WOOT! Sound The Bells

So, after a turbulent three month fight with depression and anxiety, the clouds have parted, and I’m feeling GREAT. The meditation, vitamins, therapy, and very low dose of Gabapentin have be feeling more or less back to my self. Which is annoying for Francesco because he’s like, “Oh My GOD! How do you have so much energy in the morning?” And I’m like, “Shh, Franny, I’m over here writing the mayor (again) about some shit that I think we need to change.

Also, I’d like to take this moment to thank my doctors. You guys, I have an incredible therapist and psychiatrist. And also, I’ll never be skeptical of meditation again. THAT SHIT WORKS. I use an app called Headspace for ten minutes in the morning before I get my lazy ass out of bed. Seriously, try it. It’s totally not just for hippies. Also, I’m reading a book right now that my therapist recommended called, The Body Keeps The Score. Really good, kind of intense, but incredibly interesting. Have any of you read it?

In other news, I’m on my way back to Italy to do some pretty epic things. I’m hoping to hook up with some of my old blogging pals (Girl In Florence, anyone?) and be AWESOME TOGETHER. In other, other news: Oliver crapped himself the other day and me and F got into a HUGE fight because I wasn’t holding him “the right way,” over the sink. I’m sorry, FRANCESCO, but what’s the RIGHT WAY TO HOLD  A SHIT STAINED POODLE? And how do you have so much experience in this area that you’re somehow an expert? Seriously, I want to know. WE ALL WANT TO KNOW.

Things you can look out for in the future from me:

  • The site is getting a pretty badass overhaul in a minute and I have a SURPRISE FOR ALL OF YOU THAT YOU WILL LOVE.
  • More cooking videos from me and F that actually look professional and do not appear to be filmed by crack heads.
  • A travel coffee table book of images I took in Italy along with tour information and anecdotes. I promise, it will be funny and not at all stuffy.
  • More shit from Dwayne. ONE DAY! ONE. DAY.
  • MY MOTHER F#$&ING BOOK! I’m sorry, I get a ton of emails about this but it took me much longer to write it than I ever anticipated. It was hard, guys. Really hard.
  • Tons more blog posts and travel stuff! I’m filling up my editorial calendar and you’ll finally be seeing regular posts from me.
  • A new blog! Well, many of you already read my other blog but that’s getting an overhaul, too. It will be about my day-to-day life, travel, eco travel, and eco beauty. I think that some of you will be pretty into it. Now, I just need a new name. Ideas, anyone?

Also, I love you guys. Thanks for being patient. Let me know if there’s anything else you’d like to see in the comments below and I’ll make sure to cover it!

Tanti Baci.

 

 

 

 

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. 

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!!!

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. 

Sarah Goes to Siena: Episode I: The Perils of Packing

HELLO ALL! This total badass Sarah contacted me a few months ago via email. Sarah is moving to Siena for school and asked if I’d be interested in sharing her journey with all of you awesome readers. My answer: Hell yes. And? She’s a great writer to boot. This series will follow her from her voyage from the US to Italy and her experience as a student in Siena. I’m REALLY excited for this series because who doesn’t want to follow someone’s new and amazing journey into newness? Plus, all of you who live in Italy or made the same journey know that it’s bound to be hilarious and super fun. Stay tuned every two weeks for a new installment of Sarah’s journey. Enjoy!

THE PERILS OF PACKING 

Packing is probably the least glamorous part of travel. While browsing all the beautiful travel sites out there, the process seems so simple: lay out all these pretty clothing items, take cute Instagram pics of you doing this, then magically all of it fits perfectly in your bag. You forget nothing, and then boom you’re on your way and you have everything you need and you dance through fields with butterflies and small adorable animals.

For anyone who is not a travel magician who writes about these things for a living or anyone, who like me, is fondly referred to by friends as “a mess,” the packing process is slightly more complex. Luckily I have packed for trips to Italy a few times now and done my reading and learned lots things.

As I mentioned earlier I am a complete mess, this means that often times my suitcase also becomes one big hot mess. This leads to sad things like obscenely wrinkled clothes, misplaced underwear, and a mingling of dirty clothes and clean clothes. To remedy my messiness, this time I am going to try using packing cubes to organize my clothing and other various items. These help to prevent messiness on long trips by compartmentalizing your stuff so that you just have to flip through bags instead of taking all of your clothing items out and having to refold them and put them back in. Also you know where everything is (ideally) and that is a win in itself.

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Packing cubes, hopefully the best organizing tool yet

What exactly you are going to pack is also kind of important. For the most part, despite what a lot of places want you to believe, what you pack really depends on you. This means that you can make packing into an introspective journey and ask yourself “What do I need in my bag?” or you could just know that flats hurt your feet and that maybe you shouldn’t pack those as your intended walking shoe. On that a few things that you should definitely bring regardless of the length of your trip or who you are and what you need, you should definitely bring: walking shoes because cobblestones want to kill you and your feet, a shirt that covers your shoulders so that you can visit cool old churches without being confused when an old Italian man runs up to you and starts making weird gestures and speaking rapidly in Italian in an attempt to communicate that you need to cover your shoulders with a scarf, SUNGLASSES because it suns everyday, also on that note bring sunscreen too especially if you are pale like my poor ginger self.

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My adorable cat Luna helping me pack by wrinkling all of my clothes with kitty love

Blending in is also something people are often concerned with when packing to visit Italy. I personally like blending in because then you are more likely to get shopkeepers to speak to you in Italian so you can practice and you get a more interesting experience, also most importantly you are less likely to be targeted by scams and pickpockets. Personally I have a decent amount of trouble with blending in because I am a ginger. There just aren’t many gingers in Italy. I usually try to keep count of how many Italian gingers I see. After traveling all over the country for two weeks multiple times the highest my count has ever gotten is about twenty five. However for those who have a slightly less red and freckled coloring, wearing solid colors more on the neutral sides of life (black, white, grey, denim, etc) and being dressed on the nicer side will usually do the trick. Personally I think what’s more important is your attitude. If you look confident even if you are not sure of yourself at that moment you are less things will work out much more smoothly. This is really important because although style can be generalized and mimicked if you have a confident attitude you will fit in much better regardless of what you are wearing.  However I still would not recommend wearing neon under armor shorts and a matching sweatshirt and confidently yelling “WHERE CAN I FIND A HAMBURGER AROUND HERE?” if you want to blend in in Italy.

Packing a carry-on is probably my preferred form of chaos as I feel like I am close to reaching the point of perfection in this area. My carry on also holds some of the most important things for my trip that I absolutely cannot forget. For instance bringing at least three to four days worth of your prescription medications with you or bring it all because if you get delayed, or they lose your bag for a little while you want to have that with you. Some more basics that should not be forgotten, glasses/contact case/solution, phone charger, outlet converter, any important electronics that you don’t want to be broken, some form of entertainment, and whatever you need to sleep, be it ear plugs, a neck pillow, medication, etc.

Also something I would recommend is if you bring a reusable water bottle on a plane most of the time the flight attendant will fill it up for you so you have a nice bottle of water at your seat instead of a little cup that will spill. Be smart and pack one that you know doesn’t leak so that unlike me you will feel clever and actually be clever instead of feeling clever and then discovering that your whole carry-on is soaking wet by the end of your journey.

One more, quick note about carry-ons and important things to bring, first off bring your passport, secondly chose a designated and secure spot in which to keep it the entirety of your travels. If you have a specific pocket where you put it and make sure you put it back there any time you have to take it out for security and customs it will save you a lot of stress. My friend was once yelled at by German airport security when he misplaced his passport in his bag and held up the customs line searching for it.

I am currently down to two days to pack for my upcoming two-month trip. As I am an anxious packer I have already had my packing nightmare for this trip. This time I dreamed that I arrived at the airport without a suitcase, which was completely terrifying. However now I feel like as long as I do better than that it will be a successful pack.

I look forward to updating you all on the failures and successes of my current packing plan in the near future! Ciao a tutti!

About the Author:

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Sarah is a college student with a minor Italian obsession. She is spending the summer studying Italian language and other interesting things in Siena. She loves cats, old things, pizza, and sarcasm. You can learn more about her crazy self and antics on her Instagram. (@gingersarahb)