HELLO BLOG MY DEAR OLD FRIEND

It’s been ages since I last wrote on this blog. It feels like coming back to an “old friend of mine” who I haven’t seen in a while. I am not even sure why I left this blog behind, abandoned in a corner of my mind. I have been very busy recently, with so many things happening in my life, and anything that felt not essential has been dumped behind in a “maybe another time” drawer of my brain: it seems my blog slipped into this drawer too. I profusely apologise for this.

I must admit, the less I wrote, the lazier I got, and I was quite happy at leaving things as they were, even though the “not finding anything good to write about” got me a bit annoyed at times. Then the other day I saw Britney Spears latest Insta: her message looked very inspiring and positive at first, and I have been really happy to hear from her after a long time (her dad is currently very sick).

It felt quite the shock when I then read on the newspaper that she checked in into a mental health facility as she wasn’t coping well with what was happening in her life. Of course, I’m so sad that her mental health dropped (again), but I’m so happy that she didn’t let this drag her down and that she actively sought help before things spiralled out of control. It is such a powerful example: if you are not coping, there is no shame in admitting it and in allowing yourself to be cared by expert hands. You know me, I have a very soft spot for her. She has been my guide during my darkest days and an inspirational figure of “you can be still successful and live your dreams despite your wonky mental health”.

Sometimes I hear people saying stupid stuff like “how can so and so be “depressed” (said with quite the sarcastic and nasty tone) when they are rich / beautiful / successful / they got it all?”. Well, my friends, the reason is simple: aside from those who jumps on the “I’m depressed” bandwagon because it’s trendy and they feel they can fill their attention needs with some good old pity with it, anyone can be affected by this illness (cue is in the word: illness). You could have all the conditions to be the happiest person on planet earth and still not be able to be truly happy if your mental health is not ok for whatever reason. This is something I always held against my mum, for example: I spent so many years resenting her for being the way she was, wondering why she just couldn’t be fucking happy and serene. Only when I ended up experiencing the same, being eaten alive by panic attacks and anxiety, thinking of the worst things during my post-natal depression, that I got loud and clear why you can’t just “snap out of it” and “be normal”. You want to, but you can’t. Yes, in fair honesty, there is a part of you that actually enjoys the drama and marinating in your own self-pity, but the main part of you feel like a spectator of a shitshow that cannot be controlled: you see all the beautiful things from your window of despair, longing to be able to get out and enjoy them, but unable to move or do anything about it because your brain simply doesn’t work properly.

Speaking of mental health, I will soon approach my psychotherapy anniversary. If I think of the person I was last year, compared to now… wow. The difference. Last year this time my life was a full-blown drama of epic proportions, I was sad, my self-esteem next to zero, my confidence was non-existent, everything was just negative and upsetting. I was surrounded by very negative people, I was living in a negative environment and, ultimately, I was a negative person myself as well. I can’t believe how completely different my life is now. The journey is still long, I still have issues to work on (my panic attacks are not completely over and forgotten, for example), but I’m confident that, with the help of my therapist, things will keep going better and better.

And I promise my next blog entry won’t be in 3 months’ time!

BEACH IS NOT JUST A PLACE, IT CAN BE A FEELING

What happens when you mix a crazy woman like me, hydrotherapy (which sounds like a spa treatment but, unfortunately for me, it is just physiotherapy done in a swimming pool) and the funniest hospital staff in the world? I tell you what happens: the most hilarious, hysterically comical shoulder rehabilitation session in the world. I’m still laughing 24 hours later!

like me walking into the hospital

How on Earth I ended up floating in a swimming pool singing Nicki Minaj’s “Starships” (uuuuh I love Nicki Minaj), pretending to be in a beautiful beach at the Bahamas rather than at a therapy session?

My shoulder has been quite bad for a week up till last Tuesday, the kind of “forget about sleeping” and “it reminds me of all the championships Sebastian Vettel lost so far with Ferrari” that has seriously taken a massive toll on my physical and mental health. When I saw my physiotherapist on Tuesday, I almost begged her to rip my shoulder off for good – fuck it, let’s finish this torture right now! Luckily, she is not as drama queen as me, and after she did her massaging and stuff, she referred me to hydrotherapy to help me loosen my shoulder up and get a better range of movements in. I didn’t take the news gladly: physiotherapy is a pain in the ass as it stands, even though my physiotherapist is amazing, and I love her dearly, let alone having to do it in a swimming pool! Having sad that, at this point in time anything will do to speed up this bloody recovery, so I booked my appointment without moaning and there I was, bathing suit in my bag, ready for this new experience.

how I pictured my hidrotherapy session… needless to say, it wasn’t like that at all!

I woke up in quite the good mood yesterday and I decided to pretend I was heading to a 5-star resort at the Bahamas rather than at the hospital for physiotherapy. I arrived at the physiotherapy department with my sunglasses on and my scarf on my shoulder like if it was a beach towel, and I gave the receptionist a big, big smile; she knows how crazy I am, so she wasn’t surprised when I said to her “hi I’m here for my spa retreat at 11:00, I hope my pink flamingo is already inflated because I don’t like to wait”. My physiotherapist was there and she facepalmed herself, shaking her head. Then the receptionist asked me if I knew that the hydrotherapy sessions are open for both men and women, and whether I had a problem in case I had to be in the same pool with a man. What a stupid thing to ask, I thought: of course I don’t have a problem, I don’t give a remote fuck about who’s in the pool with me! Men, women, aliens, dogs, cats, zombies, Satan… I’m there to fix my shoulder, I don’t care who’s fixing their bits with me, I could be surrounded by a crowd the size of Queen Live at Wembley 1986 all staring at me whilst the physiotherapist makes me sing Radio Gaga and still, I would not care! There is nothing in a male or female body I haven’t seen by now and, since we will all be in bathing suits, there won’t be anything flashing anyway so come on guys!

Anyway, my turn came, and I strolled like a very happy child to the pool, annoying the hell out of the therapist about how disappointed I was about the absence of the very important inflatable pink flamingo that I was sure would have a negative impact on my recovery. I changed in my bathing suit and there I was, in a warm and super nice pool, thinking “actually, this is not that bad… not that bad at all!!!”. Do you think I stopped being silly just because I was loving it? Of course not! Every movement was a reason to say something humorous, such as:
“ok now pretend that you are a ballerina, extend the arm and then bring it back close to your body”
“mmm I have a better version: grab the prosecco – drink the prosecco – refill the prosecco – drink the prosecco”
“…. (facepalm) ok… as long as you do it I suppose!”

The best bit of the session was the last movement, because the physiotherapist put inflatables everywhere on me so that I was lying on my back, blissfully floating and staring out of the windows. I kid you not, I really felt like at the Bahamas (that is, before I had to move my arm and then I felt less happy and relaxed). I told the physiotherapist “I am channelling my own inner pink inflatable flamingo here, don’t fish me out of this pool for the next hour or two” and yes , as I said at the beginning of this entry, I started singing Nicki Minaj’s “Starships”, without a single care in the world but to move my arm. Unfortunately, I had to eventually get out of there and finish the session, head for a shower and terminate the party
I was having in my head.

Let me tell you something: as fun and hilarious my session was, I never felt so tired and drained in my entire life. I got out of the pool and my arm felt weighting 50kg all of the sudden. It was great and a wonderful confidence-boosting session, since I was able to move my arm in ways I have never been able to in a very long time, but fuck me, once I was out and about, I could hardly walk without feeling wobbly and dizzy. I had to spend more than half an hour at the hospital reception, sipping cups of teas with tons of sugar, to be just barely able to entertain the idea of heading back home. It felt like I just came out of an Iron Man Challenge training session, even my abs were hurting! Seriously, I was so fucked up I thought I was about to throw up my breakfast at each step I made towards the train station, and when I had to wait ten, eternal minutes for my train back home, I thought “if I close my eyes now, I’m doomed”.

my mighty pasta!

I had to do something to recover enough to be able to get home without fainting on the street, and so I took the executive decision to have lunch at one of my favourite Italian restaurants near where I live. This place is a little gem, one of those places where, if you don’t know how good it is, you would never, ever dine there. From the outside it looks like one of those cheap, unappealing take-away places that don’t exactly scream “our food is healthy, cooked respecting all hygiene regulations and it tastes divine”. However, if you move past the exterior look, you are in for a very special treat: the food is out of this world, the service is just right and the whole place has a very family-like vibe to it. I had the most amazing pasta dish with homemade sausages, and suddenly all my energies came back at once (carb overload yeah!).

Today I woke up exactly like after one of my personal training sessions at the gym: my shoulder was quite upset (“how dare you moved me like that bitch!!!”), so I had to take few paracetamols to be able to entertain the idea of getting out of bed and going to work. Next session will be on Tuesday, and till then I will try to keep moving and take care of my shoulder the best I can. I can’t wait to do it all over again!!!

SHOW ME THE MEANING OF BEING LONELY

I had to quote the Backstreet Boys, I really had to! Ok back to more serious stuff now.

As far as I can remember, I have always been quite the lonely person. Loneliness has been my faithful and inseparable partner since I was born, and it moulded my life and my perspective of the world since then.
I grew up an only child, and since my parents relocated from their respective hometowns to Milan, on top of not having any siblings I also didn’t have any close relative nearby, so I spent endless days by myself playing with my toys and my imaginary friends.
Oh, I had plenty of imaginary friends.
I used to dream about this crazy, amazing, wealthy life, with all these famous people on my side, being important and desired.

me by myself as a kid

Growing up, things didn’t really change much. I was the weirdo girl, the tomboy, I didn’t really fit with girls because I despised everything they liked, and I didn’t fit with boys because well, I was not one of them since I was a girl. It didn’t really bother me, though: I was used to be alone most of the time, I had plenty of things going on in my head to truly care about what was going on outside it anyway. I remember those poor attempts some school assholes had at bullying me: they quickly realised that I was not giving a remote fuck about being called ugly (because I was convinced I was ugly anyway, and it was ok with me), tomboy (because I wore that badge proudly), or weirdo, stupid… and when the metal t-shirts started to be more than just a one-off in my wardrobe, I was even less bothered than before – I was part of something exclusive that only myself and those like me could understand, and whoever was not in this “club” was automatically someone I was not remotely interested to get to know and listen to.

Reflecting on my past, I can tell you right now how, despite my strong and “no fucks given” attitude, I craved my very own gang of friends; I so wanted a best friend to share my secrets with, a local group of trusted peers to go and get an ice cream with, spending summer afternoons together. Later in my twenties, I longed for a crazy, inner circle of women like me, pretty much like the Sex and The City quartet: you know, drinks and food catch-ups in cool places, free to talk about anything without being judged or considered an hysterical freak of nature. But, despite my desires, at the end of the day I kept being with myself, by myself, and to be perfectly honest I never exactly did anything or put any effort to tackle the status quo and get these friendships in my life. In my head, the constant mantra was “it is what it is” and “there is nothing I can do about it”. Besides, I just had to turn my computer on to talk with “my friends”, since most of what I regarded as such were people I met in various websites and forums; to a certain extent, nothing has changed: most of my friends are still those same old friends I met “on the web”, and since I live in another country, technology is the only way to have a constant contact with them.

Moving to the UK didn’t change things much, and it didn’t help that I desperately glued myself to the only person who seemed to have an interest in me (which then became my now ex-husband). Subconsciously, I created the same “family” of lonely people for my son: both myself and my ex-husband relocated here, my son is an only child (with not great chances of having a sibling, not from me anyway) and we have no relatives whatsoever in this country. By the way, it is not a good idea to try and overcome your loneliness by being with someone just because they seem to give you the attention you need. I learned it the hard way by marrying the most unsuitable person, and I only realised that when the damage happened already. The end result was a broken, fragile, tired woman, survival of suicidal thoughts and post-natal depression, desperately lonely, in a constant fight with the world and herself.

Oh, I had plenty of therapy sessions to discuss how my loneliness has affected my behaviour in ways that, sometimes, I never even realise. It is the reason why I became a rescuer, the one who helps everyone, and lends money to everyone, and takes care of everyone, and it’s the mother of everyone because “if they need me they’ll keep me”; it was the reason why I picked the wrong relationships (“at least he seems to want me”), it has been the poor excuse I gave myself to avoid getting out of my comfort zone and try something different (“what’s the point, I’ll be lonely anyway”) and the poison that ultimately made me land arse flat on the ground, at my lowest of the low points in life. And I hated myself. Desperately. And being lonely exacerbated this hate, because being all by myself meant being alone with the person I hated the most in the world, something I was ready to do anything in order to avoid it. I was not good enough to have friends because, reality in my head was that I was not good as a person in the first place. I was too focussed on the exterior consequences of what was going on inside me, thinking “I am ugly, I’m stupid, I’m not worth love, I’m useless…” rather than have a deep look at my life and go “hold on a second, maybe I should start looking at what’s in my heart (and head) rather than out and about”.

Where do you start getting out of this loop? Hand on heart, it was not an easy ride. Admitting to myself that I needed people to fill my own void, in the hope that their presence and their “fake” love (because, of course, they wanted me just for the things I’d give them, not for the person I was) would make things better, was not an easy thing to do… and yet, it set me free. I had to learn the hard way to love myself, to appreciate who I am, to build the person I always wanted to be from scratch. When I finally got to the stage where I felt not only enough, but a beautiful world by myself, I discovered that I was not lonely anymore: I had myself, and that was not something I wanted to run away from, but the exact opposite: I wanted to get to know myself, talk to myself, discover what I like, what I don’t like, what clothes look good on me, what things are ok with me and what other things are a no-go. Guess what? Once I feel in love with this new person I am, I discovered a world of friends, real friends, who loved me just as much as myself. Being “lonely” is now a space I create for myself when I need to just be with me, myself and I: call it if you like “a date with myself”.

The only things I’m truly missing, right now, is having a proper family here. This thought came to light lately after spending few evenings with my boyfriend’s family: witnessing the love, affection and a proper family interaction made me think of how I really do miss being cuddled and cared for: you know, the coming back home with food, the little gestures and thoughts, the sitting for a cup of tea and a chat, the “I’m coming for dinner!”…

Susanbano in all its glory

I have been extremely touched and honoured when my boyfriend’s mum gifted me with a beautiful plant she brought from Iran: oh, that was such a truly special gift, and yes, it gave me a bit of “family love” too (I called it Susanbano in honour of my boyfriend’s mother and grandmother). Unfortunately, I cannot relocate my family here, or change this situation anytime soon, but one thing is for sure: I will do my best to create a family for me (and my son) that’s vibrant, caring and loving!

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!