To Admit You’re Drowning
As someone who used to competitively swim, I really enjoyed spending time under water. I enjoyed how blurry the edges of my vision were, how everything felt slow and just a bit delayed, and how being surrounded by the element felt against my skin.
I never imagined feeling those exact same things outside my exam room when I had my panic attack and feeling absolutely terrified.
This entire week has been shitty with priorities: every day there was either an assignment due, a midterm to take, or both, and sometimes double that. The beggining of the week has had me hastilly finishing my assignments while studying for midterms on top of attending classes I could barely focus in unless I wasn’t thinking about deadlines. While in theory my bullet journal prepared me for all of the due dates of my school commitments, I neglected to pencil in how anxious I would feel as each day came by and that I would get my period on Wednesday.
The morning of my period I missed my geomorphology lab, mainly because my uterus wouldn’t allow me to move anywhere until I got pain medication in me. The first day of my period is always painful, and I’ve honestly gotten used to feeling the excrutiating cramps and then going about my day. For some reason, despite doing my usual cramp prevention routine of taking advil and keeling over the toilet for an hour, nothing had work and I had begun to feel lightheaded.
I had one midterm to go to at two in the afternoon, which I was determined to go to, but the pain and lightheadedness got to be so much that worrying boyfriend I had been updating rushed home to assess the situation. He found me crouching on the floor after I tried to pack up my things and did his best to get food in me and get me walking. We managed to get me to the building where my exam was via public transport, and the outside cold and the general walking made me feel a lot better.
Outside my exam room, my boyfriend and I sat down so I could study. Hundreds of students waited outside the exam room, conversations here and there about the exam, it was a general stressed out vibe. The professor came around and said she’d be putting up a seating chart as soon as the other class cleared out of the room.
I looked up and found the edges of my vision blurry. I remember hearing three distinct layers of sound: the loud murmur of my classmates as blurry background noise, my boyfriend’s voice sounding slightly delayed, and the sound of my heart pumping fast from I don’t know what. When my eyes moved to focus on something, my vision felt delayed and I had to hold myself because I felt weird and light headed. I started to feel my insides sweating and shaking, under my skin. I looked up at my boyfriend with probably a look of panic, “I can’t do this”.
What followed was my body and mind slowly shutting down as my boyfriend talked me through what we had to do: talk to the professor about missing my exam to get a doctor’s note, and get the fuck out of there. I had rehearsed what I was going to say to my professor seven times before I told her, feeling . She was understanding and let me go, noting on how I looked like I needed to get out of the room as soon as possible.
After an hour wait in the walk-in clinic I had managed to calm down, but I had begun to feel exhausted from all that had happened in the last few hours. Boyfriend and I rehearsed what I would say to the doctor, more so I could internally analyze what happened than for getting a doctor’s note.
I have never been properly diagnosed because bad experiences with doctors hold me back from making an appointment, but the closest thing I feel my personal struggles relate to are anxiety, or at least some form of it. I never saw it as a big issue that would impede my performance in academics or extra curriculars because I’m generally able to regain my composure quickly if I need to, and the fact that I’ve been able to deal with it for so long, why try to change something and have it end up not working?
This isn’t the first time I had stressed to the point of what seems like a panic attack, and the fact that this time I wasn’t able to “just deal with it and keep going” was something that surprised me and made me feel vulnerable. I never really publicly talk about my mental struggles or seek help outside of those close to me for a few reasons, mainly because I frankly thought people didn’t care enough outside of knowing me as a good friend or student leader. I’m involved with a lot of groups and organizations, and nothing gives me more joy than being thanked for the work I do or being looked up to as a leader. I get so much gratitude in the things that I do for people, that I forget myself most, if not all of the time. Along with growing up in a household that didn’t believe in mental illness, I find it difficult to speak up about my struggles or even believe myself that I should seek help. But, nevertheless, I’m trying.
I had wanted to write about this for sometime now, but never really found a good “moment”. I had always wanted to participate with all of those that participated in days like #BellLetsTalk or mental health awareness-like events, but never had the courage to put something properly into words much less overcome the fear of being judged by those who see me as someone who “has their life together”.
Avoiding professional help and internalizing your struggles, you begin to think whether you’re actually struggling and maybe you’re just making it up as an excuse for attention or to be lazy. How immense does avoidance have to be to fully convince yourself that nothing’s wrong for the past five years? The more I avoided, the more I convinced myself that I didn’t need to reach out. If I could do this for x amount of years, I can surely do it for another, right?
I never realized the importance of being open and honest about what I’m facing with until my close friends saw me struggling and did what they can to help. I’m forever grateful for their understanding and giving me the support I needed to get through the day, and makes me wish I reached out to the close friends and resources for help when I needed it previously. Not only did it really show how amazing the friends I’ve made in university are, it validated my feelings and struggles. It validated me.
If I get anything out of writing this, I just hope someone reads and decides to reach out for help on whatever they’re struggling with. Maybe that person is me, and I’ll feel just as fulfilled.