If you had 3 minutes to communicate your truth to 100,000 people what would you say, show, and or play?
This would be my 3 min speech:
My name is Alexia and I grew up in Athens, Greece.
I am very fortunate because I grew up in a great family with parents that loved me and supported me very much and they offered me everything anyone could dream for. I really had the perfect childhood. However, in the age of 7 my grandfather died from cancer. Even though I was really young, I was really close to my grandfather. In the beginning my parents were hesitant to talk about his death and its cause. But they decided to be honest about it and not tell us the typical lie that parents usually tell their young children like “your grandfather went on a long long journey” or “he went to heaven.” They just said the truth: “He.Died.from.Cancer.” I think that was the first time I heard the word “cancer” and the word “death”. I remember in his funeral even though my parents didn’t want to, I followed the crowd after we went to the church up to the point where they buried him. I didn’t understand what was really going on at first but it was definitely disturbing.
After my grandfather’s death, I started questioning almost everything around me. I was constantly over thinking things. There were nights that I couldn’t sleep because I was obsessing about the tiniest of details and role-playing different situations or scenarios about how the future may or may not play out. Therefore, I started developing many many fears especially around death and serious illnesses.
When I was 20 years old, in a span of 2 years, I experienced the death of a really close friend of mine, my mom’s battle with cancer and a major heartbreak. While I was going through these difficulties, I really tried to block all my emotions and all my negative thoughts. Everyone would tell me all of these clichés such as “think positively” or “everything happens for a reason” and I really did try to think positively. I was strong for my family, my friends and myself.
But all these suppressed emotions finally found their way out… So one day, which was probably one of the most relaxing days I had in the past few years at that time, I was literally in a Greek island with my friends on the beach, I suddenly started having difficulty breathing, my heart started racing so fast that I could hear it in my head. I thought that I was having a heart attack. I felt like I was going to die. My friends called an ambulance and I went straight to the hospital. The doctors said that everything was ok and that I just had a panic attack so I went home. However, I was so traumatized by this experience that I was constantly afraid that it was going to happen to me again and again and again. And it did happen. I suffered through panic disorder for 3 years. There were days that I couldn’t even get out of my house because I was afraid of having another panic attack. I felt depressed and helpless.
These self struggles and bad experiences have definitely hunted me for a long time and to some degree tortured my existence, however I think they have definitely shaped me, not only on the negative side but also have provided me with positive attributes. Namely a great sense of empathy towards individuals as well as the society as a whole. I found a way to use that empathy when I came across a humanitarian crisis that was unfolding at a great extent in my home country Greece and which has provided me with a sense of purpose, responsibility and impact. In February of 2016 I went to the island of Lesvos and worked as a volunteer at a refugee camp for one month.
By interacting with people that are experiencing serious loss and trauma I found a way to channel my struggles into something constructive. I could feel that even though my issues were obviously so small compared to the refugees’ struggles, these people really felt that I could empathize with them in a different level compared to other people that had never experienced personal trauma before. We had a different kind of connection. What really gave me strength was the smiles of those children who had lost their parents and their homes; yet somehow, their playfulness and bloom of childhood remained. Being able to give these people a reassuring smile in uncertain times and expressing my deep love and compassion for the refugees’ struggle made me find my inner strength and control.
As one of my favorite Greek writers Nikos Kazantzakis once said “In order to succeed we must first believe that we can” so this experience I had made me gain that vital first step of believing in myself.
I realized that by worrying about something that does not yet exist I create it and every time I feed my fears I’m making them stronger. But, when I don’t obey my worries, when I talk back to them, challenge them, correct them, that’s a win for me.
So the silver lining in all this is not that I completely surpassed my anxieties because they will always be a part of who I am but it’s about adapting, finding new paths to use these anxieties into something effective and really understanding who I am and where I stand.