I was born in Italy in 1980 in a small, grey, sad working-class town on the outskirts of Milan, called Legnano. My parents met on the train they used to take to commute to Milan to go to work. When I was about 5, they decided to move to Rimini, a small touristic seaside spot on the Adriatic sea, where I grew up. Rimini is my dad’s hometown and my grandparents and his brothers were living there. They had a large house in the countryside, their family used to farm the land and there were still patches my grandad used to cultivate. He would grow everything, vegetables, fruit, even grapes (which led to wine). Very little, but enough for the family.
I have fond memories of the time spent at my grandparents. Except for the fact that I was abused by a family member. It must have been when I was 7 or 8. It was a low-key abuse and I never even really clocked those episodes as abuse until last year. My company was organising classes to train new team members in an interview practice based on the constructive developmental theories of Robert Kegan. During one of these sessions I was playing the “mock candidate”, something came up, and I realised that, yes, I was abused as a child.
That realisation in February 2019 kickstarted a process that culminated to my panic attacks in May 2020. I started to go down a dark path. I stopped doing the things that I liked to do, I started looking for more and more escapism, overeating (my relationship with food has always been problematic – that requires a separate post), my journey of self-discovery (I am a straight biological man, but I feel fluid in my gender expression) got to a halt, and overall I started feeling worse and worse, to the point of not being able to get up in the morning.
In October 2019 I started going to therapy. It wasn’t my first time. I went to a short cycle of therapy via the NHS in February, and before that, I worked with a therapist in 2011 to deal with body images issues that came out of a crazy diet I followed for just a month. But this time I knew I was gonna dig deep and really try and get to the bottom of whatever I had inside.
Still, the discomfort wasn’t leaving. Christmas 2019 wasn’t great. We usually go to visit our families in Italy, and this time it wasn’t different. I could feel I had some nausea, that something wasn’t exactly right. In January 2020 I went to a ski trip with my colleagues. I should have felt lucky, I know. Still, something was bothering me. Then Covid-19 hit. Work got even more stressful. A series of issues with my colleagues led me into a negative spiral, my anxiety kept growing and growing. Until the breakdown.
I was lucky because I was days away from giving myself an ulcer. This was a wake up call. My body decided that it was enough. I should have left my company a long time ago, but I was petrified by the idea of having to find another job, and my confidence was completely shattered. Also, it’s not easy for someone like me to get a new job. For starters, my name idicates I’m not British and that’s not good when you look for senior positions. Secondly, my resumee doesn’t look like the resumee of someone who had a tipical English career path. In Italy things are different, and they surely were where I grew up. So, while I have 20 years of experience, people struggle to see the value in the companies and posts I covered. Finally, I graduated from a Film School and from a Drama School, both in Italy, but I dropped out of Uni twice. So, while I have the experience gained on the field (and some academic knowledge), I don’t have a “respectable institution” listed on the Education section of my CV.
I felt trapped. At the mercy of every whim and tantrum of my teammates. Despite being vocal about my anxiety, I have been shown no compassion. I don’t judge them, they have their own demons to deal with. But the result for me was this. I lost control. I was scared to death. When I had my breakdown I was crying, feeling distraught, couldn’t stay still, couldn’t relax, couldn’t take my mind off it, couldn’t sleep. I was really worried. Never before in my life I experienced something of that level of intensity. That acute moment lasted about 16 hours and it felt like forever. But I got through it.
I owe it to my support circle. My therapist, my GP, my fiancee and my best friend. Their help and support have been invaluable for me. Now I am taking my time, allowing myself to not do, to not worry, to just be. I already feel much better, but this is only the beginning.