Racing heartbeat, trembling fingers, rapid breathing—I mindlessly wrote these down as I half-listened to my fifth grade teacher talk about the nature of a heart attack, mainly wondering what my mom packed me for lunch that day.
They were just words; just terms taken from a textbook that I merely used as paperweight back then. I stored them in my little box of short-term memories for the purposes of a pop quiz but for some reason, these words were etched at the back of my head playing like a rhythm. Remembering things isn’t my strongest suit, and my friends can attest to that. Nevertheless, this particular memory plays itself like a broken record whenever there’s a vacancy in my mind from its usual entropic state.
“Memories fabricate your framework for the future,” I thought to myself when I chanced upon an article I found a few years later. If that was one of the memories I can vividly recall, then my future must be in peril. It was a hypothesis I wasn’t keen on proving, but it proved itself anyway.
Upon checking the calendar on a typical Tuesday of July last year, I noticed that there was still a month left before my college admission test. No big deal. I still had around thirty days to solve practice problems, memorize equations, and stock up on vocabulary—nothing to be worried about. It’s appalling how that comforting thought easily morphed into being only a month left before an exam that would dictate the next five years of my life.
I blankly stared at my test permit and lucidly recalled being told that from a hundred thousand hopefuls, my choice college only has seats for a measly hundred—and that’s being generous. I only had thirty days left to do all these preparations that would save me a seat meant for the upper 0.1% of test takers, but there’s never enough time. As if on cue, I faintly heard my fifth grade teacher’s voice again while a feeling of discomfort started stirring within.
Racing heartbeat, trembling fingers, rapid breathing—check, check, check. Was I having a heart attack? No, it’s not possible. I’m too young. Warping vision, numbing feet, pounding headache—all these feelings washed over me like a tidal wave I couldn’t outrun. But that’s the reality of having anxiety. It’s not something you could snap out of, but rather something that has to travel through you like a tropical cleansing storm.
Warping vision, numbing feet, pounding headache—all these feelings washed over me like a tidal wave I couldn’t outrun. But that’s the reality of having anxiety. It’s not something you could snap out of, but rather something that has to travel through you like a tropical cleansing storm.
Having to deal with invisible illnesses is tricky enough as it is, even more so while we’re in a pandemic. The restlessness, the uncertainty, the fear—all of them creeping in, one by one.
To those grappling with depression, this is for you. It must be difficult to tone down your suicidal thoughts with death tolls rising. To those with OCD, this is for you. Due to the lockdown, you must be feeling on edge after realizing your inability to feed your compulsions that require daily rituals outside your home. To those with eating disorders, this is for you. After watching waves of people panic-buy goods, you might find it easier to slip back to your old behaviors. To those with anxiety, this is for you. As someone who relies on distractions to avoid relapse, isolating yourself with your own thoughts while witnessing everything getting shut down has to be one of the toughest and most overwhelming things to do.
To those who belittle mental illnesses, this is for you too. I can’t say that I understand you, because I never will. All I can say is that I’m happy for you, elated even. I’m happy that you don’t get to experience the deathly feeling of stabbing pains in your chest with your throat feeling like it’s closing up, and so little options to do about it. You are untroubled, unburdened and undisturbed. Savor it—and if there’s even a hint of compassion and humanity in you, educate yourself.
You are untroubled, unburdened and undisturbed. Savor it—and if there’s even a hint of compassion and humanity in you, educate yourself.
For all my friends who fight these invisible battles each day, I cannot comprehend the entirety of your pain but know that I am with you. Having all these feelings surging at once, even when it’s uncalled for, must feel like your own personal purgatory. It can’t be easy.
This war against the virus will be over soon, but this inner battle has just begun. Stop thinking that it’s a race or a competition with the person next to you because in reality, it’s just with yourself. If you find the slightest reason to live, grip tightly until you’ve pulled yourself up from the depths of your spiraling thoughts. I wish I could tell you that it’s an easy process, but usually the path towards self-care is not. All I can do is assure you that you don’t have to go through this alone.
If all you did today was breathe in, show up, take care of yourself and breathe out, know that it’s okay. No one has control over what you think is best for your well-being, only you get to decide that. You just have to remember that each day you wake up is another day that you win. There’s no universal formula to achieving good mental health but until then, slow and steady wins the game.
your well-meaning friend
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