I figured if I share my own personal experiences dealing with anxiety while living abroad, it will encourage somebody out there who stumbles onto my humble area to do the same.Panic Attack 01: I’m crossing the road when a sense of dread comes over me. I feel my heart beating faster and faster. My knees weakening. People passing all around me. My ears ringing. I see the bus and for a split second I imagine myself stepping right in front of it. My thoughts are irrational. I know this. It’s not that I want to commit suicide. I do want to live. I become so overwhelmed where I will be seeing myself in the third person not realizing this is really me. I’m really here. I pinch myself. I take a deep breath. Sometimes it works while other times I rush back home. Sometimes, though, I don’t have that luxury to return home so I hold my breath till I return to my studio apartment and I simply throw up. The entire day I felt like a fish on land.
Panic Attack 02: I’m standing on the platform waiting for the train. I’m restless. I know either somebody is going to push me or I accidentally fall onto the tracks. I’m breathing heavily. I’m shaking something awful. Once I step in the train just as the doors open, I collapse onto the seat (if I can get a seat).
Panic Attack 03: I’m sitting in the cab heading towards the airport. Did I leave my Resident card (I have one for Taiwan)? Did I leave my passport? Will they even accept it? I either keep checking my pockets nonstop or look into my purse thinking the outcome might change. My phone? Where is my phone? I’m tired. I’m terribly tired. I will probably get on the wrong plane. Will I even find the gate? I’m not dizzy due to car sickness but rather my mind is spinning like a tornado in the scenes of the Wizard of Oz.
It’s one thing when I get a panic attack at home but when it happens on foreign land – it gets quite scary especially when I first arrived in Shanghai and not knowing what’s around me only adds on to the anxiety. How I do I learn to cope? I try to look around to find something that calms me, concentrate on it and think “happy” thoughts. During one of my panic attacks, I saw this cute dog and I immediately stopped to simply breathe and smile. It may seem strange but looking at the cute dog was therapeutic and it helped me to march on to embrace the rest of the day.
One time I had an anxiety attack waiting for the train in Taipei and when I stepped inside, I saw these cute illustrations on the floor. I looked at it and smiled. Everything will be okay and you know what? Everything worked out in the end.
Another thing that helps me with my panic attacks is writing down my worries. It takes a lot more energy to write them down than to think them. It does help me calm down and get rid of my irrational thoughts. Sometimes Dawen and I even doodle on my notebook to distract me from my fears. I don’t know how it went from a popular Frozen’s song to a drawing of a guy about to drop his hand grenade. Maybe he shouldn’t, um, let it go. Either that, or it could be a metaphor of me letting go of my irrational thoughts. Yes, let’s go with that shall we?
Having a healthier lifestyle does help with my anxiety – daily exercise routine, staying away from fried foods, getting enough sleep, etc. I try to stay away from coffee when I feel anxiety because it’ll only make it worse. At least, for me. I don’t know about anybody else?
Just because I am content with my life, it doesn’t mean I’m drinking Martinis overlooking the view of the Bund without a care in a world. Having said that, I refuse to let it get the best of me or have it as an excuse to give up. I’ve learned to be at peace with my anxiety.