BODY (AND MIND) BUILDING

RED ALERT! RED ALERT ! This entry is going to be long and will touch various mental health issues, even though it is all about positivity. Bear with me because I need to get this out of my chest.

Out of all the things I fell in love with in my life (Formula 1, football, heavy metal, the New York Yankees, the colour purple to name a few), there is one thing that I never, ever, not even remotely expected to become so passionate about: bodybuilding.
I know I shouldn’t, but I can’t help thinking about how ridiculous it sounds me saying it since:

  • I spent a lifetime shouting to the world my loathe for any physical activity and how unable I am to do anything sport-related;
  • I have always looked like “a stick with clothes” due to my hyper-metabolism and (medically certified) lack of hunger;
  • I have always had issues with food, exacerbated during my post-natal depression to the point I was barely eating;
  • I still have major panic attacks just thinking about medicines and supplements, let alone if/when I (have to) take them;
  • I hated myself to bits and I never possessed any self-confidence whatsoever so much that I never owned a mirror till recently;

As I wrote in my previous entries, I have always been quite sporty in my teens (whether by my own choice or pushed by my parents).
I played various sports in my life (although I have rarely enjoyed any of them), but me and any physical activity have never been quite a good pair: I have always being famous for being clumsy, lacking coordination, lacking self-esteem, and, most importantly, not believing in myself enough to think “if I really put an effort into it, maybe I will actually get better at this”.
My brain was constantly stuck on “I can’t do it” mode before even starting, and of course, this belief got more and more reinforced every time I’d start playing something and – surprise surprise – I’d discovered I was not good at it.
Whether I was truly shit or not though I can’t tell, but I bet that if I were less “I’m hopelessly shit” and I’d put some real effort, maybe I would not recall my “sporty years” in embarrassment. But hey, it has always been easier, mentally and physically, to just say “naaaa, not for me, I’m too shit, fuck it, I rather stay in bed”, so I never really bothered changing.

My gym-journey has been well documented in the past, but what I was not expecting was that “being fit” became quite quickly not enough for me: once I curbed my self-inflicted negativity and I found it easy to do workouts and be committed, I became eager to push myself more. After I put the surgery ordeal behind my back (and what a hell of a ride that has been!), I began craving something more that just a bit of training here and there: I needed another stimulating and empowering challenge to really push myself beyond my limits. I felt ready, I got bored of being “a recovery patient” mentally and physically, I needed a proper new adventure – and boy oh boy, didn’t I found exactly what I was wishing for.

The very first step in this new journey has been joining a new gym and enroll in a membership contract: believe me, this in itself was a challenge for me. Not sure I said it already, but I have never been able to enrol in a gym membership and actually go for the whole length of the contract; I think my record has been three months at best, then I just kept paying the fee without going, feeling stupid for yet again another failure in my life. However, if I really were serious about this, I had to prove to myself that I was not that person with the looser and “pity hungry” mentality. Four months on and I’m still going strong (yey!).

On the day I signed my new membership, I asked the gym manager to find me the most badass personal trainer he could think of, one that was an expert in body transformation and bodybuilding, that would turn me from “skinny, post-surgery extremely weak and out of shape” into “bad bitch muscly super woman with JLO ass”.
You know when they say, “be careful what you wish for because you just might get it”? That is exactly what happened to me.

The day Margarita, my now PT, texted me, I freaked out: I put so much expectations into this moment that I was desperate to make sure “she was the one”. When I met her, I literally bombarded her with all the “this is my goal, this is what I want to do, this is what I hate, this are my issues etc…” speech: I wanted to make sure she understood where I came from and where I wanted to go, because I was ready to commit like I’ve never done it before and I was in no mood to waste time with the wrong PT – been there, done that for years and years (though it is also fair to say I have never been truly interested in working hard anyway).

Margarita is everything I ever wanted in a PT and even more. She revolutionised my life from the get-go, so much that I feel my life (and my body) can be described as “Before Margarita” and “After Margarita”. No joking. Her training sessions are truly of another level – I spend the hours before I see her marinating in a mixture of anxiety, fear, excitement and anticipation of what new torture she has planned for me.
I have never been pushed so hard in my life, hand on heart.
It’s not just the physical strain of what she makes me do, though sometimes I feel “this is it, another squat and it’s paralysis from the waist down”: the best part of our training session is that she is massively helping me curbing my mental “oh no I can’t do this”, and even if I have a good moan here and then (ok, all the bloody time!) and I start “begging for mercy”, she doesn’t give in (no way Jose!) and keeps me going no matter what – and rightly so, as I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I never experienced being physically unable to sit without feeling like my ass is on a barbecue on fire. Best of it is, I can already see big results!
I am loving this so much that, in the space of a month, I went from “Margarita please make me have a Jlo booty” to “I want to do fitness competitions just like you!”.
Me.
Ms shyness and clumsiness, ex hyper-skinny, 10+ years of experience in slouch sitting at the office, who can’t hold a pose not even if her life depended on it. How about this for a personal challenge!
I am not allowing myself to think “will I do it?” though: the only thought that is authorised to linger in my brain is “how far I am from actually doing it”. Oh, yes, and try not to drive Margarita crazy if I can with my moaning!

Aside from the physical aspects, the real love for bodybuilding is due to its impact on my mental health.
For me, it’s more than just simply “lifting weights, growing muscles and transforming my body”: it is most and foremost an excruciating mental training like I’ve never experienced before. It is scary and at the same time empowering. Turns out, the weight-lifting part is it actually “the easiest one”! Forget the physical strain: that is a piece of cake compared to the mental weight lifting bodybuilding puts me through every single day without a break, without a safety net, without any remote possibility to avoid it – the price would be giving up on my goals, and I already gave up way too many times on my life.
The more I dig deep into my fears and face them, the better the results are at the gym, the stronger I am to challenge what happens in my head. As hard as it is at times, especially when I’m one panic attack after the other, I know that once I will be out of that (and notice the “once” rather then “if”), I will be rewarded ten times fold.

Let me give you some examples.

I have always been extra-skinny and underweight, “blessed” with a high metabolism and a medically certified extreme low appetite. In my head, I was eating LOADS OMG SO MUCH FOOD. I had my protein shake, my big portion of pasta, how on earth I can’t get any weight on and grow big, my body must be faulty for sure. Margarita, with the help of MyFitnessPal, quickly made me realise how my diet was not “omg I’m eating like crazy”, but more likely “how on earth have I survived just on that”. I will never forget the first day I recorded my food diary, thinking “I bet I had bazillion of calories”, only to realise I was a thousand calories under my intake goal. I felt absolutely shocked.
Like Alanis Morrissette used to sing, “isn’t it ironic” that I am now “happily” resorting to force feed myself, plan my meals, think about food and how to get all my macros etc every single day of my life, when not only I have always been known for eating very small portions, but also few years ago, in the worst part of my post-natal depression, I couldn’t eat more than a spoonful of plain rice or pasta, frightened and tortured by panic attacks if I attempted to eat anything else? And this, my friends, is trauma number 1 that bodybuilding is making me face (and overcome).

You see, once I started living alone and being the master of my own universe, the first thing that I absolutely loved has been the ability to eat as much (or as little) as I wanted without having to endure a meltdown at the dinner table, with my mum yelling at me for not eating, telling me I was anorexic and therefore ending up hospitalised and dying. At time she’d stuff me with hunger-enhancing medicines too – the thought of which gave me nightmares for years. It is not fun staring at the plate full of food in front of you and feeling like you’d rather be whipped than put any of that in your mouth, and yet you got to force it down somehow because your parents are yelling at you.
Every.single.meal.of.my.life.
No matter how hard I wished, hunger never blessed me with its magnificient presence, and I spent a lifetime being mocked by my parents, their friends and everyone for being too skinny / eating like a bird / not eating / being too think / looking like a skeleton and so on.
I know most people would think I’ve been very lucky to have “my condition” and never to worry about gaining weight, but believe me, having to eat when you don’t want to it is just as hard and mentally challenging as the opposite, especially if you lack the hunger in the first place.

Of course, as soon as I got out of this hell, I enjoyed (not) eating without that pressure and scrutiny – and I actually started loving food.
Well, that freedom of “not eating” is now gone, and the one who took it away it’s me. Mercilessly.
It has not been easy.
I kid you not, there has been times during the first weeks where, chucking down food whilst holding back tears, I wished I could have had a shot of that medicine my mother gave me to help me cope. I went back to that very horrid place of being yelled at, only this time I didn’t have “my parents to blame”: it was me, I was inflicting this to myself willingly and, no matter how hard it felt, I had to keep going for my own good.
A month or so later, I’m more adjusted and, even though it is still a struggle at times (my cheat days are those where I skip few snacks and potentially even lunch), I shifted my mindset from “oh no, torture again” to “it is what it is”: I pile food in front of me whether I like it or not, I have my alarms set to remind me to eat, and it doesn’t matter if I am hungry or not (more likely not), the food gets eaten.

The other shock horror, panic attack inducing, mega mentally hard thing I am doing is taking all the supplements I need whether I crap myself in fear or not. I wrote about my phobia for medicines in the past, and this is linked to that. It doesn’t matter if it’s natural, 100% guaranteed that nothing bad will happen, billions of doctors swearing by it, you name it: my brain is not wired just like that. If it’s something I never had before, if it’s a pill, a powder, whatever, it’s panic attack. Anxiety builds up as soon as I start thinking that I have to take them, and when the moment comes…. you know the drill.
Oh, when couple of weeks ago I decided to treat myself to creatine to give me a bit of edge and allow myself to push more!

Four days solid of never-ending panic attacks.

On one hand, my brain was spinning at the speed of light.
On the other, I was doing my best to try and pull the fucking handbrake and not let shit hit the fan. Gosh, I felt I was surely on the brink of a proper mental breakdown. However, I didn’t give in. I didn’t allow myself to let my fears take my goal away from me. I imposed myself to go through the storm, head held up high, no matter what scary outcome my brain was desperate to make me believe in. You cannot imagine the pure joy, a week or so later, to be able to say “I’ve done it” and to see the actual benefit at the gym. Yes, I know, I could have just said “I could do without it, it’s not important anyway”, but creating excuses to avoid things won’t get me that far, whether for bodybuilding or anything else. Keep pushing problems away don’t make them magically disappear, you just hide them in a corner, but they are still there – and growing. It’s like video games: you can’t get to the next level if you don’t beat the monster at the end of the lever you are in first.

I am sure than, in due course, I will find many other “mental monsters” that bodybuilding will make me fare – especially when the time will come to work towards my very first competition (though I think it’s going to take me at least a year, since my shoulder is still not trainable). I know I’m on the right path, even if it’s quite the hard way up: like one of my favourite Italian journalists, Tiziano Terzani, wrote in a book called “La fine e’ il mio inizio” (the end is my beginning): “The rule, in my opinion, is: when you are at a crossroad and you find a road that goes uphill and one that goes downhill, chose the one that goes uphill: it’s easier to go downhill, but you’ll find yourself in a hole. There is more hope going uphill. It is tough, it is a different way of looking at things, it’s a challenge, it keeps you alert”. For once in my life, I’m eager to see what’s at the top of this hill, rather than being miserable down in the valley telling myself “I’m too (insert insult of your choice) to hike my way up”.

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NIGHT BEFORE SURGERY (INSERT SCARED FACE)

It’s the dreaded night before my surgery.
I planned, in my mind, a very quiet evening: nice dinner, warm and relaxing bath, Netflix… Instead, my son decided to be the most annoying child on the planet, and I basically spent my evening yelling at him. Yey.

I won’t lie, I feel a bit (ok a lot) anxious about it. I am not remotely ready. Should I wear my pyjama? Should I wear jumper and trousers? Did I pack my phone charger? Did I charge my power bank? Where’s my work phone? Should I pre-book a taxi or just ring one tomorrow? Why I can’t seem to be able to tackle these events in an organised and adult manner? Why I always let the child in me be the one in charge? Having said that, at least this time I know for a fact I’ll bring my glasses, because I forced myself not to wear contact lenses!

I’m in a better mental place compared to when I had my elbow surgery two years ago, that is for sure. I can see the results of all the positive work I’ve done on myself and on my mind. I’m surrounded by positivity and by amazing people who are giving me all the love, care, affection I need and some more. One is currently trying to listen to an audiobook here in bed with me, and I bet he’s hating me big time for furiously typing this entry (sorry!) but he is too kind to tell me to fucking stop it or else I’ll get my fingers chopped. Maybe one of these days I’ll write about how he ended up being back in my life, what a long (but incredible) journey we had to be at this happy and sweet point in time, what an amazing person he is and how much in love we are…. if he behaves!

I am not sure when I will be able to write something meaningful, but I promise I will let you know tomorrow that I’m fine (and maybe share some hilarious post-op pictures).
In the meantime, any joke, funny meme, “get well soon” wishes, digestive cookies etc are more than welcome: send them my way via mail, Facebook, in the comments… I’ll read them all!

I can’t promise I won’t freak out when it’s anaesthesia time, but any stupid shit I’ll say or do, I solemnly swear I’ll write it down here for your own amusement as soon as I can type and formulate sentences that actually make sense.

Le Me, night before surgery look, courtesy of Mr AudioBook man ;-P

I’ll see you all one shoulder down very soon!

OOOPS I DID AGAIN, ANOTHER PHOTOSHOOT!

Last week I had a moment of craziness, one of those “fuck it, I’m so doing it” and I ended up at Dollhouse Photography studio in Birmingham for my third (THIRD!!!!) photoshoot.

What can I say? I love that place way too much, and if I could, I’d be there every day, even just to see what amazing things those ladies can do to all their clients. That place is like a beautiful, empowering dream: you get there looking plain and normal, wearing your comfy clothes (I always go there in something that’s just one tiny step from being my pyjama), and after couple of hours you become one smoking hot and super jaw-dropping babe, wearing the most luxurious lingerie and accessories, ready to pose like a professional model (because yes, they guide you into posing like one even if your only shoot experience is the pictures with your family and friends – told you they are amazing!!!).

The first time I went there, I took it as a challenge on myself: I was at the beginning of my journey, my therapy sessions started having breakthroughs in the way my brain was (badly) wired, I was more committed to my gym workouts (rather than just hanging around the gym pretending to do stuff) and I wanted to prove to myself that I was up to get out of my comfort, ugly zone and into a world I never even dared to dream. I will never forget the total panic I had when walking through the studio’s door: all I was thinking was “I’m so fucked – this is such a big mistake”. I wanted to run away. The “ugly, zero self-esteem” me wanted badly to hide. BADLY. I told myself “there you go, stupid idiot, you’ll see now how you’ll end up feeling even uglier and more stupid than before you walked through that door”.

Well, it didn’t take long before I discovered how massively wrong I was, and yes, I felt stupid as well: not for the reason I was predicting though, but because I was so so so so so so so succumbing to all my fears and negativity in thinking the way I was thinking.
Amie, the amazing PA (who I love dearly, not only because we share the same job, but also because she is the kindest, sweetest, most caring person ever), gave me the warmest welcome and made me feel sooooo at ease, like I was amongst friends I have always known. She made me feel extra welcome, so much than when she asked me why I decided to have this shoot, I didn’t shy away from telling her the truth: I came out of a very bad breakup, my life has been in tatters, I always thought I was ugly, I had zero self-esteem and yes, I have been suicidal too; this was a challenge for me to see the woman I was working hard to get out in the world, and I was there because I felt they were the only ones capable to make me see her for real. The makeup artist, Nav, listened carefully to what I had to say, and once we settled on what looks and poses we were going to do, she made me steer clear from the mirror till she finished her magic: she decided I needed a “shock” wake-up call there and then, rather than seeing each step of my transformation. Hand on heart, I can tell you, when I finally saw myself, I almost had a heart attack: it was me, it was me the woman I saw staring back at the mirror, only I was looking like a million-dollar Vegas babe. I just couldn’t believe my eyes.

Me trying outfits, feeling AbFab!

You see, I was scared I’d be looking like “fake”, you know, that kind of look where you say “yeah but that’s not me”. No, no, no. That was really me. That was “Yes, of course I’m smoking hot thanks to a very talented makeup artist, but if I wanted to, I could be like that every day with some efforts on my part”. Amie then came round with the most amazing lingerie sets, and wow…. All my worries, stupid self-doubts, low self-esteem, any issue I had just disappeared: I was feeling great in my skin and I was having such good fun. I felt the most gorgeous creature on Earth. Me. It was so unreal. I never felt like that, not even remotely, it was an amazing first and I was so happy it was happening whilst surrounded by such a supportive group of women. Shooting has been amazing, though I must say, holding a pose is not as easy as you can think!
I remember being in what I thought was a very awkward pose, and my body language (not to mention my face) must have screamed “da fuck am I doing” because Monica, the photographer, stopped everything and she showed me the way I looked through her camera’s screen: my jaw dropped. I could not believe that, with no editing or else, I looked that stunning, and that the pose I was desperately trying to hold whilst feeling dumb was making perfectly sense – I just couldn’t know because I’m no model and I don’t “see” what the photographer sees. Needless to say, from that moment onwards, I trusted her and didn’t question anything she was saying. When I left that day, I felt on top of the world, so much that I immediately booked another shoot! Before I left the studio, Monica said to me “now that “the magic” is over, and you go home, hold on to these feeling, because yes, the makeup will be washed away and the clothes can change, but the million dollar woman was you and will still be you, so don’t forget that”. It was something “small”, but it truly changed my life: during the struggles I faced between then and now, I always held on to the million dollar babe feeling, to that confident, fierce, beautiful woman, because that was the “me” I want to be every day from that moment onwards, not the ugly old sad me.

Oh, the day Chrissy (who founded Dollhouse and who’s the outstanding, incredibly talented photographer and picture editing queen) sent me the pictures… I cried. I cried for what it felt like an eternity. I was so, so happy. No, I was more than happy. I was over the moon. Not only the pictures were simply outstanding, but Chrissy and her fantastic team managed to portrait exactly what I needed to see: a mega pink and feminine babe on one side, and a super cool fierce queen on the other. They heard my most secret, hidden-in-my-head dreams and turned them into spectacular pictures. To this day, I look at them in total awe.

one of the pictures I’m most proud of!
Me before Jennifer did her magic….

The second photoshoot… that was something else entirely.
To begin with, I was way more relaxed: I knew what was about to happen, so I was not overwhelmed by the whole thing. I knew the team already (and became friend with Amie in the meantime) so I was more in the mindset of “going to see my friends and have a jolly got time” rather than “I’m going for a photoshoot”. And then… to be really, really honest… I killed myself at the gym every day for a month: my confidence lever was pretty high, I couldn’t wait to show how different I looked since the first shoot. Oh my, we had so much fun. I think I never laughed so much in my life. My body felt just ace. My mind, after all the therapy, was on a totally different planet. This time, I didn’t do it for a challenge: I did it as a celebration.

…and after Jennifer’s amazing makeup session!

A celebration of who I am, of all the things I’ve done, of the war I so hardly fought to be happy and healthy. Jennifer, the super amazing makeup artist, created three killer looks for me, each one fiercer and sexier than the previous one. Monica came up with some awesome and very daring poses whilst Amie made me wear the raciest lingerie sets she found in the magical Dollhouse wardrobe to turn me into three different goddesses. I haven’t seen the results yet, but I can tell you, it’s going to be a blast!!

with Jennifer few moments before the shoot happened – I love her so much!!!!

Last week? Well, that was a decision I took on the spot. Chrissy released a special Christmas promotion, I took it without even thinking too much about it and bam! Here I was again at Dollhouse! I don’t want to say anything about this shoot because… aaahhh it’s too exciting. Potentially, the best so far. All I can say is that, again, Jessica, Monica, Amie and Chrissy blew my mind, and I had the best day ever.

I know, I sound way over excited about this place and the team who runs it, but you know what? I have never met such a group of sweet, caring, kind and talented ladies. It’s so special what they do. It’s way, way more than just “taking a very fancy picture”. It’s even more than “I get to be a model for an hour or two”. I told them more than once that these shoots should be prescribed as a special anti-depressant and self-esteem therapy. Forget the clothes, the makeup, the editing: at the core of what they do, is empowering every woman, no matter how they look, their age, their past, their imperfections, their issues. There is no way you can feel anything but the most special human being living and breathing on this planet when you are in their caring hands. To me, what they did was like a very special therapy session in self-love and self-appreciation. Every time I am tired, and I feel a bit low, I just have to think of what happened to make me smile again. I just need a glimpse at one of my pictures to remember those awesome feelings, and suddenly my day goes to “meh…” to “no, come on, cheer up dude!!”. I think I’ve annoyed the shit out of everyone I know in telling them to go and have one shoot done. It changes you forever, in the most positive, incredibly magic way. You cannot possibly see yourself in the same way afterwards.
Besides, it also helps you understand A LOT of what you see in the media etc. I never look at pictures in the media with the same eyes, now that I know what it takes to make them that way: yes, everyone tells you that “it’s all photoshop, perfect lights and makeup” but until you are there, living it and see it with your eyes, you never really “understand” it.

Anyway, for the record, guess what is my after-surgery prize? That’s right: a fourth shoot! This time it will be a Pinup birthday celebration and I’m telling you, it doesn’t matter how hard and painful my recovery will be, I’ll do everything in my power to be ready to pose and celebrate my birthday (something I NEVER do, and maybe I’ll write about why in another entry) with my dearest amazing ladies. Chrissy, Amie, Monica, Jennifer, brace yourselves, cause hammer time is coming soon!!!

COOKING UP A STORM

I have always been an extremely skinny girl. You could have easily counted my bones if you’d seen me naked. I take it from my father, who was just as skinny when he was young. Having said that, I have also been underweight all my life because I barely ate. Just as for being a tomboy, to me not feeling hungry and eating the tiniest amount of food was nothing strange.

I just never felt the need to eat. No, I have never been anorexic, nor I ever had any eating disorder. I was born with it. I grew up nicely and hit every milestone with a swiss clock precision, but I simply ate nothing at all. My mum, who has always been an extremely anxious person, had me checked millions of times by any doctor she could find. My father still recalls the embarrassment of having a doctor who just left the house crossing his path with another one that was about to get in, waving at each other and commenting “first child syndrome?” “yeah, good luck!”. Anyway, no matter how many consultants my mum rang, the diagnosis was always the same: “Madam, your daughter is just not hungry enough”.

You would think that, after 100+ doctors, my mum would just resign to the fact that there was nothing that could have “healed” me from this “horrible issue”, but we are talking about my mum here, who always knows best and who definitely knows more than any doctor in her (often deluded) head. I don’t know, to this day, why she took it so personally and why she made such a drama about it (she still does, by the way: when I told her the other day that my personal trainer at the gym put me on a diet – to build muscles – she screamed blue murder because “YOU? DIET? YOU ARE SO SKINNY YOU LOOK LIKE ANOREXIC”). All I know is that, even though she was doing it for my own good, she made my life hell on Earth.

fotoOK, to be fair to her, in addition of not feeling the need to eat, I became quite soon an extreme pain in the arse with my fussy eating habits. The combination of having an extremely low level of hunger with an extremely high level of fussiness and squeamishness, meant that almost everything triggered my “nope, my stomach is closed” feeling. Believe me, it was so dead easy to upset me. If cutlery, glasses and plates were not absolutely spotlessly clean (including no water stains) I just couldn’t bring myself to eat, and because I have a very sensitive nose, these better not have smelled of eggs (it is still one of my pet hates today!). Meat had to be cut into microscopical pieces, because I would have spit everything back on the place if any amount of fat reached my mouth. My plate had to be half full. Pasta had to be barely cooked. Fruit had to be as unripen as possible as I couldn’t eat it if sweet (I still have a thing for sour flavours) and in case it had a stone in it, like peaches or apricot, my mum had to dispose it before I saw it or – shock horror – touch it: It makes me feel weird just thinking about it (And writing about it, aaaaahhhh), it gives me goosebumps and it totally freaks me out.

Lunches and dinners were dramas, with my mum trying to feed me anything she could and me refusing it. The story was always the same: she put food on the table, I would barely touch it, she proceeded in losing her cool, frustration would rise to the roof, she would demand I eat, then she would start threatening, then yelling, then my father would intervene by barking at me to fucking eat my food and I would end up crying staring at my plate, praying my food would just evaporate like water in the heat. This drama at some point changed though: my mum discovered a medicine called Carpantin: it was liquid, it had a sweet, absolutely vile taste and it made me drowsy as fuck. I think my mum made me drink litres of it throughout my childhood. It stimulated hunger, and it kind of worked as, during “the cure”, as my mum would call the month or so she made me have that shit, I ate more than I normally would. Whenever I saw those bottles in the medicine’s cabinet, my heart sank. I don’t remember why, at some point, this hell ended (I think that there has been a shortage of it and my doctor just stopped prescribing it because “enough is enough”).

The mantras I heard day in, day out, was that I looked sick, that I was skin and bones, that I looked like a stick with clothes. When I was a child, I almost felt a sense of pride: I looked like a boy and I didn’t mind, I fit into tiny clothes, nobody teased me for being overweight (though in the 80s being overweight was rare) and it just seemed a fun thing, so I was welcoming those negative comments about my body because to me they were something cool.

Well.

Not so much when teenage years started: my peers started to have boobs and curves and well, I still had bones on show. Hearing constantly “you will go to the hospital because you are all bones! “you have only skin attached to your bones!” “look at you, you are so skinny you look sick!”, “you are a stick with clothes on”, “you should stay in the science room as you’d be perfect as a skeleton” went from fun to steadily eroding my self-esteem, and once that was gone, it fuelled hate for my body.

Partly because of my fussiness, and partly because I wanted to gain weight and shush all the “skinny bitch” shit, I started to learn how to cook by myself. My mum is worldwide famous OCD: if anything is not spotless (especially her kitchen), hell will break lose, so she never taught me anything in case I made a mess in her house. I didn’t mind, I wanted to do things my way and learn flavours, techniques and recipes all by myself: yes, I’m a loner when it comes to learning and I thrive when I am left alone to do my own things (this is also the way I managed to get a Law degree: no classroom, just me, my books and a tutor for help).

Turned out, cooking became a relaxing session for my brain: I didn’t have to think anything but what I wanted to eat and what steps I had to follow in order to feed me what I wanted. There was no fussiness, no anxiety, no drama: I had total control on everything: the flavours, the portion sizes, the recipes. Moreover, it helped me be more curious about food, more inclined to taste and give it a go. An amazing world of possibilities opened its doors for me and I loved it because I was the undisputed Queen of it.

Cooking became my life saviour when my post-natal depression took a turn for the worst, and I lived on a chain of endless panic attacks. Guess what was the main thing who triggered my attacks? Yes, food: I became scared of dying of an anaphylactic shock from a random allergy. I know, rationally, that it was absolutely insane, but there and then? No way, Jose. It took me 2 years to discover that the feeling of suffocating and dying triggered by food was due to a combination of asthma and gastric reflux, but in the meantime it was constant horror.
Anything that was not plain pasta (and I mean just boiled, no oil, cheese, nothing), plain rice or water sent me in a terrible meltdown. I lost so much weight in the space of two months that I (truly) became a skeleton with clothes on. No one seemed to care though: doctors brushed me off with “first time mum syndrome”, “it’s just baby blues”, “cheer up and enjoy this moment”, like I was having a blast living in that horrible.

I could have never tolerated anyone cooking for me at that stage. I would have never, ever, trusted anyone to cook exactly how my anxiety dictated and with the only few things that spared me a panic attack. I spent more time than I’m happy to admit staring at my kitchen thinking “here we go again… Russian roulette bring it on….”. I started re-introducing things little by little, one item at a time. Depending on how brave I felt in that moment, or how strong I felt to push myself, I increased variety, I added spices and flavours. It took ages but being the master of my own resurrection has been very empowering (but please, if you read this, don’t feel like there is no help out there: there is. Don’t surrender like me. SEEK HELP. I beg you), but it left massive mental scars that only now I’m managing to heal.

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A cake I made recently to celebrate Seb Vettel’s victory at the Belgium Grand Prix

Now that I’m better, I am back at loving cooking for what it is. Over the last couple of years I have also improved my baking skills, and every now and then I test my creations on my colleagues. Funny thing is, when I started bringing cakes at the office, their feedback was “good”, “nice”, “ok”, “amazing”; now that it happens quite often, they are used to it and their feedback is like Michelin Star inspector: “needs more moisture”, “this was good but slightly too lemony”, “amazing, but decoration could have been neater”.

By the way, since I see that my blog gets read all over the world, if you have any recipe please please please share it with me (any good dhal recipe would be greatly appreciated!)!

BREATHE IN STRENGTH, BREATHE OUT BULLSHIT

I must admit, I have never truly appreciated the power of meditation till after my ex broke up with me. Before that, it was just an exercise I used to do (when I was arsed enough to do it). I used to sit, spend 5 minutes or so trying to clear my head, get bored to death, decide I was done for the day, tick the box of “I did it”, the end.

One day, the shitstorm happened. Meditating quickly became the only resource I had to preserve my sanity. My brain was in overdrive with all the negative emotions, my heart was bleeding, my body was in pain, I was in the eye of the storm and hell was breaking lose. I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t think straight, I was exhausted. I needed a mental break. I clinged to this practice like my life depended on it and I never abandoned it since.

Let me set the record straight: meditating is HARD. It is one of those things that everyone brags about doing, it is so hipster it hurts. Everyone will try and shove it down your throath:
Be more mindful!
Mindfulness is the secret of success!
Meditate or die!
And so on. So, you think “yeah, why not, lemme give it a go”. You google “how do I start meditating” and you find a mammoth amount of all these coaches and teachers that explains what to do, making it look so damn easy: sit there, breathe, clear your mind, see your thoughts as clouds passing by, imagine this, imagine that, visualise stuff, add a mantra or two and job done!

YEAH RIGHT.

Believe me, it is so fucking hard. Do not believe who says it is a piece of cake. REAL meditation requires training, dedication, and an unbelievable level of discipline. You must practice it over and over and over again, every day, and you won’t get the benefits of this practice till you master the art of it. Proper meditation means that you have total power and control over your body and your brain. If you have an overactive mind like mine, where you just cannot stop thinking and overthinking, meditation won’t come naturally to you.

It will be a struggle.

Couple of minutes after you sit down and get into it, you’ll realise that everything is actively conspiring against you to make you fail. The more you’ll try to clear your mind, the worse your chain of thoughts will become. If your brain will not succeed into making you give up, your body will work against you and you will start becoming restless. You’ll feel the urge to scratch a sudden itch on your foot or your head, a song will pop up on your mind and you won’t be able to make it stop, then you’ll be thirsty, or your throat will feel dry, you’ll feel too cold, or too hot, your clothes will be too tight, or too loose, then you’ll need to scratch yourself again; if you are in the lotus pose (I beg you, from the bottom of my hearth, do not attempt to do it or meditate in that pose unless you have few months of yoga under your belt), pain will drive you to the brink of madness and then you’ll think “mmmm maybe I should move a bit so I can feel comfier…that’s it… so… what was I thinking about anyway?” and you will give up shortly afterwards. Oh, did I mention that you’ll feel like it was a very stupid idea and a waste of time? Yeah, that will happen too.

However.

Don’t surrender. Please, don’t. If you stick to your guns and impose yourself to keep going, I promise you, meditating will be the best thing you’ve ever done for yourself. It took me a while, but now I consider it a pampering session for the brain. My days are less stressful, less emotional, less chaotic and I am much more relaxed that what I used to be. I try to do it first thing in the morning and right before I go to sleep.

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Namaste! Ole’!

My morning meditation gets me all geared up for the day: I go through a list of my tasks, I visualise them in front of me and I’ll prepare myself mentally to face them. It really helps if you struggle with anxiety like me. Then I add few positive affirmations: these acts like an injection of power and strength. I know, it seems totally dumb telling yourself stuff like:
“you are strong”
“you are fierce”
“you are beautiful”
“you are full of love, and energy, and power, and you can accomplish everything”
“there is nothing that you won’t be able to face”
I swear though, it works. BUT! You really must BELIEVE that those affirmations are true for them to work. Just saying them for the sake of “there, I said them, ok?” with a “this is just bullshit” attitude it’s a no-no.

STOP IT: I know what you are thinking right now. It is something along the lines of “yeah right, because I’m going to sit there, telling all this shit to myself, right? How embarrassing is that? Only losers would do it.” How do I know it? Because I thought exactly like that too. I was “better than this bunch of crap”. Until I ended up with my arse on the floor, desperate to try anything to feel better.

I gave it an honest, humble go. I didn’t have anything to lose. I chose to believe. I chose to re-wire my brain with positive messages. It is SO.DAMN.HARD. But. It works wonders. The more you do it, the more it gets easier, and at some point, you’ll realise that you won’t need to force yourself into believing those affirmations: you will own them, and saying them will become a “reminder” game to keep you in the positive loop.

To think what you want to think is to think the truth, regardless of appearances
Wallace Wattles, The Science of Getting Rich

My bedtime meditation is my decluttering, release-all-the-stress session. This is the moment where I let go of everything that happened during the day. If there are lessons to be learned, I will acknowledge them. If something pissed me off, I will analyse it, I will take any positive thing (if any) and then I will let it go. If something made me happy, I will cling on the beautiful feeling I experienced. I will say another round of affirmations, then it’s sleep time, goodbye world, see you tomorrow.

I am, by no means, an expert on meditation, so what you just read is nothing more than my ritual; of course, I invite you to try it and do the same, but you may find out that you’ll need to tweak a thing or two (or everything!) to make it work for you. And that’s the beauty of meditation: once you learn “the basics” and you get the hang of how it works, you’ll make it work for you, there is no right or wrong, good or bad: whichever way you’ll do it, so long as you’ll do it and you’ll do it seriously, you’ll experience the benefits of the practice.
If you are a total beginner, I suggest to start with some guided meditation. Having someone talking you through the process it’s incredibly helpful: it takes away the stress and anxiety of “I don’t know how this shit works, what do I do now. Am I doing good? Am I doing anything meaningful?”. Plus, it makes it easy to learn how to focus and how to deal with all the thoughts that will run around your head, since you basically have to follow the lead and do as told. I still use guided meditation, especially when I’m tired, or sick, and I need to be dragged into my subconscious because I don’t have the strength to do it by myself.

For your meditation resources, Google is your friend, and in Amazon (or any other shop, virtual or physical) you can find books, CDs etc… and then, you got YouTube. Speaking of that, I want to close this post with a bang and share with you the BEST meditation ever. Marge, my close friend and partner in crime, found it and shared it with me. Disclaimer: it is rude, so if you get easily shocked by swearing, maybe don’t click on the following link…

An Honest Meditation

We listened to it so many times that now we know the words by heart, and to thank her I bought her (and myself) the book version. We love it! I even got the app! The best bit? If one of us is feeling a bit low, or is having quite the day at the office, the other one will start reciting this meditation… and we’ll be laughing our assess off till tears.

“..and as you slowly open your eyes, greet the world and everything in it with a new, beautiful breath… of fuck that!”
Jason Headley, F*ck That, An Honest Meditation

LET’S GET PHYSICAL! PHYSICAL!

I wanna get physicaaaal let’s get into physical (hey I’m a child of the 80s, I can’t help it. Here is the link if you fancy blasting this song out loud  Let’s get physical).

I have a weird relationship with the gym.

Sitting here, in the comfort of my sofa, I love it like crazy. I love sweating like a pig whilst I row on the rowing machine or run on the treadmill; I adore exercising till everything hurts like I just got run over by a truck on full speed; oh, that feeling of finally dumping myself under the shower, closing my eyes and… aaaaah, peace at last. I end up so tired I can’t even think. Oh, and the best bit? Checking myself in the mirror, see the results of my hard work and bask in my own glory for a minute or two (“fuck yeah! Check these abs bitch! Uuuuh look at that ass! Your arms – wow!” and so on).

When I actually have to go to the gym, well, it is a total different story: I HATE IT.

I hate it with a passion. Gosh I hate going to the gym. I hate the smell; I hate exercising; I hate gym clothes; I hate all the machines, none excluded; I hate weights; I hate barbells and don’t make me start on dumbbells and kettlebells; I hate classes; I hate personal trainers and I hate myself for going there even though I absolutely hate it. I’m a lazy arse who just wants to eat lasagne and be left alone ok?

In the building where my office is located there is a little gym. Most of my colleagues are fitness fanatics, and when you don’t see them killing themselves in the gym during lunch break, it’s because they are running 5k outside “to get some fresh air and train for running a marathon”.

For the record, I hate running. I can barely tolerate it on a treadmill. I tried to run 5k twice in my life and believe me, I don’t think I will put myself through that again unless I get paid a lot of money. The first time I did it I was working at the BBC. I surrendered to the pleas of my good friend James, who’s leader of the running club. I am embarrassed and ashamed to say I made those 5k a nightmare for him and his mates. I moaned and moaned and moaned some more for at least 3k; when my legs told me to do one, I found a bench, I sat down and I kept moaning to myself; when James and the other runners finished their run, I moaned non-stop all the way back to the office.

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Things you do for free food

Put it this way: if he is still my friend after that, it is only because he is amazing and has a very big heart. The second time happened two years ago, at a charity event organised by JP Morgan. I knew that enrolling into this race was a horrible mistake, but my colleagues convinced me by saying that, at the end of the race, I could have enjoyed free barbecue and drinks. I can’t say no to free food, I just can’t! I’m not proud to admit that I ended up running less than 1k, then I got bored and I just played PokemonGo for the remaining 4k. I arrived at the finish line an hour and too much time later. The barbecue was over. I wasn’t happy. At all. Damn!

I have never had a good relationship with my physical appearance. I started hating my body at a very young age, when I became aware of what I looked like, and I compared it with what everyone else looked like. Hating yourself is a slow and deadly poison. It creeps into your brain, one negative comment at a time, and before you know it you can’t think of anything else but “I’m fucking shit”. Constantly. Worse, it spreads in every aspect of your life: everything you do, everything you experience and everything that comes into your life gets filtered through this dark cloud of negativity. It becomes your everything. It permeates your reality in such a wicked way that you succumb without a fight.

The ideal Italian woman has always been sexy and curvaceous. I have always been the exact opposite: skin and bones. Not even a remote idea of boobs or bum. Everyone, from my friends to my parents, told me I looked like a stick with clothes on. I knew that if I were to cut my hair short, I would have easily passed for a boy. Now, imagine being in a locker room, full of girls who-look-like-girls, who behave like girls-should-behave: I started comparing myself to them. I started asking myself why I was like me and not like them. WTF was happening (or not happening) that I got stuck in this joke of a stupid body, on top of having a stupid brain? It didn’t take a lot of effort to convince myself that I was not only different, but also U G L Y.

I Just could not accept who I was, even less than before. I looked at the mirror and everything was a no: my hair? Barely average. My face? Please…. With these horrible, messy teeth? Hardly worth of looking at. My body? Or should I say, my skeleton? Only appealing at Halloween, maybe (though in Italy we didn’t have Halloween, of course, catholic!). I spiralled into a self-esteem crisis, where I felt (and convinced myself) that there was nothing I was good at: I was a failure as a girl in every possible aspect.

You can imagine how “glad” I could have been to go to the gym with a background like the one I just described. My mantra has always been “don’t bother because nothing will change”, even if deep down inside I wanted to look good and feel good about myself. I am embarrassed thinking of all the gym memberships that I paid in the heat of the “this time I’m going to train like I’m on fire!”, only to end up not going there. EVER. Not even for the induction session. I know. Don’t make me start on the very few times where I did go, but instead of exercising I just roamed around, not even pretending to try and put some effort. I even had a personal trainer once: I thought that this way, I couldn’t cheat and I had to force myself to go. If only I’d have been less stupid and used the same energies and efforts to do what he said, rather than to trick him into believing I was training, I’d have had the body of a bodybuilder.

Over the years, I have avoided any form of exercise like the plague. I didn’t want to even think of the remote possibility to do anything at all. Even walking for more than 2 minutes was something I could not contemplate. Life had other plans for me, however, and when I moved to London, I found myself surrounded with healthy fanatics & sport addicts who kept trying to drag me into whatever they were into. I dumbly resisted any temptation because I thought I knew best and, whilst everyone was shaping their beach bodies, I was sitting at my desk pretending I didn’t care (but I was secretly envying them hard).

When I started reading all those motivational books, I realised how stupid I have always been for wanting things and never actually work hard toget them. My “ideal body” included. I got fed up of looking at the mirror thinking “if only”. Enough! Do I really, really want it? How about I do something about it? My brain, used to my negative ways, was having none of it.

“Yes, ok, but you don’t have a great track record with gym attendance, you know that”

“well, how about I challenge myself?”

“how about you don’t fool yourself into thinking you can, when you know you will fail?”

“well, how about for once I don’t try to talk myself out of something and I simply give it a go?”

And so I did. I went to buy a pair of trainers, some yoga pants, I dug up a shirt from my (extremely old) gym clothes and I asked one of my gym fanatics colleagues, my beloved Elena, to take me to the gym no matter what. I imposed myself to stop overthinking and to start doing. And I enjoyed it. And I haven’t stopped going since. And when I want to stop, which is like every time I have to go, I know I just have to wait for Elena to hover around my desk; she will start by kindly asking me to grab my things and go, and when I start “mmmm I don’t feel like it today…. I’m mmmmm not ok…” she will cut my crap there and then and force me to overcome my laziness. She will put up with my moaning like a pro, so long as my legs are moving towards the gym. And then, she will endure a class with me huffing and puffing and ranting “what the fuck have I done?” “why did you make me do it” “this is the last time I swear” “fuck this shit I’m out of here” “I’m dying and I’m not inviting you to my funeral” etc… I know, I’m so bad!

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You better work bitch!

Oh my, the time I had the brilliant idea to ask the personal trainer of our office gym to give me a lesson. I was so geared up. I spent all morning shouting positive affirmations, blasting heavy metal out loud, I was on fire. I went to the gym all motivated and ready to slay it.

“Farrah, I got dumped and I want a revenge body: I want amazing abs and a bum hard as a rock! I want to be a goddess”

“how hard are you prepared to work?”

“BRING.IT.ON”.

She did bring it on. Oh God, she did.

She gave me an hour of total hell. She pushed me, and pushed me, and pushed me some more, till I begged her crying that I just couldn’t take it anymore. She didn’t give in and pushed me even more. My body hurt for 2 weeks solid afterwards. I felt paralytic. I put my heartbreak into perspective: yes, it hurts, a lot, but I take that anytime compared to wishing to chop off half of my body.

I am proud to say that I didn’t surrender. If anything, it made me want to do it again. And

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gym time!

I kept training hard. Because I hate it, yes, but I love it too. I really do. It is helping not only my physical health, but my mental health as well. For once I not only feel great, but I also look great. On the path of my personal greatness, I have embraced this torture and, for the first time ever, I’m really putting an effort into it: I changed my diet, I changed my attitude, I stopped telling myself “Silvia you can’t” and swapped it with “Silvia, how about you try?”. I even ended up lifting weights! I’m proud of my body and I’m proud of myself.

… what’s today class, by the way? Total Core? Oh no. I’m too tired. I can’t be arsed. I’m just staying here today, I think I can give it a miss…. Elenaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa help!!!!!!!!