HELLO ME, MEET THE NEW ME

Ok, Megadeth’ song “Sweating Bullets” started in a slighlty different way, but I’m not sure if “meet the real me” is what is right for what I’m about to write. Aaaand now I can’t get rid of that song playing in my head! (It is one of my absolute favourites, for the record).

I’m in a weird phase as we speak. It is exciting, it is new, it is great, it feels great, but at the same time, it is slightly bittersweet and a tiny bit… upsetting?

Let’s see if I can explain…. I am trying to make sense to any of this and it took a good hour with the psychotherapist to come to some sort of explanation, be kind with me, this is harder than what it seems!

Before I start writing anything about it, let me give you an idea of where I am now in my journey: I’m sure it will make things easier for everyone, myself included!
All the work I’m doing on myself is starting to pay off big time. I’m beginning to see and feel tangible, wonderful improvements on my mental health, my self-esteem, my confidence, the way I portray myself with others but also with myself too etc…

Recently, I’ve been feeling this wonderful excitement that I can’t seem not only to justify, but also to contain. I feel like I’m reborn and I have to re-learn everything from scratch or so.
I’m approaching things in a new way, with a new mentality.
I’m experimenting with myself. I’m trying new things, or old things but experiencing them in a different way. My stream of thoughts is dramatically improved: I’m more positive, more rational, with a greater awareness of who I am and what is the message I’m trying to convey with my words and my body. I reflect more on stuff. I think before I react. I am learning to cope with my anxiety, talking myself out of it rather than just be defensive and succumb to its horrible effects. I don’t let things go by without asking myself “why am I doing this? Why is that I’m feeling this way? Why this upsets me? How can I re-phrase this in a positive way? What is the lesson I can learn from this?” etc.
I must admit, at time is very tiring, but at the moment I wouldn’t have it any other way. I feel more relaxed, even though I’m constantly analysing myself. As I write, I’m on a train, and I had quite the “anxiety inducing” morning. It required a mammoth effort to shut the fuck of my chain of anxiety driven thoughts and focus on what I had to do.

My confidence is on a record high. My self-esteem? I can’t believe how good I feel about myself. I’m in such a state of grace that all the negativity can’t seem to affect me the way it used to affect me and make me miserable as fuck, feeling defeated, a failure, the shittiest shit of the world.
More so, it seems like any attempt at dragging me down and making me feel like dirt is met by me with a “whatever, I can’t give a single, remote fuck no matter how hard I try… and I’m not even entertaining the idea of trying, by the way” attitude. It is awesome, and the less fucks I give, the better it gets.

I’m loving this new and improved Silvia. I really do. I see this beautiful path in front of me and I’m taking my time to walk on it, savouring every single step. I don’t want to rush it.
I don’t want change to happen like a sudden miracle: I am enjoying too much the little steps, the small but incredible victories against my old self, the tiny bits and pieces that seem to fall into place every time I take a moment to analyse my surroundings and myself in it. I know it is not an easy, smooth ride, but even bumps along the way are not perceived as “dramas that will traumatise me forever”, but they are just put into perspective, dealt with and put behind my back: it happens, it is fine, I’ll do better next time.

I have also this… it’s such a weird feeling: I can’t stop thinking, feeling, being convinced deep down to the core that something amazing is about to happen in my life. I have this crazy but absolute certainty that I will soon experience something incredible, that will not only make up for all these years of suffering, but also give me a massive boost into keep pursuing my best possible self. I spoke to my therapist about it and the way I described it to her is “I feel like a child who knows that soon is going to be Christmas – it will happen, it’s just a matter of letting days go by; in the meantime she is thinking of all the amazing presents she will get and oh my gosh she is so happy that she is restless”.
I don’t know if I will truly get this amazing thing, but I want to believe I will, and I have faith the universe has listened to what I am asking, has witnesses that I’m not fooling around, that this time I meant it when I said “I’m going to change!” and therefore is cooking up something truly awesome for me. Having said that, everything already looks like a present for me, and I want this feeling to last for as long as I possibly can.

At the same time, a tiny bit of me is… lost? Like… this tiny part of me sees all these changes happening, is experiencing all these new things, there is a mammoth amount of new data and information that my brain requires to process in a new, positive way… and this part of me is in a maze, trying to find a way out, trying to come to terms with the new me and the death of the old me.

I’ll try to expand on the topic, bear with me because I’m also trying to explain this to myself!

I give you an example: I recently saw my ex. We spent the night together. Few weeks ago, I would have been extremely happy and looking forward for having a chance to be back in his arms, to spend time with him and maybe, just maybe, you know, hopefully, his feelings for me…
Well….
Don’t get me wrong, we kind of had an ok night, and we did have some nice moments, but… my feelings were not there. My mind was not there. The more time we spent together, the more I felt “….is it really this what I want for me?”. In the morning, I stared at him whilst he was sleeping, something that I used to love to do. I adored waking up next to him. I used to cuddle him, kiss him, grab his arms and wrap myself in them, listen to the sound of his breathing and just enjoy his warmth, his presence.
That morning all I could do was just… stare at him., in the same way as I would have stared at any other object that was there, but that I don’t really give a fuck about it.
I tried to grab his hand, and yes, it was nice, but…. Just like any other hand would have felt.
Don’t get me wrong, I was absolutely fucking thrilled, happy to the moon and back that I could feel that distance, that “I think you killed all the love I had for you and it feels awesome”, but this tiny bit of me felt so… lost? Unable to understand the situation?
This little part of me kept asking “where are your feelings? I swear they were here not long ago, I fucking left them there, I kid you not, I felt them! Where are they? What happened? Did you put them in the bin? Did you hide them from me? What the hell…..”.

Another example? My recent interactions with my mum. I love her, I love to bits, but she can piss me off like very few people in the world can. She can make me go from Buddhist monk to hysterical, emotional wreck in the space of a second. Yet, in our latest exchanges, I’ve not behaved as per my usual, defensive self: I let her yell, or be her usual bitching and moaning. I didn’t allow her to drag me to the level of the child who is at the receiving end of a rant. I stopped her “emotional blackmailing” before she dared to try and do it, and in a calm (but firm) way I told her what my point of view was, and why I was sticking to it no matter what. Again, I felt SO proud of myself. The way I successfully handled it, avoiding a total meltdown and a yelling challenge amongst us, made me feel on top of the world. I am confident, I know I’m right and I don’t need to defend myself: it is how I say it is. However, this tiny bit of me felt a bit… unease? Like “I was expecting shouting and tears and…. nothing happened? What was that? Who are you Silvia? What the fuck are you doing?”.

I think that this is part of my “transition” into this new person. A lot has changed, and I can see it clearly, but some stuff is still present because hey, I’ve been the old me for a very long time, you can’t just get rid of years and years of feelings, behaviours, attitude etc. just like that right? The new me is up and running, but the old me is still looming around, trying to find her dimension, to see whether there is still space for her inside me, and if so, where is it and what can she do to regain some of her power. This is also the part of me that makes me feel scared (and anxious) that all the good work will lead into nothing, that it is all so stupid and embarrassing, that at some point I will go back to my old ways anyway so I should surrender now in order for me to face a smaller, unavoidable disappointment. Oh, I so wish I could shut this part of me down for good!

AAAAH it makes me so upset feeling this way!

Anyway, I’m trying to manage the situation as best as I can and to not worry too much about it. I’m sure that, in time, I will be better. I saw hell, I lived in it for years and years alone and able to count only on myself. Now I have a team of people supporting and taking care of me, a bit like some self-esteem and mental health superheroes: let’s wait for those Christmas presents, shall we?

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A very happy me. Few months ago, you would have never EVER seen me smiling for the camera. NEVER.

SHARING IS CARING

Since I started this blog a month or so ago, I’ve been increasing my time on WordPress browsing other blogs to read what other fellow bloggers are up to, and I discovered a world full of beautiful people that are writing incredibly moving things which I can absolutely relate to. In Italy, when someone “discovers” things that everyone else in the world knows about, we say “you just discovered hot water”. It seems that it is what happened to me with these blogs!

Anyway, one of the blogs I fell in love with is called “Around the ward in 80 days” written by the amazing Ida (I encourage you to please give this blog a read, it is awesome).
The other day I was reading this post that she wrote called “I need to tell you something.”, which is about whether or not someone suffering from mental illness should hide or share this fact with his/her respective parner. I had quite a debate with myself about it: why people should hide their mental health to their partner? Or to anyone, to be honest? Like Ida, I wholeheartedly agree that no one should ever hide what goes on in his/her mind, especially in a relationship.

Ok, let’s expand on the topic a bit more, shall we?

I understand that mental illness comes with a very horrible stigma attached to it.
I said it in previous blog posts and I will say it again now: I don’t get why people are fine with, let’s say, broken bones, upset stomachs, viruses and infections, but anything that affects the brain is a massive taboo that everyone better hide or be shamed for life. I just don’t get it! Am I missing a memo or something? Isn’t the brain just like any other organ of our body?
Ok, I get that mental illnesses are not exactly like chickenpox or measles, I’m not that oblivious to the fact that we are talking about a very different kind of illness here. I’ve suffered with crippling anxiety for all my life, I had panic attacks and suicidal thoughts for three years and half of my family is battling (and battled) mental illnesses (from depression to in and out of mental units) so yeah, I know what I am talking about, alright?
picI understand that the nature of the topic discussed here is pretty sensitive, and I’m not suggesting that people should force it down other people’s throat, not at all. Having these kind of issues is rather upsetting as it is, last thing someone in these conditions need is to feel obliged to overshare for the sake of “killing the stigma”.
However, I do feel that it is important to spread the word, to let people know, to raise awareness: I surprised few people when I said that, even though I could barely go through five minutes without a panic attack, I managed to work full time without taking a single day off sick. You know, not all people with mental illness spend their days in bed, in the dark, hugging their pillows and sobbing their heart out. Some do, some don’t, some do something different entirely, some do all of the above or nothing at all and guess what? it is absolutely fine because everyone copes with what they have in their own way; my point is that mental illness does not necessarily equal “unable to function at all times”.
I don’t think people should introduce themselves like “hello, my name is … and I’m bipolar / depressed / suffering with anxiety” etc, but once you get to establish a connection that is more than casually chatting away now and then, if you feel like it…. Why not just mention it?

The vast majority of my colleagues and my friends knows what happened to me.
I shared my story openly, multiple times. Most of them read this blog as well, so there is no mystery about whatever I have suffered or what I am going through at the moment. I don’t really care about hiding it.
I spent too much time and energy hating myself and trying to be everything everyone wanted me to be, only to end up being even more miserable than before.
Thanks to therapy and some work on myself, I’ve now reached the blissful stage of “I am who I am and if you don’t like it, your problem not mine” so if someone gets upset or shocked by me having been suicidal, well, is it really my issue? Don’t think so, no.

My mental health, or illness, is something that it is part of who I am. What I experienced, the way I overcame my issues, the journey I am in to feel better, improve and re-wire my brain into a powerhouse of positive energy and thoughts, it’s exactly what makes me the person I am today. Why should I hide it? To make others feel better? To not “scare” them? I’m not a murderer, I don’t have any dark secret, I just dealt with what life threw at me!

I’ve always been clear in my relationships about what I’ve been suffering with. Unfortunately, I had a thing for falling for unsuitable partners (I’m trying to be polite and diplomatic here, please appreciate the effort) who either didn’t want to understand, or who used my “weaknesses” to make me feel even worse that what I was feeling, in order for them to cover their insecurities and ensure they always had an upper hand when it came to our relationship: I was the needy one desperate for love, they were the tyrants with the power to decide if and when I was worthy enough of the tiny crumbles of their attention. It was only after few sessions of psychotherapy that I realised why I kept picking these pricks (ok sorry I can’t be polite for too long): I hated myself so much that, by choosing these arseholes, I was basically proving to myself that I was not worth anything better, and I was using them as the embodiment of my self-hate. Of course I always dreamed of having someone who truly loved me, who truly cared for me, who was there to protect me, inspire me and to share our lives in an equal, amazing partnership, but turns out I have preferred to chase people too damaged, too arid and incapable of loving anyone, themselves included, in a sick pursuit of “fixing them to fix myself”.

I don’t think I will end up in another relationship anytime soon, but would I be sharing what I have been through with my mental health again? Yes, of course I would. I now believe that the right person would love me for who I really am, not for what they think I am, or for being the one they want me to be, and my mental status is included in the package, like it or not. How can a partner get to know me if I don’t share with him this very important aspect of my life?

Before you dare to ask something like “but what if you are scared that your partner will run away as soon as he/she knows about your condition?”.
First of all, you are not exactly confessing a murder or anything as horrid as that. I’m sorry to break this news to you (and I’m one who didn’t want to accept it myself), but as upsetting as it may sound, if your partner gets scared and does a runner once he/she knows… well… he/she is not the right person for you.
The end.
Being scared and concerned it is totally understandable. I get it. When my ex told me about his personal dramas, I had few moments of “….shiiiiiit…..”. But I loved him, I wanted to help, to be supportive; I was grateful and appreciative of him allowing me to step into his nightmares and have a good understanding at what was up with him (shame the gratefulness has not been reciprocated…. Anyway). You need to understand that we are used to fight against our brains, but our partners may not, and may not know what to do, how to approach us, how to help us in our darkest hour. We need to understand this and help them. Communication is key, and trying to have a bit more patience too when they struggle to get it right would also be nice. Let’s be honest, it is not easy being us, ok, but it is also not easy for them being our partners if we don’t make them aware of how we function, and we need to appreciate how complicated can be to act in what we think is “the right way” (which, for some of us, may be ok today, but completely wrong tomorrow). Having said that, if they refuse to acknowledge our issues and make our lives an endless misery of shame and pain… well…. Here is the door, goodbye, fuck off.

I understand why people want to hide these issues, don’t get me wrong. It is not exactly the nicest thing ever to go to someone and say “hey, dude, here’s the thing: I’m mental and don’t function like “normal” people, happy?”. But hiding is not the answer. Believe me. The only one who will suffer is you, in the end. I know it is hard to believe, but hiding requires a lot of effort and energy, and the more you hide, the more painful and tough to keep your secret will be.

As hard as it may seem to think this way, you may be positively surprised by how people react. Yes, there will be the odd imbecile here and there, unfortunately there is no vaccine out there preventing stupidity, but good people will listen and will care. Give the world a chance to hear about you. Even if you find just one person who listens to you, your effort will be worth it. You may not know, but your words may mean the universe for that single individual out there. Let’s spread some love out there, shall we?

HELP! I NEED SOMEBODY! HELP!

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

I HATE IT!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

flowers
I even bought myself flowers every week!

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

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

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

ask.for.help.

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

Easy, right?

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

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

“Dear……

my name is Silvia and….”

And I stopped. I just froze.

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

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

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

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

“Dear….

my name is Silvia AND I NEED HELP”

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

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

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

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

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

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