I’ve held onto this for a bit, unsure of whether to share this here. Upon further thinking, I’ve decided that it is important to me that we acknowledge that the Valencia-filtered facade of perfectly organized preciousness that we all create, encourage and in turn envy of others on social media is not wholly honest or healthy. Behind every facade is a silent struggle, big or small, and we tend to neglect this element of humanity due to stigmatic reservations. So let’s get candid.
Two summers ago I returned to ballet after having quit at 12. Between violin, piano, swimming, and dance, something had to go as keeping up with all of them in addition to school became increasingly hard. For various reasons it had to be dance. I have missed it ever since.
When I casually told my mother, she didn’t understand. She asked why I didn’t go for something more useful like ballroom dancing (I’m still struggling to think of when I’d find myself fox trotting or in a heated Argentinean tango). I realized it didn’t matter whether she approved or not; in my mind, I was gifting myself the opportunity to take off from where I left and close the gap between regret and longing.
The thing about ballet is I’ve had to return to the basics. I didn’t expect the road back to be such a hard test of patience and diligence. As an adult, I’ve quickly learned that my body at 28 is not as capable as it was at 13. Nothing moulds or responds as quickly and if I don’t focus on properly training the basic building blocks, I will be vulnerable to injuries. I found an awesome teacher, Debbie Lee, who was just what I needed: she doesn’t let me get away with jackshit and when I doubt my potential and take a step back, she pushes me to go for it. I feel like a giant ham most of the time as every muscle feels like a bag of sand, but as opposed to being the painfully shy and nervous student I was as a girl, adult me goes to class eager and determined, unabashed to admit that my Adagio was a hot mess or that my Petit Allegro was a pity. Lately the two-hour classes twice to three times a week are the only times I feel truly happy and in my own skin, where I don’t see my mistakes or mishaps as badges of shame despite having left classes in tears, feeling utterly defeated and anguished yet hungry to go back and make things right. One night, a colleague pointed at me and exclaimed, “Debbie! You broke her!” I panicked; I was worried that Debbie would go soft on me and leave me complacent rather than challenged and fired off an email that night, urging her to keep cracking the whip on me.
I’m telling you this because in the last five months, while dealing with my biggest caramel season to date, I’ve also weathered one of the most difficult periods of my life. I’ve had to deconstruct and revisit foundations and remind myself the importance of maintaining perspective and remembering my strengths in the face of an impending shitstorm. Ballet has offered me a disciplined way to translate this mentality and keep sane.
All my life, I have been running. Usually away from rather than towards things. If pushed against a wall, I would dig in my heels and push back but ultimately, I would still leave. At 17 I decided to abandon my musical studies because I was sick of the toxic environment and was not confident in my talent or abilities. At 19, I abruptly left home and waited tables to support myself and pay tuition, which I still do to this day. At 23, I left UBC with 9 credits to go because in the midst of cramming an average of seven texts a week, I burned out and was over-saturated in literature that I ceased to care for. My dreams are pregnant with incessant running from people and situations and I wake up exhausted. When it comes to skills or tasks, I usually figuratively run before I walk; unlike my brother, who excels in his endeavours because he breaks things down and relentlessly perfects each component, I operate backwards, stubborn about passionately diving into things and letting them blow up in my face to my bewilderment. I am someone who, once convinced of purpose, will commit beyond expectations but if left unconvinced, I could not be motivated for all the tea in China.
The thing about operating in extremes and running from things or taking the fast track is that eventually you burn yourself out. Or in my case being a total klutz, you trip over your feet and eat pavement. All of a sudden, you hit a threshold and are forced to stare into the abyss and have a hard look at yourself. This sums up my 2015.
I made huge changes thinking they were grounded in confidence and power but in a sense, I was still running from things. I left my partner of 7 years, dived back into university after a 5 year hiatus, moved in with 2 roommates (I haven’t had a roommate in 8 years), cut back on work to free up more time for the business (which meant unpredictable income), and briefly launched into the ridiculous circus of online dating (where I confirmed that polyamorousity, incessant intellectualism, or voracious vegan/vegetarianism aren’t really my jam. Yea, no thanks). I took off to Europe for a month and while I enjoyed it for the most part, I found myself desperately hanging to remnants of who I thought I might be as all the changes started to unravel me and leave me grasping at air. I was disengaged and disjointed. I was emotionally and physically exhausted and spent train and car rides asleep rather than taking in the amazing scenery. It all caught up to me. Come the end of summer, I felt as though the ground beneath me had been pulled away and I was free falling into nothing. For almost four months afterwards, it felt like my world I thought I had tirelessly built had dissolved and was crushing me under all of its weight. I was able to make it to class and work and seemed functional but in between, I locked myself in my room with the drapes shut, engulfed in shame.
My closest friends and my brother were left to pick up the pieces. Every morning, one would call or message to wake me up and help me set the goal for the day. Sometimes it was as small as getting up and having breakfast. I was mentally imprisoned in a place void of light, mind washed over with persistent white noise. My best friend Tiffany called me one afternoon mid October and I physically could not get up; it felt like a grand piano had come crashing down onto my back and my head was pinned down with cluster chords of dissonance. Yet throughout all of this, ballet continued to serve as a constant as it slowly refamiliarized myself with my physical body, reignited my thirst to succeed and cradled my beaten and bruised heart.
I’m sharing this because despite having made a record number of caramels this past season, its success is really because of a small handful of amazing friends and family who showed up big time and carried me. Recognizing the vitality that ballet brought to my well being, they insisted that I kept up with training even if it meant they were left to work alone for half a day. It is with absolute certainty that I would have thrown in the towel were it not for Tiffany, who, despite going through her own heartbreak, managed to still boss me around like a tiger mom and have me in tears from laughter. Or Madison who, despite being busy with grad school, donated countless hours wrapping caramels and yelled at me every time I panicked because I got another order to put on my massively backed up order board. Or Natalia, who shared as much heartbreak and disorientation in the last year but showed up to help with the most beautiful energy and confidence. And of course Neal, this year’s delivery boy (apologies to those who miss Josh ). My colleagues at Rangoli helped me in any way they could as per usual and the Wongs (Clinton, Jen, and little Ethan), my second family, helped with emergency ingredient runs while Ethan gave moral support. Riadh, Vanessa, I haven’t forgotten about you either.
I’ve come to appreciate the value and necessity of community now more than ever. I’ve chosen to work exclusively with small businesses for now due to the simple fact that as small business owners we all share similar trials, tribulations and stresses and have created a loving, supportive network for ourselves. Whenever possible, I try to deliver in person to say hi and catch up as this connection maintains meaning behind what I do.
I’m writing this because all of you, my awesome caramel collective, keep me going. Your comments, Instagram posts and emails do not go unnoticed and it humbles me to know that my little business, despite contributing to the global pandemic of diabetes, actually makes a positive difference. People always tell me how amazing they think I’m doing. I don’t feel the same and I don’t know if I will ever feel I’m adequate though I am working on it; I hope that in sharing my personal struggles with depression and anxiety, which are not easy to talk about, you can recognize that my life is not without darkness and that I recognize the same is possible in yours. When I reach out and bitch about life with sarcasm and dark humour, I intend for it to spark the same humour in you in the face of life’s absurdities. I hope that you too are as lucky as I am to have amazing friends, family, and community from which to draw borrowed strength while rebuilding my own and getting reacquainted with what it means to slow down and walk. Ultimately, I’m hoping that one day, we can all perfect what it means to be candid confectioners: how to make lemonade out of lemons and laugh and know it’s going to be okay when shit hits the fan. I acknowledge that life gets messy and fully concede to being human.
Love and thanks from the bottom of my heart to all of you.