I noticed that you’re very vocal about your battle with mental health on your Instagram platform. If comfortable, could you tell us a little about your story?
Well, I’ve always been vocal about things that are important to me and that sometimes our society forgets about. We all share posts and videos on Instagram with the caption “mental health matters” and “be kind!”, but then, not everyone cares about these problems on a daily basis. I have a few anxiety disorders since when I was little: OCD, generalized anxiety, panic/anxiety attacks, depression, health anxiety… and I’m also learning about a possible eating disorder. I’ve seen a therapist for the first time when I was 10, because I used to have severe anxiety attacks before going to school, and I remember that my OCD was being so loud and scary at the time, but I didn’t knew it was OCD and no one told me I had it, so I just felt like I was going crazy everyday. That therapist didn’t help me at all, so I quit and then – I don’t know how – I felt so much better without having too much anxiety for a few years. I went to therapy again at 15, but that therapist wasn’t the right one either, so I quit again. And when OCD came back in a heavy way when I was 17, I decided to start a cognitive-behavioral therapy! So now I’m in therapy since 2015 and I’ve healed and learned so much! But this year I went through a lot and I’ve had a bad relapse. It’s been my worst experience with OCD and depression, but I know that I can get through this. So it hasn’t been easy, but I really want to heal myself and talk about this to help people
All in all, to what extent do you believe therapy is effective? Do you believe it all boils down to medication and counseling or growing as an individual? Please elaborate.
I think that therapy is the best help for people that are struggling with their mental health. I feel like, if you find the right therapy for you, you are gonna feel better. I believe in therapy so much because I can see the change on myself. If you feel that therapy is not helping you, maybe it’s not the right therapist for you. I’ve seen a psychotherapist for two years and I’ve learned the difference between that kind of therapy and my usual cognitive behavioral therapy. I’ve talked about myself and learned WHY I have what I have, but than came back to cognitive behavioral therapy because it’s just the best for me. I’m telling you this experience to show you that if you feel like something is not right for you, or maybe it is not what you need and it’s not making you grow and you want to try something else, it’s totally ok, just try a new therapist! Don’t think that therapy is not useful, because it surely is, it’s a journey that can be hard but it gives you the right tools to work on yourself. When it comes to medications, I think that they can really help of course. When therapy isn’t enough, when your body and brain are going through a lot and your therapist suggests medications, it’s totally fine and normal, it’s not something wrong, actually, this is what is happening to me right now. And I trust my therapist, so I’m actually thinking about starting medications (besides therapy). So I don’t think that it all boils down to medication. And I don’t think that you have to choose between medication or psychotherapy. Both are useful and important in my opinion. So I trust medication but I also think that therapy needs to be there no matter what. At least this is what I think from my personal experience.
How has the pandemic affected you mentally? What things did you learn about yourself during the course of this pandemic that you didn’t know before?
This pandemic has been a living hell for everyone. A lot of people who used to feel totally fine are now suffering from anxiety and depression… and many people that already had an anxiety disorder say that their anxiety is increasing. I’ve felt good the first month of our lockdown here in Italy because i would enjoy the easy part of the pandemic. I would cook, relax, cuddle my boyfriend and watch movies or study for my exams. But then my health anxiety was getting worse everyday because of covid and my OCD was being triggered. I’ve always had health anxiety but this time it’s not just an anxiety, it’s a new obsession. I remember freaking out because I went out 5 minutes to buy my cigarettes and of course when i came home my jeans were perfectly clean because i just walked, but I remember freaking out because when I was taking the jeans off, I accidentally touched my naked leg with the external part of my jeans (thinking that, going out, I could have taken home some germs … even though I was sure that i didn’t sit anywhere) and so I washed those jeans again and run into the shower. Then, these last months have been even worse; I had depression and severe anxiety and panic attacks because my OCD used to focus on every possible way of getting covid. After my doctor explained to me that I was healthy, I‘ve felt relieved for a while, until my OCD decided to focus on tumors and important illnesses again. I feel like being stuck at home, going out only when necessary, without seeing people of my age, without going to university and being constantly reminded by the media to “check if I have covid symptoms” it’s just too much. It’s normal that I feel scared and worried. I don’t feel like a 23 year old girl, I feel like I have the certainty that something bad is happening to me all the time. I feel like I’m living in a cage with my brain, my fears and my body all the time. I started to focus on my body way too much and be obsessed with it. And, at the same time, I would only receive bad news about people that I knew (and from the media, everyday). I would always feel worried. And so, here I am, about to start medications because of all of this… and of course I feel sad because of this. But – even if 2020 made everything worse and it’s the main reason why I had this relapse – I think that I had to face these problems anyway, I just can’t run away from them anymore. I’ve always felt better because I used to be reassured. I need to learn HOW to cope with this. And even if this year has been way too hard, I’ve learned a lot and I know I’ll be able to smile and be myself again in a few months from today. I just need to work on myself. It’s been all too much, all at once, but I know that I’m gonna tell myself “I made it”.
What self-care practices do you recommend? Furthermore, why is it important to scope out time for yourself each day?
I don’t know what to suggest to feel better because everyone has their own “taste”. I love doing my skincare after showering for example, I like to stay in bed with my boyfriend, while doing my skincare and, at the same time, watch a tv show or a stupid reality that makes me laugh (and eating in bed, sorry, I love it). It’s just something that makes me happy, it takes me back to my childhood, makes me feel cozy and cuddled. I love to listen to some nostalgic pop music, to dance around and feel free, thinking about when I’ll be able to have fun with my friends. I try to practice mindfulness meditation almost everyday, it’s so helpful. I NEED to start my day with iced coffee to feel happy in the morning! Then I like to do some stretching/yoga, it gives me positive vibes and kicks the tension away. I used to journal a lot after doing all these things, but now that I have severe anxiety attacks it’s very hard for me to do all these things (the only thing that is consistent is that I need to take my coffee). When I’m too sad I can’t keep up with my routine, and this is bad, because we need to teach our brain that WE DECIDE. You want to make me feel worried? Scared? Sad? I don’t care, I’m gonna do my skincare routine and my yoga or else I’ll let OCD win. So, please, do whatever feels good to your body and mind. You’re gonna feel a little better just by taking some time for yourself. It makes you feel relaxed and your body truly needs it. And serotonin is always needed so, do what feels go to you!
Are there any specific psychological conditions/disorders that mean a lot to you? Why do they hold importance and how can we, as a community, help and provide support to people who go through them?
Between all my anxiety disorders, OCD and health anxiety are the ones that scare me the most. I think that many people who suffer from OCD may think they’re just crazy/bad/awful/weird people at first. This happens because people don’t know what OCD actually is. It’s not a passion for cleaning!!! I used to feel so scared because of my thoughts and how I would feel because of them, I didn’t know about OCD, I found out I had it thanks to cognitive behavioral therapy, and I felt relieved. I finally had a name for those scary experiences. But it’s been hard to practice all the techniques, especially ERP. I’ve been living with OCD since my childhood. A year before finding out that I had OCD (when I was 17) I remember being in bed everyday crying because of my thoughts. I remember living an entire year, ruminating, without telling anyone about it. A year it’s a lot. It’s so much time. I can only imagine what my body was going through, all that tension and fear, all those headaches because of thinking so hard. I’m sad if I think about myself at the time. And same goes for what I’m going through now. Everytime I think about how my body must be suffering from all this pain. But when I see people talking about these things online I feel better. This is why I talk about this. People need to see that they aren’t crazy, that it’s totally normal. We need to normalize mental illnesses, people need support in every possible way. So post about it, talk about it, share tools and useful informations. We all need to learn more about it.
Why do you think prioritizing mental health is so important, especially for youth?
We need to prioritize mental health because it’s important just ike physical health. If you have a physical issue, you go to the doctor. If your mental health is getting worse, you go to therapy, you talk about it, you ask for help and someone has to give you that help. We should talk about it in schools, on tv, on our social medias. It doesn’t matter if you have 1 million followers or if you have 200 followers: just talk about it. Young people in particular are often bullied or treated badly because other people think that they’re just immature and want to complain about everything, while they might have a mental health disorder or a big problem. Society teaches you to be cool and funny, to be a tough man who doesn’t cry, and a cute girl who is always perfect… but it’s just not real. It’s not possible. We need to prioritize our emotions and needs.
Who have been your biggest role-models or resources in times of unsureness, grief, and healing?
My grandmothers and my mom have always been my rock. They have been through so much and they taught me that you can always find the strength inside you. My cousins has taught me a lot about healing, she’s a therapist now. And my all time idol, almost like a family member, is Freddie Mercury, his songs help me reconnect to my childhood memories and my deepest emotions (plus, he was very strong and optimistic about life!). I also love to read posts of useful pages/psychologist on instagram, they give me tools and informations that I like to keep in mind!
What does mental health mean to YOU?
Mental health is so important to me. It’s the reason why I can live a better life. If your mental health is not ok, you need to do something. It’s not a background part of our life, It’s one of the most important things that we have. Learning about mental health since a very young age has taught me a lot about life. I get emotional just thinking about it. It has taught me a lot about being empathetic in a healthy way (always protecting my energy!). I’ve learned to listen to people more. I’ve learned to be mindful (still learning) and how to listen to myself when I need it, but also to let go when something it’s not important. I’ve learned the real meaning behind “balance”. But I’ve also learned that I am so much more than my mental illnesses
Is there anything else you would like Revive’s audience to know about you?
I’m just a creative girl who loves to help people and see them happy. I know it may sound cheesy, but I’ve always wanted to be a part of the change. I want to normalize mental health and I want to talk about any kind of injustice or issue that is going on in our world, and do something about it. That’s why I’ve opened this account and that’s why I talk about this topics on my personal account or at a dinner table with my family, at the bar with my friends, with my boyfriend, everywhere. I do believe that the change starts in our heart and mind, then we need to act in our everyday life to make it happen, even just talking about something can be important. I hope you’re all doing great and thank you for reading my interview.