ABOUT PAIN

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

Ready? Steady? GO:

IT IS OK TO NOT BE (MENTALLY) OK

Aaaaand breathe.

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

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

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

You know what?
F*CK THIS SHIT

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

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

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

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

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

What a dumb idiot I was!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My heart is with you.

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.

gym2
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!

britney
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

gym1
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!!!!!!!!