This post was in my drafts for so long but I’ve never published it until now. I’ve edited this numerous times as there’s always something that comes to my mind which I think I needed to add into it. I want this post to be as detailed as possible, to breakdown my journey of this battle which I think is very important to be discussed specially given the situation that we are in now. So here I am, baring everything to you.
How It Began
It was around September 2018 when I started having sleepless nights, I couldn’t get more than 4 hours of sleep because I kept thinking about work.
“Did I reply to that email?”
“Have I sent the documents to the client?”
“I should call the supplier first thing tomorrow to follow-up on that.”
I was basically making mental notes throughout the night of the things I should do at work the next day.
It was very busy at the time because I was by myself in our 4-person team due to unavoidable circumstances (sickness, business trip and personal holiday). I didn’t ask for help from other teams because our work was very different from what the others were doing and I thought nobody can help me anyway. I actually preferred doing it all myself instead of relying on someone who most probably wouldn’t know what to do nor how to deal with what we’re doing.
Every morning, I felt so energized even with only 4 hours of sleep. When I drink my morning coffee my heart is palpitating, my hands are shaking, I have shortness of breathe and I have very cold sweat. It passes though, I will usually take a few deep breathes in the morning and then it will all be gone so I’ve put it all down as “I’m just too excited to go to work because I’m such a dedicated employee”. I didn’t realize I’m already having anxiety disorder.
When you're feeling anxious or scared, your body releases stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol. This can be helpful in some situations, but it might also cause physical symptoms such as an increased heart rate and increased sweating.
Note: This didn’t happen during that time alone. I realized that I’ve been having those symptoms whenever I’m stressed at work. I remembered going through the same things every morning when I was still living in Dubai so it didn’t just happen overnight for me. These are all recurring symptoms. But I’ve never had what happened next before.
It continued on for a few weeks even if I’m no longer by myself at work. Then teeth grinding at night followed, my jaw would be very sore every morning because of it. So sore that I could barely open my mouth to sip my coffee. Shortly after, I started having headaches as well. Bad headaches. Headaches that will make me stop everything that I’m doing and lie down.
I waited for everyone in my team to come back to work before I finally went to the doctor to have myself checked. So a month has already passed with me having all these things every morning and it was really bothering me already as it was getting worst. I was hoping it would be as easy as the doctor giving me a pill for my headache and shortness of breathe which doesn’t only happen in the morning anymore, it’s throughout the entire day.
“I want to eliminate stress first before we check for heart problems.” The doctor said. “So I’ll advise a week off work from now and we’ll take it from there.”
It wasn’t what I was expecting to hear and my reaction was to cry and actually have a panic attack at the doctor’s office. I felt like it’s too important for me to be at work and I don’t want to leave my team mates by themselves. The doctor tried to calm me down and immediately prescribed a medicine to help me with my heart palpitations.
I have a very strong personality, those who personally know me can attest to that. I feel like I am actually between a thin line of having a strong personality and just plainly being a b*tch and I have to admit that I may have crossed that border one too many times. I’m not afraid to say what’s in my mind and I’m also not the kind of person who’ll let other people take advantage of me or the people I care about.
So to be told by a doctor that I’m stressed is such an unwelcome diagnosis. At the time, I thought getting stressed is a sign of weakness and is just a bullsh*t excuse to miss work. I mean, who isn’t stressed at work? Everyone is so why should I be medically diagnosed as such?
I’m not weak, it’s impossible for me to get stressed or have anxiety disorder so I was in denial the entire time. I’ve never taken it seriously and have been asking my superior if I can go back to work earlier which they’ve always rejected. I was advised by the doctor to be off for a week and I must complete it otherwise, if something happens to me at work then my employers will be liable to that. So going back to work was out of the question.
That first week, I didn’t do any of the things the doctor advised because I thought I was fine. I’m not stressed and I’m definitely not weak. Stress is for sissies and the doctor made a mistake for saying that I am. She didn’t know any better.
After completing that week off, I was too happy to go back to work. I was happy to see my colleagues again and was just too excited to check my mailbox and start working right away.
I don’t really know what happened nor what triggered it but I started having a panic attack right away in front of everyone as soon as I checked my mailbox. It was the first panic attack that I’ve had in public. I didn’t know how to deal with it. I think at some point, I was having a panic attack because of the panic attack. The work day hasn’t even started yet and there I was – shaking, sweating and not able to breathe. I was advised to go back home, I went to the doctor again who told me to take another week off. It was then that I took it seriously.
The following days were the dark days, my self-esteem’s been wounded because of that belief that only weak people suffer from these kinds of things. How can too much work actually have this adverse effect on my health? It’s just work, I couldn’t believe it! I couldn’t believe that work can actually bring me down because I’m that weak and I wasn’t as strong as I thought I was.
I spoke to a family member about it who made the mistake of telling it to other family members which I didn’t appreciate. I was vulnerable at the time and didn’t want a lot of other people know what I’m going through, I was still trying to protect my self-esteem or what’s left of it and didn’t want others to know that I’m actually not the strong person that they knew me as.
It also didn’t help that another family member’s advise to what I’m going through was to tell me how she faced more stressful situations before but never had any mental health problems whatsoever. To me, it was a testament of how f*cking weak I am.
So I kept it all in. I didn’t talk to anyone else because I was afraid that people will judge me for being so easily damaged.
It's worst at night
Nights were the hardest, when the husband is sleeping and my mind is wide awake. Our brain works in very mysterious ways and sometimes, it’s actually quite dangerous where it leads us.
My mind wanders at night and transforms me into a different person. It’s the only way I can describe it as because I know for a fact that the things I think about aren’t the kind of thoughts I would normally have. I feel like someone else is thinking for me, someone else was implanting these thoughts in my head and at some point, I actually thought I was being posessed because there is no logical explanation to it.
I’ve very rarely said this to anyone and have thought about it multiple times if I should include it in this post but I realized I should because you never know who this will help.
At night, when all is quiet and it’s just me and my mind – my thoughts escalate without me having control over it. It starts with the thought that I will lose my job because I’ve already missed so many days of work, then we’ll have to move back to Dubai because we won’t be able to afford to live in London anymore, I’ll be miserable in Dubai and my husband will then leave me because I will be such a hard person to live with. I will then have to go back to the Philippines and live with my family where I’d be useless.
So what’s the point of living if I will be just a burden to everyone around me?
I usually cry myself to sleep with all these thoughts in my head and sometimes find myself having a panic attack in the middle of the night. Once, I had to wake my husband up because I was having a major breakdown and I felt so guilty afterwards because I disturbed him in his sleep when he’s working the next day. So the feeling of being useless and a burden to someone overpowered me again.
It’s not like that every night because at some point I learned how to control it, I knew where it’s headed and I try my very best to not go to that last and darkest thought.
How I got through it
Thankfully, mental health is taken seriously here in the UK and you can find a lot of support here. I started doing over-the-phone therapy and I also attended a group session but more importantly, I opened up to my husband.
I seriously can’t thank my husband enough and I think he’s the sole reason why I got through it all. While it was good for me to talk to a healthcare professional about it, discussing it with someone close to me helped more. He listened to me, actually listened. I was able to tell him what’s going through my head, he listened without judgment and without offering any advice. He listened without comparing it to something that he’s experienced before, he was just there for me and it made me at ease, comfortable and opened up even more.
I realized then that all I ever needed was someone to talk to, to not keep it in myself anymore. I needed someone to support me, to hold my hand and not say “everything will be fine” or “don’t worry too much about it”. Because everything is not fine and I’m clearly already worrying about it. I just needed someone to listen to what I’m going through without being judged and to know that they will be there for me through it all.
My colleagues that I worked with were supportive too. I also can’t thank them enough. They were extremely understanding of the situation and that’s when I really felt that I have a small family unit at work.
When I came back to work after the medical leave, they didn’t treat me like I’m a broken person. I was afraid that they will treat me differently or just give me easy tasks to deal with because that would’ve made me feel more useless. Thankfully, they know that I’m a strong person who can get through it but they also didn’t fail to let me feel that they’re there for me in case I need help. They’ve got my back and that bit is really very important. They made me realize that I’m a valued part of the team and what I do on a daily basis is appreciated but I also don’t have to do it all because I can rely on them too.
They made going back to work so easy for me, I learned how to manage my stress level at work and disconnect from it when I’m at home. We can only do so much in a day and I didn’t need to stress myself because at the end of the day, the entire team will support each other. Every problem has a solution, all you need is great people to help you through it.
Unfortunately, I had to leave that job nine months after going back to work. I was able to manage my panic attacks to a degree, I had a pill which I take whenever I feel like it’s coming. The day that I decided to leave the job was when I had to take two pills in one day which I’ve never done before. I thought then that I can’t live like this, I can’t rely on pills forever. So even without a new job to go to, I filed my resignation on the same day.
A colleague once told me “your health is your priority not your work because trust me, you will be replaced in about a week’s time so what’s the point of risking your health for it?”. She was right, they were able to find someone who will replace me a few weeks after filing my resignation but luckily, I also found a new job before I even completed my resignation notice. I basically had only one free week to myself between my old job and the new one and it was the best decision that I’ve done.
I’ve never had any panic attacks after changing jobs, not at work at least. While I miss my wonderful colleagues in my previous job, I am glad that I took the leap and thought of my health first above all else. One’s health (or sanity for that matter) is more important than anything else and there is no job worthy of risking it for. We’re all replaceable and that is a fact.
I have no bad feeling towards my previous employer in fact, I am still in touch with my previous colleagues. It’s not anyone’s fault, it’s the nature of the job. I can no longer do a job which deals with customers first-hand.
Customer service industry is not for the faint of hearts because unfortunately, some customers are just assholes who finds joy in making someone else’s life miserable just as they are. I just can’t deal with those kinds of people anymore so I chose to have a job within the travel industry still but will no longer have any customer interaction whatsoever.
If you’re working in the customer service industry, I applaud you – it takes guts, patience and strength to do your job. Unfortunately, after more than a decade of doing it – I can no longer be a part of this amazing industry. And if you’re a customer who treats service staff like sh*t, I hope karma gets back at you in the worst way possible. The last customer I spoke to which led me to filing my resignation was so rude that he gave me the worst panic attack I’ve ever had, a colleague who witnessed it all thought I was dying in front of her because I was really struggling to breathe.
So be kind because everyone’s going through something.
I can now manage my panic attacks, I know what triggers it and when it’s coming. I have my pills handy all the time but it’s been months since I’ve taken the last one. I’m not going to say that I now have a very positive outlook in life because that’s just such a cliche thing to say and frankly, I don’t. Life’s not all rainbows and sunshines, bad things happen. I think accepting that is important but it is equally important to know that you’re never alone when life throws sh*t at you.
I avoid situations (or people) that I know would be stressful for me. It’s still a learning experience but at least now I know that I have my own support group who I can rely on in case I need help.
Most importantly, I no longer suffer from depression. I can now sleep soundly at night.
If you can relate to my story
You matter more than you think you do.
You are important.
You are valued.
You are not weak.
You are not useless.
You are not a burden to anyone.
You are not alone.
Seeking help is not a sign of weakness but of strength because by doing so, you are telling the world that you are strong enough to make yourself better and that you want to feel better. Most of the time, whether we like it or not, the only way to make ourselves better is to let other people help us through it.
Now I’m not saying that how I dealt with what I went through is the only way to deal with something similar, everyone is different. We may manifest the same things physically but we deal with it in very different ways due to our different personalities, upbringing, environment, etc. However, it is important to know that help is always available and may be in different forms too – it could be a friend, a family member, a colleague or a healthcare professional. The most important thing is to take that first step of seeking help and you’ll soon realize that there are a myriad of ways that you can get this.
I may have made it sound so easy but I can’t stress enough how important it is to acknowledge what you’re going through and how it’s ok to seek help.
If someone you know is going through this
Make yourself available but don’t force them to open up to you. It took me awhile to finally say what I’m going through to my husband and I guess the reason for that was because I was afraid that he will judge me. If someone starts opening up to you, be there for them. Physically, mentally and emotionally. Take away the distractions – don’t check your phone, turn off the TV and the radio, let them know that you are fully available and ready to listen to them.
You don’t have to give any advice, you don’t have to share your experiences in fact, you don’t have to say anything. Just let them know that you are there for them and you are not judging them.
Hug them, cry with them, hold their hand, lend your shoulder to cry on – I realized then how human touch speaks louder than words. Someone squeezed my shoulder when she found out what I was going through and for whatever reason, it was the most heartfelt gesture anyone has ever done for me. No words were spoken but it was the loudest I’ve heard the words “I’m here for you if you ever need me”.
And I beg you, if someone opens up to you about their mental health issues it means that they trust you so please, do not tell their story to anybody else. There is absolutely no valid reason to do this. It is their story to tell, not yours. I was greatly offended when a family member told another my story because it is mine alone, I will say it in my own time and in my own way. I want the details to be correct and complete so I don’t want someone else to hear my story other than from myself. It is hard enough to take the first step of telling someone about what I was going through, so how do you think I would feel if I find out that the person I trusted with something I am ashamed of told it to someone else?
If someone reaches out to you with their mental health issues, it is their way of seeking help and you have to be grateful that they entrusted you with this extremely personal information. If you are not in the position to offer help then you can direct them to a healthcare professional but do it in a way that they won’t feel like you’ve discarded what they’ve told you.
As I’ve said before, I’m sharing my own personal experience and this is in no way a claim that how I dealt with my mental health issues is the only way to do it. Every person is different but seeking professional help first and foremost is most important.
If you need someone to talk to and wants to remain anonymous, you can contact me at pinayflyinghigh[at]gmail[dot]com.