happiness

Know Thyself

I recently attended a 4 day workshop on managing. We covered a lot of topics, but as the days went by, we all realized that managing has much less to do with managing others, and a whole lot more with knowing oneself, and then figuring how to interact with others with simplicity and authenticity.

On my way to the training, I read the HBR article “How Will You Measure Your Life?” By Clayton M. Christensen, wherein he argues that ever known business model can be applied to build a successful personal life as well as professionally. Written in 2010, at the height of the last recession, it’s based on a speech Professor Christensen gave to his graduating Harvard class, where most of the students faced poor chances of employment.

Management is the most noble of professions if it’s practiced well. No other occupation offers as many ways to help others learn and grow, take responsibility and be recognized for achievement, and contribute to the success of a team.

Clayton M. Christensen, How Will You Measure Your Life?

Professor Christensen urges us all to ask of ourselves three questions.

How can I be sure that I’ll be happy in my career?

Through finding one’s own unique life purpose. Similar to a company that needs to know what unique value it brings to its shareholders, we all need to know what we are called to do here on earth.

I promise my students that if they take the time to figure out their life purpose, they’ll look back on it as the most important thing they discovered at Harvard. If they don’t figure it out, they will just sail off without a rudder and get buffeted in the very rough seas of life. Clarity about their purpose will trump knowledge of activity-based costing, balanced scorecards, core competence, disruptive innovation, the four Ps, and the five forces. (…)

The choice and successful pursuit of a profession is but one tool for achieving your purpose. But without a purpose, life can become hollow.

Clayton M. Christensen

How can I be sure that my relationships with my spouse and my family become an enduring source of happiness?

Through the wise allocation of resources (time and focus) between work and family and the active creation of a family culture based on respect, kindness and honesty.

How can I be sure I’ll stay out of jail?

By knowing thyself: defining what one stands for and drawing a line that cannot be crossed.

I asked all the students (at Harvard College) to describe the most humble person they knew. One characteristic of these humble people stood out: They had a high level of self-esteem. They knew who they were, and they felt good about who they were. We also decided that humility was defined not by self-deprecating behavior or attitudes but by the esteem with which you regard others. Good behavior flows naturally from that kind of behavior. For example, you would never steal from someone, because you respect that person too much. You’d never lie to someone, either. (…)

If you have a humble eagerness to learn something from everybody, your learning opportunities will be unlimited. Generally, you can be humble only if you feel really good about yourself – and you want to help those around you feel really good about themselves, too.

Clayton. M. Christensen

On my flight home, I read another famous HBR article, “Managing Oneself” by Peter F. Drucker. In it, Professor Drucker argues that it is the individual’s responsibility to manage themselves before attempting to manage others. To do so requires understanding the following 7 items:

  1. What are my strengths?
  2. How do I perform?
  3. What are my values?
  4. Where do I belong?
  5. What should I contribute?
  6. Take responsibility for relationships
  7. Plan for the second half of life.

And yet, a person can perform only from strength. One cannot build performance on weaknesses, let alone on something one cannot do at all. (…)

The conclusion bears repeating: Do not try to change yourself- you are unlikely to succeed. But work hard to improve the way you perform. And try not to take on work you cannot perform or will only perform poorly. (…)

The existence of trust between people does not necessarily mean that they like one another. It means that they understand one another. Taking responsibility for relationships is therefore an absolute necessity. It is a duty.

Peter F. Drucker, Managing Oneself


I’ve thought long and hard about the answers to those questions. They come at a good time, as I am slowly putting myself back together following the complete breakdown of my identity in 2018. In fact, they are a continuation of my 2019 resolutions to invest in myself through meaningful experiences in my career, with my close friends and family, and education and travel.

I am not sure who I am, yet, but for the first time in a long time, I’m inclined to want to find out. What this fall taught me is that I can’t change who I am: my brain is the mess that it is. But what I can do is learn to manage it better, and optimize that which I know to be true about myself: my intelligence, my work ethic, my deep passion for what is right. Borderline might prevent me from ever entering into a stable, long term romantic relationship, but I know I have a lot of love, caring and wisdom to give to this world.

Basically, I’ve discovered that who I am has meaning. And I am one step closer to finding my purpose.


I attended Teacher‘s annual dance festival this weekend. One of his invited artists was Eliza Sala, Queen of Ginga.

Ginga means absolute bliss or happiness. It means “not to take life too seriously and to confront hardship with the right combination of toes, heels and hips”.

I was so excited to see her again, as she was key in getting me to consider my own beauty, a year ago. This time, her message to her female students was about the importance of knowing oneself.

Ladies, you must know what you like and don’t, and understand who you are. Remember, you bring your own unique style to every dance you share with a guy. He has to know that he has danced with you; your job is to follow the steps, not to disappear entirely and lose your personality. Your personality is what makes dancing with you different from dancing with any other woman. You must show who you are, and a good leader will respect you and adapt his style to suit yours. That is your power. Don’t give up your power to anyone.


Eliza’s quiet self-acceptance brought me to tears. Here is a woman who knows who she is. Her knowledge cannot be taken from her; she is, and she invites everyone to enjoy life with her. She doesn’t give herself, only to be depleted – she shares her joy while remaining whole.

A year ago, I found her beauty and power riveting, but I couldn’t imagine feeling as grounded and solid myself. This weekend, watching Eliza, I felt recognition: I too have a similar strength, that I need to cultivate and nurture. Even as my brain tries to poison me, even as I live through periods where I am not sure of my grip on reality, I am still here.

My strength is my BPD. I own this very complicated painful side to myself now.

The conclusion bears repeating: Do not try to change yourself- you are unlikely to succeed. But work hard to improve the way you perform.

You must show who you are (…). That is your power. Don’t give up your power to anyone.

Dancing and life. Not so very different.

Vacation over therapy any day

I feel whole.

It’s a disorienting feeling, and I worry that it is somewhat temporary, like most lessons in life, one that I will be forced to learn over and over again. But after 19 months of the voices telling me I am worthless/not enough turning into howling hurricanes, causing my grip on reality to slip with increasing frequency, publicly, scarily, filling my gaping wounds with shame, I’m grateful for every minute of this reprieve.

I spent the first half of this vacation struggling to disconnect from work. Work is such a big part of my identity. Who am I, if not a brilliant accountant, capable of delivering more than can be reasonably expected from one person? Luckily for me, I was travelling with DD, and she don’t mess with her vacation time. I was on a strict time table for checking my emails: 20 minutes a day, preferably before she woke up so that she wouldn’t witness me failing at vacationing. By the 4th day of our vacation I was accustomed not thinking about work, and began rediscovering myself. It turns out, I am lot of things other than a brilliant accountant.

I am Vanilla, who loves discovering all she can about the history of her surroundings. Vanilla, who loves to read, but who has an attention span of a squirrel. Vanilla, who loves good food and wine. Vanilla, who enjoys taking the best pictures she can with her iPhone. Vanilla, who feels comforted by walking through the streets of European cities, accompanied by the memories of all those that have walked them before her.

DD and I talked a lot during this trip, of our careers, our struggles, the various ways our personal growth has been stunted, and how we try deal. We talked of our failures. DD is an old soul, wiser than her years. She has come to find strength in the lessons learned from her failures, no matter how painful they were to her at the time and sometimes still sting. It made me reconsider some of my biggest failures of the past 2 years, both personal and professional, festering wounds of shame. I can see now that through these 24 months, I was trying my best, and while my best was not enough to prevent costly mistakes and achieve successful, happy outcomes, I feel pride for having tried so hard. My failures are examples of courage, not of worthlessness.

Budapest is a beautiful city which bears the scars of a tumultuous past. Buildings darkened by bombs, memorials big and small to the horrors committed during WWII. The very ugly parts of Budapest’s past are not celebrated nor are they hidden. They are treated with care and integrated into the very fabric of Budapest’s character; as a result, Budapest’s beauty is enhanced because of its flaws. I felt less broken there. What used to seem impossible to reconcile in myself became tolerable. I have done ugly things, and have a side to me that I am not proud of. But rather than fight those parts of myself, what if I just accepted them, and worked to integrate them to the parts of me that I am proud of, while taking every possible precaution to not repeat the mistakes of my past?

‘Shoes on the Danube’ is a memorial dedicated to the 2,000 Jews that were shot into the river in the months of December 1944-January 1945 (easier than having to deal with the corpses) by their fellow Hungarians, members of the Arrow Cross Police.

Bucharest might be Romania’s largest city, but it remains a city in a third world country. Dirty, focused more on survival than aesthetics. And yet, if you look hard enough, past the graffiti, poverty and utilitarian buildings from the communist era, there is much beauty to be found. There is an edge to its beauty, as if the city is not ready to own it yet. Much of Bucharest’s beauty is unconscious. But at night, the city comes alive. The energy changes, people have a spark in their eyes, sharp wit, a naughty tenacity. Bucharest is finding its feet, and enjoying itself in the process. Relatable.

Pretty building, a former palace now a bank, that is filthy with dirt.

I attended a dance festival organized by Froman in Bucharest. I was anxious. My relationship with dance has been a fractious one at best, especially as my condition worsened in 2018. Add to that 350 strangers and no familiar faces other than Froman and a handful of his friends, all of whom were busy running the show with no time for chitchat? Overwhelming. I was worried about what I’d discover about myself. Would I have another rejection of vulnerability? Maybe I don’t actually enjoy dancing for dancing’s sake and do it to feel self-important, for recognition and validation. Was my friendship with Froman even real? I hadn’t seen him in 19 months, a shared love of kizomba does not a friendship make.

I shouldn’t have worried. I showed up at the pre-party to the festival, in a bar filled with people whose language I do not speak, and after a few minutes was asked to dance. And again. And again after that. Dancing doesn’t require spoken word; all it requires is two people willing to share themselves as authentically as possible for a few minutes. An hour so later, one of Froman’s friends showed up, and his delight in seeing me was touching. We spoke as if no time has elapsed, when in fact, all 2 conversations we’d shared occurred in June 2017. Froman appeared a short while later, and his happiness was real and needed no words.

The festival itself was great. Many of the instructors spoke of the importance of kindness in dance, and that translated into one of the most respectful dance floors I’ve ever been on. No groping or uncomfortable stances, no attitudes or snobberies. Everyone danced because the music moved them to. I had almost as much fun watch the other dancers as I did dancing myself. It was a place of goodness.

I danced with an instructor, one with a star/celebrity status. I normally avoid dancing with instructors because I get really nervous that they will find me lacking, or my mistakes will make them look bad, as there is always 20-30 people watching them dance. But this instructor had spoken of kindness, so I trusted him. I made mistakes, but rather than freezing up, I laughed with joy, because I was having fun, despite my imperfections which he could see far more clearly than I could. The next day in class, that same teacher pulled me aside to give me one sentence of feedback. In 12 words, he not only identified my biggest weakness, but gave me the solution to work on it. Whereas I would normally have felt mortified that my weakness had gone on unfixed for so long, interfering with all my partners, this time I felt gratitude. This stranger had understood the root cause correctly, witnessed my strong desire to build connections and gave me the key to unlock my next level of dancing. I felt seen. I put his words into practice for the rest of the weekend, and noticed a sharp improvement in my ability to follow.

On the last day of the festival, I was approached by a girl who I’d noticed throughout the weekend (she resembled a toned down Paloma Faith) but with whom I’d not interacted. With English broken by a very strong Romanian accent, she asked me who I was. I explained I was just an attendee like everyone else, nobody special. “You are spiritual, yes?”, nodding at me for confirmation. Startled, I admitted I hadn’t really thought about it, but I suppose I am. I feel things strongly, seeking connections where I can find them, to people, places, objects, music. She nodded. “You are spiritual, I can tell. I watched you this festival. You have a beautiful energy, very peaceful. I was happy you were here. Have a safe trip back home.”

It’s taken me 2 days to understand why that girl’s words touched me so deeply. It’s because for 19 months, I’ve been told over and over, in some form or another, that I was not enough. And here, through me being myself, not hiding behind any persona or character, just showing up to dance and learn in a spirit of humility and vulnerability, I had made a tiny difference in a strange girl’s life. I was enough.

In Bucharest I made connections aplenty, was grateful for them, but did not try turn them into anything but what they were: wonderful moments. Those connections that are meant to grow into something deeper will, in manners I cannot and should not try predict. They were enough. 11 days of connections: with DD, with Froman and his crew, with that Kizomba instructor and many other dancers, and mostly, with myself.

What a vacation.

New Year’s Resolution: investing in myself through meaningful experiences

I know, I know, it’s almost February, and here I am mentioning New Year’s Resolutions. What can I say? It’s been a bit of a hectic start to the year, and I am a little behind in my posting. I’ve been really taking the time to think through where I want to take my life this next year. Sounds basic, right?

Well, not really. The thing with depression and my mental health struggles is that they rob me of my ability to dream or have goals. I spend my time fighting depression, or recovering. My times of contentment are brief. I wrote the Terror of Joy in December 2016, where I marveled at having navigated full year without depressive symptoms.

I’ve thought about it a lot, and I think it’s because we think right behind joy is a knife that will cut our throat if we really feel it. It’s almost like a laugh – your chin goes up and your throat is exposed. “if I laugh too loud, someone will slit my throat.” That’s the terror of joy.

Judd Apatow, Sick in the Head

A mere 6 months later, I had begun my inexorable slide into Depression, which lasted 12 months, with a few slivers of happiness in Summer 2018, before my diagnosis of Borderline in August 2018. It’s been rough. Recently, I realized I was sliding back into a depression. It’s pretty damn hard to have any goals or dreams when your brain just wants you to give up, already. These past 2 years have been the absolute worst of my life; I’ve experienced more pain than I thought possible and a complete collapse of my identity. And yet – I am still here. My career is not where I want it to be, I still can’t hold down a healthy romantic relationship, I’m not adulting by any normal benchmark, but my circle of people who accept me as I am, have got my back and will take a bullet for me grows. I am still employed with as many wins to my name as battles I’ve lost. That’s something.

I am not ready to dream, and I definitely don’t believe in my capacity to accomplish anything significant – I’m permanently exhausted by my ongoing internal warfare. I might not have much of an identity left, but I am sure of 3 things:

  • I am extremely smart and I am rather unique in my genuine passion for the role that accountants can play in business;
  • I am blessed to have solid, good friends, that care and believe in me: I feel peace around them, and they increase my moments of happiness;
  • One of the best ways to counter my brain that tries to convince me to not live is by living fully: I might have a tenuous grip on reality sometimes, but in those moments I need to ways to ground myself in the present by finding ways to jolt myself out of the grip of my unreliable emotions.

These 3 areas seemed like a pretty good place to start when pondering my New Year’s resolutions. I figure if I can turn these 3 little nuggets into 3 bigger nuggets of well-being, that will be a solid foundation upon which I can continue to build my quest for peace and happiness. And because we all know that goals are more likely to be achieved if they are written down and shared, here we go.

2019 career goals:

  • 1 very big project and 1 smaller project at work that fire me up and make me wanna jump out of bed in the morning (except not really, I ALWAYS hit snooze for 60-75 mins!) Knowing I am making permanent changes to the business for the benefit of multiple stakeholders makes me feel like I matter. I am building a legacy.
  • I am happiest when I am a nerd. I’ve decided to enroll in several continuing education trainings above and beyond what is required by my CPA title. These will help me develop my (non-existent) soft-skills and to learn about business aspects I wouldn’t normally be exposed to in my role at work. I’ve always worked best when I can see the big picture, so as to understand how to position my contribution to be of greater value to all stakeholders. It’s hard to do that when there are many aspects to management, financing and strategy that I am barely conversant with. Time to learn. It feels damn good to be investing in myself.

2019 friends goals:

  • Face to face time with my closest friends 1x per month each, despite them being either married with wee children (Allie and Dynamo) or else living across the ocean (DD), with busy booming careers. In DD’s case, I’ll rely on technology, although so far I’ve managed to plan one trip in 2019 to see her, and I hope to squeeze in another. Gotta make time for those I love.
  • See each one of my cousins twice a year. This is not as easy as it sounds considering that the closest one lives 2 hours away, and they are all grown with significant others and busy lives.
  • Go to the gym 10x a month, even if I am traveling for work/leisure. Surprised that this is under the friends list? Y’all. The gym is my happiest of places, Coach and my teammates are my family. The workouts are a happy side effect to hanging out with them. (Exhibit A, B, C, D, E)

2019 life experiences goals:

  • Travel. 3 weeks of exploration per year. I took 2 days in 2018 and 1 week in 2017. And I wonder why I feel burned out.
  • Read 2 books a month. I don’t care what I read, it can be teen fiction or a half-baked non fiction, all I want is to put down my phone and rewire my brain for sustained concentration. When I am depressed, I shy away from crowded experiences, which leads to isolation. I seek refuge in endless scrolling through meaningless social media on my phone. Instead, let me discover different thoughts and world views, from the safe vantage point of my home, snuggled with my teddybears.
  • Go dancing 2x a month. Dancing is my joy, but I always find a reason to avoid it when I am feeling raw – the vulnerability required is scary. I need to continuously embrace that vulnerability, as it is a magic bullet against depression.
  • Do 1 new thing a month. Go to a museum, see a play, visit an art exhibit. Alone, or with friends. To force me out of the house on weekends.

Depression turns me into a zombie, time slipping through my fingers, which is why I am 34 with no significant life goals or achievements to my name. By consciously choosing to live, through incremental moments fully in the now, I can slowly, so slowly, build a life of meaning and purpose for myself. At this rate I’ll be 40 before I can adult properly… but at least I will be alive, and making a difference.

This book was my 2nd book of 2019, and it rocked my socks! I knocked it off in about 8 hours this weekend, and I am super motivated to apply some of its premises to my personal and professional life. Asking “why?” is an easy way to stay curious, and make incremental innovations. I highly recommend this book to pretty much anybody.

Just like that, I:

  • stayed away from my phone for a weekend – I feel significantly less anxious today.
  • invested in myself.
  • dramatically increased my motivation for work, I can’t wait to get back to the office and spread some of this curiosity to my team.
  • have the satisfaction of completing a small objective for myself – something depression likes to convince me I am incapable of doing.

Yup. I think these New Year’s Resolutions are the way to go.

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.

“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.

New hair, truer me

I chopped off most of my hair this Halloween. While my team left work at 5pm to go trick or treating, I rushed to my hairdresser’s to do the adult version of dressing up: getting a makeover.

It started off normally enough. “Are we doing the usual?” she asked, which is funny because I don’t think I’ve had any “usual” with her. Just look at what she put me through between December 2014 and June 2017:

Most of those changes were not particularly my choice. She told me I would be cutting my hair short, just like she announced to me that I’d be going blond. The last time I saw her (July 2018 – top right in the pic below) I asked to begin transitioning to a darker hue. I felt a little too unremarkable as a blond. That was the first inkling that I wasn’t comfortable in my skin.

“Are we doing the usual?” No. No, I want my short hair back. I don’t feel beautiful, I haven’t felt beautiful in a long time. Long hair is easy, requires no maintenance, just pin it up and forget about it, but it makes me feel like a slob. As I’ve been waking up from my vicious depression, I’ve been consumed by the overwhelming challenges at work. I’ve been unable to eat healthily or organize myself to go to the gym more than 3-4 times a month. I fight daily the feeling of shame of knowing I’ve let myself go. While my long hair pinned up might look proper and even pretty, I know it was just more evidence that I am not beautiful smart or capable. Short hair might be more maintenance, but it will force me to take care of my appearance, and hopefully regain a sense of pride in how I present myself to the world. “Are we staying blond?” No. Enough. I no longer feel blond at heart. “Want to go full dark?” Not not really, either. I want something new. Something different.

My hairdresser/stylist/artist/genius is the best. She delivered, as she always does. Voilà.

After the fist snip, I felt huge relief. Then the second snip. A third. I tried to explain how much this meant to me. Instead, my go-to reaction for any overwhelming emotion: tears.

I felt the weight of these past 16 months fall away from me. My slide into the Great Depression of 2017-2018 began in June 2017. Since then, I:

  • went through hell and back with Hickster;
  • had the worst depression ever, absenteeism issues, a new found understanding of suicide, poor performance reviews at work, strained friendships, culminating in a confirmed diagnosis of Major Depressive Disorder;
  • was put on a waiting list to see a psychiatrist to rule out Bi-Polar Disorder II;
  • put in the hard work of clawing my way out of depression. That meant quitting my beloved dance squad, so as to focus on myself and saving my career. I was doing much better when I met ICB, and our trip to Paris showed me that I was healthy enough to see all the colors once again;
  • I found unexpected closure from the Beaut saga;
  • after waiting for 6 months less 4 days, my diagnosis is Borderline Personality Disorder. I’m still reeling from that. Everything I thought I’d understood about my interactions with others, all my memories, are being revisited through this new mortifying lens. I am grateful to have a better understanding of who I am and why I react the way I do, but I see now that I am a wrecking ball in my own and others lives, and how far I have to go until I can build stable, sustaining relationships. I want to weep daily;
  • a series of unforeseen events resulted in me getting a promotion at work. It’s been kicking my ass. I have been putting in 70-75 hours since the last week of August. I submitted an expense report this week for all the times I’d taken an Uber because I’d stayed at the office past 10pm: 12 times, $336. The day I submitted it, I stayed at the office till 1am. I’m exhausted, and I wish it were only because of the workload. It isn’t. It is managing a much bigger team, one that is in turmoil due to difficult workloads and lots of turnover. Everyone has emotions, and everyone is turning to me with their emotions, and somehow I must take my self out of the equation, hear their emotions and figure out how to align their emotions with their responsibilities. It is exhausting. One girl told me I touch people’s lives. That’s great hun, but how about you do your job now, the way you are supposed to, on time? But I can’t say that. I gotta stay neutral, me the walking emotional volcano, and make sure everyone is able to show up emotionally to do their work. All I want to do is take a nap, lock myself in a room and get my shit done. Instead, I smile, eat too much candy, and try not feel fat and overwhelmed. I’m learning SO much, but I’d wished someone had given me a heads up that to do this role I needed a masters in psychology, human resources, mediation, sociology. I’m no high performing Buddhist monk, y’all.
  • ICB and I came to an end after 6 months. It was the right thing to do, but there went some hopes and dreams I was overly attached to. Clearly I have some more growing up to do.

I’m tired. I’ve learned so very much these past 16 months, but at the cost of a lot of pain and grief. I am better off now than I was before, but I want no reminders of all this sadness. My hair was damaged, limp, and unbeautiful – a reflection of my state of mind. It had to go, along with much of my sorrow.

Top left: October 31, 2018 Bottom right: September 21, 2017

So here I am, with hair that is the same length as it was before my life skidded sideways in June 2017. But a different color, because I am a different person, forever changed by all I’ve been through.

A fresh start never felt so good.

Why not talk about the Instagram meme a 3rd time?

To recap:

  • Oct 11, while I am working late at the office I discover ICB, with his newly created IG profile, had liked a bunch of pictures of a pretty girl on Instagram while he had yet to like any of mine. Cue an epic internalized meltdown. I spend 2 days being upset, but say nothing to ICB.
  • Oct 13, I write part 1 of the Instagram saga. I send it to ICB, still miffed, and tell him he should read it. He does. I have a really odd reaction when I see him at a social gathering at night.
  • Oct 15, having spent the weekend still upset and disoriented by my odd reaction to ICB, I realize I am exhibiting most of the traits of BPD. I write part 2 of the Instagram saga.
  • Oct 16-17, ICB’s reaction (below) to part 2 of the Instagram saga.
  • Oct 19, I write this post. Part 3. I am as confused as y’all as to how this turned into a 3 chapter, 8 day long saga.

ICB dutifully read part 2 of the Instagram saga. I wanted him to understand what he is up against. “Yes, Vanilla, I read it. You find I’ve hurt you that badly. You find I do not treat you well. You believe you are not enough. You don’t find I take care of you. Tell me. Explain. What am I doing that tells you that you are not enough?” I doubled down, explaining that everything depended on one’s perspective. If my expectations were that of a friend, we’d have no problem, he’s a stellar guy. But my expectations of the guy I am dating are different. And if the guy I am dating treats me as a friend, yes, I will conclude that I am not enough to be dated. “So what do you suggest? What should I be doing so you feel better?”

Of course, we were having this convo by text, bc why not use the least suitable form of communication bar the Morse code for this kind of conversation. Of course, we were having this convo while I was at work. And of course, I got pulled into a meeting before I could answer him what he could be doing differently. Of course.

An hour later, back at my desk, check my phone and see 64 notifications of IG likes. SIXTY-FOUR. That is almost 8 screenshots worth of notifications – he’d gone all the way back to September 2017. I imagined ICB, the least phone savvy guy I know, holding his phone and punching away at my Instagram profile using both his thumbs “Oh she didn’t like that I liked that girl’s pics but none of her pics? Oh, she didn’t like that I liked pics all the way back to July 2018? Well, imma like a full YEAR worth of pics. Ha! Take that. Can’t complain now, can she??” I laughed till tears rolled down my cheeks – how dare ICB turn this situation into something so incredibly ridiculous? CSD walked by and asked me why I was laughing so hard. “And this is why I don’t have any social media. Who gives a fuck about Instagram likes?? If my wife pulled a stunt like that on me, I would be so pissed. Do you really feel better now that he has liked all your pics? No you don’t. Why? BECAUSE INSTAGRAM LIKES DON’T MATTER. Sooooo petty. But yeah, pretty fucking hilarious. He sure showed you.”

I woke up the next day, to a late night text from ICB.

I liked the 64 pics on your profile that remind me of the topics that we’ve spoken about. That pic of your mother. The pic of you in Boston all dolled up as a lady. That pic of you in that princess dress asking the mirror who is the fairest of them all. Just as examples. I didn’t do this to make you happy but because I wanted to take my time today to go through your pics and videos. I liked the pics that I sincerely enjoyed that remind me of the woman that you are. You are beautiful. You are smart. You are capable. Have a good day tomorrow.

And suddenly I was ashamed.

ICB might call me his Hulkette, but the thing about the Hulk is that when he Hulk Smashes, he leaves unquantifiable destruction behind him. Every one of my meltdowns and episodes has a cost. It consumes SO MUCH of my energy – I sometimes sleep for 10-12 hours and still wake up exhausted and feeling concussed. It pushes people away, because while they might, if I am lucky, understand that I am at the mercy of these waves of uncontrollable feelings in a reality that is so distorted as to be barely recognizable, the fact remains that I say and do shit that hurts them. They might be understanding but at some point, they too are exhausted and chose their peace over me. And like the Hulk, I find myself alone, and scared of what will happen at any moment. What damage I’ll inflict on myself and those around me at work, with friends, or in this case, on a good kind man.

I gotta disagree with CSD. Instagram likes do matter. They have allowed me to see myself as I appear to others. While the result is mortifying, with a strong dose of grief and sorrow, at least I am aware, and awareness is the first step of change.

Closure and forgiveness

A few weeks after Phase 6 feels like mourning and confusion, things with Hickster reached an all-time low. I’ve cut off +/- all contact with him, keeping just enough to monitor the situation from afar, because I sometimes wonder if it will one day go legal. Paranoid? Probably. But I am first and foremost an accountant aka #riskaverse and a business woman aka #riskmanagement. (Yes, I am those things EVEN in my personal relationships.) So imma consider the worst case scenario, and be prepared for it #justincase.

I’ve been working hard to not let this drama poison my ongoing recovery. As Dynamo once told me, about an entirely different guy,

So this is what you are gonna do. You are going to unfriend him from social media, block him, and never talk to him again. He lied to you. He has lied to others. He has repeatedly shown that he will hurt you as a side-effect to him getting something he wants. He can have all the good quantities you describe, all that is true. You have forgiven him, bc you should not hold hatred in your heart. But he is not a good friend. And so he deserves nothing from you. No time, no energy, no space in your life. That isn’t being a drama queen, that is choosing to control the levels of drama and happiness in your life. To chose happiness you MUST not choose drama.

And just like that, after 15 months, Beaut was back top of mind. I cannot work through Hickster’s gaping wounds unless I acknowledge the many parallels between the two relationships and the common denominator: me. I must learn all the lessons from these two experiences to make sure I never find myself in another harmful relationship. Which of my deep insecurities did these guys successfully use to their advantage? By being aware of them and working to address them, I can avoid repeating the same patterns in the future.

I’ve always found the action of blocking someone on social media and ignoring them in real life incredibly savage. Sure, when the hurt is just too much, it is better to deny a person’s existence than to obsess over them unhealthily, going mad with unhelpful comparisons, low-key stalking, self-inflicting worry and anxiety. Blocking Beaut was necessary for me to have the space get over him, but I found it incompatible with forgiveness. Continuously denying the existence of a person, even on social media, is a deliberate action. It is a choice to erase any memory of them in your life. It implies unresolved pain and an inability to handle the complexities of human interaction. About 6 months after blocking Beaut, I cautiously unblocked him. Seeing his posts flit through my newsfeed gave me satisfaction: he was still trucking along, trying his bumbling best. He might be repeating some of the same mistakes, but nevertheless, he was fighting the good fight. I’d forgiven him.

When I felt myself forced to cut off contact with Hickster, I had an overwhelming impulse to reach out to Beaut. Through his social media, I was aware that his relationship with Main Girl Girlfriend had fallen apart. I wondered. Was this some repressed need to self-sabotage and create drama? I sounded all areas of my heart, but found nothing twisted or painful. I invited him to join me at a dance event, at the same school where we used to take salsa classes together. When he showed up, I was so happy to see him. He was happy to see me. He looked good. We talked a bit, catching up on 15 months of life events, we danced a fair bit, and he eventually left after exchanging the customary and meaningless mutual noises of goodwill and keeping in touch. A weight I didn’t even know I’d been carrying for the past 2.5 years has been lifted. I’ve forgiven myself.


Petty post notwithstanding, I’ve been following Main Girl Girlfriend Ex-Girlfriend’s blog on and off since I first found out about it.

It started from a place of insecurity: what did she have that I didn’t? What made her sweeter, kinder, more appealing, better able to withstand the pain that came from dealing with Beaut? Was she a manipulator playing Beaut better than he was playing her?

Then, as my hurt began to fade, it continued from curiosity and a sense of being bonded to her. We’d shared the same guy for so long, had too many Facebook conversations on his wall (I cringe at how obvious I was in competing for his attention to anyone viewing his profile #nodignity), even meeting each other once, that our #funnynotfunny nickname for each other was SisterWives. I’d always liked her, despite myself – she was an AMAZING mother, full of love and compassion, funny, sassy, open-minded and kind. So I continued to read, wondering if maybe this time Beaut would get his head out of his ass and recognize the love of a good woman before he torpedoed the relationship the way he had with so many others. I hoped so, for his sake.

As I got embroiled with Hickster and began cycling through the rollercoaster of passion and emotional abuse, I continued to read. I recognized so much of myself in her: the doubts, confusion, fear, justifications and love. I hoped that her’s would be a much happier ending than my own. I saw the tell-tale signs of mental anguish and I felt our bond grow stronger. I continued to read, as I navigated my depression. One day this spring, she wrote about her love for her son and the letters she wrote to him on an almost daily basis. It squeezed my heart – I still cherish the handwritten notes my mother wrote to me growing up (here and here). So I left her a comment, to tell her as much. Some things are more important than petty appearances of indifference.

As Main Girl Girlfriend Ex-Girlfriend Bright Light began to write of her attempts to piece back her life after the breakup, it became harder to not comment. So many of her struggles and reflections were identical to the ones that I’d been working through because of Hickster. Eventually, I couldn’t stop myself. Her posts were a mix of confusion and shame. And if there is one thing I am familiar with, it is shame.

Empathy’s the antidote to shame. If you put shame in a Petri dish, it needs three things to grow exponentially: secrecy, silence and judgment. If you put the same amount in a Petri dish and douse it with empathy, it can’t survive. The two most powerful words when we’re in struggle: me too.

Brené Brown, Listening to Shame, Ted 2012

Me too, Bright Light. Me too. You got this. You will find peace, and you will forgive yourself.

She wrote recently about the similar feeling of solidarity she shares with me, and how my comments have helped her on her journey to healing. In that post, she renamed me Rainbows, fully conscious of my struggle to see the colors.

It feels like absolution.

On days where I am too confused, hurt and tired to continue fighting against my brain, I tell myself I owe it to all the ppl who have invested themselves in my recovery: the public healthcare system, my coworkers, my friends, my family, ICB and now Bright Light.

I got this. I will find peace, and I will forgive myself.

3 words that produced an emotional hangover

Rainy night. I picked up a bottle of wine. ICB cooked supper. In all these years since that ancient breakup in 2010, I’ve only had supper made for me twice. The first time was part of Beaut’s grand seduction. The second time, I figured out much later, was because Beaut felt guilty for neglecting me for Main Girl. All these years. All those dating stories. Not one guy felt like sharing a slice of his life with me, without an ulterior goal. Until now.

As usual, the conversation was all over the place: Cardi B, the Pope, feminism, boundaries/invasion of privacy, and then,

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

What is this, an interview? I dunno, I don’t really have goals. I have a dream so big I’ve stopped believing it will happen: moving to Paris. It keeps getting delayed because of my fear and because every time I start to get my shit together, another depression comes along and robs me of 1-2 years of my life.

Ok, fair enough, but if you aren’t sure that it will happen, why don’t you buy yourself a condo? That way you are investing in yourself, and if you leave, rent it out, and if you don’t leave, nothing lost.

I hate these questions. Because. I can’t adult.

What do you mean, you can’t adult?

I don’t have it together to take care of something of value. There is a reason why I don’t have plants or pets: I kill them through neglect and then feel awful. I know myself, I will NEVER take care of any form of real estate, big or small, enough to prevent a loss of value. It took me SEVEN YEARS to go to a dentist. Extrapolate that degree of neglect over the surface area of a small condo vs a few teeth, and you can see why I don’t wanna spend any money on what is gonna turn out to be a self-made bad investment. I live like a college student with a roommate, not because I can’t afford to live alone, but because if I don’t share my space with someone, I will live in a pigsty. Living with someone forces me to do the dishes, to occasionally remember that brooms exist, and most importantly, limit my un-tidyness, out of respect for the other person. But there is no interior decoration, you’d think I moved in 2 weeks ago instead of 3 years ago.

It’s just a matter of discipline. You can do this. Start small, it’s no big deal.

It is tho. I am 34, and this is the best I can do. It isn’t sexy. It isn’t admirable. That is what my shadow does, even when I am doing ok. It takes all my energy. All I have left is funneled into my job which I love, it gives me purpose and identity.The bit of energy I do have left, I use to try show up to my friends and family. I can’t do better.

Can we change topics now? I don’t like showing you the underbelly of my despair, boy. I am ashamed of it, and it is not attractive. I like you enough to want you to think well of me. Please. Let’s talk about the weather.


Helping ICB on a project of his, because I can, and because I love discovering the odd quirks and personality traits that come from watching him do something.

He disappears into his bedroom and reappears with a laptop bag. He takes out the few items stored in it. Checks that it is in pristine condition. Fidgets, nervously.

Vanilla, I’d like for you to have this. You lug around that big bag, it’s falling apart. See how light and lean this bag is? Look at the reinforced shoulder strap for when you walk home after one of your long days at the office, it won’t cut into your skin the way your bag does. All these compartments that don’t make it bulky, you’ll be able to store your books and notes neatly. I know you are very worried about an eventual theft of the confidential info on your laptop, so see how you can add one of those mini locks to the zipper? Your bag’s zipper is broken, you are walking around with a ginormous open purse. It’s not suitable for someone in your role. This bag is lighter and slicker. Yes? It will be good for you.

He waits. I look at my old computer bag, discarded in the entry. I bought it in 2012, a couple of months after my mother’s death, in anticipation of my first professional trip to Paris, the first of many trips to that city that always helps me see the colors. It is a tired bag, misshapen, with peeling pleather. I should have retired it 2-3 years ago, but I never noticed. It was still doing its job. I look at ICB. In that moment he reminds me of my Baba, who never let anyone she cared about leave her house without giving them something she thought could be useful to them, be it new or used. She was always on the lookout for ways to practically increase their well-being, in small ways. Humbly.

8 years. Not one gift from a boy. Flowers on a first date, once. No Christmas presents, no birthday presents, and never, not ever, an unbirthday present.

Sometimes “Thank you” is inadequate.


Time for me to leave. Kiss goodbye. ICB references the earlier convo.

Vanilla, if you think of your home as an extension of yourself, it becomes easier to care for it. Just like you enjoy taking of yourself, nice clothes, good style, jewelry, and making yourself pretty every morning, you’ll feel better if your home is beautiful.

Bro, you have it all wrong. I don’t enjoy making myself pretty every day, haven’t for over a year bc of the Great Depression of 2017-2018. I shower because I workout and sweat too much. All my clothes date from 2-10 years ago, bc shopping gives me panic attacks and anxiety. Yes, it’s true, I usually look well put together, but that is because I only buy very easy to maintain, well cut, flattering clothes – it’s worth spending a bit more effort/money when I do shop to make sure the clothes are solid, so that I don’t have to think in the mornings when getting dressed. I also can get away with minimal effort because I have a good silhouette – I’m in pretty good shape because I try (but have been failing lately) to workout 2-4 times a week for my mental health. So clothes look good on me. I’ve let my hair grow out, because it is much easier to do simple updos that look classy and neat but don’t require me to dry my hair or style it. Most days I remember to put on mascara, at the office, after 1-2 morning coffees. That isn’t me taking pleasure in my appearance – that is me doing the bare minimum to avoid looking too unprofessional or sloppy, and taking advantage of the fluke of my genetics to look better than I deserve. I’m way too tired to invest in my appearance, and it shows, and I know how it impacts people’s impression of me, but I just can’t find the energy to try harder.

Seriously, Vanilla, you are so hard on yourself. Believe in yourself a bit more. You know, from time to time, it helps to say “I am beautiful, I am smart, I am capable.”

His tone was light, slightly teasing. I stayed silent. How to explain that I get that it looks easy, but honestly, I am trying as hard as I can, and I. just. can’t.

Go on. Say it. “Je suis belle. Je suis intelligente. Je suis capable.”

Hoping ICB would let it drop, I laughed and said, “Bro, I am fucking smart”.

No, Vanilla. 3 words. Say it. “Je suis belle. Je suis intelligente. Je suis capable.” Say it. I want to hear you say it.

I couldn’t. I lost my words. I couldn’t say anything. And as I watched the smile in his eyes fade to concern, I started to cry.

No, Vanilla. Please don’t cry. Please believe it. “Je suis belle. Je suis intelligente. Je suis capable.” Go on. Say it. Please say it. Come with me – look at yourself in this mirror, don’t you see what I see? You are so beautiful, your smile is contagious. You are smart, your company invests in you despite your legendary lack of punctuality, your team loves you and looks up to you. You are competent, people are always coming to you for help. Look at yourself. Can’t you see it? Say it. “Je suis belle. Je suis intelligente. Je suis capable.” Say it with me. Please, say it with me.

My tears turned into sobs. ICB stood beside me, holding my hands, waiting patiently, comfortingly, repeating the mantra every few minutes. I don’t know how much time passed until, embarrassed that ICB witnessed my ugly cry, and really needing to blow my nose, I whispered “I am beautiful, I am smart, I am capable.”

Good girl. Say it again. Loudly. I want to hear it.

FFS. This is cheesy and awful, and dammit, as far as vulnerability goes, this SUCKS. I never reveal my bottomless pit of pain and shame to anyone, much less myself. I wasn’t even aware that it had such a grip over me. Fine. FINE. “I am beautiful, I am smart, I am capable.”

Like it was no big deal, ICB smiled as he watched me blow my nose thoroughly, gave me a hug, a kiss on the cheek, a slap on the ass and accompanied me out the door.


I feel hungover. Mildly concussed.

But as I enjoy some emergency recovery cuddles with Mimi, we both agree: ICB is good people.

Empathy’s the antidote to shame. If you put shame in a Petri dish, it needs three things to grow exponentially: secrecy, silence and judgment. If you put the same amount in a Petri dish and douse it with empathy, it can’t survive. The two most powerful words when we’re in struggle: me too.

Brené Brown, Listening to Shame, Ted 2012

I am still ashamed. But somehow, my shame feels less crippling than before.