public perception

Vacation over therapy any day

I feel whole.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What a vacation.

BPD series: a case study

“Vanilla, please tell me. You’ve been sitting next to me, crying for 2.5 hours straight. What is going on?”

Gotta hand it to ICB. My go-to gal, Allie, is out of town. Yesterday, I needed a safe space to feel seen and accepted. ICB was my substitute. Unphased, he played video games as I curled up next to him on the couch and cried and cried and cried and cried until my skin on my nose gave way to red sand paper. 3 times ICB asked me what was going on, 3 times I couldn’t find my words.

So here we go.


Remember Applefriend? Dude whose innocent remark catapulted me headlong into the brutal depression that had me end up on a waiting list to see a psychiatrist. Long-time reader of my blog, familiar with my BPD struggles, confidante. To answer the question most of y’all are too polite to ask, no, there isn’t and never was anything between us. Strictly platonic, guy is married with 2 kids. For all I know, he prefers cats over dogs. Life has thrown a lot at him, but he maintains a deep positivity in all things. He firmly believes in his agency.

On Friday, we were talking about a situation (Situation X) I am living through that I am finding very upsetting. I’ve spoken to him at length about it, often sounding like a broken record. As is happens, Situation X triggers many of my insecurities about people’s perception of me, my worth and my value, yup, you guessed it, it has been the cause of much paranoia and cognitive distortion. Add to that my general collapse of identity since my Borderline diagnosis, Situation X has been a source of a lot of confusion and heartburn to me over the past weeks. On Friday, Applefriend took it upon himself to try coach me, because, he tells me, BPD is highly coachable. Only problem? I do not particularly want to be coached at the moment. I want to feel supported. To be heard. To be reassured that I am NOT living moments of paranoia and cognitive distortion, and gentle suggestions when it sounds like I might be. I am a broken record, it is true, but suck it up buttercup. I need my friends to just be there for me. To Applefriend, being there for me meant a serious attempt at psychoanalysing me. Trying to understand why Situation X upset me SOOOOOOOOO much. Why I was stuck in the past SOOOOOOOOO much. Why I couldn’t move on. Why I had no goals. Why I didn’t believe in myself. Why I kept blaming BPD. “Vanilla, you have such a victim complex, you can’t keep blaming BPD for these aspects about you.”

Actually, yes I can. I spent my WHOLE DAMN LIFE not knowing what I have, thinking there is something bizarre about me that if I just tried harder would somehow make everything right. Its been 5 months since I have a legit explanation about why I am the way I am, why I react so damn much, why I am so sensitive, why I seemingly always push away through my behaviors those who matter the most. It all makes sense now. I have an explanation, finally, thou shalt not strip me of it. An explanation is not an excuse. But 5 months, after struggling with something for 33.5 years, isn’t much. I might have the explanation, I definitely don’t have the solution yet. Back off, give me time to figure this out. And FFS, don’t try fix me. I am not some pet project.

At some point, on Friday, I stopped answering Applefriend’s texts. I’d hit my annoyance threshold, didn’t want to pick a fight over his clumsy but well meaning efforts to snap me out of my month-long episode/depression. Applefriend called me 40 minutes later, freaking out. How could I go radio silent in a convo about how bad I am doing, when I’ve previously said that I have an exit strategy. He was worried! I found it cute, and funny. Tried explaining that I am not suicidal. At all. I just have a more pronounced awareness of my exit strategy than I do when things are all shiny and rosy. Applefriend didn’t find it cute or funny. He was mad that I’d caused him to worry.

On Monday night, Applefriend texted me, wanting an update on how some of the developments of Situation X were going. I’ll save y’all the play by play, and give you an executive summary instead.

7:30pm – Vanilla gives factual update and expresses sadness and grief/shame at the developing Situation X.

7:32pm – AF begins offering advice. “Every situation is only an opportunity”

7:33pm to 7:42pm – Vanilla tries to justify why she is entitled to feel what she feels in light of the developments of Situation X.

Cue the catalyst to the situation going very very very sideways.

7:50pm – AF writes “… But I do think you need to be extremely aware of your own influences and how you impacted Situation X. Don’t pretend you were a victim in this, otherwise you’ll never become better”

7:51pm to 8:01pm – Vanilla tries to explain that her awareness of her contribution in no way diminishes her capacity for being very very upset about the outcome. “I don’t want advice. I want the space to be upset.”

At this point I am crying so hard I call up ICB to ask if I can show up chez lui for cuddles and acceptance. From 8:11pm – 8:23pm, the dead end gets deader.

AF: Oh boy. How to engage your enthusiasm without fully supporting your approach… There’s a balance Vanilla. It’s not one or the other or you’re fully vindicated or they are. It’s in the middle.

Vanilla: AF, I am not asking for that. You asked me how my day went. You told me I was wrong to be emotional about the update that occurred.

AF: Ok.

Vanilla: And when I explained why I am so emotional right now, bc I am going through this and it makes me feel a certain way…

AF: Fine, its fine.

Vanilla: You try to get me to understand how I am partially responsible for the situation.

AF: I’ll stop offering.

Vanilla: But it’s not offering. It’s telling me I am wrong to feel how I feel. I wasn’t asking for you to endorse me. I was explaining why I am upset and how I feel. And you basically told me I was wrong to feel how I feel. Where I am wrong is if I act on it. But that isn’t what I was doing. I was explaining why I feel all this negative shit.

AF: Misunderstanding. All good.

This is the point where I should have stopped. It was clearly a well meaning attempt at a conversation gone sideways, no harm intended. I needed to walk away. Instead, from 8:23pm to 8:43pm, I wrote another 361 words to AF’s 123 rehashing the same thing damn thing. At 8:45pm, I showed up at ICB’s. Crying. Took off my coat. Crying. 8:46pm. Please note that we have now been hammering away at this dead end conversation for 76 minutes.

AF: You’re being too emotional. Like it matters.

Vanilla: It matters to me. I gave everything and it wasn’t enough.

AF: Look, you don’t get it. It’s fine. I get the wanting like what you did was valuable.

Vanilla; It’s the only thing I care about.

AF: But reality is… it’s irrelevant. It changes nothing for the future.

Vanilla: Ok. So let me be upset about THAT. It’s like my whole understanding of my life got ripped out from under me.

AF: You need to focus your attention and energy on the future.

Vanilla: I don’t care about the future.

AF: Why?

Vanilla: I need time to recover from all that’s happened.

AF: Lol, Jesus Vanilla. Ok. But I don’t agree.

Vanilla: That’s nice. More telling me how wrong I am.

AF: Lol. Look.

Vanilla: I get you think you are somehow being helpful. But you are just invalidating me even more. And it’s confusing because you claim to be on my side.

AF: Do you what you want, feel how you need to feel, but don’t ask me to be a pawn. It’s frustrating and I feel culpable.

Vanilla: I am not!!! You asked me how my day went. And then proceeded to tell me how everything I feel is wrong. I didn’t ask you to be anything.

AF: I did and you offered what you said like I would just be an autobot.

Vanilla: AF, If I can’t share my reality with you, I won’t.

AF: Reality???

Vanilla: This is my reality. My feelings are my reality.

AF: WTF. Look, you live in my reality. We share the same one.

Vanilla: No we don’t. When you ask me how I feel, I am gonna share how I feel. I don’t want fixing. I am not asking you to be anything.

AF: Sorry, you’re being crazy right now.

Vanilla: You thinking I am asking you to be a pawn is all on you.

AF: Trust me, this isn’t normal.

Vanilla: And you telling me I am crazy is definitely not helpful.

AF: You need to take a step back. And go to sleep. And talk tomorrow.

Vanilla: You need to explain how any of this was helpful.

AF: Tomorrow, you’ll re read and understand.

Vanilla: What did you hope to accomplish by asking me how it went if you wanted to then explain to me how I am wrong?

AF: Honestly, I am super supportive, always. But you aren’t being rational right now. Seriously. It’s not me. Go sleep and re read it tomorrow. If you disagree tomorrow, fine. Then I’m a horrible person.

Vanilla: No. I’m just saying you invalidated my feelings. And I don’t understand why you would ask me about them if it was just to say how I was incorrect to feel them. I didn’t say you were horrible. And I still don’t see how you feel I could ask you to be a pawn when I wasn’t asking anything. But now I am left with shame, more confusion, and someone telling me I am crazy and irrational for trying to explain why this convo went sideways.

AF: Vanilla, honestly, you’re being way too literal. I’m telling you, your answers from my perspective are why I think you’re not on the right element. Just take a step back, nothing I’ve said was anything but supportive. It’s not a constructive conversation. It’s me offering opinions and being attacked for being someone with an opinion regardless of why. Your normal self wouldn’t say those things. This isn’t healthy right now. So my suggestion is you ignore all of this for now, when you’re ready, engage me.

Vanilla: (thumbs up emoji)

9:15pm. Conversation over. I felt as dazed and confused as the time I got an ass-whooping in boxing so bad Coach had to throw the other boxer out of the ring, bc I was helpless against the ropes, hands down, crying as my opponent pummeled me. How did I get here? Why does AppleFriend sound almost verbatim like Hickster in the midst of our most vicious fights? Did I just have my first big noticeable meltdown with someone other than Hickster or ICB? But how tho? I just wanted to be allowed to express how I feel. Why was that so wrong? Why did I need fixing? Why do I have to justify that my feelings are legit? Am I crazy? I’ve never been called crazy by anyone other than Hickster before, when he is in a rage and trying to wound me. I don’t think Applefriend was making a cheap shot. Rereading it, it sounds like he genuinely believes I lost my grip on reality – my border moved mighty close to that border line – during that convo. Did it? Why can’t I tell? Am I really so out of touch about my impact on people, that they feel the need to let me know my behaviour is irrational, crazy, not normal?


Am I crazy?


At midnight, I began telling my story to ICB. Still crying, as he patted my head, murmuring “There there, no, you aren’t crazy, you just feel things too hard. No, you are not crazy. You can get through this. You will learn to let things go. Not crazy.”

At 12:45, still crying, I left ICB, the poor boy was dead tired and had a big day ahead of him.

At 2am, I fell asleep. Still crying.


I’ve spent the day in a fog, stunned by the conversation. Unable to answer the question:

Am I crazy?

The gift of being enough

We cannot survive when our identity is defined or limited to our worst behavior. Every human must be able to view the self as complex and multidimensional. When this fact is obscured, people will wrap themselves in layers of denial in order to survive. How can we apologize for something we are, rather than something we did?

Dr. Harriet Lerner, the Dance of Connection.

I haven’t been doing so well, lately. I found a copy of the medical evaluation my GP made back in February 2018, where we discovered is was experiencing a Major Depression, moderate-severe. I retook the test (for anyone interested, it is the questionnaire PHQ-9) this week. Turns out I am experiencing a Moderate Depression. Can’t say I’m surprised, but it sucks to have confirmation that what I’m going through is more than just a wee rough patch. At least this time, I’ve recognized the symptoms early enough to try contain this episode before it slides further and further out of control.

Instinctively, I’d already begun adapting. I’ve resumed my rude colouring books. Last weekend I coloured for 10 hours. Felt great. I’m trying to make it to the gym 3x a week, but what with year-end, that hasn’t been possible. I tell myself that as long as I keep trying, busy season will soon be over, and I’ll be able to get back into my physical and mental health routine. I’ve cancelled all social events that aren’t low key one on ones: it isn’t worth putting that strain on myself. When I am depressed, being around people stresses me out, and I spend most of the time worrying whether or not I am appearing normal, which leaves me depleted and unable to be in the moment. It’s taken several rounds with depression to learn that it is ok to give myself permission to be alone and recharge my batteries. I’m trying to blog, but depression steals my voice and my ability to concentrate. So I jot my ideas down, and patiently wait for the moment when I can share my story.

I was supposed to see ICB today for brunch, to celebrate the end of a project. But the forecast called for a blizzard. Yesterday afternoon, as we were ironing out the details for when and where we’d meet, I told him that in the event of a blizzard, I’d totally understand if he postponed the brunch. Celebration is important, sure, and brunch is one of the best inventions known to mankind, but Canadian winters ain’t something to mess with. Everybody knows this, but since I am the girl who threw a week-long tantrum over some Instagram likes, I thought I’d explicitly mention that I too deem blizzards to be a socially acceptable reason for cancelling brunch. ICB was relieved.

“Whatcha doing right now?” he asked. Nothing, I’m too spazzed out to read or write. Wasting my time scrolling through social media to deal with the perpetual pit of anxiety lodged deep in my stomach. The usual. “Why don’t you come over, I’ll whip us up something to eat and we can watch a movie and chat?” Sir, that sounds like a great plan.

It was perfect. ICB cooked, we ate. He played video games and I cuddled on the couch – the hardest part of being single, I find, is the absence of touch. I am a tactile woman, and human contact makes me feel grounded. We talked non stop, in no particular order about our goals for 2019, our respective areas of shame, the genius of my hairdresser, the difficulty he was having in finishing his Mad Max game. Time flew by, until it was time for me to make my way home before the blizzard.

I spent the better part of today trying to figure out why last night made me so happy. Not a little bit happy, no. Deep happy. In my bones happy. And I think I’ve got it.

ICB gave me the space to just be. I wasn’t Vanilla, the person who was helping him on a project. I wasn’t Vanilla, the overachiever accountant. I wasn’t Vanilla, the girl with borderline and mental health issues. I wasn’t Vanilla, sexy and always ready for some hanky panky. In a time where I feel unable to bear the weight of all the labels that are assigned to me, ICB didn’t want anything from me. I was free to just be me.

Borderline feeds me the lie that I am not enough. For a few hours last night with ICB, the same guy who has admitted to struggling to accept my mental health issues, I felt peace and fully seen.

That’s a rare gift.

You can’t take the accountant out of the blogger – 2018 edition

I’m an accountant. I like my job. I think accounting is the art of story telling through a different vocabulary: the language of numbers. Numbers have their truth, if one takes the time to dig. So lets see what the numbers of 2018 say about my blog.

If we exclude 2014, which was a partial year – I began blogging in July/August; 2018 was the year with the worst metrics. Less visitors. Less posts. Less likes. Less comments. Less words. This is coherent with my reality. 2018 was hard. Harder even than 2017, which at the time I thought was the hardest year of my life – stats also corroborate that impression: 2017 was my second worst year, blog performance wise. Looking back, I see that 2017 was the year I started to crash and completely fall apart. But 2018? 2018 is the year I hit rock bottom and began the difficult journey of climbing back out of the abyss.

My year was defined by borderline. The first half of it was spent pulling myself out of a scary depression caused by my inability to handle the emotional strain of my failing relationship with Hickster as well as work pressures. Pulling myself out of that depression meant getting professional help, but also learning to identify unnecessary sources of stress and impose boundaries professionally and personally. That caused me to discover much about myself. I had a few flashes of happiness halfway through the year, and then in August I got my long awaited diagnosis. The 4 past months have been very difficult, professionally but also personally, as I struggle with this new understanding of myself and most upsettingly, the negative impact I have on those I interact with in all areas of my life. I’ve always known I was different; while I am relieved to understand why and how, I mourn the loss of innocence that comes with this knowledge. Every memory, every interaction is now colored by this disorder. My darling Mimi, constant companion through my life, source of stability and joy, my teddybear with whom I still cuddle every night and have conversations with, is no longer merely the product of my overactive imagination: borderlines are prone to transfer their affections to inanimate objects as a coping mechanism for their unstable relationships and sense of self – all my memories of Mimi are now tainted by the understanding that even at a young age I was demonstrating the undetected symptoms of this significant disorder. Rewriting history is no easy feat. I grieve daily.

A different take on the holidays

The stats say one more thing. I wrote less, had trouble finding a voice. But when I did write? Boy did I have a lot to say (avg words per post). My posts gained in depth in 2018. 2014 and 2015 were light fluff pieces. 2016 was me exploring dating for the first time since my 2010 breakup – there is only so much one can write about boys, y’all, before it gets boring. 2017 was confusing highs and lows. 2018 was the year of hard work, understanding WTF was going on. Understanding takes time and rarely are the explanations simple. Understanding mental health and a breakdown in identity?? Definitely not fluff pieces. This is corroborated by the top 10 performing posts of 2018.

10. Phase 3 feels like humility

March 2018. 6 weeks after my diagnosis of Major Depressive Episode, Moderate to Severe, I was struggling to perform at work, and accept the need for me to be on medication for my ADD. My GP and CSD both gave me a lot of food for thought, and some hope.

9. That time my dating life was an Instagram meme

Part 1 of a week-long, 3 chapter overreaction to ICB liking some random girl’s pics on IG. I was afraid to write this post, to give voice to these emotions that were overwhelming me. I was worried that it would have an impact on the good, sweet, simple thing I had going on with ICB. But I believe that the first step to gaining understanding of myself, and this twisted disorder, is to acknowledge my emotions and work through them. Ultimately, my mental health did prove to be too much for ICB. Our sweet thing ended, and I am working through the shame and fear that I am too much of a burden for someone to date.

8. Today is the day. I feel apprehensive.

August 2018. After 6 months on a waiting list to see a psychiatrist, I got my appointment to determine whether or not I was bi-polar. Sitting in that waiting room wasn’t easy.

7. Dancefloor drama V: an irrelevant question of weight

Weeee! A post that is unrelated to mental health. A chance encounter in Paris with a female dancer who was insecure about her weight made me grateful for Teacher, and the attitude that he instills in all those he trains. Teacher believes that any one can experience joy on the dancefloor, and that it is our collective duty to ensure that everyone partakes in that freedom. Weight, appearance and skill set are irrelevant factors. Would that more instructors share that same vision.

6. Parisian flashback to a Portuguese situation

Another post that is mostly unrelated to mental health. This story is one of the things I am most proud of in my life – I helped a friend, against some pretty phenomenal obstacles. I am proud of what I did, but I never want to be in a situation of that much responsibility and stress again.

5. The Imitation game

February 2018. On my downwards spiral, I didn’t understand what was going on in my brain. I described my reality, without using labels. This is what it feels like, on the inside, being me around others.

4. New hair, truer me

Halloween 2018. A makeover that is more than just physical. A fresh start, emotionally.

3. Is this acceptance?

Weight gain sucks. Trying to be compassionate towards myself. Mostly succeeding.

2. Well… fuck

August 2018. A few hours after post #8… I had my diagnosis. Borderline Personality Disorder. My identity fell apart. I still haven’t managed to reconstruct who I am, following this diagnosis.

1. A moment of reckoning

January 2018. A doctor’s appointment that forces me to see the gravity of my situation. Seeing the truth is never easy. But I am grateful for what this doctor did, because without him, I would have never been given the opportunity to address the real mental health issues that were wrecking my life.


2018 was a year dedicated to mental health. Not exactly a fun topic. Hard to live through, hard to write about. But boy, am I proud of this blog. It’s small way, it is fighting the stigma around mental health. To everyone who reads, thank you. To everyone who has written me to tell me that my blog made a difference, in their lives or in how they deal with their loved ones who struggle, merci.

The phenomenon of empathy is basic to all our relationships. Either we deal with the feelings that are inevitably present in our interactions by turning to each other, or we turn away. If we turn away from others without conveying recognition of the existence of their feelings, we inevitably leave the other person feeling diminished in some degree. We also are inevitably turning away from engaging fully with our own experience, dealing with it in a less than optimal way – that is, in isolation.

Jean Baker Miller and Irene Stiver, from Brené Brown’s I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn’t)

This blog is about mental health, sure. But it is also about learning compassion and empathy. By my writing and your reading, we are allowing ourselves to say “me too”.

That is a powerful thing.

What RuPaul’s Drag Race taught me as a straight woman

I don’t do reality TV, never have. I believe that if I am going to waste my time doing something non value added, I can scroll on social media, see memes that occasionally make me think, and watch self-help motivational videos. The digital version of popcorn as nutrition for my brain and my soul. However, when my depression started last year, I found myself unable to concentrate on anything. Movies stressed me out, TV shows required too much concentration. Till one day, unable to listen to the negative soundtrack in my head, I began watching episode 1 of season 8 of RuPaul‘s Drag Race. I was hooked. Still had trouble concentrating, it would take me 2-3 hours, sometimes days, to watch a 40 minute episode. But something about this show kept me coming back. I thought it was the fashion. I do love clothes, even though for the past 2 years, as I struggle with my mental health, I can’t be bothered. I thought it was the competition. I thought it was the pretty colors and the funny one liners. I finished season 8. I started following most of the queens on Instagram. I was done my foray into reality TV.

I got my diagnosis of BPD in August. In the past few months, I’ve been struggling to find my identity, as I realize how much of my reality has been skewed and unreliable. I feel lost, very broken, and in a lot of pain. I went back on Netflix to the earliest available season of RuPaul’s Drag Race, season 2. It was not slick, not beautiful, full of awkward moments. Lots of catfighting. It was so interesting to me to see these fierce women stand up and say what was on their mind with poise, grace and shade. In the solo interviews, they are back to being men, talking about their hurt feelings and fears, in an articulate manner that I wish I could achieve. These queens were effectively acting as role models to me for what a strong woman can be like. I found it disorienting to remind myself that they were actually men, with insecurities that sound identical to my own. Except, who cares? I need role models, and these girls are fierce.

Season 3, the show morphed into a version that more closely resembles the current version. Less traditional drag, much more creativity and diversity in both the candidates and their self-expression. Fairly early on in the season, one of the candidates from NJ was chatting with another girl from Puerto Rico. The New Jersan dude was dressed in guys clothes, with a face semi contoured. The Puerto Rican was sewing a gown, 5 o’clock shadow to the max, wearing a fabulous pink wig. The Puerto Rican was confused, what did the other one mean, she was married. To a boy?! Yes. Legally? Yes. You can get married in NJ? Yes. So girl, you are stuck in America’s armpit because most other states won’t recognize your marriage? Yes. That is when I realized season 3 aired in 2011. Gay marriage, which I take for granted being a Canadian (it became legal nationally in Maple Syrup Land in 2005!), was legalized across all 50 states in 2015 – 4 years after these contestants were chatting. So here I am watching a show where half of the contestants cannot legally marry their loves, and what does RuPaul do? One of the challenges for his queens is to have them film a 4th of July PSA for the overseas troops. In full drag. It had to be uplifting, a message of humor and love and gratitude, because that is what drag is all about and “we are all grateful to those who serve our country”. Stop. Check. Google. Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was in effect until September 2011. I realize I am watching a beautiful example of what it means to forgive and accept those who are different – RuPaul encouraging his queens to forgive and accept us, the privileged few that dictate who does, and does not, fit an arbitrary definition of normality.

Drag has this message of preaching love and preaching acceptance of difference and celebration of difference and strangeness. I think we all need go out into the world and just fill it with that spirit because this is a time where we need love and light instead of darkness and hate.

Sasha Velour, RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 9 Winner

Season 9, one of the contestants was in his 50s. He admits to deep loneliness, because most of his fellow drag queens he grew up with are dead from AIDS. Another queen admits to struggling with severe eating disorders. Another queen admits to being transgender. Season 9 made me cry multiple times. It explored the back stories of the queens a bit more than in the other 3 seasons I watched, and it became obvious to me that all the queens share pain, and all they want to do is find out who they are, and what they want to do with their lives. Me too. RuPaul makes no secret that the goal of his show is to challenge these girls to go beyond their limited perception of themselves. Why? Because we only find our true power and purpose when we embrace who we truly are – not who we think we are, or what society tells us we are. And on his show, under all the sequins and fake eyelashes and padding and gowns, these men, these girls, struggle to do just that, beyond the journey they have already undertaken to even make it on Ru’s show. Not all queens rise to the challenge, and it’s oddly heartbreaking. Their struggle is my struggle, that I fight every day.

Oprah: You’ve become this symbol that inspires, not just young people, but so many people in the midst of their own questioning, their own pain, their own identity. You must hear from so many?

RuPaul: I’ve heard from a lot of young people… from everyone, from everyone. It’s not just gay or drag queen, or any of that. It’s people who not only dance to the beat of different drummer but who are super sensitive. And sometimes too sensitive for this world, because their hearts are so open and they have been beaten down so much that they see in what we’re doing a place where it can be celebrated.

 

I realize that as a straight white woman, I have little to complain about, comparatively. (Although, glass ceilings are a thing! #genderbias!) I know I live a life of privilege compared to so many. Yet through my mental health struggles, my identity is in shambles – it’s hard to figure out who I am when my grip on reality is tenuous at best. A life of unstable relationships, paranoia, dissociation, extreme emotional mood swings and unclear/unstable self-image does not allow me to have much of a perception of self, never mind discover my true self. I watch RuPaul’s Drag Race, and I feel like these queens are my people. They can mentor me. They can show me what it means to fight to be fully alive, and fully myself. They have thick skins, they are fierce strong women, and sensitive artistic men, all at once. They refused to be defined, and they embrace the messiness of life. I feel, through their very existence, a bit more able to accept who I am and my struggles.

Who knew reality TV could do so much?

If you can’t love yourself, how the hell you gonna love somebody else? Can I get an Amen?

Mama Ru

 

BPD series: understanding the role of dance in my life

I went dancing on Saturday. For the first time in 5 weeks. Before that? I’d only gone dancing a handful of times this summer as work was ramping up.

The last time I went to Teacher‘s dance school was in July. I miss it so much it hurts. But what with work, I just can’t handle the late nights (class ends at 9:30pm on Wednesdays, and then there is a social till midnight). I am either in bed by 11pm, or else I am working till 1am. I started dancing only on weekends, when I could sleep in. But then, as work really stretched me to the limits, physically and emotionally, I started skipping those too: on Friday nights, I wanted to be completely alone with my PJs, wine and my teddies. On Saturdays, I’d find something, anything else to do rather than expose myself to the vulnerability required to dance. I was too tired to be brave.

But I see videos of Teacher dancing. Occasionally he and ppl on his team check in on me. I see them with their big smiles, full up of joy, and it makes my heart ache. I miss it so.

And so, I went dancing on Saturday.

I was nervous. I was nervous that I would be rusty, have forgotten how to move my body, be stiff and an unpleasant experience for my partners. I wouldn’t be enough.

Dance has been both a blessing and a curse. There is incredible growth and courage required to learn to accept and enjoy one’s body in space. I think it is something we all struggle with. I am grateful for all these difficult lessons and with each one learned, for the additional freedom to be myself. But since dance requires everyone to face their insecurities, it fosters insecurities. As far as I can tell, this is not unique to kizomba. Ballet – Black Swan. Ballroom dancing – Strictly Ballroom. I am not sure if dance draws the unstable drama queens with raging insecurities, or if it wears people down into such caricatures, or both. In my case, it has brought my underlying insecurities to the forefront, such that I can no longer deny their existence. Life was simpler before, but I suppose coming to terms with these insecurities is a good thing.

I am not enough. Familiar refrain.

Just like that, I understand now why dance has been such a love/hate relationship. It has triggered many of the same emotional responses as Hickster, the ICB Instagram snafu, and my disagreement with my boss. Often, so often, dance makes me realize my failures, and the I am not enough echo in my head grows so deafening, I can’t hear the music and have no awareness of my partner. There have been countless nights that I’ve gone home in tears (remember this dancefloor meltdown in Dubai?), miserable from the micro rejections from my partners.

Additionally, I now realize that much of my strained relationship (exhibit A and exhibit B and exhibit C) with Teacher’s dance squad, my former teammates, was caused by my BPD, and my long history of unstable interpersonal relationships. Yet another case of splitting.

Ricocheting like a pinball from one extreme to the other often characterizes other aspects of the borderline’s life. (…) To some, these oscillations may seem like pure whimsy, or the height of fickleness, or even a way to rationalize a “fear of failure.” But other issues may animate this behavior. The fear of failure is certainly real, of course, but with failure might come rejection, which is even more frightening. For Patty, the lure of succeeding on her hockey team is also the lure of belonging, of being accepted by her teammates, coaches, and classmates; if she fails, she may be exiled by those from whom she most wants acceptance.

Jerold J. Kreisman, M.D. and Hal Straus,

Sometimes I Act Crazy – Living with Borderline Personality Disorder

How I wanted to belong. To have a squad that had my back, that would tell me I was enough. I wanted so very badly to have a 2nd family that accepted me as I was. Dance is like boxing – you can’t fake or hide your weaknesses, they are on display for all to see. I assumed that my flaws would be met with kindness and sympathy.

Naive.

My dance squad’s purpose was not to pander to Vanilla’s crippling insecurities and fear of abandonment. My dance squad’s purpose was to produce an army of good dancers. To produce good dancers means to point out weaknesses and failures and say, “fix this”. I understand that now. It makes sense. It isn’t mean. It just is a bald statement of fact – a weakness. But I processed it as a relentless flood of Bad Vanilla, Vanilla is not good enough, Vanilla can’t keep up, Vanilla is in the way, FFS why is Vanilla still talking, enough about Vanilla, oh there goes Vanilla crying AGAIN, why can’t she just suck it up like the rest of us. And from there… my survival instincts kicked in, and I fought back uncharmingly. The less charming I became, the more abrupt the list of “fix this” became, till I quit. I who yearned for acceptance and belonging inflicted exile and ostracization upon myself.

It makes me sad that I associate such unpleasant memories about a dance I love so much. I have no doubt that the team’s memories of my time with them are not flattering either. As I am slowly realizing, when I split, I turn into a paranoid, obstinate, miserable, angry individual that exhausts everyone around me.

It makes me really sad that I came so close to destroying something I love so much.

But…

That’s the thing about dance. There are moments, the length of a song or two, where everything falls into place. The music, my connection to my partner, and suddenly, I am free – fully myself, fully in the moment, fully alive. The voices in my head are silenced.

It feels like peace.

Those moments of peace, few as they may be, are worth it.

I missed dancing. So much.

#thisiswhyIdance

BPD series: professional consequences

I had an”episode” this week. At work.

The term “borderline” was first employed more than sixty years ago to describe patients who were on the border between psychotic and neurotic but could not be adequately classified as either. Unlike psychotic patients who were chronically divorced from reality, and neurotic patients, who responded more consistently to close relationships and psychotherapy, borderline patients functioned somewhere in between. Borderlines sometimes wandered into the wild terrain of psychosis, doctors observed, but usually remained for only a brief time. On the other hand, borderlines exhibited several superficial neurotic characteristics, but these comparatively healthier defense mechanisms collapsed under stress.

Jerold J. Kreisman, M.D. and Hal Straus,

Sometimes I Act Crazy – Living with Borderline Personality Disorder

It’s been real stressful time lately. My unexpected promotion came at the worst time: budget season and the year end audit. In my immediate team, 6 out of 8 are new to our responsibilities and/or the company. Add to that a FUBAR situation that happened on my very first day in position and took 8 weeks and 100 hours to resolve semi satisfactorily… it’s been a lot. Too much.

I’ve been working on average 70-75 hours a week since the last week of August. That’s a new record. Around this time last year, when the workload hit a sustained 60hr work-week, I lost my fight against my shadow and snapped into the worst and scariest depression of my life, one so problematic I eventually got put on a waiting list to see a psychiatrist, and that is how I found myself learning that I have borderline personality disorder. I’ve been wary of pushing myself too far and finding myself right back in that same pit of misery. The volatility of my emotions has increased, but I seemed to be keeping it together. Until.

A relatively minor issue during month-end caused me to lose my temper. I said some shit that no manager should say publicly and boom! I now have a well-deserved HR issue. Talking to my boss later that week, we had a heart-to-heart about some of the issues facing the department. I was very emotional, but I’d thought through my arguments, and had a concise list of identified problems + proposed feasible solutions + timeline, ranked in priority. I knew WHAT was wrong. What I didn’t know was whether my proposed solutions would be accepted nor my ability to sustain any longer the crushing workload and pressure. My boss told me we’d resume discussions the following week (last week), and I hung up the conversation feeling somewhat heard and almost hopeful that with his support, things would change and get better.

The borderline tends either either to idealize or denigrate features of the external world and imposes this kind of blank-or-white perception on his relationships. These perceptual extremes roll like marbles along a constantly tilting tabletop, first to one side, then the other, but never coming to rest, never balancing in the middle. This “polar perception” utilized by borderlines in relationships is called splitting, a coping mechanism that is normally expressed among eighteen-to-thirty-six-month-old infants and toddlers. Because babies at this age do not easily tolerate ambivalence or ambiguity, they split the world into all-good and all-bad compartments. When the mothering figure satisfies the child’s basic needs, she is seen as all-good. When she frustrates these needs or is unavailable, the child transforms her into an all-bad persona. Only as the child develops can he integrate these opposing perceptions. Eventually he learns that someone he loves and admires can still disappoint or frustrate without transforming him or her into a hero or villain. Heroes can be accepted with flaws. Villains can be perceived as having some worthwhile qualities.

The borderline, however, remains stuck in this childlike blank-and-white topography because it protects her from the anxiety that accompanies attempts to reconcile contradictory feelings.

Jerold J. Kreisman, M.D. and Hal Straus,

Sometimes I Act Crazy – Living with Borderline Personality Disorder

I got into an email scuffle with my boss Saturday morning. I’d gone about something in an unorthodox manner, he didn’t particularly like the surprise, he reacted categorically.

His email hit me like a ton of bricks. I read it at the gym, right after warmup. I found Coach sitting on a bench, fell down beside him sobbing hysterically. My teammates stared in shocked silence as I drew lung shattering breaths, my endless tears making a puddle on the floor, Coach patting my back as he would a wounded dog. For 5 minutes I cried, unable to form words to explain the cause of my breakdown. Eventually I managed to explain that my boss had sent an email that upset me. More silence. One of my teammates chirped, “Well Vanilla, usually when you cry at the gym it’s because of a boy and some disaster dating story, so at least this is something different?” #outofthemouthoffriends

Just like that, my boss morphed into the Wicked He-Witch of the West. I texted CSD angry rants, endless streams of angry commentary about the status of our department, the hopelessness of it, how I hated my job. I felt betrayed by every level of the company. CSD was fairly pragmatic about it on Saturday. By Sunday, I was still angry typing, he was patient but bored.

On Monday, I met with my boss. It didn’t go well. I cried and yelled in his office for over an hour. He even left for part of it to go to a previously scheduled 30 minute meeting, leaving me to calm down. I didn’t. We resumed when he got back. Highlights include him instructing me to go do something, and my response of, “I won’t do it, you can’t make me”. I don’t remember much, other than telling him he thought I was a monkey, and his shocked denial. I do remember the anguish that consumed me, and the despair. My angry rants to CSD continued throughout the day. Monday night, CSD was fed up, and told me that if this is how I really felt, I should just quit, because I was destroying team morale and my health.

By Wednesday, I noticed that my angry typing endless rants to CSD were very similar to my disfunctional behaviour with Hickster. Pause. CSD ain’t Hickster. CSD ain’t even the authority figure representing the company doing me wrong, yet I was attacking him through my texts. Crying uncontrollably? Check. Staying stuck, replaying similar scenes over and over? Check. Paranoid slant to everything I said? Check. Unable to think of anything else because the pain was too consuming? Check.

5 days into my BPD episode, I finally became aware I was experiencing a bad case of splitting and cognitive distortion. With that awareness, I could explore what was really going on.

I am not enough and I have no value/am worthless are the two narratives my brain feeds me constantly. As soon as I wake up, while I shower and get ready for work. While I sip my coffee. As I work on a tax problem or coach my junior. As I’m doing sit ups at the gym. In my dreams. It is the worst possible Christmas music playing endlessly in the background that I really wish I could turn off, but can’t. Year round. It wears me down, and the fight to not succumb to it’s hypnotic rhythm is exhausting. Periodically, that relentless soundtrack pushes me into a depression, and when that happens those thoughts become so loud in my head, so painful, I crave release from the anguish. That’s the danger zone.

So anything or anyone that seems to confirm that I am not enough to love; I am not worthy of time; I am not valuable enough to be taken care of; that makes me go crazy. It feels like an attack on my ability to survive. Every day I remind myself that my brain is lying to me, it isn’t true that I am not enough and worthless. But when faced with what appears to be proof that my brain is right?? Well then. Why bother fighting my brain? I should just give up. No point in survival.

That is why Hickster + ICB’s mundane Instagram oopsies + my boss at work all trigger the same emotional response. That is why my reaction always appears overly dramatic. It IS overly dramatic, if all that is at play is a misunderstanding about social media or a relatively small argument at work. But that isn’t the case. What is at play is my brain that will eventually wear me down to nothingness, like so many before me.

There also be anatomical correlates with splitting: the brain is divided into right and left hemispheres, which are connected by a midline structure called the corpus callosum. Nerves connecting the two sides of the brain intersect at this structure. Further, it has been demonstrated that the two hemispheres serve somewhat different functions. Emotions, particularly negative emotions, are associated more with the right hemisphere. Logical cognitions and positive emotions may predominate on the left side of the brain. Under ideal circumstances, both hemispheres balance each other. However, when a stroke or other neurological injury occurs in one hemisphere, an asymmetry between emotional expression and self-control often develops. Perhaps stress in the borderline disrupts the laying down of the brain cable that connects and balances the two hemispheres. If so, it is possible that negative experiences are shuttled to the right hemisphere, where they are quarantined. Positive perceptions may be billeted on the left. The usual communication channels between hemispheres remain underdeveloped. In this model, it is proposed that stress disrupts normal brain development, especially the connections between the two parts of the brain, resulting literally in a partitioned brain.

(…) In any event, borderline splitting may indeed be the result of literally perceiving the world with two disconnected brains.

Jerold J. Kreisman, M.D. and Hal Straus,

Sometimes I Act Crazy – Living with Borderline Personality Disorder

You know what I am paid for? My brain.

You know what I am not paid for? Two disconnected brains that don’t work together the way they are supposed to.

By Thursday and Friday, I felt myself relatively free from the grips of splitting. My boss is back to being the kind man I’ve long admired. Except he doesn’t know that for 5 days I wasn’t dealing with him, I was dealing with a distorted split version of him. He doesn’t know I am back on the healthy side of that border. All he knows that I am the grown-ass woman who shouted and cried accusations at him. Thank goodness I happen to be really smart. It must be so disorienting for him to be left with a rational acceptance of my analysis but an emotional rejection of it because of the paranoid slant that poisoned our discussions.

I see my team tiptoe around my office, always hesitant to address me, because they don’t know if they will be faced with Regular Quirky Vanilla or Angry Harridan Vanilla.

I am dismayed at the very real mess I’ve caused. BPD or not, that is not ok, as a manager.

This is a problem.