friendship

BPD series: a case study

“Vanilla, please tell me. You’ve been sitting next to me, crying for 2.5 hours straight. What is going on?”

Gotta hand it to ICB. My go-to gal, Allie, is out of town. Yesterday, I needed a safe space to feel seen and accepted. ICB was my substitute. Unphased, he played video games as I curled up next to him on the couch and cried and cried and cried and cried until my skin on my nose gave way to red sand paper. 3 times ICB asked me what was going on, 3 times I couldn’t find my words.

So here we go.


Remember Applefriend? Dude whose innocent remark catapulted me headlong into the brutal depression that had me end up on a waiting list to see a psychiatrist. Long-time reader of my blog, familiar with my BPD struggles, confidante. To answer the question most of y’all are too polite to ask, no, there isn’t and never was anything between us. Strictly platonic, guy is married with 2 kids. For all I know, he prefers cats over dogs. Life has thrown a lot at him, but he maintains a deep positivity in all things. He firmly believes in his agency.

On Friday, we were talking about a situation (Situation X) I am living through that I am finding very upsetting. I’ve spoken to him at length about it, often sounding like a broken record. As is happens, Situation X triggers many of my insecurities about people’s perception of me, my worth and my value, yup, you guessed it, it has been the cause of much paranoia and cognitive distortion. Add to that my general collapse of identity since my Borderline diagnosis, Situation X has been a source of a lot of confusion and heartburn to me over the past weeks. On Friday, Applefriend took it upon himself to try coach me, because, he tells me, BPD is highly coachable. Only problem? I do not particularly want to be coached at the moment. I want to feel supported. To be heard. To be reassured that I am NOT living moments of paranoia and cognitive distortion, and gentle suggestions when it sounds like I might be. I am a broken record, it is true, but suck it up buttercup. I need my friends to just be there for me. To Applefriend, being there for me meant a serious attempt at psychoanalysing me. Trying to understand why Situation X upset me SOOOOOOOOO much. Why I was stuck in the past SOOOOOOOOO much. Why I couldn’t move on. Why I had no goals. Why I didn’t believe in myself. Why I kept blaming BPD. “Vanilla, you have such a victim complex, you can’t keep blaming BPD for these aspects about you.”

Actually, yes I can. I spent my WHOLE DAMN LIFE not knowing what I have, thinking there is something bizarre about me that if I just tried harder would somehow make everything right. Its been 5 months since I have a legit explanation about why I am the way I am, why I react so damn much, why I am so sensitive, why I seemingly always push away through my behaviors those who matter the most. It all makes sense now. I have an explanation, finally, thou shalt not strip me of it. An explanation is not an excuse. But 5 months, after struggling with something for 33.5 years, isn’t much. I might have the explanation, I definitely don’t have the solution yet. Back off, give me time to figure this out. And FFS, don’t try fix me. I am not some pet project.

At some point, on Friday, I stopped answering Applefriend’s texts. I’d hit my annoyance threshold, didn’t want to pick a fight over his clumsy but well meaning efforts to snap me out of my month-long episode/depression. Applefriend called me 40 minutes later, freaking out. How could I go radio silent in a convo about how bad I am doing, when I’ve previously said that I have an exit strategy. He was worried! I found it cute, and funny. Tried explaining that I am not suicidal. At all. I just have a more pronounced awareness of my exit strategy than I do when things are all shiny and rosy. Applefriend didn’t find it cute or funny. He was mad that I’d caused him to worry.

On Monday night, Applefriend texted me, wanting an update on how some of the developments of Situation X were going. I’ll save y’all the play by play, and give you an executive summary instead.

7:30pm – Vanilla gives factual update and expresses sadness and grief/shame at the developing Situation X.

7:32pm – AF begins offering advice. “Every situation is only an opportunity”

7:33pm to 7:42pm – Vanilla tries to justify why she is entitled to feel what she feels in light of the developments of Situation X.

Cue the catalyst to the situation going very very very sideways.

7:50pm – AF writes “… But I do think you need to be extremely aware of your own influences and how you impacted Situation X. Don’t pretend you were a victim in this, otherwise you’ll never become better”

7:51pm to 8:01pm – Vanilla tries to explain that her awareness of her contribution in no way diminishes her capacity for being very very upset about the outcome. “I don’t want advice. I want the space to be upset.”

At this point I am crying so hard I call up ICB to ask if I can show up chez lui for cuddles and acceptance. From 8:11pm – 8:23pm, the dead end gets deader.

AF: Oh boy. How to engage your enthusiasm without fully supporting your approach… There’s a balance Vanilla. It’s not one or the other or you’re fully vindicated or they are. It’s in the middle.

Vanilla: AF, I am not asking for that. You asked me how my day went. You told me I was wrong to be emotional about the update that occurred.

AF: Ok.

Vanilla: And when I explained why I am so emotional right now, bc I am going through this and it makes me feel a certain way…

AF: Fine, its fine.

Vanilla: You try to get me to understand how I am partially responsible for the situation.

AF: I’ll stop offering.

Vanilla: But it’s not offering. It’s telling me I am wrong to feel how I feel. I wasn’t asking for you to endorse me. I was explaining why I am upset and how I feel. And you basically told me I was wrong to feel how I feel. Where I am wrong is if I act on it. But that isn’t what I was doing. I was explaining why I feel all this negative shit.

AF: Misunderstanding. All good.

This is the point where I should have stopped. It was clearly a well meaning attempt at a conversation gone sideways, no harm intended. I needed to walk away. Instead, from 8:23pm to 8:43pm, I wrote another 361 words to AF’s 123 rehashing the same thing damn thing. At 8:45pm, I showed up at ICB’s. Crying. Took off my coat. Crying. 8:46pm. Please note that we have now been hammering away at this dead end conversation for 76 minutes.

AF: You’re being too emotional. Like it matters.

Vanilla: It matters to me. I gave everything and it wasn’t enough.

AF: Look, you don’t get it. It’s fine. I get the wanting like what you did was valuable.

Vanilla; It’s the only thing I care about.

AF: But reality is… it’s irrelevant. It changes nothing for the future.

Vanilla: Ok. So let me be upset about THAT. It’s like my whole understanding of my life got ripped out from under me.

AF: You need to focus your attention and energy on the future.

Vanilla: I don’t care about the future.

AF: Why?

Vanilla: I need time to recover from all that’s happened.

AF: Lol, Jesus Vanilla. Ok. But I don’t agree.

Vanilla: That’s nice. More telling me how wrong I am.

AF: Lol. Look.

Vanilla: I get you think you are somehow being helpful. But you are just invalidating me even more. And it’s confusing because you claim to be on my side.

AF: Do you what you want, feel how you need to feel, but don’t ask me to be a pawn. It’s frustrating and I feel culpable.

Vanilla: I am not!!! You asked me how my day went. And then proceeded to tell me how everything I feel is wrong. I didn’t ask you to be anything.

AF: I did and you offered what you said like I would just be an autobot.

Vanilla: AF, If I can’t share my reality with you, I won’t.

AF: Reality???

Vanilla: This is my reality. My feelings are my reality.

AF: WTF. Look, you live in my reality. We share the same one.

Vanilla: No we don’t. When you ask me how I feel, I am gonna share how I feel. I don’t want fixing. I am not asking you to be anything.

AF: Sorry, you’re being crazy right now.

Vanilla: You thinking I am asking you to be a pawn is all on you.

AF: Trust me, this isn’t normal.

Vanilla: And you telling me I am crazy is definitely not helpful.

AF: You need to take a step back. And go to sleep. And talk tomorrow.

Vanilla: You need to explain how any of this was helpful.

AF: Tomorrow, you’ll re read and understand.

Vanilla: What did you hope to accomplish by asking me how it went if you wanted to then explain to me how I am wrong?

AF: Honestly, I am super supportive, always. But you aren’t being rational right now. Seriously. It’s not me. Go sleep and re read it tomorrow. If you disagree tomorrow, fine. Then I’m a horrible person.

Vanilla: No. I’m just saying you invalidated my feelings. And I don’t understand why you would ask me about them if it was just to say how I was incorrect to feel them. I didn’t say you were horrible. And I still don’t see how you feel I could ask you to be a pawn when I wasn’t asking anything. But now I am left with shame, more confusion, and someone telling me I am crazy and irrational for trying to explain why this convo went sideways.

AF: Vanilla, honestly, you’re being way too literal. I’m telling you, your answers from my perspective are why I think you’re not on the right element. Just take a step back, nothing I’ve said was anything but supportive. It’s not a constructive conversation. It’s me offering opinions and being attacked for being someone with an opinion regardless of why. Your normal self wouldn’t say those things. This isn’t healthy right now. So my suggestion is you ignore all of this for now, when you’re ready, engage me.

Vanilla: (thumbs up emoji)

9:15pm. Conversation over. I felt as dazed and confused as the time I got an ass-whooping in boxing so bad Coach had to throw the other boxer out of the ring, bc I was helpless against the ropes, hands down, crying as my opponent pummeled me. How did I get here? Why does AppleFriend sound almost verbatim like Hickster in the midst of our most vicious fights? Did I just have my first big noticeable meltdown with someone other than Hickster or ICB? But how tho? I just wanted to be allowed to express how I feel. Why was that so wrong? Why did I need fixing? Why do I have to justify that my feelings are legit? Am I crazy? I’ve never been called crazy by anyone other than Hickster before, when he is in a rage and trying to wound me. I don’t think Applefriend was making a cheap shot. Rereading it, it sounds like he genuinely believes I lost my grip on reality – my border moved mighty close to that border line – during that convo. Did it? Why can’t I tell? Am I really so out of touch about my impact on people, that they feel the need to let me know my behaviour is irrational, crazy, not normal?


Am I crazy?


At midnight, I began telling my story to ICB. Still crying, as he patted my head, murmuring “There there, no, you aren’t crazy, you just feel things too hard. No, you are not crazy. You can get through this. You will learn to let things go. Not crazy.”

At 12:45, still crying, I left ICB, the poor boy was dead tired and had a big day ahead of him.

At 2am, I fell asleep. Still crying.


I’ve spent the day in a fog, stunned by the conversation. Unable to answer the question:

Am I crazy?

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The gift of being enough

We cannot survive when our identity is defined or limited to our worst behavior. Every human must be able to view the self as complex and multidimensional. When this fact is obscured, people will wrap themselves in layers of denial in order to survive. How can we apologize for something we are, rather than something we did?

Dr. Harriet Lerner, the Dance of Connection.

I haven’t been doing so well, lately. I found a copy of the medical evaluation my GP made back in February 2018, where we discovered is was experiencing a Major Depression, moderate-severe. I retook the test (for anyone interested, it is the questionnaire PHQ-9) this week. Turns out I am experiencing a Moderate Depression. Can’t say I’m surprised, but it sucks to have confirmation that what I’m going through is more than just a wee rough patch. At least this time, I’ve recognized the symptoms early enough to try contain this episode before it slides further and further out of control.

Instinctively, I’d already begun adapting. I’ve resumed my rude colouring books. Last weekend I coloured for 10 hours. Felt great. I’m trying to make it to the gym 3x a week, but what with year-end, that hasn’t been possible. I tell myself that as long as I keep trying, busy season will soon be over, and I’ll be able to get back into my physical and mental health routine. I’ve cancelled all social events that aren’t low key one on ones: it isn’t worth putting that strain on myself. When I am depressed, being around people stresses me out, and I spend most of the time worrying whether or not I am appearing normal, which leaves me depleted and unable to be in the moment. It’s taken several rounds with depression to learn that it is ok to give myself permission to be alone and recharge my batteries. I’m trying to blog, but depression steals my voice and my ability to concentrate. So I jot my ideas down, and patiently wait for the moment when I can share my story.

I was supposed to see ICB today for brunch, to celebrate the end of a project. But the forecast called for a blizzard. Yesterday afternoon, as we were ironing out the details for when and where we’d meet, I told him that in the event of a blizzard, I’d totally understand if he postponed the brunch. Celebration is important, sure, and brunch is one of the best inventions known to mankind, but Canadian winters ain’t something to mess with. Everybody knows this, but since I am the girl who threw a week-long tantrum over some Instagram likes, I thought I’d explicitly mention that I too deem blizzards to be a socially acceptable reason for cancelling brunch. ICB was relieved.

“Whatcha doing right now?” he asked. Nothing, I’m too spazzed out to read or write. Wasting my time scrolling through social media to deal with the perpetual pit of anxiety lodged deep in my stomach. The usual. “Why don’t you come over, I’ll whip us up something to eat and we can watch a movie and chat?” Sir, that sounds like a great plan.

It was perfect. ICB cooked, we ate. He played video games and I cuddled on the couch – the hardest part of being single, I find, is the absence of touch. I am a tactile woman, and human contact makes me feel grounded. We talked non stop, in no particular order about our goals for 2019, our respective areas of shame, the genius of my hairdresser, the difficulty he was having in finishing his Mad Max game. Time flew by, until it was time for me to make my way home before the blizzard.

I spent the better part of today trying to figure out why last night made me so happy. Not a little bit happy, no. Deep happy. In my bones happy. And I think I’ve got it.

ICB gave me the space to just be. I wasn’t Vanilla, the person who was helping him on a project. I wasn’t Vanilla, the overachiever accountant. I wasn’t Vanilla, the girl with borderline and mental health issues. I wasn’t Vanilla, sexy and always ready for some hanky panky. In a time where I feel unable to bear the weight of all the labels that are assigned to me, ICB didn’t want anything from me. I was free to just be me.

Borderline feeds me the lie that I am not enough. For a few hours last night with ICB, the same guy who has admitted to struggling to accept my mental health issues, I felt peace and fully seen.

That’s a rare gift.

Hulkette has been retired

I went for brunch with ICB this morning. His idea. It was the first time we saw each other since we ended things two weeks ago.

We’re trying to be friends. Of course we are. This is something I always do. Usually what happens is that the “friendship” turns into a breeding ground for hurt feelings, misunderstandings, resentment and the eventual mutual desire to never see each other ever again. But with ICB, I think we have a chance. Already, he tended to act more as a friend than as a lover when we were dating, so the transition might not be too hard. He’d asked that we stay in each other’s lives even if we no longer dated; I agreed as long as the effort came primarily from him. I had driven most of the dating phase, I was bruised and sore from my failed vulnerability exercise. Time for him to take the lead and turn this into whatever it could be. At the same time, I really did worry about trying to navigate the shit-storm I am living through at work without his calming presence to lean on occasionally. He really is a standup guy. I hoped this might be the answer to my worry.

It hasn’t been too bad. We’ve spoken 1-2 times about some of the stuff he’s working on, some of the progress he is making. We’ve spoken about one of disasters I’m undergoing at work. The odd text here and there. I’ve opted to not attend any of the social gatherings he has attended because I didn’t want to see him interact with other girls and get jealous or sad. Besides, I’ve been working 70-75 hours a week since September 1… I don’t have the energy to go out. My life is boring. While that doesn’t make me happy, it does make the choice of going out/facing my fears/getting out of my comfort zone pretty easy: nah. Nap-time instead.

So. Brunch.

It was really nice. We spoke a lot, listened to each other’s stories. Towards the end of our dating time together, he was very mono-focused on his projects and problems, sometimes to the point that I felt invisible. Not today. Today he was in the moment. It was really nice. I began to relax, to believe that maybe, carefully, we could one day salvage this into something mutually rewarding. Then. ICB referred to me as his Hulkette. My heart squeezed painfully, before continuing to beat harder than normal. I brushed off his comment and continued the conversation as though he hadn’t said that word. A few minutes later he went to the washroom. I felt like crying.

We left soon after. As I walked him to his car, I asked him to never call me Hulkette again, in the past or present tense. Why? Because it makes me sad. But no! You were my Hulkette, you still are, we went through so much together, that’s who you are to me. Hulkette. No, please. It was a term for a specific chapter, one that has ended. But Vanilla, it is a term of endearment. Just because you were faster than me to get to certain realizations and unable to wait for me, doesn’t mean that I don’t hold you in a lot of affection. I know but we agreed that the mismatch in our feelings and timing meant we couldn’t date and we were going to be friends. Friends do not have pet names for each other. To use one that reminds me of something I hoped for and cannot have is too confusing for me. Vanilla, you do realize I see you and I wish for a lot of things? Bruh. Stop. You needed space to sort through your stuff. You asked that we stay in each other’s lives. Ok. Don’t make this hard for me. I am dealing with my feelings about this because they are my problem, not yours. Go and deal with all that shit you needed to deal with. One day if you wake up and you realize you really do want to date ME, you know where to find me. But since that day might never come, and I find it hard enough being reminded of what might have been, no grey zones. We are friends. As we explore what this new chapter means, please do not bring up the failed previous chapter. I can’t sort through the confusing complex emotions. Of course, Vanilla, I am sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt you.

And so, ladies and gents, the Hulkette has been retired. All that is left is Vanilla, with her poorly managed borderline personality disorder. It isn’t cute, it isn’t adorable. It is a problem, one that I will learn to get a handle on, I hope. All by myself, because it is no one else’s burden but my own.

And if I am lucky, and we are careful, I might end up with a friend.

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:

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?

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.

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: