vulnerability

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

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

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

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

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

Sasha Velour, RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 9 Winner

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

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

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

 

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

Who knew reality TV could do so much?

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

Mama Ru

 

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Epilogue: boxing

I went to a boxing gala at my gym on Friday.

Since quitting boxing 2 years ago, I train in the conditioning section of the gym. Great vibe, different people.

It was nice to see Cap again. I ran into Bradley, in town for the first time in over a year. I didn’t recognize him. No longer a wee adolescent boy, he is a grown-ass man now. In the 2.5 years since this hilarious mortifying story, he’s grown a foot taller and 50lbs of muscle heavier. Still shy and modest tho. He is gonna make some young girl very very happy one day. Good kid. #notanasshole #thosestillexist. Chair Thrower was at the gala, as was Cereal.

I felt at home, on Friday. In my life which is more tumultuous than one would expect for an accountant (now we know why), this gym has been my constant, my refuge, my safe place since fall 2012. 6 years. That’s longer than most of my friendships. This is the place that has given me the space to grow. To risk. To try and fail. To discover myself. It is the birthplace of Vanilla.

Boxing is an unforgiving sport. By stepping into the ring, every boxer tacitly accepts to show their true self to their opponent, coach and whoever is watching. You can’t mask cowardice or fake bravery when getting punched in the head. Every hesitation, fear, bluster and cockiness is blatantly obvious to anyone who watches. There IS no socially constructed mask to hide behind. To step into the ring, every boxer, no matter their level of experience and proficiency, has to be willing to be vulnerable, and to be seen. As such, I’ve noticed that most people at the gym don’t cling so tightly to their social personas – there is no point, when we’ve all seen their true colors in the ring. As a result, everyone is more authentic at the gym than they otherwise might be. Vulnerability + authenticity = key ingredients for friendship.

“I’m so glad you are part of my family”

I remembered something on Friday, that I’d long forgotten: boxing is a team sport. Yes, it’s true, no one can fight an opponent except yourself, no one can climb into the ring for you. And yet. Watching the teammates cheer on my gym’s fighters until they lost their voices, seeing them weep for their fellow fighters’ losses, jump for glee with every win, I remembered. I remembered what it feels like to stand in the middle of that ring, petrified and exhausted, and the wave of energy that would wash over me as I’d hear my friends cheer me on.

Lately, as life has been very hard, throwing me too many curve-balls professionally and personally, I have felt so alone. Friday reminded me: no one can fight my battles for me, but in the ring as in real life, I am not alone. At least at this gym, for a few hours every week, I am seen and I am understood.

Everyone who walks into the gym is looking for an escape from the outside world. Yes, the same can be true of a yoga studio. But here, people are looking for a reprieve from the tangle of thoughts, emotions, and frustrations that is a necessary by-product of being alive through the action of hitting an inanimate punching bag over and over again. It’s a safe haven that allows a person to work through whatever they need to work through, surrounded by people doing the exact same thing. The particulars of each individual’s tangled mess is irrelevant; everyone has preoccupations, and the gym is our way to work through our shit. People who walk through the door are looking for the freedom of a few hours when socially acceptable constraints are no longer required. The punching bags become the recipient for every harsh word that was bitten back through the day, every slight that was received, every injustice, every worry. For a few hours, the world stops pushing, and we can push back as hard as we want, without any consequences. Bliss.

“I’m so glad you are part of my family”

It feels good to not feel alone. It feels good to have a family.

BPD series: understanding the role of dance in my life

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

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

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

And so, I went dancing on Saturday.

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

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

I am not enough. Familiar refrain.

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

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

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

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

Sometimes I Act Crazy – Living with Borderline Personality Disorder

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

Naive.

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

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

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

But…

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

It feels like peace.

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

I missed dancing. So much.

#thisiswhyIdance

BPD series: 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.

Hulkette has been retired

I went for brunch with ICB this morning. His idea. It was the first time we saw each other since we ended things two weeks ago.

We’re trying to be friends. Of course we are. This is something I always do. Usually what happens is that the “friendship” turns into a breeding ground for hurt feelings, misunderstandings, resentment and the eventual mutual desire to never see each other ever again. But with ICB, I think we have a chance. Already, he tended to act more as a friend than as a lover when we were dating, so the transition might not be too hard. He’d asked that we stay in each other’s lives even if we no longer dated; I agreed as long as the effort came primarily from him. I had driven most of the dating phase, I was bruised and sore from my failed vulnerability exercise. Time for him to take the lead and turn this into whatever it could be. At the same time, I really did worry about trying to navigate the shit-storm I am living through at work without his calming presence to lean on occasionally. He really is a standup guy. I hoped this might be the answer to my worry.

It hasn’t been too bad. We’ve spoken 1-2 times about some of the stuff he’s working on, some of the progress he is making. We’ve spoken about one of disasters I’m undergoing at work. The odd text here and there. I’ve opted to not attend any of the social gatherings he has attended because I didn’t want to see him interact with other girls and get jealous or sad. Besides, I’ve been working 70-75 hours a week since September 1… I don’t have the energy to go out. My life is boring. While that doesn’t make me happy, it does make the choice of going out/facing my fears/getting out of my comfort zone pretty easy: nah. Nap-time instead.

So. Brunch.

It was really nice. We spoke a lot, listened to each other’s stories. Towards the end of our dating time together, he was very mono-focused on his projects and problems, sometimes to the point that I felt invisible. Not today. Today he was in the moment. It was really nice. I began to relax, to believe that maybe, carefully, we could one day salvage this into something mutually rewarding. Then. ICB referred to me as his Hulkette. My heart squeezed painfully, before continuing to beat harder than normal. I brushed off his comment and continued the conversation as though he hadn’t said that word. A few minutes later he went to the washroom. I felt like crying.

We left soon after. As I walked him to his car, I asked him to never call me Hulkette again, in the past or present tense. Why? Because it makes me sad. But no! You were my Hulkette, you still are, we went through so much together, that’s who you are to me. Hulkette. No, please. It was a term for a specific chapter, one that has ended. But Vanilla, it is a term of endearment. Just because you were faster than me to get to certain realizations and unable to wait for me, doesn’t mean that I don’t hold you in a lot of affection. I know but we agreed that the mismatch in our feelings and timing meant we couldn’t date and we were going to be friends. Friends do not have pet names for each other. To use one that reminds me of something I hoped for and cannot have is too confusing for me. Vanilla, you do realize I see you and I wish for a lot of things? Bruh. Stop. You needed space to sort through your stuff. You asked that we stay in each other’s lives. Ok. Don’t make this hard for me. I am dealing with my feelings about this because they are my problem, not yours. Go and deal with all that shit you needed to deal with. One day if you wake up and you realize you really do want to date ME, you know where to find me. But since that day might never come, and I find it hard enough being reminded of what might have been, no grey zones. We are friends. As we explore what this new chapter means, please do not bring up the failed previous chapter. I can’t sort through the confusing complex emotions. Of course, Vanilla, I am sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt you.

And so, ladies and gents, the Hulkette has been retired. All that is left is Vanilla, with her poorly managed borderline personality disorder. It isn’t cute, it isn’t adorable. It is a problem, one that I will learn to get a handle on, I hope. All by myself, because it is no one else’s burden but my own.

And if I am lucky, and we are careful, I might end up with a friend.

Hulkette needs a hug

  1. a term to designate a large ship or building
    1. a heavy clumsy ship or the body of an old ship unfit for service
    2. a ship used as a prison usually used in plural e.g. every prisoner sent to the hulks
    3. an abandoned wreck or shell (as of a building or automobile)
  2. one that is bulky or unwieldy

ICB and I are done.

I wanted more. After 6 months, I knew that this was a man that I admired, respected, lusted after and deeply cared about. I wanted him to meet my family and my friends and to integrate my life, because when he was around he made everything better. The world stopped spinning as much and the overwhelming became more achievable. He made me feel grounded. Talking to him made me settled. I wanted more of this. I had reached the point where holding back on my emotions, restraining myself because I intuitively felt that he wasn’t ready was becoming an unmanageable burden (exhibit A). I was losing my battle against my brain that relentlessly tells me I am not enough for someone to love, and too much to handle (exhibit B and C).

ICB has his own shit to work through. Some of his wounds and fears remind me so very much of my own in 2014. And just like people told me – and were right – that I was strong enough to work through the stifling limits I imposed on myself, I know he is very close to breaking through his own traps and owning the brilliant, kind, talented man he is already is. But I also recognize from my own experiences how very hard and consuming that kind of personal growth is. He is in for a rough ride. A worthwhile one, but a hard one. Until he works through his shit, neither one of us can tell if his reluctance to let go and see where this lovely journey of ours can go is due to a lack of connection or due to his paralyzing fears and doubts. That is something only he can answer, and the longer I stick around, the more I am confirming to myself that I am not enough for him to break through his self-imposed barriers. Having spent years trapped by my brain and my fears, I know how awful it feels to see wondrous people come into my life, yearn to connect and be unable to do so. My continued presence would be harmful to myself, and an excruciating burden to ICB. He has enough on his plate.

We both cried.

I’m still crying.

I feel grief, because this guy helped me see the colors after almost 12 months of being color blind. He accepted me in ways I’ve rarely felt accepted, turning my shameful inability to manage my emotions into something charming. No matter what ugly side of myself I showed him, he never wavered. Always there. Seeing me, and focusing on that which is good and admirable in me, which made me want to be more of that. He helped balance out how I saw myself and my place in the world. In the 6 months that I’ve known him, my life has frequently been turned upside down (coming out of a depression, the never ending aftershocks of Hickster, a diagnosis of borderline, and a promotion that is completely kicking my ass). Knowing he was there, a stable presence, has given me hope and courage.

I feel grief, because I could not give the same gift to ICB. I feel grief for the trapped pain he is in, for his fears that get in the way of him being his best self – if his unbest self is anything to go by, the world is missing out on greatness. I feel sorrow for the hard times that await him as he struggles through some of the challenges that have been thrown across his path, and the vulnerability that he has yet to embrace. I mourn the loss of all the moments that might have been. The possibilities of joy. The comfort of intimacy. Being a witness to each other’s transformation and growth.

I feel scared. This promotion is stretching me to the limit, my shadow is doing cartwheels and starting the countdown to the moment where I snap back into depression. The next 3 months are going to be very challenging. The wave of hysterical panic is gaining momentum now that I face it alone, without ICB to smile and kiss me on the forehead and tell me, “you got this, my little Hulkette“.

I feel shame at how selfish my reaction is.

I feel tired at the stretch of loneliness that awaits me.

And I can’t help but wonder,

Am I enough?

Why not talk about the Instagram meme a 3rd time?

To recap:

  • Oct 11, while I am working late at the office I discover ICB, with his newly created IG profile, had liked a bunch of pictures of a pretty girl on Instagram while he had yet to like any of mine. Cue an epic internalized meltdown. I spend 2 days being upset, but say nothing to ICB.
  • Oct 13, I write part 1 of the Instagram saga. I send it to ICB, still miffed, and tell him he should read it. He does. I have a really odd reaction when I see him at a social gathering at night.
  • Oct 15, having spent the weekend still upset and disoriented by my odd reaction to ICB, I realize I am exhibiting most of the traits of BPD. I write part 2 of the Instagram saga.
  • Oct 16-17, ICB’s reaction (below) to part 2 of the Instagram saga.
  • Oct 19, I write this post. Part 3. I am as confused as y’all as to how this turned into a 3 chapter, 8 day long saga.

ICB dutifully read part 2 of the Instagram saga. I wanted him to understand what he is up against. “Yes, Vanilla, I read it. You find I’ve hurt you that badly. You find I do not treat you well. You believe you are not enough. You don’t find I take care of you. Tell me. Explain. What am I doing that tells you that you are not enough?” I doubled down, explaining that everything depended on one’s perspective. If my expectations were that of a friend, we’d have no problem, he’s a stellar guy. But my expectations of the guy I am dating are different. And if the guy I am dating treats me as a friend, yes, I will conclude that I am not enough to be dated. “So what do you suggest? What should I be doing so you feel better?”

Of course, we were having this convo by text, bc why not use the least suitable form of communication bar the Morse code for this kind of conversation. Of course, we were having this convo while I was at work. And of course, I got pulled into a meeting before I could answer him what he could be doing differently. Of course.

An hour later, back at my desk, check my phone and see 64 notifications of IG likes. SIXTY-FOUR. That is almost 8 screenshots worth of notifications – he’d gone all the way back to September 2017. I imagined ICB, the least phone savvy guy I know, holding his phone and punching away at my Instagram profile using both his thumbs “Oh she didn’t like that I liked that girl’s pics but none of her pics? Oh, she didn’t like that I liked pics all the way back to July 2018? Well, imma like a full YEAR worth of pics. Ha! Take that. Can’t complain now, can she??” I laughed till tears rolled down my cheeks – how dare ICB turn this situation into something so incredibly ridiculous? CSD walked by and asked me why I was laughing so hard. “And this is why I don’t have any social media. Who gives a fuck about Instagram likes?? If my wife pulled a stunt like that on me, I would be so pissed. Do you really feel better now that he has liked all your pics? No you don’t. Why? BECAUSE INSTAGRAM LIKES DON’T MATTER. Sooooo petty. But yeah, pretty fucking hilarious. He sure showed you.”

I woke up the next day, to a late night text from ICB.

I liked the 64 pics on your profile that remind me of the topics that we’ve spoken about. That pic of your mother. The pic of you in Boston all dolled up as a lady. That pic of you in that princess dress asking the mirror who is the fairest of them all. Just as examples. I didn’t do this to make you happy but because I wanted to take my time today to go through your pics and videos. I liked the pics that I sincerely enjoyed that remind me of the woman that you are. You are beautiful. You are smart. You are capable. Have a good day tomorrow.

And suddenly I was ashamed.

ICB might call me his Hulkette, but the thing about the Hulk is that when he Hulk Smashes, he leaves unquantifiable destruction behind him. Every one of my meltdowns and episodes has a cost. It consumes SO MUCH of my energy – I sometimes sleep for 10-12 hours and still wake up exhausted and feeling concussed. It pushes people away, because while they might, if I am lucky, understand that I am at the mercy of these waves of uncontrollable feelings in a reality that is so distorted as to be barely recognizable, the fact remains that I say and do shit that hurts them. They might be understanding but at some point, they too are exhausted and chose their peace over me. And like the Hulk, I find myself alone, and scared of what will happen at any moment. What damage I’ll inflict on myself and those around me at work, with friends, or in this case, on a good kind man.

I gotta disagree with CSD. Instagram likes do matter. They have allowed me to see myself as I appear to others. While the result is mortifying, with a strong dose of grief and sorrow, at least I am aware, and awareness is the first step of change.