social anxiety

“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.

 

 

3.5 inches makes all the difference

My hair is not very long. Most days, I leave it loose, wavy or straight, because it stays out of my eyes so I’ve no urgent need to style it.

At dance practice on Sunday, we practiced a move where the lady lies on the ground, the leader steps over her head, and by placing the back of his foot under her neck, kicks her upright in one swift motion. Its a tricky move. Kick, repeat, kick, repeat, kick, repeat. My partner is a new member of the squad, and he was having trouble kicking me with sufficient gusto for me to stand up. After one to many sharp remarks from Assistant Teacher, my partner gave me a very energetic kick upright… while standing on a lock of my hair.

I stopped dancing. Swore loudly, to avoid crying. Left the dance floor to hunt for bobby pins. As I rummaged through my purse, Assistant Teacher asked me what was I doing, quitting mid-song?! “We are practicing for a show, the show must go on!” Without turning around, I suggested Assistant Teacher look on the dance floor, he should see the reason why I was taking a wee break. Silence. “Oh. Ouch.”

Not the lock of hair in question, but a fairly accurate comparison of the amount of hair I lost with that dance move.

Lesson: 3.5 inches of hair is long enough to be problematic. I am NEVER leaving it untied again. #baldnessisnotmydesiredlook

Next, we practiced the kuduro routine for the show. I’d never danced kuduro in heels. Game-changer. All of my weight on my tippy toes, instead of on my heels. I wiped out twice in practice. Not exactly confidence-boosting, finding oneself flat on one’s ass, 2 hours before a show.

I survived. Below, my 2nd time on stage, first time performing all components of the choreography. You can spot where I’m wobbly, trying not to lose my balance in my 3.5 inch heels.

 

Hairloss and fear of falling on stage notwithstanding… that was SO MUCH FUN. #sufferingforonesart

3.5 inches is DEFINITELY enough to be a memorable experience.

The advantage of a digital trail

You know those Facebook memories? Lately, a lot of ppl in my dance community have been sharing memories. Several times in May, I was surprised to not remember the moments being shared –  sure enough: I didn’t know those people at that date. Kinda hard to remember something I never witnessed with a bunch of ppl I hadn’t yet met.

I forget that I’ve been dancing for less than a year. Thank goodness for this blog, which helps me keep track of the stories in my life.

Thanks to Teacher’s propensity to tape everything and share it on social media, I have concrete evidence of my learning curve. Behold, a choreography learned in beginning of January 2017.

Kuduro • AfroHouse | drkizomba.com

A post shared by 🅳🆁 🅺🅸🆉🅾🅼🅱🅰 (@drkizomba) on

 

We did not revisit that choreography until this past Tuesday. Behold, the same choreography, set to different music.

 

4.5 months makes a lot of difference.


Boxing taught me a lot of life lessons, at a time in my life where I was defenceless against my shadow. My depressions had me convinced I was worthless. Through boxing, I learned to fight – and there is no point of fighting for a worthless cause; to fight means I am worth fighting for. Key lesson.

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

Accepting that vulnerability and connection hasn’t been easy: I still resist. The most common feedback I get from Teacher and his assistant is, “Try to follow, ‘Nilla, please? You are not the leader“. As I embrace the struggle of letting go of all the noise in my head, and opening myself up to the music and every partner’s unique energy, I am applying these lessons to my daily life. Setting aside one’s agenda to listen to another person, accepting that one’s imperfections will be seen and are just as worthy of compassion as those of others, are principles that apply just as much to verbal communication as to non-verbal communication. By dancing, I am learning kindness.

For months, I used to freeze up into a rigid unmoving blob on the dancefloor if a dance partner attempted such a move – I’d panic, convinced he’d drop me. My rejection of connection & vulnerability, physically manifested as an uncontrollable reaction.

​When I think of how much my life has changed since quitting boxing and taking up dancing, my confidence, my relationship with my body, my ever-expanding social circle, I can’t believe I crammed all that in such a short time period. I can’t wait to see what other lessons await me. There is so much to learn, technically and emotionally; so much happiness and joy to discover.

And I’ll have a digital trail to remind me of all these key lessons.

That time I danced on stage

So.

I danced in my first show this past Friday, at the Montreal Salsa Convention (MSC).

How did this happen, you wonder? Well. Funny story.

2pm: Teacher asks me if I’d mind showing up at the studio for 6pm to help with the preps for the show. 4 couples from the Dance Squad were supposed to perform at the MSC on Friday night. I was not slated to be one of them – reasonable given my not-so-succesful run of dance practices. No prob, of course I’ll help, I was intending on coming to support my teammates anyways.

3pm: I text Teacher to say, actually, I’ve an appointment from 6-7pm, so I’ll show up a little later than initially anticipated. Much as I love the Dance Squad, I’d rather not bail on my meeting without a valid reason. Rude.

4pm: Multiple missed calls from Teacher. Pick up, Vanilla. Ok ok, but I am at work on a conference call, I’ll call you back as soon as I am free.

4:20pm: Teacher messages the Dance Squad group text, to inform everyone of the various meeting times and locations and to-dos pre-show. He lists the names of the 8 performers – surprise! Vanilla is one of them. Performers have to be at the studio for a last minute practice at 6pm. I bolt from the office, hoping that Friday traffic on a long-weekend won’t be too bad, pass by my place to grab all my dance stuff. It turns out that my body reacts to the stress of a dance show exactly the same as it does for a boxing fight: a massive, uncontrollable attack of the nervous shits, which evacuates everything from my body and then I compulsively step on the scale to check my weight. Right. I forget – I no longer have to make weight, nor do I need my mouth-guard. Time to go! I arrive at the studio only 8 minutes late.

6pm: I meet my dance partner, a guy I’ve never danced with before; a former student of Teacher who now owns his own dance school out in California. He’d flown into Montreal late Thursday night, alone – his dance partner couldn’t make it. He learned the entire choreography in two hours on Friday, but needed a partner. Vanilla, the backup plan. Vanilla, who’d never yet danced the choreography from beginning to end, and had never danced it in her 3.5″ heeled dance shoes. Vanilla, who loves a good challenge.

7pm: Our practice is over. My partner only dropped me once, I only strained his back 7 times and Teacher only yelled a handful of times. I now know the choreography, almost. Success! Time to go register, and change into our costumes.

8:30pm: Arrive at the venue. Scope out the stage – huge. Spend an hour marking the steps with my partner. Manage to do 2 walk-throughs without any significant fuck-ups. Two. That’s a lot.

10pm: Showtime. We are the third team to get on stage. I refuse to watch anything backstage, as the cheers from the 200-300 person audience are defeaning. Nope. Imma just hangout in the back, and hold my partner’s arm and stay calm. Oh look at that! We are walking on stage! Oh hey! The music is starting! Oh wow! This is fun, let me wink at the crowd! Oops, I just did a minor fuckup, oh well, sorry partner. Hey wait! Already done?! I was only getting started, let’s do that again THAT WAS SO MUCH FUN.

11pm-3am: Party with the Dance Squad, none of us able to wipe off the grin from our faces. Teacher looks on, amused and low-key proud of his newest generation of dance aficionados.

Kiz me, babe! Manuel dos Santos in the house! #msc2k17

A post shared by Montreal Salsa Convention (@msc2k17) on

 

Dancefloor drama, part III: the meltdown to end all meltdowns

Apparently, this is turning into a series.

  • Dancefloor drama, part I: I walk off the dancefloor mid-song, whilst dancing with an international artist/instructor in Dubai.
  • Dancefloor drama, part II: where my dance partner has a freakout and makes the rookie mistake of mentioning my weight… like any female, I am slightly over-sensitive about my weight. Remember this?

So. We’ve established, at length, multiple times, that I am the Queen of Meltdowns, yes?

Hahaha, y’all have no idea.

I’m under a lot of pressure at work. Big deadlines of big high-profile projects coming up rightthismomentrightnowactuallyyesterdaywhyisntthisdonealready. I’ve been late on some of my deliverables, and overall, I’m not as advanced in MY big projects for the year as I’d like to be, because I have been so caught up in my deliverables for OTHER ppl’s projects. And yes, I’ve had a few meltdowns at work too. One of which was the reason I found myself in Dubai, under orders from the CFO to take a vacation to avoid an imminent burnout. Since then, I’ve been working very hard at getting shit done and learning to control my emotions. But… apparently, I’ve aways to go until I succeed at regulated emotions.

I left work early yesterday, so as to show up on time for my weekly private with Teacher. 5 minutes after arriving at the studio, I realized I’d forgotten my laptop at work. Which, given that I still had a solid 4-5 hours of work to perform in order to meet a hard deadline for this morning, was a bit of a problem. My plan of working at home at night? Ruined.

Teacher walked in 7 minutes later (yes, he shows up 15 minutes late for privates. He is an artiste, and artistes are not bound by earthly considerations such as schedules. He always makes up for it – he is very generous with his time – but one never knows exactly when that generous time will occur) to find me weeping in a soggy mess, sitting in the middle of the dance floor. Teacher typically can handle ANY situation, no matter how fucked up. Not this situation. Teacher reacted the same way as all men do when faced with a woman crying: panicked, frozen, unsure and uncomfortable.

I continued to cry for the remaining 40 minutes of the private. Even as we were dancing, tears were streaming down my face. How to create a pleasant atmosphere 101.

Once the private was finished, Teacher started class. Students were streaming into the studio. I stood around, undecided: should I skip class and make the 45 minute treck back to the office to pick up my laptop? Should I miss my deadline? OMG I have so much work left. OMG I am the worst employee ever. OMG I am tired and why do I have so much work and I can’t face ANOTHER late night and I worked 45 hours so far this week  and it is only Wednesday and this will never end even if I meet this deadline and…

Cue THE biggest meltdown.

Ground-shattering sobs. In the middle of the lobby. The assistant teacher came to see me, giving me hugs and trying to calm my breathing. He thought somebody had died. When he heard me wail, “I forgot my laaaaaaaaptoooooooooooooooop” he managed to not laugh, almost. Gently patted my back, as I continued to cry so hard I couldn’t get enough air.

Teacher materialized in front of me.

Vanilla, I dunno what is going on, I feel bad that your personal life is clearly shit, but you GOTTA get a grip. This is my school. My reputation! Students can see you. They are not gonna think you are crying because of a work problem, they are gonna think my school actually broke your heart. Please. This is not professional. We can talk later, but GO CRY SOMEWHERE ELSE.

Which enraged me because he wasn’t wrong.

I cried all the way back to the office.

I sniffled as I worked at my desk for 2.5 hours.

I went back to dance practice and danced with my favorite ppl. Assistant Teacher waited until I successfully danced with 3 guys before approaching me – I think he was scared I’d revert to my watering-pot alter ego.

And then I went home and worked till 3am. I met my deadline.

Who says accountants are boring and bland?

That time I smiled

On Thursday I went for drinks with some coworkers. It was the first time I’d socialized with anyone from work since the 2015 Xmas party. Apparently, it’s just a “fluke” that these things get organized when I am out of town for work – of course I shouldn’t take it personally. Hmph. The result of these flukes is that I’ve socialized with my Parisian coworkers 400% more often than with my Mtl coworkers. 

I arrived at the bar 30 mins after my crew. They were deep into their first round of drinks. I searched for a waitress. Waited, and waited. After too many minutes without alcohol, I went to the bar to order my beers from the bartender. As I turned to rejoin my coworkers, the bar manager chatted me up. He apologized for my long wait, and offered me a drink on the house. I smiled.

My beers arrived a few minutes later. Chatty chat chat with ze coworkers. And then, like Moses parting the sea, my (male) coworkers made space for the pretty, busty, blond waitress: she presented me with a tumbler of Jameson, and smiled saucily at my confused coworkers.

Vanilla, how? That’s not free, is it? It is? What did you do?

I smiled.

40 minutes later, that same waitress presented me with a 2nd tumbler. 

40 minutes later, she presented me with a 3rd tumbler. My male coworkers were incensed.

Vanilla, stop kidding around. How did this happen? What do you mean, you smiled?!?

I mean I smiled. The last time I smiled, I got treated to the most ridiculously generous/excessive multi-course meal in Dubai. What can I say? Happiness is contagious.

On Saturday, I attended a dance event by myself, totally different crowd from my usual one, didn’t know anyone, NBD; can we acknowledge how far I’ve come since my Dubai meltdowns?! As I walked into the ball room, I smiled. I was immediately accosted by a charming out of town professional dancer who danced several successive songs with me, praising my musicality. I then danced with the event organizer (from France!) and every guest instructor present. I found myself smiling while dancing, and once or twice, I even laughed from the sheer joy of the dance. (Oh, how Energizer would be proud/amazed!)


When came time for the inevitable Afrohouse animation, three of the instructors took turns leading the crowd. Then the organizer pushed me to the front, and I danced while everyone followed, before he ended the animation in style. I was the only non-instructor to lead the pack. I smiled.


On both Thursday and Saturday, I was stuck in one of those oh-so-female IhatemybodyIlooksogrossEwwwwImfaaaaaaaat moods. To the point I modified my outfits (loose clothing), convinced people would notice my protruding food baby of a belly and judge me. I considered bailing on both events because what’s the point of socializing if everyone will find me repulsive?

Clearly, I am no closer to achieving body acceptance. But at a minimum, I am refusing to let my poisonous brain modify my behaviour or distract me from my quest for happiness.

That’s worth smiling about.

My groupie status is confirmed

I’ve always been a fan of the Royal Family. Which Royal Family, you ask? Sigh, THE Royal Family. The family of the Queen of Canada – because yes, she remains our head of state. #commonwealthnotwithstanding. (P.S. Happy 91st bday, your Majesty!)

I possibly maybe day-dream that I am some far-flung distant relative of the Family. My grandmother was the Queen’s doppelgänger. And I have frequently been labelled a princess. Stranger things have happened. It is possible.

But now, with the Heads Together campaign overseen by Their Royal Highnesses the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Henry of Wales, I’m legit a groupie. They are doing SO MUCH to normalize the need to talk about mental health. Prince Harry’s interview where he admits he required therapy to cope with the unacknowledged grief of his mother’s death. The Duchess of Cambridge’s admission she struggled adapting to being a mother. The need for these simple conversations.

Look at this video of a convo between Lady Gaga (another one of my faves!) and Prince William:

(Lada Gaga’s open letter on her battle with PTSD can be found here.) Ground-breaking content? No. But relatable? Yes. I felt she was taking the words from my mouth.

Prince William: It’s time that everyone speaks up, and feels normal about mental health – it’s the same as physical health; everybody has mental health, and we shouldn’t feel ashamed of it and just having a conversation with a friend or family member can really make such a difference.

Lady Gaga: Even though it was hard, the best thing that could come out of my mental illness, was to share it with other ppl and let our generations as well as other generations know that if you are feeling not well in your mind, that you are not alone and that ppl that you think would never have a problem do.

For the rest of the videos that are part of the #OkToSay campaign, click here. A mix of celebrities and non, covering a wide variety of mental health topics – how help starts with a simple conversation.

YES.


How did I spend my friday night? At my therapist’s office. First time back in 51 weeks.

Y’all.

It was fantastic. We picked up where we left off. He was SO delighted to hear of all my progress and self-discovery in the past year, and agrees that I’ve done as much as could on my own. Unravelling why I am so easily angered and hurt, and learning to better regulate all of my emotions, both positive and negative, is the next logical step on my path from depression to happiness. We covered an astonishing amount in our hour session – the foundation of trust that had been built in our 20 months of work together still was strong. I’ve some hard work ahead of me, but I left his office feeling so relieved. Relieved because I had had a conversation about how I was stuck: I’d identified the problem, but was powerless to fix it on my own. And now I am no longer on my own. Even the greatest pro boxers need their coach in their corner during bouts. I’ve got him. I’m good now.

He is my 4th therapist in my lifetime. The first was meh, the 2nd was solid, the 3rd was a total waste of my money but I was in such a bad space I thought I was the problem. Not all therapists are made equal, and not all are a good fit. But when you find one that works for you? Game changer. He gave me my life back in 2015, and now he will teach me how to access happiness.

How did I find him? By having a simple conversation with a coworker in 2014, where I confided how anxious networking made me, how much I HATED small talk. She gently remarked that I seemed always anxious, unpleasantly so, and then gave me the name of my therapist, mentioning that she’d consulted him too in the past for something similar. She thought we’d be a good fit: he was competent, zero-bullshit, and funny. When my depression exploded a few weeks later, I called him up.

The power of simple conversations. My admission to my coworker led to an exchange which led me to my therapist, without whom I would not be where I am today, on the cusp of happiness for the first time in my life.

Sharing my recent struggles hasn’t been easy. The conversations that resulted from it however, were lovely. Bit by bit, the dialogue about mental health is becoming less stigmatized.

Tonight, I feel hopeful and grateful.

#OkToSay