mental health

Phase 1 feels like capitulation

February 28 2018, I posted my recent mental health snafu. So much to think about.

My father has been texting me almost daily, checking in on me. Allie and William tried to convince me to move in with them for a few days so I could have an unlimited quantity of cuddles and home-cooked food. My fairy godmother offered to accompany me to my first appointment with the psychiatrist, and referred to GAB and CSD as my angels for giving me the necessary push to get help. People I haven’t spoken to in months messaged me, to wish me good luck and positive vibes. One friend opened up about his own mental health struggles – something I’d have never guessed about him, I’d always pegged him as the party animal over-achiever. He gave me practical pointers on how to handle my sudden loss of bearings, and encouraged me without being over-familiar.

I’ve been strongly recommended a book on empaths, for fear that I will fall victim to the narrow-mindedness of traditional Western medicine. Teacher got mad at me, “Vanilla, your brain is beautiful, how can you believe this shit about yourself? You are smart, you are brilliant, you give up on yourself too easily. Keep fighting!” My boss blinked. “Transparency is the best policy, I agree. I hope you get the tools you need to reach your potential. Good timing too, that this is happening now in the slow months before busy season. You have some breathing room to try find your bearings.”

I started back on Concerta for my ADD immediately, and as expected, the loss of appetite (common side-effect) was extreme. For the first 4 days I barely ate 700 calories/day despite trying to eat. I almost fainted in dance class, and when I showed up to the gym, I was so light-headed I couldn’t walk straight. I brought Coach up to speed, warning him it would take me up to 2 weeks to adjust to the medication, and who knows what might happen should I eventually see a psychiatrist. Coach was silent, because that was a lot to process, and immediately modified the group workouts so that I wouldn’t risk injuring myself but could still trigger the endorphins that I needed. I admitted that my doctor had reprimanded me for ignoring my therapist’s long standing instructions to workout intensely 3x a week if I wanted to avoid anti-depressants. Coach reminded me gently, “I’ve always been here for you – even when you wouldn’t show. I got you.”

I was called braved on Facebook for sharing my story, putting myself out there. It’s not bravery. It’s a coping mechanism to try disarm the shame of all this.

Shame drives two big tapes —“never good enough” —and, if you can talk it out of that one, “who do you think you are?” The thing to understand about shame is, it’s not guilt. Shame is a focus on self, guilt is a focus on behavior. Shame is “I am bad.” Guilt is “I did something bad.” How many of you, if you did something that was hurtful to me, would be willing to say, “I’m sorry. I made a mistake?” How many of you would be willing to say that? Guilt: I’m sorry. I made a mistake. Shame: I’m sorry. I am a mistake.

There’s a huge difference between shame and guilt. And here’s what you need to know. Shame is highly, highly correlated with addiction, depression, violence, aggression, bullying, suicide, eating disorders. And here’s what you even need to know more. Guilt, inversely correlated with those things. The ability to hold something we’ve done or failed to do up against who we want to be is incredibly adaptive. It’s uncomfortable, but it’s adaptive.

(…) 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, Ted2012

Secrets are shameful. Shame is toxic, eating away at you till you are nothing but a hollow shell. I don’t have the energy to fight this fight against my brain and fight the corrosive effects of shame. So I publish my struggle with the world to prove to myself that it (it = my struggle = me) is not shameful, thereby disabling shame. It is not without consequences: it does impact people’s perception of me, sometimes negatively. But I feel that the consequence of those negative perceptions on my friendship, dating and career prospects are worth it vs trying to cope internally with the destructive negative soundtrack shame pumps into my already sick brain. I’m not brave. I’m exhausted, and if I am to have a shot at surviving this bitch of an illness I need to be pragmatic.

I’m taken aback by my rejection and discomfort with the potential diagnosis of bi-polar disorder. I who prided myself on being a mental health advocate… turns out I’m fine with vanilla mental health issues, but faced with one of the more heavy duty issues? Nah man, not cool. I guess that makes me a depressed hypocrite. That my doctor would even entertain such notion about me was a wake up call. I’ve been down-playing the gravity of my mental health struggles. A form of pride, I suppose, refusing to admit just how hard I’ve been finding life, how exhausting and frustrating to keep up the appearance of being normal, at the expense of friendships, interpersonal relationships, and a real chance of happiness. And now that I am being honest… it has been brutal. I have no fight left in me. I’m totally spent.

This has forced me into an unnatural state of humility. Whereas I’ve always struggled with the implications of taking meds for my ADD (how much of my success is my own, how much is the by-product of my privileged circumstances that grant me access to Big Pharma magic?) this time round I feel nothing but gratitude as I begin to notice the drugs taking effect: a slight moderation in my crazy roller coaster emotional swings, 1-2 moments of clarity during the day, 5-60 minutes of actual concentration on most days, the ability to answer emails, knock off the occasional item from my overwhelming to-do list, do laundry, or read a chapter from my favorite books every few days. I’ve a very long ways to go, but when I have these flashes of the Former Vanilla, I honestly don’t care if it is me or the drugs making the difference, I am just relieved.

Relief is sweet, y’all.

CSD was hesitant to send me his newest favorite Spotify play list. He didn’t want me to think he was laughing me. I wonder why?! Just because I am depressed AF doesn’t mean I can’t find the humor in the absurd. “The Drugs Don’t Work” has got to be one of the best song titles EVER. Shitty song tho.

Update on the psychiatrist: Quebec bureaucracy, yo. I’ve been seen by a social worker to evaluate the urgency of my situation, who filled out a report I never was given an opportunity to read and have not heard back since. Apparently waiting times to consult a psychiatrist range from weeks (super urgent cases) to months (for run-of-the-mill cases… totally acceptable description of the lives of individuals that require a psychiatric evaluation). #ourhealthcaresystemenragesmesobad


A moment of reckoning

Friday, like a good girl, I went to the doctor’s appointment GAB had scheduled for me at a random clinic. The doctor asked me why I was there. “Because my coworkers got fed up of hearing me complain about how unwell I am. I had the flu on NYE, I had aching kidneys in mid-January, I had some sort of bronchitis end of January, and ever since, I am just so tired.” He took my blood pressure, made me say Aaaaah, and tested my knee reflexes. “You seem perfectly healthy.” Bro, really? After 3 minutes, no questions about my medical history, you feel you’ve done enough to give me your professional opinion? I look ok, but I’m not ok. I used to be an athlete. I know my body inside out and I am telling you this fatigue is not normal. I am exhausted, always. “Fine, we’ll do some blood tests.”

$378 later (thank goodness for insurance!), I was told that the clinic would contact me if and only if any of the tests came back positive. I was dismissed.

On impulse, I called the clinic where I’d last seen the GP with kind eyes that saw past my social front, and first diagnosed me with my shadow.  I was way overdue to see him. Last spring, he’d prescribed me with 6 months’ worth of medication for my ADD, and requested a follow up appointment. Bureaucracy and an unfriendly receptionist resulted in me missing the appointment; my medication ran out in beginning November. To my surprise, I got an appointment immediately. I saw him yesterday.

Ever the professional, he insisted on taking me on as a patient because he was not comfortable prescribing a controlled substance (ADD medication) to someone whose file he couldn’t properly follow (I NOW HAVE A FAMILY DOCTOR FOR THE FIRST TIME SINCE I MOVED OUT IN 2005! THE RELIEF IS REAL!). In doing so, he got access to my blood test results. Clean bill of health, other than some slight anemia, which is normal amongst menstruating women. So why the fatigue?

And so started the conversation of my shadow, because fatigue and unusual sleep patterns are a major symptom of depression. Yes sir, I’ve had another episode since we last spoke. Just pulling myself out of it, actually. He made me fill out a standard questionnaire used by professionals to monitor the severity of the patient’s depression. To my surprise, my score indicated that I am currently suffering a major depression, moderately severe. “Impossible! I’m BETTER now. Sir, you should have seen me in Nov-Dec, I was a wreck”. We went through the questionnaire again, only to conclude that in December, I’d been undergoing a severe major depression, one that would have required antidepressants AND psychotherapy AND a leave of absence. One that I’d navigated alone, and survived. Barely.

So here I am. With a referral to a psychiatrist. My GP has requested that I be assessed for bi polar disorder.“Bi-polar?! Me?!! No. I’m not manic. No. Impossible.” My GP smiled. Not all manias manifest themselves the same. He’d feel more comfortable if we could rule out that possibility, given the increasingly disruptive frequency and intensity of my depressive episodes. He gently suggested that I’d done all I could do to manage this burden on my own: it was time to consult a specialist, someone who could determine what exactly was going on, and what drugs/treatment, if any, could alleviate my condition.

I admitted that part of me had always hoped he was wrong – maybe I didn’t have a shadow, I didn’t have major depressive disorder. Maybe I’d just been unlucky. Maybe blowing out my knee and having my mother die unexpectedly in her sleep within 3 weeks of each other was enough to make me depressed (2012). Maybe finding out the guy I’d been sleeping with had forgotten to tell me he had a girlfriend, a bunch of terrible bad dates, a stressful job and a boxing concussion was enough to make me depressed (2014). Maybe all the minor blips in 2016 the result of that concussion + my terrible taste in men. Maybe I just couldn’t handle stress well, and boy, had 2017 been stressful. Maybe I was just insecure. Maybe I just needed to eat better, exercise more, try harder. Maybe I was actually ok?

No. My GP was as confident in his diagnosis (major depressive disorder) now as he had been a year ago. It was time, he felt, to leverage a specialist would give me the tools to free my brain from its poison, and allow me to “access the full potential of this amazing gift you have been given of your intelligence. It is your extreme intelligence that allowed you to get this far without help. Even now, as I talk to you, you fool me. Your mannerisms and demeanor are that of an overworked, tired professional. You look healthy. But your eyes give you away. Your eyes show suffering.

I pride myself on being fairly self-aware. Yet I had no idea it was this bad. I knew my year-end evaluation was not great (inter-personal difficulties), I knew my dance squad has repeatedly mentioned I’m too intense, too emotional to be around. I knew I was dangerously apathetic towards work. I knew my meltdowns were still happening (on Monday, a relatively innocuous convo triggered a two hour sob-fest at my desk that I couldn’t control, such that I had to leave work, take a sick day and I continued to cry uncontrollably all afternoon. I am still dehydrated from that experience, 48 hours later). Yet… I couldn’t see these signs for what they were: I am not ok. Really not ok. I was in denial.

It feels like grief, accepting this sentencing to a life of struggle and suffering. I don’t know that I have the energy to keep fighting this hard, forever.

It feels like fear. My career, my beautiful, precious, wonderful career, my biggest asset, my pride and joy, jeopardized by the very brain that got me here.

It feels like paranoia. The inevitable labels of ‘weak’, ‘crazy’, ‘unpredictable’, ‘unable to cope’.

It feels like loneliness. Few are those that can sustain the burden of loving someone like me. I tire myself, and I definitely wear out those around me.

It feels like exhaustion. Bone deep exhaustion.

But today, 24 hours later, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that it also feels a tiny bit like the possibility of hope.

It’s a lot to process.

More than a watch

Back when I still worked at a Big 4, I wanted a watch. Classic, timeless, elegant, that I could wear in the day time, or at a swanky 5à7-8-9-way-too-late-for-a-weekday, at drinks at a pub or even at a wedding. Not a statement watch, but something graceful. That criteria effectively ruled out 99% of all watches, which typically have thick bands/straps. I searched high and low, but nothing was quite right. For months, I kept an eye out. It bugged me. A watch is the new status symbol: it serves no practical purpose, now that cells are omnipresent. But pulling out one’s smartphone at a meeting, during a conversation or a party is so much less well mannered or elegant than glancing at one’s watch. I craved that elegance.

Christmas 2011. I’d just successfully passed the UFE, the last step of my 5 year journey to obtaining my professional designation. My mama was proud. I was exhausted.  That was the first year I hadn’t had the time to decorate their Christmas tree for them – too busy at work. I was ashamed at not having taken the time to make my parents a priority. My mama’s health was on a sharp downward spiral. We’d started having the conversations about her life expectancy, which was under 5 years. Christmas day, we delayed opening presents till almost noon, to give her time to sleep – she’d only fallen asleep in the wee hours of the morning, because of a massive flare-up of her painful symptoms. We opened the presents in the family room, I remember her sitting on the couch in her fluffy cyan blue bathrobe*. She looked so cuddly, I wanted to squeeze her to bits except I couldn’t because it would hurt her. My heart ached. My heart ached even more when I saw her Christmas present for me: a beautiful watch. Perfect. If I could have conceived of a watch that was exactly what I wanted, it would be the watch she gave me. She’d hunted for months to find it, bad health and all. It immediately became an extension of my body, the first thing I would put on every morning when I woke up, and the last thing I removed at night.

Summer 2012. The battery died a few days after her funeral. I took it off, and stored it in my jewelry box.

February 2017. I was going through a pretty intense wave of missing her (Letter from my Mama and Memory box). Since I find the tangible reminders of her so helpful, I dug out my watch and put it in my purse to have the battery changed. For ONE YEAR I carried around that watch in my purse, because I couldn’t bring myself to hand it over to a stranger, lest they lose or damage it. Instead, I would slip my hand into my purse and touch my watch for strength.

This week, I was walking through a shopping mall in downtown mall, near my gym, distracted by work and life, when I spotted a boutique jewelry shop. Two middle-aged Arab men were at the counter, with a teenage girl helping out. A family business. It was the angle of one of the men’s head’s that caught my eye: his body language was one of careful concentration. The whole energy of that place reminded me of Dynamo and the love that I always feel from his family. On impulse I went in, and asked for them to replace my battery. My hand shook as I handed them my watch. I watched nervously as they did the simple repair, and then they cleaned my watch for me, just because.

I couldn’t explain why I was crying. But they looked at me with kind eyes, and reminded me that even a $5 watch was priceless if it was a gift of love.

And that is how, on February 8, 2018, a nothing special day, I wore my mother’s watch for the first time since Summer 2012.


Alphonse keeping track of time, making sure I get stuff done at work.

*Her cuddly cyan blue bathrobe:

My father lived for 3 months in their home, constantly surrounded by all the reminders of her. Her slippers. Her coats hanging on the coat-rack in the entry. Her towels in the bathroom. He wasn’t ready to change anything. Then, after 3 months, he agreed it was time, and it would help if we sorted through her clothes, and removed them from the house. My uncle and aunt came down from Quebec city to help with that god-awful task.

I insisted on keeping her blue bathrobe. My aunt offered to wash it for me. I agreed, for hygiene purposes, but it made me so sad. Her smell would be gone.

I use it as a blanket now, whenever I am sick. Wrapping myself in it, with Mimi overseeing the cuddles, is the closest thing to having my Mama take care of me.


The Imitation Game

After class on Monday, Teacher explained that the key to improving in kuduro was to never miss a class, “It’s like math class in university, you know? Miss one class, and you show up at the next one, and you’ve completely lost, with no fucking clue what’s going on.” Everyone agreed, missing math class was the worst. I stayed quiet: I knew that saying “yeah no, I actually have no idea what you’re talking about” wouldn’t go over well, perceived as being attention-seeking, or showing off.

But it’s true, tho. I actually have no idea.

All through Cégep and University, for all non-calculus math classes and all accounting classes that did not have “participation” marks or group projects, I didn’t bother attending class unless I found the teacher inspiring. For the most part, I found my teachers insipid and incompetent, my classmates annoying and frighteningly stupid and the whole experience a waste of my time and a trial to my patience. So I’d buy the textbooks, skip class, and teach myself the content of the syllabus, sometimes more if the topic was interesting. I’d attend the review class before each midterm/final and write the exams. Twice that I can remember, I was approached by teachers, so offended by my behavior that they promised me they would personally see to it that I failed. I’d laugh at them, “You can try. You won’t succeed, sir.” I graduated University with a 4.13 GPA (between A=4.0 and A+ = 4.3). I never got below an A- in my undergrad, and I challenged myself to never finish out of the top 3 in any acco class, and top 5 in any business class. I won an award at graduation for the best GPA in accounting.

I always knew my transcript was a thing of beauty. But it is only this week, after Teacher’s comment, that I realized just how unusual my story was. Sad, too.

When I was very young, my parents had me tested for autism, because I had some odd quirks. Refusing to speak when spoken too, easily overwhelmed, bigger meltdowns than typical toddler tantrums. Ultimately, I was deemed to not be autistic. The doctor concluded I refused to speak when spoken to whenever I felt the person speaking to me was not saying anything worth responding to. Ask me what sound a cow made? Silence. Ask me if I was hungry? I’d answer. This was back before the notion of the spectrum or Asperger’s was a thing.

I had difficulty integrating in social settings (e.g. kindergarten woes). In Grade 5 I transferred from a French immersion elementary school to a local French school next to my house. Despite excellent marks at the previous school, I could barely string together a sentence in French. My new school had a very homogeneous population, all Québécois families, except for 2 anglophone families (including mine). Because of my mother’s intense tutoring, I immediately started scoring the top marks in all the tests and homework. The kids resented me – the anglo new kid that couldn’t speak French to save her life, being the top student. A rumor started: I must be cheating. The rumor spread like wildfire, such that the younger siblings of the kids in my class would point at me in the schoolyard during recess, “tiens, c’est la tricheuse” (“hey, there goes the cheat”). Coupled with the fact that I busted my knee and was in and out of the hospital for all of Grade 5-6 and STILL getting top marks… the rumors persisted. I didn’t have enough command of the French language to defend myself, nor did I understand how bullying worked. It was so unfair. I was busting my ASS at home to get those grades, under Sergeant Mama, and these punks were claiming I was trying to get something for nothing, just because I was different and didn’t fit in?!

As I grew older, my mother set out to train me, explain me the rules, so I could mimic socially acceptable behavior: someone smiling without showing teeth = polite not genuine smile, probably pissed off. Don’t ask personal questions, it’s perceived as invasive not friendly. Touching people is not affectionate, it is considered a lack of boundaries. Interrupting is not a sign of interest, it is considered rude. Speaking too rapidly or in too loud a voice is not seen as being animated or interested, it is deemed aggressive. Smile when you say thank you or people will think you are insincere – it doesn’t matter if you don’t mean it, they expect you to smile, so smile. All the lessons and rules I needed to learn to not ruffle feathers, my mother drilled into me. I became rather good at pretending to be normal, so much so I had to convince a doctor that I really do have moderate ADD and a perpetual shadow. It’s not flawless, I often make small slip-ups and frequently get the feedback that I am phony/aloof and my favorite: a “bit of a bitch”.

Pretending to be normal, however, comes at a cost. It implies that parts of me deserve to be hidden, are shameful. Fertile ground for my shadow. After my 2014 depression, I reorganized my life such that I didn’t have to pretend so much. As a consultant, my success had depended on my clients liking me. By moving into industry, all I need is for my coworkers to tolerate me and deliver on my projects. I can be more myself, quirks and all. Still, my inability to sit in a room of people that cannot keep up with my brain – I find it physically painful, my blood pressure rises from the strain of holding my tongue and not lashing out in frustration at their uncomprehending questions, off-topic reasoning, I just want them to understand for all our sakes – is starting to limit my career growth, just like it has limited my social life, and my ability to make friends at school. I might not actually be arrogant, but I definitely come across as displaying, an attitude of superiority manifested in an overbearing manner or in presumptuous claims or assumptions”. I know this, I can see people withdraw and judge me with contempt, but I don’t know anymore how to address this. I’ve reached the limit of my social (un)savviness.

Here’s the thing. I’m mad. I am so fucking mad at all the people who judge me for being different. For being quirky. For being arrogant. I am DONE with having to hide who I am, change who I am, so I don’t ruffle feathers. Heaven forbid who I am generates a sense of insecurity or takes people aback. I’ve spent 34 years accepting people that cannot keep up with my brain through no fault of their own AND trying to mold myself according to arbitrary social norms. I am not normal. I am close to normal, but I am not. I am smart and I am poor at matching my outputs to social inputs, through no fault of my own. WHY IS THAT SO HARD FOR PEOPLE TO ACCEPT.

Just like in university, I’ve decided to pay the price by isolating myself, to spare myself from the masses of judgmental assholes. If that means taking a hit in my career or socially, so be it. It’s either that or a hit to my mental health.

I’m done. I’m tired. The cost of appearing normal is not worth the benefit.

I am nowhere near as smart or awkward as Alan Turing. But boy oh boy can I relate to this sequence. Thank goodness for the few people in the world that can see past quirks and differences to a person’s real merit.


Beauty and Ginga in Paris

Last weekend, my dance school hosted Eliza Sala, an Angolan dance instructor. She blew our collective minds. She taught a bootcamp on Ginga. Ginga is a term that usually refers to the movement of the hips of dancers of kizomba. Eliza explained to us that Ginga is so much more: it’s a lifestyle, a celebration of one’s body. It is an attitude, unique to every dancer. It is self-expression and joy, coordinated fluidity and grace. To quote Urban Dictionary,

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”.

Eliza Sala IS ginga. Without doubt.

My dance style is very stiff. As I explain here, I do not relish being in the spotlight. I do not like being seen. Aka, I do not enjoy my ginga. I do not believe in it. I do not celebrate it. I hide it.

Eliza gave me an excellent piece of advice:

Dancing starts with posture: posture dictates technique. You cannot transfer your weight properly if your posture is not aligned. If you do not transfer your weight, your hips will naturally be blocked, and you will have stopped the flow of your body and ginga.

I notice your posture is slightly hunched. Hands folded, shoulders forward. It looks tentative, uncertain. Like you are hiding. Make sure your posture is a reflection of who you are. When I look at you, I see a girl who is happy, confident, out-going and friendly. Your posture should show that. Even if you don’t feel like that on the dance floor, stand up straight and tall, with your shoulders back. You will feel more confident. And soon you will be more confident because your posture will improve your technique.

Seriously tho. She follows her own advice. Only 2 ppl in that pic are fully owning their space without a hint of self-consciousness: Eliza and Teacher.

Paris is special.

Paris celebrates beauty at every turn. The urban planning, the architecture, the food, the music, the language, the accent. The women who breathe style. The men with fashion on point. The wine. Everything is ALWAYS done with a consideration and care for presentation. “Putting one’s best foot forward” isn’t an expression, it’s a value system, built on centuries of art and philosophy and joie de vivre.

Everything is done with care. In the smallest detail, there is beauty. A iron-wrought door. A park bench angled just right to see the river. The space between the trees in the French gardens so that the sun can shine through the leaves.

The city spends millions and millions and MILLIONS of Euros a year to illuminate its buildings at night, because the views are breath-taking. And the tax-payers happily support that! Because tax-payers are proud of the heritage and beauty of their city. Paris IS beauty, and beauty requires a cost to maintain, so everyone chips in.

(For you environmentalists out there, Paris also has a ridiculously high ratio of electric cars, free electric docking stations, subsidized bikes, bike paths, a very sophisticated public transportation system that makes driving unnecessary… Paris invests in its beauty… responsibly. Because beauty cannot survive in a silo. Beauty requires a thriving healthy community.)

In every facet of life, Parisians promote beauty. I’ve never seen accounting reports and presentations that are as slick as those of my French coworkers. I am a pretty damn good communicator, but my reports look like a 4th grader’s compared to theirs. They will spend the same amount of time doing their analysis as they will working on the format and presentation of their findings, because that’s just how they do. To them, its self evident: one’s presentation of self is what people will remember. It is your brand. Take care of your brand, because no one else will and because it’s the only one you have. Make your brand look good.

Paris is the most beautiful city in the world, because everyone who lives here appreciates beauty and works to promote it.

A funny thing has happened while I am in Paris.

I am waking up earlier (6:30am instead of 7:30am), to enjoy my shower and take the time to get ready, putting on makeup and perfume before I leave my hotel room (as opposed to my usual habit of slapping on mascara after 2 coffees AFTER getting to the office), doing my hair in creative new ways. I walk for 30 minutes every morning to breathe in the sounds and smells of Paris. I am willing to trade 30 minutes of sleep for 30 minutes of quiet beauty to start my day off right. My mind feels quieter. The result of this work week is a very intimidating 2018 ahead, but instead of panicking or my shadow’s usual soundtrack of worry and inadequacy, I feel calm and committed. I feel like writing, for the first time in months. My voice is coming back. I am walking with confidence. I am walking taller. I have better posture.

In a city where beauty is celebrated at every turn, for it’s own sake, I feel I belong. I am who I am, and who I am has a spot here. For someone who has trouble seeing my own beauty… that’s a huge realization.

Beauty really can save the world. It is saving me.

Beauty + joy + self-confidence + attitude + celebration… words that describe Paris. They also apply to Ginga.

Eliza Sala + Paris = recognizing that I too have beauty to offer to the world. I want to discover my unique Ginga now.




Recap of previous posts involving Paris:


Professional heart emoji

Over the years, I’ve been blessed with the best coworkers anyone could every wish for. Some turned into lasting friendships. Some were limited to really solid interactions at work, and a general feeling of goodwill and fondness when their name pop-up on my social media feeds. I’ve been to the weddings of several former coworkers. 10 years into my career, the number of people that I’ve worked with that have completely changed my life for the better is somewhere in the thirties or forties, whereas the number of really terrible clashes (the kind that toxify the work environment) is limited to 3. I only hope that I can positively impact half as many people in my life. #payitforward #gottagetcracking Highlights include:

Its been two years since I started working at my dream job. And sure enough, the trend continues. It is my dream job because this company hires the most incredible collection of hard-working, fun, dedicated, smart people.

But most importantly? My coworkers are kind.

There was that time this past summer when my situationship with Hickster was coming to an end, and he called me while at work. I took the call in the parking lot, hidden from my coworkers. It was a short and brutal call. I felt something break in me – no matter what I did, or how much I showed I cared, it would never be enough. Good Hickster had skipped town, and Broken Hickster enjoyed bullying me.

For 45 minutes, I hid in that parking lot, unable to stop the tears of shame and grief, worried that my absence would be noticed, yet too distraught to sneak back into the office. I noticed I had a missed call from CSD (update: he is back at the office, periodically runs 10k, and is kicking ass. What a dude!) I called CSD back, still sobbing, and asked if could he pretend he wasn’t talking to Emotional Vanilla, but talk to Kickass-Accountant Vanilla about wtv work issue he wanted to talk about, to distract me until I’d calmed down? Without skipping a beat or asking me to explain, he did. We discussed operational vs financial issues, strategy and approach, and after 20 minutes, I was all fired up and ready to fix all the problems of my company, my face still red, but more Bad-case-of-Allergies red, not OMG-my-entire-family-and-my-dog-got-hit-by-a-bus red. I thanked CSD for not thinking any less of me professionally when clearly my personal life was a trainwreck. “Don’t mention it. Everyone has shit going on. I would never judge you. Sides, I know you’ll fix this, your way, some day.”

I came down with the flu on NYE. On Jan 1, I managed to leave my bed for a total of 1 hour, to go hang out at the kitchen table for 40 mins around lunchtime, and 20 mins around supper time – that so exhausted me I required a 2 hour nap after each adventure. On Jan 2, I fainted in the shower, yet still managed to make it to work: nobody and nothing stops an accountant from closing her year end! By Jan 3, I’d lost 10lbs from never eating.  Today was the first day that I didn’t cough my lungs out in the morning. Progress!

Last Friday I started feeling under the weather again. Like I had a hangover, without having drunk anything. Exhausted, apathetic. I had a quiet weekend, bailing on plans with friends, too tired to work. Monday, I woke up feeling completely wrecked. My kidneys hurt, specifically the left side. Like the immediate after-effects of getting a solid body hook. A dull ache. Bad enough that I chose to stay home – the last time I took an actual sick day for being too unwell to go into the office? Can’t remember. I napped, worked a bit, and drank 6L of water.

By Tuesday, my fever had subsided and my kidney pain had decreased from dull achy pain to discomfort. I went to work: I had some overdue deliverables that were causing serious bottlenecks for too many people.  Year-end, yo. No joke. The one time an accountant cannot be sick. My team was scandalized when they heard my kidneys hurt + fever + no doctor. Go see a doctor, they urged. CSD told me I was probably at risk of irreversible renal scaring which could lead to renal failure. GO SEE A DOCTOR.

Wednesday morning, I dragged myself to my clinic for the drop-in hours. As per my recent experiences, there was no space for me, because I had showed up at 9am. I should show up 15 minutes before doors open… at 7:30 if I was serious about seeing a doctor, obvi. Y’all. I am not even awake by 7:30 on a good day, never mind when I am sick and weak and tired. So I went to work. CSD shook his head and bemoaned my impending death. My little GAB team-member was so worried, she took my Medicare card and spent her lunch hour trying to find me a doctor’s appointment using the online health care system. She failed. She signed me up for automatic text messages for any last minute openings at nearby clinics. When I missed one because I was in a meeting, she became so upset, she gave me the silent treatment for the rest of the day. As she left work at the end of the day, she threatened me, “Vanilla if you end up in the hospital, I might not visit you and I definitely won’t bring you any homemade cookies. GO SEE A DOCTOR.”

Kindness, yo. When my brain seeks to tell me I am unlovable, I am incredibly touched that the people with whom I spend so many hours in a given week would care so much about my well-being. These people know me, like I let very few people ever know me. And they think I’m alright.

My kidneys might be failing, but my shadow can suck it. I matter. My coworkers prove it.



A beautiful pivot

I barely made it to the holidays. Exhausted. Completely useless. Brain dead. The depression had leveled off, keeping me trapped in this constant state of anxiety and misery. Couldn’t concentrate, couldn’t cry, couldn’t do anything.

The only thing I could do? Go dancing. I’ve explained it best here:

Dancing is the next step. To dance is to accept one’s spot in space and to be seen as one is, imperfections and all, rather than as one would like to be perceived. To dance kizomba is to accept connection. It is an intimate, sensual, physical dance: chest and legs touching.  As a follower I must accept the leader’s lead: that requires giving up control, trusting him to guide me with clarity so that I can translate that into movement. It is a form of vulnerability. By accepting to follow, I must accept that I will sometimes get it wrong: I won’t understand, I’ll step on the leader’s toes & stumble, I’ll react too slowly, I’ll fuckup his intentions. I must accept that my imperfections will be seen and trust that the leader will treat them with kindness and patience and work through them so we can create something lovely together. My overriding need for perfectionism is one of the ways my shadow wears me down into depression, bc perfectionism is incompatible with compassion and vulnerability, the two cornerstones of human connection. By dancing, therefore, I am weakening my perfectionist tendencies, and strengthening my capacity for compassion and tolerance for vulnerability. By dancing, I am keeping my shadow at bay.

3 different dudes (Teacher, Vermont, Dubai), 3 different connections, 3 different smiles.

On New Years Eve, I came down with the flu. There is very little that I can say about the flu that is positive, but it does have one slight perk: when your entire body is so sick that you are exhausted from laying in bed, even your brain takes a breather from its usual vicious soundtrack. It did notice that very few people seemed care that I was bailing on the parties, and even fewer texted me at midnight – proof that I am unlovable! – but then it yawned and agreed with me that the best thing to do right at that moment was to take a nap.

For 2 days, my depression was on hold because I was too busy not dying from the flu.

On day 3, I noticed this on Instagram:

I realized that I’d stopped seeking out beauty. Unlike feelings, which are muted – depression is like living in a colorless world, or being colorblind – the capacity to see beauty does not disappear during a depressive episode. Beauty is always just that: beautiful. What does change during depression is the willingness or the capacity to notice beauty without significant effort. A depressed person can walk past an architectural wonder without blinking. But if someone stops them, and says, “look!” (depression and anxiety make stopping risky, bc having stopped, its very difficult to find the wherewithal to start going once again), a depressed person will not be blind to the beauty in front of them.

It occurred to me that seeking out beauty might prove to be a valuable coping mechanism against my depression. Beauty and humanity are close cousins. Humanity is the antithesis of depression. Having made this resolve, I’ve tried very hard this week to notice the smallest of beautiful things, from how pretty my street looks covered in snow, to how lovely Teacher and his partner look when they dance together.

It also occurred to me that while I am comfortable noticing beauty in others, I am extremely uncomfortable with anyone seeing me as a source of beauty. I delight in encouraging others to take their spot on the dance-floor, watching them express themselves fully. But turn the spot-light on me? I hate it. I will dance a few beats and pull someone onto the floor to take my place. Why do I hate it so much? Moments in the spotlight are nothing more than moments when I will be evaluated and found inadequate. While I value those moments of connection with my dance partners when socially dancing, I do not believe that alone, during a dance off or a performance, my dancing has any merit whatsoever, and it is only reasonable that others pick up on that, and find my dancing lacking. I do not believe in my dancing. I do not believe in what my dancing has to offer. I inherently do not believe in my own brand of beauty.

I’ve come a long way from the days when I couldn’t bear to watch myself in the mirror or see myself on video. I am now comfortable occupying my space. A significant victory! But I am still a ways from appreciating, and valuing my own vitality, my own expression:

There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. … No artist is pleased. [There is] no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.― Martha Graham

2018: the year I accept my own beauty. I’ve a hunch that doing so will prove to be one of the biggest new tools in my tool box against my sick brain.