high blood pressure

Halloween vs a high school reunion: are they any different, really?

It is my 15-year high school reunion tonight. FIFTEEN. That’s a long time. I’m old. I’m old as fuck. OYE.

I am no longer friends with any of the girls I went to school with. This is a reasonable outcome from my experience in high school: I didn’t have any crazy close friends, even though I enjoyed several good relationships, nor was I made to be miserable by any of my schoolmates. Other than a rough start for the first 2 years (+/- = middleschool for all you Americans), high school was painless experience for me. Maybe because I had too much going on at home, with my perma crippled state and my volcanic teenage relationship with my mother; I kept my schoolmates at friendly arm’s length (even then, I was ambivalent about vulnerability!) and viewed school as a drama free space. All my friendships faded within 5 years of graduation. Still, I’m looking forward to catching up with the girls (I went to an all-girl school run by nuns). From what I can see, many/most of them are married with children. Social media lies, of course, but the ones I follow seem happy.

When I graduated high school, I assumed that by 30, I’d be married, probably with kids, a house in the ‘burbs, and some job in science. Turns out I striked out on all 3 counts. I don’t have much to show for my years, other than a solid career that is by no means stellar. I remember a time when such thoughts would have filled me with shame, but instead, today, as I reflect on my life these past 15 years, I feel pride.

And that brings me to last year’s Halloween. During that weekend, I met Strawberry who, in the subsequent months, played a small but pivotal role in my comfort with my identity as a writer (we still communicate regularly, and keep the acquaintance alive). I went to a boxing party where I spoke to Beaut for the first time. I went to another party where I made out with a guy, ending my 17-month sexual fast. Looking back on that weekend, it marks the beginning of a new chapter in my life. When I think of all that has happened since then… I am amazed. Beaut happened: for all the emotional roller-coaster, I don’t regret anything. His worldview challenged mine; it is thanks to him that I am pursing my writing with more conviction; he pushed me to take up dancing, which brings me so much joy. I travelled to Beirut, for my best friend’s wedding. I travelled to France for work and pleasure. I stopped therapy, after 20 months; and despite some tricky moments, and resurgence of some symptoms, I have been managing my mental health all by myself, with success. Lately, I’ve put my career back in high-gear; its been a thrill to realize Smart Vanilla is back. My friends are amazing, constantly reminding me that I am dearly loved.

For the first time, I can say that I live life to the fullest. I’ve had good and bad moments. I have made mistakes. But, after 12 months of taking risks, some of which paid off, and some didn’t, I can look back at what I’ve done and be proud that I tried. I might not have anything concrete to show for the past 15 years, other than the battlescars of life, but these scars remind me of the moments where my spirit almost broke… but didn’t. I’m still here and I am happy. I have my spirit and my smile.

Who’d have thought that a high school reunion and Halloween weekend would trigger such strong emotions of gratitude and contentment?!


The missing piece

Friday, after writing this little nugget of rage & grief, I spent my afternoon in a walk-in clinic. I got my prescription for my ADD and in a breath-taking piece of irony, I had my first-ever blood-pressure reading that was not normal – solidly in the pre-hypertension category. Disclaimer 1: one BP reading does not a problem make – there needs to be multiple readings over a year or 2 before the problem is deemed real. Disclaimer 2: I do not care about disclaimer 1, I AM FREAKING OUT. I’m 32. We’ve established my ma’s heart history was shit, yeah? Fun fact: her father died of a massive heart attack before the age of 60. I knew I was at risk of inheriting their lovely genes. I didn’t know that I’d already start showing small hints of it at THIRTY-TWO. FML.

The good news is that my abnormal reading was the 2nd (smaller) digit, the diastolic blood pressure. That’s the type of BP that is most influenced by lifestyle. WOO HOO. The bad news is that I AM ALREADY FREAKING HEALTHY. I have a healthy body weight. I exercise. I eat clean 80% of the time: fruits, veggies, fish, red meat 2x a month, no added salt, rarely any prepared foods. I don’t drink except occasionally on weekends, in moderation (I avoid getting tipsy). I get 7-8 hours of sleep daily. Fine, I have stress from work and life, but not unmanageable levels. I refuse to take up basket weaving as a career for the purposes of tricking Fate into letting me live past 60 years old.

Needless to say, I was not in a good mood after that doctor’s visit. So I handled it by embodying a female stereotype: I went shopping, and only bought ONE pair of shoes that I really wanted needed, for real, I swear. I suppose, in the circumstances, I should be relieved that I didn’t indulge in the 2nd most common female stereotype of drowning my sorrows in icecream, cookies and cake.

Ever since quitting boxing to pursue my more artistic interests in my quest to fully realize all of my self and learn happiness, I’ve had some nagging doubts as to the wisdom of my decision. Its been over a month, and my physique is still quite lovely despite some changes/weightloss (#vain), but I miss the physical exhaustion of pushing my body to the limits. It has translated into a fair bit of pent-up frustration. As my boss pointed out last week, “Vanilla, ever since you quit boxing you are so GRUMPY!” #fact. Even though I was still moving 5 times a week, only 2 of those workouts were intense (weightlifting and conditioning with Coach). Salsa, kizomba and ballet are so very staid – I barely ever broke a sweat, and never had an elevated heart rate. I didn’t get the endorphin high that boxing gave me. I was dissatisfied with my choices. Coupled with my impending BP issues, I felt I needed to incorporate at least one more intense workout a week, to keep my heart and my mind healthy. But what? I hate running most of the time, and usually the lazy takes over and I skip my solo-workouts.


Yesterday, I went to the open house at my dance school. I tried kuduro, which is a form of afro-beat music and dancing. It is intense, and exhilarating – I had to take breathers, and was often reduced to a puddle of sweat, gasping for air. Hard to believe that a month ago I considered myself an athlete. THIS is the dancing I was craving when I decided to quit boxing to pursue dance. Self-expression at its purest.

(p.s. That’s me in the turquoise/green sneakers, black leggings, and black/white T-shirt, nearish the front, behind the AMAZING girl with short blond hair, who is my newest girl-crush dance idol.)

In one fell swoop, I’ve found the activity that will bring me joy, and help me achieve a happy heart and a happy mind. I signed up for the weekly kuduro classes and I am SO PUMPED. I love how it is just my body, my emotions and the music. Every move can be imbued with all the complexity of my emotions in that moment. In the video above, this is what I was communicating through my body:

  • The thrill of feeling alive and feeling my heart beat hard. BP & scary family genetics be damned.
  • An angry rejection of all my self-imposed restrictions on my body and my sexuality. White girls can’t dance? Being sexy is vulgar? Bite me. Imma shake my hips and pound the floor with unabashed glee.
  • Freedom from the hamster-wheel of negative thoughts in my brain
  • Irrepressible joy in the face of the grief that had weighed me down all weekend.

I can’t wait to discover what parts of me will gain expression in each weekly kuduro class. But for now, I’m so relieved to have found the missing piece in my identity. 32 years was too long to wait to give a voice to the dancer part of my soul. As it now stands, I am no longer a boxer, but I am fast on my way to becoming a dancer, as I learn to express myself through salsa, kizomba, ballet and kuduro.