No, talking about mental health is not about seeking attention. Living with an anxiety disorder in Hong Kong was something our writer had to come to terms with. Find out how below.
Sharing your own experience about living with an anxiety disorder is very personal, but stirring discussion on this topic is vital and needs to be addressed. If there’s one good outcome from the pandemic, it’s the increased openness to talking about mental health, but there’s still miles to go before we sleep. Let us take a quick break from free-flowing brunches, drinking away our problems in happy hours, and buying “happiness” from glitzy malls. Oh, and also, stop scrolling down social media for a bit. Let’s talk about mental health.
Here’s what living with an anxiety disorder is like.
It’s not all “in your head”
Hands-up if someone has ever told you to get over your anxiety or depression because it’s all “in your head”? If it’s all in my head, then care to explain the palpitations, headaches, sweaty palms, upset stomach, shortness of breath, and sleepless nights? Mental health is just as important as physical health.
There was a time when I didn’t even know what was wrong with my body.
I Googled all things from “heart disease symptoms” to “lung cancer symptoms”, and “brain tumour symptoms”. It was a downward spiral, to say the least. I went to clinics and insisted on getting multiple tests done – the tests always said everything was fine with my body, but it never felt so. Then, I Googled the symptoms of anxiety… Bingo.
Panic attack – a near-death experience?
I couldn’t breathe. I felt completely disconnected from my surroundings. My heart was racing. I was sweating like I was getting baked in an oven. I thought: “Okay, so this is it” and my body gave in. I curled up in the fetal position not knowing what to do. After some time it was gone.
Did I just survive death?
Again, with my good friend Google, I figured I had experienced a panic attack. A couple of weeks later, it happened again, but this time inside the MTR, and from then on I was too scared stiff to step outdoors, worried I would have another one. This, in turn, made me spiral into depression – I shut away friends, ditched classes at University, and stopped doing the things I genuinely enjoyed.
What pained me most was people telling me that it was just my thoughts and to get over it (because for the most part I still looked “okay” on the outside).
Anxiety is strength, not weakness.
I was battling with my inner demons for a year until I finally sought help from a psychiatrist and started making regular appointments. I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder: agoraphobia with panic attacks, and was prescribed pills. A younger me would’ve seen seeking help as a sign of weakness (how foolish!) but over time, I learned that dealing with chronic anxiety and pulling yourself out of dark thoughts takes great strength, and sometimes you need professional help to do so.
Make peace with your demon
I sometimes marvel at the fact that a few years ago, I couldn’t get out of my bed, and now I go to events to share a table with strangers for dinner. No, my anxiety didn’t bid farewell to my life completely and shoot up to the sky like Mary Poppins. It’s definitely still here, with me, in me.
With time, I just figured, to deal with your inner demon, you need to make peace with it. Separating your mental disorder from yourself and treating it like an enemy only makes matters worse.
How to be supportive
I wouldn’t mind if you skipped all the way to this part of the article, because well, this part is highly crucial. The purpose of writing this article was not only to share my experience about living with anxiety disorder but by doing so, help people feel more comfortable sharing their experiences to stir a wider discussion.
But what good is speaking up if you’re not going to be supportive? Here are some ways to make people feel at ease when they’re experiencing deteriorating mental health. Here’s what to say/ask people facing mental adversity.
1. How are you feeling now?
2. How can I help you feel better?
3. I’m here for you.
4. Your feelings are valid.
5. Come here, let me give you a hug.
6. Thank you for sharing your feelings with me.
7. Take your time.
8. Remember that you are loved and you can count on me.
Living with an anxiety disorder isn’t easy. A simple reassurance goes a long way, and sometimes it really is all we need.