public perception

Best start ever to a work trip

Other than when work sends me to Paris, which I definitely enjoy, I don’t particularly enjoy work trips. Especially solo work trips. Especially solo work trips to the USA: their politics frustrate me no end, and more importantly, I can’t handle the portion sizes at restaurants. Depending on the location, I’ve gone a week without eating any fresh vegetables because that wasn’t part of the menu at the restaurants. It’s not so much a question of gaining weight, even though I inevitably do during a week-long trip. It’s the bloating, and the constant feeling of fullness, and the icky digestion, that comes from eating in restaurants non stop. Add to that the time constraints that prevent exercising as much, if at all, as I would normally do at home, and the corresponding strain on my mental equilibrium… Work trips make me feel gross.

I was scheduled to spend 1 week in Tualatin (suburb of Portland), OR this week. I didn’t wanna go. For the reasons stated above, but also because these kind of mandates are rather stressful, and require good planning, focus and delivery. I haven’t been performing anywhere close to my normal output for the past 6 MONTHS. I might be doing and getting better, but I worried that this trip might be too much, too soon. I had never met any of my coworkers at the Tualatin office, so that meant a week of socializing with strangers. To make matters worse, my flight was at 5:30am on Monday (yesterday) morning. Y’all. I am the LEAST morning person EVER. EVAAAAARRRRRRRRRRR. 5:30am! The horror.

All in all, I felt nothing but dread for this trip.

Well.

Guess who called me at 2:50am yesterday morning, to make sure I woke up in time for my 5:30am flight? That’s right. ICB. (Yes, I am behind in my posting, so here is the abridged version: a handful more dates, and a 6 hour drive home from Boston that was one delightful non-stop conversation. He knows that I don’t cook. He knows I don’t drive. He knows I take medication for my ADD and he knows I have depression. He knows I failed out of engineering before graduating top of my class in accounting. He knows about this blog. He knows quite a bit about me, and has not yet run for the hills. What do I know about ICB? Some things, but not many, it’s true. He is a damned reserved man and I am enjoying every layer he peels back, bit by bit. I know that I feel safe with him. I know he makes me smile, so much, so often.)

So. Yeah. 2:50am. I did not hit snooze, I did not fall back asleep. I got outta bed and made my way to the airport. I made my flight. When I teased him as to why he would do such a thing, he explained that he is a lighter sleeper than me, so he figured he should put that to good use. Bruh. 93.7% of the world’s population is a lighter sleeper than me, but they ain’t calling me to make sure I make my early morning flight. Nice try.

Acts of kindness always take my breath away. At the risk of sounding like an autistic alien, kindness is not something that comes naturally to me, nor am I particularly used to receiving. Not sure why, possibly because kindness and vulnerability are siblings, and I do my best to avoid vulnerability always, keeping everyone, including friends and family, at a comfortable safe distance. That’s how I feel least threatened, normally. I’m prickly, like a hedgehog. And because I am prickly, I am not used to being cared for, even momentarily (e.g. Dynamo. Allie. GAB). I am used to clear transactions. Birthdays: gifts. Christmas: gifts. Favors for favors. But kindness? It doesn’t fit into my neat world of debits and credits. But… It fills me with gratitude. Bewilderment. Wonderment. And it makes me smile, so hard.

That ICB. Damn.

And just like that… my trip so far has been really enjoyable. My coworkers are friendly. The weather is beautiful. I’ve chosen to walk to and from the office to the hotel, a beautiful sunshiny hour long walk, each way. With geese.

My hotel is lovely, with a restaurant that has a fairly healthy menu. The portions are not toooooo crazy. I ate breakfast and supper today, skipped lunch, and I didn’t feel like I’d burst or gross.

The skies are the bluest blue. The walks are doing wonders for my mood, and allow me to see the unexpected like this totally non-ironic display of car husks.

2 days down outta 5, I am behind where I should be, but the work is going and I am not panicking. Each day is better than the previous, I am more focused than I have been in ages, and while I might not accomplish everything I should in the established time, I am very grateful to realize I am capable of delivering more than I could 1-2 months ago. Progress.

Not bad for a solo work trip I dreaded with every fiber of my body!

Advertisements

Little gifts

In March I attended MTC’s birthday house party. I was too exhausted for socializing, but I forced myself to go. She lives a 15 minute walk from my place, so I negotiated with myself that I would show up for 1.5-2 hours and then if necessary, I could make a quick getaway. I like MTC, and I knew everyone who would be attending: over the years her friends have become my own, thanks to her 2-3x annual get-togethers. Hers is a low stress, safe environment and I’d be able to fulfill my obligation as a friend.

I had a low-key good time, catching up with DD and a couple of other friends I hadn’t seen in a while. 1.5 hours elapsed and as I got ready to take my leave, one of MTC’s besties, Bloggerina, pulled me aside. I steeled myself for a well-meaning but tiring inquiry into my mental health. Instead, Bloggerina hugged me,

Vanilla, I’m so proud of you, of what you are doing for mental health. You might not realize it, but you are making a difference. I have a close friend who suffers from depression, he’s thought of ending his life before, and I didn’t know how to be there for him. We’ve had much better conversations since I read your blog. I tell him that I might not live through depression, but I read the words of someone who does, so I sorta get it. He has read your blog on some of his really bad days, and it helps. He feels less alone because you say the things that many people can’t. You share your struggle, you speak up, even when it can impact your career. Vanilla, don’t stop writing. You are making a difference. You are doing so much to counter mental health stigma. It doesn’t matter if your audience is small, every person in that audience is benefiting, which means they can have a positive impact in the lives of the people in their network. That is huge. You are changing lives and you don’t even know it. I know it’s hard for you right now. But I wanted you to know that your voice fucking matters. Who cares if you can’t write as much as before? Take your time. When you do manage to write, what you produce is amazing. Just keep writing as much as you can, when you can. I am so proud of you.


In beginning of May, I met up with a long-time reader of my blog and follower on Instagram. Rainbow was introduced to my blog through one of my cousins. Over the past year or so, she has DMd me a few times when a blog or IG post particularly resonated with her. She confessed to a conviction that had we lived in the same city, we’d be friends. When Rainbow realized she would be passing through Montreal, she wrote to me to suggest that we meet up. I agreed. That is how I found myself on a blind-date a few hours before my infamous ice cream evening with ICB.

I was nervous, a little. The interweb is a curious place. I’ve forged 2-3 virtual friendships with fellow bloggers, one of whom has repeatedly invited me to come visit her city. I’ve met up with one long-time reader 2 years ago, when I happened to be traveling to his city for work. It is very odd meeting someone who already knows so much about me, without actually knowing me. But it is also kinda wonderful.

 

Y’all. We had a fantastic time. 3 hours of raw, authentic, deep conversation. Rainbow was right. Had we lived in the same city, we definitely would be firm friends. She lives life the way I wish I could, if I didn’t have depression. She feels so much, the highs and the lows. “It’s like seeing all the colors, so brightly. Max saturation. It’s a little overwhelming sometimes, but so beautiful.” Yasss girl, #goals. Several times during our supper, I was amazed that such a vibrant woman could relate so strongly to my words, when most of my reality is opposite to hers: numb, muted, color blind. Then I understood: she could relate to my pain. Vibrant people all know pain, it is by embracing it that they develop their deep capacity for joy. And boy, did Rainbow ever emanate joy! In her presence I began to see the world in shades of color, for the first time in a long long time.

I came out of that encounter feeling deep gratitude. I will never forget that evening.


I share a considerable social circle with Kiddo. Kiddo is extremely private about his mental health, but having read my blog for the past 4 years, he has occasionally confided some of his social struggles to me. My openness of my (relatively mild) conditions has encouraged him to adopt a more transparent approach with some key figures in his life. He has been checking in on me as I struggled through the worst of my episode in Nov-Jan and encouraging me as I put up with the interminable waiting list for a psychiatrist, sharing some of his coping mechanisms from when he had found himself in a similar situation. Last week, Kiddo wrote to me to admit that he was once again having suicidal thoughts following a change in his medication. Not because he wanted me to intervene, but because voicing that was a necessary part of his acknowledgment the situation that he was doing everything he needed to do to address. A moment of vulnerability.


It has been hard, lately, to keep blogging. I’m more aware of the possible consequences, how intense my blog can appear to anyone who stumbles upon it. I’m more aware of the stigma of mental health on my career and dating prospects. I am exhausted always, so voluntarily choosing to be vulnerable on my blog seems like a Sisyphean feat. My sick brain whispers to me that I should just be quiet, to give up, my voice doesn’t matter. Except it does. I don’t quite understand how or why. But people read my blog and my words make a difference in their lives.

So even though all I wanna do is take a nap, imma kindly tell my brain to fuck off, and keep on writing.


Recap of this recent battle with depression:

Phase 4 feels like resignation

Coming to terms with the implications of my diagnosis, and the severity of it feels a lot like working through the 7 stages of grief:

  • Shock & denial
  • Pain & guilt
  • Anger & bargaining
  • Depression (lol!), reflection, loneliness
  • The Upward Turn
  • Reconstruction & Working through
  • Acceptance & Hope

Sometimes Facebook memories suck.

One year ago today, I shared this post on my wall, along with the query “To my people who’ve taken huge risks to follow their dreams… any advice for a risk-averse accountant that has a list longer than the Income Tax Act of all the reasons why my dreams won’t work out, which paralyses me? Is it really just a case of “Just doing it?” Anyone ever succeed by “Just doing it gradually”?” To which I got a lot of comments of encouragement and advice that boiled down to, “Just do it consistently, grind away with persistence and determination. Achieving your goals is worth the effort.”

One year later, and I am no closer to any of my goals. If anything, I’m farther. That’s depression for you. Being alive without being alive. Zombie-state, drifting through life, unable to summon the energy to even dream, never mind follow through on those dreams. Until this past year, I was ashamed of my drifter status. Now, having barely survived the worst depressive episode of my life, my life in shambles, I realize that really… surviving was a dream in itself. On the darkest of my dark days, when all the voices in my head were screaming in anguish, I clung to the dream that my misery would one day lessen. And as the worst of the trough appears to be over, and I am “only” in a moderately-severe major depression, technically on the upswing, I now cling to the dream that I might one day find peace. There has been no room to dream for anything more luxurious than that.

My blog keeps me accountable: I’ve been having the same realizations, followed by progressively worse depressions, since 2014. I’m trying. I’m trying so fucking hard.

4 years of battling this shit and nothing to show for it, other than I am still alive. I’m exhausted. I’m broken.

It scares me, this capacity for drifting. The last time I hung out with friends was 2 weeks ago. I spent this weekend doing nothing. Isolated in my apartment, because I just didn’t want to see people, too exhausted from trying to appear normal at work. I craved nothingness, I managed to write this blog post (after trying to concentrate for 3 days) and do a bit of coloring. That’s all. This version of the depression is such that I am relieved that I’ve given up on my dreams, because that saves me from the bother of feeling shame for not being able to accomplish them. Haven’t gone on a date in over a year? Sweet, one less social situation I’d rather avoid. Friendships falling to the wayside? Too bad, but oh the effort of caring was too big. Family calling me to check up on me? Please don’t, I don’t have the energy to reassure you about something that I can’t reassure myself about. Dreams? Yeah no. Day-to-day mini-goals only. Stay employed. Shower. Clean laundry. The odd vegetable. Gym.

I say this fully aware of the incredible privilege of my circumstances: for the first time in my life, I accept that this is the best I can do on my own, and I deem this is not enough. I accept, now, with humility, that I need help in order to access a life that is more than just endless struggle, foisted upon me by my sick brain. I accept the need for a psychiatrist.

Hopefully the Qc healthcare system will not fail me, and my time on the waiting list will be only 1-2 months. I want help, I want to move on with living. For once.


Recap of this recent battle with depression:

Phase 2 feels like consternation

First: a long ass preamble. About 2 weeks ago, I quit my dance team.


It happened in phases. In January, I quit the performance team due to some concerns about how some choreographies could be perceived by my coworkers and superiors on both sides of the pond via social media.  Teacher makes shows that are unexpectedly humorous. However, to the extent the humor is poorly executed – a risk for any person other than Teacher himself & his partner – the show can easily cross a line from frothy fun to earnest and vulgar. If my blog is the topic of scrutiny, I can only imagine what kind of raised eyebrows might occur because of dancing. I might find such views narrow-minded and archaic, but to deny their existence and impact on my advancement in the company would be naive. So I quit the performance team, which didn’t really bother me because I don’t enjoy performing. Teacher allowed me to keep attending the practices and team meetings as an honorary member, given my dedication and desire to improve as a dancer. But my strained relationship with the team became even more difficult. I didn’t belong. Which, to be fair, was accurate. My status was not the same as theirs, I was apart. And that apartness could be felt by everyone. I was unhappy. Like baby Vanilla in kindergarden, I could tell that something was off, but had no understanding of how to fix it. Coupled with my as-yet unidentified major depression, I was not having a fun time, to the point that I started to associate dance with a state of acute misery.

After my shocking doctor’s appointment last month, I’ve been working hard to identify and eliminate any areas of my life that are causing me stress and unhappiness. I don’t have the energy to fight the fight I need to fight against my brain and fight people or situations. The biggest priority is getting my career back on track: my job and my identity are so tightly intertwined that when I underperform at work, all of me suffers. And while I have the best boss anyone could ask for, supportive and understanding, my performance at work is directly a function of me. So I have been funneling all my energy into trying be productive. Drugs. To do lists. Being patient with myself. Reorganizing my priorities so as to do more solo-driven work instead of team projects because I can’t handle people and the burden of appearing normal right now. And it’s paying off. I’m crossing some things off my interminable to-do list. I experience 15-60 minutes of clarity and concentration every day now. I occasionally know the answer to things. I only forget half the conversations I am involved in. Progress. Exhausting progress. Worthwhile, but so so so tiring. I have nothing, absolutely nothing left for any other battle.

So I’ve just been dropping everything else. And that meant dropping dance. I’ve never been good with groups; at boxing a similar dynamic existed with my team until they accepted that my sweet spot for social activities was once every 2 months. Spending 10-15 hours a week with the same squad is hard. I need space, time-outs, alone time. I always have. I told Teacher I was demoting myself to a student, nothing else. A student that was under no obligation to show up to class, and whose progress was entirely up to their desire to learn – and currently mine was non-existent. I recognize that I have a lot left to learn in dance, and that dance as a form of vulnerability is an excellent way to fight depression. But I am not there yet. I am too busy surviving the worst depression of my life.


I decided to go to kuduro yesterday. I really wasn’t feeling it, having had a draining day at work and a few interactions that left me feeling raw and exposed. But kinda like forcing oneself to go to the gym in the hopes that once onsite, it won’t be so bad, I thought the workout aspect of kuduro might trigger some endorphins and make me feel better.

Instead, the room was too crowded, my former teammates were taking up too much space, the music too loud… I felt myself slide down a tunnel vision of misery. I was despising every second of it. I had one thought pounding through my head, on loop, “I shouldn’t be here, I hate all these people, and they all hate me. I fucking hate dance, I’m quitting everything, I never want to dance again” over and over and over again, as I went through the motions like a robot. As the first hour of class drew to a close, I accidentally bumped into the girl next to me. I was irritated. Then I realized that the girl next to me was Darlene, my friend, a guest at Allie’s wedding, my former coworker, who has been taking lessons at Teacher’s school for the past year. Through my haze of misery, a thought, “Wait a second. I don’t hate Darlene. Darlene doesn’t hate me.” Followed by the realization that if I could be so caught up in my fog of paranoia as to not notice my friend dancing next to me for an entire hour, then my grasp of reality was clearly off, which meant that I was probably wrong: I didn’t actually hate the team, nor they me. It felt like it, but clearly my feelings were out of whack.

So I left. Because the only thing to do when on the verge of a meltdown is to take an immediate time-out from people, go hide in the safety of my home, with my PJs and my teddy bears and my coloring books and my music.

Darlene called to check up on me. Suggested that next time I try focus on the music, build a relationship with music and block everything else out. Good advice, except I’d been so far gone in my tunnel vision of paranoia and misery, I hadn’t heard a single song. Couldn’t name one song title that played during the hour.

Teacher called me after class. “So that was unusual, you leaving like that. What’s going on?”  I explained I wasn’t feeling well. “Nah, girl, what’s up. Let’s be real. Something with the team? Why you mad. Real talk, come on.” So I told him what had happened, and asked him if I could take a rain check on any real talk, since clearly my feelings weren’t my own. They might FEEL real, but they weren’t true and I didn’t want to say anything that I would later come to realize was a product of my false reality. Silence. “Is it the drugs making you like that?” What? No. The drugs are helping me, by making my emotions less overwhelming. No, this is in spite of the drugs. “So this is your conflict then?” My condition, you mean? Yes. This is what it’s like living with depression. “Nah. I think you are just tired. Get some rest, sleep it off.”

I did sleep. I slept like a rock, waking up 10 hours later at 9am, late for work, feeling like a train hit me. Completely spent. But clear-headed. No negative thoughts. Shaken by the realization of how strong the hold of one of these paranoia/anxiety phases can be. I believed my thoughts, they left me no room to believe anything else. My thoughts were my reality, and yesterday my reality was unreliable.

The road to remission is gonna be long and arduous, apparently. Fun times.


Recap of this recent battle with depression:

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

This is true love, part 2

I have the best team ever, right? Right. My darlings. They keep me going when nothing else does.

For the 2nd year running, my little GAB surprised me on Valentine’s day with a deluxe grilled cheese sandwich. Grilled cheese… with BACON.

I was so overwhelmed, I hugged her. #professionalheartemoji

It was delicious.

Yesterday (Feb 15) I showed up to work, around 9:30 as usual (#earlybird), and as I walked past GAB’s desk, she looked at me with reproachful eyes.

I was SO sure you’d show up with chocolate today.

Oops.

So like any good manager, after getting such direct feedback, I addressed the situation.

Last night:

Little GAB looked quite touched when I gave her her Lindt flower stem.

#dreamteam


Do y’all remember Nene? You should. He’s cool. He sent me this. #goodtiming

Where is the lie?

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.