high standards

Bougie ‘Nilla

Kizomba, Afrohouse, Semba, Kuduro, Urban Kiz… That’s all that is on my Fbk, my blog’s fbk, my IG. Y’all are forgiven for believing that I am obsessed. I am obsessed.

But.

My true love remains ballet. Always and forever. There is no greater art or discipline, nothing – and I do mean nothing – that can give me more feels.

I’m headed to NYC for a little bougie weekend getaway with 2 of my cousins. We are going to the ABT to see Giselle. I’m such a balletomane, I insisted on picking the exact date and seats, bc I have my favorite ballerinas, and am very picky about which ballerina is suited for what role.

The last time I was in NYC was in 2014: my 30th birthday present to myself was to go see Polina Semionova in Manon, as a solocation. It was my first solo trip, not for work. It was a few weeks before the start of this blog, a few weeks before my depression, a few days after the biggest trainwreck of my dating life (at that point). I wept as I watched Manon go from an innocent girl, to a woman unable to control her sexual impulses, torn between the desire for a nice life and true love, and her eventual death as the price for her sins.

Now, I prepare myself to watch Giselle. I will weep as I watch a young girl with terrible taste in men fall in love with a playboy. He makes her fall for him, only for her to realize she was just a distraction – he is engaged to a beautiful noblewoman. She snaps – unable to process such dehumanizing treatment – goes psycho (the name for that part of the ballet is the “Mad scene”. Giselle goes bonkers; any woman can relate) and then dies from heartbreak. Playboy filled with regret, visits her tomb, only to be haunted by the Ghosts of Jilted Women Past who seek revenge by casting a spell on him to make him dance until he dies from exhaustion. Ghost Giselle intervenes from the afterworld, because although betrayed by him, her love is pure, and she forgives him.

WHO SAYS BALLET IS NOT RELATABLE?! If both of those plot-lines are not accurate descriptions of dating as a single girl in your 30s, I dunno what is.

#soexcited

#badandbougie


Further thoughts on ballet:

I lied about my shadow

Ridiculous bureaucratic reasons resulted in me seeing my third GP in a year. I explore my rage about the Québec healthcare system here; that’s not the point of this post. Tuesday’s doctor was kind. He cared. Despite the two previous doctors at the same clinic prescribing medication for my ADD, he grilled me about me & my family’s medical and mental history.

“Your behaviour does not suggest ADD to me. You are un-medicated right now?” Sir, at the risk of sounding vain, I am extremely smart. I graduated with a 4.0 GPA; I ranked above average/excellent performer at all 3 multinationals I’ve worked at during my career. I am deemed quirky and “unusual”, but I can – I must – succeed with or without my drugs. I excel at appearing normal (or as normal as I’ll ever be). Nobody need ever know at what personal cost: the depressions, the failed relationships, the stunted dreams, the years of therapy. “I see. You are what we call a gifted, high-functioning patient. My son is in accounting. Bright kid, good attitude. No mental health issues that we know of. He struggles to maintain a 3.4 GPA.” I forget, sometimes, that what I view as a commonplace performance (of course I graduated with a 4.0/was an excellent employee at a Big 4: anything else would be beneath me) is not commonplace for others. Rather than appreciate my accomplishments, I’m aware of how much more I could’ve done, had I been more disciplined. Had I not had ADD.

“3 depressions in 5 years. Where any of these circumstantial? Diagnosed by a professional? You woke up crying one day, for no reason, and cried for 3 hours a day every day for 3 weeks straight? Ok, that’s a real depression.” Yes, my 2012 depression came on the heels of my serious knee injury, followed by my mother’s death a few weeks later. Circumstances in 2012 sucked. But I was already unwell, battling symptoms for months, when the “justifiable” depression started. How lucky I am to have experienced my scary 2014 depression, otherwise people would once again dismiss my story because I am too gifted, too high-functioning.

“So how would you rank your mental state right now, on a scale of 1-10? 1 being suicidal and 10 being perfect and blissful and without a cloud in sight?” Ummmm maybe 7-8: despite my recent struggles, overall I notice a distinct trend. 2014: a depression so bad I quit the job I loved, changed my lifestyle, reoriented my career so as to have the head-space to tackle my mental health issues. 2015: clawing my way out of depression, and therapy therapy therapy. 2016: remission from depression, dating and my first heartache in 6 years, career full throttle2017: I discover I have the capacity for happiness, and for the first time in my life,  I believe that I can build a life of happiness for myself. Surely that merits a B+ as a mark?

My doctor stopped me. “You didn’t know you had the capacity for happiness. You thought happiness didn’t apply to you. You didn’t have depressions. You are depressive. It’s always there, like a shadow, isn’t it?”

Yes, it is.


My shadow, my old friend. Always there, waiting, whispering, seductively trying to pull me back into the dark cloud. Always. Admitting that, out-loud, was hard.

I would love to wake up, put in my 9-5 productively. I would love to not work 60-80 hours a week to deliver 45-60 hours worth of work. I would love to be focused enough to have dreams, to not fritter away HOURS a day, to blink away 6-12 months again. I would love it, but I can’t imagine it. I know such people exist, like I know lactose-intolerant ppl exist. And as I can’t imagine a life without cheese, that analogy is particularly apt. It’s so frustrating feeling time slip through my fingers always, acutely aware of my inefficiency. I mourn the potential I will never reach, because of the time and effort spent managing my brain. I have the tools to do so. But it is exhausting. At any moment in time 25-50% of my brain’s bandwidth is taken up monitoring, managing, analyzing my shadow to ensure it stays a shadow, and doesn’t succeed in becoming an asphyxiating dark cloud. 25% of my bandwidth is dealing with the 16 simultaneous ping-pong matches in my ADD-head. That leaves me with 25%-50% (on a good day) to handle life, professionally and socially. Gifted, he said. Fed up, I say.


As my remission from depression continues, my capacity to take on more, handle more pressure, be alive grows. This is good – much better than existing in a half-dead depressed state: a life without feelings is no life at all. However I feel too much now. I had a breakthrough at the end of 2016, where I acknowledge my right to feel anger and give voice to it. But everything sets me off now. My anger fuels me to be productive, but it leaves me exhausted, with a long list of people that dislike me. My blow-ups range from snarky comments, to feeling hurt so deeply I lash out like Jennifer Lawrence’s character in Silver Linings Playbook – I’ve been told more than once that I remind people of her.

These daily meltdowns are awful. Mortifying. Uncontrollable. ADD & impulsivity! Yay! EXCELLENT RECIPE FOR SOCIAL DISASTER. My anger is always merited, my comments are fair, but they are not kind. I know the pattern, too. The less compassionate towards others I become, the less compassionate towards myself I will be, leaving myself open to my shadow’s pull. I’ve tried to find moments of happiness here in Montreal, post-Dubai. And I do. But these moments contrast too sharply against my negative emotions, and the roller-coaster leaves me spent, too tired to concentrate, and hours slip away from my life. Again.

I am a weather-vane, at the mercy of my emotions.

My shadow watches, ready.


After one meltdown too many yesterday (an offhand comment by a coworker filled me with so much rage, I considered punching him, but then remembered that would get me thrown out of the CPA Order, so I cried quietly at my desk for 15 minutes instead), I called up my beloved therapist, and asked for a tune-up. My last appointment was April 25, 2016. I didn’t last a year.

I feel shame at being so incompetent at adulting I need help, again. I feel shame at having so much wasted potential. But I refuse to let my shadow win. I have dreams for the first time in my life. I have lived greater happiness than I knew possible in Dubai. Over my dead body, I’m not gonna let my shadow steal that from me.

I always said I was a fighter – that is why I boxed.

Here we go for another round.

Dancefloor drama

Day 2 (Thursday) of the kizomba festival.

I danced with FroMan for 4-5 consecutive songs. He gave me a lot of (kind) constructive criticism. Every second step warranted feedback. Then every step. Then my basic posture. I was basically receiving a private lesson from a talented patient instructor, this was great! It did not feel great. It felt like I was a shit dancer wasting his time at a party. These negative thoughts distracted me from actually following his lead, such that I flubbed up the most basic moves. At the end of dance FroMan checked if I was ok. I thanked him, apologized for my anxious brain, told him I was grateful. Social disaster avoided.

Next, Energizer asked me to dance. I gratefully accepted – Energizer is an endless bundle of happy energy, always smiling and laughing. The first 30 seconds went well. Then, he made a comment about an issue that FroMan had worked so hard to correct. More dancing. Another comment. Dancing, comments, dancing, comments, dancing, comments. I was horrified: all these months, I’ve been a shitty follower, making the lives of my partners miserable, why has nobody ever said anything, how embarrassing, this is awful, I just want to take a nap. Interspersed with his comments were short intervals of actual dancing, where Energizer would laugh. The first time, I ignored him. The second time, I was hurt – what are you doing laughing at me, bro?! The third time, I lost my temper and walked off the dance floor.

I flounced to a nearby chair, fighting back tears of misery. Energizer appeared in front of me.

WTH Vanilla. In ALL my years as a professional dancer, NO ONE has EVER walked away from me mid-song. I was having fun! WHY would you do that? Because I LAUGHED? Vanilla, I laugh when I am having FUN. NOBODY has ever stranded me on the dance floor before because I laugh. I wasn’t laughing at you, why would you think that?

Teachable moment: when overwhelmed, do NOT ditch an internationally acclaimed artist on the dance floor. Don’t do it. It won’t go down well.

I apologized profusely, ashamed at my lapse in manners. Energizer calmed down, seeing that I was very remorseful. He gave me a drink. FroMan walked by and laughed – explaining how he’d unintentionally contributed to my high-strung state. Energizer was still jokingly berating me when a non-artist asked me to dance. Eager to escape this self-imposed drama, I accepted. Mid-way through the song, my partner told me, “I really enjoy dancing with you. Would you mind if I gave you some feedback?” 

OKAY UNIVERSE. I GET IT. I need feedback. Can you quit beating me over the head with a sledgehammer?!?!

Day 3 (Friday) of the kizomba festival

Energizer spent the day teasing me. I apologized 200 times. Energizer’s dance partner, Sunshiney, laughed till she cried when she heard the story, imagining how pissed he must have been. She high-fived me, something Energizer ignored with dignity.

At the party that night, every time Energizer changed partners, he’d manoeuvre her so as to dance by me, no matter where I was in the room. As he’d twirl her past me, he would smirk, “Notice Vanilla how SHE isn’t walking away from me, leaving me stranded on the dance floor? SOME girls enjoy dancing with me, you see.”

Every. Single. Girl.

Day 4 (Saturday) of the kizomba festival

Different venue, with weaker air conditioning. I was taking a break to cool off, when one of the instructors asked me to dance. I warned him that I was mildly overheated. He didn’t care. Off we went.

Some dancers make me nervous. I get intimidated, the hamster reel in my head goes haywire, it happens. This guy was one of them. When I’m stressed, I get sweaty – biology 101. Half-way through our 2nd song, a drop of sweat fell from my hair straight down onto his arm on my back. He pulled back to look at me,

You weren’t joking when you said you were hot. You will make ME hot. You will make me SWEATY. Girl, you can’t be doing that, I’ve a plane to catch.

And he walked off the dance floor.

It took me a few minutes to track down Energizer, to share this story. He gleefully laughed AT me, told me we were finally even, and danced with me.

#howtomakefriends101

#myinternationalreputation


Recap of this trip so far:

Busy season as an accountant

So I’ve been MIA because of work. I worked easily 70 hours last week (Jan 2-8). By Tuesday, Jan 10th, I’d lost track of what day of the week it was. I was tired.

When I am tired and stressed, my body plays tricks on me. First, there was the whole wannabe kidney failure, brought on by a feeble attempt at health. I know, I know, that will teach me to have such bizarre priorities. Next, as during every busy season, the combination of lack of sleep, and the lack of time to do groceries or cook, is deadly. Body is convinced it at risk of starvation from over-counting (“1, 2, 3, 10, 42, calculator, excel spreadsheets, oh look at all that concentration we just did, we have consumed too much brain energy, we are going to die from famine“) such that I am hungry all the time. ALL THE TIME. It doesn’t matter that the hunger isn’t real, that it is a product of fatigue and unbalanced hormones. My body requires all the food.

Me: *eats like shit* *drinks lots of water* *thinks it's ok*

A post shared by Claudia Oshry (@girlwithnojob) on

 

That, coupled with the lack of time to workout, makes for a pervasive icky feeling. Je ne suis pas bien dans ma peau. I tell myself that this is temporary, that I am doing as best I can, balancing exceptional work requirements and committing to a minimum of self-care to avoid jeopardizing my health. I make sure to walk 30-60 mins every 2 days, as per therapist’s orders to avoid medication. But walking 30-60 mins is not the same as the 4-6 intense workouts I’d been doing for the past 15 months. I can feel the emotions bubbling up inside me, harder and harder to keep a lid on them, threatening to spill over, and scorch everything, me especially, in sight. I’m scared, not going to lie. I wonder if my decision to trust myself to handle a full return to Career Vanilla was the right one, or if I will end up paying a huge price. My last depression in 2014 was vicious and has left me with scars; the next one might maim me permanently.


During my supper with Kirsten, Friday night, she reminded me of a not-so-gentle reproof I gave her 15 months ago that has made a major impact on her life and her dealings with people, especially her coworkers and bf.

You are fair. You apply your high standards equally to yourself and others; you are not wrong in your assessments of people. But unless it comes from a place of kindness, you are judging others, always. Fairly, but hurtfully.

It must come from a place of kindness. I remember that conversation. I remember my life when I said it: in the thick of therapy, unhappy at my (former) job, exploring vulnerability, all my defences stripped away, emotions raw and true.

I’ve not been kind for a long time.


Over the past 2-3 months, I’ve been increasingly assertive at work. I need to be. The projects I am working on involve collaboration and clear communication across many departments, with people that in no way report to me. I have to speak up, to be heard and to effect the changes I’ve been mandated to bring about. It’s exhausting. I try emails, phone calls, patience, explanations, direct orders, nagging… After weeks of getting the roundabout, I usually find myself with two alternatives: throwing a full-blown rage tantrum (“No, I do not accept “that isn’t my problem” as an answer, I am expecting you to exhibit the teamwork, leadership, and problem-solving skills for someone at your level in the organization, and provide me with the timely information I require to be able to do my job.“) or going into CFO-boss’ office, and requesting him to intervene, aka being a tattle-tale. I hear some of the words that come out of my mouth, and I wonder how long it will take until certain coworkers hate me. 100% of my statements are true. I even manage to assume positive intent on behalf of my coworkers. But I am not kind. I’m a full-blown judgmental bitch. A hilarious one, with a sense of humour, but critical AF.


One of the first things my therapist worked on to staunch the flow of depression in 2014 was the idea of compassion vs perfection (explained here). While I struggle still, I’ve come a long long way in accepting my imperfections. Yet, since the fall, I’ve lost compassion. Stretched to my limit, taking on projects that thrill and petrify me, I need that protective wall of Bitchy Vanilla. I don’t understand how to get the results I need from my coworkers without resulting to the bullying techniques mentioned above. To pull off those bullying techniques, I must be close to blameless, delivering exceptional work, quality communications, meeting deadlines, universally respected for my competence and knowledge… I must be perfect.

So. My fear that this challenging period at work poses a serious threat to my mental health is justified. I’m falling back into the cycle of perfectionism and justified perpetual judgment.


It must come from a place of kindness.

Yes, it must. I’m just not sure how.

Well. I forgot this still happened.

Over the years, I have been told, repeatedly, that I am a bit of a tough sell in the dating world:

  • I’m tall and I ALWAYS wear heels;
  • My personality can be brash, especially once I have established a certain comfort with the person;
  • My personality can be extremely reserved (I swear!), if I don’t know the person and haven’t determined if I want to know them – the more someone pressures me to open up, the more I dig in my heels, get annoyed and shut them out;
  • I used to box -for every guy that says, “oh, that is so hot, I love a woman who can handle herself” and means it, there are 3 that PISS ME OFF by saying “oh, that is so hot, I’ll be sure to stay nice around you, haha, don’t want you getting angry” (thank you for the implication that I have anger management issues and am totally cool with domestic violence – in the face of such flattery, how can I resist?) and 2 more that lose all interest because “that isn’t very ladylike” (handle your frail male ego quietly, boy, without insulting me to restablish your testosterone. #brash);
  • I blog about my life and all the characters that pass through it – especially the absurd ones. As one guy told me, “I don’t want to be blog fodder.” Reasonable. Don’t be a ridiculous jackass and y’all should be safe;
  • I am extremely busy, and I will never ever drop my activities (boxing/dancing/writing/volunteering/friends/family) for a guy. I will get creative with my schedule, sure, but don’t expect me to be free, last minute. Get in line. As a guy increases in importance in my life, so will the time I allocate to him – within reason. I am a boxer/blogger/dancer/accountant. Presumably, that is what attracts said males to me in the first place – I cannot change who I am, and what I need to be happy. In my experience, most guys get ruffled at the concept of having to wait and of not immediately being a priority in a girl’s life. Unfortunate, as my purpose in life, surprisingly, is not to pander to a male ego.

I should go into PR. Really, after such a sales pitch, what guy WOULDN’T wanna date me?!

Not gonna lie, for all my snarky irritation above, constantly getting the feedback that I am too atypical to date messes with my head. What is the point of being an Amazon if I gather cobwebs? Not gonna lie, I’m enjoying maintaining my #skinnybitch body, and improving my fashion and appearance, because a) I like getting compliments b) I enjoy feeling fabulous and c) men are superficial creatures and will overlook a lot of character flaws for the sake of a trim waist and a pert bum. Not gonna lie, I don’t miss the immediate tension that happened every time I mentioned I was a boxer – identifying myself as a dancer/blogger produces neutral reactions. Sometimes, I wonder if I’ve become a sellout – that is what being single for 6.5 years will do to a gal.

Anyhow.

I’ve run into a new road-block to my dating success. I don’t know why it surprises me, since it a known struggle for some dudes – it just has never happened to me:

I am a successful, ambitious, career woman, on a path to enjoy good professional growth (through a combination of hard work, some luck, and white privilege).

I’ve been on a couple of dates with a guy 3 years younger than me, who is still in the early stages of his career – he has everything it takes to make it far, and achieve great success, but at the moment does not have too much to show for it. I think that is impressive: it is so bloody hard to pursue a goal without tangible evidence that one is getting closer to success. Awful. Many people quit. So to me, his story and his circumstances are praiseworthy. Instead, following ONE conversation where I mentioned my job ONCE, he’s made a few comments along the lines of how hard my job is, his job is nothing special, how simple I must find him, etc. Aka, he passively wonders why I would be interested in him, given my career?

It’s so odd coming face-to-face with a variation of my own insecurities. I used to feel Beaut was too hot for me – why would he be interested in lil old nothing-special me, given his hotness, he could have any girl he wanted (lol, turns out I was closer to the truth than I knew. Sigh! #lessvanilla). While I am delighted to realize I no longer suffer from that particular insecurity – any guy, regardless of his abs and hotness, can reasonably be interested in me, because I am AWESOME and hilarious and smart and good people – I remember how there was no way of convincing former me of that. I didn’t believe it, therefore it wasn’t true. And here I am. My career (which is solid, but by no means spectacular – I ain’t no Richard Branson, Sheryl Sandberg or Beyoncé) is generating the same level of insecurity in boys as Beaut’s abs did in me.

I wonder if the Universe is laughing at me?

#Iaintspendingtimereassuringyouboy #brash

Grateful to have a headache 

Every morning for the past month, I’ve woken up with a headache. It’s awful. Take your normal “I don’t wanna get outta bed” and add the physical sensation of being nailed to your pillows through your forehead. Is it any wonder that I’m always late for work?! The first 10 days of waking up with a marching band in my skull were scary. I became convinced I had brain cancer, because what other explanation could there be? It wasn’t dehydration, because I was drinking enough water to fill a bathtub. Obviously, it must be cancer. I’ve always felt I was destined to die young.

At a girls night with DD two weeks ago, I was bitching about work, and this huge project I’m leading, and I mentioned my impending death from brain cancer headaches. DD, who knows me inside out, and is extremely well versed in my anxiety and depression struggles, stared at me. “Vanilla, I’ll come to your funeral if you die from brain cancer, but have you considered that *maybe* these are stress headaches? You don’t exactly manage your stress well in the best of circumstances, so now that your work has levelled up and you’ve quit boxing, avoid being a drama queen and explore plausible causes for your headaches, why don’t ya?”

Lesson learned: DD cures cancer with her wisdom and sarcasm.

So yeah. Stress headaches. Knowing that’s what I am dealing with doesn’t make them any more pleasant. I am under a lot of stress. I am the lead on some big deal high-profile projects at work, and am scared shitless. I do breathing exercises at my desk at least once a day, to stop myself from having a panic attack. If I fail, the consequences for my company and my career are… unpleasant (how’s that for not being a drama-queen, hmmm? Such tempered, moderate vocabulary! Go me!) There’s a permanent vice grip around my heart, relentlessly reminding me of the stakes at hand. It will only disappear once the projects come to term before the holidays.

But here’s the thing: deep down, I’m elated. Because, you see, I haven’t felt this level of work-stress and terrifying fear of failure in 2 years. It has been almost 26 months since I last took on a challenge at work, the kind where there is a solid 40-50% chance I might not be able to pull through and deliver, where there is no safety net because I am putting everything on the line. I hadn’t taken anything on, frankly, because I couldn’t – I was just dialing it in, professionally. I hadn’t adequately recovered from my last depression: I ran away from any pressure because I felt like a fragile glass pane – I was technically keeping it together, but if the load got too heavy to bear, I would shatter. The fact that I am even capable of handling what I am handling is the ultimate proof that I’m back. I’ve missed this version of myself: the smart, ballsy, efficient professional. I’ve missed feeling deep pride in my work. I’ve missed the gnawing fear – because that fear is proof that I am stepping up, and making a real tangible difference. I’ve missed knowing that my work was of a sufficient quality that I can be trusted by senior leadership to plan, develop, implement and successfully roll out a project with no supervision. I’ve missed having my brain as my ally.

Sure, these headaches are a nuissance. I didn’t have them pre-depression. They are a reminder and a warning that I need to manage my mental health seriously: my brain is like an elastic band. Every depression has a cost – I might recover, but my brain loses some of its elasticity. But goddamn, am I ever grateful to be healthy enough to have these headaches.

#iambackbitches

#vanillathebadassprofessional

Flowers make me happy

I’m turning into my mother. Growing up, a guaranteed way to put a delighted smile on my mother’s face was by getting her flowers. Any flowers. Roses, dandelions (as long as the giver was under the age of 5), lilies, tulips, carnations… Any flowers, one or more, would make her exclaim, “Oh! Flowers! How lovely! I just love flowers, they make me so happy!

Every. Single. Time.

By the time I was six, I knew all about putting flowers into water, how to cut the stems to make the flowers last longer, how much sunlight they needed, which vase was aesthetically best suited to every type of bouquet. (Small irony: I don’t have a green thumb. Give me a potted plant and it is reasonably certain that I will kill it in under a week, despite my best intentions.)

I always found my mother’s enjoyment of flowers cute, if somewhat excessive. She especially loved getting flowers for no reason.

Well.

Friday, as I was coming home from work, after a shitty week – the kind that gave me lots to think about and little to smile about – I stopped in the grocery store to get myself some supper. As I waited in line, I noticed the flower stand. One particular vase stood out at me, so pretty and simple in its happiness. I decided to buy it, just like my mama. Unlike my mama, seeing as I am a product of the social media generation, I took a snap of my flowers, and posted it on Facebook, with some cliché hashtags like #treatyoself #teamsingle #simplepleasures. Yeah, I know, slightly obnoxious, but even a fierce Amazon needs external validation that her singleness is ok, from time to time.

The Facebook snap. #moody

Yesterday, I went for brunch with one of my single guy friends. As I got into the car, he surprised me with a single red rose, telling me I was too young to be a cat-lady, that I shouldn’t have to buy my own flowers, even if I broadcast it proudly on Fbk. He waited anxiously for my reaction, while I tried failed to gather my thoughts. I heard myself exclaim, “Oh! Flowers! How lovely! I just love flowers, they make me so happy!”

He breathed a sigh of relief, confessing his worry that his gesture had been over the top. It had been, but before I could find the words to say so, he admitted that since I’d liked the single rose, the rest of the flowers were in the back seat. Stunned, I looked behind me, and saw an enormous beautiful bouquet.

Y’all. It’s been almost 10 years since a guy bought me flowers. Did it freak me out? Hell yes. But at the same time, as the roses sit happily on my kitchen table this morning, filling my appartment with their scent, they put a shy smile on my face.

I’m gonna go ahead and conclude brunch was a date. I’m good at picking up the subtle signs like that.

#unexpected

#awholelotofconfusedemotionsrightnow