All posts by niveswrites

Thesis Time: Slow & Steady Wins the Race!

I had an awesome birthday weekend despite the crazy, snowy weather! I mean it is February after all, the coldest month of the year! #PiscesSeason. My weekend was filled with lots of LOVE from all the important people in my life! I was truly humbled and feel so very blessed to have celebrated another year of life. It’s been a rough year for all of us, some more than others. This harsh reality wasn’t far from my mind as I celebrated my birthday. I just continue to pray and send out good vibes into the universe that all this chaos will end, sometime in the near future. If we never get back to normal, I hope at least, we can get back to a new normal, that makes us all feel whole again. ❤

So you might be wondering what my above Bitmoji means. Why do I need a hug? Well, first off, I mean who doesn’t love a good hug? I do! I feel like as we get older, we get way less hugs then we used to. So I always embrace a good ole hug! It really helps to feed the soul and slow down any anxious adrenaline pulsating throughout the body. So why do I need a hug? Well, I’m starting to feel the crunch of these final two months of thesis. It’s finally hitting me as I try to complete my chapters, and revise as needed. I’m currently trying to piece my chapters together into a cohesive order that works for the overall telling of my story. Ugh! No easy feat, but I’m trying my best! Below I will share my Table of Contents and briefly describe what each chapter will contain. Again, this is a work in progress, nothing is set in stone and I’m looking forward to all of your feedback! Thanks guys, can’t wait to see you all in class and hear all about your progress! Xo.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1: Riptide (reoccurring dreams, first memory of my OCD, start of therapy).

Chapter 2: In Waves (reoccurring dream, my younger years and bouts with anxiety/OCD).

Chapter 3: Quicksand (the highs and lows of mental illness).

Chapter 4: Tangled Roots (my family tree and long history of mental illness).

Chapter 5: Brotherly Love (my fractured relationship with my brother).

Chapter 6: Degenerate (explicit chapter about self loathing and pain due to my illness).

Chapter 7: Oh Heavenly Father (a look back at my Catholic upbringing and education).

Chapter 8: Echoes (a deep, detailed dive into the complexities of my rituals and obsession’s).

Chapter: 9 Permanent Glitch (learning to live each day with OCD. embracing the permanency).

Chapter 10: The Phoenix (my rebirth, and redemption).

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I’m All In!

The stakes are getting higher and higher as each day passes. Each and every precious day represents a step closer to our final destination: Completion of our MA Thesis! Yay Class of 2021! I’m all in! All my cards and chips are on the table! As I throw all my cards on the table, face up, I realize that this has been the most transparent, vulnerable and the rawest I’ve ever been in my entire life. That realization within itself has been transformative for me on a spiritual, and emotional level. I’m on the eve of my 39th birthday. This Friday will mark the end of a another decade of life for me. I say this birthday will hit me the hardest, not because I’m getting older and pushing forty (yikes), or because my entire 20’s was a total shit show (ugh) but more so because this has been a decade of true rebirth, renewal and like the phoenix rising. The beginning of my 30’s started out rough. I was hit hard with a severe resurgence of my OCD. I struggled and fought, literally for my life, for almost 3 years. Finally, I clawed my way out of the darkness and back into the light of day. For the last few years of this transformative decade I’ve been thriving. Although, even today, that new found light is sometimes too bright for my mental state to bare. But I’ve made it! Made it to the other side of healing and more inner peace. I can proudly say I rose from the ashes. That’s why, I’ll miss my 30’s so very much. I’ll try to cherish each and every moment of 39. God willing, my 40’s decade will be the best one yet!

Below I’ve shared a short excerpt from Chapter 4 entitled: Brotherly Love. Enjoy! Xo. (Unrevised, unfinished).

Chapter 4: Brotherly Love

The earliest memories I have of spending time with my older brother and only brother Gianni, is laying in his bed with him and watching classic 80’s movies like our favorites: The Goonies and Stand By Me. His wallpaper was a light grey, with the planets, stars, spaceships and starships adorning almost every inch of the walls. I would sometimes stare at the faded star constellations and fall into these dream like states, where I would imagine my brother and I on these fantastic intergalactic adventures together! Battling aliens and all the bad guys as if we had been transported into an old arcade game. He was eight years older than me so I always got to learn and experience cool new things about life through all his firsts. I got away with watching certain movies and playing video games and listening to more mature, cool music at a younger age because I was just following my older brothers lead. No questions asked. I cherished my special moments with him. I remember giggling and laughing endlessly at the movies we enjoyed to watch together. Rewinding our VHS tapes on our old VCR to the precise parts we loved most. Even as a small girl, at the age of about five or six, which made my brother twelve or thirteen, he would never refuse my requests to come into his room. I would knock softly on his door and he always opened it with a smile. He had thick, dark brown, unruly hair, with braces. He was tall for his age, and lanky. I remember always having to tilt my little head back, my dark brown curls falling back out of my face, as I looked up at him. He never made me feel like the annoying, bratty little sister that most older brothers would. Even at times when our older cousins or his friends from school would come over he always would allow me to tag along and play. Oh, how I loved my big brother so.

I wish life could always be as sweet and simple as it is when we were squealing with laughter and joy as kids. But times goes on, faster then we would like and we soon discover that life is transitory. So are the fond memories we make along the way. I learned this the hard way in my mid twenties while my older brother had already reached his mid thirties. I was upstairs just about to step out into the hallway when I overheard a conversation between my Mother and brother. They didn’t know I was in the hallway. Their tone of voice and the tension I felt rising up in my chest, made me stop dead in my tracks, as I continued to listen intently.

“Send her to a mental hospital or a facility! I don’t know what to tell you!”

He said with anger and what felt like to me, disgust.

“What?! Don’t say that, your sister is struggling. I’m worried about her. I figured you could help, or know what to do. You have faced some of the same struggles.”

She said this with what sounded like resignation in her voice.

The kitchen grew silent and colder in that very instant. Now I could only hear the slow drips of the faucet and the thumping of my racing heart. Beating so hard I thought my ears would burst. I was frozen in time and in my space. I quietly leaned my back up against the wall to steady myself, it took all my will power not to slide down to my bottom and curl up into a lifeless ball. The wind had been knocked right out of my soul. I was breathless and blindsided by what I had just heard. How could he say this about me? A mental hospital? What? Why? Where was the older brother I looked up too? The brother who I thought loved me as much as I adored him? Suddenly, and without warning I began to daydream or maybe even hallucinate. Their voices in the kitchen became muffled and everything around me became a blur. We were now in space. This magical, intergalactic fantasy where my brother Gianni and I were once again, transported into the old arcade game we used to love to play at the local pizzeria. We were in the same spaceship, shooting down the aliens and fighting off all our enemies. As the glowing, bright stars and constellations guided us on our adventure through space.

We were laughing and high fiving in complete and total bliss. Oh, how I wish this daydream could last forever. But as I slowly came out of this happy haze, reality hit me hard, and where it hurt the most, in my heart and in my gut. I slowly and quietly made my way out of the hallway and back into my bedroom. My Mother and brother were continuing their heated discussion of my wreck of a life, and hopeless state of being. But again, it was all muffled. I couldn’t hear a word. The only thing I could hear was the thumping of my now, broken heart. Beating harder and harder as I made my way to my bed. I crashed into it, the tears came pouring out, as the room began to spin. I made no sounds, just silent tears, silent pain that I would carry with my for many years after this incident. Tears endlessly streaming down my face, soaking my pillow. I felt like Alice in Wonderland, when she cried and cried and almost drowned out the entire land, the rabbit urgently begging her to stop. The salt from my tears were making the skin on my cheeks sting and feel tight. Could it be I wondered? That we went from fighting off the bad guys as a team, to now my very own brother, my big brother, my only brother, who I loved, admired and adorned, becoming one of the bad guys himself? It was too much for my already fragile heart to bare.

To Be Continued…

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“I Learned To Write By Writing.”-Neil Gaiman

Below I’m sharing an excerpt from Chapter 2 entitled: Tangled Roots. It’s UNREVISED but it’s exactly what poured out of my heart as I began to write about a very uneasy subject matter. This particular chapter is near and dear to my heart. Why? Because it’s about the very blood that runs through my veins…my family. I hope you guys like it, again, it’s unfinished but hey it’s a start! (Forgive me it’s so very long). Stay tuned for more…Xo.

Chapter 2: Tangled Roots

The smell of old tattered pages in a book that you haven’t opened in some years is one of my most favorite smells. It always has been and probably always will be. Weird I know. I also loved the smells of the old weathered photo albums I would find buried somewhere throughout my old childhood home. Young Nives was very inquisitive. But not like most children. My thoughts, my musings, my childlike wonder and imagination would always go a step farther. Looking back now, I think some of it had to do with the nature of my illness, OCD. I was a deeply empathetic, highly emotional, overly sensitive, and supremely compassionate soul from a very young age. As I child my Mother would take me for walks with her to run her weekly errands. My Mother never drove, she was too afraid. So walking became a regular part of my life. The city we lived in was very diverse. I remember people watching and seeing all the different types of characters that walked the streets of my old neighborhood. I would study their faces intensely, imagine I was outlining the crevices of their faces with my tiny fingers. I would squeeze my Mother’s hand as each person walked past us. I would slowly turn my little head back towards them staring. But not for too long because I was also extremely polite and knew staring was not nice.

My Mother would gently nudge me to keep walking, with the same sweet steady smile. I always remember the glimmer of her greenish, hazel eyes as she looked down at me. But I couldn’t help but wonder: Where did these people live? Were they happy? Would I ever see them again? I always pondered these thoughts and questions each and every time. My Mother would tell me years later that I was most effected by the homeless people we happened to come across. Although the homeless population then, was nothing like it is today in my old neighborhood, we still saw a few on our weekly walks. There was one old man in particular that struck me the most. He was sitting up on a hard, grey cement wall in front of a large warehouse. His legs dangling carelessly about, he looked scruffy and unkept. His salt and pepper hair was curly, wild and thick. As we made our way past him my Mom smiled at him but he didn’t seem to notice. I kind of looked at him then kind of looked down. Even as little as I was, I knew this man was homeless and in need. Suddenly we heard a loud noise and a yelp. My little head and curly curls whipped around blocking my eyes as I quickly turned to look behind me. The older man had fallen off the cement wall, but quickly made it back onto his feet. He looked unsteady and was mumbling to himself. I’m assuming now he might of been drunk or under the influence of drugs. My Mom again gently nudged me along this time with more urgency. I followed closely but couldn’t keep my gaze or my mind off of this man.

“Mommy, what happened to him!” I said in a loud concerned voice looking up at her.

“Oh Nivey, don’t worry he will be okay. Look he made it back to his feet.” She said with a soft smile.

“I know but, will he really be okay? Will he have a place to go? To sleep? A place to get better?” I asked softly.

“Sweet Nives, it’s going to be okay. He will be okay. Mommy promises. Let’s go buy a toy huh? Barbie? You LOVE Barbie!” She exclaimed.

But Barbie was the farthest thing from my mind. I was still so very concerned and deeply affected by that homeless man. A man I didn’t know and probably would never see again in my life. But he still mattered to me. Even as we continued on our walk I tried desperately to contort my little body so I could see him, so that somebody could and would see him. But the quicker we walked the farther and farther he was in the distance. Until he became a fuzzy, blurry figment of what once was. Years later my Mother would tell me that I often asked about this man. Is he okay? Did she ever see him again? Was he still homeless? Does he have a family? My own Mother admitted to being shocked that I had remembered this old man so fondly for so many years after the incident. A man that to most would seem so insignificant. But again, to me, he mattered. Mom would smile and give me a big wet kiss on the cheek and a tight hug telling me how very sweet, kind and sensitive I was. She looked proud as she said this, but also a bit concerned. Maybe one day my overly sensitive ways and strong emotions would hurt me, hinder me in my life. But at that age I couldn’t tell. I just hugged her back a little tighter hoping she would never let go.

***

As the years went on and I grew up I became more curious about the old black and white, tattered faces that I would see staring back at me in our old family albums. The smell of mildew that these old withered and brittle photos produced never bothered me. I liked it, it reminded me of the very smell of opening an old book, where you carefully had to turn each page because they were stuck together. It was nice having a collection of old black and white family photos, some of which dated as far back as the 1940’s. I was thankful for my Mother having carefully saved them. My grandparents, in particular, my maternal grandparents were my favorite to look at. That’s because growing up in a big three family house they lived right above us for years. At that time that I discovered some of these pictures they were both still alive. But before me I saw two old and aging people. Not the young, vibrant, couple I had seen in all the old photos. These photos brought them back to life for me. I saw them in a completely different light and I was enthralled. This ignited a fire of curiosity within me. I couldn’t wait to ask my Mother all about them.

“Mom tell me more about Nonna Nives! I mean I was named after her! I want to know everything!” I said excitedly.

“Well, she was gentle, fragile, and sweet. A lot like you actually. You two also look alike. Except she had a much longer face. You have a nicer shape and profile.” She said with a faint smile.

As I looked at the weathered picture more closely I saw the resemblance. I began to trace my Nonna’s face with my finger tips. She must have been in her twenties in this photo. Sitting in a field of flowers on the magical mountaintops of Genoa Italy. She had on a tight plain dress that went right above her knee. She posed innocently her legs crossed daintily. She looked happy, but there was also a sadness behind her eyes. I soon would learn where all that sadness came from. Sad to say both my grandmother’s were abused by their husbands. My grandfather’s. It was hard to wrap my head around it because before me I saw two old, fragile men. They couldn’t even hurt a fly I thought to myself. They were kind to me and my older brother. My Nonno Emilio would take me for short walks in the very same neighborhood I saw the homeless man. He would buy me little Andes chocolates and we would happily walk hand in hand back home. For twelve years he battled Alzheimer’s Disease before dying well into his eighties, he passed when I was twenty one. He was my oldest living grandparent. I remember the confused and fragmented state of mind he was in during his illness. How could he be this monster I wondered? My Nonno Giovanni who only lived and worked in America for about twenty years before retiring back to Naples, Italy when I was a baby, I rarely saw. But the times he would visit us in New Jersey he was pleasant and kind. Laughing and taking loudly, his voice booming. He was always reading his Bible at our kitchen table every day. He was born again, a Evangelist or a Jehovah’s Witness? I was never sure which one. But okay, he’s a God fearing man, I mean how bad can he be?

Throughout the years I learned more and more about these men, and about these two women who were at the very core of my tangled and gnarled family tree. The more I learned about my grandparent’s the more questions I had about other members of my family that I saw in these old photographs. Slowly but surely over the years, small and fragmented puzzle pieces began to fall into place. My abused grandmother’s, one who suffered a nervous breakdown at the hands of her emotionally and physically abusive husband. Losing custody of her six children for a short time because she was unable to care for them while she was institutionalized. My Nonna Nives, my namesake, was more so emotionally abused at the hands of my alcoholic Nonno Emilio, who would scream and fight with her and their five kids, drunkedly sticking his head in the oven and playing with knives. Terrifying them all to their core. My poor Nonna Nives also had a alcoholic father. My great grandfather, who I never met and died long before I was born. He would lock my young Nonna and her siblings along with their Mother outside for hours in the snow because of another random drunken rage. I shivered when I was told this story as a young teenager. My poor Nonna Nives was so gentle and kind, so fragile. She had eight children but only five survived through childbirth, one of course being my Mother. I was shocked and deeply saddened by both harrowing stories of what my Nonna’s lives were really all about. So much more then what I had picked up on in the images I saw before me.

As more time went on I continued to inquire and ask more about other members of my large, extended Italian family. Again, still coming off of the shock of the revelations of my grandparent’s tormented lives, I had to brace myself for more of what I unearthed. But there was a yearning from deep within me, where I just had to know more. I needed to know more about my family and these people who shared the same bloodline as me. When I felt my heart beat a little faster before each new story I uncovered, I would press my palm over my heart a little closer to feel the beats more closely. They weren’t just my beats, they were the beats of my family. This time I learned more about my three aunts. My Zia Concetta, my Zia Maria and my Zia Odinea. Two were my Father’s younger sister’s and one was my Mother’s youngest sister. As I write and begin to recollect my memories, it feels very much like a women’s story, but it’s so much more than that. Not to mention at the heart of it lies the men. They are very much a integral part of each story and each life line.

My Zia Concetta stayed living in Italy and only visited America a few times over the years. She was married to a sweet and gentle man, who I always remembered fondly and had two daughters, my first cousins. My earliest memories of my Zia Concetta was of her erratic behavior. She would cry, moan and shuffle around in her seat. I wasn’t exactly sure what was going on at the time, but her behavior was always the same, kind of hysterical. I later learned she had a obsession with Ivory soap. She desperately wanted the soap so she could use it to clean. It wasn’t available in the small island of Naples Ischia where she lived so her brother’s my uncles and my father would send her Ivory soap or bring loads of it with each visit. Hmm, peculiar I thought but not too bad. Maybe she was just quirky. That’s what I wanted to believe until I learned that her afflictions ran even deeper. Her devoted husband, bless his soul, (they’re still married today) had to take care of the two girls since infancy because she was unable to care for them. She tried to put one in the oven, yes it was turned off, but she did it and everyone soon realized, yes there was a real problem here. But in those days and in that small, impoverished island, there is no such thing as mental health, or therapy. To this very day my Zia lives in this way, in her way. Her own little world. I don’t know the exact diagnosis, sadly she never had one. She just continues to live in her own little land of hysteria. Although, now in her late sixties she’s calmed down a bit but still has a penchant for all things Ivory soap.

My Zia Maria my Dad’s youngest sister was a beauty! Look out Sophia Loren! Maria Migliaccio is coming through! She had long, thick, dark brown, almost black hair, clear skin, tan and always glowing from the hot Mediterranean sun. Gorgeous lively eyes and a sexy figure. The few times I met her, twice during visits to Naples and once when she came to visit us in New Jersey, I just remember this young, vibrant, gorgeous woman who had her whole life ahead of her. But sadly, that wasn’t the case. I learned over the years that she was under the strict rule and abusive thumb of my Nonno Giovanni, her Father. She watched as her Mother dealt with emotional and physical abuse for years. Here she was trapped in a tiny, poor, isolated island with nowhere to escape. Each year as her brother’s grew older, my Father being the oldest, she would watch as each ventured off for a better life in this magical wonderland called America. One, by one they all left Naples. But she was a woman, a girl, the youngest of six. She couldn’t possibly leave and certainly not leave her poor Mother behind. So she stayed and soon enough her young life spiraled out of control.

It started with a little marijuana on the island with some friends. Hey, they were bored nothing else to do really. Then quickly this so called harmless fun turned into a full blown heroin addiction. She shot up dope constantly. She was arrested for petty theft and drug paraphernalia numerous times. One of the times I visited her in Naples as a young girl she was on probation. Tensions were high but she still was this gorgeous and beautiful being so full of light and life that last visit I saw her. Sadly, at the age of thirty four she died in the arms of one of her brother’s, my Zio Toto. She died of full blown AIDS. When I saw pictures of her about a year before she died she was close to unrecognizable. But there was one picture in particular where she was leaning against what looked like a boat railing. When I looked close enough, I could still see the resemblance I have to her. I could see it in her sunken cheek bones, and in her blood shot eyes. Her tight, painful smile, stuck out to me the most. She looked like she was still trying so hard to be happy and to live, despite knowing she was slowly and painfully dying. I held the picture close to my chest, closing my eyes tight, wishing and praying I could have known her just a little while longer. My family roots were tangled indeed. But slowly I started to feel more grounded to this family tree. As troubling as these tales were to hear, I started to re discover myself in a whole new way.

See the source image

“I Learned To Write By Writing.”-Neil Gaiman

Below I’m sharing an excerpt from Chapter 2 entitled: Tangled Roots. It’s UNREVISED but it’s exactly what poured out of my heart as I began to write about a very uneasy subject matter. This particular chapter is near and dear to my heart. Why? Because it’s about the very blood that runs through my veins…my family. I hope you guys like it, again, it’s unfinished but hey it’s a start! (Forgive me it’s so very long). Stay tuned for more…Xo.

Chapter 2: Tangled Roots

The smell of old tattered pages in a book that you haven’t opened in some years is one of my most favorite smells. It always has been and probably always will be. Weird I know. I also loved the smells of the old weathered photo albums I would find buried somewhere throughout my old childhood home. Young Nives was very inquisitive. But not like most children. My thoughts, my musings, my childlike wonder and imagination would always go a step farther. Looking back now, I think some of it had to do with the nature of my illness, OCD. I was a deeply empathetic, highly emotional, overly sensitive, and supremely compassionate soul from a very young age. As I child my Mother would take me for walks with her to run her weekly errands. My Mother never drove, she was too afraid. So walking became a regular part of my life. The city we lived in was very diverse. I remember people watching and seeing all the different types of characters that walked the streets of my old neighborhood. I would study their faces intensely, imagine I was outlining the crevices of their faces with my tiny fingers. I would squeeze my Mother’s hand as each person walked past us. I would slowly turn my little head back towards them staring. But not for too long because I was also extremely polite and knew staring was not nice.

My Mother would gently nudge me to keep walking, with the same sweet steady smile. I always remember the glimmer of her greenish, hazel eyes as she looked down at me. But I couldn’t help but wonder: Where did these people live? Were they happy? Would I ever see them again? I always pondered these thoughts and questions each and every time. My Mother would tell me years later that I was most effected by the homeless people we happened to come across. Although the homeless population then, was nothing like it is today in my old neighborhood, we still saw a few on our weekly walks. There was one old man in particular that struck me the most. He was sitting up on a hard, grey cement wall in front of a large warehouse. His legs dangling carelessly about, he looked scruffy and unkept. His salt and pepper hair was curly, wild and thick. As we made our way past him my Mom smiled at him but he didn’t seem to notice. I kind of looked at him then kind of looked down. Even as little as I was, I knew this man was homeless and in need. Suddenly we heard a loud noise and a yelp. My little head and curly curls whipped around blocking my eyes as I quickly turned to look behind me. The older man had fallen off the cement wall, but quickly made it back onto his feet. He looked unsteady and was mumbling to himself. I’m assuming now he might of been drunk or under the influence of drugs. My Mom again gently nudged me along this time with more urgency. I followed closely but couldn’t keep my gaze or my mind off of this man.

“Mommy, what happened to him!” I said in a loud concerned voice looking up at her.

“Oh Nivey, don’t worry he will be okay. Look he made it back to his feet.” She said with a soft smile.

“I know but, will he really be okay? Will he have a place to go? To sleep? A place to get better?” I asked softly.

“Sweet Nives, it’s going to be okay. He will be okay. Mommy promises. Let’s go buy a toy huh? Barbie? You LOVE Barbie!” She exclaimed.

But Barbie was the farthest thing from my mind. I was still so very concerned and deeply affected by that homeless man. A man I didn’t know and probably would never see again in my life. But he still mattered to me. Even as we continued on our walk I tried desperately to contort my little body so I could see him, so that somebody could and would see him. But the quicker we walked the farther and farther he was in the distance. Until he became a fuzzy, blurry figment of what once was. Years later my Mother would tell me that I often asked about this man. Is he okay? Did she ever see him again? Was he still homeless? Does he have a family? My own Mother admitted to being shocked that I had remembered this old man so fondly for so many years after the incident. A man that to most would seem so insignificant. But again, to me, he mattered. Mom would smile and give me a big wet kiss on the cheek and a tight hug telling me how very sweet, kind and sensitive I was. She looked proud as she said this, but also a bit concerned. Maybe one day my overly sensitive ways and strong emotions would hurt me, hinder me in my life. But at that age I couldn’t tell. I just hugged her back a little tighter hoping she would never let go.

***

As the years went on and I grew up I became more curious about the old black and white, tattered faces that I would see staring back at me in our old family albums. The smell of mildew that these old withered and brittle photos produced never bothered me. I liked it, it reminded me of the very smell of opening an old book, where you carefully had to turn each page because they were stuck together. It was nice having a collection of old black and white family photos, some of which dated as far back as the 1940’s. I was thankful for my Mother having carefully saved them. My grandparents, in particular, my maternal grandparents were my favorite to look at. That’s because growing up in a big three family house they lived right above us for years. At that time that I discovered some of these pictures they were both still alive. But before me I saw two old and aging people. Not the young, vibrant, couple I had seen in all the old photos. These photos brought them back to life for me. I saw them in a completely different light and I was enthralled. This ignited a fire of curiosity within me. I couldn’t wait to ask my Mother all about them.

“Mom tell me more about Nonna Nives! I mean I was named after her! I want to know everything!” I said excitedly.

“Well, she was gentle, fragile, and sweet. A lot like you actually. You two also look alike. Except she had a much longer face. You have a nicer shape and profile.” She said with a faint smile.

As I looked at the weathered picture more closely I saw the resemblance. I began to trace my Nonna’s face with my finger tips. She must have been in her twenties in this photo. Sitting in a field of flowers on the magical mountaintops of Genoa Italy. She had on a tight plain dress that went right above her knee. She posed innocently her legs crossed daintily. She looked happy, but there was also a sadness behind her eyes. I soon would learn where all that sadness came from. Sad to say both my grandmother’s were abused by their husbands. My grandfather’s. It was hard to wrap my head around it because before me I saw two old, fragile men. They couldn’t even hurt a fly I thought to myself. They were kind to me and my older brother. My Nonno Emilio would take me for short walks in the very same neighborhood I saw the homeless man. He would buy me little Andes chocolates and we would happily walk hand in hand back home. For twelve years he battled Alzheimer’s Disease before dying well into his eighties, he passed when I was twenty one. He was my oldest living grandparent. I remember the confused and fragmented state of mind he was in during his illness. How could he be this monster I wondered? My Nonno Giovanni who only lived and worked in America for about twenty years before retiring back to Naples, Italy when I was a baby, I rarely saw. But the times he would visit us in New Jersey he was pleasant and kind. Laughing and taking loudly, his voice booming. He was always reading his Bible at our kitchen table every day. He was born again, a Evangelist or a Jehovah’s Witness? I was never sure which one. But okay, he’s a God fearing man, I mean how bad can he be?

Throughout the years I learned more and more about these men, and about these two women who were at the very core of my tangled and gnarled family tree. The more I learned about my grandparent’s the more questions I had about other members of my family that I saw in these old photographs. Slowly but surely over the years, small and fragmented puzzle pieces began to fall into place. My abused grandmother’s, one who suffered a nervous breakdown at the hands of her emotionally and physically abusive husband. Losing custody of her six children for a short time because she was unable to care for them while she was institutionalized. My Nonna Nives, my namesake, was more so emotionally abused at the hands of my alcoholic Nonno Emilio, who would scream and fight with her and their five kids, drunkedly sticking his head in the oven and playing with knives. Terrifying them all to their core. My poor Nonna Nives also had a alcoholic father. My great grandfather, who I never met and died long before I was born. He would lock my young Nonna and her siblings along with their Mother outside for hours in the snow because of another random drunken rage. I shivered when I was told this story as a young teenager. My poor Nonna Nives was so gentle and kind, so fragile. She had eight children but only five survived through childbirth, one of course being my Mother. I was shocked and deeply saddened by both harrowing stories of what my Nonna’s lives were really all about. So much more then what I had picked up on in the images I saw before me.

As more time went on I continued to inquire and ask more about other members of my large, extended Italian family. Again, still coming off of the shock of the revelations of my grandparent’s tormented lives, I had to brace myself for more of what I unearthed. But there was a yearning from deep within me, where I just had to know more. I needed to know more about my family and these people who shared the same bloodline as me. When I felt my heart beat a little faster before each new story I uncovered, I would press my palm over my heart a little closer to feel the beats more closely. They weren’t just my beats, they were the beats of my family. This time I learned more about my three aunts. My Zia Concetta, my Zia Maria and my Zia Odinea. Two were my Father’s younger sister’s and one was my Mother’s youngest sister. As I write and begin to recollect my memories, it feels very much like a women’s story, but it’s so much more than that. Not to mention at the heart of it lies the men. They are very much a integral part of each story and each life line.

My Zia Concetta stayed living in Italy and only visited America a few times over the years. She was married to a sweet and gentle man, who I always remembered fondly and had two daughters, my first cousins. My earliest memories of my Zia Concetta was of her erratic behavior. She would cry, moan and shuffle around in her seat. I wasn’t exactly sure what was going on at the time, but her behavior was always the same, kind of hysterical. I later learned she had a obsession with Ivory soap. She desperately wanted the soap so she could use it to clean. It wasn’t available in the small island of Naples Ischia where she lived so her brother’s my uncles and my father would send her Ivory soap or bring loads of it with each visit. Hmm, peculiar I thought but not too bad. Maybe she was just quirky. That’s what I wanted to believe until I learned that her afflictions ran even deeper. Her devoted husband, bless his soul, (they’re still married today) had to take care of the two girls since infancy because she was unable to care for them. She tried to put one in the oven, yes it was turned off, but she did it and everyone soon realized, yes there was a real problem here. But in those days and in that small, impoverished island, there is no such thing as mental health, or therapy. To this very day my Zia lives in this way, in her way. Her own little world. I don’t know the exact diagnosis, sadly she never had one. She just continues to live in her own little land of hysteria. Although, now in her late sixties she’s calmed down a bit but still has a penchant for all things Ivory soap.

My Zia Maria my Dad’s youngest sister was a beauty! Look out Sophia Loren! Maria Migliaccio is coming through! She had long, thick, dark brown, almost black hair, clear skin, tan and always glowing from the hot Mediterranean sun. Gorgeous lively eyes and a sexy figure. The few times I met her, twice during visits to Naples and once when she came to visit us in New Jersey, I just remember this young, vibrant, gorgeous woman who had her whole life ahead of her. But sadly, that wasn’t the case. I learned over the years that she was under the strict rule and abusive thumb of my Nonno Giovanni, her Father. She watched as her Mother dealt with emotional and physical abuse for years. Here she was trapped in a tiny, poor, isolated island with nowhere to escape. Each year as her brother’s grew older, my Father being the oldest, she would watch as each ventured off for a better life in this magical wonderland called America. One, by one they all left Naples. But she was a woman, a girl, the youngest of six. She couldn’t possibly leave and certainly not leave her poor Mother behind. So she stayed and soon enough her young life spiraled out of control.

It started with a little marijuana on the island with some friends. Hey, they were bored nothing else to do really. Then quickly this so called harmless fun turned into a full blown heroin addiction. She shot up dope constantly. She was arrested for petty theft and drug paraphernalia numerous times. One of the times I visited her in Naples as a young girl she was on probation. Tensions were high but she still was this gorgeous and beautiful being so full of light and life that last visit I saw her. Sadly, at the age of thirty four she died in the arms of one of her brother’s, my Zio Toto. She died of full blown AIDS. When I saw pictures of her about a year before she died she was close to unrecognizable. But there was one picture in particular where she was leaning against what looked like a boat railing. When I looked close enough, I could still see the resemblance I have to her. I could see it in her sunken cheek bones, and in her blood shot eyes. Her tight, painful smile, stuck out to me the most. She looked like she was still trying so hard to be happy and to live, despite knowing she was slowly and painfully dying. I held the picture close to my chest, closing my eyes tight, wishing and praying I could have known her just a little while longer. My family roots were tangled indeed. But slowly I started to feel more grounded to this family tree. As troubling as these tales were to hear, I started to re discover myself in a whole new way.

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AND I’M OFF…LETS DO THIS!

Hi guys! I feel relaxed, refreshed and ready to hit the ground running after our last class! I love the breakout rooms and the different activities we get to participate in. I find it really productive and it helps me to get the wheels turning. I also love hearing from all of you in a more intimate and personal way. At this point we’re all very comfortable with one another, but I think we still all benefit from the one one one or small group time that we share. Hearing in great detail about each of your thesis works, makes me feel more inspired and less alone. We all share many of the same fears and insecurities, regardless of what our particular projects are. We also share in the small triumphs and moments of clarity that we find throughout this process. Again, this all helps to propel me in the direction I need to go in to complete The Seashell.

Next up I’ll try my best to map out exactly what I’m working on going forward. After all the amazing feedback from Dr. Zamora last class, I have a clearer direction and plan of action in place. First, let me say I took a huge sigh of relief and a major exhale when I got the green light on the status of my literature review. Phew! I’m so thankful it looks clear, organized and categorized cohesively. I worked hard on it, but I had my doubts. My brain doesn’t do the research side as well as it does the actual creative writing side. I learned that the hard way in Dr. Nelson’s class! However, I surprised myself. I worked hard, did my best and earned a awesome grade that I’m proud of. Not to mention a completed proposal I also take great pride in.

So from here on out, I feel more at ease. I can drop my shoulders, unclench my jaw, and exhale a little more easily while continuing to push on. My next steps include: Creating new chapters and revising my existing chapters. Writing and allowing my story to evolve naturally and organically (thanks Em’s). No forcing, pushing, or putting any unneeded pressure on myself to create a “perfect” last chapter, which I know doesn’t exist. This is my story to tell, and that within itself is powerful enough to drive my story to exactly where it needs to be. From the beginning, middle and the end. If I don’t believe in my work, then who else will? Below is a small “map” or simple outline of what I’m working on going forward. ciao guys, see ya in class! Xo

*Table of Contents

*Chapters 1-10

*Some Chapter names include: Riptide, Brotherly Love, Tangled Roots, Oh Heavenly Father, Echoes.

*Prologue or No Prologue?

*Dedication

*Estimated page total: 100

*Final Thesis Presentation

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Mapping Out My Thesis & My Life…

Happy New Year guys! I’m so excited to be back in class and to see all of your smiling faces again! Stinks that it’s still onscreen and not in real life, but hey, I’ll take what I can get at this point. I’m sure 2021 will be kinder to us all! Alas, this is it, the home stretch! I can’t believe we’re on the verge of completing our thesis and graduating with our MA! But of course we still have more work to do before we can officially celebrate. I have no doubts we can do it and do it well! #GoUs! Having the unconditional love and support from this KUWP family has been the greatest gift! You guys, Dr. Zamora included, give me strength, ease my self doubts and push me forward in this sometimes uncertain journey. Believe me it doesn’t go unnoticed. I love you guys and THANK YOU.

Okay, so now back to business! As far as where I’ve been in my thesis voyage so far: I’ve made it past family traumas and hard truths, and past my inner demons and haunting memories. I’ve made it to the other side, full of hope and humbled by my long, yet healing journey through my mental illness. I still have my bad days but the good ones have been out weighing the bad. I pray this healing and peace continues. Always knowing full well, my mental health will ebb and flow throughout my entire life. I’m always hyper aware, and super conscience of this fact but I’m learning to let go and just take it one day at a time. Through writing my thesis so far, it’s helped me build up my armor. I’m ready and more prepared for whatever battles may lie ahead.

As far as where I need to go in my continuing thesis journey I have to push on in creating and naming each of my chapters and deciding what my final chapter will be. What do I want to say and leave my reader feeling and thinking and processing? This question semi haunts me, but I’m trying not to get ahead of myself. I had a lovely conversation with Emily this past weekend and she gave me some great advice. She said to just keep writing and revise later. I plan to do just that with my final chapter. I will continue to write and let it evolve naturally. As I’ve mentioned before in class discussions and during my thesis presentation last semester, I was inspired by the memoir: Heartberries by Terese Mailhot. I’ve been emulating and using her format and style as my blueprint in my own memoir writing process. I will go into more details about this during my upcoming presentation. Stay tuned! Xo

The Grand Finale & Bittersweet Goodbyes…

I still have to pinch myself to make sure I’m not dreaming. I mean the semester is already over?! Huh!? We’ve been battling through the pandemic for close to ten months now!? No way!? I’m still semi in shock, I think. But honestly I’m proud to say that we all got through it. Despite the hardships, stress and uncertainty, we made it through this semester and through most of this chaotic year of 2020! Ugh! Bye Felicia! Again, I stay prayerful and hopeful that 2021 will bring us all more blessings and brighter days ahead! I’m so very sad to see half of our cohort go. I’ve already expressed my feelings on this in class. The ever sensitive and overly emotional Pisces within me can’t contain her sadness, it’s bittersweet I must say. However, I’m so very happy for each of you who has completed your thesis this month. I know it was no easy feat especially during this chaotic time. I wish for you all nothing but good luck and amazing blessings for your future endeavors! I have no doubt I will see many of you as published authors someday soon, and lighting this world on fire with your amazing spirits and talents! I’m a better person for having known each and every one of you. I truly and sincerely mean that. I will miss you guys dearly. I couldn’t picture going through this wild ride that is grad school with anyone else! You guys made it worthwhile. Thank you for all the help along the way. Farewell friends…

Enough of the sappy stuff! I swear I can’t help myself! In my heart I know all good things must come to an end. Nothing lasts forever and life and all it’s moments are transitory. Okay, moving on. For this final blog post instead of writing about my thesis proposal and literature review progress (snooze) I decided to change it up and share with you my structured dialogue answers from our last class. I was in a breakout room with Kevin and we enjoyed this activity. We both learned a lot about each other and the status of our projects. Both of us gained other insights as well. Like what were our mindsets, setbacks, goals and expectations etc. It was an enlightening experience for me. I enjoyed it so much so that I decided to include the questions and my answers as my final thesis blog post. Below you will find the questions which Kevin had asked me and my answers. I hope you guys can gleam some more information about the status of my thesis progress and what really makes me tick! Thanks again. See you in class! Xo.

-Tell me something that’s going well with your thesis: Many things are going well for me which is truly a blessing! But the one thing that has been the most impactful and surprising is my family’s contributions to my thesis project. I was nervous and afraid to not only ask my older brother for his recollections of some painful times in his life, but also having to ask my other family members to divulge past trauma was just as daunting. But to my happy surprise, everyone I reached out to didn’t hesitate to share their stories with me. I was so touched by my older brother’s contribution. I honestly feel closer to him now then ever before. As far as the other members of my family who have contributed to my story, I’m forever grateful and indebted to them for stepping out of their comfort zones in order to share their hard truths with me. It’s brought us closer as well. Thanks to my family, The Seashell has blossomed into more than I ever imagined it could be. Truly blessed and forever grateful for this transformative experience.

-Tell me something that worries you about your thesis: What worries me most about my thesis is that it will be like all the other OCD memoirs that are out there. I have this nagging doubt that creeps in at times making me feel unsure if my story is authentic enough, real enough, or even good enough. Sounds silly, I know, especially since this is a memoir based off of real life events. But at times that self doubt does creep in and halts my progress. However, as of late, thanks to all the progress being made, I’m doing better with building up my confidence and believing in my abilities and most importantly in my story.

-Tell me something you are working towards in your thesis: I think this question piggy backs off of the last question. What I’m working towards is making sure to write in the most authentic way possible. To be conscious of my voice within and throughout my thesis every step of the way. I’m also working diligently in completing each of the chapters of my story. I have yet to come up with a final chapter, or ending, so that’s another element of my process that I’m working towards currently.

-Tell me an area you feel confident in your thesis: This may come as a surprise to you but the one area I feel confident in is in my literature review. Honestly, and I believe I’ve shared this with you as a class, when I was in the darkest days of my illness, I would delve deep into obsessively researching everything and anything OCD. Looking back, yes it was an obsessive and unhealthy symptom of my condition but I was able to obtain so much valuable information about this complex disorder that I was suffering from and was perplexed by. The extensive research I did during that time makes me believe in the validity of the twenty plus articles I’ve collected for my literature review so far. Currently my goal is to continue to collect newer research that is available about OCD. Recently I’ve been reading how new scientific research is proving that OCD is in fact a brain disorder, rather than a mental illness. I’m excited to look into these new and exciting developments further.

-Tell me something regarding your thesis project that you’re looking forward to: As I said to Kevin during this structured dialogue exchange: I’M LOOKING FORWARD TO FINISHING IT! I’m excited to see the day The Seashell is complete! Yayy!

-Tell me something that life is asking of you during this thesis process: Balance! This thesis project is forcing me to find some much needed balance in my life. Between work, school, family, friends, dating and this scary pandemic, it’s been quite the journey to find peace and harmony in my life! Throw into the mix me trying to figure out my next moves after graduation, and it’s become even more clear that I need to find a happy place and space within my head, heart and soul. I need to be 100% balanced and at peace in order to figure out the next direction of my life. Wish me luck!

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Short and Sweet Thesis Update!

I hope you all had a blessed and safe holiday weekend! I sure did enjoy myself and I count my blessings each and every day! This year was rough but it could have been worse. I remain grateful, thankful and prayerful for brighter days ahead! As far as my thesis progress, I took a mini break from it so I can reset and enjoy the holiday. Since we didn’t have class on Thursday I felt less guilty about taking this mini break, we needed it. As far as my plans for this week my goal is to go over the research proposal guidelines and start to really buckle down on it. I’m also planning to work on my literature review which I need to revise and organize. This semester sure is flying by! I can’t believe it’s almost December and we have only a few weeks left! Where has the time gone!? I won’t allow myself to even think about the fact that many of you, my friends, will be leaving us in a few short weeks. I will miss seeing your beautiful faces each week. Ugh! I better stop now before I completely lose it. Damn Pisces in me I swear.

Lastly, I’ll share that I created a outline, which is very rare for me to do. But I need to get organized and fast. The outline is a family tree of the members of my family who I plan to include in my memoir. Besides my older brother, who by the way, has been contributing so much to my project, powerful stuff! I’m forever grateful to him for being so open and agreeing to share his story with me. I will also include my grandparents (that’s as far back as I go) and three of my aunts. All of these special people in my family are important and crucial to the telling of my story. I’m eager to get started on this chapter soon! Well that’s all folks! Short and sweet just as promised! Being that this is the season for giving thanks, I must say I’m so very thankful for all of you! Xo.

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Back to Matters of the Heart.💖👨‍👩‍👧‍👦💞

After two weeks of tirelessly working on perfecting my presentation slides and revising my literature review, I’m back to matters of the heart. This week I’m devoting time to working on my family tree which is a essential part of my MA thesis memoir. A few weeks ago I nervously asked my older brother Gianni to share with me his experiences with anxiety and OCD. You see that is something my older brother and I share. Besides our love for the same foods, pickles anyone!? The same sense of humor and the fact that we look so much alike, and of course share the same DNA from our wacky Italian family, the one thing we also share is our diagnosis of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Why was it important to start with my brother? I chose to start with him because he is the first born in my family. He is the oldest cousin and the very first person in my family to graduate from high school and college. He is and will always be a important branch in my family tree. At the age of 46 he has carved out a very nice life for himself. He works as a PA-C in a reputable drug and alcohol rehabilitation center, is a proud Father, active outdoorsmen, certified personal trainer and a homeowner. He has done quite well for himself and as his little sister I couldn’t be more proud.

I know all of these accomplishments were no easy feat for him because of his battles with anxiety and OCD. He is eight years older then me so I have limited memory to a lot of his sufferings and experiences. Eight years is a large age gap between siblings. We were never in school at the same time and all the milestones he reached I was still far behind. He was always a step ahead due to his older age. Only in our late twenties and when we both reached our thirties did we become closer because the age gap seemed smaller. I finally caught up to my big brother! But from what I do know is that my brother also suffered from the same debilitating symptoms that I did. I needed to know more. I wanted to know more. But of course I was hesitant to ask for fear of being rejected and possibly hurting my brother by awakening old and repressed memories from within him.

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To my surprise my brother was more then willing to participate! He said YES with no hesitation. I was elated! I let out a huge sigh of relief! I told him to write out his earliest experiences with OCD and anxiety. To trace his entire life up until this point in his adulthood. How did it manifest? How did he cope? What were specific memories? The highs the lows? He never hesitated or asked me why these specific questions. He just got to work and a few days ago he emailed me the beginnings of what he wrote. I excitedly opened the email. I began to read my brother Gianni’s words. He wrote it in a casual conversational style. In small paragraphs that gave a timeline of sorts as to when his symptoms started. I was immediately transfixed by his honest and raw account. Reading his words reinforced to me how little I really knew about his issues while growing up. But I knew it wasn’t my fault. I was simply too young to remember. Of course I did have memories of some events and troubles that he faced as I got a bit older but having him write it out in his own words was even more powerful then I anticipated.

After reading what he wrote so far I quickly texted him and said: “Thank you, I already feel closer to you.” He responded with a smiling face emoji. He even asked me if what he wrote was okay. He really cared about this. It warmed my heart as a little sister. Currently he is in the process of writing more and adding to the document. Of course I want him to take his time with it and I hope he finds a catharsis from this experience. I always knew my brother was a talented writer. Ultimately, he chose to work in the medical field but I had read some free lance articles years back of what he wrote about OCD and it was amazing! Yet another thing to add to the list of what we have in common. This MA thesis has taken me on quite the journey so far. A unexpected voyage, not only into research and academics but a odyssey of sorts into getting to know myself and my family better, learning to forgive my troubled past, learning each day to embrace my present and continuing to dream big and have faith in my future. Xo

Time to Step Up to The Plate!

The Seashell (1).pptx

Above you will find the link to my Power Point presentation for my MA thesis: The Seashell. I’m excited to share my work with you guys! I can’t wait to hear all of your insightful feedback. Watching all of your presentations over the past few weeks has been so inspiring. I will be sharing a few more documents apart from the slide show during my presentation on Thursday evening. So stay tuned! In the meantime I hope my slides give you a solid overview of what I have been tirelessly working on so far. What an adventure it has been! What started out as a simple class assignment, quickly blossomed into a deeply personal, passion project of mine. I’m proud to show you what I’ve created so far! Thanks guys! Stay safe and enjoy your weekend! Xo