depression

My groupie status is confirmed

I’ve always been a fan of the Royal Family. Which Royal Family, you ask? Sigh, THE Royal Family. The family of the Queen of Canada – because yes, she remains our head of state. #commonwealthnotwithstanding. (P.S. Happy 91st bday, your Majesty!)

I possibly maybe day-dream that I am some far-flung distant relative of the Family. My grandmother was the Queen’s doppelgänger. And I have frequently been labelled a princess. Stranger things have happened. It is possible.

But now, with the Heads Together campaign overseen by Their Royal Highnesses the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Henry of Wales, I’m legit a groupie. They are doing SO MUCH to normalize the need to talk about mental health. Prince Harry’s interview where he admits he required therapy to cope with the unacknowledged grief of his mother’s death. The Duchess of Cambridge’s admission she struggled adapting to being a mother. The need for these simple conversations.

Look at this video of a convo between Lady Gaga (another one of my faves!) and Prince William:

(Lada Gaga’s open letter on her battle with PTSD can be found here.) Ground-breaking content? No. But relatable? Yes. I felt she was taking the words from my mouth.

Prince William: It’s time that everyone speaks up, and feels normal about mental health – it’s the same as physical health; everybody has mental health, and we shouldn’t feel ashamed of it and just having a conversation with a friend or family member can really make such a difference.

Lady Gaga: Even though it was hard, the best thing that could come out of my mental illness, was to share it with other ppl and let our generations as well as other generations know that if you are feeling not well in your mind, that you are not alone and that ppl that you think would never have a problem do.

For the rest of the videos that are part of the #OkToSay campaign, click here. A mix of celebrities and non, covering a wide variety of mental health topics – how help starts with a simple conversation.

YES.


How did I spend my friday night? At my therapist’s office. First time back in 51 weeks.

Y’all.

It was fantastic. We picked up where we left off. He was SO delighted to hear of all my progress and self-discovery in the past year, and agrees that I’ve done as much as could on my own. Unravelling why I am so easily angered and hurt, and learning to better regulate all of my emotions, both positive and negative, is the next logical step on my path from depression to happiness. We covered an astonishing amount in our hour session – the foundation of trust that had been built in our 20 months of work together still was strong. I’ve some hard work ahead of me, but I left his office feeling so relieved. Relieved because I had had a conversation about how I was stuck: I’d identified the problem, but was powerless to fix it on my own. And now I am no longer on my own. Even the greatest pro boxers need their coach in their corner during bouts. I’ve got him. I’m good now.

He is my 4th therapist in my lifetime. The first was meh, the 2nd was solid, the 3rd was a total waste of my money but I was in such a bad space I thought I was the problem. Not all therapists are made equal, and not all are a good fit. But when you find one that works for you? Game changer. He gave me my life back in 2015, and now he will teach me how to access happiness.

How did I find him? By having a simple conversation with a coworker in 2014, where I confided how anxious networking made me, how much I HATED small talk. She gently remarked that I seemed always anxious, unpleasantly so, and then gave me the name of my therapist, mentioning that she’d consulted him too in the past for something similar. She thought we’d be a good fit: he was competent, zero-bullshit, and funny. When my depression exploded a few weeks later, I called him up.

The power of simple conversations. My admission to my coworker led to an exchange which led me to my therapist, without whom I would not be where I am today, on the cusp of happiness for the first time in my life.

Sharing my recent struggles hasn’t been easy. The conversations that resulted from it however, were lovely. Bit by bit, the dialogue about mental health is becoming less stigmatized.

Tonight, I feel hopeful and grateful.

#OkToSay

 

Me & Prince Harry: same

Last week I wrote about my constant struggle with my mental health issues (ADD & depression – diagnosed; anxious personality) and my reluctant return to therapy.

Writing it was hard. Those aren’t easy, simple or pleasant emotions to unravel. Posting it to Facebook? Excruciating. I was ashamed, and I feared people’s reactions.

Feared their contempt for being:

  • Vulgar. Airing my dirty laundry in public. Ew.
  • Dramatic. Happiness is a choice, obviously. With my life, wtf is my problem thinking I have the right to be discontent. There are children being gassed in Syria, you know. THEY should be sad.
  • Lesser. Mental health is icky. Only weak people have mental problems.
  • Incompetent. The disappointment to my close friends and family that I still don’t have my shit together like I should, that I still underperform, that my inability to do regular adulting activities with consistency causes problems for others, professionally and personally.
  • Crazy. Any emotion, reaction, opinion that doesn’t coincide with theirs is obviously the result of my unregulated mind, and should therefore be discounted. Vanilla is crazy – don’t listen to her.

My coworkers, both above and below me on the corporate ladder, read my blog – would I lose their respect? “I’m not sure we should consider Vanilla for that promotion, her mental health is too fragile.” Boys I’ve dated, boys I have crushes on, boys who might one day date me, read my blog – would they find me less of a woman? “She’s cool and sexy, but I dunno man. All that mental health shit. No, thank you!”

Knowing that yes, it is quite possible I will suffer consequences for posting this, makes me mad. I refuse to let myself drown in self-imposed shame. I feel compelled to write about this, own it, and post it publicly. The ONLY way to get rid of the shame – so unnecessary, so poisonous, so destructive – surrounding mental health IS by talking about it. And if my approach is too brash, well… hopefully I’ll polish it over time, which can only happen if I take chances and try this open approach.


Record number of likes on Facebook. People reaching out to me privately, to commiserate with the incredible burden that is the shame associated with mental health struggles. To ask me more questions because having read my blog they wonder if they/their child/sibling/parent/best friend might have X health issue, they never considered that as a possibility, they’ll approach the struggles differently, with greater empathy and understanding. To say they too have Y mental health issue. To compare resources they’ve used. To thank me – they feel less alone in their struggles; they always thought I was one of those ppl, “so happy and smiling and friendly, fit, has her shit together”. They realize now that no, I just have (mostly) mastered the art of faking it, at huge personal cost.


A few days after my post, Prince Harry made the news for admitting he’d been in therapy for the long-standing, serious repercussions stemming from his inability to process his grief following his mother’s death. Anxiety, aggression, all had negative impacts on his royal duties, and professional and personal relationships, and culminated in him seeking professional help to work through his issues. (*)

Even at royal engagements, he said, he had found himself battling a “flight or fight” reaction without properly 
understanding why. Once he started opening up to friends, he added, he found those same friends felt able to “unravel their own issues”. (…)

“I know there is huge merit in talking about your issues and the only thing about keeping it quiet is that it’s only ever going to make it worse,” he said.

YES.


I told my CFO-boss. I wanted to warn him that I’d recognized the blips in my performance, and I was taking steps to rectify them before they further deteriorated. Was that the right thing to do? I dunno. It was risky. I’ll find out the next time I am up for a promotion if it paid off.

As for boys… I tell myself, the blog doesn’t really make a difference – they’d find out first-hand about my emotional messiness anyhow, live. Best they find out via the blog and move on, than find out gradually and make those hurtful comments to my face.

I don’t have the energy to pretend anymore. I don’t see the point. Life, adulting, is fucking hard enough without pretence.

None of us should feel ashamed for our struggles.

Sometimes, silence is overrated.

#OkToSay

 

(*) Check out their Royal Highnesses‘ work on mental health, through their charity Heads Together. I think it is brilliant.

 

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.

BossMan

Dynamo. My darling. My bestie.

I got to know Dynamo’s brother BossMan in Montreal in 2011. BossMan was going through a rough patch: he was an extremely high-achiever who was underperforming. Born to be an entrepreneur, he was having trouble developing a business model that was successful. A few too many costly flops, and his self-esteem was rather raw. Yet, always, he had an unwavering confidence that he would succeed one day. He just didn’t have anything to show for it, and society does not look kindly upon those dreamers that preach greatness but don’t have demonstrable results. I was studying for the UFE. I was in the danger zone, pre-depression (I slid into it, badly in 2012). I was a bundle of fear and insecurity and anxiety. BossMan decided we’d be friends – he didn’t give a damn whether or not I wanted to explore vulnerability, he imposed himself in my life. (In choosing a pseudonym for him, I considered Endearingly Explosive Bully, EEB for short, but that sounds like some medical procedure.) He saw the real Vanilla, drowning in my fight against my sick brain, and he always addressed his friendship to that part of me. I’d weep about the UFE, convinced I’d fail; he wouldn’t comfort me, no. He’d yell at me for dreaming too small. He didn’t understand that at that time in my life, I physically couldn’t dream – that is the cost of depression. I didn’t understand how he could still dream after all his failures, but I recognized that this was someone who could teach me about life. I clung to him.

Fall 2011. I was in the car with Dynamo, when BossMan called him about a business idea. Dynamo listened. Dynamo cautioned against the inherent risks in that industry & market. BossMan got irritated at Dynamo’s lack of vision. Later, I asked BossMan for an offhand update about that business idea. That innocent question led to BossMan sharing his business plan with me, consulting with me, trading ideas/approaches with me. He’d call me at work and get annoyed that I was busy and couldn’t walk him through a new tweak in his concept rightthatinstant. He listened – the only time in all these years he has ever listened to me. #EEBalltheway I enjoyed working on this prototype with BossMan. I enjoyed seeing how someone with vision and dreams tackled life.

BossMan left for Dubai in early 2012, with pocket change, the prototype we’d worked on, and his dream of success. I thought he was KA-RAY-ZAY. We kept in touch as he struggled to get his new business off the ground. He confided that his romance with IronSweetie was heating up; he married her a few months later. He launched his business, successfully. Via Fbk, I watched his life take shape, and with every new success, I was proud of him for grabbing life by the horns. But like in my dealings with BlondEyes, I knew: that thirst for life was not for me.

At Dynamo’s wedding last year (2016), BossMan was delighted to see that I was less paralyzed by my fears and insecurities. But to my dismay, he told me I still had a ways to go. I wondered if maybe he was right – the first time I considered that freedom from depression was not the same thing as happiness.

BossMan picked me up at the airport when I arrived in Dubai last week. He asked me what tourist attraction or landmark I wanted to see during my visit. My response: his office, to see the results of that prototype that has grown into a very successful business, and spawned a 2nd business that is shaping up to be as successful, if not more. “Of course! You must!” He introduced me to every single one of his employees. I had trouble not crying: I’m so proud of him. Not for succeeding financially – no. Proud of him for becoming the man he knew he could be back in 2011. Not giving up. Persevering. Overcoming incredible odds. Building a life of happiness for himself.

On the last day of my trip, I was telling BossMan of the various stories from the dance festival, how transformative an experience it has been, all the people I’d met, my various meltdowns. I got the only compliment I’ve ever gotten from BossMan: “Many people would not have done what you did. Good for you. You are living now. Don’t stop.” I know that he is proud of me for becoming the girl he spotted beneath my depressive mess back in 2011. Not giving up. Persevering. Overcoming incredible odds. Building a life of happiness for myself.

We all need those people in our lives that believe in our capacity to be our best selves even when we can’t see our way.

Dynamo & BossMan. What my life would have been without you both.

Thank you.


Recap of this trip so far:

 

Discovering different kind of friendships – Moments of Truth, part II

On my 3rd day in Dubai (the day before the saga of multiplying dishes of food), I had 2 brunch dates. Funnily enough, both people picked the same restaurant as a meeting spot; I am BFFs with the wait staff now.

The first was my fairy godmother‘s niece. My affection for my godmother is such that if she tells me I should meet someone, I will, because it will be a good experience, one way or another. And so it was. I spent 4 hours chatting with her niece, about all kinds of topics: life in Dubai as an expat, democracy, the struggle of self-realization (finding one’s dream and purpose), marriage, the convoluted twists and turns of a career, misogyny. The conversation had an astonishing level of vulnerability given that we’d never met each other before – we just shared love for the same person, her aunt/my fairy godmother (my mother’s best friend who still watches over me in all her love and wisdom). That love created a safe space for truthful revelations.

My second brunch was with BlondEyes.


I did one year in MechEng with BlondEyes, before dropping out. We were 2 of the 25 girls in the 130 student class. I admired her so much. She represented everything I wasn’t and wanted to be: confident, happy, friendly, fun, smart, determined, a delight to be around, always surrounded by people wanting to enjoy her company. Meanwhile, I was paralyzed by my insecurities – I kept BlondEyes at arm’s distance despite my affection for her, because I was too ashamed of who I was and I feared she’d be unimpressed if she knew just how much of a mess I really was. (Honestly! I remember those days of deep self-hatred, and I wish I believed then what I know now: it really isn’t a big deal, we all struggle with adulting, join the party, don’t isolate yourself child! #vulnerabilityreallyisthewaytogo ). Despite this, BlondEyes welcomed me in her circle.

We kept in touch after I dropped out of MechEng in 2004. BlondEye continued to shine brightly, approaching life as a thrilling ride, determined to squeeze every ounce of experience out of it. I yearned to be fearless like her. Our lives diverged after her graduation in 2008: her career brought her to Edmonton, I was struggling to put myself through school and earn my accounting designation. That is life, right? We can’t hold onto everyone we enjoy.

Fast forward a few years (2012). I was a senior working at a Big 4. My first out-of-town mandate was in Edmonton. I posted a pic of some Albertan oddity on Fbk, and BlondEyes commented, asking if I’d be available to catch up. Yes. We went for a 4 hour brunch. She was so happy, her star still shining brightly. This time, I felt I deserved to sit at the same table as her: she was a respected engineer, I was no longer a flunkee but a respectable CPA. (Seriously. The years of unhappiness my brain imposed on me!) She told me of her relationship with her new fiancé, and uttered a phrase that I will never forget: “Vanilla, I know now that love should be easy. Easy doesn’t mean boring. You can feel more alive than you have ever felt with him, but it should still be easy and simple.” I think that might have been the most important piece of advice I’ve ever received. It had the ring of truth to it: she radiated joy. Rather than feel envy – I couldn’t, my depression dictated that happiness was not within my grasp – I felt pride that BlondEyes, at least, was succeeding at happiness.

Fast forward a few years (2017). I post a Facebook status indicating I’m travelling to Dubai to visit BossMan and IronSweetie. Once again BlondEyes commented, asking if I’d be available to catch up – I’d forgotten she’d moved to Dubai 2 years ago. Yes. We went for a 4 hour brunch. BlondEyes: happily married, pregnant with their first child, career going strong, her star shining still so brightly. For the first time in our friendship, her happiness at seeing me didn’t shame me: I too am capable of happiness. It felt like finally, after 13 years, this was the friendship that always could exist, but had never manifested itself. There’d always been a genuine appreciation, goodwill and encouragement of each other, but my former incapacity for joy had made me avoid hers. Now, my thirst for life matches hers, and we can fully celebrate each other’s stories and struggles. And celebrate we did.


Will I ever see these women again? Who knows. I really hope so.

It’s taken me close to a week to understand why that day of brunches made me SO happy: it is because I lived Moments of Truth with them.

Looking back on the three years since my mother’s passing, despite doing my best to keep the world at arm’s length so as to not reveal my messy inner turmoil, I now see that I’ve shared several surges of pure emotions with coworkers, friends, and teammates. Some of these shared moments have blossomed into friendships, and some never morphed into anything other than a momentary connection. But regardless of what happened subsequent to each moment, they are all valuable to me, as they involved an emotional connection. We shared a moment of reality, and in that brief moment we shared our true selves.

And so I begin to reconsider my struggle with truth. Perhaps my concept of knowing someone has always been too narrow: however wonderful and deep the connections I shared with that boy and my mother, they were similar to beautiful paintings, constantly getting reworked to become better approximations of reality. Without doubt, I still aspire to share that process with someone once again. But, in the meantime, as I continue to make my way through life alone, I can revel in each of the brief yet permanent connections that come from sharing a moment of truth with another person.

I feel so blessed to be free finally to connect with people, and live these moments of friendship. Deep, joyous and permanent.

I’m alive – something that was out of my reach for so long.

#mentalhealthstruggles

#grateful

#solocationwhat?


Recap of this trip so far:

2 guys, same feedback: part II

This will surprise no one: I was really upset when I wrote 2 guys, same feedback. I felt so defeated. All of my progress these past 2.5 years, invalidated by the opinions of 2 guys. Both dudes are rational and worthy of my respect; furthermore, they have NOTHING in common, based on any possible metric including nationality, education, upbringing, religion, age, profession, height or weight. If two guys that would not be prone to share opinions had same conclusion about me, it must be true.

And it is true, kinda.

Yes, I shut down convos pretty fast if they get too close to topics that are likely to generate emotions in me.

Yes, until Beaut, if I met a guy that appealed to me, emotionally, I would ghost him and put up every possible barrier known to mankind. Yes, for most of my soon-to-be-7 years as a single girl, I rejected any and all scenarios that could expose me to an opportunity of meeting someone who could hurt me. Stands to reason – my depressions hijacked my life. The last one, if unchecked, might have killed me, and I don’t say that lightly. Why would I seek out situations that could expose me to a relapse?

Yes, I am still extremely gun-shy about meeting a guy that could hurt me. But thanks to Beaut, I know I can survive such a situation – I won’t enjoy it, it will hurt, and depending on the guy, it might put me through the wringer. But as I recently realized, if I can handle Queen B Vanilla (aka I can handle anger), I can also handle hurt. Getting hurt is no longer synonymous with falling back into depression. I’m stronger than that. I have the tools.

BUT, I am scared. Obvi.

So I reserve the right to proceed with caution. I will not give myself up to just anyone. I need to trust them first. Physically, maybe. But vulnerability, and that sharing of myself that both of those dudes so expect from me? No. Not yet. I do not trust them. I might like them. I might anticipate that sooner or later, I will trust them, but right now, if I am shutting them down, it is because I do not trust them, and that is my prerogative.

Fuck that whole “vulnerability or nothing” ultimatum. I am vulnerable enough – this blog is proof of that. I have deep, transparent, rich relationships with my friends and coworkers, including my staff. My life abounds with love. I am capable of it.

And if they so want to get to know the “real” me, they can start by reading most of this blog. Yes, I prefer this medium, because I get to chose what I share, and when, but that too is my right. Everything I share here is truth. My truth.

I will not be imposed upon, because my schedule for assessing trustworthiness isn’t compatible with a man’s. Either he sticks around and waits it out, or he doesn’t. I’m worth it. And I am trying.

#vulnerablelikeaboss

To be or not to be a Queen B, part II

It all started with this post: To be or not to be a Queen B, although there was a hint of it in August 2016, when I wrote A Pointless Story about Coping Mechanisms, Boys in Drag and Eminem. I started getting snarkier, and it permeated my writing. The edge to my posts stayed throughout October and November. In December, my posts are very brash. Examples:

So far, in January, I’m still petty, both in my personal and professional life:

Two of my wonderful Qc cousins exclaimed in horror when I happily referred to myself during a Xmas supper as a mean bitch. They don’t see me in that light. I reassured them, no, no, Vanilla is finally in touch with her mean side. Again, they disapproved. It isn’t good for me to indulge in my mean spiteful side. If I have this “bad” side to me, I must work on it to eradicate it from my character.

It isn’t easy hearing “I do not like who you are becoming” from people you love and whose opinion you value. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking over their words. Specifically, I find it odd that my impulse is to celebrate this new aspect to my personality, whereas they condemn it. That is a disconnect in opinion worth exploring.


Life as a kid with ADD, unmedicated, a religious upbringing and a mother with very strict notions of propriety and etiquette (I read Miss Manners for fun as a result – highly recommend it. She is funny!)

Vanilla! How could you say that?! Don’t you see that you were rude/insensitive/thoughtless. You obviously didn’t take XYZ into consideration before formulating your opinion. Why are you presenting your opinion as a statement of fact: change your wording. How are you backing up your assertion? If you don’t have arguments to support your statement, that is a sign that you should stay silent. Don’t speak for the sake of speaking. Be considerate of others feelings. Your words say a lot about your character: do you want to appear vain/immodest/insensitive. Think before you speak. Speak when spoken to, and if you are going to speak up for no reason, make sure it is interesting and within the boundaries of polite discussion.

Everything I said was wrong. Even with the best of intentions, my words and my behaviour seemed to trigger bewildering reactions in others, and I would feel hurt by their condemnation of me, without understanding my good intentions. And as feelings do not depend on logical arguments to be supportable, I stopped expressing my feelings, after “losing” arguments with my mother too often to count.


Life as an ambitious, smart, driven career woman. Bite my tongue, don’t piss off colleagues or clients ever! You are too brash, Vanilla. Tone it down. Always try manage other’s feelings. Piss them off anyhow.

Learn at 30 that I have the right to speak up at work. Learn via this blog that I have a voice: my feelings and my truth matter. I don’t publish anything on this blog that I wouldn’t want the people concerned to read – they might not always like my opinions or agree with my assessments, but I always explain why I feel the way I do.

Get hired at my job because I’ll get things done and won’t let myself be bullied – disorienting to hear the aspects of my character that have always been portrayed as negatives described as valuable strengths.


Boxing taught me to acknowledge that I have a lot of anger that I’ve spent my life repressing, resulting in the deep and scary depressions, the last of which took 20 months of therapy to recover from.

I’ve no urge to ever hit my opponent first, to bend them to my will, to impose my fighting style over theirs. Those are not impulses that appeal to me either in the ring, or in the real world. I’m much more of a “live and let live” kinda person. I’d be perfectly happy if my opponent and I each took a corner of the ring and shadow boxed in silence. I’ve noticed that in the real world I do not know how to manage my anger. I’m totally comfortable feeling bitchy, annoyed, irritated and pissy. But anger? Real anger? I feel a flash of it, before dissolving into sobs, and giving way to despair and defeatism. I don’t ever fight back, because my anger has evaporated, leaving me with apathy. This is my go-to approach when an emotion is overwhelming. I fear what might happen if I did give way to my feelings: who I’d hurt, and how badly. To avoid facing that fear, I rid myself of the problematic anger entirely.

I think my problem is not that I am not a violent, angry person, but rather that I am scared of discovering just how violent I truly am. I know that I won’t be able to control my anger, so rather than learn to do so (and live with all the painful mistakes I’d make during that process), I avoid the entire issue, both in and out of the ring.


A lifetime of conditioning that what I say must be edited to be palatable to others. My need for self-expression must come second to other’s feelings. A lifetime of denying myself the right to express my emotions. A belief that negative expressions are bad. Imagine my confusion when my therapist proposed that all emotions are equal sources of information, and must be acknowledged equally.

Because such feelings are aversive, they are often called “negative” emotions, although “negative” is a misnomer. Emotions are not inherently positive or negative. They are distinguished by much more than whether they feel good or bad. Beneath the surface, every emotion orchestrates a complex suite of changes in motivation, physiology, attention, perception, beliefs, and behaviors: sweating, laughing, desiring revenge, becoming optimistic, summoning specific memories. Each component of every emotion has a critical job to do—whether it’s preparing us to move toward what we want (anger), urging us to improve our standing (envy), or allowing us to undo a social gaffe (embarrassment). – Psychology Today, Beyond Happiness: The Upside of Feeling Down

And there you have it.

I am proud of my new bitchy self because I have reached a point of strength where I can feel all of my feelings including the spiteful, mean and angry ones – emotions I was always taught to believe were “bad”. I also have accepted my right to express them, within socially acceptable boundaries. I use the word bitchy, because my whole life assertive women were called bitches, but really… I have learned to be assertive.

Assertive, bitchy, I don’t care anymore. I will speak my truth, professionally and personally. People won’t like that, bc hearing strongly worded, supported intelligent opinions isn’t friendly/charming/fun/sweet/easy. That’s ok. I rather be true than be liked.

It feels like freedom.