By M. MONICA
I remember being a brave, independent and strong woman. I would venture out on my own, and go places by myself.
During my college days, I had late dinners after lectures, went for walks around my neighbourhood, and visited shopping malls and mini markets by myself. It was a welcome respite after completing my assignments.
But things changed after I graduated and started working in a leading manufacturing firm. Work was extremely stressful; there were targets and deadlines to be met. I worked late into the night and forced myself to put in extra hours during weekends so that I could clear my workload.
Since it was a big company, there were many employees. I worked hard but nobody noticed. I put in my best, but it went unrecognised. I gave my all to the company, but was not rewarded accordingly.
All the rewards and credit went to those who worked less, to those who pretended to be working hard. I really hated the office politics, favouritism and unappreciative superiors. In the quiet of my room, I cried when I recalled the day’s happenings.
Little did I realise that all the work stress and unfair treatment were affecting me emotionally. I slipped into depression and suffered panic attacks or anxiety attacks.
At that time, I did not know what was happening to me. I grappled with strange feelings and thoughts; sometimes I felt as if I was going insane. I dreaded wedding dinners, going shopping, or driving around.
I felt like running out the moment I stepped into a room and saw a big crowd. If I was forced to attend a function, I would choose a seat closest to the exit door.
If I went shopping and saw a large crowd or had to wait in a long queue, I would panic, feel dizzy and look for a way to escape. When I was driving and got caught in a traffic jam or had to go through a tunnel, I felt like jumping out of my car.
Holidays were far from my mind because I sought refugee in my home; it was my only comfort zone. I didn’t want to step out of my house.
Who could I talk to? How was I to relay my thoughts? Who could understand me when I couldn’t even understand myself? When I tried to explain my emotions and feelings, some belittled me. Some laughed it off and said, “It’s all in your head.”
I felt down and frustrated, and decided to confide in my sister who is residing in Australia. She has a degree in psychology. She never fails to give me good advice whenever I need it.
She said, “Give me some time to evaluate and I’ll get back to you.” After a week, I received a call from her and she told me, “I know exactly what you are experiencing. It’s called anxiety or panic attack. It’s quite common here in Australia. Learn to slow down, and take things easy.”
The next thing I did was to explore this thing called panic attack. I read books and searched the Internet. I found the answers to all that I was experiencing. All the thoughts and emotions which I experienced were symptoms of a panic attack.
I learnt that a panic attack appears without warning. It slowly develops during an extended period of stress. It could take a few months or even years to develop.
Victims of panic attack dread being in public places or enclosed spaces like supermarkets, cinemas and restaurants. If they are forced to go to such places, they would look for the exit door in case they need to flee.
They hate travelling in buses, trains or planes. They hate traffic jams, travelling through tunnels or over bridges, or being in a lift. They feel trapped when they find themselves in such situations.
They are afraid of crowds and even dread sitting in a barber’s or hairdresser’s chair, or queuing in line at stores and banks.
Panic attack victims avoid these situations to avert an attack. Fearful thoughts would crowd their minds. They fear losing control, creating a scene, or fainting in public, and may suffer symptoms such as shortness of breath, palpitations, and dizziness. These irrational fears may last a few minutes to an hour.
Sadly, panic attack victims often have to sacrifice friendship and sometimes even their careers. This can lead to loneliness, low self-esteem, isolation, and depression.
After I understood what was happening to me, I did a lot of reading to learn about my emotional enemy. I read Reid Wilson’s Don’t Panic, and it helped rebuild my self-confidence.
I am now free from the bondage of a panic attack. I can drive around, go shopping, attend functions and enjoy my holidays.
I’ve learnt to slow down, take things easy, and not let stress get the better of me.
According to the Mayo Clinic, there are no sure ways to prevent a panic or anxiety attack. They do suggest seeking treatment, stay with the treatment and remain physically active. Psychotherapy and medication are treatment options, based on your psychologist or psychiatrist's recommendations.
Beyond Barriers is a platform for sharing and raising awareness on disability issues and any chronic medical condition. We welcome contributions from readers who have a disability or any special needs, caregivers, advocates of disability groups, or anyone living with any chronic medical condition. E-mail your stories to firstname.lastname@example.org. Contributions which are published will be paid, so please include your full name, IC number, address and contact number.