grief

Ironic times

I’ve been friends with Blond ‘Fro for almost 15 years now. While we don’t see each other as often as we used to, seeing as we are both attempting to live #adulting adulty lives, him in the ‘burbs with his sweetheart, me clueless in the city, there is something comforting about having a person who has shared moments of truth with me through so many years. I value those few people who help me stay grounded, and who take on the burden of maintaining these friendships, as I drift through life rudderless.

I met up with Blond ‘Fro for our quarterly drinks & talking shit session, and he gave me a belated Valentine’s day gift. “You know, whenever I see anything that relates to failed relationships, the first thing that pops into my head is “Hey! This is a good gift idea for Vanilla!” I can’t help it.”

We’ll store that under #annoyingtruthsonlygoodfriendscangetawaywith.

Blond ‘Fro expected me to ruefully laugh, which I did. He didn’t expect me to open the box of chocolates, right then and there in the bar, and eat two of them, as I explained the perfect timing of his gift. For how could he have known that I’d seen ICB earlier that day?

ICB and I went to Ikea on March 2nd, we had a great time. I felt cherished and taken care of, a novel experience. I don’t let people take care of me because I don’t believe I am worthy of such treatment and I know I am incapable of adequately reciprocating. But things between ICB and me had lately grown to levels of cautious mutual support and comfort, such that when he took action to care for me, I felt secure enough to let him.

A few days later ICB called me up in the middle of work and announced a bombshell. The growing preoccupations in his life had reached a stage that he felt no choice but to take drastic action. If he didn’t resolve satisfactorily the situation by his birthday in 2 months time, he would move back to his home country and start fresh. I was stunned. It’s true, this was something he had briefly considered in the past, but I never took him seriously because he acknowledged the many serious drawbacks of this option, including the volatile economy, deep political instability and violent uprisings in his home town. He asked me if I would help him accomplish part of this, by taking on some of the admin work required for this option, seeing as I am really good at all things bureaucracy. Incapable of processing what was happening, I agreed.

As the minutes ticked by, the hurt threatened to overwhelm me. For the first time in a long time, I cried uncontrollably at the office, grateful for the door that gave me privacy. We exchanged increasingly tense texts for the next few hours, until finally another phone call. He didn’t understand why I was making this about me. I tried to explain that I wasn’t exactly, but that it was a pretty brutal way to find out that all my hopes and dreams and happiness regarding him were not to be. He reminded me that it wasn’t a certainty, he would only pursue this option in 2 months time, if nothing worked out between now and then. I agreed with his relatively measured approach, but pointed out that regardless of what happened in 2 months, he’d taken the decision now to prioritize me out of his life. And that hurt me, deeply. So deeply that I needed a time out, because I didn’t trust myself to interact with him without lashing out. I needed 2 weeks to work through my stages of grief from his decision.

Those 2 weeks turned into 3, and then almost 4. We finally saw each other yesterday to clear the air. Being a man, and therefore not in touch with his emotions, it took a few tries before he admitted that he’d been hurt by my sudden withdrawal from his life, that he felt betrayed that I could abandon him in his hour of need. I apologized, explaining that it was the best I could do in the circumstances. I tried to get him to understand my hurt, but instead all I heard was, “I don’t understand how you could react so strongly about a decision about my life; you know how much I need to fix this current situation, how much it is holding me back; you and I would have never worked out anyhow; there were no promises between us.”

As he left, he asked me, “We cool? I really value our friendship.”

So did I. While I might not hold any grudge against ICB – I care about him too deeply for that – all trust has been destroyed. It takes me hundreds of hours of time spent with a person to slowly reveal myself. ICB had a talent of breaking through my defenses and forcing me to reveal more truths about myself than I was willing to show. Despite my fears that in getting to know me, he’d eventually see how worthless I was and run away, he stuck around. I’d gotten to the stage where I trusted him, allowed myself to be vulnerable around him, and that safety was a source of joy and stability in my life. But that is all gone now. I cannot be vulnerable with someone who has made it clear that my place in his life is optional.

What is friendship, if not the sharing of moments of authenticity and truth? Once upon a time, we shared moments of joy. Now, we share those memories, I suppose, and careful talk about the weather.

I wish him success, I do. He is right to try fix the issues in his life, as only he can. I acknowledge that ours was probably not destined to be a great love story. But it remains that as I trusted him enough to show him parts of myself that I keep hidden from the world, I imperceptibly came to rely on him as a steadying presence in this dizzying life. It is disappointing to learn that the value I placed on that connection was not shared equally. Nobody’s fault, I suppose. But it fucking sucks.

I’m sad.

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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?

“So tell me, have you ever fallen in love?”

Not bad for a conversation starter, don’t ya think?

I was sitting at a bar in Ottawa airport on Christmas day, working on my last post in 2018 about my impending trip to London during my 3 hour layover. A pilot slid into the bar stool next to me, clearly in a chatty mood. I tried typing really really loudly, but the dude didn’t take the hint. Figuring it wouldn’t hurt me to demonstrate a smidgen of non-Grinch spirit, I put my laptop away. I think he was a little lonely, having to truncate his family celebrations in order to fly out to London for a reason I didn’t catch. And then.

“So tell me, have you ever fallen in love? Yeah? What’s his name?”

Hickster.

Full stop.

His name was out of my mouth before I could think.

Not my ex, with whom I spent almost 6 years, until he called me up one day not long after we’d discussed the broad details of getting married and moving across the country to be closer to his family. He was distraught at having woken up half naked next to a girl. “Why did you do that? You aren’t a cheater. You are an honest, good man. So what’s going on?” Turns out he’d gone ring shopping, and that is how he figured out that while he loved me, he didn’t love me enough to marry me. And rather than deal with that like a grown up, he got drunk and did the one thing that would ensure I would never want to talk to him again. Took me years to reconstruct my identity after that breakup.

Not Beaut, even though there was some love shared between us.

Not ICB. I’m still processing the ramifications of that realization. Just like I am still working through his comments about my mental health, which have left me with the unshakeable feeling of being a commodity – specifically, damaged goods.

“But you’re not married?”

No.

“Divorced?”

No.

“So what happened?”

Sometimes love is not enough. From the moment we met, we both felt our worlds tilt and shift. We knew with certainty that our lives were going to change. And change they did, in ways we never would have predicted.

But he is a broken man. And I am a broken woman. He sees me, all of me. I see him, all of him. Unfortunately together, our brokenness destroys and maims the other. We aren’t ready for this love. We have too much healing to do, respectively.

You guys still talk?

Yes. After a lot of ups and downs, we seem to have figured out how to carefully stay in each other’s lives.

Is that him calling now?

Yes. To tell me a silly shenanigan he was up to and wish me a good trip.

Well, it sure sounds like you guys have a great connection. Pity it didn’t work out.

Yes, we do. And no, it isn’t a pity. This is life.



I can’t bring myself to think of Hickster as a regrettable mistake.

Hickster is Hickster – swept me off my feet, without warning. One is never sure what the outcome will be: like a hurricane, he sometimes strips away superfluous stuff, revealing underlying beauty that got muddled by life’s modifications and sometimes inflicts deep wounds and scars.

Creatures of the underworld can’t afford to love

I see, now, that his purpose in my life was to turn everything upside down, and get me to feel. All the feels. Uncontrollably. Had he not pushed past my vulnerability and just taken over, I would never been triggered to the point my symptoms became unmanageable. None of my coping mechanisms worked last fall and winter. My emotions were everything, so scary, to the point I was forced to get help.

It is funny that the guy who was the source of so much emotional volatility in me, to the point that I snapped into one of the scariest and darkest depressions in my life was also the reason I fought so hard to survive it. There were many days in winter/spring 2018 where I couldn’t comprehend how to make it through the day. But I would because Hickster expected me to. Not kindly, not empathetically, but because our lives were so completely interwoven, even as we were ending our relationship, we needed to remain in contact to figure our shit out. Those were scary days. I had no idea what was going on, other than the certainty that my brain was trying to kill me. I was scared I would not be able to bear much longer the invisible screaming pain in my head. Looking back, I see that I was frequently experiencing paranoia and cognitive distortion, my grip on reality slipping. But I had no idea then, and wouldn’t till August 2018 when I finally got my psychiatric diagnosis. What did I know? Despite the yelling, the sometimes awful accusations and betrayals, Hickster saw me. He was a hurricane in my life, but when he was around, I was in the eye of the hurricane, the screaming voices in my head silenced. Those moments of silence gave me strength to keep fighting my brain.

This borderline personality diagnosis has broken me. I am relieved to finally be able to name what has been causing me endless tormented sorrow and failed relationships for as long as I can remember. But I feel shattered by this new understanding of who I am, and just how much of me is broken. I don’t forgive ICB for his fears about my mental health, because I struggle with the feeling of being damaged, dangerous goods already. The list of interactions I’ve ruined, personally, professionally, anecdotally, is a long one. I’ve been described as an agent of destruction too – not a hurricane, like Hickster, but a heartless bulldozer. I damage all who come near me. I grieve and rage daily.

It is fitting that the person who made me so unhinged I had no choice but to uncover my underlying brokenness is also the same person who has made me believe that I can feel whole, through his complete acceptance of all of me. Hickster is more familiar with my brokenness than possibly anyone, he bears the scars I inflicted on him, and yet, he has forgiven me as I have forgiven him, and continues to believe in me and my capacity for joy as I do for him.

I fell in love with Hickster, alright. I still love him, fiercely, albeit from a very safe distance.

I hope I never experience a similar love again. I’ve no interest in reinacting Romeo and Juliet in my middle age. I don’t know that I ever want to fall in love again. I want to grow into love. I want to grow old with someone who knows me inside and out and accepts me.

I have fallen in love. It almost killed me. Now, I want peace.


I’m hoping the next time I get besieged by a chatty pilot at an airport, he is a wee bit less nosy. Damn, those questions had me thinking!

A different take on the holidays

I’m writing this from an airport on Christmas Day.

I’ve always found the holidays tricky and uncomfortable.

I remember the love, sure. The magic of dressing the tree. The cuddles and cookies around the fire. Watching Christmas movies. I also remember the endless fights about how naughty I’d been. From a young age, Christmas became associated with the wars my mother and I waged during the year; either we were still fighting and Christmas was a temporary truce, with the resentments shoved under the surface, waiting to boil over or else we were in a good patch, and then my mother would write me cards about how the next year would be better, and I’d be reminded with shame of how hard I made her already difficult life. I remember the fights in the car rides going to my godmothers. Either it was me getting a disciplinary raking for something I’d done (I was a difficult child), or else my parents’ marital problems would take center stage, every Christmas Day, like the worst possible type of fireworks. As I grew older, Christmas became twisted with my growing shame for my inadequacies as a daughter to a mother who loved me so much, and who was so ill. Older still, I grew to dread the annual reminders that I still hadn’t accomplished the life I reasonably should have: no car, no house, no boyfriend, no marriage, a middling career that took up all of my energy. Shame and love, that is what I associated with Christmas.

Then my mother died in 2012. And since then, I associate the holidays with grief. My father and I have struggled to build any tradition that satisfies us, so we latch onto other people’s Christmases: my godmother’s, my Qc uncle’s, my Boston uncle’s. I’ve had some really good Christmases since my mother died, unpoisoned by shame, but heavy with her absence. We’ve been drifting for years, my father and I.

My father became a priest, in the Russian Orthodox Church, this spring. That was something. He was ordained as a deacon 4 years before my mother died. Her sudden and unexpected death left him gutterless. He wrote to the Bishop in the first year of his grief to state his readiness and willingness to be ordained a priest. In his wisdom, the Bishop chose to not acknowledge that letter until this year. Identifying and following through on one’s vocation is a significant decision, one that should not be taken following a tragic event. This year, 6 years after her passing, the Bishop was confident my father was no longer reactive in his grief. He broached the topic, my father was still desirous of being ordained, and poof, one month later my father was a priest. A couple months after that, my father was appointed rector of a parish in Quebec city and is now in the process of moving to that city permanently. He’s happy, and has found his purpose. Christmas is now a community affair, with gift baskets and liturgies and little children learning about this major feast day.

My 2018 was less happy, but equally significant. My year was defined by borderline. The first half of it was spent pulling myself out of a scary depression caused by my inability to handle the emotional strain of my failing relationship with Hickster as well as work pressures. Pulling myself out of that depression meant getting professional help, but also learning to identify unnecessary sources of stress and impose boundaries professionally and personally. That caused me to discover much about myself. I had a few flashes of happiness halfway through the year, and then in August I got my long awaited diagnosis. The 4 past months have been very difficult, professionally but also personally, as I struggle with this new understanding of myself and most upsettingly, the negative impact I have on those I interact with in all areas of my life. I’ve always known I was different; while I am relieved to understand why and how, I mourn the loss of innocence that comes with this knowledge. Every memory, every interaction is now colored by this disorder. My darling Mimi, constant companion through my life, source of stability and joy, my teddybear with whom I still cuddle every night and have conversations with, is no longer merely the product of my overactive imagination: borderlines are prone to transfer their affections to inanimate objects as a coping mechanism for their unstable relationships and sense of self – all my memories of Mimi are now tainted by the understanding that even at a young age I was demonstrating the undetected symptoms of this significant disorder. Rewriting history is no easy feat. I grieve daily.

This year, as I tried to make plans for the holidays, I was beset by the urge to get away. Away from the work pressures, family, complicated memories, regrets and the temptation to shame. I wanted something to re-energize me, to give me enough hope to keep on fighting the good fight for one more year. 2018 saw me learn who I am, truly, and begin to reclaim my life. I didn’t want to end it the same way I have ended every year so far this life. Time for a clean break.

That is why I am writing this blog post from an airport, in the evening of Christmas Day. I am flying to London, to visit my dear friend DD, who moved there 6 months ago. Instead of dealing with the Ghost of Christmas Past, I’ve opted to see what the Ghost of Christmas Future has to show me. Unlike Scrooge, I’ve already begun my transformation into a Vanilla who is more self-aware, a Vanilla who will find a way to build a fulfilling life crammed with meaningful relationships and interactions, all while advocating for the humanity that underlies mental health issues. And that means doing things differently. The holidays don’t bring me joy? Well then time for a new approach to new memories and new hope.

I can’t wait.

BPD series: understanding the role of dance in my life

I went dancing on Saturday. For the first time in 5 weeks. Before that? I’d only gone dancing a handful of times this summer as work was ramping up.

The last time I went to Teacher‘s dance school was in July. I miss it so much it hurts. But what with work, I just can’t handle the late nights (class ends at 9:30pm on Wednesdays, and then there is a social till midnight). I am either in bed by 11pm, or else I am working till 1am. I started dancing only on weekends, when I could sleep in. But then, as work really stretched me to the limits, physically and emotionally, I started skipping those too: on Friday nights, I wanted to be completely alone with my PJs, wine and my teddies. On Saturdays, I’d find something, anything else to do rather than expose myself to the vulnerability required to dance. I was too tired to be brave.

But I see videos of Teacher dancing. Occasionally he and ppl on his team check in on me. I see them with their big smiles, full up of joy, and it makes my heart ache. I miss it so.

And so, I went dancing on Saturday.

I was nervous. I was nervous that I would be rusty, have forgotten how to move my body, be stiff and an unpleasant experience for my partners. I wouldn’t be enough.

Dance has been both a blessing and a curse. There is incredible growth and courage required to learn to accept and enjoy one’s body in space. I think it is something we all struggle with. I am grateful for all these difficult lessons and with each one learned, for the additional freedom to be myself. But since dance requires everyone to face their insecurities, it fosters insecurities. As far as I can tell, this is not unique to kizomba. Ballet – Black Swan. Ballroom dancing – Strictly Ballroom. I am not sure if dance draws the unstable drama queens with raging insecurities, or if it wears people down into such caricatures, or both. In my case, it has brought my underlying insecurities to the forefront, such that I can no longer deny their existence. Life was simpler before, but I suppose coming to terms with these insecurities is a good thing.

I am not enough. Familiar refrain.

Just like that, I understand now why dance has been such a love/hate relationship. It has triggered many of the same emotional responses as Hickster, the ICB Instagram snafu, and my disagreement with my boss. Often, so often, dance makes me realize my failures, and the I am not enough echo in my head grows so deafening, I can’t hear the music and have no awareness of my partner. There have been countless nights that I’ve gone home in tears (remember this dancefloor meltdown in Dubai?), miserable from the micro rejections from my partners.

Additionally, I now realize that much of my strained relationship (exhibit A and exhibit B and exhibit C) with Teacher’s dance squad, my former teammates, was caused by my BPD, and my long history of unstable interpersonal relationships. Yet another case of splitting.

Ricocheting like a pinball from one extreme to the other often characterizes other aspects of the borderline’s life. (…) To some, these oscillations may seem like pure whimsy, or the height of fickleness, or even a way to rationalize a “fear of failure.” But other issues may animate this behavior. The fear of failure is certainly real, of course, but with failure might come rejection, which is even more frightening. For Patty, the lure of succeeding on her hockey team is also the lure of belonging, of being accepted by her teammates, coaches, and classmates; if she fails, she may be exiled by those from whom she most wants acceptance.

Jerold J. Kreisman, M.D. and Hal Straus,

Sometimes I Act Crazy – Living with Borderline Personality Disorder

How I wanted to belong. To have a squad that had my back, that would tell me I was enough. I wanted so very badly to have a 2nd family that accepted me as I was. Dance is like boxing – you can’t fake or hide your weaknesses, they are on display for all to see. I assumed that my flaws would be met with kindness and sympathy.

Naive.

My dance squad’s purpose was not to pander to Vanilla’s crippling insecurities and fear of abandonment. My dance squad’s purpose was to produce an army of good dancers. To produce good dancers means to point out weaknesses and failures and say, “fix this”. I understand that now. It makes sense. It isn’t mean. It just is a bald statement of fact – a weakness. But I processed it as a relentless flood of Bad Vanilla, Vanilla is not good enough, Vanilla can’t keep up, Vanilla is in the way, FFS why is Vanilla still talking, enough about Vanilla, oh there goes Vanilla crying AGAIN, why can’t she just suck it up like the rest of us. And from there… my survival instincts kicked in, and I fought back uncharmingly. The less charming I became, the more abrupt the list of “fix this” became, till I quit. I who yearned for acceptance and belonging inflicted exile and ostracization upon myself.

It makes me sad that I associate such unpleasant memories about a dance I love so much. I have no doubt that the team’s memories of my time with them are not flattering either. As I am slowly realizing, when I split, I turn into a paranoid, obstinate, miserable, angry individual that exhausts everyone around me.

It makes me really sad that I came so close to destroying something I love so much.

But…

That’s the thing about dance. There are moments, the length of a song or two, where everything falls into place. The music, my connection to my partner, and suddenly, I am free – fully myself, fully in the moment, fully alive. The voices in my head are silenced.

It feels like peace.

Those moments of peace, few as they may be, are worth it.

I missed dancing. So much.

#thisiswhyIdance

BPD series: dealing with shame

Without justifying or condemning ourselves, we do the courageous work of opening to suffering. This can be the pain that comes when we put up barriers or the pain of opening our heart to our own sorrow or that of another being. We learn as much about doing this from our failures as we do from our successes. In cultivating compassion we draw from the wholeness of our experience – our suffering, our empathy, as well as our cruelty and terror. It has to be this way. Compassion is not a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.

Pema Chödrön, The Places that Scare You

I was working late at the office, a day like any other lately, when my bestie Allie FaceTimed me with her little baby Willie. They blew bubbles and kisses at me together,”we love you Auntie Vanilla and we are proud of you. You got this!!” My heart. I hung up, goofy smile on my face. My phone rang again, another FaceTime call. Laughing, I picked up, “Yes, Allie, what is Willie up to now?” Except it wasn’t Allie. It was Hickster, video calling me on Whatsapp.


Months. It had been months since I’d cut my losses and blocked him. Months of mourning the absence of someone who’d made me feel more alive than I’ve ever been. Months of trying to understand and accept that love is not enough. He made me feel fully whole and fully broken at the same time.

Months.


I might have blocked Hickster on all our usual platforms for communication (his number, Facebook, Messenger and Instagram), I’d forgotten that since I was in his contacts, he could use Whatsapp. My stunned brain couldn’t connect to my fingers to end the call. I sat in silence looking at a 2 dimensional small rectangle of a face that once meant the world to me.

“Vanilla, please. Hear me out. I want to apologize.”

He apologized for the relatively mundane trigger of our last fight. He apologized for the trigger of the fight before. He apologized for the trigger of the fight before that. As I tried to cut him off, and let him know it was ok, we didn’t need to revisit the past, he could just drop it, Hickster insisted, “No, Vanilla. I need to say this, and you need to hear it. I am sorry.”

45 minutes. It was a real apology. Not a “I’m sorry but” apology. No “yes I did this but you did that too” bullshit. He covered the big betrayals. The micro-betrayals. Specific moments where he made me feel inadequate. The accusations, the disregard. He described with precision and sadness the impact it had had on me. It was painful to listen to and hard to watch a proud man struggle to push the words of his shameful behavior out of his mouth. “I did all that. Me. I did that to someone who loved me. I broke something beautiful and I have to live with that knowledge every day. I am sorry.” 

I thanked him for the apology. Hung up. Cried for 2 hours.


I woke up different. The gaping wound I’d been carrying for all of 2018 felt slightly scarred over. One of the hardest parts of the deterioration of my relationship with Hickster was the cruel switch that happened almost overnight when I went from being his love to being nothing. It was like a denial of my existence in his life. I know I matter, I know I mattered to him, I know I brought goodness into his life, how can he pretend it never happened? I am so worthless, even the memories of me can be forgotten? Reconciling my reality of what we’d shared with his behavior made me almost insane. During those months, I gained a whole lot of understanding of Shakespeare’s Ophelia. And now, unexpectedly, I had confirmation that not only I mattered, but that his behaviour had been intentional, born not of a revulsion for my worthlessness but of his own brokenness.

The world had titled, somewhat.


A week later, Hickster texted me an innocuous comment, a feeler to see if I would be open to the idea of cautiously settling those few items which we’d never settled. I felt the bubble of panic rise inside of me. I can’t do this, I won’t manage, I can’t face any more pain, followed by the dread of another meltdown at work, I can’t afford that right now, I need to concentrate, I have too much on my plate, I can’t do this, I can’t, I can’t…

And just like that I was back in the grips of this other me. The endless texting, pages and pages and pages of lamentations, and pleas and regrets. Hickster initially reacted abruptly, but as my texting continued, uncontrolled, as I cried hysterically in my office, it shifted to bald responses: “Vanilla, I can’t read your think” followed by “Chill Vanilla. Chill. It’s ok. We’ll talk later, when you are better.” I cried and cried, used an entire box of Kleenexes, still typing. Silence. I kept typing, using scrap paper to blow my nose, because I couldn’t leave my office and show my coworkers my wrecked face. Typed some more. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I can’t do this, please don’t be mad, ok? Please. I’m sorry, I don’t understand this either. I know I’ve annoyed you and I’m crying and crying. I’m sorry Hickster, for real I don’t know how to control this. I don’t think this can work out, I’m just too fucked up. I want to try keep my shit together, to close out our shit on a good note, but I don’t think I can handle interacting with you. I think I’m more fucked up and hurt than I even realized. I hope you believe me; I can’t control this and I hate it as much as you do. I’m sorry.” I continued crying and typing into silence for another HOUR, until it dawned on me that Hickster had just demonstrated the same behaviour he used to when I was very depressed. He had flagged I was “off”. He had tried to keep me calm, and when that failed, stepped back until my emotions burned themselves out. THAT is when I realised I was having one of my BPD meltdowns triggered by my feelings of inadequacy. Almost 75 minutes after Hickster had backed off, I had finally understood what was going on. I felt deep shame.

I left work early, feeling defeated, and mortified.

The next day, around lunch, a text from Hickster. “You ok?” I called him up, started apologizing for my meltdown, for using him as an emotional punching bag, as I had so many times before. That I realized now how much exhaustion I’d caused him, while believing myself to be the only victim in our relationship. He cut me off. “Vanilla. Stop it. When I called you to apologize, I knew what I was getting into. This is who you are. You can’t control it, it just is. I know that now, even though back in the day, I didn’t know what was going on and I reacted very badly. You didn’t know you had this condition. You were doing your best. I know you can’t help these waves, I just gotta ride it out, not engage and wait till you are better and clear-headed. That’s ok. That comes with the territory, and I knew that when I decided I was ready to apologize. Don’t be sorry for who you are. Who you are is who I said sorry to. All of you.”


A few days later my 3-part Instagram meltdown with ICB. One week after that, ICB and I decided to part ways. ICB admitted that he feared the burden of my emotions, that he wouldn’t be able to manage them, long-term.

Who can blame him?


I’ve come to believe Hickster’s purpose in my life was to help me uncover my BPD diagnosis.

My whole life, I’ve known something was painfully off about me. I leave a long trail behind me of broken, confused relationships, filling me with shame. Some times I manage to hide it better, to appear more normal, but I always felt different. Apart. Managing to mostly fit in while being painfully aware of my secret brokenness.

And then came Hickster, like a hurricane, and he pushed all my buttons and overwhelmed me until my brokenness became so obvious and problematic I needed to get help.

I have a name now for what I have. An action plan. Books. Therapy. With hard work I’ll eventually build healthier responses to my brokenness such that I don’t in turn in Hulk Smash those I care for.

Without Hickster, I would never have known what it means to be fully broken and fully whole.

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.