Mental health · The Search for Happiness

Superficial or Life-Changing?

Today I want to talk about why the hairdo and the dress described in the previous post mean so much to me. It might look a little superficial that the best thing of a couple week-end was my hairdo, so let me explain. It is actually an endless topic, but I’ll try to compress it in a post – even though, synthetic as I am, when I try to be short I end up compressing the subject in a sentence. Well, let’s see what I can do.

Last June, after three years of apparent calmness, I got my second round of panic attacks. I had already started psychotherapy months before and I was already investigating myself deeper, so these panic attacks had manifestations that were much more related to my issues. I was not in the general initial phase of “I’m having a heart attack – take me to emergency” (which is already awful and changes your life a lot). My episodes now were much more frightening, they made me afraid of myself, at the point that I couldn’t spend time alone, I had to avoid objects that scared me, I was terrified by my own thoughts. My life turned into a living hell.

I had to start medications again, because every single minute was a struggle for life. After starting medications, I went back to Brazil to stay with my boyfriend. I had already bought the flight a long time before, but it was hard to decide what to do, being in that situation. My mom didn’t want to let me go. I wanted to be with my boyfriend, but I knew I would have to spend most of the day in the house alone. I was scared to death. In the end, I decided to go. Things weren’t getting any better where I was, so it was worth a shot. In spite of the medications, I was still not doing fine, I still had whole days of panic attacks, days when I could hardly leave the bed to go to the bathroom.

Once in Brazil, I was scared of going back to Italy, where the panic attacks had started. I didn’t want to deal with it without my boyfriend, who seemed to be the only person who really understood me. My dad affirms “he doesn’t believe in psychology”, as if it was a religion, my mom and my sister try hard, but it is not easy to imagine how panic attacks might feel if you have never had any. Anyway, I knew that I would have to face the situation sooner or later. I called them from Brazil to explain that I was still doing pretty bad, and that I would need of a lot of patience and understanding. That really moved them, ’cause my mom started making research on the Internet and my dad was more open to listen.

I got back to Italy, and I can’t say it was easy and everything was fine. It took a lot of strength to go back, to make them understand so they could help me better, to stay without my boyfriend… but something had changed. My dad kept on saying he couldn’t really imagine anything like panic attacks, something that can control you so deeply, but he listened more and more. My mom was more patient, and my sister stayed closer to me. Now I had all the support, but something was still missing.

What was missing was the support from myself. Self-forgiveness, patience with myself, strength, courage… lots of things were missing. But at least I had got to an understanding: what I was missing, was actually myself. I had already figured out with my psychologist that it was mostly about that, but now for the first time I understood that looking for help in other people couldn’t work. I needed help from myself.

Finding a balance between totally relying on family and friends and coping with my panic attacks alone is still not easy for me now. But it began getting better when I realized I had to know myself. What do I like? What don’t I like? What choices had been mine in my life, and what choices had been taken for me by somebody else? What do I want to do in life? What makes me happy, and what makes other people happy?

As it turned out, I had been spending my life with other people taking the biggest and the smallest decisions for myself, at the point I didn’t even know how to choose what to eat for dinner; and I had been doing what I was supposed to do, not what I really wanted; and I had been making other people happy, not knowing how to make myself happy. Sometimes I had given things up rather than choosing. How do you change that at 23 years old? How do you get to know yourself? Of course, little by little.

I stopped asking my boyfriend to choose the flavour of my fruit juice at dinner, and my friends to choose my ice-cream flavours, and I stopped asking my parents permission to buy clothes. I started choosing everything. Every little thing. I started finding myself in a fruit juice, in an ice-cream, in a dress. I spend ages in front of the menu, or in a shop, I took my time, and in the end I chose.

Then I started thinking of bigger questions, like what to do in life. And that’s how this blog started.

I still enjoy finding myself in little things. I have always hated shopping for clothes, but I like to see places. There is this neighborhood in Rio that really feels like Brazil to me, with a lot of very cheap shops where you can find any sort of things. And cheap clothes. Last Friday I went there with a friend to find some Christmas present (I’m on a low budget), and saw this dress, so long, so colored, so… myself. So I got it. And then, in Búzios, there was this woman doing wonderful hairdos which I had always dreamt of, but never dared doing, ’cause somebody decided I shouldn’t… And at 23, I was still dreaming of them… I felt myself in them, and got them. I’m still looking for myself, but I’m finally finding lots of small pieces of it.

And that’s why these little things feel so good. Finding myself feels good.

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