Guest Blogger Alaya Pangs shares her experience with mental health and anxiety and how we should all take care of our mental health as a priority.
I found myself a couple months ago in a period of my life where I was at a head with several things. I was in quite a negative space, but I was moving forward as every one does. It was a Monday, I went to work as normal. After work, I attended a language class and thought about all the different areas in my life. I wasn't completely fulfilled or happy in each of them at this point in time. I was doing my homework assignments for my next class, listening to a radio broadcast to do with the recent world tragedies. My thoughts drifted to a personal subject that I choose to avoid my thoughts being rested in. If I move the story forward minutes later I was experiencing what at the time I thought was a heart attack. There was a long period where I believed that I was likely about to die. I couldn't understand what was happening to me. I called on my partner to get our friend, I didn't want him to be alone. I tried to convince myself with all my strength amongst the confusion in mind that I just needed to mentally calm down. But i was faced with what felt like my body fighting against me.
It had all begun with me suddenly feeling physically overwhelmed, telling my boyfriend suddenly amongst the silence the words 'i am stressed' and flooding out into tears. I wondered briefly to myself if I was perhaps starting some sort of mental health problem. I just couldn't understand my sudden reaction and where my tears were coming from. Flooding in tears, confused with my own body, is when my heart started beating so fast, for so long, that it left a large pain in my chest area for a week afterwards. I called NHS 24/7 twice within an hour and at one point described to the woman that my feet, my arms and my head were going completely numb. I haven't ever passed out, but I felt like I had almost lost total control of my own body. The woman on the phone explained to me that I was breathing too fast, and that I could control myself and prevent it from happening if I slowed down. She practised breathing mechanisms with me. Her knowledge and her reassurance helped me calm down.
It started at 7pm that night, I was awake trying to regain control of myself for a further 12 hours that night. The feeling i previously described of my body fighting against me, I look at it now as a choice of perspective. I have given myself a constant reminder that I keep very close to me everyday after my graduation from my Masters, one that reminds me that life is about perspective, the way that you see things, that makes all the difference. I now choose to see my panic attack as my body trying to reach out to me, that I needed to stop distracting myself from the things that I have kept on hold for all/ part of my life. You cannot change the unchangeable, you can't change the past. But leaving the thoughts at that, and not even talking about it, does that not make you trapped in the past? In a prison of your own mind that you have created for yourself. At least, this is what I think may have happened to me.
Following my panic attack, I found it difficult to do things such as go into a crowded place in public. They made me feel anxious and i would burst into tears. For the 'overthinker' type that I am, I try to keep extremely self aware and analyse environments/people/situations constantly. Having my body physically become uncomfortable in a situation that is so typically comfortable for me, that I am so fimilar with, made me confused and feeling lost. I had in some ways, lost myself, and this was the beginning of me trying to find myself again. I managed to get a couple weeks off work. A week or two later from this, for the first time, I tried walking down the street by myself (as opposed with someone beside me). I walked to the end of the road, which is where the street began to have a lot of people. I was getting really uncomfortable. The idea of me being uncomfortable again made me even more uncomfortable. I sat down, and cried on the side of the street. I felt trapped in my own body.
To a lot of people, I was fine. And some time, for a long time, on some days, i was fine. Some days like one day i went to my friends flat to catch up, the sound of normal volume music in a small space, made me have to take some air and control my breathing, with tears streaming from my eyes. This happened three times within two hours that night. I noticed that I would get more upset when I tried to speak, but i couldn't because I was short of breath. I am on a couple medications, one for my heart rate. My doctor assured me that it would takes months to 'be back to normal'. Every day I struggle at some point with an anxious, scared feeling. Some day more than others. Sometimes I avoid some things that I would enjoy 'normally'. I was recently on an airplane and it I was dripping in sweat because I was so anxious, and on 15 minutes sleep. I've never experienced a plane journey quite as nervous at that one (the first air travel since my experience).
Even though it made me feel lost, It's like that age old saying that sometimes you have to be lost to be found. I haven't found myself completely but I have taken myself out of a negative space that I used to be in. I see a therapist regularly, I take more care into what I am eating, I have started working out again (periodically, but still). I have taken myself out of a stand still in my life and started to talk about things that I have shut out. Therapy has helped me try and understand myself better. Or at least, simply talking to someone about things that I have never said out loud. I am starting to take seriously my mental health and i am taking steps to ensure that I keep aware of it. I am seriously persueing things that I've placed on hold for a while. I think I lost myself in a bubble, but slowly and surely I am choosing to start again to become the person that I wanted for myself and have worked very hard to become.
Hard decisions have came from this, endings to things that I deem necessary to move on. Ending of chapters in my life must occur in order to move onto new chapters, as a means to an end. It's sad to walk away but it's far sadder for me to stay put. If I was to be living my last days, I would want to ensure that it was spent doing something that I love. I just want to be happy, fulfilled, and back full of life. We are all human, and we need to recognise when we need to slow down. Even though I've had periods in my life previous to this which seemed to be far more stressful, there is a reason my body reached out to me. Take care of yourself even in times where you feel there is no risk, no matter how immune you believe you may be.
Article by: Alaya Pangs