public perception

Depression and exit strategies …….. the holy grail of depression sufferers

I went for drinks with some friends and friends of friends last night. One dude, who I’ll call OG, recounted a story of how he broke up with his ex after her 2nd suicide attempt. How he’d felt trapped and tricked. She’d looked so normal for the first 2 years, emotionally volatile, sure, but normal. After the first suicide attempt he learned she’d tried other times, before him. This was a recurring mental issue, one that might kill her and would inevitably derail his own life. He felt he had no choice but to make the best decision for his own life and future, and leave her. Leaving her freed him up to focus on building up his own life, success and well-being. However, almost a decade on, she still refuses to talk to him. One of his friends hypothesized that his ex felt shame, “Sometimes, when you’ve acted in a way that was just too awful and unacceptable, you can’t face any reminders of that, the shame is too painful.”

I stayed quiet throughout that conversation, which I regret.

I didn’t say that I suffer from depression.

I didn’t say that OG’s comments confirms one of my deepest insecurities: anyone who gets to know the real me, and meets my shadow, will run, will deem me unworthy the effort of loving, I come with too much baggage.

I didn’t say that this is why I’ve chosen to remain single for 7 years now. I don’t think I can survive another instance of giving all of myself, working through the terror of vulnerability, attempting to build a life with someone, only for it to fall apart because the burden of my shadow is too heavy to bear. I chose a life of loneliness, limiting how much I inflict my depression on friends and family, rather than face the unbearable pain of being rejected. I also chose loneliness because I don’t ever want to be the reason someone holds back on living their life, choosing to stick with me & my sickness out of loyalty. My shadow stifles my dreams and happiness. I don’t think I could accept if it stifled anyone else’s too. I completely understand and respect OG’s decision to leave the girl.

I didn’t say that they’d gotten it all wrong. The shame is not derived from the “unacceptable” act of trying to take one’s life – only someone who has never suffered from depression would think that suicide is unacceptable or selfish. Without ever having met the girl, or been present in that decade-old saga, I would argue that the girl deems OG’s actions as concrete proof that she is unlovable, something to be abandoned once her true self is revealed. A depressive spends all day every day trying to survive, look normal, hide the mess from the world. On the rare occasions that a depressive reveals their true self to anyone – something incredibly traumatic and shameful – being rejected gives their sick brain all the ammunition necessary to convince them they are worthless. Having to face a reminder of that? Unbearably painful. I too would be incapable of facing such a reminder.

I didn’t say that I admired the girl – 10 years is a lot of years to put up with a sick brain, good for her for still being alive.

#weallhaveexitstrategies

black dog

I was speaking to another “depressive”(someone who suffers from depression – usually with Generalised Anxiety Disorder and possibly Stress thrown in for shits and giggles — I might have just made that word up, but it seems to work, so I am going to leave it there) a week or two ago and we were chatting about shit and things and really playing catch up.

We had not seen each other in quite some time, so it was a very nice catch up and we did spend a lot of the time laughing, and snorting.

The conversation took a turn and we started speaking about the fact that we both suffer from Depression — not the “here take one pill and call me in the morning kind” but the sort that takes you 13 years of therapy to really understand what it is you are working with.

Years of enduring…

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The show must go on

Moulin Rouge. Baz Luhrmann’s fantastical take on the novel La Dame aux Camélias & the opera La Traviata (my favorite opera). Nicole Kidman’s character is a blazée, beautiful cancan dancer who falls in love with a penniless but respectable writer (Ewan McGregor). Practical considerations (money) trap her in her lifestyle, subject to the patronage of a vain, occasionally violent, jealous, rich Duke. The decision to renounce her true love leads to heartache, and misery. She finally breaks free from the Duke only to die in Ewan’s arms from tuberculosis, contracted from a previous client.

Moulin Rouge is a movie about “truth, beauty, freedom and love“. It is also about the struggle to achieve each of those virtues, in the face of Life’s propensity to repeatedly sucker punch all of us. Those who dared to dream in this movie were rewarded by heartbreak or death. Watching it at 15 years old, I was swept away by the romantic pathos of it all. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to realize that it is a very melancholy movie, albeit delightfully packaged with style, humor and dramatic flair. One particular scene that is not frequently cited (unlike Jim Broadbent singing Like a Virgin, or the brilliant/disturbing Roxanne scene) has always haunted me. It is the moment when Nicole Kidman gives up her fragile belief in her right to happiness.

Zigler: You’re dying, Satine. You’re dying. (…)

Satine: I was a fool to believe, a fool to believe. It all ends today. Yes, it all ends today.

Zigler: (…) You are a great actress Satine, make him believe you don’t love him. Use your talent to save him. Hurt him to save him. There is no other way. The show must go on, Satine. We’re creatures of the underworld. We can’t afford to love.

Satine & Zigler: Today’s a day when dreaming ends.

Zigler: Another hero. Another mindless crime, behind the curtain in the pantomime. On and on, does anybody know what we are living for? Whatever happened? We leave it all to chance. Another heartache, another failed romance. On and on, does anybody know what we are living for? The show must go on, the show must go on. Outside the dawn is breaking on the stage that holds our final destiny. The show must go on, the show must go on!

Satine: Inside my heart is breaking, my make-up may be flaking but my smile still stays on.

Zigler: The show must go on. The show must go on.

Satine: I’ll top the bill. I’ll earn the kill. I have to find the will to carry on with the show.

Zigler : The show must go on.

 

Watching it, 16 years ago, I felt an odd recognition – this scene captures how I see life.

“Inside my heart is breaking, my make-up may be flaking but my smile still stays on.” 

I didn’t know at 17 years old that my shadow would turn out to be my constant companion. But I did know how to appear normal, even though I felt anything but normal on the inside, like my heart was about to split open from the sadness it carried. As I’ve gotten older, this has become even more true: I’ve become an excellent actress so as to avoid vulnerability: nobody asks questions when it looks like you got your shit together.

“We’re creatures of the underworld. We can’t afford to love.”

A coworker asked me recently, after a few too many beers, “Vanilla, this is going to sound awful, I can’t find the words to phrase this properly, but you are a beautiful, sexy, smart, accomplished professional, with an amazing life ahead of you… why do you go for such losers in your dating life? Why don’t you find somebody with the same life situation as you?” My coworker was referring to Athletico, Beaut and Hickster. I pointed out that each one, although not as educated as me, nor pursuing a traditional corporate lifestyle, had risen to the top of his respective field, and was respected for his athletic track record; any athlete that can successfully monetize their skills has street smarts, dedication, perseverance, talent and work ethic. So however terrible their grammatical skills, they can not be fairly labeled losers when it comes to their careers. But my coworker didn’t mean that. He meant that they are living trainwrecks and haven’t mastered the concept of honesty.

It’s taken me months to figure out why I gravitate to these guys, and why I feel so alive in the boxing and dancing world. I belong. These guys all have good streaks, so much of their characters is worthy of admiration and respect. But they also have this dark side to them, and they are caught up in the struggle of their two sides. Often their dark side wins, causing them to act in ways that is harmful to themselves and those around them. I get that. Every day is an internal struggle -against my ADD, my shadow and the lazy, mean, irresponsible and cowardly Vanilla that constantly undermines the hard work of good, kind and sweet Vanilla. So many of my friends and coworkers appear to have mastered the whole adulting concept, lives cleanly scrubbed and responsible; while I kinda wish I could adult like them, I also know that I’d hate it. I love/hate the struggle, but it is my struggle. It proves to me I am alive. These men that struggle and periodically fail at realizing their best selves makes me feel less different. I relate. I too am a creature of the underworld.

“On and on, does anybody know what we are living for? Whatever happened? We leave it all to chance.”

I haven’t found my purpose. I drift through life, too exhausted by the fight against my shadow to dream, or pursue proactively my happiness.

“The show must go on.”


Disclaimer: I know my posts sometimes alarm my readers, especially friends and family. My funk is still firmly in place, but it is not spiraling out of control: I’ll take treading water over being swept willy-nilly by the current of depression. I’m doing my best to fight it, but it’s hard. I promise I am trying.

Recap of the current funk:

Dancefloor drama IV: Pain, adrenaline and a show

It’s a funny thing, memory. I know my history as a cripple – I see the scars on my knees every day, my limited range of motion in my left knee, the fear of escalators (from my days of being on crutches, and having difficulty clambering onto the escalators going down, with people standing around me sighing impatiently or brushing past me, jostling my precarious one-legged balance, petrified of falling face first and risking serious cuts and disfigurement). I’ve worked very hard in the past 8 years to break through that identity of a cripple, slowly gaining mobility and strength and growing into an almost-athlete. My legacy follows me: I have some serious muscle imbalances, and squats are the bane of my existence from decades of maladaptive physical behaviours. I still have a slight limp. My arthritis has leveled off, I know how to anticipate the flare ups, and manage them. I’ve learned how far I can push my body without irritating my knee. Overall, the past few years have been great.

On Tuesday, in dance class we learned some weird twisty pivot. It hurt. I thought it was because I was tired – I had just finished a badass deadlift workout with Coach aka Dr. Booté. But then we did an hour of kuduro, pounding the studio floor with gusto and emphasis. My knee ached. I longed for bed. I opened my eyes on Wednesday morning and immediately knew something was very wrong. My knee had been replaced by a radiating ball of pain, that had nothing to do with movement. Lying down: pain. Walking: pain. Sitting: pain. Crossed legs: pain. Weight bearing or not, immobile or not, bent or straight, my knee ached from the deepest part outwards. I had to look down to believe that I was walking normally: I could feel my foot land on the pavement, and my hip movement, but nothing in between. No idea what my body was doing, because I had swapped my knee for a fireball of pain that obliterated normal nerve signals from my skin, muscles and joint.

I’d forgotten how devastating chronic, intense pain is. By Thursday morning I’d put on 10lbs of water retention despite barely eating anything on Wednesday because I’d been too nauseous from the pain to eat anything. My swollen bloated body was actively trying to fight the inflammation, and failing. I still have not scabbed over a slight cut I gave myself Wednesday morning, while shaving my legs in the shower: it’s angry, red and nasty, bc my body’s immune system is entirely dedicated to my knee. My knee is hot to the touch, and I wake up most nights drenched in sweat, as my body tries to fight through the fever of infection.

At work, people asked me if I was ok – something about my voice seemed off, not my usual explosively moody tone. I couldn’t concentrate on much, because 90% of my brain was distracted with the sickening feeling of my knee rotting. Not a hyperbole. That is exactly what this is. I’d forgotten that the most serious side-effect of my childhood injuries was chronic synovitis of the knee. Long term occurrence of synovitis can result in degeneration of the joint. As my adolescent synovitis attacks typically lasted between 3-24 months, my doctor explained that coupled with my osteoarthritis, I was doomed to have a rotten knee by 30. Wednesday, suffering from my first synovitis flare-up in almost a decade, I doubted my body’s ability to last till 35 without requiring an artificial knee.  So if y’all were wondering why I’ve been rather silent on this blog, voilà. Pain is exhausting, leaving me with no energy to form coherent thoughts. Nor does it allow me to live anything  particularly exciting because all I want to do is go home and sit in a pained stupor.

Enter Hurricane Teacher. Last minute, he got us a gig on Saturday. There is a shortage of girls on the team that know the most recent choreography. Of course I would perform. What did I mean my knee hurt? Everyone had something broken about them, don’t be a wuss Vanilla, this is showbiz. Pop some pills, suck it up, rest afterwards. Don’t let the team down. Who will your partner perform with if you bail? I hoped the adrenaline of performing would carry me through the weekend.

It did.

 

That dress tho. A last minute find, bought 4 hours before showtime. Forever 21. $30, discounted to $12CAD. That is less than $10USD!!!! I couldn’t particularly move in it, despite hanging out in an Asian sit & kneeling in it for about 20-30 minutes before the show to stretch it out. My partner complained it made it very difficult for him to concentrate on his steps – his view was too distracting. I told him he should thank me: with that dress, he and I could flub everything, and not a single male in the audience would notice.

 

We did good. It was a great night.

Everything went smoothly, except for the last part of the choreography where I tripped over my own foot and impaled my big toe with my high heel. Stilettos are dangerous, y’all!

It has taken 24 hours for the adrenaline to wear off. I was hopeful that my knee miraculously healed itself through performing. Nope. #definitelyworthittho #backtomyhermitcave

 

Play to your strengths 

Remember Ferrari boy? He whose smooth talk convinced me to eat too much pizza at work? When I told the Ferrari story to my #dreamteam, they scoffed at me – Charmer was over 30, for sure. I scoffed at them: I’ve developed a 6th sense at identifying all guys under 26 years old. The gym and the dance world is crammed with good looking almost-children charmers. I ain’t into the whole cradle-robbing thing. Auntie Vanilla, that’s me. Not Cougar Vanilla. Charmer was under 25, I could tell. I bet a week’s supply of chocolate on it.

He is 30. My team was thorough in their interrogation, even sharing with him the reason for their cross-examination – they don’t mess around when there is chocolate on the line.

I skipped the caf for almost 2 weeks. Auntie Vanilla was embarrassed. My team was delighted. They finished the chocolate in 2 days.


When I was 25, after 6 years with my ex, Dynamo and Brown Socks organized a road trip to TO. We were all single, why not behave irresponsibly in a city where nobody knew us? Our first night out, Brown Socks told me not to worry, he’s an excellent wingman, he’d help me find myself a dude. Bruh. Puh-lease. Watch me. Off I went to the best looking group of dudes at the bar, chatting them up, flirting up a storm with the best looking one of them, blond, built like a football linebacker – oh no way, you are a football player? Where? at UofT! Neat, wait how are old are you? 20?! Haha, noooooooooooo way, nice try, look at your muscle tone. You must be 23-24 at least. Footballer chose not to argue with me about his own age, #goodmanners. A few shots later, we were swapping saliva. In the bar, bc #classy. Footballer knew what he was doing (see?! proof he couldn’t actually be 20 years old!). Kissy kiss kiss, I was really enjoying myself when my brain interrupted: Yes, but are you sure he isn’t 20? The half-your-age+7 rule almost applies, you know. He has to be over 19.5 for you not to be crossing the line. Why would he lie about his age? And that is how I found myself putting the torrid make-out session on pause, and asking Footballer for a piece of ID. Bemused, he handed me his driver’s license. Born in 1990. 20 years old.

My legs gave way. I sat down, gave him back his driver’s license and apologized. No more kissy kiss kiss. Yes, I know we were having fun, but that was before I understood he was actually 20 and BORN THE DECADE AFTER ME. 1990 is a HARD LIMIT. Poor Footballer tried SO hard to convince me to resume our spit-tastic interactions. I waved him away.

Dynamo and Brown Socks almost fell off the balcony, laughing so hard. They giggled the entire drive home the next day, too.

Click on the gif to go to the YouTube video of that interview. It is soooooo funny.


7 years on, and my capacity to assess people’s age has clearly not improved. 

Friday, I went down to the caf for lunch. Charmer almost dropped a bowl of soup on his coworker as I walked up to the counter. He was so generous in his preparation of my order that he ran out of space in the normal sized takeout container, and gave me a 2nd container for my salad. As he handed me my food, very seriously, he told me, Vanilla you look good. Really good.

Look at all that food! The size of my head!


Lesson learned: Charmer responds rather well to mini-skirts. That was one of the most cost effective lunches ever. The fact that it was also an ego boost? Priceless.

Also? I’ve no idea how I ever thought he was 19-23 years old. #fail #atleastIdidntaskhimforID #agoodbossalwaysdelegatesthattoherteam

“Kizomba will change your life”

So says Teacher. Teacher is prone to grandiose and/or hyperbolic statements, and teaching kizomba is his life’s work, so this is a reasonable comment coming from him. But I’m an accountant, y’all. His world and my world have little in common.


I’ve never made friends easily. Social situations still trigger the same bewilderment, dismay and hurt as an adult as they did when I was a child. I mostly blame ADD: it is very difficult to assimilate all the inputs into my brain and organize coherent, timely responses. Cue apparent inattentiveness and impulsiveness, which is not helpful in social settings. I’ve developed 2 public personas: 1) aloof, reserved, polite but very standoffish professional who keeps convos brief and to the point 2) the social butterfly, stopping to say hello, but flitting off to welcome the next person before a full sentence has been uttered. Both personas have been extremely useful in masking my ADD and periodic breach of manners. But they are not helpful in making friends.

My close friends (Dynamo, Allie, Coach, DD, Blond’Fro) have been made through the persistent efforts of these individuals, at university, work and gym/boxing. Through frequent and repetitive interactions, they saw past my 2 personas and got used to my quirky self, while I grew to trust that they will treat me with kindness even when I mess up. I make friends despite myself, very very gradually, over years.


I started dancing kizomba about 9 months ago. What I thought was a rejection of the sexy (I walked out of my first kizomba class after 15 mins, so uncomfortable was I by the proximity of my dance partner, a guy I’d happily danced with for 2 months in salsa class) was in fact a rejection of the necessary state of vulnerability for two dance partners to connect and dance. It’s been an arduous journey to embrace the connection between me and each dance partner, and it’s something I still struggle with regularly, especially in the midst of this funk, much to my partners’ frustration.

Earlier this month, the presence of the Vermont franchise of Teacher’s dance school was requested in Montreal, rather unexpectedly. Chatting with one of the members, I learned the VT crew was having difficulty finding reasonably situated or priced accommodation on such short notice. On impulse, I offered them floor space in my apartment: if they brought their gear, they could camp chez moi for free. It would involve some planning, as I was not going to be home – it was Allie’s bachelorette – but as long as they came to find me and picked up my spare keys, I was totally cool with them setting themselves up in my absence.

Y’all. Hosting 4-5 ppl, whom I have met a handful of times over the past 9 months, chez moi, in my space, would have been outside the realm of possible realities a year ago. And yet, when I think back to all that’s happened in the year that I’ve been dancing under Teacher’s tutelage:

  • December 2016: Teacher convinced me (after 3 months of dancing) to attend a huge festival in Madrid, where I knew nobody other than him and his dance partner, and I crashed in their hotel room with 2 other ppl I’d never met before – incidentally, that’s the weekend I first met one of the VTers: all the other VTers I met in 2017.
  • March 2017: Dubai. Attending a festival alone. Forging deep friendships with several strangers over that 4 day period. Fast forward to June, my annual birthday workation in France, and why not stop by Toulouse, and meet up with Froman? 4 days in Dubai has translated into a legit, real friendship. The list of ppl I met in Dubai that I hope to cross paths with once again, and still keep in touch with, is long. Some are regular readers of this blog. Kinda blows my mind.
  • May 2017: I went camping (first time in my adult life!) with Blonde, a guy from our dance squad, and 2 other strangers. I slept in a tent (words I never expected to write during my lifetime) with Blonde who I’d known for less than 4 months at that point and a dude I’d known for less than 12 hours. And I enjoyed myself while camping with these ppl.
  • August 2017: Opening up my apartment to my VT colleagues. It was an absolutely lovely weekend. I had so much fun showing them around my neighborhood, eating coffee and breakfast sandwichs in the park next to my place, and getting to know them. We danced too much, laughed a lot, and when it came time to say our goodbyes, one of the VTers told me “that was nice. I liked you before, but I like you even more now.”

All of this would have been impossible 12 months ago. 2 years ago? Laughable.


Clearly my life has changed since taking up kizomba. And it all boils down to vulnerability.

So this is what I learned. We numb vulnerability — when we’re waiting for the call. It was funny, I sent something out on Twitter and on Facebook that says, “How would you define vulnerability? What makes you feel vulnerable?” And within an hour and a half, I had 150 responses. Because I wanted to know what’s out there. Having to ask my husband for help because I’m sick, and we’re newly married; initiating sex with my husband; initiating sex with my wife; being turned down; asking someone out; waiting for the doctor to call back; getting laid off; laying off people. This is the world we live in. We live in a vulnerable world. And one of the ways we deal with it is we numb vulnerability.

And I think there’s evidence — and it’s not the only reason this evidence exists, but I think it’s a huge cause — We are the most in-debt … obese … addicted and medicated adult cohort in U.S. history. The problem is — and I learned this from the research — that you cannot selectively numb emotion. You can’t say, here’s the bad stuff. Here’s vulnerability, here’s grief, here’s shame, here’s fear, here’s disappointment. I don’t want to feel these. I’m going to have a couple of beers and a banana nut muffin.

You can’t numb those hard feelings without numbing the other affects, our emotions. You cannot selectively numb. So when we numb those, we numb joy, we numb gratitude, we numb happiness. And then, we are miserable, and we are looking for purpose and meaning, and then we feel vulnerable, so then we have a couple of beers and a banana nut muffin. And it becomes this dangerous cycle. (…)

But there’s another way, and I’ll leave you with this. This is what I have found: To let ourselves be seen, deeply seen, vulnerably seen … to love with our whole hearts, even though there’s no guarantee — and that’s really hard, and I can tell you as a parent, that’s excruciatingly difficult — to practice gratitude and joy in those moments of terror, when we’re wondering, “Can I love you this much? Can I believe in this this passionately? Can I be this fierce about this?” just to be able to stop and, instead of catastrophizing what might happen, to say, “I’m just so grateful, because to feel this vulnerable means I’m alive.” And the last, which I think is probably the most important, is to believe that we’re enough. Because when we work from a place, I believe, that says, “I’m enough” … then we stop screaming and start listening, we’re kinder and gentler to the people around us, and we’re kinder and gentler to ourselves.

Brené Brown, The Power of Vulnerability

To dance is to (attempt to) embrace vulnerability. And just like you can’t selectively numb emotion, I don’t think I can selectively embrace vulnerability.

I’ve become more vulnerable, and as a result, my capacity to connect to people off the dance-floor has completely changed for the better.

“Kizomba will change your life.”

Fact.

Kizomba is a dance of the world. Until it’s not.

As the child of immigrants, I’ve often laughed at the culture clashes and distinctive behavioural patterns – My Big Fat Greek Wedding is almost an autobiography, apart from the small detail of the wrong country (Russia), and how I am still unmarried. I live in a world where race, culture, nationality are visible, identifiable, noticeable. I am not color-blind when it comes to skin: I celebrate the entire rainbow. However, North American society is not tolerant towards minorities, prejudice and bias run deep,​ systemic discrimination and white privilege are real, not debatable. Previous musings include:

The more I’ve tried to educate myself to avoid unconscious biases about minorities, the more I’ve learned about the commonly held perceptions about whites, and I’m uncomfortably aware of the weight of my white privilege and just how impossible it is for others to be color-blind when they see my skin color. #lossofinnocence #poorlittlewhitegirl


My eclectic tastes draw me equally to ballet as to African dances like kuduro/semba/kizomba. Unfortunately, not only do I have negative sensuality, but it is a well known fact: white people can’t dance. I mean, if Dave Chapelle says so, it must be true? Still, I can’t help it. The music makes me feel alive.

After one too many comments about how I can’t shake my hips like the other girls in the class, GT pulled me aside at a party and told me I should stop making such disparaging skin-based comments: it made the others uncomfortable. It was a silly stereotype, it wasn’t true, I was part of the team, not all black people can dance, just drop it Vanilla, ok? It’s in bad taste. Because I was too wrapped up in my insecurities, I didn’t listen to him. A few weeks later, following a constructive criticism during practice from Teacher, my response of “yes, well I CAN’T pop my hips any more, I’m white, I’m missing a few joints to have that kind of mobility” produced a tirade from Teacher.

I’m sick of this “white” business. There is no white, there is no black, there is just dance. You are not a white dancer. You are A dancer. Your job is to move to the music. Music doesn’t care what color your skin is. We all hear the same music, we all dance to the same music. Yes, kizomba is from Angola, but every country dances kizomba. One of the biggest kizomba festivals in the world is in Moscow. And in Sweden. And in the Netherlands. Are you going to tell me all those people can’t dance? Kizomba is a dance of the world. Stop with this stupid bullshit and get to work. I told you to pop your hips. Pop them.

Ok then.


Back when Beaut introduced me to Kizomba: “The music is so good! Except for the French Kizomba music, that stuff is crap. And there is so much of it! The French love to believe they invented Kizomba. They think it’s theirs now, they have quite the history of claiming whatever they like from other cultures.”

Walking home from dance class last week, I ran into a guy I used to kickbox with many years ago. Beautiful black guy from Europe, he always was a looker. We chatted a few minutes, catching up on each other’s life. When he found out I’d quit boxing for dancing, he was intrigued. “What kind of dancing?” Kuduro/Semba/Kizomba, with the odd moment of Salsa. “Lol, taking us over, are you? Hey, relax, I was joking. It’s cool, you have good taste at least.”

Kizomba is a dance of the world… a world in which whites have a long, violent history of cultural appropriation.


I love my school. I love how much enjoyment we derive from watching each other grow as dancers. We are all on the same journey together, regardless of our individual levels of competency. When I am with my team, I do start to believe that dancing is dancing, and kizomba/semba/kuduro is a dance of the world.

At the end of yesterday’s kuduro class we had a boys vs girls showdown. The cheering in these videos makes me so happy. (Same choreography as in this post.)

​​

Just like my boxing gym was a perfect example of what could be if tolerance, respect and acceptance were the norm instead of the exception, my dance school gives me hope that occasionally, as a species, we can set aside our differences long enough to listen to the music and enjoy a quick dance. Fun fact: my boxing gym and my dance school are in the same building. So maybe, this has nothing to do with Coach and Teacher’s leadership skills and values, and everything to do with the specific GPS coordinates of the location. The chemical mix of the cement used in the building – undetectable fumes produce abnormally peaceful & loving human behaviour?! Must be it.

“You’ve got nothing to lose”

“You’ve got nothing to lose.” My father’s excellent pun, in reaction to my announcement that I was going to Toulouse this past June.

Every time work sends me to Paris, I tack on 1-2 weekends in Europe, to explore new cities on my bucket list. So of course, when I found out back in April that work would be sending me to Paris in June, I scouted cities to turn this into a proper bday workation. Top destination: Toulouse.

Now comes the tricky part. Why Toulouse? Well, it is a popular tourist destination and it is in Southern France, a geographical region I’ve oft heard of but never visited. But also? FroMan lives in Toulouse, so why not take this opportunity to check off a new city off my list and visit my new friend from Dubai?

For months, my brain had a field day.

Creeper! Stalker! He’s gonna find you weeeeird. He’ll probably avoid seeing you. Dubai was MONTHS ago. Yes yes, he improved your dancing, you felt safe enough for a major breakthrough in vulnerability. You are entitled to be grateful for that – though he likely was acting out of kindness to a lonely, stranded, socially awkward girl – but wtv. Why are you pushing this? Some stories are only meant to last 4 days. You’re just setting yourself up for humiliating disappointment. Remember that time a guy drove up from NYC just to see you? How freaked out you were, and how much of a trainwreck that whole episode was? HE LIVED ON THE SAME CONTINENT AS YOU. Extrapolate that across the Atlantic Ocean, if you want an idea of how pathetic FroMan will find you. Don’t do this.

Fuck you, brain.

I asked myself what I would do, if it were not for my fear of judgment. The answer was easy: go to Toulouse. I wanted to see that city, and I wanted the opportunity to see the person who unwittingly played a huge role in my newfound capacity for happiness on and off the dance floor.

2 weeks before getting on the plane, I messaged FroMan to advise him of my plans to visit his city and hoped he’d be free for a coffee/drinks/supper during the 3.5 days I’d be there. He was happy to hear from me, and suggested I consider attending a dance festival in Nîmes the following weekend. Just like that, my 2nd annual bday workation in France was all set. Easy-peasy.

Was it awkward? Yeah, definitely. He said a few comments that implied that my paranoid brain wasn’t so off. I had trouble talking to him; not from an absence of things to say, but from a paralyzing fear of being judged. To infrequent blog readers and real-life acquaintances I frequently come across as a high-strung overly-emotional drama queen with an excess of sensibility that talks about her feelings too much. Which isn’t wrong, precisely. But that easily gets interpreted as vulgar and self-indulgent.

But.

I had a great time. I spent my days exploring Toulouse alone, as that was always my stated purpose of this trip: its my favorite way to discover a new city. In the evenings FroMan took me dancing (#kizombalife) and invited me to supper with his friends, with whom I had so much fun they invited me to join them for supper the next day without FroMan. By the end of my 4 days, I was sure of one thing: he is a real friend. That certainty I felt in Dubai that he is a solid person & I ought to include him in my life, for good things are sure to follow? Still true. This trip merely allowed us to play catchup: Dubai gave us the connection, but the foundations of a real friendship were laid during this trip. By the time I saw him the following weekend in Nîmes, easy familiar banter had replaced the awkward silences of Toulouse.

You’ve got nothing to lose. Had I listened to my brain, and worried too much about perception, I would have never gone on this trip. And I would never have successfully turned a brief connection & handful of happy memories into a real friendship. Good people are hard to come by. It’s worth taking a risk or two, living through some momentary discomfort, to keep them in one’s life.

Especially when they live in as beautiful places as Toulouse. #chooseyourfriendswisely

 

P.S. 2 other instructors I’d met & adored in Dubai realized their visit to Paris would overlap mine for 1.5 days. They reached out to me, hoping we could meet up. Did I think it was weird, or suspect that their kindness towards me in Dubai had been only born of pity? No. I was delighted to hear from them, and it was with mutual regret that our schedules didn’t match up. Lesson learned: embrace and foster the healthy true connections I’m lucky enough to stumble upon. Those are the best gifts from the Universe.