 2014 depression, otherwise people would once again dismiss my story because I am too gifted, too high-functioning.

“So how would you rank your mental state right now, on a scale of 1-10? 1 being suicidal and 10 being perfect and blissful and without a cloud in sight?” Ummmm maybe 7-8: despite my recent struggles, overall I notice a distinct trend. 2014: a depression so bad I quit the job I loved, changed my lifestyle, reoriented my career so as to have the head-space to tackle my mental health issues. 2015: clawing my way out of depression, and therapy therapy therapy. 2016: remission from depression, dating and my first heartache in 6 years, career full throttle2017: I discover I have the capacity for happiness, and for the first time in my life,  I believe that I can build a life of happiness for myself. Surely that merits a B+ as a mark?

My doctor stopped me. “You didn’t know you had the capacity for happiness. You thought happiness didn’t apply to you. You didn’t have depressions. You are depressive. It’s always there, like a shadow, isn’t it?”

Yes, it is.


My shadow, my old friend. Always there, waiting, whispering, seductively trying to pull me back into the dark cloud. Always. Admitting that, out-loud, was hard.

I would love to wake up, put in my 9-5 productively. I would love to not work 60-80 hours a week to deliver 45-60 hours worth of work. I would love to be focused enough to have dreams, to not fritter away HOURS a day, to blink away 6-12 months again. I would love it, but I can’t imagine it. I know such people exist, like I know lactose-intolerant ppl exist. And as I can’t imagine a life without cheese, that analogy is particularly apt. It’s so frustrating feeling time slip through my fingers always, acutely aware of my inefficiency. I mourn the potential I will never reach, because of the time and effort spent managing my brain. I have the tools to do so. But it is exhausting. At any moment in time 25-50% of my brain’s bandwidth is taken up monitoring, managing, analyzing my shadow to ensure it stays a shadow, and doesn’t succeed in becoming an asphyxiating dark cloud. 25% of my bandwidth is dealing with the 16 simultaneous ping-pong matches in my ADD-head. That leaves me with 25%-50% (on a good day) to handle life, professionally and socially. Gifted, he said. Fed up, I say.


As my remission from depression continues, my capacity to take on more, handle more pressure, be alive grows. This is good – much better than existing in a half-dead depressed state: a life without feelings is no life at all. However I feel too much now. I had a breakthrough at the end of 2016, where I acknowledge my right to feel anger and give voice to it. But everything sets me off now. My anger fuels me to be productive, but it leaves me exhausted, with a long list of people that dislike me. My blow-ups range from snarky comments, to feeling hurt so deeply I lash out like Jennifer Lawrence’s character in Silver Linings Playbook – I’ve been told more than once that I remind people of her.

These daily meltdowns are awful. Mortifying. Uncontrollable. ADD & impulsivity! Yay! EXCELLENT RECIPE FOR SOCIAL DISASTER. My anger is always merited, my comments are fair, but they are not kind. I know the pattern, too. The less compassionate towards others I become, the less compassionate towards myself I will be, leaving myself open to my shadow’s pull. I’ve tried to find moments of happiness here in Montreal, post-Dubai. And I do. But these moments contrast too sharply against my negative emotions, and the roller-coaster leaves me spent, too tired to concentrate, and hours slip away from my life. Again.

I am a weather-vane, at the mercy of my emotions.

My shadow watches, ready.


After one meltdown too many yesterday (an offhand comment by a coworker filled me with so much rage, I considered punching him, but then remembered that would get me thrown out of the CPA Order, so I cried quietly at my desk for 15 minutes instead), I called up my beloved therapist, and asked for a tune-up. My last appointment was April 25, 2016. I didn’t last a year.

I feel shame at being so incompetent at adulting I need help, again. I feel shame at having so much wasted potential. But I refuse to let my shadow win. I have dreams for the first time in my life. I have lived greater happiness than I knew possible in Dubai. Over my dead body, I’m not gonna let my shadow steal that from me.

I always said I was a fighter – that is why I boxed.

Here we go for another round.

My street cred: I am so smrt

I woke up with a bad headache, which progressively worsened throughout the day. A hangover, really?! I didn’t drink THAT much last night. Some beer with supper, a glass of wine at my friend’s bday and a splash of delightful 15 year Guyanese rum. Must be the rum. Those bastards. I launched the emergency recovery procedures – a hangover on Monday is pretty shameful, gotta be productive, yo! I hydrated myself. Ate greasy, carby food. By 3pm, I’d maxed out my Advil consumption for the day.

I was really perplexed by this hangover sitch. Could it be old age? My bday is in 2 months and 10 days, one year closer to becoming a senior citizen. At one of my many bathroom breaks, the consequence of my diligent hydration policy, I noticed a smudge under my chin. Tried to rub it away, except it wouldn’t fade.

And that is when I understood. Not a hangover. No.

A mild concussion.


I went to the gym on Saturday. First time since March 2nd. Such a happy reunion with Coach and my crew. We skipped happily about in a circle, holding hands, in blissful companionship. Except really, we did burpees and bear walks, and Coach laughed at all our swearing and sweaty misery. Same thing.

During the warm-up set for our work-out of jerks (not the male variety; the lift), I boasted how 65lbs was too light a weight, “I’ve been gone for 5 weeks and look at that: no loss in strength. I’m AWESOME. I’m an AMAZON. BEAST MODE ON!!!!” And immediately rammed the barbell straight up into my chin, full-speed at max acceleration. I saw stars, felt my brain bounce back and forth in my skull and dropped the bar.

Coach, unperturbed, watched me and asked me kindly to refrain from killing myself on my first day back, “10 years I’ve owned this gym. Not one death. Please, Vanilla, brain-damage only, that’s to be expected in a boxing gym. But I’d rather not find out what my insurance policy covers with regards to client self-inflicted loss of life.”

I finished the workout, despite my swollen jaw, and the red bruise under my chin. Complained of a headache, like the ones I used to get after sparring.

I drank the whole weekend.

Spent all day today staring at a computer screen.

At no point did I connect the dots, and realize this was worse than getting a clean, brutal uppercut to the jaw, and with my history of (mild) boxing concussions, my grey matter is rather sensitive to getting bruised. Instead I did 100% of the things doctors tell you not to do when concussed. Woohoo!!! Brain damage for the win!!!!

Part of me is relieved that I am not allergic to delicious Guyanese rum. That would have been a real tragedy.


I tried to take a selfie, for the blog, to prove the extent of the jaw bruise (it has spread in size since Sat. In the next 48 hours, it will develop a charming yellow hue, sexy zombie-style). I failed. So I slapped on a filter to my pic, and behold, my artistic failed selfie:

Kim Kardashian would be so impressed with my selfie skills, I just know it. DUCK FACE!!!!

FYI – I’ve a history of breaking parts of my body:

When my own blog causes me to have a meltdown 

I’m proud of my blog. I think everybody should read it all the time. Like a mother who secretly believes her child is cuter than any other mini-human, I not-so-secretly believe my blog is the bee’s knees. I tell everyone about my blog. You can be sure I’ve sent 100% of my Fbk friends an invite to like my blog’s page… and I notice who has accepted or not. Apparently, some of my friends have better taste than others – but I won’t name names. It’s a free world, and all that.

I’ve been friends with Hermiono (he is an OCD nerd with a stand-up character) for 8 months. I’ve mentioned my blog to him on a weekly basis. I sent him the invite to my blog’s Fbk page in 2016; he sees anything I share on my personal Fbk wall, which includes some of my blog posts, obvi. He called me up this weekend, “Vanilla! You have a blog!” Yes I do, aren’t you perceptive! “I had no idea!” I’m questioning your listening skills, bro. “It’s GOOD! You are a GOOD writer!” Yes, I know. Glad you’ve finally caught on. “I think you are totally crazy for putting yourself and your entire life out there, but hey! I love it. It’s entertaining! You’re a mess.” Fact. Now, get back to reading – you’ve some catching up to do.


I’ve consulted lawyers, to gain an understanding of what I can/cannot share, to ensure I am not at risk of any lawsuit or termination for breach of confidentiality/other reasons. I take great pains to honor my characters privacy. Beaut vetted every post while we dated because I worried our social circle would quickly figure out his identity. He insisted I write my truth – he also periodically shared my posts on his Fbk wall, at which point I deemed the burden of preserving his anonymity had been waived. The guys featured in my failed date stories? I strip of any possible identification. Overall, I work hard to balance the need to tell my truth with the respect and consideration owed to anyone featured in my stories.

I write every post with the awareness that co-workers, family & friends of various faiths/backgrounds/values will read it. My mythical future husband and in-laws might read it: the mental health struggles, the ugly insecurities, the hilarious lack of judgment. This informs who I am – exploring vulnerability and sharing these stories has changed my life. I’m told periodically that this blog makes people smile and has helped others on their own journeys of mental health and personal growth. So my future in-laws can suck it. Judgmental bastards.

My new European friends in Dubai reacted with condemnation. “A personal blog? What are you, a gossip?! Do you want a reputation as the Kizomba Bitch? Are you trying to be a Kim Kardashian? I didn’t peg you as somebody who was vulgar. You do know you don’t HAVE to overshare.” I was shocked. I wonder how many people perceive me & my blog as vulgarthe one adjective that fills me with horror. But I was equal parts irritated – none of them had read my blog: theirs was a knee-jerk reaction. See above comment about some friends having better taste than others. Hmph.


It’s hard being honest and funny when one is worried about others’ perception.

I think it’s time I stop worrying.


Once upon a time I wrote a blog post about a boy. It was sweet, a good mix of cerebral and emotional. I sent it to him, as a courtesy, letting him know that I was refraining from posting it on Fbk until he had read it.

Hours went by. Crickets.

More hours went by. Turns out he had family over. I don’t know what he was thinking, having family over when I was waiting on him to read my post, but wtv. Nobody is perfect.

MORE hours went by. I caved, and asked him whether silence implied consent. He hadn’t read it yet – family obligations and whatnot.

Hours turned into days. I drafted a step-by-step Manual For Guys That Are Featured In Heartfelt Blog Posts Written By Girls That Are Allergic To Vulnerability. Highlights include:

Drop everything you are doing and read the post immediately. Showing yourself as online, but NOT reading the messages is unacceptable and will cause part of the girl’s soul to die. Within a delay of 57 seconds, write back complimentary noises. Do NOT assume the girl is a stage 5 clinger. If you are an overachiever, read 20-30 of her posts, decide she is good people, and be cool.

Days turned into weeks. My brain decided it would be a great idea if I messaged him. Was I suave? No. Did I make the situation better? Definitely not. I accept my fate as the female version of this guy. Karma’s a bitch.


I think it’s time I stop worrying. There will be times where my intentions vs others perception of me/my blog will diverge widely; on a small scale, this is a risk that any artist/creative person must face. Humor gets lost in translation all the time. Do I stand by each of my posts? Yes. Is this blog true? Yes.

Well then. Less worrying, more trainwrecks.

#mynewlifemotto

#KizombaBitchindahouse

Anxiety + geography fail = self-analysis

The anxiety this week, oh my! It was bad on Monday, improved on Tuesday, and then got progressively worse.

Yesterday, I was addicted to my phone, compulsively checking social media nonstop. Every 30 minutes, if not more frequently #ADDindahouse. Thanks to my recent travels and dance festivals, I’ve a boatload of new Fbk friends, artists and dancers from across the world. My Fbk feed is flooded with promotions for upcoming festivals in exotic locations, pictures of peoples’ travels to all of the places on my bucket list, or posts from their everyday lives – inherently more entertaining when located in Amsterdam/Cape Town/London. My Fbk feed is a vibrant, exciting, diverse, fantasy land, and I’m stuck in grey Montreal with 2-degree weather, reviewing the definitions of internal controls and prepping for month-end. My intense FOMO led me to designate one of the Dubai hotties as my new confidante and unleash unending verbal diarrhea at him. Highlight of that convo: mistaking Agadir for the name of an upcoming dance festival in Ireland. The dude is Moroccan. #geographyismyforte. He eventually stopped answering me. Ooopsies.

Accurate representation of my behaviour when chatting with that dude.

Today, I tried to figure out why am I so overwhelmingly anxious. As I’ve learned, it is important to nip these episodes in the bud, before they spiral outta control. I have the tools. A quick run-through:

  • Medication: my prescription ran out and I haven’t taken time off from month-end to go fill it. Solution: Tuesday morning, GO. My #dreamteam will survive without me for 4 hours.
  • Exercise: haven’t exercised once this week, as Teacher is recovering from his festival and Coach is on vacation. Clear violation of my therapist’s orders. Solution: exercise tonight, ballet on Sunday, resume normal schedule next week.
  • Diet: disaster. I ate bread for breakfast, timbits for lunch, chocolate as a snack and the only veggies I’ve consumed this week have been 2 cucumbers and some cauliflower with spinach dip. Solution: groceries tomorrow.
  • Friends: I wanna isolate myself. Solution: do NOT bail on my dates with my girlfriends today & tomorrow.
  • Writing: no writer’s block, just very busy. Solution: find the time.
  • Sleep: I flip-flop between insomnia and exhaustion. Solution: be kind to myself and listen to my body.

I felt better. Simple, easy solutions. But there remained a pit in my stomach.

Why?

Seeing BlondEyes and BossMan made me realize: I no longer feel that their ability to pursue their dreams and goals is something that does not apply to me. I (finally!) have the same thirst for life as them. My two Big Dreams (moving to Paris and one day living from my writing) are clamoring for my attention – having seen my two friends take necessary risks to build their vision of a thrilling satisfying life, my Dreams whisper, “we can do this too!”

While in Dubai, I mentioned my Paris dream to BossMan – of course, he asked me what I was waiting for? The right position, obvi. Timing too, it’s important to not jeopardize my professional career with hasty decisions. One day, when the right opportunity comes my way, I’ll be able to weld my Dream with my Career. BossMan scoffed at me: if I really wanted to move to Paris, I could apply to any job I’d like, and after 2-3 months of job hunting, I’d be a wannabe Parisienne. BossMan insisted I lookup freelance writer opportunities, in front of him, while he watched. He asked me: why not commit 5 hours a week to this dream? Calmly, between shisha puffs, he dismissed my I dunnoooooos and my maybe-one-days. Bluntly, he told me: You’re afraid, Vanilla. Are you really gonna let your fears stop you from living the life you KNOW you want?

Seriously, the Dynamite family, with their wisdom & advice that echoes in my head for weeks. EXHAUSTING.

So there you have it: my anxiety stems from the war being waged between Risk-Averse Accountant Vanilla and Vanilla with Dreams. My Dreams won’t be silenced – they’ve paid their dues, patiently navigating all those years of depression. Seeing my Facebook feed full of people living their unconventional lives their way, pursuing their goals… makes it very hard for me to pretend that I am not, as BossMan suggested, letting my fears stop me from living the life I know I want.

I don’t know yet how to reconcile these two Vanillas. But at least I understand what is going on in my brain, and acknowledge that this is something worthy of my time and consideration. Ideally, I’ll continue achieving these moments of clarity and self-awareness, without first portraying myself as an annoying platinum blond Kim K wannabe to a guy I barely know.

“Whaddya mean, ‘Agadir’ is NOT Portuguese for ‘leprechaun’ ?!”