I walk into the club, my heart is racing as if I just finished running a marathon, what was I thinking coming here in the first place? There’s so many people here. Breathe. I’m out of my element, I don’t belong here. Breathe. There’s so many people here, do they see through my facade? They see it, I’m sure they see it. Breathe. Ergh, did I wear too much lipstick? Is my eyeliner smudged? I know it is. Breathe. Maybe I should have went with a neutral lip colour, or just left it the hell alone, I knew it. Why the hell do I even care?! I can’t even make it through this bloody crowd. Breathe. Seriously, why the fuck are there so many people in here? Why is that stranger looking at me? Breathe. With every inhalation I take, my chest tightens up as if there isn’t quite enough air, my breath quickens. I notice all of this instantly and it only makes things worse. It feels like I can’t breathe, I try and gasp for air like I usually would when this happens but nothing, I try again more frantically with more urgency, nothing. I freak out and my eyes start to water, hands start to numb; not here, not outside. My friend grabs my hand, pulls me to the nearest seat and tells me to take slow, deep inhalations. I think it’s stupid and carry on panicking/focusing on the restriction of air flow going on, clearly I’m dying and I’ve fully accepted the fact that I’ll probably be carried out of here in an ambulance.
However, I decide to humour her in my last moments when she tightens her grip on my hand, holding it hostage like a 500lb grizzly bear. I take deep breaths as she instructs me; her grip loosens and 5-10 minutes later all is semi-well with the world. I have a shot to take the edge off, shove whatever happened to the back of my mind, take a seat like any old normal person in the club and pray that this doesn’t happen again.

Anxiety attacks, they can happen at any time to anyone from young children, teens or developing later in your adult years. The trigger varies from person to person, whether it’s an unhealthy lifestyle, stressful situations. It happens to the best of us, we’re human after all. My anxiety was randomly triggered in my twenties, after a relationship had ended before it could begin. I don’t want to go into immense detail, but long story short, I was devastated; I was a dreadful mess for a much longer period than I had expected. From there on out, every stressful situation that appeared, anxiety came hand in hand.

I still recall first going to the doctor about my breathing problems, one vile doctor’s appointment after another, questions, curious gazes, the ‘hmms’ and ‘ahhs’.

“I don’t hear any irregularities, perhaps it’s more of a mental issue, have you been stressed lately?” she questioned.

“HA! Me? Stressed? Mental?! That’s preposterous. I handle stress well, I thrive on stress! I like a good challenge, it excites me!” I hit back with more interview buzzwords, I was on interview-mode fire! The Doctor smiles in disbelief, eyebrows raised and backs away, showing me the door.

We left it as that, she went her way and I went on Google later that night researching my symptoms as we all do… I narrowed it down to asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or anxiety. Unfortunately, Angina was also another option that never made the list, I consulted my brother and he easily ruled that one out. Still, I didn’t sleep that night. What followed many months later were numerous blood tests, x-ray scans, spirometry tests and still no answer, everything was normal and yet, my breathing was still there.

Perhaps deep down, I knew it was anxiety, I just didn’t want to acknowledge it as a mental issue, however small it was. It was simply easier to cast it aside and diagnose it as something that was a physical issue; out of my control, rather than putting it down to my mind, me, my fault, my weakness. Now more than I ever, I see this negative stigma surrounding any speck of a mental issue, it’s everywhere, small remarks, strange looks, even my denial of it all from the very beginning. Even now, I still struggle with the occasional denial and pretend I have no idea what anxiety is. When I hear it’s name I go running for the hills as if hiding from some form of commitment.

But that’s the thing, we separate the issues of mental and physical sickness as one being more serious than the other, one being your fault, another completely out of your control and real. Yes, physical sickness is clearly visible, but mental illness chips away at you and wears you down from the inside out. Most of all, we need to remind ourselves ‘it’s not your fault’. That’s the only difference. I am and always have been a cheerful, healthy young woman; my anxiety simply appeared so suddenly without warning and is now living in a five bedroom rent controlled apartment inside of me.

Originally, I never wanted to give my anxiety presence, but denying it only worsened my breathing difficulties, visiting frequently and more harder to manage. At the time, yoga was my cheapest form of therapy and sure! It worked for an hour, but it took me another year to realise that no amount of yoga was going to fix the amount of self-denial I was harbouring. The thing with anxiety is that it’s not just worrying at a greater level, but it takes a much deeper root within us all; it branches itself out from the tiny insecurities into a level 205 excessive worrier with irrational fears, panic, absolute perfectionism and self-doubt. All those thoughts? It’s not something you can put in a box and hope to never open again, it is always there trying to chip away at you and wear you down; whether it’s 6 am in the morning asking you “What’s the point in getting up for work anyway?” Criticising your skills, your friendships, that perhaps none of them really like you, maybe no one is fond of you. Maybe it’s all just a horrible game. Everything. It’s the ultimate critic of your life, micromanaging and casting blankets of doubt over every action, every relationship, everything.

If there’s anything I’ve learnt over the years is that anxiety is a part of you. I’ve learnt to tell that anxious voice in my head to settle the fuck down 85.3% of the time anyway, my anxiety is still here and the breathing issues are still there, sometimes there’s good days where I don’t feel it at all, only worrying/waiting/wondering when it’ll rear it’s ugly head once again; sometimes there’s bad days where it feels like any minute now my heart is going to burst through the walls like the annoying Kool-Aid guy. In the beginning I made the mistake of letting anxiety dictate my life temporarily, after all, why force yourself if you’re so uncomfortable right? But living like that when you have anxiety doesn’t help, it only worsens it, because if you’re not scared, you’re not getting better, then what the hell are you doing? Cowering behind everything in fear of triggering your anxiety, anxious about something that hasn’t even happened yet? We’re all afraid and have some level of anxiety, we just need to push through that comfort zone.

Just a few weeks ago I was so anxious about getting in a car again and driving on a motorway when I haven’t driven for over four years. What happened? Did I crash? No. Did I almost consider driving into the wrong lane when getting off a teeny tiny roundabout that would have collided with a lorry in neutral? Perhaps. HOWEVER, I did drive, with a few rookie mistakes here and there. I am alive and well, making Asian bad driver stereotypes a reality.

Later on that day, during peak hours, I found myself sitting there in the parking lot for over an hour contemplating how I was going to get home, absolutely terror stricken, so afraid of driving back with more people on the road during rush hour. I had a choice, sit here and cry about it in a parking lot like a nervous wreck, or drive. I drove home an hour later and continued to do so for the entire week. During the middle of the week I tried getting my brothers to park or drive my car around for me because I still dreaded getting in the car, but both eventually refused and told me that if I didn’t do it now, for myself, I wasn’t going to learn and those knuckle heads were right. Tough, but right. I drove for another week and my anxiety lessened during those moments, somehow driving became more fun, more therapeutic.

When you have anxiety, my kind of anxiety, it’s all a matter of accepting it and working on it, because it’s not going anywhere any time soon. Embrace it, talk about it. Let’s try to be be more open.