9-to-5 public relations officer for an IT company
Illustration of a woman struggling with mental health problems. (Shutterstock/Chinnapong)
Anyone who knows me thinks that it is impossible that I could have a panic disorder and depression.
On the surface, I am the stereotypical extroverted, cheerful person, who is full of energy and, in fact, has enough to motivate and cheer up others. I had a strong faith and believed that everything was possible. My life was almost perfect — with no broken heart, financial mishap, or other broken things. Things were as fine as they could be for a 26-year-old woman like me.
Unfortunately, everything changes, one by one, and slowly. In the past 10 months, I have been carrying a burden inside me.
Due to my happy-go-lucky personality, I did not realize that I was depressed in these past 10 months. I felt that everything was fine and that I was just overreacting every time I felt hurt or that I was overthinking about my problems. I convinced myself that I was okay, and that things were not bad. I covered the grey cloud under my head with happy thoughts, and since I loved partying, I splashed my wound with alcohol and pampered myself by traveling.
But no matter how far I went or how high I flew, the pain was still there. The post-travel euphoria lasted for only a month.
Then a new cycle would begin: I was in a constant search to find new ways to be happy.
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No physical disruption happened to me within the first eight months. The thoughts and stress just circled around me. But then, the bomb exploded. I was at my gym inside my apartment building, running on the treadmill, when it broke and increased its speed from 6 to 17 km per hour in less than 15 seconds. I could not jump off, so I ran steadily and asked for someone to turn it off. The treadmill would not turn off until someone unplugged the cord. My heartbeat was rushing and I was so shocked. I cried and cried and called my friends.
When my friend picked up, they said, “You should have jumped. Why did you not jump?"
I did not expect that kind of response. I was shocked and could not jump because my body would not cooperate due to pressure and stress. My friend’s response was a nightmare. I ended up crying even more furiously.
I went up to my unit and I tried to calm myself, but I could not stop crying.
When I arrived at my door, I could not find my key and became more stressed and sat down on the floor crying. My heart palpitations made me panic and I only stopped crying because I was breathless.
Fortunately, my neighbor heard me and she tried to help figure out what happened. She sought help from my housemates and they called an ambulance. I felt numb all over my body, tingling, and I had difficulties talking. I could not stand up and move my body. I was paralyzed. It was the first time in my life that I had a panic attack. That was the worst 30 minutes of my life, realizing that I was paralyzed. I ended up in the emergency room.
Ever since that accident, my life has changed. I am afraid of having the same attack: What if it happens to me when I am alone and no one can help? I am getting a panic disorder from my previous panic attack, which was caused by the many burdens that I have been carrying alone.
Other things have changed: now I have a fear of heights. I sweat when I take the lift to level 16. One time I had a fear of the highway. I have experienced difficulties exercising, I am easily tired. The worst was when I got scared of flying when my dad was sick and I wanted to go back home but my fear was bigger than my love for my father.
Other than physical symptoms, my thoughts have made me demotivated at work. I did not perform well in the past two months. I procrastinated at work and in my own dream to get a scholarship. I dropped an opportunity to fight for scholarships because I had negative thoughts and was pessimistic.
I did not hold my problems alone, on the contrary, I shared them with my friends. Here are their reactions:
"Have positive thoughts, you will be fine."
"I have been through this situation before, you will be fine."
"I can get through this, you can also do it."
"Don't overthink, OK?"
All responses sound fine for other people but underwhelming to me. I started to hate my friends one by one because I felt that they did not understand. They have never been in this situation before, why would they judge?
People even said, “Pay me, and I will be your psychiatrist.” I disagree with this because anxiety is not a joke. Many people are struggling with mental health issues and there are many factors that hold them back from seeking professional health, including judgment from society and our inner circle.
I had been struggling until I met my old friend who was actively seeing a psychiatrist. She shared her experience of letting her burdens go by seeing a professional. "We might be thinking that seeing a psychiatrist is too much. We will spend money on some more. But what if we think the other way around; we waste our time by being an unproductive person. How much would we have earned if we were productive?" she said.
In two weeks I was constantly asking myself, "Do I need it?"
One day, I was so excited about a meeting outside the office. I entered a huge empty building, then I cried. I canceled the meeting because I was scared of the building and ended up crying for one and a half hours. I felt incompetent because I was scared of a huge building and this fear was holding me back. I could have been more productive if I had been fine. The panic disorder made me even worse at controlling fear and thoughts. I did not believe in myself anymore.
A while ago, I forced myself to go to the psychiatrist to seek help for my anxiety. When I went there, I was amazed by how the psychiatrist mapped my mind. My mind was scattered and messed up inside my head.
I admitted things that I had been hiding all this time. The most important thing, the psychiatrist is neutral. She is a professional, and she knows what she is doing.
There are many things that we do not understand about the complexity of mental health, despite it being a crucial determining part of our life. Some people struggle with mental health issues, and instead of seeking professional health, they google their symptoms and self-diagnose. This is dangerous, and even more so when we stumble upon people who claim to be professionals but lack competence and ethics and straight-up exploit those who are truly struggling with their mental health.
I am not saying that I am healed, but I wanted to share how things can get worse if we just keep it to ourselves. It is okay not to be okay, and it is not shameful to admit it and seek help. With all the fake psychologists and mental health practitioners around, it is important to see credible and licensed psychiatrists.
It is not a waste. Mental health is an investment. (kes)
The writer is an Indonesian based in Kuala Lumpur. She lives her ordinary life as a 9-to-5 public relations officer for an IT company. She is passionate about solo traveling to explore the undiscovered side of herself.
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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official stance of The Jakarta Post.