That Time a Panic Attack Led to a Healthier Me
Shallow breathing, rapid heartbeats and chest pains. Are these the symptoms of love or anxiety? It could be both but from my experience, it's usually anxiety.
KEEPING IT BOTTLED UP
During my adolescent years, I was always considered the friendly, academic and soft-spoken kid at school. I even liked this image; so much that I exerted a large amount of effort to maintain it. However, while trying to live up to this disguise, I was unconsciously and simultaneously living with demons. These demons eventually developed and materialised into depression and anxiety.
I am extremely grateful for having supportive friends and family; the kind who motivate me to be more accepting, loving and (somewhat) affectionate. Nonetheless, for years, I believed that if I opened up to them about my experience, they would see me in a different light. Even then, I remember my mind echoing the thoughts: "You'll become a burden if you tell them" "Your pain is fake". As I rarely expressed myself to anyone, I didn't know how to talk about my constant low mood, lack of energy and how to receive help.
When I left sixth form and entered university, I felt like there wasn't a good environment to be able to talk about my struggles. By that time, my mental health had reached a low point, causing me to avoid social activities, sleep too much, eat too little, and dwell on the past. I even labelled myself as a "miserable" and "lazy" individual.
THE BUILD UP
Flash forward to a regular day in my final year of university. That's when my descent into generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) began. I noticed I had two deadlines a week away, the same week that I had two midterm exams.
In a state of panic, I hastily opened up Trello on my computer, the vibrant project management application, which I used to organise my studies. Once I finished creating a schedule, I left my accommodation and headed to the bus station, patiently waiting for its arrival to take me to the university library.
Five minutes later, I saw the deep blue, double-decker transport. As I stepped onto the bus and scanned my pass, I witnessed a sea of people, all sitting and standing, heading to the same location as myself.
Whilst trying to find a seat, I noticed that my bag felt relatively lighter than usual. Rummaging through the backpack, I discovered I had left my laptop behind. As I stood there on the moving transport, jammed between my peers, I began experiencing an irregular heartbeat, a trembling body and a sudden shortness of breath.
MY FIRST PANIC ATTACK
I tried to calm myself, telling my mind it was just the packed bus, intense heat and passing whispers. However, the battle with anxiety is relentless, overriding your common sense and tricking you into thinking that you’re about to die.
Horrified, my still shaking hands reached for the stop button. It didn't help that the bus was stuck in traffic. Three torturous minutes passed by and the bus finally stopped at its next destination. I hoped off, gasping for air. Disoriented, I reached into my pocket, grabbed my phone and looked up 'Mum' on my contacts. I sent her a text, which read "I love you"; after all, I thought I was about to die.
After that tender yet absurd reaction, I dialled 999, informing them I was having a heart attack. The operator questioned my symptoms, telling me I was most likely having a panic attack. Thankfully, they also sent an ambulance just to confirm everything was okay on my end. The team arrived and examined my heart rate and blood pressure. The results indicated that there was nothing physically wrong with me.
GETTING THE HELP I NEEDED
The next day, I went to the university medical centre, disclosing to a doctor the episode I had, before revealing my long history of battling with depression and anxiety. Once I poured out about my mental health, it felt like the whole world had been lifted off my shoulders. The doctor had created a marvellously open environment where I could talk about my struggles.
Following my appointment, I was given medication and placed on a Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) waitlist. I guess like most endings of a movie, my road to recovery began and a new path had been formed. All traces of my struggles grew into lessons, and by ten months, those lessons transformed into life-changing experiences. The process may be long, the setbacks may be tough but honestly, you will feel like your life is yours again.
It’s vital to remember that most individuals have anxious episodes from time to time — whether it's an upcoming test, financial stress or even getting on the bus. It took me six years to recognise that others do and will understand — which is fantastic. Wherever you are on your recovery, please remind yourself that people do care, help is available, and you will get better, even if the odds are against you.
Overall, it's crucial for people to stop, think, and choose their words more carefully when they talk about someone who's acting differently or always "moody". Please, please, please sit down with loved ones, have a conversation with them, show compassion and create an open dialogue. This can facilitate growth and destigmatise the mental health discrimination we face today.
WHAT I LEARNT FROM THIS EXPERIENCE:
• Always plan ahead to stay organised.
• Anxiety attacks can suddenly arise but it'll always come back down.
• CBT is the most effective approach in combatting depression and anxiety.
• Mental health is just as important as physical health.
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