Dec 19, 2016

Books that come from where I do

     Hello guys. You probably don't know this, because I don't think I've ever told you (ups): I come from this little country right at the edge of Europe: Portugal. 
     As many tourists have told me, it is a lovely land, with amazing landscapes and places to visit, but it's more than that: it's an incredible country with a fascinating history. All kinds of people have walked through the places I grew up in, bringing new products and traditions from everywhere around the world for centuries. 
     Portugal has existed independently since 1143, which means its history is much longer that some other country's. Today, it still has its problems, like every country does, but - as always - it's also the homeland of great artists, including writers. I decided to share with you today three amazing books that come from the same place I was born in. 
     Two of them are books I read when I was younger, and that I still reread and recommend to people my age because they're so good; the last one is a bit more complex, and it relates more closely to Portugal.

The Tree 
by Sophia de Mello Breyner Andersen

     The Tree is a wonderful book that I used to read all the time when I was younger, and that still impresses me when I read it today. It tells two different stories, both set in Japan. The first one (that shares its title with the book itself) is about a village that grew around a tree and what the people in the village did with the wood when the tree started to rot and die. The second one, my favourite, is called "The mirror or the living portrait". This absolutely beautiful story full of emotion tells us about a girl that looked so much like her mother, she believed the mirror her mom gave her before she died was a living portrait of her, with which she spent entire days.

The White Planet
by Miguel Sousa Tavares 

     The White Planet is also a book I read many times when I was younger (but not too much because it used to give me chills), although I haven't read it in years. Just like The Tree, it's a book for kids as much as it is for adults. It tells the story of a group of astronauts that are lost in space and being pulled faster and faster by a mysterious force; when they've lost all hope of returning home, they take pills that will allow them to sleep and have a painless death... but they don't die. Instead, they discover something else. 

by Fernando Pessoa

     This is a less childish book from a more international author (I even found an English Version here). Fernando Pessoa is considered one of the best portuguese poets and he wrote both in English and Portuguese, so you should have no problem finding some of his work. This is the one I recommend. Message was published for the first time in 1934, when Portugal faced a period of oppression, so Pessoa wrote this anthology, where every poem (or practically) is dedicated to an important figure of Portuguese History, mostly people that still symbolise our spirit nowadays. This book takes a bit of knowledge about portuguese history, as there are many references to events and people I didn't know about myself, but you don't have to worry about that, as many editions of the book come with little explanations on the side. Besides, these are still wonderful poems when read by themselves, so you can just read one at a time and enjoy them, without putting too much thought into it. I'll leave one here:

Myth – nothing, everything. Brute 
Sun throwing skies wide
Is a myth, brilliant, mute –
The dead body of God

Living and nude.

This man who here came ashore 
Was by way of not being. 
Came? Was here before.
Did us proud by not being. 

Made us, what’s more.

So legend trickles, tries 
To seep into real life. 
And runs, can fertilise. 
Down below, life – half 
Nothing – dies. 

Dec 17, 2016

Soldiers are Little Boys

German soldier scared in battle

     So, I've been to Italy recently. During a very well planned week, I got to explore Venice, Chioggia, Bologna and the little islands of Torcello, Mazzorbo and Burano. I had a wonderful time and I can't wait to go back. But no one wants to read about the positive things, right?
     When me, my sister and my mom were in Bologna, visiting the University, the tour guide mentioned that some of the buildings had been destroyed by bombs during the second world war. Now, you might think I'm stupid, because it took me a while to realise I was in a country that fought for the Axis powers. You're probably thinking "what about that?", and I'm not sure I can explain properly what shocked me so much about this, but I'll do my best. 
     First, you need to know that my country didn't participate in WW2 (well, officially at least). However, I'm still very used to thinking of the war as a fight between the good guys and the bad guys: Allies vs. Axis. I've always thought that this is a very narrow way to look at what happened; after all the winners in wars get to write history as they seem fit - but it's still hard to have a good image of the Axis powers when they can't be separated from one of the biggest tragedies in human history (I'm talking about the Holocaust obviously). So, in my mind Allies = good and Axis = bad. 
     But suddenly, it wasn't that simple. I was surrounded by people who were supposed to be bad, hearing about their losses to the "good guys". This whole experience made me realise something I think I already knew. Alliances like the Allies and the Axis are ruled by the big guys, but the men who die in the fields are all the same, no matter what side they're on. They are fathers who want to go back to their kids. They're young men who left their little brothers and sisters behind. They're husbands who only want to be held by their love once more. No matter how old they are, they're little boys who want their mamas when they realise they will die miles away from home.
     Wars happen because of a shockingly little number of people, but they're fought by everyone they drag behind.

Dec 7, 2016

My Self Care Checklist

     It's important to do things for you only and to build a stronger and healthier relationship with yourself. This is my Self Care Checklist, with all the things I do to feel better both physically and mentally. You can adapt this list to your needs and tell me if there is any other thing you do to take care of yourself. This list is meant to be something you can comeback to when you need a boost but also something you put to practice everyday. Also, this is aimed at everyone, whether you just feel like crap today or you battle with bigger problems like anxiety and depression (although this is meant to treat the symptoms, not the cause).

These are the things you should do everyday to take care of yourself in the long term.

Taking care of yourself starts with taking care of your body; being hydrated and being healthy instantly boosts up your mood and your confidence in the long term, much like exercising. I've noticed big improvements in every area of my life since I started doing this.

Whatever it is that's stressing you, stop if it's too much. If you've been studying so much you can't even look at your textbooks anymore, stop; go for a walk, watch a TV show, or if you want to just give yourself a weekend to relax. If you're just in a bad place and don't fill like facing people that day, don't - stay home, clean your house, watch a movie - just don't let avoiding your problems become a habit.

If to you that means going for a walk or running 10 kilometres, it doesn't matter. Do what suits you best. Exercise makes you feel better both physically and mentally because it releases endorphins into your brain - it is known to be a good therapy for depression and anxiety.

Write, paint, draw, write music, do whatever you want to express yourself and how you feel. Doing this daily keeps you from bottling up things and exploding (or imploding) later. Keeping a journal is a great idea, or you can do what I did and create a blog.

This isn't easy for everyone (it isn't for me) but getting enough sleep is super important to get you ready to face the entire day, to feel energised and to be in a good mood.

Sometimes you are feeling particularly shitty and you just need to distract yourself and sheer up.

If something is troubling you, get it off your mind. First you need to be calmer, then you can deal with the problem. Clean the house, watch TV, read. A good thing to do is spend time making your room a space that reflects your personality, by hanging up drawings, rearranging furniture, lighting candles, whatever you want, because you're not only keeping busy but you're creating a safe space.

It really helps if you talk about your problems to someone, but if that's not something you are ready to do, or you just don't want to, talk to your friends and family about something else. Just being with them will make you feel better, I promise.

When I feel down, I start craving hugs. Snuggle with your family, friends or a pet. Physical affection makes you feel warm inside and helps you let everything out.

Spend some time with yourself, doing things that benefit you. Take a long bath with a lot of bubbles, candles and music. Read a book or just close your eyes and relax. Moisturise after.

Something happy or soothing preferably.

Reading fiction distracts you, but reading some happy non-fiction can work too. Just read something you enjoy.

These distract you just like books do, and there's a practically endless supply.

Sometimes something really bad or frustrating happens and you need an escape; others times it's something you've been dealing with for a while and you feel like you need to let some of the rage and frustration out. These are ways to do that.

When I was in a less good place mentally, I did this a lot when I was alone. Remember that safe space I told you to create when keeping busy? You can use it now. Go somewhere where you can't disturb anyone and nobody can't disturb you and just scream as much as you want. This helps you get all the frustration out if you need to, but you shouldn't let things bottle up to this point if you can.

Hitting something does for you the same thing screaming does: it let's all the frustration out. You should hit something soft so you don't get hurt, of course. Smashing play-doh also helps. Again, you must take care of yourself over time so you don't get to the point where you need to do this.

Yes, this counts as self care. My therapist once said to me that although some people certainly have it harder than others, practically everyone could benefit from therapy sessions. If you have a problem you can't deal with on your own, there's no shame in asking for help, no matter how small it is. Psychologists are professionals who are trained to analyse how you feel from an impartial point of view, find the cause and help you solve the problem. If you would go to the doctor because you broke a bone, you should also go to the doctor if there's a problem with your mental health. I'll say it again: all the things on this list can help you treat the symptoms of something you might have going on, but they can't treat the cause.

     We all deal with how we feel in different ways, these are just a few things we can do to take care of ourselves. I hope you find them useful!

Dec 3, 2016

The purge of self-hate

   I like to think that I’ve come a long way when it comes to loving myself and my body, but sometimes something pops up and I get scared that insecurities just never really go away. 
     Sometimes I tell my friends things I hate about myself. They slip out because I feel the need to say what they’re thinking. They always deny it, and I get embarrassed because I don’t want them to feel like I’m fishing for compliments. Most times I’m not even expecting a reaction. I’m just letting it out. 
     The thing is, they shouldn’t even be denying anything - it reinforces the idea that any of the things I'm about to say are bad. I hate them because that’s what I was told to do by others who were told the same. I hate them because at one point my self-esteem was so low I decided everything about me was gross and now I can’t get it out of my head. My friends shouldn’t try to convince me that what I think isn't true, they should try to convince me that it’s okay not to look like a supermodel. Not that I don't know that, I do, but I, like many others, have been so conditioned to chase after a perfect body that when people say something like "oh, you look so thin!" I can't help but smile, even if I think that shouldn't be neither a good or a bad thing. 
     So, that's what you need to know to understand where this is coming from. This post is a purge: I’m letting everything I hate out, so I can let everything I love in. This is not gonna be very positive, so you might want to skip to the end.

The official list of reasons why I hate my body:
I’m not pretty
I’ve got chubby cheeks and they’re always red
My boobs are small and look like teabags
I have stretch marks all over and they’re not even the pretty ones
I’m more cellulite than human
 My hips are huge and my thunder tighs make me feel like an elephant walking
I’m not tall, which makes me seem rounder
Not matter how much I exercise or how little I eat, I always look disgusting.
My butt is squishy and shaky and so big it keeps knocking things over
I’m so pale I look sick but when I do tan I look dirty
My nails are ugly
My hair is always gross
My arms are so fat they never look good in t-shirts just like my legs don’t look good in shorts
My face, fingers, neck, stomach and back are fat
My shoulders are wide as fuck
You can’t really see my knees when I’m standing because of all the fat.

     It’s a bit hard to preach body positivity when inside you still think about yourself everything you say others must not. But this was my purge. I will try to keep these thoughts out of my mind, and hopefully I can look back at this in a few years and be happy about how I feel about myself then. I advise you to do the same. You can do it right down there in the comments, in a notebook, in your blog, whatever. Just do it. Purge. Let it out so you can move on to being better.

Dec 2, 2016

Writing for nobody

     This is a relatively new blog, and my audience is inexistent. This post will most likely get lost among the others. Obviously I hope to get some feedback in the future, but for now, this feels refreshing. So many people I knew personally followed my last blog that I felt censured. I couldn't express myself, because all the feelings that I wanted to write about, I was hiding from them. It feels good to have a corner on the internet where I can just say the stuff I want without worrying about who is reading it. 

On getting your hopes high

     Things really have been shitty lately. The old feelings are coming back. I feel sad, and stressed, and disconnected, but mostly I feel like my head is just filled with white noise. And that's how I realized how high my hopes were. I wanted so much to be done with this feeling. I thought I was. I was really fucking dumb.
     I don't like to admit it, but goddamn, am I good at repressing my feelings. Well, until a certain point. If you interact with me on a daily basis, you won't have a clue that something might not be ok. Until I start crying uncontrollably during gym class that is. Because I can't even throw a fucking ball. So... that happened. 
     I work so fucking hard to not let my hopes get too high, because I know they'll be crushed. But then this kind of stuff happens and I realize how high my hopes where. 
     I realized how much I wanted to finally be happy when I was suddenly smashed by these fucking feelings again. I realized how much I wanted to have a normal family life when it seemed like it was going to happen and then my shitty father just went back to being his disgusting version of a father like I keep being reminded he is. Over and over again I realize how much I'm into this guy, every time he unknowingly stabs me in the heart. I realize how high my hopes where when I get a lower grade than I was expecting. I realize it when I look in the mirror and I'm reminded of how I actually look. I realize it when an oral presentation I really felt prepared for goes to shit because I just couldn't breathe. All the time, everywhere. 
     How do I stop this? It's like I'm set for disappointment. By now I should know that my life isn't a movie and that high expectations only lead to broken hearts.

Dec 1, 2016

When anxiety holds you back

     I think that I’m a relatively positive person, but I’m also a very anxious person. Some people seem to think that I can’t be both of those things, as if one takes away from the other, which is not true.
     When things were a bit rough, practically everything made me anxious, especifically situations where I had to interact with other people. I was afraid to look stupid, or that people wouldn’t like me or that somehow something would go wrong. And I’ve been told many times that “Oh, but that’s normal, everyone gets a bit nervous sometimes!”. But it was not normal.
     Yes, everyone gets nervous, but they still go out and do what they need to do. When it got really bad, I would panic and cry for almost an hour if my parents told me to go up to a coffee shop worker and order something. Most times I would just stay hungry. The few times I would actually do it, I’d spend the next few hours if not more being mad at myself for how stupid I’d looked.  And I did this with every single interation I had with anyone else outside my family and very small group of friends, and sometimes even with them.
     I knew it wasn't racional. I just couldn’t help it. Everything seemed like such a big deal in my head.
     Of course eventually my mom realised this wasn’t normal, along with other things I had going on, and she sent me to a therapist. Even that made me anxious but I still went and together we explored some of the things I had on my mind (but I didn’t tell her all of it, so some things never really got any closure). A few months ago she got pregnant and decided I was in a good place at the moment and it was a good opportunity to see how I would do by myself (instead of sending me to a coleague, which is what is usually done, even though that means building up the confidence to open up to a stranger all over again). I’ve been handling things on my own for a few months now and more or less, I’ve been doing fine.
     However, I’ve noticed that I still get anxious sometimes, and lately it has happened more than it should: I’ve missed two birthday parties of really close friends because of how many people they invited and I panicked and cried because I wanted to see my sister’s play so badly but I didn’t want to take the bus alone to a place I didn’t know. Hearing how disappointed she was on the phone was heartbreaking. 
     It makes me mad that people don’t understand, and it makes me feel awful when they say things like the one my friend said to me: “You should at least make an effort”. I am making an effort. Does she have any idea how hard it is to even tell her why I don’t wanna go, instead of making up excuses? I thought she would understand, but she just made me feel bad about something I can’t control.
     I could hear my sister being disappointed on the phone, and I didn’t know how to explain to her I really wanted to go because I knew she would say something like “then come.”

     It’s a terrible feeling when being anxious holds you back from living your life and you can’t really do anything. I'm trying very hard to beat this shit, I swear, but it's hard. 
     There's no positive conclusion or advice I can give you, because I don't know what I'm doing either. Fuck.

26 Arbitrary Rules for a Better Life