Italy Gave Me PTSD

Italy gave me PTSD, guys. 
Just kidding. Mostly. 

As you know, I’ve been struggling with what can best be described as a total mental breakdown that came out of absolutely nowhere. Or so I thought. Turns out, I’ve had symptoms that Indicated I havent been alright for a while but I didn’t pay much attention to it. Depression (not the usual sadness that people usually associate with it but a loss of interest in things I normally love and lack of motivation, feeling out of it, lack of concentration), debilitating anxiety (irritability, feeling like things are surreal, panic attacks, dark creepy thoughts that are super disturbing, insomnia, and all of that fun stuff). It all hit me full force about a month ago and so for the month of November until now I’ve been doing whatever I can to stabilize myself. I’ve been crying in the bathroom at work, rocking myself to sleep, and clinging desperately to Francesco, like a child who has had a nightmare. It’s been the opposite of a good time.  In fact, it takes all of my energy and effort all day, every day to feel okay. Which is annoying because I’ve got shit I want to do. I’ve got goals, damnit. 

I’m seeing a therapist twice per week, an acupuncturist, and a psychiatrist. I’m doing meditation, running, taking supplements and taking something to help me sleep. My “official” diagnosis is PTSD because my childhood was like, way stable. If you’ve read my other blog you know that by “way stable,” I mean, “not at all stable and weird as fuck.” Plus, my brother’s sudden death in 2008. When I told my mom about the diagnosis she was like, “Oh, a lot of people have that.” And I was like, “Yeah, those people are combat veterans.” 


My therapist said that it’s “amazing,” that I’ve been able to keep myself stable my entire life and that it’s incredible that I’m a functioning adult. Nobody has ever called me functional before so I’m feeling pretty good about all of these compliments.  

So, back to Italy. Italy didn’t actually GIVE me the PTSD but the stress, isolation, and overall self-esteem hit from the last few years and my in-laws, seemed to have made it much, much worse. Apparently, prolonged stress does some crazy stuff to your brain and adrenal glands. And moving back home, the reverse culture shock plus trauma, seems to have really driven the crazy home. 

Why am I writing about this? Here’s why: Because people never talk about mental health, and they should. “Normal” people have problems, and sometimes life is really hard and your brain can be an asshole and it doesn’t mean you’re broken. We all have bad months or bad years and sometimes we need help to get through it. Im struggling.  If you are too, you’re not alone. 

About Italy and moving abroad: If you struggle with unresolved trauma, depression, anxiety, (the symptoms of these are much different than what I thought. I thought that anxiety means feeling anxious and depression means feeling sad. Nope. Tons more symptoms and I had no idea) or a number of the disorders somewhere in this sphere, living abroad is still possible but you might want to mitigate the stress as efficiently as you can and make sure you have a strong support system to help you through the many transitions and added stresses. 

There are therapists that specialize in expat problems. There are therapists that will talk with you on the phone, Skype, or via text. The moment you begin feeling overwhelmed, stressed, depressed, or not at all like yourself, get help. I didn’t and I regret it now. Getting help when you’re stressed or lonely or feeling down is important because it can A) bring up previous issues and make them worse, B) Cause new ones. I’ve been reading a lot about loneliness and guess what? It actually changes the gray matter in your brain. So literally, feeling alone can alter your brain. It’s fixable, but it’s not fun. 

I would say that my situation in Italy was unique because I had a unwelcoming and cray-cray family situation, but I get sooooo many emails from people in the same situation every single day that I know that my situation in Italy was unique but also kind of common. There are a lot of you out there struggling right now. 

What I’m NOT saying here is that you shouldn’t live abroad because it’s hard or you shouldn’t live abroad if your childhood sucked. Mine was basically like Stranger Things if Wynona Ryder wore camel-toe pants and married the plant monster. I’m also not saying that living abroad is hard for everyone. Every situation is different and sometimes getting away and moving to another country can be healing. My first two years in Italy were like a wonderland la-la fest and the best time of my life. The subsequent three years were filled with stress, anxiety, and feeling more alone than I ever have in my life. What I’m saying is this: Prepare for the struggle and get help when you need it. It’s okay to ask for help. It’s okay to need it. And honestly, getting help really helps. 

And, if you’re experiencing anxiety or depression, don’t wait. Get help from an expert. Also, try these things. They’ve been working for me: 

Guided meditation for anxiety (you can find a great audio on iTunes by Bellaruth Knapperstack)

Exercise (running has been a game changer for me) but my doctor says I can only do it a few times per week as to conserve my cortisol.

SLEEP (if you’re experiencing insomnia, find something to knock you out. Be it melatonin or an OTC sleep aid. DO NOT DRINK ALCOHOL WITH THEM and also I’m not a doctor so talk with yours before listening to me). 

Talk with a therapist asap

See a psychiatrist who can make sure your body is in top shape. Mine ran a million tests and turns out a bunch of my vitamins are low. She said this stresses the body so I’m on so many supplements right now. Like, so many. Like and elderly woman amount. 

Acupuncture. My lady is German and adorable and so good I don’t even notice that I’m being turned into a pin cushion. 

Lavender essential oils on everything. I put it on my pillows, on my person, in the shower, in my smelly maker (the thing that puffs out water and scents…what’s it called?) 

Supplements. Again, I have a holistic psychiatrist so she’s super big on supplements and health before medication. But, if medication is necessary, don’t be scared. It can be life saving. 

Support system: Lean on friends or join a group of people you can talk with and be around who are uplifting and positive. Don’t be afraid to tell people how you’re feeling. If someone isn’t supportive, fuck them. Tell them they’re an asshole and move on to someone who will be there for you the way you deserve. 

If someone you care about is showing symptoms of anxiety or depression, encourage them to get help and try to support them in the best way you can. Don’t be a judgy fuckstick. Read about it before you get up on a high horse and decide it’s not a real problem. 

Have any of you experienced culture shock, reverse culture shock, anxiety or depression when abroad? Or in life? How did you manage or cope? What’s your experience been like? Share your experiencing below and help others who are struggling now. 

Tanti Baci to the moon and back. 

Where I’ve Been When I’m Not Here

Hey everyone! It’s been a minute and I miss you guys. I’ve been gone partly because I’ve been crazy and struggling with some anxiety and depression but ALSO because I totally finished my book! YEE-HAW!

Now, I’m moving on to making a cookbook with Francesco that will be super fun and awesome. And starting another photography/art book about Italy. FUN STUFF (just need to get this anxiety under control, STAT).

WHAT’S GOING ON IN ITALY RIGHT NOW

Italy: Clashes at anti-government March in Florence: Things got a little out of control in Florence recently during a protest. Renzi has proposed a referendum that will reduce regional power. He says it will streamline parliament, his critics say that it will concentrate too much power federally. Police threw tear gas, Italians threw fire-crackers. One cop was “hurt in the leg.” And as much as I’m sad that anyone was hurt, or that the protest became violent in any way, I sure wish we could learn something from the Italians over here in ‘Merca. If we threw firecrackers at police officers during a protest, I imagine much worse things would happen. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-37886766

REVIEW: Elena Ferrante’s New Book: Frantumaglia: Alright, you guys might hate me but I don’t LOVE Elena Ferrante’s work. Sigh. I KNOW. Everyone loves her except for me and one of my best friends who discovered her together in a book club. Her writing is fantastic, but I have a hard time with her characters who are often really extreme female stereotypes, the insecure, self-loathing and petty stereotype or the martyr stereotype. However, that being said, her writing is beautiful and her books are based in the area that Francesco grew up. Reading her work is a great way to pull something about the culture of the place.  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/maria-laurino/review-elena-ferrantes-ne_b_12775280.html?utm_hp_ref=italy

Two Former Nuns Celebrate Their Love For Each Other In Italy: Two nuns recently left their convent to marry each other in Italy. All I have to say about this is, “awe.” It’s incredibly courageous, especially given their faith. It must have been very hard for these women to openly do what they’re doing. Love is love is love is love. And? I always wondered about nuns… http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/former-nuns-marriage-italy_us_57ed31e2e4b082aad9b999cf?utm_hp_ref=italy

What’s new with you guys? Are you excited/terrified for the upcoming election on Tuesday?

Have Questions About Moving to Italy?


This Sunday at 9:00 am Mountain Time I’ll be hosting a live Q&A on FB. You can ask just about anything related to my Italian experience or any questions you might have about studying or moving to Italy yourself.

You can find the event on my FB page, let me know if you’re attending, start a discussion. And come hang out this Sunday. Seriously, I totally don’t want to be hanging out and talking to myself. More than I already do. 

Authentic Italian Cooking With Francesco: Ragu And Tagliatelle

Hello all!

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So, many of you already saw our instagram announcement that Francesco is making a series of cooking videos. Well, the first two are now live on Youtube. Woo-Hoo!

How To Make Authentic Italian Ragu

How To Make Tagliatelle By Hand

We will be using more professional cameras (if you’re wondering why I did a vertical shot, it was the only want to capture his head and what he was doing at the same time) in the future BUT for our first run it’s not nearly as insane as it could have been. And, how cute is Francesco!?

Since he’s shy and it’s his first foray into the public eye (he doesn’t even like Facebook), it would mean the world to me if you guys would head on over and offer some words of encouragement. Also, if you’re feeling super charitable, go ahead and share with your friends!

Questions or Comments about the recipe? Put them in the comments on Youtube and he’ll answer them asap.

Thanks so much and tanti baci!!!

Moving To Italy: 7 Things I’d Do Differently The Second Time Around

Sadly, I’m not a time traveler. I know that now you all think less of me, and that sucks, but I just wanted to be honest with everyone. But IF I COULD go back in time there are no less than 4,543 things I would do differently. How I went about moving to Italy would  probably be in my top 10 because I could have done it a lot better and my life would have been so much easier for years and year.

Vantage Points

1.I Would Have Learned More About The Culture: Without a solid grasp of the culture you won’t be able to understand your surroundings, to communicate, or to really understand the people you’ll meet, your partner (if they’re Italian) or their family. Americans, more than anyone, will not understand why this is number one or they’ll be like, “they like spaghetti, I get the culture.” The reason that Americans have a difficult time grasping how culture impacts communication is that American communication is really straightforward. Note: This has nothing to do with honesty. Americans can be liars (has anyone heard a Trump speech lately?) just like anyone. Again, it’s not about honesty, it’s about how we communicate. There aren’t a lot of hidden meanings in American communication, there’s no double-speak (unless you’re a politician or a Fox News anchor), and you don’t really need to understand the culture to understand what people are saying necessarily. Sure, there might be miscommunication, like how F used to always tell me, “well, nobody just says what they mean, so I don’t really understand what you’re trying to say.” And I was like, WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT!? Italy is not that way. Half of what people are saying is hidden below the surface and you have to understand the culture to get it. It’s not because everyone has some insidious intent, it’s just how the culture works. You can learn Italian, you can speak it fluently, but without a very solid grasp on the culture you will still be losing a huge amount of all communication. And, frankly, you’ll just be confused as shit all around. You’re thinking, “cool, I’ll just learn it from my husband or wife or nonna.” No, you won’t. Because they don’t often even know that what they’re doing is cultural or different from you. If you’re about to visit Italy, study in Italy, or move to Italy, you want to start reading, RIGHT NOW.

Resources For Learning About Italian Culture (From my Amazon Store)

2. I Would Have Learned Italian Months Before My Departure Date: Most likely you’re thinking like me and many of my friends who moved to Italy. “What better place to learn Italian than in Italy?” Trust me, no. You will learn Italian in Italy, for sure, and it is easier when you’re hearing it every day, but that first year that you’re there and unable to understand a goddamn thing is frustrating, isolating, and annoying as shit. Plus, people will expect you to speak the language even if you’ve been there for 20 minutes and the pressure certainly doesn’t help. Want to move to Italy? Great! But seriously, spend the money and buy Rosetta Stone, right now. No, you don’t have to buy it from my Amazon store, you can also buy it from Barnes And Noble. And, download Duolingo to your smart phone. The app is free, and even 15 minutes per day will be a lifesaver when you’re lost on an Italian street, unable to find your way home or your boyfriend’s mom is saying crazy shit to you and you need a classy response. You’re probably rolling your eyes at the Rosetta Stone, and so did I, until my roommate in Italy was able to speak Italian like a superstar 3 months into using it while I was barely able to name common household pets. It works. Use it.

Tips For Learning Italian While Still In The US

  • Rosetta Stone
  • Duolingo
  • Watch Italian films with English subtitles at least a few times per week (Sophia Loren films are a great place to start and work your way up to contemporary films).
  • Listen to Italian music, find the words in English, and it will help you memorize them by singing along.

3. I Would Not Have Spent Money On Dumb Shit. You’re moving to a new country and you’ll be tempted to buy 10,000 things before you go. Don’t. Italy has everything you could possibly need. And, their clothes are nicer and often cheaper than in the US. Save your money, get to Italy, and then buy all the shit you’ll need. The one exception might be makeup or skincare if you’re super particular. If you’re picky like me, then maybe you want to bring some of your favorite face stuff. Yes, Italy has great stuff but I like really specific stuff and the Sephora in Italy doesn’t carry any of the same shit that we have in ‘Merica.

4. I would have made it a point to do something new every day. I’m a habitual person. Really habitual. Like, when I wash my body in the shower I do it the same way every single day. When I find places I like, I tend to go there instead of trying new places. I travel a lot but I still tend to quickly find “my kind of places,” and go there. Last year when I was in Prague, I found a cookie shop that I liked and me and F would only buy cookies from THAT place. Mind you, it was the most adorable cookie shop in all the world. But still, I didn’t see any of the other cookies shops because of it. I did the same thing when I moved to Italy. While I definitely did a lot of stuff every year, I often found myself seeking the comfort of familiarity which prevented me from doing as much cool stuff as I could have. If you’re going to be spending a semester, year, or decade in Italy, I’d recommend forcing yourself to do something different at least every week, if not every day. Rent a car and drive around the country, try every cafe in the city, and every restaurant, too. Go tango dancing (I did, and it was SO FUN). The city has a lot to offer. If I could redo my student time there, that’s what I would have done differently. My friend and fellow blogger, Georgette, from Girl In Florence, is super awesome at getting out and doing EVERYTHING. She inspires me to be less boring.

5. Read the newspaper, follow current events, and pay attention. I got involved in this years after living in Florence and frankly it’s just embarrassing. If you live in any country for even a short amount of time it’s simply smart to know what the shit is going on in that country. TheLocal, is a great place to start to learn about what’s happening in Italy, in English. You’ll also look less dumb at dinner parties. For my first two years all that I knew was that Berlusconi was a douchebag. That’s where my knowledge ended and I really just reinforced the stereotype that Americans live in a bubble. You’d be surprised just how much you can learn about a culture, the people, and the history of the country by following politics and current events.

6. When dating, I would have set boundaries a lot sooner. My husband is a total badass but he’s also an enormous pain in the ass. And for a long time when I moved to Italy I forgave a lot based on “cultural differences.” Basically, I wrote off a lot of rude or stupid shit by justifying it in my head as “probably a cultural thing.”

No. Asshole behavior is the same in Italy as in the US. If someone is being an overbearing douche, you can say, “no thanks, asshat.”

Also, I spent years doing that American thing where I’m like, “well, I can’t very well be direct with his family because, geez, how rude. Tee-hee.” No. Italians, with all of their fashion and prettiness, are tough. They’re like bedazzled bombs. These are people who exist without air conditioning while wearing long sleeve button-ups and slacks. Don’t fuck with them. If you allow it, they’ll end you, and then the community widow will bake biscotti with your remains.

Also, Bella Figura. You know how high school girls are in movies where they’re like vicious monsters who are also perfect citizens and super polite in public and also sometimes to their enemies while they’re being horrible? A lot of that exists in Italy. Master that shit. Italians can insult you while smiling from ear to ear and being charming as fuck all the while. If you don’t understand the culture you won’t even know you’re being insulted. Also, if someone is opinionated, push back.  For example, my MIL will show up and be like, “yo, I’m decorating your house orange cause I don’t like how you did it!” And before I was like, “Oh, how kind,” while trying not to vomit. Now I’m like, “No, brown is ugly, no thanks.” And she’ll shrug and go, “ah, ok.” Stand up for yourself, family or friend, and lay down the law. Smile while you do it to add to the creepy factor. If you don’t have your own back, everyone will walk all over you, decorate your house hideously, dress you, and tell you that your dog is anorexic (the vet said he was the only dog of a healthy weight in all of Italy, the land of chubby poodles).

7. Spend more time asking question about others and less time observing them. I like to watch people. It’s a thing I do, often, in life. At parties I’ll usually be the person in the back, getting shitfaced while I uncomfortably stare at everyone. I did the same thing in Italy for a long time. I just watched people like a weirdo stalker instead of trying to get to know people and ask them about themselves, their culture, their family, etc. You can learn a lot about a place by paying attention, but you can learn a lot more by asking a lot of questions and getting to know people and getting their perceptions about their country. Find a language partner, or a cute barista, or bartender, and get to know them. Ask them endless questions about Italy. Maybe have sex with them if they’re into it (yay consent) and then ask them even more questions after the fact or during if you’re into that.

And there you have it! If you could move to Italy all over again, what would you do differently? I’d love to hear your stories in the comments below!

 

 

Emergency

Guys, we have an emergency situation. As many of you know, F and I are in the US right now. He’s doing an MBA and I’m doing book things. 

However, enough is enough. Aside from Trump, the police shooting black men, and the uprise in outspoken hillbillies, Francesco is starting to scare me. 

I need an emergency jet to get us the hell out of here. My metrosexual husband is getting all “yee-haw,” on me and he needs to be returned to his homeland so he can remember that he’s Italian, superficial, and is NOT capable of mountaineering. We stayed in a cabin once and he considered it “roughing it,” because it was surrounded by trees. It had a jacuzzi. We’re talking about the same guy who screams and runs when he sees a spider. And he asked me if we can bring our pasta maker camping (this is his first time camping). 

Guys, a bear is going to eat him.