I grew up as an only child in a South Africa,…
…in a town specifically created during the apartheid regime for mixed race people, but with the most amazing parents. I know that many people think that of their parents and we are all entitled to do so, but for me, I will be forever grateful for the sacrifices they made.
To have become the first and yet still the only university graduate in my family (now working towards a second degree!) is all because of the love, support and sacrifices of my parents. Despite that they were both uneducated (well educated to primary school grades 4 and 5, respectively), for them it was of paramount importance that I had a solid education. Town living was very humbling, but still a joy. There was a sense of community I’ve not felt since. Although we didn’t have much, my parents showered me in love. For the most part, growing up was great until I saw my extended family. They weren’t very kind to me so, I chose to isolate myself from them and found comfort in being by myself.
Fast forward to summer 2018 and life hit me hard.
My world was falling apart and I had absolutely no control over anything that was happening to me. The world around me became so dark that sometimes it felt as if I was drowning in a turbulent sea of emotions and there was nothing I could do to stop it. I was a sinking ship with water coming in from every corner, desperately trying to sink me. The storms raging within me were so overwhelming! I felt that the only way out would be to succumb to my emotional storms and give up on life.
12 years ago, I lost the man I loved and admired the most in my life. Now, my mother’s health has deteriorated so badly that she is now registered as disabled, living on another continent. This leaves me feeling so helpless! My mother struggled with the death of my father – her rock, her life, her everything. So, she become so overwhelmed with her own demons, and struggled to deal with his death. The only way to deal with it was attaching herself to alcohol, which has become her crutch.
Emotionally, I struggled for a very long time.
Having moved away to find myself and live my life learning to deal with life without my father feels as if I was being selfish. After many other emotional struggles and experiences, I now find myself in a place where my mental well-being has taken a back seat to everything and everyone. My life has always been about others. I ensured that everyone else around me was happy and completely neglected myself. For years I focused so much on others that I never gave myself a single thought. When the day came that I was no longer able to put others first, my circle became as small and I became as insignificant as a speck of dust.
My struggles were and still are invisible to the naked eye, and those who abused my good nature left me high and dry without a single thought.
My diagnosis of anxiety and depression came as no shock to me. I was unable to leave my house. I kept the blinds shut and I never opened the door to anyone. Panic attacks and hysterical crying became my new normal. Lifting my head off the pillow every morning was exhausting. So, when I eventually went to see my doctor. I broke down whilst describing every emotion, every fear and each of my daily struggles in such vivid detail. She [doctor] sat patiently listening with a great deal of empathy and no judgement at all. She made me feel safe and when she uttered the words anxiety and depression it was as if the weight of the world was lifted off my shoulders. I knew then that I was on the road to recovery.
After months of being bullied at work, the emotional struggles of dealing with a mother so far away, who is refusing to live with me because her love for alcohol is stronger than her love for me, being a mother myself, being wife and student, became too much to bear. I have given so much of myself to taking care of others, that I no longer existed.
I felt invisible.
When I had my first panic attack, my eldest son was only 3 years old. I kept it to myself. I never told my husband or even my closest friends. In July 2018, panic attacks became my new normal. The first one was mild, but since last summer it became more frequent and scarier than ever. I consider myself very lucky that I’ve had them when my husband and kids were not around. I know they would be scared for life if they see me like that. When my panic attacks hit, it starts off with profuse sweating regardless of the outside temperature. That is followed by a rapid heart rate and a breathing pattern I can’t control.
My increased heart rate sends my breathing into overdrive because, in the panic, I believe that I am going to die.
I usually just lay down on the floor holding on to my knees trying to steady my breathing. At first I tried to control it, but I very quickly realized that it’s best to let it run its course. Panic attacks always leaves me extremely exhausted, emotionally and physically. It is like a roller-coaster ride I do not want to be on. My hands are clammy, my hair soaking wet and sticking to my face and neck. My eyes hurt from the hysterical crying and my chest feels bruised because my heart beats so fast that it feels as if I was being repeatedly punched from the inside! Once it’s passed I am so exhausted I almost always fall into a deep sleep.
Panic attacks are emotionally and physically draining! It steals my joy because it leaves me petrified to leave the house. I retreat from the world around me and go into my proverbial shell.
Throughout my journey with anxiety and depression I have learnt many lessons, but the most important one is to start thinking about myself – to put me first! I’ve learnt that happiness won’t come from satisfying other people’s wants and need. My journey is evolving daily and I am by no means nonsensical about my recovery. Set backs will happen and I have had my fair share, but for now my focus is on myself and my mental well-being.