friends

BPD series: the ability to see colors

I adulted!

6 months after ICB gave me the best present of my life, I looked up a store that does frames. I felt like such a grown up, discussing standard frame sizes, methods, style. I was so excited. I learned mounting a painting onto a frame requires time: it would be available for pickup in 1-2 weeks.

I picked it up yesterday. ICB came along. I was jumping up and down in the store while I waited for the clerk to fetch my painting from the back. ICB didn’t understand, it had been 6 months, what was a few more minutes?

So rational, that guy.

Well, that rational guy had a little something in his eye when he finally saw the painting mounted on its frame. We walked to my home in silence, both of us deep in our memories. I put it in my favorite room, the room where I write most of my blog posts.

It’s an interesting dynamic I have with ICB. He is a dependable rock, always there for those he cares about. A good, solid man. He uses few words, but he cares deeply. Observant. His stability makes me feel more grounded.

But.

He does not accept my mental health issues. At all. More than once, he has told me that while he rationally accepts my diagnosis, he can’t reconcile that someone as “beautiful, smart, and wonderful as you could have such problems. I know you are emotional, I can see sometimes you struggle, but part of me thinks that if you just learned how to not let it get to you so much, you would be fine.

His good-natured non-understanding has both been an inadvertent motivator and a burden. Like a child, I try work on certain aspects of my behavior, and proudly announce when I’ve succeeded on something small, like cleaning my floors or keeping my temper. The benefit of that is clear: I have a less messy apartment, and I have navigated some social situations better than I would have had ICB not given me advice. But it’s that wanting to please him and make him proud of me that is a problem. Because it implies that who I am, my baseline, isn’t something he would be satisfied with. Which, considering that I want him to be proud of me because I inconsistently and haphazardly manage to do Adult 101 tasks and avoid brutal, exhausting and mortifying emotional meltdowns… isn’t a stretch. The more I want him to be proud of me, the more I believe that who I am is not enough for him. And that is without him saying things like, “I worry I won’t be strong enough to handle your emotional swings. That I won’t be what you need from me. The intensity scares me.” Bro, if only you knew how much it scares me too.

Who can blame him? I am the girl who had a week-long meltdown about some Instagram likes. It isn’t unfair for him to wonder what my reaction would be like if ever we hit a real hiccup or problem. BPD is the most associated with suicide amongst personality disorders; it is estimated that 40-65% of suicides have a personality disorder; among BPD, 8-10% commit suicide, up to 75% attempt suicide and 69-80% self-mutilate. That knowledge is a heavy load to carry. Heavier still is my realization that I have on multiple occasions this fall considered that not living would be an acceptable option for shutting out the whirlwind in my head. Most days, I can easily see that I have many other options, and that not living is a pretty terrible option, but whereas I used to not have these thoughts, with every year that goes on, I understand more and more why people chose to end their lives. That is something I have to deal with, but is not easy knowledge for those who care about me.

I wish I could explain to ICB, I know the burden I am to those around me. I value so very much those that love me as I am, including these very imperfect sides of me. Those who are proud of me whether or not I clean my floors, because they know I am trying. The ones who try to fight away my pockets of shame, because there is no side of me too awful for them to love. The Allies, DDs, Dynamos and Coaches of this world, who hear my paranoid rants, realize that I am in one of my episodes and offer practical suggestions while patiently waiting for me to ride it out, always speaking to the Vanilla they love, ready to give me a reassuring hug once I’m back on the other side of paranoia and cognitive distortion. They give me the gift of acceptance. I give them… not sure what, but their love for me is so deep I don’t worry about my inability to reciprocate like a normal adult.

I want to tell ICB – my inability to see the world as he does doesn’t make me any less lovable, it just makes me different. Occasionally, I do manage to see the colors in the world. This duality, living mostly in a world of greys, with flashes of colors, is what gives me my capacity to love – I am in tune to others’ suffering and shame, and it doesn’t phase me. It gives me my humanity.

I wish my humanity were enough.

To the extent it is not, I retain a friend who does not understand but who cares.

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.

All the colors in Paris

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Epilogue: boxing

I went to a boxing gala at my gym on Friday.

Since quitting boxing 2 years ago, I train in the conditioning section of the gym. Great vibe, different people.

It was nice to see Cap again. I ran into Bradley, in town for the first time in over a year. I didn’t recognize him. No longer a wee adolescent boy, he is a grown-ass man now. In the 2.5 years since this hilarious mortifying story, he’s grown a foot taller and 50lbs of muscle heavier. Still shy and modest tho. He is gonna make some young girl very very happy one day. Good kid. #notanasshole #thosestillexist. Chair Thrower was at the gala, as was Cereal.

I felt at home, on Friday. In my life which is more tumultuous than one would expect for an accountant (now we know why), this gym has been my constant, my refuge, my safe place since fall 2012. 6 years. That’s longer than most of my friendships. This is the place that has given me the space to grow. To risk. To try and fail. To discover myself. It is the birthplace of Vanilla.

Boxing is an unforgiving sport. By stepping into the ring, every boxer tacitly accepts to show their true self to their opponent, coach and whoever is watching. You can’t mask cowardice or fake bravery when getting punched in the head. Every hesitation, fear, bluster and cockiness is blatantly obvious to anyone who watches. There IS no socially constructed mask to hide behind. To step into the ring, every boxer, no matter their level of experience and proficiency, has to be willing to be vulnerable, and to be seen. As such, I’ve noticed that most people at the gym don’t cling so tightly to their social personas – there is no point, when we’ve all seen their true colors in the ring. As a result, everyone is more authentic at the gym than they otherwise might be. Vulnerability + authenticity = key ingredients for friendship.

“I’m so glad you are part of my family”

I remembered something on Friday, that I’d long forgotten: boxing is a team sport. Yes, it’s true, no one can fight an opponent except yourself, no one can climb into the ring for you. And yet. Watching the teammates cheer on my gym’s fighters until they lost their voices, seeing them weep for their fellow fighters’ losses, jump for glee with every win, I remembered. I remembered what it feels like to stand in the middle of that ring, petrified and exhausted, and the wave of energy that would wash over me as I’d hear my friends cheer me on.

Lately, as life has been very hard, throwing me too many curve-balls professionally and personally, I have felt so alone. Friday reminded me: no one can fight my battles for me, but in the ring as in real life, I am not alone. At least at this gym, for a few hours every week, I am seen and I am understood.

Everyone who walks into the gym is looking for an escape from the outside world. Yes, the same can be true of a yoga studio. But here, people are looking for a reprieve from the tangle of thoughts, emotions, and frustrations that is a necessary by-product of being alive through the action of hitting an inanimate punching bag over and over again. It’s a safe haven that allows a person to work through whatever they need to work through, surrounded by people doing the exact same thing. The particulars of each individual’s tangled mess is irrelevant; everyone has preoccupations, and the gym is our way to work through our shit. People who walk through the door are looking for the freedom of a few hours when socially acceptable constraints are no longer required. The punching bags become the recipient for every harsh word that was bitten back through the day, every slight that was received, every injustice, every worry. For a few hours, the world stops pushing, and we can push back as hard as we want, without any consequences. Bliss.

“I’m so glad you are part of my family”

It feels good to not feel alone. It feels good to have a family.

2 year danciversary – shout out to one of my favorite dance partners

Facebook memories. They can be useful sometimes.

Today, Facebook reminded me of this pic, taken at my very first social, exactly 2 years ago.

I remember that night. I had no idea what I was doing, dance-wise. I had done 3 weeks of kizomba lessons, maybe 2-3 months of salsa lessons. I was dealing with heart-break, having written this post about Beaut 1 week prior. What better way to try get over that humiliation than to go to a dance event all dolled up and meet new people? Great idea. Until Beaut walked in, with a chick on his arm. Did I feel like weeping? Yup. Did I weep? Nope. I concentrated on my partners, lucked out on 1-2 really good ones and had a real blast. Nevertheless, over the next 2 months, I virtually quit kizomba, unable to get comfortable with the concept of owning my sensuality or my space. I didn’t know, then, that that struggle is the entire point, and a big part of the thrill of dancing.

So today, it turns out, is my two year danciversary. And as you would have it, Facebook caught my attention with another picture, taken yesterday.

Left to right: Sassy, Vanilla and Curly

Funny that Facebook would remind me on my 2 yr danciversary of 2 of the people I met at my very first dance festival, in Madrid, back in December 2016.

That festival. Oye. It was petrifying, and exhilarating, and overwhelming. On my first night, I was very very lonely and intimidated. Not getting asked to dance often, getting attitude from European men used to dancing with high level dancers. I was stiff as could be, watching wistfully as Teacher and his dance partner twirled non stop at either end of the room, people lining up to dance with either one of them. Then a good-looking man came up behind me, tapped me on the shoulder and asked me to dance. I could follow him, his lead was clear and simple. No fancy tricks, just simple steps in varying sequences, and suddenly the room seemed less noisy, I was no longer lonely or tense. Here was a stranger with whom it felt ok. I felt safe. After 2-3 songs, he introduced himself, “You’re Vanilla, aren’t you? I recognized you from Teacher’s videos. He told me you would be here. Glad to meet you. I’m one of Teacher‘s students, but I live out in Vermont.”

And that is how I met Curly.

Since then, I’ve seen Curly approx 3-4 times a year, when he drives up to Montreal to attend a dance event or train with Teacher. I’ve learned that he has an amazing sense of humor, can make me laugh until I cry. Unfortunately, he has a bad habit of muttering his amusing one-liners mid-dance, triggering loud guffaws in me, which is not well viewed during a night of sensual dancing. Oops?

That feeling of safety and stability that I first felt with him has deepened into certainty. Dancing with him is to dance in a truly judgment free zone. Better yet, it is to dance with kindness.

As a follower I must accept the leader’s lead: that requires giving up control, trusting him to guide me with clarity so that I can translate that into movement. It is a form of vulnerability. By accepting to follow, I must accept that I will sometimes get it wrong: I won’t understand, I’ll step on the leader’s toes & stumble, I’ll react too slowly, I’ll fuckup his intentions. I must accept that my imperfections will be seen and trust that the leader will treat them with kindness and patience and work through them so we can create something lovely together.

Curly is not blind to my failings as a dancer. They just don’t matter to him. It is easy to be vulnerable with someone who takes the responsibility of gentle handling of that vulnerability very seriously. And if Curly treats his partners’ vulnerability with respect… by default he respects his partners. Real respect.

That kind of acceptance is wondrous and rare. It’s a form of freedom, really.

In the two years since I started dancing, I’ve seen a lot. It’s not all rosy out there. There are guys who misbehave, viewing girls as objects to be groped, willingly or not. There are many people who dance for the wrong reasons, for ego, for fame, for recognition, and that leads to noise, drama and cruelty on the dancefloor. Everyone has an opinion about everyone else. It’s exhausting and distracting. I used to think Strictly Ballroom was satire. It’s not. It’s a documentary.

To have stumbled on a friend, a real one, one with whom I can be silly and serious and sensual and awkward; one who respects my bumpy journey, and does his part to make me feel safe in an unsafe world, even if it is only for the space of a few songs a year… That makes all the growing pains of this dance journey worth it.

Curly is one of my favorite things about kizomba.

For further reading about dance, check out my dance page. Otherwise, here is a recap of the key realizations that dance has brought to my life:

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:

Children, tho!

I’ve been trying to write this post for 5 weeks. Time keeps slipping through my fingers, like the drifter I’ve become. The concentration required to gather my thoughts is too great, so my thoughts remained scattered and unvoiced. That’s depression for ya – the art of being physically alive without actually living.

I don’t know why this is such a hard post to write. I do know that these two events sparked something in me that has been dormant for many many months as I navigated the worst of this depression: hope.

That is worth writing about.


5 weeks ago I had supper at P-dot‘s. It was the first time I saw her, or her family, in 2018. #badfriend.

I met P-dot back in uni. My first semester as a full-time student, following tumultuous years dropping out of engineering, putting myself through night school, working full time. I didn’t like the accounting students I’d met thus far. They wore suits for fun, and only seemed to possess a wardrobe of white, grey and black. Then I saw P-dot, across the classroom. She was sitting next to the window, in a home-made knit sweater, with a purple reusable coffee mug that had butterflies on it. I saw her and I knew: she and I were gonna be friends. At the end of class I introduced myself to her and asked her to be on my team for the term project. Months later she admitted she’d had the same feeling about me, and had been planning to do the exact same thing but I beat to her to it.

When I first met P-dot, her son Mackster was a toddler, still wobbly on his chubby baby legs. I fell in love with him. Auntie Vanilla spent many evenings chez P-dot, getting my cuddles with Mackster, reading him a goodnight story, before talking late into the night with P-dot and her hubby, bottles of wine as hydration.

Behold Mackster at the age 3-4. We were making cookies.

6 years ago Mackster got himself a punk of a little sister, Bee. The monthly bedtime story ritual continued on each of my visits. But my monthly visits became bimonthly, and then quarterly as P-dot and I struggled to balance career, social lives and drastically divergent lifestyles.

In early December 2016, I invited P-dot and fam to my place for supper. It was the first time ever we didn’t have supper at their place. Bee and Mackster were so excited to see where Auntie Vanilla lived. Mackster and I talked about his studies, what he liked best about school: reading. Now. My Ma loved to read. She never gave a present to anybody that didn’t include at least one book. Good books, any age group. When I moved out, I had to give away the vast majority of my book collection that I’d accumulated over the years, but I kept 2 shelves of children’s to young adults fiction because they were so unique and solid. I was sure they would come in handy one day, possibly with my own family. Not all books stay in print forever, and most of these books had serious merit without being literary classics; they’d shaped my character as all good books must. When Mackster told me he loved to read, I invited him to pick any 4 books from my dusty collection. He picked all of the Roald Dahl books he’d not heard of before, eyes sparkling. Not to be left out, Bee picked out a bedtime story book. Both kids solemnly nodded that they understood that Auntie Vanilla was loaning them these books, it was important they take good care of them.

That was December 2016. 2017 flew by, kids were always busy, away at sleepovers when I’d visit, which wasn’t nearly often enough.

March 18, 2018. I finally made it to P-dot’s. Merry Christmas, P. Happy New Year! Oye. I hadn’t even finished taking off my winter coat, Mackster came bounding down the stairs, out of breath, and shoved something into my hands, chattering all the time, “Vanilla here you go, I have them…” Slow down kid. Deep breaths, what’s going on? And then I saw. He had my books. He was returning them to me, because that was the first most important order of business. He wanted me to notice how they were still in perfect shape, just like when I loaned them to him.

Y’all.

I’d forgotten. I’d forgotten I’d ever loaned them. This kid, who hadn’t seen me in 15 months, clearly hadn’t. He remembered so well, nothing else, not me even taking off my coat, could occur, before he’d discharged his library debt with me. He thanked me at least 20 times, he’d really enjoyed them, had read them many times, but was now reading *insert some other series here*.

Mackster. No longer a chubby toddler.

Bee waltzed by, to give me a shy hug. I told her I really liked her outfit, and P-dot told me that it was her favorite dress, that she had gotten all dressed up especially because I was coming over.

15 months I couldn’t make time to see these kids. 15 months, and yet I still mattered to them. And let’s be honest, for children, the notion of time is a little wonky. 15 months for a child is close to a dog year. Or so I thought. Wrongly.

Mackster working through the dessert selection I brought for supper. Every time I go to P-dot’s, it feels like Christmas. That household reeks of cozy, comfortable love.


On January 7, 2018, my dance school held an open house. Loads of fun. There was a cute little girl who accompanied her mama who was checking out the school. Girl must have been 10ish. She was very well behaved, staying quietly to the side. I invited her to join me in some of the tasks I was doing for the school, which she did with gusto. She stayed close to me that day, helping me out, and always down for a high five. She made me smile.

I’ve since see her mama in kizomba class.

Then, on a nothing special Monday, April 2nd 2018, as I walked into my kuduro class, who do I see? Cutie and her mama, working up a sweat and busting out their dance moves. I was so surprised and happy to see Cutie, it must have showed. Before I’d even taken off my coat (I swear, this seems to be a recurring event in my life!) Cutie had bailed on the choreography to launch herself at me with a powerful tackle-hug. It took me a second to master my rush of emotions to be able to hug back the little bundle of energy whose arms were wrapped around me, waist level.

I had a happy smile plastered on my face the entire class. Cutie busted out all her moves, but always kept an eye out to see if I was smiling because of her dance. Child, yes. You got the moves, and you make me happy. You get all the smiles and all the high fives.

These two incidents, with these two different sets of children, humbled me. In both cases, my throwaway actions had made a difference to them. My actions mattered to them. I mattered to them.

This brutal depression had convinced myself that I was worthless, and that which is worthless does not matter. These children, these wonderful sweet children, taught me that nope, that is not true. That makes me wanna fight this suffocating shadow. For them.

Mackster has more books he needs to read. Cutie has more dance steps to learn.

I have so much to learn from them.


Recap of this most recent, scary, depression that tried to blot me out:

Vanity, dentists and drugs – part 2

On Monday, I had my wisdom teeth removed. Leading up to the procedure, I was a tad nervous. Anxious. Panicked. Hysterical. I convinced myself that since I am very vain, the Universe would take this opportunity to smite me by giving me facial paralysis. Obvi. Because that is the kind of thing the Universe does. Jackass.

Well…

Instead what happened is my dentist took my request to give me all of the drugs – ALL OF THEM – very seriously, such that I fell asleep in between each tooth, and left the clinic with a woozy smile. Allie picked me up, and brought me to her home to take care of me. I promptly passed out and bloody drooled all over her fluffy white pillows and blankets. Oops? For 2 days, she prepared me smoothies and home made soups, made sure I remembered to take my meds and we worked from her home in comfortable companionship. Monday was also my mom’s birthday, she would have been 65, so after I woke up from my drugged up nap, Allie bundled me into her car, and drove me to the cemetery, so I could wish my Ma a happy birthday. Really, I am the luckiest girl ever to have such a friend. Her cat tried to eat my laptop, a totally understandable impulse, and pawed at me until I gave her cuddles. I felt loved.

Behold, a pic taken immediately after the extraction at 9:30am. 10 hours later, the swelling had already significantly subsided.

By Wednesday, when I went back to work, there was no bruising, and hardly any swelling. I have a ridiculously high pain threshold, so I didn’t even feel much discomfort – I just noticed that I was exhausted, bc that is how my body manifests pain. I’ve been cleared to do light exercise, so I went dancing on Wednesday, and am really looking forward to seeing my #squaD at the gym tomorrow.

So instead of punishing me for my vanity, the Universe rewarded me with a supersonic recovery. Biggest inconvenience? Not eating real food, and not being allowed to drink while I am on antibiotics! Even that has a perk, because I am noticing my taste buds getting a tune-up: I have a newfound appreciation for the simple things like fruit smoothies, lentil soups and porridge with maple syrup. I can’t remember the last time I lasted 5 days without eating at least 3 cookies, or consuming a pound of chocolate over a week.

This is me dancing on Wednesday. 2 days after dodging facial paralysis. Not bad, eh?

To add to what feels like a windfall of ridiculous good luck, I got asked out on a date from a cute dude (not the cute one in the above pic) that was at Wednesday’s dance class. Originally, Cute Dude proposed we go for a drink once I am all done my antibiotics, which was nice, but I am not a fan of delayed gratification. But luckily for me, I realized that I have not yet had any ice cream, either to welcome the sunnier weather or as part of my recovery diet plan, and we all know that ice cream has magical properties that make the world a shiny, happy place. So, apparently, I am going for ice cream with Cute Dude this weekend.

No facial paralysis.

No swelling or bruises.

No serious pain.

2 days of blissful cuddles and love with Allie, William and the cat.

A renewed appreciation for healthy simple food.

A potential date.

ICE CREAM.

Had I known that pulling my wisdom teeth would be such an awesome experience, I would have done this years ago!

 

5 years ago my life changed

Anniversaries. I’m not the best at taking the time to celebrate those people and moments that matter. I forget, caught up in the current of every day triviality.


May 2012: I blew out my knee in kickboxing. Diagnosis: crutches and cane for 3 months + 9-months of daily physio to recover, with the possibility I’d never kickbox again. My identity as a cripple: confirmed.

July 2012: my mother died in her sleep. The depression I’d been fighting off since summer 2011 exploded with full force. I was a broken person. Drifting from day to day in a fog of misery.

Fall 2012: Superwoman suggested that I join the boxing gym she’d just discovered. It would allow me to work on my boxing skills, avoid losing too much of my fitness, keep me distracted through the long months of physio and rehab. I agreed to show up for one class. Limping down the staircase, hearing the sounds of the ring bell, the thuds of the punching bags, and the coolest trap music I’d ever heard, I felt like I was coming home – odd, considering that this was an environment in which I, crippled vanilla AF nerdy accountant, did not belong.

For the first year or so, I trained with Coach’s younger brother Slick, a pro-boxer and a coach in his own right. Slick did not have the time to impart much boxing knowledge on me, because he spent all his time trying to get me to work on my mental and emotional state. We didn’t use the word “depression”, but he could see I was not well. He made me do pushups every time I said something negative or mean about myself, even if it was funny. He encouraged me to read James Allen’s As a Man Thinketh:

“Doubt and fear are the great enemies of knowledge, and he who encourages them, who does not slay them, thwarts himself at every step.”

“Men imagine that thought can be kept secret, but it cannot; it rapidly crystallizes into habit, and habit solidifies into circumstance.”

“As the physically weak man can make himself strong by careful and patient training, so the man of weak thoughts, can make them strong by exercising himself in right thinking.”

Slick turned my whole worldview upside down. 2 years later, when I started therapy, I chose an expert in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: “guided by empirical research, CBT focuses on the development of personal coping strategies that target solving current problems and changing unhelpful patterns in cognitions (e.g. thoughts, beliefs, and attitudes), behaviors, and emotional regulation.”


By late 2013, I joined Coach’s team. In 2014, I fought my first fights.

In August 2014, I slid into the most terrifying depressive episode I’ve ever experienced. Overnight, I transformed from a fighter into a fragile girl who would cry for 3-5 hours a day. Coach didn’t understand, but he could see. Scary Coach became Gentle Coach. The team accepted my quirks, and continued to cheer me on every time I stepped into the ring. They didn’t know the particulars of my struggle, but they could recognize someone fighting the good fight of life.

Boxing is an unforgiving sport. By stepping into the ring, every boxer tacitly accepts to show their true self to their opponent, coach and whoever is watching. You can’t mask cowardice or fake bravery when getting punched in the head. Every hesitation, fear, bluster and cockiness is blatantly obvious to anyone who watches. There IS no socially constructed mask to hide behind. To step into the ring, every boxer, no matter their level of experience and proficiency, has to be willing to be vulnerable, and to be seen. As such, I’ve noticed that most people at the gym don’t cling so tightly to their social personas – there is no point, when we’ve all seen their true colors in the ring. As a result, everyone is more authentic at the gym than they otherwise might be. Vulnerability + authenticity = key ingredients for friendship.

By the end of 2015, I knew. These people were family.


2016. A transition year. I joined Coach’s new project, weight-lifting and conditioning designed for athletes, specifically boxers. The immediate benefits were weight-loss and a changed body shape. For the first time in my life, in my 30s, I wondered: maybe, sometimes, I might be beautiful, possibly sexy. For someone who struggled with eating disorders (binge-eating until I was nauseous and abusing laxatives) during my late teens and my twenties, the gradual silencing of the vicious body-shaming voices in my head was an unexpected liberation.

Even better? Thanks to Coach’s extensive knowledge, patience and careful coaching, I shed, permanently, the lifelong identity of a cripple, of inhabiting a body that betrays me. I am athletic. I used to be embarrassed to admit I boxed, as though somehow associating myself – me – with that sport was arrogant. Not anymore. I was a boxer.

I understood what life lessons this sport was teaching me. It taught me that I can take a hit and still keep moving forward. It taught me that I can fight back. It taught me to own all of who I am: sweet Vanilla and angry Vanilla. It taught me that who and what I am is worth fighting for. It taught me not to wait for any saviors: I alone dictate my destiny, through my actions.

I understood why I needed to move onto dancing. Saying goodbye to this sport was hard, but necessary.

I kept training with Coach (aka Dr. Booté). I kept partying with my boxing peeps, with hilarious results (please refer to exhibit A and exhibit B). The friendships are still strong.


2017. This year was hard. Life, my shadow, got in the way of my joy. I drifted from the gym. But when things got too confusing, too overwhelming, like a homing pigeon, I made my way back. Sure enough, Coach and my crew were waiting for me.


How do you celebrate a place that has shaped my very identity, freed me of decade-long insecurities, given me deep and constant friendships, keeps me sane, gives me the tools to face life as an adult?

How do you celebrate family?

#udnation

#udfamily