CRIPPLING ANXIETY IS MY CARDIO

I suffer with anxiety.
Well, I always suffered with anxiety.
udo4I think it is fair to say that anxiety has been my loyal, faithful partner for as long as I can remember. The only partner I wished would have cheated on me and leave me for good! But nope, not a chance in hell…!
Anxiety has affected the vast majority of aspects of my life, and even now that I’m therapy and I am more equipped to fight it, I still feel the stomach turning, the bowels moving, the breathing getting heavier and that frigging feeling of an anvil suddenly pressing my chest and making me gasp for air.

People think anxiety is just in your brain. Yeah right, maybe when it is mild.
When it’s crippling, and severe, and ruling your own life, you’ll soon see the nasty, physical effects of it: feeling sick like you are about to vomit; having to keep track of every toilet, everywhere you go because you know your bowels won’t wait for you to talk yourself out of your sudden attack; feeling like your blood pression is suddenly going down and that you’ll soon faint; your face getting covered in spots as soon as your stress level hits the fan…. No, nothing pretty indeed. I wish there was a mental illness who made you look red carpet ready….

Anxiety has been my worst enemy at times, especially when it stopped me fromudo5 experiencing things, participating into various activities etc.. How many times have I avoided the gym because I was too anxious to faint? How many Sundays have I spent dreading going back to work on Monday? How many times I have avoided meeting friends because I was too anxious to feel sick after eating?
To be fair though, it also saved me from a lot of stupid stuff: I have never ever dared to entertain the idea of trying drugs because of my anxiety, but at the same time, whenever a doctor puts a medicine in front of me, I struggle to convince myself to take it (as we speak, I’ve been six years taking only paracetamol such is the anxiety about everything else).

udo6I don’t want to write a sad, commiserating post about anxiety though. No no no, I’m not in the mood, and one of my best features is the fact that I’m an amazing clown and I can laught about anything regarding myself… and don’t they say that laughter is the best medicine? Well, I would like you to join me in some of my most hilarious anxiety episodes. Come on, anxiety can make you do rather crazy stuff at times, it is only fair that we use them for a more positive aim!

Episode 1 – the dreaded dentist

I was… I think…. 20 years old. I know I was older than 18 because I was driving my own car. Anyway, I used to have a phobia of the dentist. When I was a kid, dentists in Italy (or, at least, then ones I saw) were more like butchers than teeth’s angels. I know for a fact that more than one person has been traumatised like me and had to endure a life of crippling anxiety whenever they had to have their teeth fixed.
I have avoided the dentist like the plague since my teens. I have been so scared and traumatised that I preferred to keep my wonky teeth rather than having anyone sticking their hands in my mouth. Unfortunately for me, a single, annoying as fuck wisdom tooth decided to pop in my mouth, and I had to resign myself to the fact that I had to have it removed.
A friend of my mum told her that she had a great experience at a hospital nearby where I lived. With a feeling of doom and gloom, I decided to face the situation and book an appointment.
Worst thing that can happen to someone with anxiety? Waiting rooms. You are there, on your own, in these kind of ok rooms, and you feel like an animal trapped in a cage waiting for your turn at the slaughterhouse. The more you wait, the more anxiety builds in you. If you have the nurse popping in and out calling a name that is not yours, it feels like you just barely dodged a bullet. So, there I was, trying to not vomit, faint or die of heart attack. My legs were restless. I felt like I was sitting on a hot surface. I couldn’t read, I couldn’t think straight, I could barely, just barely keep a straight face and not cry.
The nurse called my name, and I kid you not, my legs became the consistency of jelly. I walked towards the dentist room like “dead man walking”. The dentist was quite nice, I must admit, but I couldn’t listen to anything he was saying: I was in panic mode. I sat on the dentist chair and I felt trapped. I started to sweat like all the water in my body suddenly wanted to get out.

I had to do something.

I had to get out of that room.

As soon as the dentist grabbed his mirror to check my mouth, I begged to go to the toilet.
The dentist tried to talk me out of it, but I begged him – my bowels were having none of it, you know, anxiety. The nurse, a bit annoyed, showed me where the closest toilets where located.
With the chilliest, calmest attitude, I thanked them, left the room…. And I felt my legs moving way faster than what I wanted them to move.
And not heading towards the toilet either.
I was running, running like my life depended on it, running like Ussain Bolt trying to smash his Guinness World Record. I’m telling you, I ran like the wind and some more. To this day, I never managed to replicate that awesome performance – I would have been recruited at the following Olympic Games for sure!
I sat on my car, turned my phone off and I drove away as quickly as I could, in case they chased me.
At the time I was crying hysterically, now that I think of it I just can’t stop laughing: gosh, imagine the dentist and the nurse… I am still embarrassed to this day… a bit… (but I’m laughing hard).

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My room at the hospital – after surgery, I found a massive bowl of ice cream. They can remove all my teeth!

I’m happy to say that this year I decided to do something about this phobia: I swear, I googled “dentist for very anxious patients” and I discovered that, at least in the UK, there are dentists specifically trained to deal with patients suffering from severe anxiety. Not only I managed to fix my cavities (yey!), but…. Yeah, I got my wisdom tooth removed! Ok, I had to be highly sedated, but still, I didn’t run away and the day of my surgery I showed up and went ahead with the operation.

 

Oh, and for the record: I even warned my (new) dentist saying “I have a tendency to run away from hospitals”. His answer: “I won’t stop you, but just so you know, taking that tooth out will be a 2 minutes job, and then you’ll be back in your room where a massive bowl of ice cream will be waiting for you”. Fair play to you dentist, you smarty pants!

I felt so proud of myself!! Next step? Straightening my teeth!

Episode 2: meet your hero

In one of my previous blog posts I talked about my absolute, crazy love for heavy metal. Every single time I thought I was helpless and alone, music has been right next to me, giving me last final push to do amazing things I never thought I’d be able to achieve.

This happened two and a half years ago. The worst and most horrendous part of my post-natal depression was finally behind my back. Mind you, I was not doing great, but I wasn’t suicidal either. I was doing ok and I was relieved to be able to live a rather normal life. My ex-husband and I, at that point, were married just on paper: he didn’t stick with me (and he even made things worse for me) when things got rough with my mental health, and now that things were improving and I was re-discovering who I was and how I functioned, it was me who didn’t want to stick with him anymore. To me, overcoming my mental ordeal alone and using only my willpower was the Ultimate Proof of my Strength and Fierce Independence. He proved to be a narcissist attention seeker, and I was not in the mood to feed any of his martyrdom needs.

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My VIP hoodie!

Anyway, I was scrolling my Facebook newsfeed one day and BANG! Great news: one of my favourite singers ever, Mr Udo Dirkschneider, was announcing the ultimate tour of my secret dreams: with his band U.D.O. he would have played all the best and most famous Accept songs. Oh my gosh I grew up listening to Accept, and Udo has always been one of my German heavy metal heroes. Was I going to miss this event? No fucking way in hell.
Without even thinking too much I bought my ticket and my VIP upgrade so that I could meet my hero. I was geared up, I was excited, I was already singing and savouring the moment. I remember it clearly because it was around my birthday in January, and the gig would have been in April. I told my ex-husband what I did, and he said “oh, so you are going alone?”, expecting me to say “do you want to come with me?”.
I just answered “yes I am”.

 

And then I realised.

I was going to go alone.

Like, alone.

Anxiety hit me like a tsunami. A barrage of negative thoughts filled my head: what if I have a panic attack? What if I have more than one panic attack? What if I freak out and I’m in the middle of the room, full of crazy, headbanging metalheads? What if I faint? What if my anxiety gets so much that I can’t even come back home? What if, at night, I get stuck on a train back home and I am in such an anxiety state that I forget English and I can’t ask for help? The list goes on and on and on. I tried to calm down: I still had few months to go before the actual gig, and anyway, its’ not like I’d be held at gunpoint forcing me to go if I decided to not go last minute, right?

Time went by and April arrived. I had that gig in my calendar and it felt more and more like a death sentence the closer it got. Then, the day arrived. I spent a day at the office totally restless. I think I’ve annoyed the shit out of everyone that day. I begged everyone to give me an excuse not to go (do you want me to finish this work? To do anything at all? How about we have a meeting at 6pm….) but… there were none.
Ok, what do I do now?
I decided to take the evening one step at the time.
First, I decided to get there and see how I felt. The tube journey was ok, I mean, nothing different from what I do every single day, twice a day.
Next step, queuing up at the venue’s entrance. Having a VIP ticket meant I had to get there earlier than everyone else, so the place was basically empty. That helped a lot, since it took away the “oh my gosh, all these people and I’m in the middle” anxiety bit. Having said that, someone with anxiety doesn’t really cope well with waiting, and I surely wasn’t happy. I started walking around, increasingly more nervous as time went by. I could feel my stomach twisting and turning. I was about to say “fuck it, I’m going home” when I heard the guy managing the VIP list gathering people for the Meet and Greet.

Deep breath, ok. At least I can meet Udo.

I got into the venue and my heart was racing. I could feel it beating in my head.

We had to go two floors down, and the more steps down the stairs I took, the more my legs became wobbly: I thought I would have ended up fainting, falling down, breaking my head and dying there and then. Without meeting Udo! For fuck sake!

I managed to get there intact. And after few minutes…. Udo came from backstage. I udo1started crying like a baby.
He has been super sweet and kept hugging me till I managed to compose myself. I was over the moon! I kept shaking like electricy was running up and down my body. When we took a picture together, I couldn’t stand still. Udo laughed and said (with a very german accent) “no, stop shaking, we need to take beautiful picture now. And if the first is not beautiful enough, we take another one ok? No panic”. Sweet! He made my day (of course I hugged him again, and again).
When the Meet and Greet ended though, it was time to face the gig alone.

I went back upstairs, and I decided to stay on the side of the stage, avoiding the crowd. The supporting bands did their shows, and everything was ok. Then, U.D.O. time came… as soon as the first song started, I started singing and jumping. By the third, I was in the middle of the crowd. Mid-set, and I was front row singing my heart out. My brain just shut down and filled itself with music. It was the best feeling ever. I cried, I sang, I headbanged, I laughed, I was in heaven.
svenI even waited outside to meet the whole band, and I can’t thank Sven Dirkschneider enough for being a truly amazing guy. It was dark, it was cold (as fuck), I was the only female human being out there, but he spent few minutes with me and made sure I was ok and happy. Sven, if you ever read this, I have never forgotten how kind you have been with me, and I owe you!

 

STRIKE A POSE

I think I shocked quite a few people, lately, with some of my daring pictures on Instagram.
When you spend a lifetime portraying yourself as the as the ugly weirdo in a heavy metal t-shirt, who can barely put some basic make up on her face and who is as feminine as Godzilla with a skirt, the sudden change to a rather hot babe with full make up, false lashes, sexy underwear and not giving a single fuck about showing off can be quite a big “WHAT?”.

Honestly? I’m loving it and I’m having such a jolly good time.

me2
mastering the truck driver look at the office (for the record, this is Nico Rosberg hat!)

I’ve spent every single day of my life, up till not long ago, convincing myself that I was irremediably UGLY AF, Supreme Court final judgement issued, no appeal, over, that is it, deal with it.
I never even dared to entertain the remote possibility that, actually, I may not be that bad, and that maybe, just maybe, with a bit of effort, some guidance and a different mentality, maybe I could be the person I really am and not the one I decided to be (the one who looks (and feel) like a pub toilet after a Saturday night).

I never had a mirror in my bedroom up till January this year. No joking. Why should I have had something reflecting the image of a body I always hated with a passion? I barely had one in my bathroom and that was more than enough to make me start my mornings and end my days with a “oh no that ugly face again, look at you, jeeez you are hideous”.

I have wasted so much time, so much energy, putting myself down and diminishing myself; if only I had been less negative and more positive! I tried to be the people pleaser whilst flying as low as possible, because I was one of those who thinks that it’s only other people who can be looking good, successful, interesting, good, etc. Even in my relationships, I fell for the wrong men, thinking they were awesome even though they were barely average (or downright twats) because I couldn’t think of deserving anything better.

You know what I realised? Hating yourself is quite a demanding, hard, and tiring job. It takes quite the effort. You are always, constantly, continuing thinking of horrible, negative stuff about you, and your brain is in an unstoppable spiral out of control full of hate, from the moment you wake up, till the moment you go to bed, without any breathing space.
Then, to add salt to your very open and bleeding wounds, you start comparing yourself to others. I don’t just mean the celebrities in their ultra-doctored and intensely photoshopped pictures: any other human being, living and breathing, is a chance for you to dig some more into your non-existent self-esteem.

Oh, but this is not the end of it!

me1
I have been famous for not being capable of having a picture taken without pulling a stupid face

You so hate yourself that you cannot possibly contemplate, not even remotely entertain the idea that someone may disagree with you and see you for the lovely person you are (inside and outside). No, no, no, no! They MUST be wrong. Worse. Not only they are wrong, but they must know they are and therefore they are teasing you. They are having fun at your expenses. Needless to say, you reject any compliment like the plague, and you are quick to answer back shit like “pretty? ME? Dude your eyes need checking”, “What? Are you joking? I look like a bin bag in this dress” etc…
I am not proud to admit that I took this habit of refusing compliments to the next level: I intentionally annoyed the hell out of anyone (friends, colleagues, partners) with my refusal till I ended up making them feel bad, I have forced them to listen to all the tripe I thought about myself to the point I got them so extremely fed up with me that they just stopped complimenting me altogether in order to avoid having to yell at me (or slap me).
I know.

I portrayed myself uglier than what I am because this is the reality I wanted to believe in. Being the victim of my own image meant that I didn’t require any effort on my part to change: I was just passively accepting this as a fact because I knew that changing is H A R D. And I didn’t do hard because I’m lazy at the core and I would have missed a chance to moan and make myself miserable a bit more. I did lazy, commiserating, “poor me” and helplessness. Gosh I was such an unpleasant mess.

I’m about to break this news to you: if you want to love yourself, you got to learn to do it. Even better, you have to start trying to love yourself, one step at the time. Just that. Try. No other options for you. You can either stay miserable all your life (and believe me, I was headed towards this road without a single care in the world) OR, you try to improve. At worst, you stay as you are. But if you try and make a real effort, change will happen. Guaranteed.

I was talking to a very good friend I met on Instagram, who is on a similar journey to mine (you know who you are 😊 Love you!) and we were discussing about my gym body. I told him that I’m nowhere near the body I plan to have, but that I’m working hard towards it, and if only I didn’t spend all my life hating myself, I would already be at that level now. All I had to do was just…

Try.

Don’t get me wrong, I make it sound so easy, but giving yourself the push to try… it is hard as hell.

I read tons of self-help books, all giving great, helpful suggestions on how to start change, what to do to start believing more in yourself and lift your self-esteem.
Convincing myself to follow those advices was a piece of cake: of course I’m going to write some lovely positive affirmations!
Hell yeah I’m going to stop my negative thoughts before they kick in and replace them with positive ones!
Absolutely, don’t worry, from now on I’m going to do all these things, you watch me.
Then the time to actually try and do these things came, and guess what? I freaked out. Because I convinced myself it was pointless. Because I felt stupid. Because my mindset was always in a “I’m a helpless loser” mode. Because what if. Because I knew better. Because nothing can possibly work on someone like me. Because I was so (insert negative thing) that not even a miracle could make me any different. Ever felt the same as me?

Well, guess what? Give yourself a much-deserved chance. I did it. And hear this: you got nothing to lose and all to gain. Don’t think “it is not possible”, shut that thought and re-wire it into a “let’s see what happens!”.

You can’t imagine how hard I struggled to tell myself that I was worthy. It took me more than a month to stop laughing and think “yeah right” every time I said to myself “I am beautiful”. But I didn’t surrender. No way Jose, this time we don’t do half-arsed stuff.
I have always been proud of surrounding myself with positive, loving, caring and inspiring people; when I embarked on this life-enhancing mission of changing the way I think, act, and see the world, I “hired” them as my special angels – change assistants: to ensure I didn’t back down, I asked all these friends to listen to what I said carefully, and yell at me should I have said anything bad about myself. Anything! Slap me too, if I don’t stop. Believe me, having someone telling you “ENOUGH” Rephrase it positively!!” every time you open your mouth is incredibly helpful, mainly because your negativity is so rooted deep down in you that you don’t realise how bad it is unless someone points it out at you.
I have forced myself to say “thank you” to any compliment, without biting back or saying anything else. Thank you and a smile. That’s it. Gosh it was sooooo hard. More so, I started to actively compliment myself: damn I cooked an amazing dinner tonight; good job Silvia, that was great; look at you, going to the gym even when you’d rather be in bed, you go girl. No more “you are shit” and stuff like that, no.
Since I knew one of my worst defects is being a massive lazy arse, I ordered a colleague to drag me to the gym no matter what. Boy she did. I almost got scared of her!

However, the best thing I ever did was to allow myself to see me through all these amazing people’s eyes, and just embrace what they saw rather than staying stuck with what I saw. I started to think: look, if all these wonderful people I love, cherish and admire have nothing but praise for me, and I’m the only one who thinks shit (beside the twat I was in love with, who was just that, a twat) …. Could it be that I’m the one in the wrong?
I let their love fill my empty heart, and I used their skills to learn and improve myself: I am useless at shopping for clothes? I dragged a friend with me and gave her the power of treating me like a human doll: show me what you think I would look good in! I had a photoshoot with a dear friend of mine, and she showed me that even with not a lot of makeup and not “fresh from hair salon” hair, I could look good. I sat and listened to them, trying to grasp any tip, any advice on how to look and act better. I even said to my desk-neighbour “kick me if you see me slouching on my chair (my physiotherapist thanks profusely). I hoarded makeup, and I asked the shop assistant good tips, then I spent endless evenings on youtube trying and testing stuff to learn how to do nice looks without ending up looking like a clown or a prostitute. I pampered myself with a new haircut, a facial, some new gym clothes and a better diet.

I am still nowhere near where I want to be, but one thing is sure:

Yes, I am beautiful.

me3

I need few things to fix, but yes, I am a really beautiful woman.

I have a big heart, I’m a loyal friend, I’m funny, I’m sweet, I’m fierce, I’m strong, I’m powerful, I’m full of love and I am positive force. Whoever thinks differently about me is more than welcome to fuck off back from the shithole where he/she comes from (excuse my language). I’m independent, I have a job I love to bits, I love abundantly, and I am surrounded by love; I am sure that the universe is now gearing up to bring me all the goodness I deserve.

If you are reading this and you have been in my same old, negative shoes, feel free to reach out to me. If you are in need of a sign that will turn your life around, here it is: just do it! Just try! I am just like you and I’m still walking down this path, stumbling, and falling at times, but still going strong, because I don’t want to live that negative hell anymore. Listen to me, give yourself this chance. Forget negativity, that won’t lead you anywhere but misery. You are unique. You are special. Leave your past to rest, focus on today and start loving yourself. Don’t feed your negative narrative and push away whoever tries to bring you down.

And in the words of the wonderful Whitney Houston (may she rest in peace):

I decided long ago never to walk in anyone’s shadows
If I fail, if I succeed, at least I’ll live as I believe
No matter what they take from me they can’t take away my dignity
Because the greatest love of all is happening to me
I found the greatest love of all inside of me

HELP! I NEED SOMEBODY! HELP!

I hate being weak.
I hate people thinking that I’m weak, and even more so, I hate when people can see my weaknesses.

I HATE IT!

The only person I allowed to be in the presence of a flawed, frail me, has been my ex-boyfriend, because I convinced myself that he loved me so much that he would have helped me heal my issues with his love.

Yeah right, it didn’t really go to plan this one…

When he dumped me and all I had was, well, me, and I realised how helpless I was, I decided to do the bravest, most upsetting, panic and anxiety attack inducing thing I have ever done: I admitted defeat; I acknowledged that, there and then, I was in no mental state to move on from that shit.
I raised my hand and I asked for help.
Not just reaching out to friends though.
I mean, I asked for PROFESSIONAL help.

Bit of a background here: I fought with my mental health since my teens. I already said in another blog post that I come from a family, on my mum’s side, where everyone has something not quite right in their head. Yet none of us ever dared to even think of going to see a psychologist, or a therapist, or anyone, really.
I grew up hearing things like “oh you don’t go to the shrink, only total coo-coo people go there” or “I don’t need to see a shrink, no way I’ll say stuff to a complete stranger, he’ll think I’m crazy, will only stuff me with pills and besides, what can he/she actually do to help!”, “it is so shameful and embarrassing, do you want people to know you are mental?” and so on.
Trying to improve your mental health by seeing a specialist was something you didn’t do and didn’t even dare to mention.

Once, when I was 17 years old, I insisted to see a consultant because my crippling anxiety was starting to take a toll on my physical health. I had to beg for months, and in the end, I ended up with the crappiest psychiatrist working in my city, because what was important was not his/her capabilities, but his/her surgery being as far away from where I lived as possible, and hidden too, to ensure that no one would have ever seen me going there – or else, shame on me, my family and my relatives for years to come. This woman I ended up seeing was rude, she didn’t let me talk, she handed me an antidepressant’s prescription and dismissed me there and then: needless to say, I decided my relatives where right after all and there was no going back.

Over the years, my anxiety only got worse. It didn’t help being bullied at work for two years solid by my manager. I reached a nice equilibrium when I moved to London, because I was too busy settling down in a new country and in a new job, so I didn’t have the time to think “wait, how am I doing?”. All went down the drains after my pregnancy: yes, the dreaded Post-Natal Depression (you can read more in my previous post). I knew it was a possibly, I read about it, I thought I knew what to do… till I had it: 3 long years of constant panic attacks and suicidal thoughts. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. I slowly crawled out of that hell alone and I re-built a kind of “new normal” counting only on myself and no one else. I sometimes think it is a miracle that I’m here, writing, living, and breathing and not being locked in a psychiatric ward (or six feet under).

I knew I was not perfect, but I thought I was doing ok: I mean, I was alive. I was happy. I put up with divorcing, with being alone with a kid, bills to pay and a mortgage, I had friends, work was good and I loved it, I had an amazing boyfriend…. till he dumped me, and at that point life hit me in the face like a truck.
I was not ok anymore.
No, worse, I have never been ok, I only pretended to be so.
Everything I pushed in a remote corner of my brain (hating myself, hating my body, being a weirdo, being alone, you name it) not only reached the surface, but BANG! It was like being run over by a train on full speed.
I had to do something though, come on Silvia, you can do this bitch, you overcame worst things!

flowers
I even bought myself flowers every week!

I became obsessed with “doing”. Anything. So long as I didn’t have to stand still. In the space of a month I read at least 15 self-help books (and some really did change my life) and I got still a handful around the house waiting to be read; I meditated every single day, twice a day minimum; I pushed myself to go to the gym and put some REAL effort in my exercises; I wrote my affirmations and I repeated them over and over again non-stop like a lunatic; I forced myself to think positive things, to have faith in the universe, to block any negative thoughts on the spot…. and yet the only thing that I could not manage to do was asking for help. Psychological help.

Let’s face it, you can do all the exercises in the world, you can follow all the sound advices that experts and caring friends give you, but you are barely scratching the surface of something that it is deeply rooted in you. This is, at least, how I felt. I tried very hard to avoid it, even though all the signs pointed in that directions. I fought it hard and I gave myself a million of excuses to not do it, including “I cannot afford it” and “who’s going to care for my son when I’m in therapy”.

Still, in front of the mirror shouting “I am so beautiful. Check these abs, wow, I am so fierce” I felt this…. void. It just wasn’t enough. I bit my lips and decided that I had it, that was officially it: if I really wanted to see changes, I had to stop being so up my arse, let go of my past and just

ask.for.help.

What could possibly go wrong? Do I ask for help when I can’t do something at work? yes. Do I ask my son for help when I’m cleaning his bedroom and shit reaches the roof? yes. Do I ask for help to my friends when I’m feeling down, and I need a good chat and an Aperol Spritz on the side? YES. So… I am now in need of help to dig at the core of my problems and I need someone with the appropriate shovel to succesfully do it.

Easy, right?

Of course, I thought. Let me find the right therapist who can help me, yey!

So here is me, googling “best therapist near me” and browsing profiles, all happy and merry. I found one I liked, I read the profile, it fitted what I was looking for. Actually, it felt like “THIS IS THE ONE I FEEL I WANT TO TALK TO”.
I was all geared up. Contact page, here is the psychotherapist’s email.
I’m ready. This is my moment, let me write a lovely email.

“Dear……

my name is Silvia and….”

And I stopped. I just froze.

My hands couldn’t write anything. At all. My mind went blank, all of the sudden.
Then, a tsunami of negative thoughts filled the void: “WTF are you doing? What is this shit? What are you thinking of writing? What do you need? Are you sure you want to waste money chatting away to some stranger? You know the things you could do instead? Plus, what do you say to her? That you are sad because your love story ended? So what? Do you think you are the first one who ever had a broken heart? Come on bitch, you survived worse things by yourself, delete that email, go to the gym instead, have a glass of wine” and so on.

I dropped my phone. I got up, and I started walking around in my living room like a caged animal at the zoo. I’m in this whirlwind of thoughts when, like a lightning strike, I remember a quote from one of those self-help books I read:

The Big Snooze will do everything it can to stop you from changing and growing, especially since you’re attempting to obliterate the very identity that you and everyone else has come to know as “you”
Jen Sincero, “You are a Badass”

That was exactly what was happening. My brain was working against me in an attempt to stop me pursuing change, real change. I grabbed the phone from the floor, re-open that email and I simply typed

“Dear….

my name is Silvia AND I NEED HELP”

I wrote how hard it felt to write this request, how anxious I was at the thought of looking stupid, but that I needed to do it so please guide me into the process.

I paused. I closed my eyes. I had some deep breaths, then I pressed send.
And then I ended up with an anxiety attack!
But, what was done, was done. I asked for help. The therapist wrote me back shortly afterwards and she arranged for a phone call later the day to start the ball rolling.

The first session was… weird. I sat there, eyes wide open, like I was about to be executed at gunpoint. I just didn’t know what the hell I was supposed to do! My therapist put me immediately at ease and gently pushed me to talk.
I started to stutter and mumble a bit. Then I felt more at ease. I said something funny and we both started to laugh. I felt better, and I opened up a little more… and by the time the session finished, I realised I turned into a total chatterbox unable to shut up.
That night, I slept like a baby, happy.

Now, after a month and half, I’m here thinking: why on Earth I’ve been so dumb and stupid to not do it sooner!

I feel like every session is a pampering spa experience for my brain. My therapist engages me in amazing debates, she helps me reflect on the things I say, she guides my thought processes without judging or forcing me, and when I leave, I feel amazing. It is the most selfish thing I have ever done for myself: every week, an hour of 100% me, me, me, me. ME. No one else but me. It is the best thing ever. For someone who has always been “others first”, it is a mesmerising experience!

If you are there, thinking “mmmm I don’t know” please, listen to me: give it a go.
Think of what you’d like from a therapist: I chose mine because, amongst other things, she doesn’t do Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (been there, done that, I HATED IT) and because she is there to LISTEN.
Research carefully: we have been blessed with the power of Google, let’s use it for good things, not just to find the funniest cat memes of the month.
Then, once you got the one who ticks all the boxes, just give it a go: trust me, if you find “the right one”, you won’t regret it, and you’ll thank yourself soon!

HEAVY METAL OR NO METAL AT ALL

When people say “music saved my life”, I don’t have to make any effort to believe it.
I am one of them too.

kreator1My life saviour was Heavy Metal, discovered through MTv (dinousaur mode on: back in my days, MTv was a true music channel!). In Italy, we could only watch the US version of it, and just for a handful of hours a day, as it was hosted on another italian tv channel. MTv Italia came later on, when MTv headquarters realised that Italian youngsters were eager to have a brand new, modern channel dedicated to them.
Being a teenager, I soon decided that sleeping a decent amount of hours at night was overrated, and that staying up late at night (and waking up with massive dark circles around my eyes) was super cool;  Star Trek The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine were on at 1am, so there I was, cup of tea in my hand, mesmerised in front of my best friend forever the TV, and who cares if the price to pay was being a zombie at school the next day.

One night, skipping channels out of boredom, I ended up watching a programme on MTv called SuperRock.

And DAMN!

That music! Those guitars! Those sweaty, long haired people shouting anger and fury at a microphone, surrounded by even sweatier and angrier people down the stage. I had an epiphany there and then. Like for all my passions, I went from nothing to “I’m so into it like nobody can ever be able to”. Out with the colours, in with all black clothes.

Yes, Madonna was my hero (because she was so doing whatever she wanted to do, whether it was appropriate or not, and to me she was an inspiration of the woman I wanted to be), I quite liked rock music and I am still a proud Queen fan, but other than that, pop music never spoke to me at a deeper level. Boy bands? oh dear me no… I found them embarassaing (now, 20 years later, I am one with Gary Barlow and Gary Barlow is with me. Oh, and Backstreet’s back alright!).
Spice Girls? PPPlllease. Bunch of chavs (I didn’t know what a chav was, of course, but in Italy we called them “zarri” o “tamarri” which is kind of the same thing).
That creepy dance music? What is love (baby don’t hurt me, don’t hurt me, no more – sorry I HAD TO!)?
Heavy metal didn’t need me to be anything but myself. All that frustration, all that fury, all the drama of being so not the norm, suddenly it had a voice, and a fucking loud as hell one. I finally found something I could relate to.

Hiding in my bedroom now went from “I hate everyone, I don’t want them to see what an ugly, stupid disaster I am” to “I’m meditating about life whilst listening to Slayer”. Hours and hours with headphones on, crying over those lyrics, raising my horns up in the sky, releasing through those guitar riffs all the pain I had inside. Those people really knew what I was going through, they were just like me, only older and more famous. I found my dimension.

My parents were not convinced at first, but being my parents and being used to my craziness, they decided it was best to allow me to enjoy my latest passion rather than denying it. They hoped that, like other previous stuff I got into, I would grow out of it at some point (hopefully sooner rather than later) and maybe, just maybe, that I would pick something less doom and gloom next (unfortunately for them, it never happened).

I saved like a crazy Uncle Scrooge every single penny to afford any metal album out there. I was like a drug addict, I needed more, more, more, more! On the subject, I would like to officially blame Luca Signorelli (HAHAHA I love you!) who, thanks to his album reviews on the italian version of Metal Hammer, made me fall in love with some amazing bands I still adore to this day (Kreator, Megadeth and Testament, to name a few!). My poor dad had to be dragged every single Saturday to the music store to buy CDs (“dad, Luca says that Endorama is a bomb, I have to have it”; “dad, you don’t get it, I know, but Machine Head “The More Things Change” is like… omg dad… read Luca’s review, come on, I MUST OWN IT RIGHT NOW daddy please daddy he is raving about it I will die if I don’t listen to it”). My dad rolled his eyes, resigned himself at spending another Saturday amongst the weirdos at the music store and stared at me and my peers, surrounded by those CDs with these quite creepy covers, pretending to be totally fine even though he looked like a fish out of water, because yeah, she is my daughter, she is cool, poor you other dads who don’t get it.

My mum, eager to do shopping with her daughter even-if-not-for-the-lovely-pretty-dressed-she-hoped-for, came with me to all those metal-dark-all black shops full of band merchandise (SoundCave and Mariposa, I salute you!) and helped me pick the best t-shirts (“no that dragon is too brown, get this one instead, the red writing matches your new jeans better, oh and you definitely need this one with all these skulls and blood. Oh, get this long-sleeve, for colder days. Oh, accessories! Get this necklace with this 15cm sword pendant”). Of course, she also got me a leather jacket because you ain’t a metalhead without having one. FACT!
Best of all, I was allowed to wear those t-shirts at school. My mum said so. Who am I to go against my mum?
Yes, ladies and gentleman, we didn’t have school uniforms in Italy (and we still don’t)!
Once a teacher dared to make me feel bad about my beloved Blind Guardian t-shirt, 19featuring a scene from J.R.R. Tolkien’ Silmarillion; she said I should have worn it upside down because she couldn’t stand that horrible drawing of some creepy satanic scene. I went histerical and I basically told her she was ignorant as fuck (ok I didn’t say it in these terms, of course, I was a good girl, I didn’t want to be suspended) because those satanic drawings were, in fact, a scene from the Silmarillion written by Tolkien, and that maybe she should have studied some proper literature before saying shit about my shirt.
Read some books bitch!
Of course the teacher was not impressed at my attitue and of course she called my mum. If you read my previous posts, you know that my mum is… my mum. Yeah, she stormed in my teacher office telling her to mind her fucking business, that her job was to teach me Latin, not to be fashion police, besides what the hell she thinks she knew about fashion anyway, it is known that black is flattering, skulls are cool, and I picked the t-shirt for my daughter, it is not offensive in any shape or form, it is art, this is Tolkien ok? Never heard of the Lord of The Rings? Hey I will make my daughter wear it every single day till the end of the school if I have to OK? How about you get the book and you read it in class so that you can teach the kids some culture?.

Aaaaand I ended up parading metal shirt all school year long.
Cheers mum, you da best!

I remember the very first time I went to a metal gig: Blind Guardian were playing in a little, punk / rock place called Rainbow in some dodgy area somewhere in Milan. A friend and I, both 14 years old (I think) went there totally unprepared for what we were about to experience: we thought we were super cool and super alternative, probably amongst the older chaps in the place. Turns out, we were just… exactly who we were. Two kids. Amongst very hairy, older, taller, bigger people than us. We kind of lied to our mums to be able to go (“noooo don’t worry it is just… some Germans…. Fans of Tolkien…. Yeah super cool thing, fantasy lovers, nothing to be concerned….”), and I can still see as it happened yesterday the look of pure horror and terror when they realised where their precious 14 something years old offspring were about to spend their evening. We smiled and waved, then run inside in the hope they would not chase us and drag our sorry asses back in the car and home. We were sure we’d be grounder for couple of years after this, but fuck it, we were too cool to care. We had the time of our lives. Metal has always been (at least back then) such an inclusive community, because at the end of the day we were all in the same condition of being outcasts, and weird, and different, so if you had a band t-shirt and you lived and breathed metal, you were part of the family and be looked after. Period.

Incidentally, my love for heavy metal happened at the start of what I like to call “The tech revolution” in Italy. It was the beginning of a “fast”, reliable, affordable 24/7 internet. Before that, internet was only for those who could pay quite the eye-watering telephone bill, and if you wanted it for free you were allowed only 30 minutes a day. But there’s more: you had to unplug the landline phone, plug the internet one in, turn on that fucking noisy 56k modem and hope for the best. Ahhhh, those where the days where websites were 4 lines of texts and a picture or two, and you’d see it loading line by line. You had to have patience. Now I freak out if my 4G doesn’t load BBC Sport in 3 seconds. Our parents used to yell at us if we forgot to re-plug the landline back, and important calls went missing (yep!). Google made its debut and suddenly everyone discovered what a search engine was. Gosh I feel ancient! ANCIENT!

The world started to feel smaller. In the comfort of my room, I discovered I could connect with everyone, from Australia to Peru; most importantly, I discovered something totally ground-breaking: I was not alone.

Hyperventilating moment.

I was NOT alone.

Out there, thanks to my computer, I had the power to reach tons of people that were like me.

Weird, like me. Different, like me. Listening to heavy metal, like me. Wearing black, like me. Being outcasts, and nerds, and crazy, and fun, and intelligent, and non-judgemental…. And the list goes on and on. Words cannot express how good and relieving it felt to finally be part of something, to have a gang of friends always ready to be there for me and chat with me and have fun with me anytime I switched my computer on.

Of course, my parents wanted to make sure I was not ending up in some satanic cult, so they met all my new friends, and because all of us were based in various cities across Italy, they drove me to whatever city we decided to have our meeting in (and joined the fun too!). By the way, I was the youngest amongst my friends. Most of them were at university already, some were older and were working, some had family and kids. Still, at the end of the day, it didn’t matter. What matter was what we had inside, what we had to say, the music we loved, not what society labelled us (“old”, “freak”, “ugly”, “student”, “son”, “father”, “wife” etc…). To this day, I’m grateful for this experience: it taught me you can be friend with anyone, anywhere.

To this day, I’m still a metalhead, and I’m still crazy at heart.

slayer
yeah, I looked a bit like this that day

My wardrobe is full of black band t-shirts that I wear to go to work: I traumatised few colleagues with my t-shirts; one of them had the “baptism of fire” the day he started: he was all suited and booted (corporate, finance world attire) in reception, waiting for “Silvia” to pick him up. He was expecting, well, a corporate dressed woman…. and instead, he got me, Slayer t-shirt, ripped jeans, scruffy hair, storming in the reception, phone in my hand, yelling at whoever forgot to tell me that guests needed to be picked up.
Oh, the day I turned up at my desk with my Kreator “Satan is Real” t-shirt: hey, it was casual Friday, nobody said anything about “maybe NOT that casual”…!
If someone wanders around my office looking for me, my desk is easy to spot: there are pictures of Slayer everywhere, including on my stapler, and before we moved area, I even had a German corner with all my German favourite bands (sorry, Ich liebe Deutschland sehr).

Heavy metal made me travel countries for gigs like crazy, to the point I ended up being in a special, secret EasyJet club for frequent flyers (no lies!).
I met almost all my favourite musicians and I got some funny stories to tell about it… ah, the day I almost fainted in front of Dave Mustaine of Megadeth, the poor guy kept hugging me, telling me “it’s ok, it’s going to be fine, give me a big smile”; the day I spent hanging out with Testament thanks to the cake I baked for Chuck Billy’s birthday, or

anthrax
Amongst the Italians

Steve Souza of Exodus on stage dedicating “Blacklist” to me as he met me outside the venue before the gig, I was in tears ’cause I got dumped recently (by the same guy I got recently dumped, I should add)…. or when I froze to death to meet Sven Dirkschneider, or Wolf Hoffmann, or Kreator, and the time I met Anthrax and Frank Bello shouted “this picture will be called Amongst the Italians”….

And those friends I made on the internet? They are still (!!!) my friends. We chat on Facebook all the time, we meet if we have the chance and we have fun just like we did when we were younger. Over the years I met some incredible people thanks to this music. Hand on heart, the sweetest, craziest, funniest guys on Earth. Boy, they have to handle me, and some of them learned the hard way what it is like to have me as “your

ros
Ros and I at Slayer’s gig

BFF”. Rosario, my dearest of all, still has nightmares thinking about going to gigs with me: to give you an idea, the time we saw Kreator together, I began the gig by promising him I’d behave, but by the time the lights went off, I have been told I threw my beer up in the air shouting “OH MY GOOOOOOOOOOOOOD” and I began ramming people down to reach the front row…. Rosario eventually found me, headbanging the hell out of that gig somewhere in the venue, totally mental. Slightly better than the time we saw Slayer, and I kept texting him a barrage of messages, then I started jumping around him, yelling in hir ears and be a total nuisance. He still loves me, somehow (till the next gig).

For the record, since when it comes to Heavy Metal I’m still the bonkers teenager at

mille
Me & the lengendary Mille Petrozza

heart, my friends still treats me as such, and to this day, they still tease me for having Slayer tattoed on my leg (of course!) and, most of all, for still fancying Mille Petrozza of Kreator. Hey, 20+ years of pure, undisputed love here guys, I travelled half of Europe to follow the guy, I even mastered to learn some German for him! Show some respect!

HAHAH HORNS UP! \m/

TOMBOY IS AS TOMBOY DOES

As I said in a previous post, it has always been pretty clear that I never was your average, typical girlie-girl, all pink and dolls.
My dad couldn’t have cared the less, since he got the best deal ever with me: he had the daughter he so desperately wanted who was a total daddy’s girl, but his little girl behaved like a boy and, most importantly, liked boy-ish stuff. Not to brag, but I was the one who took my dad at San Siro Stadium for the first time ever in his life to see AC Milan playing (and then we ended up buying season tickets), just sayin’….

My mum, on the other hand…. Well…

baby
My mum and I. WTF was I wearing?

She has always been fine with me being who I was, don’t get me wrong, and whoever dared to say anything against my tomboy nature ended up regretting it big time. Having said that, she would have loved a slightly less tomboy daughter, and she has always tried to make me appreciate more feminine things. I think she hoped that, by forcing me into wearing girlie clothes, somehow, I’d become more of a girl by osmosis.
The problem is, my mum sense of style has always

dress
You can see it on my face that I was NOT happy

been quite… ehm…. Interesting. Ok, it was the 80s and we were quite flamboyant, ok, but… mum, what the hell! Oh, my goodness gracious me, she made me wear some hideous stuff when I was a little girl! For the record, she still stands by her choices and she still think I was sooooooo prettyyyyyyyyy (no mum, NO).

Unfortunately for her, I have always been a rebel at heart, so I’d (repeatedly) crush her hopes of appreciating less boy-ish stuff at any given occasion. I have been so ruthlessly destroying all her attempts, so much that when I now buy some very nice, female clothes (and some very daring ones too), or stiletto heels, or makeup (I have an addiction for lipsticks that I can’t or won’t fight) she asks me first if it is for some dress up party, then when I say “no mum (eyes rolling) it is to go to work / out / to this dinner (etc.)”, I can see in her eyes that she is about to shed a tear or two. To give you an example:

me
Wimbledon princess

A month ago I bought a white dress and a Panama Hat to go to Wimbledon. I took a very lady-like selfie. I looked really pretty. I sent it to my mum, hoping to fish some compliments AND to impress her. She texted me back asking me if I photoshopped myself in that dress.
Thank you very much mum!
In the end, I had to FaceTime her, whilst wearing that dress, to convince her that I actually owned it and that it was really me who was wearing it. I know….!
Back to my childhood though, It was not just the dresses and the toys that I didn’t like, it was… everything, really.

Oh my, I still remember my first (and last) Nativity play at school.
My mum bribed my teachers to allow me for once to play the role of the Holy Mary. My mum was (and still is) very catholic so it was a big deal for her. More so, it was one of the main characters, so I would have been a girl, in the role of the most important woman in Catholicism, and all the school would have seen me like this. Dreamland!
My mum had a cunning plan: she knew that, to make it appealing to me, my teachers had to make me think it was not something already decided: I would have had the chance at having a go at that role, but I would have had to fight tooth and nail for it; if I suspected my mum was behind the idea I would have refused for sure (I guess I have always been a bit of a looney).
I fought tooth and nail, yes, just not for what she hoped for. During the day teachers were assigning roles, my mum got a call. They informed her that her lovely, precious daughter ended up having a tantrum of biblical proportion (pardon my pun!) because at first, I was refusing to take part in the play. Like, over my dead body I am doing this shit and stand in front of my whole school. No way, Jose. The teachers then hoped to sweet talk me into giving me THE role every girl dreamed of, and apparently I said:
“Holy Mary? I don’t want to wear a light blue sheet and I want nothing to do with that creepy baby Jesus doll”.
They tried to find alternatives for me, but I stubbornly refused every single possible female role they came up with. When they were ready to give up, they simply asked me what the hell did I want to be. About time! I kindly and happily replied them that if I were to take part, the only role for me was being one of the Three Kings, either Melchior or Balthazar because they had the coolest names ever. They called to beg my mum to make me change my mind.
Aaaand this is the story of how I ended up being the first ever female Melchior in a nativity play in that school. Ohhhh I was so proud, carrying my frankincense! Oh, when I kneeled in front of baby Jesus, damn! I made quite the impression. Holy Mary may have had baby Jesus doll and the “central” role in the play, but I was the king and I was wearing a massive CROWN. In your face bitch! (I asked my parents to look for those pictures. If they find them, I’ll post them I swear!).

There was one time though where my mum didn’t try to make me do female things. I still laugh about it when I think of it.

add
The original add featured on a magazine back in those days

I think it was the end of the 80s or early 90s. My mum and I were having lunch and we were watching tv. The ads came on and BAM! To promote their jams, this Italian company made a contest for children to participate: in order to win one of the toys they had as a prize, children had to draw a picture of their favourite fruit (or fruits); it could have been a funny picture, a cool one, or simply a very nicely drawn one; they had to include a lovely letter saying, in case they were selected amongst “the lucky winners”, which toy they would have liked to win. They had to send everything in a letter by mail (those were the days) and then hope for the best.

Whatever, I thought. I rarely ate jam anyway, and definitely not of that brand.

Not long after that, I saw the very same add on a magazine I was reading. I had a look at the toys (the boys’ ones, of course). My heart stopped. One of the prizes was a massive Ninja Turtle action figure, and not just any Ninja Turtle, but MY FAVOURITE Ninja Turtle: Michelangelo (hey, come on, in the cartoons he ate pizza all the time, he was a bit goofy like me and was the funniest, sweetest turtle of the lot).
I wanted it.
Oh my god I wanted that toy so badly I would have done anything to get it.
I had a friend at school who I always played with (our mums were very good friends) who had Leonardo, and I asked my parents to buy me Michelangelo so that we could have played together, but my parents told me that it was too expensive and they could have not afforded it so… no.
This was my chance.
I knew that bloody turtle was meant to be mine.
I went to my mum yelling and screaming, all excited. My mum said, “ok sure let’s do this, let me read the rules so that we do everything right, we can do this!”.

I stared at her reading the terms and conditions of that contest in awe.
At some point, she stopped reading and said “oh… oh no”
“what mummy?”
“well, it looks like girls can only pick girls’ toys and boys can only pick boys’ toys”

Hey, this was 30 something years ago ok? Now there would be Twitter storms full of hashtags and pure rage, Facebook would be plastered with boycott campaigns, there would be articles on every newspaper and magazines, debates on tv, you name it. Back then? Nobody really cared.
Apart from yours truly, who wanted that bloody Michelangelo turtle and was having none of it.

The lawyer in me started arguing my case (in a slightly hysterical way): oh my gosh this is so unfair that I have to choose a girls toy that I don’t even like, and why is that, why can’t I have a Ninja Turtle, I don’t even like jam anyway unless it’s apricot jam, it is not my fault if all girls’ toys are rubbish, look mummy, look, they are disgusting, this is outrageous, mummy, we need to do something, we need to do something about it because I want it so badly”.

My mum was not even listening.
She was reading and re-reading the add, trying to come up with a solution.

“ok, I have a plan”

I froze. Silence fell. My eyes became as big and shiny as two lightbulbs.

“you want that turtle? Ok. Listen. We are going to draw the best picture ever, and when we’ll write the letter, you’ll sign it as SILVIO. We’ll pretend that you are a boy, they’ll never check anyway, and if they do, we’ll say that your handwriting is shit – after all, an a is an o with a little tail, right?”

Hell yeah, lying has never tasted so great like that day.
My mum and I draw something like 10 drawings, they were funny as hell, we made fruits say something very silly: I still remember what we made the cherries say because it was in rhyme and I almost peed myself from laughing hard (“noi siamo ciliegine e siamo un po’ cretine”, which means “we are little cherries and we are a bit silly”). Anyway, she helped me writing the super lovely letter in which this poor boy Silvio desperately wanted the Ninja Turtle of his dreams that his parents could not afford and off we popped to the post office to ship that precious envelope full of hopes.

I think we waited a month or so for an answer, I don’t remember, but it had to be quite a while because my mum and I convinced ourselves that we didn’t win.
One day the postman knocked on the door.
My mum went to open as usual, and I followed her because I was nosey as fuck.
The postman was holding a parcel.
My mum looked surprised as she was not expecting anything.
Then the postman said “It’s not for you madam, I think this is for your daughter, though funnily enough they misspelled her name (start laughing) see? they wrote SILVIO”.

We both had a heart attack there and then.

My mum quickly dismissed the postman and slammed the door behind her back. We both quickly run in the living room and, with incredible fury, we ripped that parcel to pieces.
There is was: my incredible, amazing, fantastic, beautiful Ninja Turtle.

I have never, ever been so happy in my life.

I gave my mum the biggest hug ever. Silvio fuckin’ won this shit!

ABOUT PAIN

I am going to state something that it is so incredibly obvious when you think about it, and yet it is so unbelievably hard to believe in it, especially when the person who is going through it is you.

Ready? Steady? GO:

IT IS OK TO NOT BE (MENTALLY) OK

Aaaaand breathe.

If you are going through something that it is currently making you feel low, sad, depressed, or even worse, suicidal, let me tell you something: as upsetting as it is, it is ok to not be ok.
I swear, it is absolutely, 100% ok to feel the way you feel.
I’m not a happy guru trying to feed you some positive garbage for the sake of looking good: I have been thinking about ending my own life for three good years in recent times. It is fair to say I know a thing or two about not being ok, alright?

I don’t know why there is a stigma linked to mental problems, I really don’t. Surely the brain is just like any other organ of our bodies, albeit a very special one? Why our kidneys, our stomachs, our eyes, our lungs are allowed to have issues, but not our beloved brains? Yes, yes, I get it, when you end up being coo-coo in your head, it is not the same as if you get gastroenteritis. Ok. But still.

You know what drives me mad with anger? When mental problems, which are not “as severe as” dementia or Alzheimer, gets brushed off not only by friends and family, but also by doctors: it feels like nobody has, or want to have, the time to just listen to what is going on in your head. The common “suggestion” you’ll get is “don’t be a pussy and put up with it” as “there are worst things in life”.

You know what?
F*CK THIS SHIT

I have suffered with anxiety all my life. At intervals, I had spells of depression, and panic attacks here and there. To be honest, I can consider myself lucky I “only” had that to deal with: in my family from my mum’s side, we cover the whole spectrum of mental illnesses, from “depressed”, via “multiple mental breakdowns” to “in and out of mental unit with no hopes to lead a normal life ever again”.

Things have been ok-ish, up until I gave birth, and then things went very, very, very bad. VERY bad. Calling what I had “post-natal depression” doesn’t really describe it. I wasn’t necessarily depressed. I constantly had panic attacks. I am not exaggerating.
I was scared of going out, because “what if I drop dead in the middle of the street? What will happen to my baby?”; but at the same time, I was also scared of staying in, because I was alone, and what if something happens to me? What will happen to my baby?

I tried to speak with my (at the time) husband about it, and it didn’t go down well. When you have to deal with someone who likes to always be “the one worse off” (“my foot hurts” “HA! Not only my food hurts as well, but I also got pain in my leg AND my arm, plus, I think I may have the flu”), telling this person that you are not quite ok is a recipe for disaster.

One day I was in the middle of an excruciating panic attack. I was running around the house, I was mental, I was scared, I was crying, it was horrendous. My son started crying for an unrelated reason. My ex-husband started chasing me around the house, with the baby in his arms, yelling me to stop behaving like a lunatic, my son needed me, WTF are you doing, get a grip, you are not the only one with issues, I am VERY depressed too and I don’t sleep and I go to work, you should consider yourself lucky, now stop this hit and be a mum, and so on.

In hindsight, I can tell you that my marriage finished there and then.
I ended up feeling even worse than before, because now, on top of my issues, I had the “I’m not a good mum”. I decided that, every time he was around, I was going to hide whatever I was going through.

What a dumb idiot I was!

But that’s not it! I wanted to prove that I could handle shit.
Even if I couldn’t spend 3 seconds without my brain spinning, I cut my maternity leave short and I went back to work after 4 months.

graduation
me on my graduation ceremony. I had a panick attack right before it was my turn to get on stage

Before I got pregnant, I was studying Law at university. Even though I was in a total state, I kept studying. Not only that: I doubled the courses. I Increased the challenges. I managed to graduate!!! I made my life a living hell, on top of what I was already going through. I pushed my problems deep down inside my bran, as far as I could. I hid my panic attacks at work by suddenly rushing to the toilets or having a very long walk to the printer 3 floors down. Nobody saw my pain, partly because I was very good at hiding it, and partly because they simply thought I was just quirky. I lied, I lied like a pro, everything was FINE, OK, YEAH, ALL GOOD, COOL.

If you are about to ask: “but what about your doctor?” well…
When I felt that something wasn’t right, the doctor I saw brushed it off with “it’s just baby blues, you gave birth, it’s fine, it happens, it will go away”. But it never did.
So I went back. This time I got told “well, you could take antidepressant, or you can just put up with it, I’m sure you’ll be fine”.
At my worst, I finally managed to dial some sort of mental support. I had to wait for 2 weeks to get a triage call, and once the call finished, I got told “ok, now, the waiting list to see someone is three months long (!!!)”.
I sat on my bed, phone in my hand, completely shocked.
“THREE months? I… I cannot live like this for three months, this is not life, I…. I rather die!”
“well, if you are suicidal we may need to call social serv…”
“no no no don’t worry it was just me exaggerating, I’m fine, yeah, don’t you worry”

Now I was also scared that, if my secret got out, social services would have come knocking on my door to take my son away from me. Thank you very much, that was exactly what I needed.

I not only survived in my mental hell for those three months, but for two long years afterwards. Then it started to get better, but it took another year before I could feel “ok”. Which was not good, but at least it was something.
I spent an awful lot of those three years hoping to die, and when the hope was not enough, I thought about actively doing something to end it. I never attempted to kill myself because… I didn’t want to leave my son alone, motherless.

At the ned of those three years, something incredible happened to me. A friend of mine read a book that Randy Blythe, singer and frontman of a heavy metal band called Lamb of God (that I absolutely LOVE), wrote to share his experience of when he got wrongly accused of murder and ended up locked in prison. In Prague. For a month. Scary stuff. Since I was (and still am) a fan of the band, he told me to buy and read it (if you are interested, the book is called “Dark Days“)

I started reading this book a bit unconvinced – generally speaking, very few of these autobiographies are good, some are barely ok and the rest it’s pure tripe printed on what could have been an amazing, beautiful tree. What I wasn’t prepared for is that Randy not only wrote about his jail time, but also about his demons. How he suffered with anxiety and depression for years. Like me. How he turned to drugs and alcohol in his youth to cope. Like me in my youth (in my case, it was cigarettes and alcohol)! He described his pain, his mental state, his suffering in such a raw, uncensored way… It was beautiful, but so, so painful to read.
randyI started crying. I couldn’t stop. I cried all the tears that I didn’t allow myself to cry for 3 years. Seeing my feelings, my demons, my pain, so…. In front of my eyes… has been a revelation. The more I kept reading, the more I kept crying, and when I finished that book, I spent a week completely empty. I then had the (lucky!) chance to meet Randy at a gig. I thanked him for the book, and I shared a little bit of my hell with him. We both got emotional and he gave me the biggest hug ever. For the first time, in those three long years, I felt loved, understood, not alone.

A tiny, little thought started creeping in my brain.
The thought was “if he had the balls to be so open about these things, to share them with THE WHOLE WORLD…. Why are you hiding yours?

I slowly started to open myself up.
I wanted my pain out of my head and into my reality.
I wanted that dreadful weight to be lifted from my shoulders.
I wanted freedom of not having to lie anymore.
I started talking about it, and some more, and more, till it became “yes, this is my story”. And here I am talking about it again. I’m not scared of it. It is part of who I am. It is what made me the person I am now. You can either accept it or not, I don’t really care. I lost people along the way, whether because they chose so or because I pushed them away (including my now ex husband). I took an oath with myself: no matter what happens, I’ll never hide again. EVER.

Seems like life decided to test my oath and three years after that, this breakup arrived.
It hit me hard. Oh gosh it did. Ok, nothing compared to THOSE three years, I grant you that. But still, it is an awful time and it deserve respect. And I am not hiding it.

I am in pain. I am suffering. I am crying like a baby. I am grieving the man I loved to bits. I am desperate to have that love again in my life. I am not strong in this moment, and I DO NOT CARE IF IT UPSETS THOSE AROUND ME. I asked for help. I am seeing a therapist to just get things out of my chest. I took a break from some friends because I couldn’t handle their happiness when inside me I was (I am) so broken. I am doing everything that I feel beneficial for ME and no one else, including writing this blog. Selfish? You bet. Ashamed? Not at all.

Whoever you are, wherever you are, no matter what you are going through, please, listen to me: don’t hide your pain. Don’t put a brave face and tell everyone (and yourself) that you are fine if you are not. Don’t pretend, with others and / or with yourself. Don’t keep everything inside you.
You are NOT alone in this.
Don’t be scared of what other people may or may not think. Fuck that! Those who love you will do their best to help, even though you may need to guide them a bit. Those who don’t, well, good riddance. Think you’ll end up alone? You’ll find new, better friends.

Speak up! Tell those around you how you want to be helped, even if it is “sorry I need a break from this because I just cannot cope”. Own your “not ok-ness” because there is nothing to be ashamed about it. Is it your fault that you are that way? No, it is not. Would it be your fault if you were to get the flu? Of course not. It happens, unfortunately. Also, there is NO FAILURE if you don’t bounce back in a matter of a second. These things take a lot of time and a lot of effort. There are ok days, good days, extraordinary days, shit days, I-don’t-want-to-get-out-of-bed days. If someone tries to push a deadline on you, including your very own self, well, tell them to do one.

I can assure you, there is strength inside you. Maybe you cannot see it now, especially if you are too deep into the painful stage of what you are experiencing. And it is OK! But believe me, it is there. Hold on to it. Cherish it. Grow it. Little by little. Find a therapist that will listen to you. Try and try and try some more until you find the things you feel ok with. Use Google to find the help you need, or the people to talk to. Buy yourself flowers, a slice of cake, a nice dinner. Cuddle yourself and love yourself through the pain. And if you end up going back to square one? Guess what? It is not a problem. It happens!

The light outside your dark, horrendous tunnel is there. Believe in it, even if you don’t see it.

My heart is with you.

GREEN IS THE NEW PINK

Before puberty hit me hard like a brick thrown at my face, when someone tried to make me feel like a freak of nature I simply shrugged my shoulders thinking “whatever – who cares, you boring prick!”.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that being different and quirky didn’t have an impact on me;

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In case you wonder, I’m the one with the white shirt and hideus shorts on the right side.

it did, and still does to this day. However, being an only child taught me how to be perfectly fine alone: boredom was something unknown to me, I never felt the need of having someone to play with, therefore being rejected and isolated has never been a massive issue. It was just an ordinary day in my life. Of course, I liked having friends and being with other people, but it wasn’t something I necessarily missed when I didn’t have it. Later in life, being an outcast became a badge to wear with the upmost pride, but I’ll discuss about this in depth on another post.

The problem was that, even though I was kind of ok with the whole me-being-weird thing, my parents had to endure the pain of dealing with an environment which was pretty clear on the fact that I was not acceptable as I was. Since they weren’t forcing me to behave as society expected me to behave (aka: as a girl), and they were not remotely bothered to make me change, they were considered bad parents who got it wrong somehow along the way.

Hey, we are talking about Italy in the 80s: not exactly the land of the free. Ok, it wasn’t hell on Earth for sure, such as Iraq under Saddam Hussain, but with the Church having a massive influence on people and dictating what was ok and not ok, Italy wasn’t amongst the most progressive and liberal countries either. Italians’ mentality was quite conservative, especially in towns and villages.

Hand on heart, I couldn’t have wished for better parents (ok maybe wealthier – but I am digressing here). They fiercely encouraged me to be what it felt right to be, rather than what was expected; they have been on my side through thick and thin without questioning whether “it was appropriate for a girl” to say / behave / act like I was. Most importantly, they have never been ashamed of having this non-ordinary child.

In their eyes, I was their precious, much longed-for daughter, arrived after 7 years of trying, with all the heartbreak that a situation like this brings. My mum told me she saw every gynaecologist she could, tried every diet, exercise, ritual, you name it, she even when to see one of those “healers” who claim they can fix you with the power of magic (no joking, she was THAT desperate) because she was convinced she had some curse casted on her. When I finally made it into this big world of ours, alive and in my parents’ arms, in their eyes I was nothing short of a miracle. I think I could have been a three-headed grizzly bear that it wouldn’t have made any remote difference.

As said, I grew up in Italy in the 80s, and unfortunately, the rest of society was not as open minded as my parents, and society liked to point out to them what a weirdo I was. People constantly questioned my sanity, my sexuality, my clothes, my toys, my hair, their parenting skills, everything! Whether we were walking in the streets, queueing at the supermarkets (yes, sometimes Italians queue too), shopping for clothes or simply at the park having fun, more often than not someone had to pass their judgement about me.

Unlike today, where people are losing their minds about “the gender issue”, making everything neutral and gender-less, back in my day (gosh I sound like a dinosaur!) you had boys’ things or girls’ things. End of.

“Normal” girls had dolls, Barbie dolls, toy versions of household items so that they could play at being little housewives and so on. Everything in their world, from their bedrooms to their toys was pink, full of glitters and sparkling. They watched Disney movies and dreamed to be Disney princesses waiting to be saved by Prince Charming.

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Pretending to ride my auntie’s extremely old Piaggio Ciao (I think). I thought it was the coolest hting ever. Then I discovered Ducati motorbikes….!

I, on the other hand, had a vast collection of Formula 1 cars and well, cars in general, teddy bears, Lego blocks and WWE wrestlers action figures. My bedroom’s walls were plastered with AC Milan footballers and Ferrari’s cars. I dreamt of joining the A-Team and be best friend with Mr T / B.A. Baracus; I longed to marry Tom Selleck / Magnum P.I. and go and live happily ever after with his Ferrari in the Hawaii; I wanted to buy KITT from David Hasselhoff / Michael Knight; jet on wild adventures with the guys from Riptide (can you tell that Italian TV in the 80s was SO Americanised?!!); I would have rather chopped my hand than touch a doll. Or a skirt. Or anything pink. Or feminine. EWWWWWW!

If now it is considered outrageous, retrograde, and unacceptable to have “blue-for-boys / pink-for-girls” things, when I was a kid this was the absolute norm and you didn’t have a choice on the matter. I know, by today’s standards, that little me holding my mum’s hand whilst I point at the creepiest, ugliest, weirdest creature in the toy shop (in the boy’s aisle, of course) was nothing special, but back then? Trust me, you had to have a mum like mine to survive the looks, the nasty side comments, the (unsolicited) pity, the disgust that people threw at us, at me, the weirdo tomboy destined to be a crazy lesbian mad cat lady (like if there is anything wrong with being lesbian, or crazy, or a cat lady, or these things combined).

My mum. Well, she is one hell of a woman. She is not someone who can keep her mouth shut and just take it. She is feisty as hell and has an extremely short fuse; if you make her angry, you won’t forget it. If you say or do something stupid, she will embarrass you by yelling everything she can possibly yell at you: put it this way, no one should dare to be at the receiving end of her anger. When I think of it right now, I’m seriously impressed of how my mum managed not to end up in jail.

To give you an idea of what I am talking about, here is a little story for you.

One day my mum and I were in a little, family-run stationery shop. I was a 5 years old little girl. The trendiest thing to have at that point in time, bless us silly kids of the magnificent 80s, were tiny little soap bubbles bottles charms that you’d wear in a cord necklace and then brag about what amazing tiny soap bubbles you could make. It was a very cheap thing, and my mum decided to buy me one. So, in we were at the shop, and I was so excited I could barely breathe. We weren’t rich (we made it to the end of the month somehow), so buying a toy was a real treat. The shop attendant, a man in his 50s, asked me to pick a colour. I was too shy, too overwhelmed, too OMGMYMUMISREALLYBUINGMETHISSHIT! that what came out of my mouth ended up being a bold and loud “GREEN!”.

The shop assistant looked at me like I just cursed in the middle of a church.

“Sorry, what did you say?”

“GREEN! (are you deaf ffs???)”

“…green… are you sure?”

“Yes, I’m sure! Green is my favourite colour!”

“But…. are you really, really sure?”

“Yes sir!”

Behind my back, my mum was reaching boiling point. In my 5 or so years old mind, she is just fed up of being in that shop. In reality, she was quickly calculating how many years of jail she would have gotten if she choked the guy on the spot. She was hating that nonsense.

After some more “are you sure – yes, I am”, the shop assistant said the thing that finally triggered my mum’s fury:

“But green is not a colour for girls!!!! And you are a girl! Look at AAAALL these pink ones! Wouldn’t you prefer one of these?”

Like the thunder that you hear rumbling in the distance before it explodes with a bang worth of 10 nuclear bombs, I could hear my mum’s going from 0 to “volcano eruption”. She slammed her hands on the table. Time suddenly stopped there and then.

She then started barking like a total mad dog.

“NO, SHE DOESN’T WANT IT PINK O-K? SHE DOESN’T LIKE ANY FUCKING SHADE OF PINK, OK? SHE TOLD YOU GREEN TWENTY TIMES NOW. IF YOU HAVE HEARING PROBLEMS GO AND GET CHECKED! SHE SAID GREEN OK? HOW HARD CAN IT BE? IS THERE A LAW AGAINST GIRLS WHO LIKES PINK? ARE YOU DUMB OR JUST ANNOYING US FOR FUN?

CAN – WE – HAVE – THAT SHIT.

IN GREEN.

NOW?

AND NOT JUST ANY KIND OF FUCKING GREEN! IT MUST BE BLOODY EMERALD GREEN. AND QUICK”.

The shop assistant went white as a ghost – he was so not expecting it. He probably though my mum was about to yell at me something like “for eff sake Silvia cut the crap you are not a boy get this pink-y shit and let’s go”.

He tried a timid “…but…” but my mum was now on full hysteria mode and she was not having it anymore “BUT WHAT? BUT WHAT?”. She grabbed my hand so hard I thought she was going to break all my bones (but I didn’t dare to make any sound or to look in pain) “CAN WE HAVE THAT FUCKING THING IN GREEN RIGHT NOW OR DO WE HAVE TO BUY IT IN THE SHOP NEXT DOOR, UH?”. The guy quickly gave me the green little bottle, my mum paid, she stormed out of the shop and that was the last time we ever shopped there. I was petrified. I was so embarrassed. I spent my youth avoiding walking in front of that shop in case the guy saw me and told me like “no wonder why you are so weird, with a mum like that what can you expect?”

Back at home, I stared at my object of great desire, this tiny little bottle in my tiny little hand. It was so cute, but it also reminded me of my utterly pissed off mum. I never worn it. I preferred to let my mum believe I didn’t want to lose it rather than admitting I was hiding it in my drawer because it was a constant reminder of what happened: me being not average girl who loves pink resulted in her having to lash out at the shop assistant to defend me.