The first panic attack I had was back in 2015. During an official college trip with a few college friends. Two nights before a national competition where I had to represent my college. Back then, I didn’t even know that it was a panic attack. But I distinctly remember how it happened. Slowly, and then all at once. Like when you slip and trip and the overwhelming feeling in anticipation of hitting the floor would last two seconds, but instead it stayed for hours at a stretch.
My heart was racing. My stomach, churning. My thoughts were all over the place like shattered glass pieces. I could feel my heartbeat in my mouth. I wanted to throw up. I couldn’t breathe or talk or think. And then everything suddenly became blurry. I tried to walk toward my room and fainted.
I woke up in the emergency room, two hours later, surrounded by a lot of nurses. The doctor concluded I was dehydrated and stressed and probably sleep deprived. Nothing major. And I brushed it off too. Thinking it was just my nerves.
But this was just the beginning of my long relationship with anxiety and depression.
Small episodes of panic attacks continued ever since but I just couldn’t understand what was happening until one day when I just couldn’t sleep it off.
I felt a Funeral, in my Brain,
And Mourners to and fro
Kept treading - treading - till it seemed
That Sense was breaking through -
I was crying frantically as I told my parents, “There’s something wrong and I need help. Please just make this stop.”
I was diagnosed with clinical depression and anxiety the next day. I was all of 20. I didn’t even know half of what it meant. But I was miserable. I was suicidal. I had stopped eating. I’d lost 10 kgs in less than two months. And I just wanted the pain to end.
I was put on medication immediately. But no therapy. Probably because nobody suggested it. Probably because neither my parents nor I had any awareness about it. Mental health issues were still a taboo back then in India (they continue to be) so we didn’t tell anybody. Not even my closest friends or family.
I remember waiting in the lobby during one of my appointments, staring at an infographic that talked about spotting early signs of mental illness and asking for help, and thinking to myself,
“Will this heaviness ever go away? Will I ever go back to being normal? Will I ever not want to kill myself?”
After a couple of sessions, it was concluded that I was over-burdening myself with work. I was in the second year of engineering, a course I didn’t want to pursue from day one but was forced to get into by my family. So to escape engineering classes, I tried my hands at everything that was happening around me. From leading an entrepreneurship cell, founding a literary club, working with the state government to organize events of national stature, meeting the Indian PM and biggest business tycoons, playing at the state level, topping an international entrepreneurial course, to almost starting my first venture - I was trying to overcompensate for my lack of interest in engineering while trying to find my footing as a “successful” adult.
I was living the dream.
I had it all. I almost had it all.
While chasing so much, I had burned out. And of course, I didn’t want to accept it!
I experimented with medicines and the moment I felt better I’d get back to working on some project. Eventually stopping the medicines, spiralling down with a relapse, and starting at square one. This time for the worse. This continued for the next 2-years.
At my first full-time job, I had unparalleled enthusiasm, extreme competitiveness, and eagerness to excel. The first few months were good but I was resuming my old habits. Trying to overcompensate. Wanting to do everything. Becoming the best. And the anxiety was back. I remember listening to this one particular song called Pieces by the band Red to block out the negative thoughts. We had a nap room in that office, where I was trying to sleep off the anxiety every afternoon between meetings.
And when they all were seated,
A Service, like a Drum -
Kept beating - beating - till I thought
My mind was going numb -
Come back for part II! :)