If you have all the wrong fears, listen to Ned Stark

CS 58 (13/10/10)

When I sit down at my kitchen table in the morning and open up my feed, letting the news roll in, they’re always there waiting: the self-help articles. How to handle stress without looking like you are on the brink of a mental breakdown46 habits of the most successful and rich people in the world who earned their first million at the same age you half-assed your internship.

Actually, they’re more than self-help articles: they’re charitable hands, they are get-your-shit-together handbooks. I look at myself in the mirror and I catch sight of my new crow’s feet and I remember I am nearing 27 and I should start reading those articles. I am most likely in need of some self-help. Of some adult-looking apartment and job and appearance. So I click on the click bait and immediately I am told several things. Important things.

I am guided through my own self on a journey to grab the holy grail: courage! Success! Being awesome and fearless.

I am told I should not be scared of the future. I should not be afraid of switching careers, not even at 35, not even at 67, not even at 99! Go get ’em, girl. I am told I should not eat meat, carbs, bad carbs, fats, also good carbs, cheese, milk — I stick to vegetables then? No, also some vegetables are not great because of FODMAPs — yes, even vegetables have betrayed you. Just like those one of two toxic friends you have been hating secretly for years, just like your employer who forgets about that raise — by the way, you should not be afraid of asking that employer, what about my raise? You should not be scared. Here is how: look him or her in the eye, and simply do not be scared. Another technique: fake it until you make it. Pretend to be a power house while your guts churn at the idea of a public speech. Smile! It is scientifically proven that smiling makes you happier. If that public speech really has to happen, then here’s another trick: lock yourself in the toilet, stand with your feet wide apart, put your hands up, and breathe. Or cry! But whatever you do, never-ever be scared!

Here is what’s up: I look at these articles and I don’t recognize myself. Bad thing: I am afraid of all of these menacing elements of adulthood, but (good thing:) I was never afraid enough to actually think I need tips and tricks to overcome them. My personal technique: breathe deeply, pretend you are cool, go; you’ll turn cool on the way there. I am sure half of the writers of articles like above would be lukewarmly and vaguely proud.

But there is another, bigger ‘but’: what do you do if your gut-churning, palpitation-inducing fears are of another kind?

I have a full-blown anxiety disorder, and while I am not afraid of switching careers throwing years of hard work to get there in the shark tank, or packing everything up and moving to another country when I am tired of the current, I am completely paralyzed by, not in order: having allergic reactions (I am not allergic to anything), having a deadly disease, choking on stuff I am eating, having panic attacks in front of strangers, finding myself in the middle of a mass-shooting, and in general that something is very, very wrong with me, on a hourly basis. A lot of people are like me.

There is no article on the World Wide Web to tell me what to do about that. I have a great therapist, but tons of people don’t, because therapy without meds is not covered by insurance, at least in my country. As a result, there are no top 5 ways to take your body back to normal when you are having a full-blown panic attack in the middle of the supermarket on a Saturday afternoon. There is no list of safe foods to avoid paranoid thoughts about whether or not they will kill you. There are no secrets to fake sanity until you make it out of here sane.

Technically, we are the wrong ones. We have all the wrong fears: while we should be scared of what the future holds, we are scared of childish things, like the dark, or of unrealistic things, like having allergic reactions while having no allergies, or being shot by an invisible stranger, or spiders.

And the world keeps screaming at us: you should have no fear! Never, ever be scared! Or take meds, that helps; and then, do not be afraid.

Sometimes, you think there is no way in hell you can make it. What is the point of being unafraid of some normal life stuff, if you can’t leave the apartment because you are suddenly convinced something terrible will happen at 10:30 AM? What is the point of scoring the adult job, if you cannot leave your bed because you are afraid of your own shadow? We have all the wrong fears, and no weapons given to us to defeat them.

They are telling us not to be afraid, and the whole point is that we are. All the time. We are always scared.

Here is the only tip you might need, and it comes from Ned Stark. Yes, Game of Thrones’ Ned Stark.

“The only time a man can be brave is when he is afraid.”

This is not much material to put in-between quote marks, but it is a major point. When I read it the first time, I jumped from my chair (I am very emotional). Ned Stark is telling you something here. He is telling you: you know what? Whatever. I will be afraid. I will be scared. And then, I will do it anyway.

I am inspired by Ned’s words. I am afraid of planes, because what else could happen, if not an airplane disaster every time I board one? I make myself board about 10 planes a year. I force myself to eat food I am sure will be lethal, and it normally is not. Some days I am afraid of just going outside. Every fiber of my body shakes in terror with each step. Obviously, I must do it anyway. It’s the whole point.

Here is another quote by Georgia O’Keeffe:

I’ve been absolutely terrified every moment of my life and I’ve never let it keep me from doing a single thing that I wanted to do.

You know what? You are not the portrait the media makes of you. You are not an avocado toast statistic (what in the hell, by the way). You are not even supposed to be buying a house right now, if you like renting. Do whatever the fuck! Be scared! Be afraid! And then do it anyway.

Originally published on Medium


Five years ago today

Five years ago today, I crossed the yard flooded with dirty snow carrying a person-sized suitcase that missed a wheel. As you can imagine, it wasn’t fun. It wasn’t fun to go up a few flights of stairs, wheel-less luggage in hand (I wasn’t strong then, not even a little bit), either. I would have learned the Finnish word for lift, hissi, written on the little doors on the right on every floor, just a couple days later. Later that day, I locked myself out of my newly-rented apartment which overlooked a little garden sparkling in snow like it was frosting. My friendly Dutch neighbor welcomed me then, a big guy with a knowing smile, and handed me beers as we waited for the housing service to provide me with a new set of keys. You were there as well, sitting on a chair too small for you (you were tall). You were wearing a blue t-shirt and a skinny light-blue scarf which you later told me was a man scarf. I wasn’t sure scarves had genders, but I shut up about it.

The first night on the town was also five years ago today, if I recall correctly. We all went to a random bar and spoke nothingness. Studies, jobs, plans. As I said, nothingness. I went out to smoke a cigarette and you came as well, wearing only your blue t-shirt and blue man scarf. I asked you, aren’t you fucking freezing? You said, actually, yes. Five years ago tomorrow we would be friends already. Five years ago and a few days, I was out on the balcony smoking a cigarette in the middle of the night. I couldn’t sleep; life abroad for the first time was too exciting. I was looking at the snow outside, falling, stopping, building new landscapes in the dark. There really wasn’t much else to look at. Some snow fell on my head and I looked up to see it was you, on your balcony. Sorry, you said. Later I would learn you did it on purpose, so that I would look up and see you. Why don’t we smoke on the same balcony?, I said. You said, actually, it makes way more sense.

It might sound as if cigarettes united us, and I can’t deny it. They united us like terrible things loaded with possibilities. Chances to ask for lighters, drags, smoking together, the whole lot. Chances to puff white clouds of smoke side by side in the middle of the night, in silence, while everybody else was fast asleep and we were awake, so awake, jolted awake by the palpable thrill that was being far far away, surrounded by snow, surrounded by strangers and foreign beers and man scarves, and cold air like knives on our cheeks. In those moments, we were so invincible. The moment when we were most invincible, I think, was when we walked on a frozen lake all the way to the little wooded island in the middle of it. I was so afraid the ice would crack and I would fall into the cold-ass water and drown. I almost wished we went back. But then we reached the little island and walked up the hill, and sat there looking at — you guessed it — more snow, but also ice, and stars. The city glowed in the background. It was beautiful. We probably smoked side by side in silence. Should we go back now?, you said after a while. And I said, not yet.



The thing that hurts the most

You always think you know what is going to hurt the most. You think it’s going to be the thought alone. The fact, as if facts had thorns and claws. Little-known fact about facts: they don’t. At a very early stage, harsh truths, incidents, important events of your life are like stones that are thrown at your face: they might hurt, maybe they will even break a tooth or two. But, once they fall to the ground, it’s done. They are just there, and you stare at them in their innocence, and you think: did someone just throw this stone at my face? You look around —  no one. Did you maybe just imagine it? But the pain is there. The gap between your sane teeth is bloody. And it hurts.

Some people, the lions, the unfortunate, they say they experience some heart-wrenching pain like never before. I imagine it like eating a bunch of thorny roses without chewing: awful, all the time. It wasn’t like that for me. I am an iceberg person. It’s all numbness and emptiness. Then a lot of feelings —  unrelated feelings: extreme desperation, anger, euphory, I even go a little crazy. But no pain, meaning: no heart-wrenching pain that makes your stomach churn and sets your limbs on fire. Where is the pain? You want it, you crave it. You think you owe it to someone —  to yourself? To him, her, them? They’d be disappointed if they knew you are not grieving. But you are. Or are you?

For a while, it even stops hurting at all. You think you got away with it. Great! Now it’s time to move on. Move on, then; one step at a time. Right, left, right, left. Laugh, eat, drink, talk. All is good, all is full of energy. So dreadful was the feeling of death that just shook you to the core that everything of life and love is bursting with color. You tell your friends you’re making steps ahead —  you are so strong! A lion, you, as well. It’s gonna be just fine. Just a few weeks from now, it’s going to be ok. You even smile earnestly for the first time again. And then —  then it hurts for real.

It’s different for everyone, I guess. For me it was when his profile was wiped out the Facebooksphere. Stupid, I know. But this meant just one thing: he didn’t exist anymore. He was really gone. I couldn’t hide in memories and old photos and messages. I couldn’t pretend he was just in another country, like always. Every trace we left online side by side, gone. I saved his pictures before it happened, but pictures are not his words, his nicknames, a lukewarm reminder of his presence. All I have is a folder in my office laptop full of pictures from three, four years ago, like a stalker who is not good at her job. As I typed his name in the search bar and saw nothing appear, I finally felt it: confusion, perdition, loss. Realization. It was there at the tip of my fingers —  pain, the heart-wrenching one. The stone had hit me in the face months before, and I had finally found the guilty hand. He was gone. He is gone.

I would like to say that was what hurt the most, but I’d be lying. Suffering in that conscious way brought me to a point I thought impossible, inexistent. I had just saved myself from the agony of not going through agony. I just avoided by a whisker the possibility to block in all the ache and let it eat me from the inside. As I sat at my desk looking at his name finding no matches in the search bar, I felt bad, yes. I felt lost, a million leagues away from any intelligible life form that could save me. But, somehow, I was still saved. I was rescued from the curse of letting something eat you up while you are not looking. This is what would have hurt the most. Not now —  but one day. One day I would have woken up with a broken soul. And now my soul is not doing well, and it’s in pieces I need to sew back together. But I am free. I will be free.




An open letter to true friends

To every true friend I’ve ever had and therefore still have, this one is for you. You know who you are. I can be pretty awful with words, so don’t judge me for that. This might be cheesy, on insipid, or boring. But I can say I can also be pretty good with luck, and this is what I am thankful for.

Sure, shit happens every day. Overall, here in the warmth of the West, we are a bunch of very lucky motherfuckers. We have water in our faucets, electricity in our sockets, warmth in our homes, when the boiler doesn’t let you down. We have meals so rich we are afraid to get fat, and we care about our shape and weight, while many don’t have that luxury; we should kiss the floor we put our feet on every morning, although waking up to go to work can feel so awful. It’s not, it’s a blessing.

Still, in our laborious little brains, in our hearts that fight to be strong, shit still happens. Of course it does. Plans fail, people leave your path, other people leave this world altogether. Tragedies happen, families are destroyed, in spite of hot water and electricity and comforts; hearts are still broken, people still grieve. It’s life, in all its beauty and its corruption. And when shit happens, who do you turn to? Who do you call in the middle of the night, who do you text to see coming to your rescue one minute later? Who do you think about when you need to fill that hole in your stomach? If you have a name or a handful of those in mind, hold onto it with all your strength.

I am hoping you thought of someone who made you feel safe. I am hoping you thought of someone who made you feel grateful, so grateful your heart could explode. Like I am now as I am typing these words, half tipsy because some shit happened to me today. As we said, it happens. At the end of a long, tough day, while surely not as tough as others’, there is just one thing I know: I have no idea what I would ever do without my true friends.

Again, you know who you are. You are the ones I call when things get rough, as well as when they get easy, because that’s one victory I want to share with you. You are the ones I grieve with, cry with, laugh the hardest with. You are the ones I hug the hardest, as well. The ones who are there when the world goes to shit, with a glass of wine in hand as we tell each other to stay strong. And I am thankful for that glass of wine, and the opportunity to look at everything from a safe spot. You are the ones who built my safe spot. You made it with your hands and your sweat and your affection, and it cannot be broken. Time doesn’t matter, relationship doesn’t matter. A true friend can be there from day one or 24 hours. It can be a friend, a boyfriend, a family member, or any kind of tie. What matters is inside, in the secrets of the darkness when you tell each other the things that are heavy in the sunlight. What matters is that hand held tight, even for one second, just to say “I am here, and I won’t let go”. What matters are the confessions, the acts with no reward, and mixtapes made for one another. What matters is who is there when they are not needed, but mostly when they are, indeed, needed.

Dear true friend, if you are still reading, just know that you are the most beautiful thing. There might be days (and there will be more) in which you feel like there is no safety net. There might be days in which you feel there are no friends in the world to help you out, because that’s how the human psyche works. One thing goes wrong and all around you looks dark. Just know that it’s just a trick of the mind, and that, if you are a true friend of mine, this means I am here for you when the night comes. Just like every time you have been there for me, be it one or three hundred, I do not forget.

Overall, all I really wanted to say is thank you. All I really wanted to do is celebrate my enormous luck. Never change and never feel bad about yourself, because, if you lead me to write this down, this means the world. To me, and, I am sure, to others who matter. Dear friend, keep loving hard, and keep being the same person who built up that safe spot we find such happiness in. If there is one thing that counts no matter what, is the smiles when there is nothing to smile about, the tears when there is nothing to cry about, that glass of wine, that naked bath in the middle of the night, praying nobody sees us. It’s those rainy afternoons spent talking about how things were 10 years ago when we still used motorbikes, it’s dancing until the sun comes up. It’s a bottle opener when I really need a beer. It’s that feeling you get when you realize you have found someone who’s worth telling the naked truth to while you don’t really know why.

Dear true friend, thank you for being here. Because if I am feeling alright today, it’s because you made me strong. Do not ever change, and call me whenever you need me. I’ll be there.





Unlearning to cook

We 20-somethings have this peculiarity which includes being horrible at cooking. Yes, I do know some who are actually able to survive on a medium-low salary AND proudly invite guests for delicious dinners, but I am definitely not among them.

People I randomly met usually think I am supposed to be a good cook because I am Italian. First of all, this is racist; second of all, my lasagna is just ok-ish. During my year spent living completely alone in Germany and a very low budget I knew the supermarket by heart, so that I managed to buy whatever was cheap and vaguely healthy. My new passion for Pinterest helped to find the whole cooking process curious and I started to rock the cookers. I thought there was no going back.enhanced-buzz-12798-1360368158-0

However, I have been living in Vienna for two months now and the thing I ingest the most is red wine and toasted bread with stuff from the fridge – mainly mustard or feta. This Friday I am turning 24, and I am basically unlearning to cook. Yesterday I fucked up pancakes, the other day an omelette.

How long will it take before I find myself paying some lady to cook for me in order to simulate my teenage years? I definitely don’t have the money for that.