social anxiety

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.

Advertisements

A need for distance… from my cell

Y’all. I just discovered the greatest thing ever. EVER.

Did you know that iPhone has a feature that allows you to monitor and limit your time spent on your phone? It’s called Screen Time, and it’s the best digital thing since sliced bread.

It allows you to decide during what hours your phone is in Downtime, during which all access to apps is limited, except for the ones you specifically designate as being always accessible. In my case, those are my Phone, Messages, Calendar, Emails, Music, Camera, Uber, and Google Maps. I’ve chosen to have Downtime from 11:15pm to 8:30am every day, to avoid me scrolling for hours before bed, or when I wake up, after hitting the snooze button 6 times. When 11:15 hits, my phone locks down the apps.

Better yet? Screen Time allows you to limit your daily time usage of any subset of apps on your phone (e.g. social media, games, entertainment, creativity, etc). In my case, I sink HOURS every day on social media , entire weekends go by and all I have done is seen all of Facebook and Instagram. I initially set my usage at 3h45 per day (including Messenger and Whatsapp). It’s been a week, and I have gradually lowered my limit to 2h45 and I intend to reach a 2h limit by the end of the month.

There are a whole lot of other great features for Screen Time, like programming limits for all phones in a family, or all Apple products belonging to a same person, so for readers who are interested, here is a good overview.

I discovered this feature after writing my 2019 New Year’s Resolutions post. One of my readers reached out to me to ask for more info about the book I’d featured, and I was going on and on about how amazing it had felt to disconnect from my phone and read an entire book in a weekend. My reader agreed that her life had improved drastically since she had given herself daily quotas, and shared with me the Screen Time feature.

It’s been a week since I’ve used Screen Time, and I am enamored.

  • My sleep quality has significantly improved.
  • I am getting to sleep earlier. While I am still hitting the sack at around the same time (11ish), the forced disconnection from my phone helps me fall asleep by 11:30pm latest, as opposed to my normal range of 12-1am.
  • Funny thing, I am waking up earlier, around 6:45-7:30am, as compared to my previous range of 7:30-8:30am.
  • The time it takes me between waking up and leaving the house in the morning is now 45mins or less vs 1.5-2hs before. I have nothing to scroll through, no messages to respond to, no notifications.
  • Instead of showing up to the office between 9:30-10am (often having used an Uber to make it in that “early”, inevitable if I am only waking up at 8:30…), I showed up between 8:45-9:30am every day last week, without any stress or difficulty.
  • It is a whole lot easier to leave the office at 6pm twice a week to make it to the gym on time when I am showing up at normal hours. One of the reasons I was missing the gym so often in the fall and January is because I would only clear the day’s “must have” deliverables by 6:45-7:30pm, by which time it was too late to make it downtown for my 7:15pm gym session. It isn’t just a matter of putting in 60+ hours in a week, a lot of my workload has implications on other people, so I have to get stuff done same day or else risk making my coworkers’ lives more hectic, something I hate doing. Our work is hectic enough without me adding to it.
  • I have read 2.5 books in 8 days. I only managed to read a total of 3 books in all of 2017 and 2018. I can feel my concentration improving, and my interest in a broad range of topics awakening. I am learning once again, something I genuinely love to do (#nerd) but had felt unable to do due to my anxiety and depression, which made concentrating very difficult. It is still difficult. I had trouble reading 2 pages without checking my phone last week. By yesterday (3rd book), I can finish a chapter uninterrupted.
  • Ive written 3 blog posts in 8 days. I didn’t do that once in 2018.

I feel much better.

Social media has a long history of making me crazy (IG tantrum with ICB, Beyoncé moment with Beaut). So much of my phone addiction came from a place of insecurity and FOMO. Because I was working too much, and very unhappy with my life, I desperately wanted to stay connected to the world and get validation that people want to be connected to me. Turns out, most of them don’t. When my phone hits 8:30am, I don’t have that many notifications. And that is ok. Because the people I am super close to text/call me anyhow. I might not see them often (although with my NYE resolution, I am gonna work on that), but I shouldn’t fill that void by meaningless interactions. Rather, I should focus on MY life, with MY goals and MY interests. Reclaim my power. Center myself.

(I shared this new development with my gym crew who are fed up of my broken promises to return to 2-3x/week training sessions. They were cautiously hopeful. As one of them sassily commented, “Vanilla, could this be the beginnings of maturity?” Bruh.)

I’m excited by this new chapter in my life.

 

New Year’s Resolution: investing in myself through meaningful experiences

I know, I know, it’s almost February, and here I am mentioning New Year’s Resolutions. What can I say? It’s been a bit of a hectic start to the year, and I am a little behind in my posting. I’ve been really taking the time to think through where I want to take my life this next year. Sounds basic, right?

Well, not really. The thing with depression and my mental health struggles is that they rob me of my ability to dream or have goals. I spend my time fighting depression, or recovering. My times of contentment are brief. I wrote the Terror of Joy in December 2016, where I marveled at having navigated full year without depressive symptoms.

I’ve thought about it a lot, and I think it’s because we think right behind joy is a knife that will cut our throat if we really feel it. It’s almost like a laugh – your chin goes up and your throat is exposed. “if I laugh too loud, someone will slit my throat.” That’s the terror of joy.

Judd Apatow, Sick in the Head

A mere 6 months later, I had begun my inexorable slide into Depression, which lasted 12 months, with a few slivers of happiness in Summer 2018, before my diagnosis of Borderline in August 2018. It’s been rough. Recently, I realized I was sliding back into a depression. It’s pretty damn hard to have any goals or dreams when your brain just wants you to give up, already. These past 2 years have been the absolute worst of my life; I’ve experienced more pain than I thought possible and a complete collapse of my identity. And yet – I am still here. My career is not where I want it to be, I still can’t hold down a healthy romantic relationship, I’m not adulting by any normal benchmark, but my circle of people who accept me as I am, have got my back and will take a bullet for me grows. I am still employed with as many wins to my name as battles I’ve lost. That’s something.

I am not ready to dream, and I definitely don’t believe in my capacity to accomplish anything significant – I’m permanently exhausted by my ongoing internal warfare. I might not have much of an identity left, but I am sure of 3 things:

  • I am extremely smart and I am rather unique in my genuine passion for the role that accountants can play in business;
  • I am blessed to have solid, good friends, that care and believe in me: I feel peace around them, and they increase my moments of happiness;
  • One of the best ways to counter my brain that tries to convince me to not live is by living fully: I might have a tenuous grip on reality sometimes, but in those moments I need to ways to ground myself in the present by finding ways to jolt myself out of the grip of my unreliable emotions.

These 3 areas seemed like a pretty good place to start when pondering my New Year’s resolutions. I figure if I can turn these 3 little nuggets into 3 bigger nuggets of well-being, that will be a solid foundation upon which I can continue to build my quest for peace and happiness. And because we all know that goals are more likely to be achieved if they are written down and shared, here we go.

2019 career goals:

  • 1 very big project and 1 smaller project at work that fire me up and make me wanna jump out of bed in the morning (except not really, I ALWAYS hit snooze for 60-75 mins!) Knowing I am making permanent changes to the business for the benefit of multiple stakeholders makes me feel like I matter. I am building a legacy.
  • I am happiest when I am a nerd. I’ve decided to enroll in several continuing education trainings above and beyond what is required by my CPA title. These will help me develop my (non-existent) soft-skills and to learn about business aspects I wouldn’t normally be exposed to in my role at work. I’ve always worked best when I can see the big picture, so as to understand how to position my contribution to be of greater value to all stakeholders. It’s hard to do that when there are many aspects to management, financing and strategy that I am barely conversant with. Time to learn. It feels damn good to be investing in myself.

2019 friends goals:

  • Face to face time with my closest friends 1x per month each, despite them being either married with wee children (Allie and Dynamo) or else living across the ocean (DD), with busy booming careers. In DD’s case, I’ll rely on technology, although so far I’ve managed to plan one trip in 2019 to see her, and I hope to squeeze in another. Gotta make time for those I love.
  • See each one of my cousins twice a year. This is not as easy as it sounds considering that the closest one lives 2 hours away, and they are all grown with significant others and busy lives.
  • Go to the gym 10x a month, even if I am traveling for work/leisure. Surprised that this is under the friends list? Y’all. The gym is my happiest of places, Coach and my teammates are my family. The workouts are a happy side effect to hanging out with them. (Exhibit A, B, C, D, E)

2019 life experiences goals:

  • Travel. 3 weeks of exploration per year. I took 2 days in 2018 and 1 week in 2017. And I wonder why I feel burned out.
  • Read 2 books a month. I don’t care what I read, it can be teen fiction or a half-baked non fiction, all I want is to put down my phone and rewire my brain for sustained concentration. When I am depressed, I shy away from crowded experiences, which leads to isolation. I seek refuge in endless scrolling through meaningless social media on my phone. Instead, let me discover different thoughts and world views, from the safe vantage point of my home, snuggled with my teddybears.
  • Go dancing 2x a month. Dancing is my joy, but I always find a reason to avoid it when I am feeling raw – the vulnerability required is scary. I need to continuously embrace that vulnerability, as it is a magic bullet against depression.
  • Do 1 new thing a month. Go to a museum, see a play, visit an art exhibit. Alone, or with friends. To force me out of the house on weekends.

Depression turns me into a zombie, time slipping through my fingers, which is why I am 34 with no significant life goals or achievements to my name. By consciously choosing to live, through incremental moments fully in the now, I can slowly, so slowly, build a life of meaning and purpose for myself. At this rate I’ll be 40 before I can adult properly… but at least I will be alive, and making a difference.

This book was my 2nd book of 2019, and it rocked my socks! I knocked it off in about 8 hours this weekend, and I am super motivated to apply some of its premises to my personal and professional life. Asking “why?” is an easy way to stay curious, and make incremental innovations. I highly recommend this book to pretty much anybody.

Just like that, I:

  • stayed away from my phone for a weekend – I feel significantly less anxious today.
  • invested in myself.
  • dramatically increased my motivation for work, I can’t wait to get back to the office and spread some of this curiosity to my team.
  • have the satisfaction of completing a small objective for myself – something depression likes to convince me I am incapable of doing.

Yup. I think these New Year’s Resolutions are the way to go.

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.

BPD series: the ability to see colors

I adulted!

6 months after ICB gave me the best present of my life, I looked up a store that does frames. I felt like such a grown up, discussing standard frame sizes, methods, style. I was so excited. I learned mounting a painting onto a frame requires time: it would be available for pickup in 1-2 weeks.

I picked it up yesterday. ICB came along. I was jumping up and down in the store while I waited for the clerk to fetch my painting from the back. ICB didn’t understand, it had been 6 months, what was a few more minutes?

So rational, that guy.

Well, that rational guy had a little something in his eye when he finally saw the painting mounted on its frame. We walked to my home in silence, both of us deep in our memories. I put it in my favorite room, the room where I write most of my blog posts.

It’s an interesting dynamic I have with ICB. He is a dependable rock, always there for those he cares about. A good, solid man. He uses few words, but he cares deeply. Observant. His stability makes me feel more grounded.

But.

He does not accept my mental health issues. At all. More than once, he has told me that while he rationally accepts my diagnosis, he can’t reconcile that someone as “beautiful, smart, and wonderful as you could have such problems. I know you are emotional, I can see sometimes you struggle, but part of me thinks that if you just learned how to not let it get to you so much, you would be fine.

His good-natured non-understanding has both been an inadvertent motivator and a burden. Like a child, I try work on certain aspects of my behavior, and proudly announce when I’ve succeeded on something small, like cleaning my floors or keeping my temper. The benefit of that is clear: I have a less messy apartment, and I have navigated some social situations better than I would have had ICB not given me advice. But it’s that wanting to please him and make him proud of me that is a problem. Because it implies that who I am, my baseline, isn’t something he would be satisfied with. Which, considering that I want him to be proud of me because I inconsistently and haphazardly manage to do Adult 101 tasks and avoid brutal, exhausting and mortifying emotional meltdowns… isn’t a stretch. The more I want him to be proud of me, the more I believe that who I am is not enough for him. And that is without him saying things like, “I worry I won’t be strong enough to handle your emotional swings. That I won’t be what you need from me. The intensity scares me.” Bro, if only you knew how much it scares me too.

Who can blame him? I am the girl who had a week-long meltdown about some Instagram likes. It isn’t unfair for him to wonder what my reaction would be like if ever we hit a real hiccup or problem. BPD is the most associated with suicide amongst personality disorders; it is estimated that 40-65% of suicides have a personality disorder; among BPD, 8-10% commit suicide, up to 75% attempt suicide and 69-80% self-mutilate. That knowledge is a heavy load to carry. Heavier still is my realization that I have on multiple occasions this fall considered that not living would be an acceptable option for shutting out the whirlwind in my head. Most days, I can easily see that I have many other options, and that not living is a pretty terrible option, but whereas I used to not have these thoughts, with every year that goes on, I understand more and more why people chose to end their lives. That is something I have to deal with, but is not easy knowledge for those who care about me.

I wish I could explain to ICB, I know the burden I am to those around me. I value so very much those that love me as I am, including these very imperfect sides of me. Those who are proud of me whether or not I clean my floors, because they know I am trying. The ones who try to fight away my pockets of shame, because there is no side of me too awful for them to love. The Allies, DDs, Dynamos and Coaches of this world, who hear my paranoid rants, realize that I am in one of my episodes and offer practical suggestions while patiently waiting for me to ride it out, always speaking to the Vanilla they love, ready to give me a reassuring hug once I’m back on the other side of paranoia and cognitive distortion. They give me the gift of acceptance. I give them… not sure what, but their love for me is so deep I don’t worry about my inability to reciprocate like a normal adult.

I want to tell ICB – my inability to see the world as he does doesn’t make me any less lovable, it just makes me different. Occasionally, I do manage to see the colors in the world. This duality, living mostly in a world of greys, with flashes of colors, is what gives me my capacity to love – I am in tune to others’ suffering and shame, and it doesn’t phase me. It gives me my humanity.

I wish my humanity were enough.

To the extent it is not, I retain a friend who does not understand but who cares.

Vanilla, I know you slide into a world of no color, of black and white and grey. I know you find it hard, that it makes you suffer. Paris is your happy place, where you feel alive and see clearly. I want you to have this, so when things are not going well, you can look at it and remember those colors that you can and sometimes do see. I want you to remember the colors. I want you to see them.

All the colors in Paris

BPD series: dealing with shame

Without justifying or condemning ourselves, we do the courageous work of opening to suffering. This can be the pain that comes when we put up barriers or the pain of opening our heart to our own sorrow or that of another being. We learn as much about doing this from our failures as we do from our successes. In cultivating compassion we draw from the wholeness of our experience – our suffering, our empathy, as well as our cruelty and terror. It has to be this way. Compassion is not a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.

Pema Chödrön, The Places that Scare You

I was working late at the office, a day like any other lately, when my bestie Allie FaceTimed me with her little baby Willie. They blew bubbles and kisses at me together,”we love you Auntie Vanilla and we are proud of you. You got this!!” My heart. I hung up, goofy smile on my face. My phone rang again, another FaceTime call. Laughing, I picked up, “Yes, Allie, what is Willie up to now?” Except it wasn’t Allie. It was Hickster, video calling me on Whatsapp.


Months. It had been months since I’d cut my losses and blocked him. Months of mourning the absence of someone who’d made me feel more alive than I’ve ever been. Months of trying to understand and accept that love is not enough. He made me feel fully whole and fully broken at the same time.

Months.


I might have blocked Hickster on all our usual platforms for communication (his number, Facebook, Messenger and Instagram), I’d forgotten that since I was in his contacts, he could use Whatsapp. My stunned brain couldn’t connect to my fingers to end the call. I sat in silence looking at a 2 dimensional small rectangle of a face that once meant the world to me.

“Vanilla, please. Hear me out. I want to apologize.”

He apologized for the relatively mundane trigger of our last fight. He apologized for the trigger of the fight before. He apologized for the trigger of the fight before that. As I tried to cut him off, and let him know it was ok, we didn’t need to revisit the past, he could just drop it, Hickster insisted, “No, Vanilla. I need to say this, and you need to hear it. I am sorry.”

45 minutes. It was a real apology. Not a “I’m sorry but” apology. No “yes I did this but you did that too” bullshit. He covered the big betrayals. The micro-betrayals. Specific moments where he made me feel inadequate. The accusations, the disregard. He described with precision and sadness the impact it had had on me. It was painful to listen to and hard to watch a proud man struggle to push the words of his shameful behavior out of his mouth. “I did all that. Me. I did that to someone who loved me. I broke something beautiful and I have to live with that knowledge every day. I am sorry.” 

I thanked him for the apology. Hung up. Cried for 2 hours.


I woke up different. The gaping wound I’d been carrying for all of 2018 felt slightly scarred over. One of the hardest parts of the deterioration of my relationship with Hickster was the cruel switch that happened almost overnight when I went from being his love to being nothing. It was like a denial of my existence in his life. I know I matter, I know I mattered to him, I know I brought goodness into his life, how can he pretend it never happened? I am so worthless, even the memories of me can be forgotten? Reconciling my reality of what we’d shared with his behavior made me almost insane. During those months, I gained a whole lot of understanding of Shakespeare’s Ophelia. And now, unexpectedly, I had confirmation that not only I mattered, but that his behaviour had been intentional, born not of a revulsion for my worthlessness but of his own brokenness.

The world had titled, somewhat.


A week later, Hickster texted me an innocuous comment, a feeler to see if I would be open to the idea of cautiously settling those few items which we’d never settled. I felt the bubble of panic rise inside of me. I can’t do this, I won’t manage, I can’t face any more pain, followed by the dread of another meltdown at work, I can’t afford that right now, I need to concentrate, I have too much on my plate, I can’t do this, I can’t, I can’t…

And just like that I was back in the grips of this other me. The endless texting, pages and pages and pages of lamentations, and pleas and regrets. Hickster initially reacted abruptly, but as my texting continued, uncontrolled, as I cried hysterically in my office, it shifted to bald responses: “Vanilla, I can’t read your think” followed by “Chill Vanilla. Chill. It’s ok. We’ll talk later, when you are better.” I cried and cried, used an entire box of Kleenexes, still typing. Silence. I kept typing, using scrap paper to blow my nose, because I couldn’t leave my office and show my coworkers my wrecked face. Typed some more. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I can’t do this, please don’t be mad, ok? Please. I’m sorry, I don’t understand this either. I know I’ve annoyed you and I’m crying and crying. I’m sorry Hickster, for real I don’t know how to control this. I don’t think this can work out, I’m just too fucked up. I want to try keep my shit together, to close out our shit on a good note, but I don’t think I can handle interacting with you. I think I’m more fucked up and hurt than I even realized. I hope you believe me; I can’t control this and I hate it as much as you do. I’m sorry.” I continued crying and typing into silence for another HOUR, until it dawned on me that Hickster had just demonstrated the same behaviour he used to when I was very depressed. He had flagged I was “off”. He had tried to keep me calm, and when that failed, stepped back until my emotions burned themselves out. THAT is when I realised I was having one of my BPD meltdowns triggered by my feelings of inadequacy. Almost 75 minutes after Hickster had backed off, I had finally understood what was going on. I felt deep shame.

I left work early, feeling defeated, and mortified.

The next day, around lunch, a text from Hickster. “You ok?” I called him up, started apologizing for my meltdown, for using him as an emotional punching bag, as I had so many times before. That I realized now how much exhaustion I’d caused him, while believing myself to be the only victim in our relationship. He cut me off. “Vanilla. Stop it. When I called you to apologize, I knew what I was getting into. This is who you are. You can’t control it, it just is. I know that now, even though back in the day, I didn’t know what was going on and I reacted very badly. You didn’t know you had this condition. You were doing your best. I know you can’t help these waves, I just gotta ride it out, not engage and wait till you are better and clear-headed. That’s ok. That comes with the territory, and I knew that when I decided I was ready to apologize. Don’t be sorry for who you are. Who you are is who I said sorry to. All of you.”


A few days later my 3-part Instagram meltdown with ICB. One week after that, ICB and I decided to part ways. ICB admitted that he feared the burden of my emotions, that he wouldn’t be able to manage them, long-term.

Who can blame him?


I’ve come to believe Hickster’s purpose in my life was to help me uncover my BPD diagnosis.

My whole life, I’ve known something was painfully off about me. I leave a long trail behind me of broken, confused relationships, filling me with shame. Some times I manage to hide it better, to appear more normal, but I always felt different. Apart. Managing to mostly fit in while being painfully aware of my secret brokenness.

And then came Hickster, like a hurricane, and he pushed all my buttons and overwhelmed me until my brokenness became so obvious and problematic I needed to get help.

I have a name now for what I have. An action plan. Books. Therapy. With hard work I’ll eventually build healthier responses to my brokenness such that I don’t in turn in Hulk Smash those I care for.

Without Hickster, I would never have known what it means to be fully broken and fully whole.

Revisiting the Instagram meme through the BPD filter

Writing the Instagram meme post was hard. Untangling the mess of knotted emotions, gaining an understanding of what I was feeling, and why, uncovering the deep well of shame and insecurity was unpleasant. I am happy I got to the crux of my truth, I am proud that I was courageous enough to tell my story, but oye, do I ever have a vulnerability hangover.

ICB was not delighted when he read it. Understandably. It leaves no room for intention. It is a single-view story, mine, in which he is portrayed one-dimensionally. Nor did he appreciate being mentioned in the same post as Beaut or Hickster: while I don’t make it a habit to discuss my previous dating experiences with him, he has read parts of my blog and is not fond of either dude for how they made me feel and the very real complicated baggage I retain from them. It is not flattering company to find himself in. I get that.

ICB did give me an explanation for his behavior that, true to form, exonerates him from any disrespect towards me. Not surprised. I expected the hurt to lessen, but instead, the whole weekend it has been my companion. I had hoped that by putting my hurt into words I would be liberated from its heavy burden. But all that has done is help me understand myself: I am hurt because I have gotten feedback, yet again, that I am not enough to be a person’s priority. I understand myself, yay! But my feelings are still overwhelming.

At a social gathering this weekend, I went out of my way to avoid any one on one contact with ICB. I couldn’t be close to him, I wanted to cry every time he got within a foot of me. Hickster used to trigger that kind of physical reaction. I’d always assumed that my physical manifestation of pain was caused by the epic, sometimes ruthless, asshole behaviour Hickster could casually dish out. He was a Grade A jackass. ICB is not. ICB liked some girl’s very pretty IG pics and has not liked mine. But never, not once, has he ever disrespected me. ICB’s “crime” is a lack of positive behaviour towards me, which is totally different from Hickster’s objectively very negative behaviour towards me. Two very VERY different sets of behaviour but a very comparable degree of hurt. That doesn’t make sense. The gap between my cerebral vs my emotional take on the situation is huge.

I think I’ve shifted into borderline territory.

Out of those 9 traits, 7 very clearly apply to the Instagram meme post.

  • Identity disturbance: unstable self-image or sense of self: If ICB liking another girl’s IG pics can produce an obliterated sense of self in the form of a never ending soundtrack of “I am not enough”, we can agree that my self-image is unstable. Just a tad.
  • Efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment: This weekend I spent a few hours helping ICB out on a project (via the safe distance of texting and emailing). Why? to show I was a team player, I was still there, I was a good girl, don’t be mad at me, I am still worthy. Heyo! The same dynamic as with Hickster. Hickster would do something to hurt me, I would overreact dramatically, we’d have a ginormous fight, and before we had even finished patching things up, I was back helping Hickster with stuff he hadn’t even asked me to do. I’m still here. Don’t hate me. I am a good girl, I am helpful. I am valuable. Forgive me. I’m sorry I overreacted. Don’t give up on me.
  • Unstable relationships, alternating between idealisation and devaluation: This one is hard for me to notice as it is happening, bc I always think I am fairly and even empathetically characterizing the person I am dealing with. But I notice my thought patterns about ICB are beginning to sound one dimensional. “HE never makes me feel special, HE isn’t making me a priority, HE isn’t finding ways to show me he cares”… aka he is not doing enough to make me feel cherished and valued. That strident blaming tone is the perfect breeding ground for an unstable relationship.
  • Stress, paranoid ideation or severe dissociative symptoms: I was SO stressed this weekend, I had trouble breathing at the social gathering, while ICB was present. I ended up just ghosting, and taking an Uber home without saying goodbye. I felt my stress levels drop significantly as soon as I was in the car.
  • Inappropriate, intense anger: While I describe my feelings as being hurt, there is anger. Anger at having revealed myself, an exercise I find excruciatingly painful, only to be told, effectively, that I am not priority. I revealed myself, and have been treated carelessly, as having no worth. I described it as wanting to howl away my pain, but especially with Hickster, the impulse – never manifested – was to claw his face. To make him hurt physically as much I did emotionally. My therapist has often told me in the past that sadness and anger are two sides of the same coin, so I wonder if this completely disproportionate reaction to some Instagram likes is not an example of this BPD trait.
  • Emotional instability due to a marked reactivity of mood: I think this one is fairly self evident.

So here I am. With an even deeper awareness of what I am feeling and why. Go me.

But where do I go from here? I can’t help that ICB’s relatively minor action has produced this hurricane of hurt. Those are my feelings. My reaction is to feel he should be doing something differently. He should value me more. He should let me know he cares. He should apologize.

And maybe probably he should.

But this is my life. I refuse to let my happiness depend on some other person’s actions, especially when every person has their own shit going on, so it is very likely that they will not be able to meet my emotional requirements to my very needy satisfaction. That is an unfair burden to place on anyone, especially those I care about.

So I guess the real question is:

Accepting that ICB does not make me feel like I am enough;

Accepting that it isn’t ICB’s job to make me feel enough;

Accepting that until I feel enough, I will have this rage-pain-hurt that consumes me;

How the fuck can I get to a state where I feel and believe that I am enough?!