friendship

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.

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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:

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:

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: