so I found out a few weeks ago that I had my first actual anxiety attack at the beginning of the year.
I'll trace a few years back. I'm lucky to not have a long history of anxiety. I was a pretty carefree child and teenager growing up. I definitely did not have the picture perfect upbringing (who does, seriously) but I just didn't tend to worry about things. not to the point of recklessness, but in my mind it was more of a whatever happens, happens. and a certain degree of anxiousness can be healthy. you're probably not going to do well in a school/university exam if you're going into it with no pressure at all. so not all feelings of nervousness and anxiousness are bad in their entirety.
I had my first encounters with anxiety in 2014, when I developed a fear of flying, which I think I've talked about before on my website. I am a frequent flyer and 99% of the time I travel alone, which obviously isn't helpful because you're left alone with your thoughts and nothing can really distract you. for me it translates into a fast heartbeat, sweaty hands and just a general feeling of discomfort. some flights are fine for me, some are horrible. whenever I think I'm close to getting better at dealing with my fear I end up in horrible turbulences over the atlantic ocean and it's game over. but it's almost an anxiety I have gotten used to. I know by now that my body isn't actually sick, it just translates my thoughts into something physical. with calming my mind I often succeed to calm my body. breathing methods, looking at family videos on my phone, reading nice texts of my friends, all that helps me distract myself while I'm stuck in that situation.
so come january of this year. I just moved out of london after I finished my MA degree at central saint martins and I'm travelling asia with friends. in my head, I'm having the best time of my life. yes, the future is a bit uncertain with me moving to berlin and setting up a business, but nothing that really worries me. at least that's what I thought.
in hongkong, I keep waking up in the middle of the nights with my arms being numb and tingly, as if I've laid on them for too long or something. that never really happened to me before but I brush it off. also when you're half asleep you tend to kind of forget about it in the morning. I keep feeling a bit weaker than usual but I blame it on a million different things. we're drinking a lot, I might have PMS, different altitude, different food, blah blah blah.
so my biggest mistake to start with was ignoring the red flags. obviously hypochondria is not the way to go through life, but if your body is sending you warning signals you should acknowledge them.
we fly from hongkong to seoul. immediately I forget about my dizziness because I'm so excited to be back in south korea where I feel very much at home. I still have moments of weakness, but because I'm in such a comfort zone in seoul (sounds crazy, being such an exotic country to most), I brush it off again, as I know nothing's going to happen to me. everything seems to be back to normal with my body. after a few weeks, the plan was for me to fly to tokyo. I planned on flying alone and my friend was going to join me after a few days because she still had to work in seoul.
so the way I travel is very spontaneous and free, except for the actual traveling. no cheap airlines that I don't know. I know all of my flight details by heart (to this day, I have never missed a flight by my own fault), I know which terminal. I have mapped out the exact transport route from the airport to my final location. I have all important locations pinned on my google maps. I have a phone charger with adapter according to that country's outlet. all my friends literally shut of their brains when they travel with me because they know nothing will go wrong if they just follow me. it sounds super anal, but I hate flying and taking trains and being squeezed in a public transport with hundreds of people so I'm trying to minimise my stress by just being prepared. I don't want to have to deal with any shit.
the night before I'm supposed to fly to narita airport from seoul, I come home from a restaurant (where I felt dizzy for a brief second but blamed it on the freezing temperatures) and check my flight dates once again, just to be sure. it was pretty late at night and I had to read through it several times to realise my flight wasn't at 7PM the next day, my boarding actually begins in 6 hours; the flight is at 7AM. how did I mess this up? I get pretty angry with myself and my pulse rises. me and my friend go through a stressful hour (bless her soul) trying to figure out if I can rebook, because there was no way of me making it to incheon airport in time, alone (very little people speak english there, the busses weren't running that early, I had no signal on my phone, I would also be in tokyo too early for check-in, like it would have been hell). I get dizzy again and my lower legs feel super weird, but I brush it off (notice how many times i've "BRUSHED IT OFF" by now? yeah.. not good). we couldn't cancel the flight and I ended up rebooking on another flight 2 days later. it was expensive, but there was no other way, really. I go to bed pretty angry at myself.
that night I (unsurprisingly) had trouble falling asleep.
I woke up at 3AM to my heart beating out of my chest, my pulse going way too fast, it felt like someone was stepping on my lungs, my hands and feet were cold as ice, I was drowsy, thinking I was close to passing out.
am I having a heart attack? should I call an ambulance? am I even insured in korea? I had no idea what was going on. so I was sitting on the bed, because I thought being horizontal would make me unconscious (I later learned I should've actually stayed lying on my back with my feet up for a better blood flow) unsure what to do. I didn't want to wake my friend up because she had work in a few hours and I knew that I couldn't be able to tell her what was wrong. at the time I didn't know it was an anxiety attack, so I thought if I can't tell her what's wrong, she can't help me. so I kept doing breathing exercises and googled "how to calm yourself down". it took me over 2 hours, going in and out of panic, until I finally fell asleep out of exhaustion. the following two days I stayed in bed and rested. what the fuck was that?
after those two days, I was ready for my second attempt to fly to tokyo. I knew my flight details, I knew the airline, I now had a simcard, I was ready to go.
the rest of asia I felt fine. I was in tokyo for a week and then back in seoul and had an incredible time, but in the back of my mind I knew I had to see a doctor when I got home. so in germany, I got my blood drawn and my heartbeat checked several times. seemingly, nothing was wrong. I thought I was getting dizzy because I was lacking iron, or vitamin B12, or whatever you're supposed to be missing when you're vegan. but my blood results were all good. so it wasn't my body.
the doctor called me into her room, sat me down and asked me if I was going through a stressful time. the symptoms I had described were typical for a panic attack. I acted surprised, but in the back of my mind I knew what had happened. but I didn't feel stressed? I'm the happiest I've ever been? I've got my MA degree, I'm traveling the world, I'm moving back to my dream city, it still, to me, doesn't add up. but it was a lot of change at once, and that's how my body chose to tell me to slow down a notch. I didn't have a panic attack because I forgot the time of my flight. but it was a trigger that pushed my body over the edge. the doctor gave me the typical advice, more sleep, more water, less coffee, less sugar, more exercise, more moments to reflect.
and that's what I've been doing.
the only thing now is, I fear of going through that again. what happened to me at 3AM in korea. I now get anxiety over possibly getting an anxiety attack. it happened a few more times within the last month (not nearly as bad though) and every time it was self inflicted in my mind. I think it's my body, but it's really just my mind that's causing my body to panic. so now I'm on the hunt of learning how to better control my mind, and how to calm myself down when that didn't work. and to be honest, I haven't quite found it yet. but I'm working on it.