A Healing Book | Vanity Fair Italy

Is it possible that sometimes breaking up can make us whole again? Gaia is twenty-four years old, she is financially independent, she lives alone and her future seems to shine with bright promises. But suddenly a darkness descends that oppresses her, depriving her of the desire to work, to see people, even to leave the house. After a visit with a psychiatrist, her response comes: she has a “Borderline personality disorder”. The diagnosis, first accepted as a promise of cure, becomes a prison, together with its codified path, made up of therapy sessions, psychotropic drugs, periodic tests. For an end that does not seem to be “feeling good” but “feeling less worse”. But this book is not the story of a pain. It is, right from the title, the story of a healing.

More than ten years after his very successful debut There is no flea, Gaia Rayneri returns to the bookstore – for HarperCollins – with the autobiography A healing book. The goal: to transform pain into hope (with help ranging from Christianity to Buddhism, from Freud to Seneca, from Foucault to meditation techniques).

Here the exclusive prologue.

The light of pain

I want to share the happiness that I have learned, because it is the most precious thing I have. Just a few years ago, a psychotherapist told me: «You are like a disabled person, without arms and without legs, who is asked to play a normal life. You are like someone who hasn’t eaten or drunk for a week, but you have to run a marathon at the Olympics ». My “recovery” was considered unlikely, and with regard to my future happiness one could at best speak of “remission of symptoms” or their “containment”. Today I am a happy person, I have met a love that I wish everyone, I have a job that I am passionate about, many friends and many interests: so many that I wonder if I will have time to cultivate them all – and I reassure any psychologists that I am not. in a manic phase. I also suffer, like everyone else. But when I suffer, it seems to me that I suffer happier than before, because pain has also found its place. Until the moment when the desire to write this book was expressed in me, the transition from a state so empty to one so full seemed to me a Kōan mysterious: one of those questions that bounce in the head with absurdity. If then it could be so. well, because it had been necessary to cross, or even create all that pain? Now I begin to feel that this book is also, on another level, the story of the pain that I had to go through to write it. Despite the references to psychology and experiences of psychic suffering, this is not a book for professionals: indeed, one of its purposes is precisely to go even beyond the psychological interpretation of things. This is a healing book. The only prerequisite for reading is to be human: and as such, to have felt pain, every now and then or every day. And wanting to be happy, or happier. This is not an outburst, nor is it a tale of depression. I want to talk about happiness, about healing from pain. There. what makes the pain of which I speak can be told is having understood and overcome it. It is the story of my personal experience, which I choose to share because I hope it will be useful: this is why I trust that the reader can exercise non-judgmental attention regarding what I tell. There. what animates me to writing is the feeling that the story of a happiness acquired with a journey into the shadow of the psyche – and a work of deconstruction and reconstruction – can accompany the reader along his path; and perhaps offer a new angle from which to look at things, or at least a feeling of company. It is the story of how consciousness can pass from suffering and illness to a state of fullness and joy, once the mechanisms through which pain is created have been identified – and by identifying every day. It is not necessary to be a spiritual person to read these pages, but some of the methods that I share and that for me have been generators of well-being are the heritage of different spiritual traditions. I want to share them not because I believe they are the only possible ones, but because they have led me to come out of a dark moment, and to build happiness every day. This happiness for me would not have been possible without the encounter with meditation, with oriental wisdom and with that core common to many civilizations of unwritten laws on life and happiness, for which one of the possible names is that of “path of the heart”.

It is a guide to living in wisdom beyond one’s personal condition, in contact with one’s most authentic self, in harmony with nature and with other beings. It is something that goes beyond any religion and dogma, and does not need to be understood rationally: it is an innate heritage that is accessed with intuition rather than with rationality. It has to do with the truth that is inside everyone’s heart. The title I originally thought of for this book was Pain that heals: for me, pain has opened the door to this journey of awareness. The suffering that life put me through was so great that it turned into its opposite. It contained within itself the germ of a call: to overcome pain itself, not to consider it as a definitive term or a failure of life. But like a door, through which the light could enter stronger than before. If that pain had been a slight annoyance, I probably could have carried it around for years and be content with a narrower happiness, resulting from the external events of my life. I believe that the mechanisms by which pain can illuminate or hold prisoners are the same, whether it is a passing disease or something greater. Therefore. I hope that this book will also be of help to those who are not in states of extreme suffering, but normally struggling with the amount of pain that life includes.

* A decade ago, in a particularly intense period of life, I was diagnosed with a Borderline Personality Disorder̀. I hope this book can also contribute to the debate on this diagnostic category, which is still under discussion. It may seem a remote problem to those who are not interested in psychiatry or have no acquaintances with psychologists. In fact, many defense mechanisms – that is, unhealthy strategies that the psyche puts in place in an attempt to protect itself – typical of borderline disorder they are similar to those we experience in adolescence. It is a phase that, more or less intensely, in a certain sense we have all gone through – and which according to some, now lasts up to forty years. “Borderline” deals with extreme feelings, self sabotage and the need for love. It is a pathology that resembles many others, because it shares some dramatic traits, such as depressive crises or eating disorders. The considerations regarding the treatment of this disorder with psychoanalysis are the fruit of my personal experience, and I hope they can be starting points for a debate; or at worst, an example of how things go wrong when they don’t. What drives me to share them is that I have been considered almost a “basket case”, and now have become a happy person. This is why I hope that reading this book can also be a starting point for those who are struggling with existential crises, mental health centers and psychotropic drugs. Happiness for me also passed through the overcoming of the diagnosis: the pain to which he referred was real, but it was a reading of things that forced my mind to reason according to criteria of problematicity, and therefore of unhappiness. Once introjected, for me it was a way of thinking that risked reinforcing the view of things of the same disease. A deeper healing came when I began to sense that if on the one hand I had “fallen apart”, on the other it was also so that something bigger could free itself, and sprout among the fragments. I was like a tree that had lost its leaves, but to be reborn stronger in the spring: it might have seemed only death, but it was a winter that had come to prepare me to become who I really was. Behind what the diagnosis identified as a “symptom” there was not only pain, but an attempt at self-healing of my deep psyche: a hidden treasure, which fear guarded like a dragon. Something that, once cleansed, known and brought into love, could be transformed into a superpower.

© 2022 Gaia Rayneri
Published in agreement with MalaTesta Lit. Ag. Milano.
© 2022 HarperCollins Italia SpA

* Gaia Rayneri was born in 1986 in Turin and lives between Sardinia and a small village in southern England. You have published Pulce non c’e (Einaudi 2009 and pocket 2011), from which a film was made, Depend what you mean by bad (Einaudi, 2018) and Ugone, an illustrated book for children (Rizzoli children). You write for the cinema and draw.


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