career woman

BPD series: professional consequences

I had an”episode” this week. At work.

The term “borderline” was first employed more than sixty years ago to describe patients who were on the border between psychotic and neurotic but could not be adequately classified as either. Unlike psychotic patients who were chronically divorced from reality, and neurotic patients, who responded more consistently to close relationships and psychotherapy, borderline patients functioned somewhere in between. Borderlines sometimes wandered into the wild terrain of psychosis, doctors observed, but usually remained for only a brief time. On the other hand, borderlines exhibited several superficial neurotic characteristics, but these comparatively healthier defense mechanisms collapsed under stress.

Jerold J. Kreisman, M.D. and Hal Straus,

Sometimes I Act Crazy – Living with Borderline Personality Disorder

It’s been real stressful time lately. My unexpected promotion came at the worst time: budget season and the year end audit. In my immediate team, 6 out of 8 are new to our responsibilities and/or the company. Add to that a FUBAR situation that happened on my very first day in position and took 8 weeks and 100 hours to resolve semi satisfactorily… it’s been a lot. Too much.

I’ve been working on average 70-75 hours a week since the last week of August. That’s a new record. Around this time last year, when the workload hit a sustained 60hr work-week, I lost my fight against my shadow and snapped into the worst and scariest depression of my life, one so problematic I eventually got put on a waiting list to see a psychiatrist, and that is how I found myself learning that I have borderline personality disorder. I’ve been wary of pushing myself too far and finding myself right back in that same pit of misery. The volatility of my emotions has increased, but I seemed to be keeping it together. Until.

A relatively minor issue during month-end caused me to lose my temper. I said some shit that no manager should say publicly and boom! I now have a well-deserved HR issue. Talking to my boss later that week, we had a heart-to-heart about some of the issues facing the department. I was very emotional, but I’d thought through my arguments, and had a concise list of identified problems + proposed feasible solutions + timeline, ranked in priority. I knew WHAT was wrong. What I didn’t know was whether my proposed solutions would be accepted nor my ability to sustain any longer the crushing workload and pressure. My boss told me we’d resume discussions the following week (last week), and I hung up the conversation feeling somewhat heard and almost hopeful that with his support, things would change and get better.

The borderline tends either either to idealize or denigrate features of the external world and imposes this kind of blank-or-white perception on his relationships. These perceptual extremes roll like marbles along a constantly tilting tabletop, first to one side, then the other, but never coming to rest, never balancing in the middle. This “polar perception” utilized by borderlines in relationships is called splitting, a coping mechanism that is normally expressed among eighteen-to-thirty-six-month-old infants and toddlers. Because babies at this age do not easily tolerate ambivalence or ambiguity, they split the world into all-good and all-bad compartments. When the mothering figure satisfies the child’s basic needs, she is seen as all-good. When she frustrates these needs or is unavailable, the child transforms her into an all-bad persona. Only as the child develops can he integrate these opposing perceptions. Eventually he learns that someone he loves and admires can still disappoint or frustrate without transforming him or her into a hero or villain. Heroes can be accepted with flaws. Villains can be perceived as having some worthwhile qualities.

The borderline, however, remains stuck in this childlike blank-and-white topography because it protects her from the anxiety that accompanies attempts to reconcile contradictory feelings.

Jerold J. Kreisman, M.D. and Hal Straus,

Sometimes I Act Crazy – Living with Borderline Personality Disorder

I got into an email scuffle with my boss Saturday morning. I’d gone about something in an unorthodox manner, he didn’t particularly like the surprise, he reacted categorically.

His email hit me like a ton of bricks. I read it at the gym, right after warmup. I found Coach sitting on a bench, fell down beside him sobbing hysterically. My teammates stared in shocked silence as I drew lung shattering breaths, my endless tears making a puddle on the floor, Coach patting my back as he would a wounded dog. For 5 minutes I cried, unable to form words to explain the cause of my breakdown. Eventually I managed to explain that my boss had sent an email that upset me. More silence. One of my teammates chirped, “Well Vanilla, usually when you cry at the gym it’s because of a boy and some disaster dating story, so at least this is something different?” #outofthemouthoffriends

Just like that, my boss morphed into the Wicked He-Witch of the West. I texted CSD angry rants, endless streams of angry commentary about the status of our department, the hopelessness of it, how I hated my job. I felt betrayed by every level of the company. CSD was fairly pragmatic about it on Saturday. By Sunday, I was still angry typing, he was patient but bored.

On Monday, I met with my boss. It didn’t go well. I cried and yelled in his office for over an hour. He even left for part of it to go to a previously scheduled 30 minute meeting, leaving me to calm down. I didn’t. We resumed when he got back. Highlights include him instructing me to go do something, and my response of, “I won’t do it, you can’t make me”. I don’t remember much, other than telling him he thought I was a monkey, and his shocked denial. I do remember the anguish that consumed me, and the despair. My angry rants to CSD continued throughout the day. Monday night, CSD was fed up, and told me that if this is how I really felt, I should just quit, because I was destroying team morale and my health.

By Wednesday, I noticed that my angry typing endless rants to CSD were very similar to my disfunctional behaviour with Hickster. Pause. CSD ain’t Hickster. CSD ain’t even the authority figure representing the company doing me wrong, yet I was attacking him through my texts. Crying uncontrollably? Check. Staying stuck, replaying similar scenes over and over? Check. Paranoid slant to everything I said? Check. Unable to think of anything else because the pain was too consuming? Check.

5 days into my BPD episode, I finally became aware I was experiencing a bad case of splitting and cognitive distortion. With that awareness, I could explore what was really going on.

I am not enough and I have no value/am worthless are the two narratives my brain feeds me constantly. As soon as I wake up, while I shower and get ready for work. While I sip my coffee. As I work on a tax problem or coach my junior. As I’m doing sit ups at the gym. In my dreams. It is the worst possible Christmas music playing endlessly in the background that I really wish I could turn off, but can’t. Year round. It wears me down, and the fight to not succumb to it’s hypnotic rhythm is exhausting. Periodically, that relentless soundtrack pushes me into a depression, and when that happens those thoughts become so loud in my head, so painful, I crave release from the anguish. That’s the danger zone.

So anything or anyone that seems to confirm that I am not enough to love; I am not worthy of time; I am not valuable enough to be taken care of; that makes me go crazy. It feels like an attack on my ability to survive. Every day I remind myself that my brain is lying to me, it isn’t true that I am not enough and worthless. But when faced with what appears to be proof that my brain is right?? Well then. Why bother fighting my brain? I should just give up. No point in survival.

That is why Hickster + ICB’s mundane Instagram oopsies + my boss at work all trigger the same emotional response. That is why my reaction always appears overly dramatic. It IS overly dramatic, if all that is at play is a misunderstanding about social media or a relatively small argument at work. But that isn’t the case. What is at play is my brain that will eventually wear me down to nothingness, like so many before me.

There also be anatomical correlates with splitting: the brain is divided into right and left hemispheres, which are connected by a midline structure called the corpus callosum. Nerves connecting the two sides of the brain intersect at this structure. Further, it has been demonstrated that the two hemispheres serve somewhat different functions. Emotions, particularly negative emotions, are associated more with the right hemisphere. Logical cognitions and positive emotions may predominate on the left side of the brain. Under ideal circumstances, both hemispheres balance each other. However, when a stroke or other neurological injury occurs in one hemisphere, an asymmetry between emotional expression and self-control often develops. Perhaps stress in the borderline disrupts the laying down of the brain cable that connects and balances the two hemispheres. If so, it is possible that negative experiences are shuttled to the right hemisphere, where they are quarantined. Positive perceptions may be billeted on the left. The usual communication channels between hemispheres remain underdeveloped. In this model, it is proposed that stress disrupts normal brain development, especially the connections between the two parts of the brain, resulting literally in a partitioned brain.

(…) In any event, borderline splitting may indeed be the result of literally perceiving the world with two disconnected brains.

Jerold J. Kreisman, M.D. and Hal Straus,

Sometimes I Act Crazy – Living with Borderline Personality Disorder

You know what I am paid for? My brain.

You know what I am not paid for? Two disconnected brains that don’t work together the way they are supposed to.

By Thursday and Friday, I felt myself relatively free from the grips of splitting. My boss is back to being the kind man I’ve long admired. Except he doesn’t know that for 5 days I wasn’t dealing with him, I was dealing with a distorted split version of him. He doesn’t know I am back on the healthy side of that border. All he knows that I am the grown-ass woman who shouted and cried accusations at him. Thank goodness I happen to be really smart. It must be so disorienting for him to be left with a rational acceptance of my analysis but an emotional rejection of it because of the paranoid slant that poisoned our discussions.

I see my team tiptoe around my office, always hesitant to address me, because they don’t know if they will be faced with Regular Quirky Vanilla or Angry Harridan Vanilla.

I am dismayed at the very real mess I’ve caused. BPD or not, that is not ok, as a manager.

This is a problem.

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Punctuality: wasdat?

Punctuality. Mornings. Neither are really my thing (documented here).

Last week I had an 8:30am call with France. My French colleague was politely amazed:

Vanilla! Tu prends l’appel du bureau et non pas de chez toi! Impressionant. Alors la question est: tu es reveillée, mais es-tu caffeinée? Oui? Maquillée et coiffée aussi?! Je note ce moment dans mon calendrier.

Vanilla! You are taking the call from the office instead of your home? Impressive. So the question is: you might be awake, but have you had your coffee? Yes? What, you did your hair AND your makeup too?! I am marking down this moment in my calendar.

Pretty sure he heard my eye-roll across the Atlantic ocean.

Haven’t made it to the office before 9:15 since that day.

#canthelpit

#ireallycant

#morningsarenotmything

Accounting: my passion, it turns out. Who knew?

A little context of my journey to becoming an accountant:

I failed out of engineering in 2004. I chose to put myself back through school in 2007, in night school for a whole year as an independent student to get my GPA up from the 1.wtv it was after engineering. Graduated top of my class in 2010, and the rest is history.

But why accounting? My mother burst out laughing when I told her. She thought it was a practical joke, no way somebody as creative as me could go into accounting. So why?

Because I wanted a job security, even in the worst of recessions or during wartime (granddaughter of WWII survivors). I wanted qualifications that were recognized across the country and easily harmonized in the US. I wanted a career that I could scale up or down, depending on my family situation, and when my husband would ditch me for a younger model, I’d be able to continue providing my children the standard of life that they were accustomed to. I wanted financial independence. The only career I could identify that met all those criteria was accounting, so without further ado, accounting was my career of choice. It never occurred to me to question whether or not I’d enjoy it. I had a goal and I was gonna achieve it. Which I did.


I interned at a mid-sized accounting firm in 2008-2009. I hated it. Everybody was so stiff. The drudgery of the work, the hours (little did I know! lol, such #innocence), the black and grey poorly cut suits. I felt trapped, having chosen a career that didn’t suit me, but I felt too old (LOL!!! little did I know!!!!) to start over AGAIN, so I kept at it, miserable.

After one 60 hour week during tax season, I brought my hundreth personal tax return to the head partner for review. He had some questions about some of the data. I explained that the client was unresponsive, the government unhelpful, so I just winged it, a reasonable wild-ass guess, an example of “creative accounting”. The partner took off his glasses,

Vanilla, don’t ever use those words creative accounting ever again. We are professionals. People rely on us. Our clients trust us. What we do matters. We aren’t saving lives, we are helping these individuals make the best decisions so as to maximize the returns on their hard-earned money. That money that pays for their children’s education, sick parents’ hospital bills and their nice vacations which is their just reward after working HARD to reach their level of success. We safeguard the results of their hard work. We free them up to make the best decisions, while protecting them from making mistakes. They trust us to watch out for them. It is our responsibility to always do the best job we can, so as to be worthy of that trust. That is all we can be. Every day. With every action we do. It is no easy task being worthy of trust.

I left his office, shaken.


I recently became a CPA mentor. In this capacity, I have the duty to monitor, guide, advise and shape CPA candidates throughout their 2 years of required experience for their professional title. My first mentee? My adorable little GAB. She flip-flopped a lot before committing to accounting. She told me that if she could “become anything closely resembling” me, she was pretty sure she wouldn’t regret her career path.

My team has seen me stressed out of my mind. Laughing hysterically, swearing loudly, crying tears of doubt and insecurity. I am messy and myself. I let them know what parts of my behaviour they should NOT emulate in order to be successful. I’ve never been someone’s inspiration before.

They trust us to watch out for them.


I recently helped a friend clear up the last 4 years of undeclared tax returns, as a self-employed individual. It was frustrating, painstaking and there were moments where I feared I wouldn’t be able to sort through his mess of missing information. I developed multiple scenarios, read up on tax credits I’d never heard of before, and after 3 weeks and 100+ hours, I finally got him to file all 8 tax returns (provincial and federal), mere hours before the deadline. I was exhausted, fed up, and wanted to take a 3 day nap.

My friend hugged me, right after filing and paying. He had tears in his eyes, so grateful was he to have finally discharged his debt to the country that has been so very good to him since he immigrated a few years ago, coming from a place of poverty and violence. “I could never do what you do for a living, I would kill myself, I’d hate it so much. But I am so very grateful you do it, as well as you do. I am free, now. That is priceless. Thank you.”

We free them up to make the best decisions, while we protect them from making mistakes.


On my recent trip to Oregon, one of my coworkers told me that she had been very nervous to meet me, because “we work so hard here, and we didn’t want you to find us inadequate, or not understand what we do, and maybe get us in trouble.” I tried to explain, I do not have that kind of power within the company, and besides, my job is not to get people into trouble. It is to understand what we do as a company, find ways to do things a bit better, and to protect us against risk. My job is to make sure that the people who work on the front lines, in Sales and Operations, can be free to do what they do best, because behind the scenes, I’m making sure that we are properly guarded against human error and fraud. All it takes is 1 big error or 1 dishonest person to wipe out everyone’s hard work. Our bonuses, our reputations, our value on the market, gone. It’s my job to protect all the time, money, effort, teamwork that goes into making our company great.

It is no easy task being worthy of trust.


We published our financial statements on Thursday, following a few days of chaos. I cried 3x on Wednesday, convinced I wouldn’t make our May 31 deadline. Thursday was intense. I felt like I was flying, my mind working in overdrive, pulling everything together, and then suddenly at 6pm, there I was, holding signed financial statements. A year’s work, told in a numerical story. It seems miraculous, that I can summarize one year of operational struggles, wins and loss, mistakes and inspired decisions, hundreds of employees clocking into work day in and day out, late nights in the office and emergencies, promotions, and new hires, into a few dozen pages.

It is our responsibility to always do the best job we can, so as to be worthy of that trust. That is all we can be. Every day.


I love what I do. I am so very very grateful that my cynical decision in 2007 has granted me a life of satisfaction and purpose.

A moment of reckoning

Friday, like a good girl, I went to the doctor’s appointment GAB had scheduled for me at a random clinic. The doctor asked me why I was there. “Because my coworkers got fed up of hearing me complain about how unwell I am. I had the flu on NYE, I had aching kidneys in mid-January, I had some sort of bronchitis end of January, and ever since, I am just so tired.” He took my blood pressure, made me say Aaaaah, and tested my knee reflexes. “You seem perfectly healthy.” Bro, really? After 3 minutes, no questions about my medical history, you feel you’ve done enough to give me your professional opinion? I look ok, but I’m not ok. I used to be an athlete. I know my body inside out and I am telling you this fatigue is not normal. I am exhausted, always. “Fine, we’ll do some blood tests.”

$378 later (thank goodness for insurance!), I was told that the clinic would contact me if and only if any of the tests came back positive. I was dismissed.

On impulse, I called the clinic where I’d last seen the GP with kind eyes that saw past my social front, and first diagnosed me with my shadow.  I was way overdue to see him. Last spring, he’d prescribed me with 6 months’ worth of medication for my ADD, and requested a follow up appointment. Bureaucracy and an unfriendly receptionist resulted in me missing the appointment; my medication ran out in beginning November. To my surprise, I got an appointment immediately. I saw him yesterday.

Ever the professional, he insisted on taking me on as a patient because he was not comfortable prescribing a controlled substance (ADD medication) to someone whose file he couldn’t properly follow (I NOW HAVE A FAMILY DOCTOR FOR THE FIRST TIME SINCE I MOVED OUT IN 2005! THE RELIEF IS REAL!). In doing so, he got access to my blood test results. Clean bill of health, other than some slight anemia, which is normal amongst menstruating women. So why the fatigue?

And so started the conversation of my shadow, because fatigue and unusual sleep patterns are a major symptom of depression. Yes sir, I’ve had another episode since we last spoke. Just pulling myself out of it, actually. He made me fill out a standard questionnaire used by professionals to monitor the severity of the patient’s depression. To my surprise, my score indicated that I am currently suffering a major depression, moderately severe. “Impossible! I’m BETTER now. Sir, you should have seen me in Nov-Dec, I was a wreck”. We went through the questionnaire again, only to conclude that in December, I’d been undergoing a severe major depression, one that would have required antidepressants AND psychotherapy AND a leave of absence. One that I’d navigated alone, and survived. Barely.

So here I am. With a referral to a psychiatrist. My GP has requested that I be assessed for bi polar disorder.“Bi-polar?! Me?!! No. I’m not manic. No. Impossible.” My GP smiled. Not all manias manifest themselves the same. He’d feel more comfortable if we could rule out that possibility, given the increasingly disruptive frequency and intensity of my depressive episodes. He gently suggested that I’d done all I could do to manage this burden on my own: it was time to consult a specialist, someone who could determine what exactly was going on, and what drugs/treatment, if any, could alleviate my condition.

I admitted that part of me had always hoped he was wrong – maybe I didn’t have a shadow, I didn’t have major depressive disorder. Maybe I’d just been unlucky. Maybe blowing out my knee and having my mother die unexpectedly in her sleep within 3 weeks of each other was enough to make me depressed (2012). Maybe finding out the guy I’d been sleeping with had forgotten to tell me he had a girlfriend, a bunch of terrible bad dates, a stressful job and a boxing concussion was enough to make me depressed (2014). Maybe all the minor blips in 2016 the result of that concussion + my terrible taste in men. Maybe I just couldn’t handle stress well, and boy, had 2017 been stressful. Maybe I was just insecure. Maybe I just needed to eat better, exercise more, try harder. Maybe I was actually ok?

No. My GP was as confident in his diagnosis (major depressive disorder) now as he had been a year ago. It was time, he felt, to leverage a specialist would give me the tools to free my brain from its poison, and allow me to “access the full potential of this amazing gift you have been given of your intelligence. It is your extreme intelligence that allowed you to get this far without help. Even now, as I talk to you, you fool me. Your mannerisms and demeanor are that of an overworked, tired professional. You look healthy. But your eyes give you away. Your eyes show suffering.


I pride myself on being fairly self-aware. Yet I had no idea it was this bad. I knew my year-end evaluation was not great (inter-personal difficulties), I knew my dance squad has repeatedly mentioned I’m too intense, too emotional to be around. I knew I was dangerously apathetic towards work. I knew my meltdowns were still happening (on Monday, a relatively innocuous convo triggered a two hour sob-fest at my desk that I couldn’t control, such that I had to leave work, take a sick day and I continued to cry uncontrollably all afternoon. I am still dehydrated from that experience, 48 hours later). Yet… I couldn’t see these signs for what they were: I am not ok. Really not ok. I was in denial.

It feels like grief, accepting this sentencing to a life of struggle and suffering. I don’t know that I have the energy to keep fighting this hard, forever.

It feels like fear. My career, my beautiful, precious, wonderful career, my biggest asset, my pride and joy, jeopardized by the very brain that got me here.

It feels like paranoia. The inevitable labels of ‘weak’, ‘crazy’, ‘unpredictable’, ‘unable to cope’.

It feels like loneliness. Few are those that can sustain the burden of loving someone like me. I tire myself, and I definitely wear out those around me.

It feels like exhaustion. Bone deep exhaustion.

But today, 24 hours later, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that it also feels a tiny bit like the possibility of hope.

It’s a lot to process.

This is true love, part 2

I have the best team ever, right? Right. My darlings. They keep me going when nothing else does.

For the 2nd year running, my little GAB surprised me on Valentine’s day with a deluxe grilled cheese sandwich. Grilled cheese… with BACON.

I was so overwhelmed, I hugged her. #professionalheartemoji

It was delicious.

Yesterday (Feb 15) I showed up to work, around 9:30 as usual (#earlybird), and as I walked past GAB’s desk, she looked at me with reproachful eyes.

I was SO sure you’d show up with chocolate today.

Oops.

So like any good manager, after getting such direct feedback, I addressed the situation.

Last night:

Little GAB looked quite touched when I gave her her Lindt flower stem.

#dreamteam


Do y’all remember Nene? You should. He’s cool. He sent me this. #goodtiming

Where is the lie?

Solo tripcations are my new fave thing

I should have seen this coming.

Teacher is an artiste – not a practical bone in his body. It’s part of his charm. Sometimes.

Teacher forgot to check the visa requirements for entering the United Arab Emirates… and it looks extremely unlikely that he will be granted one for next week’s Kizomba festival in Dubai. Just like that, I went from the gal who knew the guy who knew EVERYONE to the gal who’ll know NO ONE. Oye. Even better? Teacher told me not to worry, I should just come back to Mtl, and take my vacation at a later date, at another festival. Bruh. NO.

Imma reread the cheat sheet of How to Make Friends at a Dance Festival from Madrid: hell nah, I am not missing out on this sick opportunity just because of my anxiety of not knowing anybody, or because any festival without Teacher can’t be as fun as a festival with Teacher. This will be one big adventure. Alone.

Alone.

Unlike my last 2 trips to Paris, where I socialized constantly with current and former colleagues, this trip I’ve spent my evenings alone. I adore my French coworkers – to the point that I consider them as real friends – but I’m maxed out. This work trip has felt like a break – not because the workload was light, it wasn’t! – but because I’ve distanced myself from the constant clamour of friends, family, coworkers and my trainwreck dating life*. I’ve enjoyed my routine of walking around Paris and trying a new restaurant every night. I no longer feel conspicuous eating on my own.

As I head to Dubai, I think I’ll achieve a similar balance. Dynamo’s brother and sis-in-law have to work, so I’ll be on my own during the days but surrounded by their love in the evenings. Perfect. I’ll explore, or not. I’ll nap on the beach, or not. I’ll maybe even catch up on work, or not. Next weekend, the dance festival takes place in the late afternoon and evenings, so I will have my mornings to myself, before dancing the night away. Surrounded by people, but on my own.

It’s silly that such a simple thing like travelling alone can feel like an insurmountable obstacle. In fact yesterday, I almost didn’t go to a very hip/trendy/bohemian area of Paris, bc I felt my aloneness would be too conspicuous; but then I decided that was bullshit and I should view this as practice for Dubai. Obvi, as a woman, I must always consider safety. But as a street-smart woman, I’m very capable of keeping myself out of any real trouble. So this fear I feel of travelling alone? It’s actually a fear of being judged. Once upon a time, that fear would have stopped me.

Not anymore.

#YOLO

#thistripisjustwhatthedoctorordered

#boardingtheplanerightthisinstant

*I’m not gonna lie, I’m loving the break from boys. After recent drama with Beaut, Hickster and a few others, two weeks of no contact with any of them feels like detox. Maybe I should become a nun.

Follow the church spire 

I’m staying at the same hotel in Paris as during my last trip. It’s conveniently located, reasonably (for Paris) priced and clean. Every day, to and from my 30min walk to metro – I walk the first 5 metro stops in order to take in a feel of Paris – I’ve seen a church spire coquettishly peaking out between buildings in the 9th arrondissement.

Tonight I finally opted to turn down the street and check it out.


It is called Église de la Trinité, built in the 19th century as part of Baron Haussman’ attempt to unify the urban look of Paris. It holds no particular significance, other than its beauty.


My view from the window of the café across the street as I enjoy supper (an omelette with salad and fries – how French! – and a tall glass of wine).


Did I ever mention I love it here? I love it here.