Have you been through a panic or an anxiety attack? Have you seen someone go through one? If you have then what I am about to share is as stale as last week’s news but if you haven’t, then hold on tight as I bring you on the roller coaster ride it truly is.

For someone struggling with mental health, depression with stress anxiety mainly, something as simple as a meeting getting pushed up earlier by two hours can be the most daunting experience that can and will cause a major breakdown. It was a normal Thursday morning. I had the day planned out; complete the work for the day, file in the claims for the month, prepare for the meeting by 2pm, and get all the post meeting paperwork sorted out, and go home. Simple right?

Well, since everyone was free at the time, the meeting got moved up to 12pm which means I cannot file my claims by 12pm even though it is halfway done since I must prepare the things for the discussions. It’s ok, I just have half more to do anyway so get by the day. During the meeting a few things came up that needed immediate attention and it was not a “Me thing” so I got right to it. Priorities.

I usually go home at 6pm. I was already delayed by an hour. I quickly got to work. My anxiety at this point is already bubbling. I ignore it. I realised very quickly that I had misplaced my half-done paperwork. Now I start panicking. I start searching for it all the while trying my hardest to keep calm, but my brain is fixated on the ticking clock. Time is running, my room is getting messier by the second.

Now I got myself to pull together for just a slight second to say to myself, “hey, it’s ok. Let’s not waste more time, just start over”. So, I am on the verge of a meltdown, but instead of collecting myself, I headbutted my stressor in hopes of making it go away. Now I am doing it, but I keep losing track of things, messing up the dates, missing out on some. All just piling on to the anxiety and to a point nothing made sense anymore and all I remember was crying while gasping for air to breathe. It got so hard as if I forgot how to breathe.

And then, it stopped. The ticking clock, the fear, the need to do it. I was so disassociated that nothing mattered. It doesn’t matter that I don’t get my claims on time, it doesn’t matter if I get paid, it doesn’t matter if I get an earful for the tardiness. I just dissociated. I turned myself in for the night, but I couldn’t sleep. There was utter silence. Almost like being in a state of suspension. I guess it was my mind’s way of telling me to silence the noise.

After what felt like a couple of minutes to me, I got up still in a zombified state, looked at the time and it was already 3am. I was staring at the bottom of my cupboard for nearly 2 hours and didn’t even realise the time was going by. I sat down to give it another go. I got it done. I submitted the claims in the wee hours of the morning. Then I got to cleaning up the room and picking up after the mess I made in my heightened state. As I picked up, I also analysed the whole situation and processed it.

I was not mad that it happened. I was not guilty that it happened. I wasn’t feeling anything to be honest, but I was proud of myself to get over it. I was proud that I was able to function. I was proud that I was able to rationalize it and all the negative thoughts that came my way. I was proud that I did not beat myself up over it. I was proud that on a subconscious level, I knew what I had to do. What I was most proud of was that I knew what was happening.

I am Rozana Anthony, an assistant counsellor working at a private psychosocial rehabilitation centre. I have a bachelor’s degree in Psychology, and I didn’t always know what was happening. Which is why it is important to have a good support system and to communicate your worries. It will increase your chances at getting help or even helping you connect the dots. I have gone through a lot growing up; losing people I loved unconditionally – those who loved me to the moon and back, bullying, dysfunctionality at home, and all of it to a great extent, contributed to a snowball effect.

Please don’t take me wrong, I have a great family, but families have dysfunctional patterns that have been carried on for generations. It is not that they are ill intended, it is just that some methods are not relatable to who we are now and to modern times. The only way to break such cycles is to educate and arm yourself with better, healthier patterns. Even doctors fall ill, and even the best of psychologists have shadow sessions, right?

I know I get upset, then I detach. It was a coping mechanism I had inevitably grown up with especially since it was hard for me to open up to others. Over the years, especially the past year, I did a lot of inner work with help from a lot of people from my centre who took the time and effort to help and guide me to better understand myself especially Dr Stephen Jambunathan, Mr Bala and Ms Melanie.

They highlighted things which should not be considered norm. Things which I said to myself that it is ok, they made me realise that they were not. They constantly looked out for me and offered a hand to help if and when it was needed. They helped me see things from an insightful perspective. I am glad that in a journey to help others lead a healthier life, I have had begun a journey of mental health of my own. Every day is a revelation; a puzzle to be solved. The high is rewarding. The process is long, sometimes heart wrenching, but when you have faced the storm, the calm after is beyond words.

For me to have broken down what had transpired that led to the episode would have flown right through me a couple of years ago. Heck I would even know if I had an episode. I am lucky to have a good support system, may it be via friends who give me the space to go M.I.A without judging me, family who constantly motivate me to do what it takes to reach my mental health goals, and even the most supportive bosses who do their best to ensure I submit in my claims on time and constantly push me out of my comfort zone cause they see my potential even on my lowest days.

Mental health is as important as any other aspect of us. Good mental health is vital to have quality of life. Some of you may feel that you are lacking if you seek therapy or need to be medicated to function. I, myself am seeking treatment. Let me break this down for you simply. I take medication for my blood pressure so that I don’t one day suffer from a stroke or drop dead due to heart failure. I also take medications for my depression to help me get through the day without a grey lens.

One day, my pressure would be optimized, and I can slowly taper off my medications. One day my mind would be able to produce the chemicals needed sufficiently on its own and I would be much wiser in terms of healthy coping mechanisms, and I can slowly taper off my medications. As the Executive Director of my centre stated once when I was finding it difficult to accept my condition, “It’s always good to have an umbrella ready when it rains. Medications are just a safety net that protects you through your journey of mental health”.

It is not too late to begin your journey of self-discovery and recovery. Sometimes the only way out is through, and you don’t have to do it alone. Reach out.

Guess what, as I organized, I found the half-done paper right where I kept it. Inside my laptop bag. The bag that I checked 5 times. Yes, you can facepalm yourself. God knows I did!

Ms Rozana Anthony is an Assistant counsellor working at a private Psychosocial Rehabilitation Centre in Jalan Templer, Petaling Jaya, Selangor.

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