therapy

It starts with the eyes

I’ve tried so hard to not admit this. Tried to be hopeful about it, but I can’t avoid it any longer. I am not ok.

Since seeking out my beloved therapist for my volcanic emotional reactions (I lied about my shadow), I’ve had less and less angry eruptions. Progress? Nah. More like defeat – there’s just no point in getting angry, I won’t be heard anyhow. My January breakthrough of owning my right to be angry? Undone. Worrisome. Especially since anger and sadness are two sides to the same coin, and I’ve quite the history with sadness.

I’ve lost my drive to write – nothing seems pertinent, of interest, worth sharing. I remember writing these words, once upon a time:

That, ladies and gents, is why I write. To share what is painful. Sometimes – hopefully, most of the time – it is painfully funny, but sometimes it is the ugly painful. Exploring the pain is an exercise in excruciating vulnerability; vulnerabilility, to quote Brené Brown, is “the core of shame and fear and our struggle for worthiness, but it appears that it’s also the birthplace of joy, of creativity, of belonging, of love.”

I no longer have painful stories – I am too tired to feel pain. I am too tired to be connected. I withdraw, exhausted. The to-do list piles up, the guilt of being an MIA friend, of not answering texts, breaking promises, not showing up because all I want to do is take a nap in my apartment that I am too tired to clean… I don’t go out except for the occasional quiet supper with close friends with whom I feel safe enough to be my boring tired self, and not put on a show or be witty and entertaining. This particular, familiar weight of being a perpetual disappointment is settling down on my shoulders. I am too tired to feel.

I cave in at work because I’ve lost the energy to fight for what needs to be done. Vanilla, agent of change? No. Leave me alone, I just want to try not drown. I am aware that the drowning is partially self-inflicted, because of my terrible concentration. I don’t even escape onto social media much anymore – scrolling on Facebook requires too much effort. I stopped caring.

I stopped dating, or flirting, because my hormones are MIA, and really? No point investing effort in what will only end up in disappointment.

I stopped wearing make up or doing my hair. I still do laundry, but my clean clothes are piling up in an unfolded heap on my bed. I sleep to one side, almost falling off my bed. Uncomfortable, but less energy consuming than folding my clothes.

I’ve stopped working out – often because of work, but also due to an inability to arrange my schedule or get my shit together in time to make it to the gym. For a brief moment I considered hating my body, but that requires too much effort. I just put on random clothes, and no longer take pleasure in my appearance. But really, why care about my appearance? I don’t want to get noticed, because I don’t want to deal with dating or flirting scenarios.

I still go dancing, because I am a good girl, and I refuse to let down my team. But my pleasure is mostly gone. Like a robot, I go through the moves, without intention. We had a performance Saturday. I bombed. Watching the video, I can see the effort being put into the appearance of having fun, which consumed all my bandwidth, leaving me with complete blanks about the choreography. Part of me vaguely feels bad for letting down the team, not bringing my A-game, but most of me is happy that no one noticed that I wasn’t mentally present.

 

After our show on Saturday, I stayed for the social and danced till 3am. I was relieved to feel echoes of my former peace while dancing with partners. It felt good to dress up and take pride in my appearance – I was relieved to discover that I cared enough to do so. First time in weeks, since getting back from France. The time before that? May.

Looking at pics from Saturday, I can see my deterioration. It’s all in the eyes. My smile no longer reaches them.

Our first show in May. Real smiles.

Saturday’s show.

And then there was my reaction to Chester Bennington’s death. Not “how sad” but “at least he is finally free”.

I write this, not because I think it is pertinent, of interest, worth sharing. I write it because the only way to fight my shadow’s attempt to silence my voice is to speak up. I write it because of the power of simple conversations to change mental health taboos. I write it to remind myself that it is ok to admit to struggling – voicing it strips my shadow of some of its power over me. Having admitted it, I have my tool box and I will use it

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

 

Me & Prince Harry: same

Last week I wrote about my constant struggle with my mental health issues (ADD & depression – diagnosed; anxious personality) and my reluctant return to therapy.

Writing it was hard. Those aren’t easy, simple or pleasant emotions to unravel. Posting it to Facebook? Excruciating. I was ashamed, and I feared people’s reactions.

Feared their contempt for being:

  • Vulgar. Airing my dirty laundry in public. Ew.
  • Dramatic. Happiness is a choice, obviously. With my life, wtf is my problem thinking I have the right to be discontent. There are children being gassed in Syria, you know. THEY should be sad.
  • Lesser. Mental health is icky. Only weak people have mental problems.
  • Incompetent. The disappointment to my close friends and family that I still don’t have my shit together like I should, that I still underperform, that my inability to do regular adulting activities with consistency causes problems for others, professionally and personally.
  • Crazy. Any emotion, reaction, opinion that doesn’t coincide with theirs is obviously the result of my unregulated mind, and should therefore be discounted. Vanilla is crazy – don’t listen to her.

My coworkers, both above and below me on the corporate ladder, read my blog – would I lose their respect? “I’m not sure we should consider Vanilla for that promotion, her mental health is too fragile.” Boys I’ve dated, boys I have crushes on, boys who might one day date me, read my blog – would they find me less of a woman? “She’s cool and sexy, but I dunno man. All that mental health shit. No, thank you!”

Knowing that yes, it is quite possible I will suffer consequences for posting this, makes me mad. I refuse to let myself drown in self-imposed shame. I feel compelled to write about this, own it, and post it publicly. The ONLY way to get rid of the shame – so unnecessary, so poisonous, so destructive – surrounding mental health IS by talking about it. And if my approach is too brash, well… hopefully I’ll polish it over time, which can only happen if I take chances and try this open approach.


Record number of likes on Facebook. People reaching out to me privately, to commiserate with the incredible burden that is the shame associated with mental health struggles. To ask me more questions because having read my blog they wonder if they/their child/sibling/parent/best friend might have X health issue, they never considered that as a possibility, they’ll approach the struggles differently, with greater empathy and understanding. To say they too have Y mental health issue. To compare resources they’ve used. To thank me – they feel less alone in their struggles; they always thought I was one of those ppl, “so happy and smiling and friendly, fit, has her shit together”. They realize now that no, I just have (mostly) mastered the art of faking it, at huge personal cost.


A few days after my post, Prince Harry made the news for admitting he’d been in therapy for the long-standing, serious repercussions stemming from his inability to process his grief following his mother’s death. Anxiety, aggression, all had negative impacts on his royal duties, and professional and personal relationships, and culminated in him seeking professional help to work through his issues. (*)

Even at royal engagements, he said, he had found himself battling a “flight or fight” reaction without properly 
understanding why. Once he started opening up to friends, he added, he found those same friends felt able to “unravel their own issues”. (…)

“I know there is huge merit in talking about your issues and the only thing about keeping it quiet is that it’s only ever going to make it worse,” he said.

YES.


I told my CFO-boss. I wanted to warn him that I’d recognized the blips in my performance, and I was taking steps to rectify them before they further deteriorated. Was that the right thing to do? I dunno. It was risky. I’ll find out the next time I am up for a promotion if it paid off.

As for boys… I tell myself, the blog doesn’t really make a difference – they’d find out first-hand about my emotional messiness anyhow, live. Best they find out via the blog and move on, than find out gradually and make those hurtful comments to my face.

I don’t have the energy to pretend anymore. I don’t see the point. Life, adulting, is fucking hard enough without pretence.

None of us should feel ashamed for our struggles.

Sometimes, silence is overrated.

#OkToSay

 

(*) Check out their Royal Highnesses‘ work on mental health, through their charity Heads Together. I think it is brilliant.

 

I lied about my shadow

Ridiculous bureaucratic reasons resulted in me seeing my third GP in a year. I explore my rage about the Québec healthcare system here; that’s not the point of this post. Tuesday’s doctor was kind. He cared. Despite the two previous doctors at the same clinic prescribing medication for my ADD, he grilled me about me & my family’s medical and mental history.

“Your behaviour does not suggest ADD to me. You are un-medicated right now?” Sir, at the risk of sounding vain, I am extremely smart. I graduated with a 4.0 GPA; I ranked above average/excellent performer at all 3 multinationals I’ve worked at during my career. I am deemed quirky and “unusual”, but I can – I must – succeed with or without my drugs. I excel at appearing normal (or as normal as I’ll ever be). Nobody need ever know at what personal cost: the depressions, the failed relationships, the stunted dreams, the years of therapy. “I see. You are what we call a gifted, high-functioning patient. My son is in accounting. Bright kid, good attitude. No mental health issues that we know of. He struggles to maintain a 3.4 GPA.” I forget, sometimes, that what I view as a commonplace performance (of course I graduated with a 4.0/was an excellent employee at a Big 4: anything else would be beneath me) is not commonplace for others. Rather than appreciate my accomplishments, I’m aware of how much more I could’ve done, had I been more disciplined. Had I not had ADD.

“3 depressions in 5 years. Where any of these circumstantial? Diagnosed by a professional? You woke up crying one day, for no reason, and cried for 3 hours a day every day for 3 weeks straight? Ok, that’s a real depression.” Yes, my 2012 depression came on the heels of my serious knee injury, followed by my mother’s death a few weeks later. Circumstances in 2012 sucked. But I was already unwell, battling symptoms for months, when the “justifiable” depression started. How lucky I am to have experienced my scary 2014 depression, otherwise people would once again dismiss my story because I am too gifted, too high-functioning.

“So how would you rank your mental state right now, on a scale of 1-10? 1 being suicidal and 10 being perfect and blissful and without a cloud in sight?” Ummmm maybe 7-8: despite my recent struggles, overall I notice a distinct trend. 2014: a depression so bad I quit the job I loved, changed my lifestyle, reoriented my career so as to have the head-space to tackle my mental health issues. 2015: clawing my way out of depression, and therapy therapy therapy. 2016: remission from depression, dating and my first heartache in 6 years, career full throttle2017: I discover I have the capacity for happiness, and for the first time in my life,  I believe that I can build a life of happiness for myself. Surely that merits a B+ as a mark?

My doctor stopped me. “You didn’t know you had the capacity for happiness. You thought happiness didn’t apply to you. You didn’t have depressions. You are depressive. It’s always there, like a shadow, isn’t it?”

Yes, it is.


My shadow, my old friend. Always there, waiting, whispering, seductively trying to pull me back into the dark cloud. Always. Admitting that, out-loud, was hard.

I would love to wake up, put in my 9-5 productively. I would love to not work 60-80 hours a week to deliver 45-60 hours worth of work. I would love to be focused enough to have dreams, to not fritter away HOURS a day, to blink away 6-12 months again. I would love it, but I can’t imagine it. I know such people exist, like I know lactose-intolerant ppl exist. And as I can’t imagine a life without cheese, that analogy is particularly apt. It’s so frustrating feeling time slip through my fingers always, acutely aware of my inefficiency. I mourn the potential I will never reach, because of the time and effort spent managing my brain. I have the tools to do so. But it is exhausting. At any moment in time 25-50% of my brain’s bandwidth is taken up monitoring, managing, analyzing my shadow to ensure it stays a shadow, and doesn’t succeed in becoming an asphyxiating dark cloud. 25% of my bandwidth is dealing with the 16 simultaneous ping-pong matches in my ADD-head. That leaves me with 25%-50% (on a good day) to handle life, professionally and socially. Gifted, he said. Fed up, I say.


As my remission from depression continues, my capacity to take on more, handle more pressure, be alive grows. This is good – much better than existing in a half-dead depressed state: a life without feelings is no life at all. However I feel too much now. I had a breakthrough at the end of 2016, where I acknowledge my right to feel anger and give voice to it. But everything sets me off now. My anger fuels me to be productive, but it leaves me exhausted, with a long list of people that dislike me. My blow-ups range from snarky comments, to feeling hurt so deeply I lash out like Jennifer Lawrence’s character in Silver Linings Playbook – I’ve been told more than once that I remind people of her.

These daily meltdowns are awful. Mortifying. Uncontrollable. ADD & impulsivity! Yay! EXCELLENT RECIPE FOR SOCIAL DISASTER. My anger is always merited, my comments are fair, but they are not kind. I know the pattern, too. The less compassionate towards others I become, the less compassionate towards myself I will be, leaving myself open to my shadow’s pull. I’ve tried to find moments of happiness here in Montreal, post-Dubai. And I do. But these moments contrast too sharply against my negative emotions, and the roller-coaster leaves me spent, too tired to concentrate, and hours slip away from my life. Again.

I am a weather-vane, at the mercy of my emotions.

My shadow watches, ready.


After one meltdown too many yesterday (an offhand comment by a coworker filled me with so much rage, I considered punching him, but then remembered that would get me thrown out of the CPA Order, so I cried quietly at my desk for 15 minutes instead), I called up my beloved therapist, and asked for a tune-up. My last appointment was April 25, 2016. I didn’t last a year.

I feel shame at being so incompetent at adulting I need help, again. I feel shame at having so much wasted potential. But I refuse to let my shadow win. I have dreams for the first time in my life. I have lived greater happiness than I knew possible in Dubai. Over my dead body, I’m not gonna let my shadow steal that from me.

I always said I was a fighter – that is why I boxed.

Here we go for another round.

The problem of happiness

April 29th, 2016: I had my last appointment with my therapist.

We didn’t plan it that way, it just happened. I’m too happy for him, too consistently. While he always enjoys our talks, the past few sessions were more status updates than real therapy sessions. He felt that I had acquired the tools necessary to navigate through life alone: Ritalin, writing, and daily exercise. He encouraged me to continue with my network of caring people that teach me compassion in my day-to-day: Dynamo, Coach and my mentor from work. Of course, in the event my life unravells beyond my coping abilities, I can always give him a call – but he was convinced he wouldn’t hear from me for a long long time.

20 months worth of work. 20 months of appointments. A LOT of money spent, since unfortunately, my insurance didn’t cover much. So many tears. Quite a bit of laughter. Lots of time thinking over all my therapist told me.

We reminisced on how far I’ve come. Depression. Public meltdowns. Paralyzing anxiety. Fear of vulnerability. Unwillingness to put myself out there and date, because the slightest rejection could send me weeping. Taking small risks – singing in public. Asking Beaut out, and handling the weird evolution of that interaction. Changing jobs, because I wanted to be happier – thinking that was a worthwhile reason. Navigating a trip in a strange country by myself, and the intense roller-coaster emotions well enough to pull through and experience joy. Accepting my limits, and going back on Ritalin, because I am willing to get help, in my quest to get my shit together. Signing up for my first boxing fight in two years, because I am ready for a challenge, and am able to accept the risk of getting hurt.

I’m happy. I’m SO happy. I’m almost scared, because I don’t feel I deserve this happiness. I’m aware that this might be a temporary reprieve, that depression is a relentless disease, and strikes at the most unexpected moments. I’m aware the rug might get pulled out from under me at any moment, that it is probable that I will have at least one other depressive episode in my life.

But right now, every day I wake up, and I am filled with gratitude to have finally reached a point in my life where my brain is at peace, and the negative voices in my head no longer run the show. I finally can hear my heart singing with happiness – I had forgotten that it once knew joyful melodies.

It feels so good to finally start getting my life together, instead of spending all my time and energy fighting the exhausting noise in my head. I am slightly daunted by how much I let lapse in the past 6 years as I struggled with depression. But mostly, I am just grateful that I have gotten to the point where I have a to do list, and the wherewithal to deal with it. 

I’ve noticed that the happier I get, the less compunction I feel to write. I hope this is temporary, or that I learn to find blog content that is triggered by fun and happiness. An interesting challenge, and one that I don’t mind AT ALL.

#grateful

That time I realized I was going to be ok

As mentioned in yesterday’s post, I’ve been coming to terms with certain limitations in the scope of my relationship with Beaut, which made me sad. We are most definitely never getting married, and living happily ever after. Le boooo. (Side note: I imagine him reading that sentence and freaking the fuck out, and it makes me giggle. I am not always a nice person.)

I wallowed in my sadness for a few days. To the point where I was fighting a losing battle with my paranoid brain, so I booked an emergency appointment with my therapist. The last thing I wanted was to slide into another depression because of a boy. Been there, done that: ain’t fun and totally pointless.

During my appointment with my therapist, we talked things through, and he helped me come to term with my emotions and accept the limitations imposed by Beaut. I knew I was sad – that was the reason for my appointment, afterall, but I was taken aback by a sudden burst of honest emotion:

But the sex! What if I never have good sex again? I only just started having sex again, and it is awesome, and I’d forgotten how much I like it, and now I have to give it up? And risk never getting as good sex again? This SUCKS. I don’t want to! I don’t want to have to start dating again, and risk lots of disappointing, awkward, lame sexual encounters. It took me so much time and effort to be vulnerable with this chump, I got rewarded with good sex and now I have to start over? THIS IS STUPID.

That was the first clue that I was going to be ok. If my biggest concern was about the quality of my future sex, clearly, I wasn’t overly devastated by stunted turn of events with Beaut.

As the appointment progressed, I felt comfortable enough to mourn the end of some of the hopes I had cherished about Beaut. I cried elegantly – the kind of pretty crying Hollywood stars do when listening to a moving acceptance speech at the Oscars: a single tear or two, gently trickling down my cheeks. Which is when I noticed my therapist, sitting in front of me, full of pent up gleeful energy. I asked him why he was so hyper.

Hyper? I’m happy! Remember when you first walked in here, 19 months ago? You were in a full blow depression, spurred on by how 2 guys had badly treated you: you were barely sleeping with one, when you found out he had a surprise girlfriend, and the other one was a dude with whom you had attempted some emotional vulnerability, and he shut it down before you’d even made it to a date, and then he said some mean things to you. Neither one of those guys did you actually care about, yet, their actions were enough to push you over the edge into depression. Now, here, today, you are faced with a situation where you can legitimately be sad: it sucks when someone you care about, and have been involved with for months, does not reciprocate the same feelings. Totally normal that you are sad, but look how great you are handling it! You aren’t depressed, you are nowhere near being depressed. I’m so happy this happened: it is proof of how far you have come along! This is great news!!!

In the silence that followed, I dryly suggested that maybe he could get a grip for the remaining 10 minutes of the appointment, and do his happy dance about the end of my Beaut saga on his own, when I wasn’t crying in his face. Sheepishly, he agreed. 2 minutes later, I caught him hiding a grin.

So there you go. Apparently, I am going to be ok. And that is a good thing.

I’m just never going to have satisfying sex ever again. So my paranoid brain tells me.

#vanillaenoughforyou?