Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Hesitant to break the wall...

Image taken from Google Images

A few friends who read my blog posts about my panic attack on Friday have advised me that I should tell my friend, Yong-un that it was in fact a panic attack. He helped me, took me to a pharmacy and was with me till I was back to my old self. He's one of my few friends here who I've shared quite a bit with... except the fact that I have panic attacks.

I've been thinking about friends who've been with me during an episode. I can't speak for others, but I feel that if I have an attack when I'm with a friend who tries keeping me focused, I feel a bit different towards them after it. In the heat of the moment of an attack, I'm at my most vulnerable state. There are different kinds of panic attacks. With mine, I become extremely frightened, my shoulders and neck lock in and I feel like a heavy dark force is enjoying a roller coaster ride in my body. I feel like I can't control my tongue and I lose my speech for a few minutes. My body, mind and spirit separate and I feel helpless.

Can you imagine being perfectly fine with someone and within seconds, you're in the state that I've just described above? This is what happened on Friday evening when I was out at dinner with 9 other teachers. Yong-un took me away from the rest of them so they didn't see me at my worst. I don't know how he [Yong-un] felt after seeing me like that, but he's one of the few - and the only one in Korea - who's been with me during an attack. For me, it's like he's seen a side of me that I've tried to keep 'secret' from my Korean colleagues and friends.

Since it happened on Friday evening, I've been thinking of telling him about this condition. I'm so far away from home - my family, friends and everything else familiar to me that I guess it wouldn't hurt to tell one person about it - in case it erupts again. Of course he won't be able to do much about it if I'm alone - and trust me, having a panic attack alone is enough to make you scream. I've had it with no one around, and all I can do is cry and tell myself that it will just be over soon. I imagine my doctor's voice telling me, "You can't die from a panic attack" and within a few minutes, I'm back to normal...but with tense muscles and feeling exhausted.

Then again, this is my third year here in Korea, and so far I've been fine.

So this morning I saw Yong-un and asked if he had time to talk. He said we can talk tomorrow afternoon. But now I don't know if I should tell him. Part of me wants to, but another part of me is scared of judgment. By now you'd have guessed that I'm pretty open about my panic attacks. I think many people are misinformed about this and just like others who suffer with things like cancer or diabetes - many of them want to create awareness. This is what I want to do about panic attacks.

As I blogged on Friday evening, there is still a stigma attached to this condition and people don't realize how common it is. Unfortunately, I'm living in a society that believes if you take medication for your mental well-being, you're "crazy". Generally, Koreans don't believe in therapy, like seeing a psychologist or psychiatrist. I had this discussion with a Korean friend, and when I asked her, "So what do people do when they're depressed or need to talk about something serious?" she replied, "They drink" - of course, this is just a generalization.

Before I came to Korea as an English teacher in 2007, I was accepted at a particular school. I had a telephonic interview with my new co-teacher and everything was good to go. Until they saw my medical certificate with my anti-depressant medication listed on it. When they asked about the nature of the drug, they were hesitant about hiring me. I got a call from my agent saying that they'd rather not take me on. Just because I was taking an anti-depressant drug for my panic attacks. I was more than determined not to let this condition take over any sphere of my life.

If you ask me, with the amount of stress we are all facing these days, I'm surprised that it's not mandatory we ALL take anti-depressants! Speaking of which, I weened myself off it shortly after I arrived in Korea. I hate taking any kinds of medication and I was pretty chuffed that I got myself off it. (Mum wasn't too impressed, though!) It can be dangerous for some people who depend entirely on that pill.

It's just after 8pm here in Korea, and I'm thinking if I should tell Yong-un tomorrow. Will he treat me differently? Will he feel like he has to walk on eggshells around me? Maybe he won't want to go out with me anywhere anymore? I may have friends here in Korea who are also like my family, but I must always remember that they only know me for the past 2 or 3 years. And for many people here, I'm just "Sheetal, the Foreign / English Teacher" Many don't know that I've been writing for the past nine years. That I have a Journalism degree. That I had an ordeal leading up to my first attack in 2003. That I have so many wonderful friends who I love and who love me back home in South Africa.

I have no history with anyone here, and I suppose this is what I miss the most about being seven time zones away from my family and friends. I can't just bring up a conversation starting with, "Remember when..." or "You know so-and-so..." We all need to talk and communicate. (Hmmm, some may argue women need this more than men, but anyway... ) We are social beings and if you know me, you'd know I can be a chatterbox!

I try to wear a smile no matter how I'm feeling. It gets tiring doing this and everyone's gotten used to seeing that side of me. So when I'm down & out, no one really notices. Maybe it's time to break down the wall just a bit and allow someone in for a change. I'm thinking of things like, "But he [Yong-un] already has so much on his head. He's not responsible for me." But he, himself said (on Friday, actually): "I'm your friend" and friends are meant to share things like this, right?

What do you think?


Ken Wilson said...

Hi Sheetal,

I just discovered your blog today and I must say that is the most honest and open post I've ever read, and I think it should resonate with a lot of people who work in education. I worked as an ELT teacher for many years and experienced something more like serious exhaustion in the classroom rather than panic attacks, but then I joined an educational theatre company. I wasn't a trained actors, and suddenly I was working on stage in some very well-equipped theatres with excellent but very strong lights. One day, in a sketch, I loooked at another actor, forgot my words and got a terrible sense of shock - something I now realise was a panic attack. The next day, in the same theatre, at exactly the same moment, it happened again. It took a couple of weeks on tour before the feeling left me.
Some time after this, I read a book by Simon Callow about acting, and he talked about exactly the same feeling, and he discovered that the stage-lights were partly to blame. And the panic occurred at the same moment in the show.
Whilst the lighting can't be the reason for a panic attack in a teacher, maybe the answer lies in some kind of repetitive action which causes the teacher serious anxiety. I have no research dox to back this up, but I thought I would mention it. I'm going to RT your article on twitter, because I think more people should read it.
Best, Ken Wilson

Nicki said...

That's hard.

I think you should tell him. However, it's easier said than done. Maybe you would feel better, otherwise, you wouldn't blog about it. Maybe you should just e-mail him about it cause you're not sure how to tell him in person.

I do think it has a lot to do with stress, you are away from your family, in a foreign country.

I really don't know what to tell you. Hope someone would have a better suggestion than me. Take care.

Nicki said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I think you should tell him a little bit at first. He knows something was wrong, so he probably wonders what it was. You want to tell him, yet you are afraid of negative consequences. Maybe if you tell him a little bit about it ("sometimes I have emotional reactions. thanks for helping me!") and see where it goes from there? I hope this perspective helps you to start talking about it with him. Of course, he saw that you were having an episode and he helped you, so he is probably a true friend who will support you no matter what. Good luck. I wish you well.

Shaalini said...

I would say that if you're nervous just tell him a little bit about it and keep it fairly light.

I think it may be a bit daunting to know the full history and details in one go whereas a little bit of info over a space of time might make it easier to cope with...

Good luck!

Unknown said...

Thank you sheetal, for sharing the personal matter. You are realy a brave girl, n i must say that you got a very good heart n lots of feelings filled in.. In my opinion you should talk with him, and explain to him n slowly make him understand it. And u can tell him that u sharing it all with him cos as a friend u trust, respect him. And v know the value of trust n relationship in life, so do he. He sounds a good friend n person. If he realy is, he wil undrstand and be there for u whenever u need him. u are away frm ur friends n family, and now you got a friend there to share with, so its ok to break the wall. That way u will feel much lighter, safe and confident. And dont forget even 7times zone away, but u got lots of ur love ones are here for u. Always. Take care.

Sheetal said...

@ Ken: I've already told you how much I appreciate you reading this & thank you for the RT! I do think that the stigma on it needs to be lifted. Because of it, people are too afraid to talk about it. Thank you again :)

@ Nicki: I did think of e-mailing, but I think I would rather be face to face. Thank you x

@ Anonymous: I agree with what you've said. I will tell him a bit & see where it leads to. Thank you :)

@ Shaalini: Absolutely - it would be daunting to know it all in one go. Thank you x

@ Chetan : I can only always say Thank You to you for your kind and heartfelt comments (each and every time) I really appreciate the time you take to read my writing and comment on it. I will take your advice as well.

* We still haven't spoken yet. We were both busy today so never got to it. I'll definitely blog about it if & when it does happen.

THANK YOU, everyone!

Matthew Wagner said...

Thanks for your posts Sheetal. As a former sufferer of anxiety, panic attacks, and agoraphobia, I must say that my experience has been that it can be incredibly freeing to tell someone about the condition. It can be helpful to frame by speaking to the physiological process of a panic attack and what happens to the body. Sometimes when you can point to what's going on physiologically during a panic attack it is much easier for people to get their heads around it.

Sheetal said...

Hello Matthew,

Thank you so much for visiting my blog & reading my post. It's comforting to know and speak about it to someone who understands, isn't it? :-)