My Story of Struggle and Hope

Ale Alberti

My name is Alessandro (Ale`) Alberti and I am a cofounder of Black Dog on a Lead. I am going to be totally open and honest about my struggles with depression and anxiety so hopefully my short story will give those who suffer in silence, the courage to turn to someone close to them and say, “hey! I’m not feeling too good.”

I remember from year 8 and throughout high school there were times I would feel down or nervous for no reason at all. I was well liked by my peers, was never bullied and I am sure most people would say I was a pretty confident guy. Well that confidence was the disguise to some horrible feelings I would experience, not daily, but quite regularly as I was growing up in high school.

I missed quite a lot of school, particularly in year 11 and 12 and I definitely held back from activities I was good at in the fear of making mistakes or looking like a fool in front of my peers. I was a talented guitarist throughout primary school, but gave it up one term into year 8. I was a pretty decent soccer player, but lost my confidence, as I felt extremely intimated by some of the guys who had bigger personalities on the field than I did.

I’d constantly use the injury excuse as a way of covering up my anxiety and confidence issues I had, particularly out on the sporting field. After spending five years at high school, I think I only attended three or four swimming and athletic carnivals because the anxiety I would experience on the lead up to these days was just too much for me to handle.

Once year 12 had finished and TEE was behind me, things started feeling pretty good for me again. Leavers was great fun, school holidays were awesome, I was about to turn eighteen and I was about to start a commerce degree at UWA the following year.

About three weeks before uni started, my mum, dad and I were supposed to attend an information night at the university on the evening of the 27th of January 2010 (a date which will always be significant for my family for all the wrong reasons).

That morning I remember well. I woke up late to find dad asleep on the couch. This wasn’t too unusual as he was on school holidays and for about a year he had been suffering from pretty severe insomnia. After we exchanged some small talk, he got up from the couch and got ready to go out for the afternoon. As he left, I was still sitting on the couch and he was about six meters away from me near the kitchen door.

Before he went out of sight, he looked towards my direction and told me he’d be there with me that night at university. (As I am writing this, sitting on the same lounge room chair, I can almost reach out to dad from the vivid memory I have of that exact moment).

If I had of known this would be the last time I’d speak to him, I probably would have replied to him in a nicer way than the tired/TV watching/distracted grunt that I sent him off with. Dad took his life not long after he left me that afternoon. Still to this day, I am not a hundred per cent sure why he chose to end his life when all he had to do was just tell me he was in a dark place. The family knew he was suffering from some form of depression but nothing to that extent. I think his lack of sleep for over a year, definitely contributed to his poor mental state.

My dad was an exceptional human being. I love him, miss him and think about him every single day.

For years I didn’t really come to terms with dad’s death. I didn’t grieve for nearly as long as I should have and a lot of feelings about his death I bottled up inside me for a very long time.

My mind finally cracked in the middle of last year. Unfortunately this happened during a European trip of a lifetime with some of my best mates. Some of the thoughts that were going through my head during this time were very dark and feelings I had experienced for a number of years had now become tenfold. I had no choice but to tell my mates what I was experiencing and I was very fortunate they gave me the support I needed to get through the rest of my holiday and help me enjoy it as much as I could regardless of how I was feeling.

Things didn’t get any better for me when I got home. I had dark intrusive thoughts that would be in my head every second of the day. I would wake up extremely nervous for no apparent reason every day and my heart was constantly beating 100 miles an hour. Just imagine that feeling you get in your stomach when you’re watching your favorite footy team in a nail biting game. Once the final siren goes, that feeling of adrenaline eventually passes. For me, I had this feeling constantly for about the next six months. During this time, I was analyzing every single symptom I was experiencing not knowing what was really wrong with me. I became a prisoner of my own mind for such a long time and there was no escape.

This constant analysis of every single feeling I was experiencing made me live a life deep inside my own mind resulting in uncomfortable sensations of depersonalization and derealism. For anyone who has experienced this, you will know it is one of the worst byproducts and most terrifying symptoms of severe anxiety. It makes you question your reality, causes long-term and constant feelings of unrealty and before you know it, you don’t recognize the person looking back at you in the mirror.

Although living with these symptoms was extremely difficult, suicide was never an option for me. Taking my life may have solved all of my problems right there and then, but it’s the people you leave behind that are the ones who have to suffer for the rest of their lives.

I was prescribed anti anxiety medication and saw a psychologist once a week for about 10 weeks and I was officially diagnosed with depression with the major symptom of anxiety. Talking openly about how I was feeling was definitely the first major step I had to take on the road to recovery. I opened up to my family and then my close mates, but for me, the best thing I could have done was accept the way I was feeling and not fear the anxiety I was feeling. By over analyzing every symptom I was experiencing, I was fighting fire with fire and before I knew it, I became anxious about my anxiety (if that makes sense).

Late September last year, I decided to give in to what I was feeling. I decided that if I am going to feel this way, I am no longer going to fight my feelings and let these anxious and depressive thoughts stop me from living a normal life.

I rolled with every single weird feeling or thought I experienced and no longer deeply analyzed how I was feeling. In doing this, before I knew it, I went a couple of days feeling normal and then slipped back into an anxious state of mind. I didn’t let that bother me and when I did relapse, I did the same thing again and before I knew it, better days turned into better weeks and better weeks turned into better months. In time, some form of normality returned for me and I can honestly say, I feel I finally have control of my anxiety and a control of this black dog on the end of this very long lead.

I am not sure who said this but the words are very true.

Mental illness does not discriminate. It doesn’t matter whether you are successful, it doesn’t matter how intelligent you are, how rich you are, it can hit you at any time in your life.

The photo I have attached to this story was taken at one of the worst times of my life. Beyond my tired eyes, beyond my smile, there is a person struggling… but that’s okay.


Ale Alberti
About the Author: Ale`Alberti 

Ale` is cofounder of Black Dog on a Lead, a community group that encourages people to talk openly about depression.

Open communication is key for eliminating any stigma or taboo associated with this illness. The question is: why should society treat depression differently to any other illness. Think about what it would look like for those with the illness if they felt comfortable communicating it to their family, friends and community. 

Whilst depression is difficult to cure fully, the effects of it can be managed effectively. Essentially this is what “Black Dog on a Lead” symbolises. The “Black Dog” is a metaphor for an unwelcome companion that externalises dark feelings, that follows you around BUT that ultimately is distinct from a person’s underlying personality. By putting a “lead” on that Black Dog it can be tamed, disciplined and controlled.

Depression should not be a one-man battle. Let’s all march together, united in the fight against this illness. You can keep track of their work and stay in touch through the Black Dog on a Lead Facebook Page.

(I had the pleasure of meeting Ale` recently at YouthSpeak. He, together with co-founder of Black Dog on a Lead, Massimo Iustini, are doing incredible work. They’re warm, genuine and open, and dedicated to breaking the stigma of  mental illness. They are doing this by sharing their own powerful stories and I’ve seen the difference they’re making. After sharing their stories, I watched young people come forward – brave, strong and beautifully open, all of them – to share their own struggles. Conversation is a powerful thing. For details of future events and to keep in touch with the work they’re doing, follow them here on their Black Dog on a Lead Facebook page).

4 Comments

Nicole L

I am currently struggling with anxiety, depression, and PTSD. I decided to start a podcast in hopes of spreading the same awareness to others who feel alone. I was doing research for the show when I stumbled upon this article. Thank you for being brave and for being open and for being vulnerable enough to be raw in order to let other people know that they aren’t alone. What a wonderful spirit. I am so sorry for your loss. Thank you for helping me with mine. < 33

Reply
Ricardo

I am also a therapist working with people with depression, anxiety & addictions. I also believe that the self must open up to its unresolved emotional issues in order to heal itself from the black dog. I have seen and accompany many into their journey of recuperation and have observed that the self has to recognize who he is and change will occur. the self needs to talk and express what it feels in order to feel healthy.

thanks for sharing your story with us, keep working on your happiness.

best,

ricardo

Reply
Kate

Thank you Ale for being so open and honest about your True feelings of Depression and Anxiety and how overpowering they can be and how Alone they make us feel. I love how you use the name “black dog on a lead” and explained the meaning of it!!! And also the picture of you taken at your darkest time It’s amazing how good we can look but inside feel hopeless Thank you and I hope to be able to find you on Facebook and find more of your articles because this one really help me And I think you’re awesome !!!!

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Buell "Buz" Barton, Jr.

I am a therapist who works with people who experience anxiety and depression. Ale’s story is one that catches my attention because he has found an internal mechanism for dealing with depression. That mechanism would seem to be externalizing the feelings, thoughts and despair that have accompanied him through much of his childhood and beyond. I am very impressed with your accomplishment in managing this crippling disorder.

Reply
Vera Rudinica

What a beautiful, brave, touching article. I can’t even imagine how a young adult navigates through these experiences and comes out with a workable inner system. I am in total awe. Thank you for sharing.

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When things feel hard or the world feels big, children will be looking to their important adults for signs of safety. They will be asking, ‘Do you think I'm safe?' 'Do you think I can do this?' With everything in us, we have to send the message, ‘Yes! Yes love, this is hard and you are safe. You can do hard things.'

Even if we believe they are up to the challenge, it can be difficult to communicate this with absolute confidence. We love them, and when they're distressed, we're going to feel it. Inadvertently, we can align with their fear and send signals of danger, especially through nonverbals. 

What they need is for us to align with their 'brave' - that part of them that wants to do hard things and has the courage to do them. It might be small but it will be there. Like a muscle, courage strengthens with use - little by little, but the potential is always there.

First, let them feel you inside their world, not outside of it. This lets their anxious brain know that support is here - that you see what they see and you get it. This happens through validation. It doesn't mean you agree. It means that you see what they see, and feel what they feel. Meet the intensity of their emotion, so they can feel you with them. It can come off as insincere if your nonverbals are overly calm in the face of their distress. (Think a zen-like low, monotone voice and neutral face - both can be read as threat by an anxious brain). Try:

'This is big for you isn't it!' 
'It's awful having to do things you haven't done before. What you are feeling makes so much sense. I'd feel the same!

Once they really feel you there with them, then they can trust what comes next, which is your felt belief that they will be safe, and that they can do hard things. 

Even if things don't go to plan, you know they will cope. This can be hard, especially because it is so easy to 'catch' their anxiety. When it feels like anxiety is drawing you both in, take a moment, breathe, and ask, 'Do I believe in them, or their anxiety?' Let your answer guide you, because you know your young one was built for big, beautiful things. It's in them. Anxiety is part of their move towards brave, not the end of it.
Sometimes we all just need space to talk to someone who will listen without giving advice, or problem solving, or lecturing. Someone who will let us talk, and who can handle our experiences and words and feelings without having to smooth out the wrinkles or tidy the frayed edges. 

Our kids need this too, but as their important adults, it can be hard to hush without needing to fix things, or gather up their experience and bundle it into a learning that will grow them. We do this because we love them, but it can also mean that they choose not to let us in for the wrong reasons. 

We can’t help them if we don’t know what’s happening in their world, and entry will be on their terms - even more as they get older. As they grow, they won’t trust us with the big things if we don’t give them the opportunity to learn that we can handle the little things (which might feel seismic to them). They won’t let us in to their world unless we make it safe for them to.

When my own kids were small, we had a rule that when I picked them up from school they could tell me anything, and when we drove into the driveway, the conversation would be finished if they wanted it to be. They only put this rule into play a few times, but it was enough for them to learn that it was safe to talk about anything, and for me to hear what was happening in that part of their world that happened without me. My gosh though, there were times that the end of the conversation would be jarring and breathtaking and so unfinished for me, but every time they would come back when they were ready and we would finish the chat. As it turned out, I had to trust them as much as I wanted them to trust me. But that’s how parenting is really isn’t it.

Of course there will always be lessons in their experiences we will want to hear straight up, but we also need them to learn that we are safe to come to.  We need them to know that there isn’t anything about them or their life we can’t handle, and when the world feels hard or uncertain, it’s safe here. By building safety, we build our connection and influence. It’s just how it seems to work.♥️
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#parenting #parenthood #mindfulparenting
Words can be hard sometimes. The right words can be orbital and unconquerable and hard to grab hold of. Feelings though - they’ll always make themselves known, with or without the ‘why’. 

Kids and teens are no different to the rest of us. Their feelings can feel bigger than words - unfathomable and messy and too much to be lassoed into language. If we tap into our own experience, we can sometimes (not all the time) get an idea of what they might need. 

It’s completely understandable that new things or hard things (such as going back to school) might drive thoughts of falls and fails and missteps. When this happens, it’s not so much the hard thing or the new thing that drives avoidance, but thoughts of failing or not being good enough. The more meaningful the ‘thing’ is, the more this is likely to happen. If you can look behind the words, and through to the intention - to avoid failure more than the new or difficult experience, it can be easier to give them what they need. 

Often, ‘I can’t’ means, ‘What if I can’t?’ or, ‘Do you think I can?’, or, ‘Will you still think I’m brave, strong, and capable of I fail?’ They need to know that the outcome won’t make any difference at all to how much you adore them, and how capable and exceptional you think they are. By focusing on process, (the courage to give it a go), we clear the runway so they can feel safer to crawl, then walk, then run, then fly. 

It takes time to reach full flight in anything, but in the meantime the stumbling can make even the strongest of hearts feel vulnerable. The more we focus on process over outcome (their courage to try over the result), and who they are over what they do (their courage, tenacity, curiosity over the outcome), the safer they will feel to try new things or hard things. We know they can do hard things, and the beauty and expansion comes first in the willingness to try. 
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#parenting #mindfulparenting #positiveparenting #mindfulparent
Never in the history of forever has there been such a  lavish opportunity for a year to be better than the last. Not to be grabby, but you know what I’d love this year? Less opportunities that come in the name of ‘resilience’. I’m ready for joy, or adventure, or connection, or gratitude, or courage - anything else but resilience really. Opportunities for resilience have a place, but 2020 has been relentless with its servings, and it’s time for an out breath. Here’s hoping 2021 will be a year that wraps its loving arms around us. I’m ready for that. x
The holidays are a wonderland of everything that can lead to hyped up, exhausted, cranky, excited, happy kids (and adults). Sometimes they’ll cycle through all of these within ten minutes. Sugar will constantly pry their little mouths wide open and jump inside, routines will laugh at you from a distance, there will be gatherings and parties, and everything will feel a little bit different to usual. And a bit like magic. 

Know that whatever happens, it’s all part of what the holidays are meant to look like. They aren’t meant to be pristine and orderly and exactly as planned. They were never meant to be that. Christmas is about people, your favourite ones, not tasks. If focusing on the people means some of the tasks fall down, let that be okay, because that’s what Christmas is. It’s about you and your people. It’s not about proving your parenting stamina, or that you’ve raised perfectly well-behaved humans, or that your family can polish up like the catalog ones any day of the week, or that you can create restaurant quality meals and decorate the table like you were born doing it. Christmas is messy and ridiculous and exhausting and there will be plenty of frayed edges. And plenty of magic. The magic will happen the way it always happens. Not with the decorations or the trimmings or the food or the polish, but by being with the ones you love, and the ones who love you right back.

When it all starts to feel too important, too necessary and too ‘un-let-go-able’, be guided by the bigger truth, which is that more than anything, you will all remember how you all felt – as in how happy they felt, how loved they felt were, how noticed they felt. They won’t care about the instagram-worthy meals on the table, the cleanliness of the floors, how many relatives they visited, or how impressed other grown-ups were with their clean faces and darling smiles. It’s easy to forget sometimes, that what matters most at Christmas isn’t the tasks, but the people – the ones who would give up pretty much anything just to have the day with you.

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