CW: anxiety attacks
I sat there staring at the screen; trying to make sense of an incomprehensible dataset at 8:30 pm on a Tuesday night. That’s when it happened. My breathing sped up. The office felt hotter. My body began to sweat intensely and I started hyperventilating, unable to control my respiration.
Although it felt like hours, my first anxiety attack had lasted for only a few minutes. When I finally managed to control my breathing I resumed working, now too emotionally drained to do so.
Little did I know that this was the first of several anxiety attacks. The second time was at home. I had planned to work that day but my family came over so I felt I should sit with them. Mum insisted I make some food for my siblings. Conscious of time, I stuck a pizza in the oven and some chips in the microwave. The lack of effort for food preparation gave a bad impression which left me even more anxious. Inside I thought, not only do I have less time to work, but now I’ve offended my family with the lack of effort I’ve made. Once again, I felt like a failure unable to multi task and juggle several different priorities.
Feeling overwhelmed, I went upstairs to sit down for a bit and compose myself. Instead, the time alone and away from everyone led to feeling even more overwhelmed with all my thoughts and I experienced my second panic attack.
Once I composed myself, I went downstairs thinking I was fine. It wasn’t until I was asked how work was that I began to experience what was my third anxiety attack, this time in front of my sister.
I had been hiding my anxiety for a week from my family only to find that they were actually surprisingly supportive. Both my siblings talked me through some useful breathing/thinking techniques. My brother also took me to the NHS walk in centre so that we could receive a medical opinion and confirm the best course of action.
Later that day my brother revealed that he too has struggled with anxiety in the past. To know this made me feel closer to him; we don’t always talk much so it was nice to share this with him and as a result find him more relatable.
Even though this was 2 years ago, I still struggle with anxiety. My family did accept my mental illness and supported me through it whatever it took. They even encouraged my decision to quit work so that I could take time out for myself and travel.
There are still times when I feel anxious. Sometimes my mum will discuss people who have recently become engaged and rhetorically question why we are finding it so difficult to find someone for me. This has often led me to a dark place where I begin panicking that I will end up alone.
More recently at work I suffered from another panic attack when finishing off an urgent monthly report that my intern had completed incorrectly. Emotionally drained, I stayed on until midnight to finish this report off.
Although I still get anxious on occasion, I have been going to therapy and I am now a huge advocate of talking about your feelings with a mental health professional. Speaking to both an impartial person and a professional has allowed me to understand why I panic.
You see we come from a culture that encourages not ‘airing out your dirty laundry’ and dictates high standards. When we don’t live up to this there is a feeling of failure that develops. My therapy sessions allowed me to think back to who I used to be versus who I am now, before my cultural standards felt heavier.
Younger Self vs Older Self
I used to excel in the creative subjects at school and felt very much at home within the arts field which encouraged me to express myself freely – a nice contrast to my culture which trained me to be more reserved.
As years went on, my interest in the arts took a back seat and I gave in to my culture. Naturally my voice became stifled and I realised one day that through all the ‘people pleasing’ I had lost my sense of self. This led to a standstill because I couldn’t achieve what everyone else around me was. I couldn’t settle down in my work or love life.
Then it occurred to me that maybe I’m not meant to. When I was younger Gloria Steinem was my childhood hero and I had so many life aspirations just like her. I never wanted my own children whilst growing up. It felt wrong bringing more kids into the world when there are so many without food or shelter that I could one day provide for so I wanted to adopt.
Somewhere along the line I became convinced that I would want my own kids, but is that really what I want?
At the end of the day, whether or not I fit into the cultural norm I am living my life so I have to live for myself. Once I regain control over my own life I can feel at ease and not panic about living a life that doesn’t feel like mine. There is still progress to be made, but I have taken positive steps, such as buying my own place and living out as a single, independent woman. I’m confident that there are good things to come ahead.