emotions

It’s a funny thing, love

Hi my mommy!

How you doing, Ma? Today is the 6th anniversary since you died in your sleep. Your death ripped a hole so big in my heart I didn’t understand how to keep on living. For a long time, I couldn’t. I was stuck in my grief, a zombie going through the motions. I was so angry at how you died, and so very ashamed at how I had been a selfish daughter. I couldn’t forgive, and I most certainly could not heal. I blocked all of it out, all of it, for years, paying a steep price: I didn’t know then that you can’t chose to only blot out the painful emotions. Denying myself the bad stuff meant also shutting off access to the good stuff. To love. To joy. To gratitude. #noneofthecolors

3 years ago, I began to un-thaw. I wrote this. It was the first time I allowed myself to really remember you. 2 years ago, I began wearing your ring, as a talisman, to keep you close and keep me grounded. 6 months ago, I fixed the watch you gave me, and since then I’ve worn it every single day. I stopped wearing any other bracelets because they can’t compare to my watch despite its scratch marks and slight tarnish. These two pieces of jewelry form my armor against the world. Tony Stark has his electromagnetic reactor. Batman has his batsuit. Vanilla has a ring and a watch. Same.

3 years ago, the moments where I experienced joy and love so deep I couldn’t block out the feels, started to multiply. It started with Qc cousin #2’s wedding. Continued with Dynamo’s wedding. Solidified with the return of Allie to Montreal. I really wish you could have met Allie, Ma. She knows how to love, that one. Patiently, so very patiently, she has let me grow comfortable with her endless generous love – for the longest time I didn’t feel worthy of it, because I was unable to reciprocate as selflessly, and that seemed unfair to her. As my world wobbled this past year, she was always there, a pillar of peace and quiet acceptance. (P.s. she just had a little baby boy and he is SO CUTE #auntievanillaisready #boyisgonnalearn). But that’s the funny thing about love, Ma. The more I accept it in my life, in it’s various forms, the more I open myself up to it, the more I find myself stumbling on incredible examples of it. I might not have been able to see many of the colors this year, but even when the sun stopped shining and I wasn’t sure I could make it to the next day, there were people around me to catch me and stop me from falling deeper and deeper into darkness. Coworkers. Friends at the gym. Family. Strangers.

Here I am now, once again able to see the colors. You know what the best part is? Every time I experience a moment of love or kindness, I am reminded of you. That’s what you were to me, my mommy – kindness and love personified. When you died, my capacity to see kindness and love was suspended. But somehow, with time and with the best friends and family in the world, I see them again, and that allows me to carry you in my heart after a long absence.

I’ve missed you.

I woke up on Monday, and felt an overwhelming urge to visit my Ma. I love the Mount-Royal Cemetery. I find it spectacularly beautiful. And rather than photograph it in black and white, I chose to photograph it with all of the colors. Because there is something so very fitting about the contrast of vivid blue skies and luscious green leaves that are so very alive, with the tombstones that bear silent testimony that loved ones lived and died. This birdhouse in particular seemed perfectly poignant. Why shouldn’t the birds that watch over our deceased be a little more comfortable and cozy?

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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.

All of the colors in Paris

Sunday. Landed in Paris, took a quick nap, then off I went for a little bit of solo-sightseeing. Y’all. There are SO many tourists in Paris during the summer months. No, I do not think of myself as a tourist. I am an invited guest. A wannabe Frenchie. Obvi.

ANYHOW.

I stopped by la Sainte Chapelle for the first time since 2012 to stare at the beautiful stained glass windows. Then I skipped over a few blocks to attend Mass at the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris. An organ. A skilled choir. Pomp and circumstance. Mozart! A very French archbishop cracking very French jokes that only a small percentage of attendees understood, because Mass at Notre-Dame is packed with hundreds of Christian tourists from every corner of the earth. During Mass, Notre-Dame is no longer a historical monument, but a living breathing space where people find solace from their grief and pray for salvation. There is something very humbling about uttering the same prayers that have been said by thousands of people for the past 7 centuries. The current emotions mingle with those that fill the walls of that sacred place.

Sunday night, as is my habit, I went to the Louvre. The contrast of the modern art (pyramids) and the old grandeur is magical, preventing the Louvre from merely being a fancy building that hosts a vast quantity of antiques. It is anchored in our current day world.

That statue reminds me that this used to be a real palace with carriages and horses stomping their hooves impatiently amongst the bustling activity.

In case you are wondering, all the pics in this post were taken with my iPhone 8. And other than this pic and the next pic below, all pics in this post were taken solely by me. ICB helped me get the right composition for this one. Filters applied by me.

Usually, the passage way to the courtyard is deserted. On Sunday, there was a very talented cellist playing Bach’s cello suites. I stopped to listen for 15 minutes. The cello was my mother’s favorite instrument: my father’s wedding present to her was a cello + music lessons, which she never got to take advantage of because of her health that began to fail almost immediately after their marriage. It took her years to sell the cello. She liked looking at it, she said. What a mama. A mama that never got to see the Louvre. Who never got to see much, yet who gave me everything so that I could live my best life. Since her death, I’ve been sent to Paris 9 times for work. I felt so much joy and sorrow, standing in that courtyard, listening to that music, my heart tried to break through my body. Instead, I cried.

That is me, on the left, hiding behind the column. I didn’t want to distract the cellist with my tears. I was unaware that I was in ICB’s line of vision.

I’ve been listening to Elgar’s Enigma Variations on repeat this trip since Sunday night. #perfect #mood.


Monday, I stopped by the Jardins des Tuileries before (8:30pm) and after supper (10:00pm).

Unfortunately this pic doesn’t capture the brilliant blue skies, which I could barely see because of the bright sun.

Jardins des Tuileries is an oasis in the middle of Paris. Joggers at all hours, families with preschoolers, tourists, people taking naps in the lawn chairs around the fountain, business people taking a break for icecream, students reading books in the shade. These gardens are where Parisians find shelter from the hustle of the city. I’ve never seen it so quiet and peaceful as it was on Monday at 10:00pm.

That sky tho. NO FILTER. Let me write that one more time. NO. FILTER.

No filter AND so peaceful a pelican came and hung out with me.

Laters, dude. Also, would y’all LOOK at that sky.

As the pelican took flight to new discoveries, I decided it was time to lead ICB through Paris, to discover the Eiffel Tower. With the beautiful weather, and vivid skies, there would be many opportunities for spectacular pictures.


Spectacular doesn’t begin to cover it. It is a 40 minute walk from the Jardins des Tuileries to the Place Trocadero, according to Google. It took us over 2 hours because we kept stopping to take pictures. The number of times I heard ICB triumphantly exclaim, “That’s it! I am never taking a picture ever again in my life. Would you look at this shot? It is PERFECTION.”

That is Paris for ya. Perfection in beauty.

Oh hey, guess what. Yup. NO FILTER. Can you imagine walking by views like this daily?

As we walked, I talked. I told ICB of how Paris saved me following my mother’s death, when I was badly stuck in my grief. Of how I feel like I am coming home, every time I come to Paris. How I feel like I belong here, like a missing part of my identity is found as I walk through its streets.  How in Paris, I feel fully alive, being surrounded by such beauty encourages me to strive to find my own – because there is nothing more beautiful than being fully myself.

Paris is a CROWDED city. And yet, the power of it’s beauty is so strong that you just have to look around to see moments of peace and serenity.

We finally made it to Place Trocadero. We spent almost an hour there, in silence, soaking up the atmosphere. Sitting on the steps of the Place, listening to the talented street musicians sing pop songs in French accents, children laughing, adolescents flirting in the background. We ate box of macarons. ICB took 200 pictures of the Eiffel Tower, from every possible angle. As I sat back and watched him work, I felt deep contentment. Here I was, 24 hours from my birthday, seeing and feeling colors. All of the colors. What’s more, I’ve been feeling colors, intermittently but with increasing frequency, since beginning May. I am getting better. One year, day for day from the start of this vicious episode of depression, I am on my way to remission. I survived. Normally I feel depression strips me of so much of my life, time just slips through my helpless fingers, month after month, year after year. But as I watched the Eiffel Tower sparkle on Tuesday night, I felt gratitude. As Rainbow once told me, surviving deep pain and suffering opens us up to the capacity to see “all of the colors, so very brightly. It can be overwhelming sometimes, and tiring. But I wouldn’t trade the beauty that I can now see for anything.”

My depressions might steal from me the ability to see colors for long stretches of time… But my depressions make me kinder, more compassionate, and much more willing to take risks and live during those brief moments when my shadow is sleeping. Here I was in Paris, working at my dream job, accompanied by a guy I barely knew. Despite a bumpy start, we were having a total blast. I was enjoying every single moment without trying to determine anything about the future or what this means for “us” – who cares, really? This trip was a trip of memories and happiness, time well spent. I was taking the lessons I’d learned in Toulouse last year, and applying them in the best possible way.

I sat on those steps, under a sparkling Eiffel Tower, and cried tears of happiness and gratitude.


Yesterday was my birthday.

ICB surprised me with this present.

Vanilla, I know you slide into a world of no color, of black and white and grey. I know you find it hard, that it makes you suffer. Paris is your happy place, where you feel alive and see clearly. I want you to have this, so when things are not going well, you can look at it and remember those colors that you can and sometimes do see. I want you to remember the colors. I want you to see them.

Kindness, y’all. Wrecks me everytime.

There have been a lot of tears on this trip. For the first time in a long long time, these were the best kind of tears.

All of the colors.

All of them.


Previous Paris posts:

A Parisian pickle, ice cream melt and fatigued

ICB. Anyone who makes it past 3 dates gets his own page in the dating section of this blog. #doesnthappenfrequently

For 3rd year in a row, work is sending me to Paris for my birthday week. Yay! It just so happened ICB had a week off work at the same time, with no set plans. On a whim, I suggested he buy himself a plane ticket and join me. I didn’t think he’d do it, not really. He didn’t think he’d do it, not really. 3 weeks ago, he did it. We are leaving this Saturday. Imma work 12 hours a day, he will vacation 12 hours a day, and in the evenings we will meet up for a nice walkabout and a meal, and listen to each other’s stories.


Something is up with ICB. There’s been a sharp decrease in his texting over the past 2 weeks. I’d gotten used to his daily “Bon matin” texts, asking me how I’d slept. Last week he went 2.5 days without messaging me. I finally caved and asked him if he was ok. He had a lot going on he said, his silence was unintentional. 1-2 sentences later, he politely dismissed me. If there is one thing I’ve learned, it is to never run after a guy. At best, they will allow the attention bc they are too lazy to refuse it (#freepussy #flattering); at worst, it will annoy them and they will ghost and whatever might have been is choked to death. So I accepted his dismissal and continued with my busy life. Friday, ICB called me at work to check up on me. Friday night, he asked to see me. We had a good time, although I did notice he was less chatty than before; he was tired from work, he said. Saturday, I told him how the silences of the week had made me feel – off balance, although I recognize he hates texting and has a lot going on. He agreed we’d find a better way. Ok. We would. Great.

Crickets this week. Unacknowledged messages of dancing events taking place in Paris. Hyperbolic delays in answering me. He’d warned me this would be a big week for him, but still. It’s hard to reconcile this version of ICB with the ICB who set an alarm for himself at 2:50am so he could call me to make sure I wouldn’t miss my 6am flight. My paranoid brain shakes herself awake. Reminds me of the time I convinced myself Beaut had a wife he kept hidden in his closet. Reminds me how it turns out I wasn’t far off. “Trust your gut” my paranoid brain whispers. I did tell ICB, in explicit detail, about my episodes of cognitive distortion. “Yes, yes it’s good you are so open about your mental health struggles. Best he find out now, so he can bail before either one of you gets attached. Because he will bail, it’s too much to handle.” I tell myself he can’t really be ghosting me – we are getting on the plane in 36 hours. “Yes well, now that he has gotten what he wanted out of you – a severely discounted trip to Paris, with a side dish of sex – why would he still pay attention to you? I thought you learned after the last dude that you shouldn’t try buy a dude’s affection. It never works.”

Y’all. I just wanted a fun trip to Paris. I don’t know how to raise this without sounding SO lame. “Hi, I know you dropped $700 to come hang out in Paris, but ummm, you don’t say Hi or pay enough attention to me.” I beg my brain to ease up just a few more days – I just wanted a fun trip. That’s all. One fun trip. I’ve been looking forward to sharing the anticipation of this trip with ICB. Watching his excitement of discovering a new city, my favorite city. Instead, we haven’t even discussed the logistics of getting to the airport tomorrow. At this point, I’m ready to sit back and see just how far he can take this. We each take our own taxi? Cross paths at the airport? Tempted to call the hotel and switch the reservation to 2 single beds. Then I feel bad: while this is the most extreme episode of shitty texting I’ve witnessed from him, he has always called or resurfaced. Maybe he is just busy. Maybe silence doesn’t mean an absence of thought about me – he can’t have forgotten about Paris, at very least. My paranoid brain smirks. “That is true. He cannot have forgotten about Paris. His silence means you are unimportant to him. Annoying. Just accept it. Your days of smiling are over.”

Seems like a reasonable approach to me.

OR… it could just be the FIFA world cup that is the issue.


I’ve struggled with my birthday for a long time. Adulting isn’t easy.

While I’ve always enjoyed being the center of attention, the past few birthdays have been very bittersweet, starting with my 25th birthday. Every birthday felt like a day of reckoning, where I realized just how far I was from achieving my dreams. With every additional year of reckoning, I felt increasingly stuck by how unsatisfactory my life had become. Sure – I had moments of happiness, but the weeks leading up to each birthday were filled with shame and regrets, as I accumulated years without any significant life events to validate that I was living life to the fullest.

Add to that the guilt and remorse I feel every year since my mother’s death:

My birthday and my mother’s death are forevermore linked in my mind, because on my 28th birthday, I couldn’t be bothered to find time to see my mother – I barely managed to squeeze in a phone call. She died unexpectedly 11 days later, on the day we were supposed to FINALLY see each other. I’m hoping that I’ll one day forgive myself for that. So yeah, the weeks leading up to my bday are also a period where I brace myself for the recurring wave of grief, of which my birthday is merely a foreshadow. It gets stronger the days following my bday, up until the anniversary of her death.

I can feel the increased volatility in my emotions lately, the familiar dread. Yes, spending my bday week in Paris has been a nice distraction these past few years, but the complicated emotions are still running in the background. It doesn’t help that my trip to France last summer was the catalyst to my slide into depression, that got progressively worse throughout the 2nd half of 2017. I am anxious to go back. I have many demons to face. I am hoping that by going to Paris I can close out the chapter of another year of my life stolen from me by my mental health. I want to start fresh. I want to celebrate. I want to hope that I can and will see life in color again, after living in a desaturated reality for the past 12 months.


At work, I’ve noticed a certain rigidity and intensity in my reactions. I am stressed, I am having trouble quietening my mind enough to be productive. I feel a little overwhelmed by my to do list. I am not remotely as prepared for my work trip as I should be and am behind on my Montreal deliverables. My boss has been checking in very frequently, asking me how I am doing and feeling. She typically only does that when she has reason to believe I am not ok. My little GAB sent me an email on Tuesday, asking if I was ok. I wasn’t – I was having a meltdown in the parking lot, hidden away, my favorite place to cry in summer months. GAB admitted to me yesterday that she could tell immediately on Monday morning that I was off, but generously suggested I seemed to be doing a bit better? Yeah, I suppose I am, but that is because I’ve lost the battle against procrastination. #cantwinthemall. I worry that the ppl in my life, professionally and personally, have to pay the price of my unstable mental health, which is unfair. I worry I am slipping back into my bad space of Oct-November. I tell myself that no, it is just a reasonable increase in stress from the fact that I am leveling up, getting better, and taking on more. This is the consequence of being healthier, my ability to take on more. And then I reread my post from December, and I worry. Maybe I bit off more than I could chew?


This is a lot to process. I need a lot of energy to handle all of these emotions. I need to give everything I’ve got.

I’m tired. So very tired.


Previous Paris posts:

Little gifts

In March I attended MTC’s birthday house party. I was too exhausted for socializing, but I forced myself to go. She lives a 15 minute walk from my place, so I negotiated with myself that I would show up for 1.5-2 hours and then if necessary, I could make a quick getaway. I like MTC, and I knew everyone who would be attending: over the years her friends have become my own, thanks to her 2-3x annual get-togethers. Hers is a low stress, safe environment and I’d be able to fulfill my obligation as a friend.

I had a low-key good time, catching up with DD and a couple of other friends I hadn’t seen in a while. 1.5 hours elapsed and as I got ready to take my leave, one of MTC’s besties, Bloggerina, pulled me aside. I steeled myself for a well-meaning but tiring inquiry into my mental health. Instead, Bloggerina hugged me,

Vanilla, I’m so proud of you, of what you are doing for mental health. You might not realize it, but you are making a difference. I have a close friend who suffers from depression, he’s thought of ending his life before, and I didn’t know how to be there for him. We’ve had much better conversations since I read your blog. I tell him that I might not live through depression, but I read the words of someone who does, so I sorta get it. He has read your blog on some of his really bad days, and it helps. He feels less alone because you say the things that many people can’t. You share your struggle, you speak up, even when it can impact your career. Vanilla, don’t stop writing. You are making a difference. You are doing so much to counter mental health stigma. It doesn’t matter if your audience is small, every person in that audience is benefiting, which means they can have a positive impact in the lives of the people in their network. That is huge. You are changing lives and you don’t even know it. I know it’s hard for you right now. But I wanted you to know that your voice fucking matters. Who cares if you can’t write as much as before? Take your time. When you do manage to write, what you produce is amazing. Just keep writing as much as you can, when you can. I am so proud of you.


In beginning of May, I met up with a long-time reader of my blog and follower on Instagram. Rainbow was introduced to my blog through one of my cousins. Over the past year or so, she has DMd me a few times when a blog or IG post particularly resonated with her. She confessed to a conviction that had we lived in the same city, we’d be friends. When Rainbow realized she would be passing through Montreal, she wrote to me to suggest that we meet up. I agreed. That is how I found myself on a blind-date a few hours before my infamous ice cream evening with ICB.

I was nervous, a little. The interweb is a curious place. I’ve forged 2-3 virtual friendships with fellow bloggers, one of whom has repeatedly invited me to come visit her city. I’ve met up with one long-time reader 2 years ago, when I happened to be traveling to his city for work. It is very odd meeting someone who already knows so much about me, without actually knowing me. But it is also kinda wonderful.

 

Y’all. We had a fantastic time. 3 hours of raw, authentic, deep conversation. Rainbow was right. Had we lived in the same city, we definitely would be firm friends. She lives life the way I wish I could, if I didn’t have depression. She feels so much, the highs and the lows. “It’s like seeing all the colors, so brightly. Max saturation. It’s a little overwhelming sometimes, but so beautiful.” Yasss girl, #goals. Several times during our supper, I was amazed that such a vibrant woman could relate so strongly to my words, when most of my reality is opposite to hers: numb, muted, color blind. Then I understood: she could relate to my pain. Vibrant people all know pain, it is by embracing it that they develop their deep capacity for joy. And boy, did Rainbow ever emanate joy! In her presence I began to see the world in shades of color, for the first time in a long long time.

I came out of that encounter feeling deep gratitude. I will never forget that evening.


I share a considerable social circle with Kiddo. Kiddo is extremely private about his mental health, but having read my blog for the past 4 years, he has occasionally confided some of his social struggles to me. My openness of my (relatively mild) conditions has encouraged him to adopt a more transparent approach with some key figures in his life. He has been checking in on me as I struggled through the worst of my episode in Nov-Jan and encouraging me as I put up with the interminable waiting list for a psychiatrist, sharing some of his coping mechanisms from when he had found himself in a similar situation. Last week, Kiddo wrote to me to admit that he was once again having suicidal thoughts following a change in his medication. Not because he wanted me to intervene, but because voicing that was a necessary part of his acknowledgment the situation that he was doing everything he needed to do to address. A moment of vulnerability.


It has been hard, lately, to keep blogging. I’m more aware of the possible consequences, how intense my blog can appear to anyone who stumbles upon it. I’m more aware of the stigma of mental health on my career and dating prospects. I am exhausted always, so voluntarily choosing to be vulnerable on my blog seems like a Sisyphean feat. My sick brain whispers to me that I should just be quiet, to give up, my voice doesn’t matter. Except it does. I don’t quite understand how or why. But people read my blog and my words make a difference in their lives.

So even though all I wanna do is take a nap, imma kindly tell my brain to fuck off, and keep on writing.


Recap of this recent battle with depression:

Phase 6 feels like mourning and confusion

My godmama cornered me at a recent family gathering.

Sweetheart, I read your blog because your god-sisters tell me when they think I need to be aware of what you are going through. It make me so sad to know that you have such a big sadness. Tell me what I can say to make it better, I wish I knew. I know you are having a hard time right now, but the only advice I can give you is: don’t worry about the forest. Focus on the trees. Just take one thing at a time. Tell yourself, ‘I can’t handle this thing right now, so I will work on this other easier and smaller thing and make it better. I know I need to fix this third thing, but I’m not strong enough right now, so that will have to wait and that’s ok. Instead I’ll take care of this little thing.” One tree at a time, sweetheart, bit by bit, that is how forests are made. It breaks my heart, sweetheart, that you are feeling so sad. Please, please just remember that we are a phone call away and that we love you. I wish I knew what to say to make it better.

That’s a godmama, right there.

I tried to tell her that I know she loves me, and it comforts me. But at the moment, I just can’t show up. I’m exhausted, and I’m trying so hard. All my energy is consumed trying to salvage my career and fight my brain. Knowing that she and my close friends and family are a phone call away sustains me. But other than concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other, building up my career, and then attacking one by one the trees that need fixing in my life, I have no energy for anyone or anything else.


For reasons that are not relevant to this blog, I am still in contact with Hickster. There are some loose ends we are trying to take care of, which involve us communicating with one another far more often than never.

Before my diagnosis, especially from November to January, Hickster and I were locked in a pissing contest to see who could hurt the other more. He was soooooooooo frustrated with my constant tears, yelling meltdowns and screaming matches. He would dish out 3-10x as good as he’d get, warning me “you mess with me, I’ll make sure you never try that shit again”. We were the ultimate case study for a toxic destructive relationship. I’d rage at him that he was an ungrateful coward who couldn’t recognize everything I’d done for him, and he’d reply, “You can’t see what I’ve done for you. Who else would put up with your social awkwardness and your tantrums and tears. You’re a fucking child who doesn’t know how to behave. There is a reason why people find you so hard to love. I have moderated your odd quirks and made it easier for people to accept you and like you. You think I don’t value you? I’m still here despite you acting like a spoiled brat drama queen all the time. Nobody else would put up with your exhausting bullshit. Grow up.”

#romance101

February, I got my prelim diagnosis. I begged Hickster to reach a truce in our warring, while I was on the waiting list to see a psychiatrist and sort out my shit. I was sick, sicker than I’d ever realized and I didn’t have the energy to fight him anymore, not when I was losing the battle against my brain. I had nothing left in me. For about a week, he refused to accept the diagnosis, telling me I just needed to learn to control my emotions. Classic reaction of someone who doesn’t accept mental health issues. The warring continued. I thought I would drown in my own tears.

One day, something switched. Hickster saw me. He saw me trapped in my own misery during a conversation. Since then, he listens and can flag in my voice if I’m sliding down own of my paranoid tunnels, experiencing an episode of cognitive distortion. He stops short the conversation, “Vanilla it isn’t you talking right now, it is your sick brain. You are upset, I see that, but we have to finish this conversation later once you are better. Or else your brain will say something to hurt me, and I will say shit I don’t mean, you know my temper. Let’s just wait till you are better. No, Vanilla. Don’t insist. I have a relationship with you and I have an entirely different one with your brain. I need to manage both.” I assumed at first he was manipulating me. Except rather than use my brain as an excuse to avoid the difficult conversations we needed to have, he checks in periodically to assess my mood, and when he feels I am clear-headed, he DOES have the painful, complicated convos we need to have. Almost overnight, the fighting has stopped. We are closing out the loose ends I thought would choke me to death.

It has been disorienting to have Hickster switch from being the guy that almost broke me to someone I can trust to protect me against myself. To be clear: this doesn’t absolve him of all the incredible bullshit he did during our time together. He was an asshole, sometimes still is. But whereas for the longest time I felt unseen, unacknowledged, and devalued, here he is, for the 2nd month running, seeing me better than I see myself. Even though we are dealing with the shitty aftermath of a relationship, he is still showing up. I hear the echo of all the times he told me “You think I don’t value you? I’m still here despite you acting like a spoiled brat drama queen all the time. Nobody else would put up with your exhausting bullshit.” I wonder, now. How much of that was abusive demeaning talk, and how much of it was actually true? He is attempting to fix some of the messes he made in my life even though we are done. He talks to the real Vanilla, the one he always cared for, and has taken on the considerable burden of managing my sick brain. I am grateful for that, because I need all the help managing it.

I feel so much grief. I wonder how many of our fights could have been avoided had we known about the extent and gravity of my condition. How much unnecessary scar tissue we could have saved ourselves. I don’t doubt for a second that Hickster and I were doomed from the start, regardless of my mental health state, because we both are very broken individuals in incompatible ways. But it seems such a waste to have inflicted SO many scars on one another because of my unmanaged condition and unmanageable emotions. I wonder how many other romantic relationships and friendships could not bear that burden and caved or faded. I wonder. I remember some of the fights I had with my ex, over the 6 years of our relationship, the number of times he told me I was exhausting, he couldn’t get through to me, I was vortex of despair. Again, I don’t think we would have ended up happily married, but I mourn how hard I made it for him. How hard I’ve made it for the people in my life, and how many I pushed out of my life.

The real Vanilla wants to love these people, wants to show up, wants to be. But I can’t most days. I fail them, despite my best efforts.

#mentalhealthisbullshit


Recap of this recent battle with depression: