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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THIS DAY WE FIGHT

I rolled my eyes at an incoming panic attack.

I know, it sounds weird, but this is exactly what happened, and it happen so quickly and automatically that I felt more concerned about my reaction than of the panic attack about to strike.

Bit of a background: this Thursday I’ll be at my Company’s Christmas party, and this year I decided that, to celebrate all the good work I have done on myself, I am going to look spectacular. No more saddo clothes, no more blending with the furniture, nope. I will wear a very sparkling sequin bodycon dress, I’ll have hair, makeup, fake tan, mani & pedi professionally done, everything will be spot on. Yes sir, tomboy me will become smoking hot barbie.
So yesterday I was sitting in bed, catching up with the Premier League’s results, when I though “you know what? I’m going to pamper myself up a bit”: I decided to treat myself with a face masque. Simple as that.
Of course, as soon as I started applying it BAM! I could feel a panic attack creeping up, with all the fake weird sensations and the general “I’m on a high alert for danger, I just need to find the perfect trigger….”.
Now, the old me would have quickly washed her face, felt totally stupid for doing something that comes with a complimentary panic attack and then spend the whole night sulking and feeling like crap (“I’m stupid, I’m so dumb, why did I do this, the list goes on).
The new me? Well, the new me is fucking fed up, to put it mildly. I had a massive eye-rolling moment, I rolled my eyes so much that I saw the inside of my brain, and the first few thoughts were, amongst other inappropriate things that I better not write here, something along the lines of “how predictable….Jeeeez the fucks I don’t give about you, stupid brain, right now”. Yes, the panic attack was still trying to lure me in, but I soldiered on for twenty ( T W E N T Y) minutes as per masque instructions and sorry you little shit, there are no panic attacks in between this woman and achieving a pre-party glowing skin.

Eyes rolling.

I’m bored of you, stupid brain thinking weird stuff, misinterpreting shit and giving me panic attacks! I’m BORED.
B O R E D.
Enough already! I am done with it.
At the end of those twenty, eternal minutes, I proudly sat firmly on my bed, with my face looking like a very angry red tomato (it was a bit of a peeling, a bit of god knows what, a “facelift in a jar”, I’ll look normal soon… I hope) not giving a single, infinitesimal fuck.

I had a horrible nightmare last night: I dreamt of my surgery and it was all incredible distressing and scary. My brain re-interpreted the moment before I got put to sleep by the anaesthetist back two years ago and I could feel the fright of my life. Worst was, I knew it was a dream, but still, I couldn’t just manage to keep it under control. Yet, instead of waking up crying and projecting negative thoughts to my incoming surgery, I yelled (in my mind, because I care for my neighbours) “FUCK NO” and cut the crap there and then. No way I’m going to live till the 7th of January in distress because I’m scared. Yes, I will be scared, of course I will. I’m not exactly about to pop a bottle of Prosecco and celebrate Formula 1 podium style at the thought of being put to sleep, but at the same time, I won’t let all of this useless and counterproductive anxiety rule my life. This shit ends now.

I feel like a revolution has started inside me. It is something that has slowly crept up over time, with therapy, with my confidence growing, with my work at the gym… It’s… it’s like the tests and achievements so far have paved the way for something bigger, something that I haven’t consciously noticed till now. Like the little drops of water that over time erode a rock, the same has happened to my brain: something has eroded my brain slowly but steadily, to the point where I now feel not only that I am not bloody scared of facing this war, but also that there is a big chance I can win it.

For example, in order to start testing how much I can push it, I switched Iron supplements today: no more taking the “safe option”, which by the way, it gave me a panic attack the first time I took it. As I write, I just took it for the first time and needless to say, I have a panic attack waiting for me to let him in. I can feel my brain trying to find a way to trigger hell; my senses are on a hype, trying to find a reason, a slight weird feeling, a little glitch in the system to make me go in full panic mode. I refuse to let it happen.
Fuck off already.
I’m sitting here, eating my (very sad, I must admit) lunch, writing this entry and working really hard to keep my precious fucks to myself and not give a single one to what my body is trying to tell me, because these feelings that I think I’m feeling are NOT REAL. They are not, and I should stop pandering to them, just as I don’t pander to my son when he puts up a tantrum display in shops.

I know, I sound totally lunatic and ready to check in to mental unit, but… listen, I always saw myself as a victim of my mind; I always thought there is nothing I could do to make me be better; I always surrendered without even trying to fight back and I don’t think that’s the right way to do it, not for me anymore at least. For the record, even if I’m all here bold and courageous, I’m not having exactly an easy time, and I bet all you want that once this storm settles I will feel absolutely drained. If you know what a panic attack is, and if you ever attempted to fight it, you know how tiring and exhausting it is. However, I want to think it as a mental gym: the first time I went to the gym, the next day I begged to die as everything hurt and I could barely breathe; now I could squat till my arse is on fire and I’m happy when I feel that burning sensation – it means my muscles are growing and I’m doing something right. Well, dear brain, now you and I are going to squat the shit out of these panic attacks, and yes, today I will feel like my head is about to explode, but soon, with good training, I’ll get you nice and muscly and strong enough to cut the crap before it even starts. You just watch me making it happen!

JUST A SPOONFUL OF SUGAR HELPS THE MEDICINE GO DOWN

Oh, dear Mary Poppins, I wish it was that simple for me!

Ok, I guess it’s time to talk about it, because the clock is ticking, and it will soon be the time where I won’t be able to run away from this massive issue I have. I have been working hard to avoid facing it, because it causes me a lot of mental pain; however, thanks to the incoming surgery procedure, dodging this bullet again won’t be an option… so I better do everything in my power to get ready before the storm will hit me in all its fury.

Unfortunately for me, I have been living with quite a nasty phobia. It is a massive one, a “wonderful” gift from post-natal depression: I am totally, absolutely, completely, and undeniably terrified of taking medicines other than the odd paracetamol. The thought of having to do it triggers quite a severe anxiety attack, the act of taking one… well, it’s a full-force panic attack with its horrible aftermath. Not a pleasant experience, believe me. At times, even vitamins and supplements can trigger an anxiety attack. Even cosmetic treatments!!! My gosh the day I had a fake tan… sheer terror (by the way, I’m having another one because I’m brave). Unlike my love for mushrooms, that disappeared during those three years of mental hell only to come back as nothing ever happened once I made it to the other side, this phobia overstayed it’s welcome and I’m still battling it to this day. When people joke about phobias and the impact they have on people, I become quite angry: you don’t know how frightening it is living with one till it happens to you, and even if for you it is stupid or inconceavable, for that person is a trauma, so be kind – nobody wants to have to deal with it!

The thing is, this medicines phobia it’s not something that is easy to challenge in a Cognitive Behavioural Therapy style (which I hate with all my heart, by the way), like I did with most food (at my worst, during my post-natal depression, I survived only on plain rice and plain pasta): I can’t just pop pills randomly to get used to them and don’t be scared of them anymore. Besides, even if I were crazy enough to do it, what medicines would I pick? I’m scared of all of them and there is a plethora available over the counter alone. What should I try? And why, since I’m perfectly healthy? My liver appreciates me treating him nicely and keeping him on a (almost) permanent state of relax. I rarely take medicines anyway, unless I’m really, really sick, so even when I could have the chance to challenge myself, I just don’t feel the need to.
I thought I had to face my phobia when I had my elbow surgery two years ago, but once the anaesthesia wore off, I found I had no pain at all, or nothing that a tiny bit of paracetamol would not solve, so I dodged that bullet at that time. However, it seems now that my next surgery won’t be a walk in the park as the previous one: my lovely surgeon wrote, on the pre-admission letter, that I am to expect considerable pain till two (but likely four) weeks post-op, and that pain will be considerably higher than what I experienced with my elbow. Yep, the odd paracetamol would simply not be enough… and my phobia is already waiving hello in the back of my head, feeling like an annoying acquaintance that you rather walk the long way round than crossing his path and having to wave hello back.

I always have been very blasé about my health and medicines. Not that I ever took a lot of them, but I guess it was the same as for any normal person: if your doctor says you need it, you take it, if there is anything over the counter that would solve your issue, you just buy it, take it and end of the story. My mum, her sisters and my grandma had a very… let’s say interesting relationship with medicines: for them, it was like exchanging shoes or clothes!
“Did you try this? Oh my gosh best painkiller ever”
“Really? Because I was using this other one and I can assure you this is so worth the money, you should totally try it!”
My dad, every time he saw them chatting away like that, he used to raise his hands and say “the drug dealers are in a meeting”. One of my mum’s sister used to be a nurse, and I will never forget that time I had food poisoning with egg pasta: she gave me a massive shot of Brufen that basically knocked me out for the whole night.
I took all the medicines I have been prescribed without a single problem, including a round or two of antibiotics. Before I got pregnant, I re-took my MMR vaccine, and all was going fine in my own little world.

Unfortunately, towards the end of my pregnancy, I had an allergic reaction to the hair dye I was using to cover my very dark roots (I was a proud bottle blonde), and something cracked in my brain: I was suddenly scared of any chemical thing. I coped kind of ok till I had to be induced, and I had a panic attack straight away: from that moment onwards, I descended into a spiral of pure terror at the thought of taking any medicine whatsoever.

It has been 6 years and counting now that my phobia gives me a panic attack hey pronto as soon as I’m required to take any medicines. This is also the reason why I am deeply ashamed to admit that I skipped, for the fifth year running, the flu jab: I rather take the risk of having the flu rather than having to face the guaranteed panic attacks I’d have before, during and afterwards (but, before you yell at me, my son has been vaccinated). The only medicines I do not have an issue with are paracetamol and Gaviscon (a heartburn medicine); however, overcoming this fear has not been easy: it took me few panic attacks and ultimately a very kind nurse on the phone who stayed on the line when I took them, and talked me out of the raging storm in my head. To this day, I’m eternally grateful to her and she is proof that a bit of care and kindness do change people’s lives: it certainly changed mine for the very better.

I know, for normal people, this phobia is quite stupid, but believe me, I can feel the anxiety building up as I write about it; I can already picture myself in pain, with a box of ibuprofen in my hand, petrified at the thought of either keep being in physical pain or to dare and alleviate it at the cost of causing myself mental pain. It’ a horrible, vicious cycle, I know.

To be honest, I am a bit fucking done with this phobia. It doesn’t mean that I wish I could walk into a pharmacy and swallow every medicine I could lay my hands on without an issue, but I just want to be able to take what I get prescribed without spending hours (or days, or months) of my life completely terrified. I told my therapist that, in a weird and masochistic way, I’m ready for the challenge: like a wrestling match, it is about time I get in the ring and start punching my way to victory, rather than just seeing my phobia holding the championship belt and yelling abuse at me to scare me away from even daring to get near it.

Will I be able to win this one? Any suggestion is more than welcome!

CAN YOU FEEL THE PANIC IN YOU?

Will it break you?
Paranoia coming from within, taking over
Symptoms of an everlasting phobia
Kreator – Phobia
(This is absolutely one of my favourite Kreator songs and my favourite songs in general. Ohhh I can’t wait for Kreator’s gig in December!)

All my “magic circle” of close friends and colleagues know I am totally bonkers. I like to do crazy things. Wherever there is something potentially embarrassingly funny, or if there is a chance to do things crazily, you can rest assured I will take that damned chance and make it spectacularly hilarious: at times, I think I would have been a very talented stand-up comedian with all my crazy adventures. I must admit, I would love the chance to be on stage to tell my stories, and maybe who knows? One day it will happen. Joan Rivers, I salute you, and wherever you are, keep an eye on me!

Last week has been crazily busy as I said in my previous post, and yet I managed to squeeze in a moment of pure hilarity – best of all, in order to do that, I had to face one of my biggest fears in the world: the fear of chemicals.

Background story: I used to dye my hair blonde back in the day. I loved being blonde. I don’t know why I loved it so much, but I just felt it suited me a lot. Now I look back at my pictures and I think “what the hell was I thinking” but hey, I firmly believe that you should experiment with your looks in your teenage years so that, when you grow up, you know what kind of horror stuff you should avoid like the plague. I started dyeing my hair when I was around 14 years old, and I kept doing it for a very long time. I had various colours done, some that I’m proud of, some that I’ve buried evidence of. When I moved here to London, I kept my blonde ambition up and running.
Then, something changed when I got pregnant. With my doctor’s blessing, I fixed my very horrible hair when I was around five months or so at the local hair salon. When I reached the almost eight months’ deadline though, I was too big, too lazy, too fat and I did the worst thing ever: I bought hair dye from the shop (before any “fat shaming” critic comes in: last time I dared weighting myself when pregnant I discovered that I gained something in the region of 40+ kg, not surprisingly since I spent six months eating almost constantly…. Oh, for the record, my son was 2.6kg so when I say it was all fat, it was REALLY ALL FAT. No sugar coating that pill).
As soon as I put the dye on my head, I felt a horrible, burning sensation. Then, I felt like suffocating. I was itchy, I couldn’t breathe properly, I was scared as hell. I called an ambulance whilst I kept washing my hair to get rid of the dye, hoping not to kill my son and myself with an anaphylactic shock. It was proper scary.
This was the beginning of a hell that is not yet over for me as we speak. At the hospital, they dumped me in a room and treated me like a stupid idiot doing stupid stuff out of vanity. Instead of checking on me, of investigating my allergic reaction, they literally let me fend for myself alone, without touching me or talking to me, like I was just a nuisance. Years later, when I saw an allergy consultant and I’ve explained what happened, I discovered that, amongst other things, I experienced a very powerful asthma attack, and that in no way I should have been left alone to “let it pass” by itself. Hey-ho.
Post-Natal depression hell, and I developed a proper phobia for anything that I had to ingest, rub on my skin, touch, or inhale. I barely ate, I had panic attacks every minute… I told the story millions of times already. It’s funny though: on one side, I didn’t want to die (not for an anaphylactic shock, I had it in the past with a medicine I took and believe me, it is a horrible thing); but at the same time, all these panic attacks, depression, anxiety, paranoia, all that jazz made me wish that I indeed dropped dead to finally find some peace.
It took aaaaaages before I could live a “normal” life again. I had to fight tooth and nail to see an allergy consultant and get some answers. Still, to this day, you wouldn’t see me dead near a hair dye; every product I use, whether it is soap or moisturiser, makes me anxious by default; if I have to take medicines other than paracetamol, I really have to talk myself into taking them and then keep talking me out of the guaranteed panic attack that will happen as soon as I swallow the medicine. When I had surgery, and they had to put me to sleep, I had few meltdowns with the anaesthetists: thankfully I found some very reassuring, big hearted and caring ones who took time to explain everything, even to the point where they said “should we notice that what we are injecting is not agreeing with you, you are in our safe hands, don’t worry, we know how to handle that situation and we will spot it in these monitors before anything major can happen” (gosh, writing this is making me feel so emotional). When my beautician did some peelings and facials on me, oh my… my heart was beating so fast that I felt like it would have zoomed out of my chest; when she gave me some vitamin A supplements, boy oh boy, the first tablet I took almost made me have a heart attack so much I was panicking (I’m looking at the box of supplements right now thinking “oh the joy”).

So, back to this week, since I’m working hard as hell on my Jennifer Lopez body (which is officially my obsession), and since I can’t at the moment purchase a pair of boobs to complement my look (my finances are shock horror thanks to my lovely boiler…), I decided to at least treat myself with the JLO glow: oh yeah, I went and booked myself to receive a spray tan, against all of my mental odds.

I’m whiter than white, I never ever tan, I hated when my mum (tanorexic to the core) made me tan (and burn, because it happened all the time, and if I ever have skin cancer I know who to thank for that) so as soon as I was able to do my own thing, I made sure to cover myself with the highest SPF factor stuff and hide in the shade. You rarely see me out with no hat on and no sunscreen. Spray tan means all the colour with nothing of the sun damage, and this was a chance to have proper good fun.
Come on, Jennifer Lopez ain’t exactly with a Swedish-white kind of skin like mine!

At the beginning, I thought “I’m just going to pop to my local store and buy some self-tanning stuff. I’m sure I can do this in the comfort of my own house…”. Reality hit me when I stared at all these products in the store’s aisle, and I remembered about my hair dye experience. How about no self-stupid stuff? Let’s ask a professional to do that – it may cost more, but if anything happens I’m not alone, I limit the chances of turning up orange and my house won’t end up a massive tanned mess. I went to a tanning salon in town, I booked myself in for the weekend and that was it. Then, on Thursday, after I finished all my meetings early, I had an idea: how about I call the same salon and ask whether they have anything available on the day? That will spare myself the pain of having my son with me being bored whilst sitting in a corner and a potential “nope, not doing it” reaction out of the panic building up till the appointment. To my surprise, as the place is generally fully booked, they said they had an appointment conveniently available for me to take.
I took it, happy as ever: lucky me!
Then, whilst going there, anxiety kicked in. I felt my panic attack starting to creep in. Fucking hell, what the heck have I done? Why do I want to do this to myself? WHY?
Nevertheless, I went there: I’m not allowing myself to stop myself from doing this, not this time. I said I want it, I’ll get it, it seems a safe thing, nothing will happen.

The lady at the salon was very funny. I explained to her that it was a first for me, that I was absolutely clueless on the whole thing and very anxious about it. She asked me whether I had any allergies and I mentioned the hair dye: she looked at me and said “oh, me too, and I can assure you I never had a single problem with the tan, besides, this is organic and way less chemical than most spray tans out there, but if you are still anxious, we can spray a foot, see how it feels and then move on”. As soon as the “I’m allergic too” sentence sinked in my brain, I felt very reassured and I instinctively trusted her: I felt like a sign of the universe saying “see? She does it anyway so should you!”.
So there I was, naked apart for a pair of disposable thong. She talked me into the process and then asked “light, medium or dark?”. I looked totally puzzled, but I said “well, maybe not dark….”. She looked at my skin and said “yeah but not light either, come on, you are a proper brunette, get some colour in, especially as it is your first time”. If you say so….!
So yeah, she proceeded in spraying the hell of out me. For the record, spray tan it is fucking freezing cold. Maybe relaxing in hot summer, but when the weather is less clement, it is a big no for me!

Once the spraying was finished, and I looked VERY BROWN in the mirror, I could feel the panic attack just one moment away from striking. I paid at the speed of light and I got out of the shop trying to calm myself down. I told myself “well, ok, if I am supposed to have an allergic reaction, I would have one right now. Nothing is happening, not even a single itch. I’m breathing fine, I’m functioning fine, let’s try to stop this chain of thoughts”. I went to the supermarket, I bought some groceries, then I walked my way back home trying to distract myself from the impending doom in my head. It was a war that I was not willing to lose without a fight. I spent a very good chunk of my evening / night constantly fighting against myself, but no way Jose, I’m not surrendering. You just watch me.

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Yours truly looking very tanned

The next day I had a very nice shower, all the extra-brownness went down the drains and there I was, very brown as if I came back after a month spent surfing in Australia, moisturising, and grinning at my very hilariously looking self. It felt like a victory. Mind over…. Mind?
My anxiety levels stayed on a high almost all day yesterday, and only in the evening I managed to not be that concerned, but still, I managed to get on with my life and live (almost) normally.

To be honest with you, I’m so fed up of this phobia. I’m absolutely DONE with this anxiety, with the panic attacks, with not being able to enjoy anything without that voice in my head trying to scare the living hell out of me. I’m done. I want to be normal. I want to be able to put hairspray on my hair without having to deal with the “oh my I feel like I will die” chain of thoughts. I want to just take some bloody over the counter medicines if I have to, without running around my house in a panic induced attack, crying my eyes out. I want my head to process normal things as they should, not as an impending threat on my wellbeing.

Enough!

The music has changed, I want to be able to face my fears and then act anyway, rather than succumb and give up.

I don’t want to be my head’s victim anymore.