April 24, 2020
How Panic Attack Changed My Life

It was my first ever panic attack and it has since changed my life for the worse. I now constantly fear having the same attack again.

by Nana Sagala
English
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Anyone who knew me would never guess that I could suffer from panic disorder and depression. As an extrovert, I used to be a cheerful person, full of energy. I felt like I was born to cheer others, and I loved to motivate others. I used to believe that everything is possible in this world. My life was far from broken – neither financially nor romantically. In short, everything had always been fine in my 26 years of life.

But everything started to change slowly over the past ten months. I felt as if I was under mental burden, but because I used to have a happy personality, I did not realize that I had a problem. I convinced myself everything was normal. Perhaps I was just overreacting every time I felt hurt or wallowed in my problem. I imposed happy thoughts over the grey clouds inside my head. I drowned my pain with alcohol and by traveling. Still, no matter how far I went, the pain remained. The happy vibes faded away after a month, and I would keep on looking for other ways to make myself happy.  

And then something happened in the eighth month after the unease started. I was at my condominium’s gym running on the treadmill, when it broke. I had not pressed the speed button when the treadmill accelerated from level 6 to 17 in less than 15 seconds. Instead of jumping off of it, I continued running while pleading someone to turn it off. But the treadmill continued at that speed, until someone unplugged it. It left me in a state of shock.

My heart was still racing as I called a friend. The poor connection failed to connect the WhatsApp call at first. On the second attempt my friend responded: "You should have jumped. Why didn’t you jump?"

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I did not expect to hear this kind of reaction – not when I was still in shock. Yes, perhaps I should’ve jumped, but under such pressure, our body does not always do what is needed. My friend’s respond made me cry even more.

I was still crying as I went up to my unit. My attempt to calm myself down did not succeed. At my apartment door, I could not find my key, which made me even more stressed. I sat down on the floor and cried again. That’s how I realized that my heart was palpitating and I was becoming breathless. I had to stop or I wouldn’t be able to breathe.

Fortunately, my neighbor heard me and with the help from my housemates called an ambulance.  My body felt numb and tingling at the same time and I had difficulties talking. I could not stand up and move my body and it was the worst 30 minutes of my life. I ended up in the emergency room.

It was my first ever panic attack and it has since changed my life for the worse. I now constantly fear having the same attack again. What if it happened to me when I was alone and there was no one to help? Also I have since developed a fear of height. I would sweat when I took the lift to 16th story. I dread being in the lift alone: what if I get stuck? I fear being on a highway. I find it difficult to exercise, feeling easily tired. The worst was when my fear of flying defeated my longing to go home and visited my ailing dad.

I have also grown demotivated at work. In the past two months, I have not been performing as well and I procrastinated a lot, including on my plan to pursue a scholarship. Eventually I dropped the scholarship opportunity because of the negative thoughts in my head.

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When I shared my condition to my friends, their reactions disappointed me:

"Have positive thoughts; you will be fine"

"I have been through similar situation before; you will be fine"

"I could get through it; you can also do it"

"Don't overthink, OK?"

I started to hate my friends because I felt they do not understand me. Eventually, I met  an old friend who told me she was seeing a psychiatrist, and after some thinking I decided to see one. In the beginning, I couldn’t make myself go into the huge building. I canceled the meeting and ended up crying or half an hour. I called my friend to talk about how incompetent I felt. The panic disorder has made it so hard for me to control my fear. I do not believe in myself anymore.

When I finally went to see the psychiatrist, I was amazed by how she helped map out my scattered mind  She was a professional and she helped me open up about the things I had been hiding all the time.

I am not saying that I have been healed, but I wanted to show you how things can get worse if we keep everything to ourselves. It is okay to not be okay, and there’s no shame in seeking help in a professional and properly licensed psychiatrist or psychologist.

People would joke, “Just pay me, and I will be your psychiatrist,” but anxiety is no joke. So many people hold back from seeking professional help because they fear the stigma and judgement. But if we could spend money on a phone with a good camera, why wouldn’t we invest in our own mental health?

Nana Sagala is a Batak in Kuala Lumpur Malaysia, who has just passed the critical age. She lives her life to the fullest as a Public Relations in an IT company.