Panic Attacks, Anxiety and Existential Crises

The end of SPM was as anti-climatic as I’d expected, save for those last few minutes of Accounts paper two when everyone in the hall couldn’t stop grinning like idiots, me included.

The end of SPM also meant my return to the blogosphere but my conscience wouldn’t let me do any other blogging before I wrote this post. It’s perhaps more of an OCD thing because it’d feel like I was hiding something from the world and I didn’t want that.

Okay, let’s start from the very beginning. It all started during Alan’s Biology tuition one night. Before the tuition, I’d already started feeling a sort of numbness at my chest area but I didn’t give it much thought because it went away after a while and so I went to tuition and suddenly, half an hour into it, the numbness returned and I started to panic. Like, a full-on panic attack. Dizziness, sore eyes, light-headedness, nausea etc. I thought I was going to stop breathing. Do know that I’ve had several panic attack experiences before this but none as impactful and frightening as this. So in the end I had to call my parents to come fetch me because I was seriously freaking out and when I got home, the panic reared even higher that my entire body (my face included) went numb. I couldn’t even move my mouth and my eyes, it was like a muscle twitch but a very long duration muscle twitch in every part.

Eventually, my Mum made me wear an infrared belt thingmabob that encouraged blood circulation and I managed to calm down and things were okay. However, the next day, I woke up feeling absolutely terrified that it would happen again, perhaps in school or any other time, and basically this went on for weeks and induced week upon week of anxiety and inexplicable grief.

In between those weeks, I got advice from Aunty Amelia, who reckoned that all this was caused by my subconscious worry and anxiety towards the approaching SPM exams and also constant pressure and stress over high expectations which I never tell anyone about. It is true, though. It’s like forcing any object under high pressure, and one day it just explodes, which in this case means sobbing uncontrollably as soon as I got into the car one day after school. Since then, I’ve made it a point to talk with my parents whenever I faced any problems, something I usually never do.

And then SPM started and those panic attacks returned again. It happened in the middle of English paper two (which, to paraphrase Teacher Noni, was ironic), Math paper two, Add Math paper two and Accounts paper one, which coincidentally happened to be this morning.

The thing is, I was panicking not because of the papers or the questions or that I didn’t know how to do them because I did know how to do all of them, to be quite frank, but because I’d walked into the exam hall afraid that I was going to have a panic attack…and thus that induced a panic attack. Yes, I know that makes absolutely no sense but I later found out it might also be caused by something which I might have called a panic disorder. A person who suffers from panic disorder tend to repeat panic attacks at places where they have been before. Further explanation can be found in a video which I’m about to post below.

Despite the panic attacks I had during the last few papers, I’d managed to well, sort of more or less keep them under control (under control here meaning not crying/vomiting in the middle of a paper). During the second week of exams, I stumbled upon this video by Zoe, a British YouTuber whom, I was admittedly surprised to find out, had been suffering from panic attacks for nine years ever since she was 14.

For those who suffer from panic attacks too, I strongly recommend that you watch this video because it honestly did help me a lot in putting a name to this thing I’ve been having and making me realise that it’s not something impossible. It’s something that can be worked with and treated non-medically.

Part and parcel of these panic attacks, I think, is also this constant terrible nagging feeling at the back of my brain which does a good job of making me feel terrible. In fact, it feels like amplified paranoia because it demands to stay and I don’t know, it feels like an existential crisis because sometimes I’d just sit alone and worry and worry and worry about really insubstantial fears.

So you more or less can get an overall picture here: worry about petty things, petty things being amplified to “world-shaking” level, start to feel fearful, start to panic. It’s a vicious cycle and it’s honestly so tiring.

BUT, now that all that is out of the way, I’m also trying really hard to fix this problem. I know this is going to sound cuckoo but every time I feel an attack coming, I’ll always have certain mantra words on replay in my mind, like “don’t let in control you”, “you have to be brave”, “you have to be strong”, “this will go away someday” etc which are also jotted down on the notepad app of my phone in case I forget them. It helps to calm me down, keep my mind in check as well as distract me from continuing to panic. One of the main reasons why I panic so easily is also because of my fear of everything. If you’ve read one of my previous posts called “Michelle’s Paranoia 101” or something like that, you’ll come to know that once, a friend of mine asked what I was afraid of and I realised I was afraid of every single fear he’d listed down. I was easily frightened, not to mention the fact that I had a strong sense of paranoia so that isn’t exactly the best combination. So now, I’m trying to rectify that by, I don’t know, generally being tougher and stronger. And also more positive and be around positive people more and try to relax and not overthink every single thing.

I don’t exactly know the main reason why I wrote this post (it’d sounded nicer in my head, but then again, so does most things) but like I said, I didn’t want to be hiding things from people I know. Plus, I wish this was something I could talk to people about normally because I’ve now opted to open up more freely to other people. I guess I just don’t want to be alone in this, you know? It’s always nice to have people to talk to and share your problems with, I suppose. I wouldn’t know, I’ve never had the experience of doing so.

So that is all, I hope you guys don’t think I’m abnormal or anything, I am, it’s just that, and I quote my Mum, “people have flaws and this is yours”. Oh dear, this definitely sounded way more morbid than I’d intended it to be. Well, have a good day, and cheers. x

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Michelle Teoh

26-year-old cynical Asian, book enthusiast and purveyor of fine sarcasm.

7 thoughts on “Panic Attacks, Anxiety and Existential Crises”

  1. Hi Michelle! I’m sorry you’ve been having these panic attacks, they sound awful. I’ve never had a panic attack in my life and so I can’t say that I know how you feel, nor can I recommend any way to stop them, but I sincerely hope they gradually go away for you.

    Remember though that most things are surmountable! Even though they seem difficult, impossible and/or overwhelmingly scary at first, you have come this far, and you have gotten through so many things already, from getting your braces and getting them off, to finishing high school, to finishing your SPM exams! I’m really proud of you for having gotten so far already and I’m sure I’m not the only one.

    Mantra words are super helpful. Whenever I get nervous I think things like “be brave be BRAVE you are the motherfucking fox and no one can stop you now oh boy you are on a ROLL you are so great wow” etc. it gets to become me just rambling off compliments to my own self to build up my confidence and I guess that seems kind of arrogant but it helps sometimes. Also to calm down I would recommend memorising some poems, they’re really good for just muttering to yourself when you want to not be so nervous or you just want to focus on something in order to block out everything else. 🙂

    Okay. That’s all. Sorry this was such a long comment, I didn’t expect it to be so long. I can’t wait to see you in December! :*

    P.S. Maybe this post via John Green’s tumblr might help?

    P.P.S. Congratulations on finishing your SPM exams! The end of my IGCSE’s were pretty anti-climatic too. We couldn’t even like shout or anything because we were still in the exam hall. I just went home afterwards and had a nap I think.

  2. Michelle I don’t know if this helps but I’ve had to endure panic attacks as well. Granted it usually doesn’t happen when I’m in public and it helps when I tell myself positive things and whenever I read or watch positive people. One of the reasons why I like Tom, anyway I guess I’m just trying to make you feel better because sometimes I do wonder if I’m the only who have these panic attacks and I guess it doesn’t regularly happen to me. I oactually gets it when I think about my future and how I can sense its impending doom or when I’m alone because that’s when paranoia kicks in. It’s never good to be alone. Stay strong Michelle and cheers. :))

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