It was a regular Wednesday afternoon. I finished my lunch and put my baby down for her nap. As usual, I started cleaning out my kitchen and was getting ready to wash the dishes when I started feeling unusual. I thought it was probably because I was dehydrated and walked up to the water jug to pour myself a glass of water. That’s when it happened. Within a few seconds, I started blinking rigorously. And the next thing I knew, I was gasping for breath and rubbing my chest. I could feel my heart beating really fast — it almost felt like it was going to fall out of my body. I knew right then what it was: I was having a panic attack!
Back when I was in college and doing my Ph.D., I had one hell of an experience with a panic attack. I didn’t know what it was during that time, but it was one terrifying ride. Let me paint you a picture. I was in my final year, and the date of my dissertation submission was coming closer. I was pretty much on track with the deadlines and dates, and I knew I could finish it all on time. But, to my dismay, I fell ill. I had to be hospitalized for almost fifteen days which set me back on the schedule I had made for myself. After recovering (which took me close to a month), I visited my professor and explained that I would need an extension due to unforeseen circumstances. Unfortunately, he said his hands were tied since an external examiner was coming in for the final presentation, which meant the dates could not be postponed. You can just imagine the chill running down my spine. I felt a mixed bag of emotions but couldn’t say or express much and just decided to head back home.
Later that day I started to feel the onset of panic. I was extremely nervous and felt utter disappointment. That night while I was making a hectic plan to complete my dissertation within the allotted time, I couldn’t help but be filled with helpless anxiety. That was the first time it happened — I had a panic attack, and it wasn’t pleasant. I was in the washroom trying to wash my face when I started to gasp for breath. Before I knew it, I crashed to the floor and started to shiver. The few minutes following that were hazy and what I remember next is my roommate putting me to sleep on my bed.
I didn’t know then that it was a panic attack. I assumed that it was an aftereffect of being hospitalized. But when I visited the doctor, I found out that there was nothing wrong with me physically. He explained that I had experienced a panic attack and gave me tips to deal with the symptoms for the next time. Luckily, I never had it again because every time I would get to a point where I started to panic, I would take a few days to calm down and relax. So, I didn’t have to face it again until recently. It was the day I realized that I was overwhelmed with being a mom.
After the incident, my husband came home and was worried sick. He was shocked because he had no clue that I had all these feelings of panic and worry. Honestly, I don’t blame him because every time he would ask me how I was doing, I would reply with a constant “I’m fine”. Little did I know I wasn’t fine — I wasn’t even giving myself the time to sit with my feelings. After having a long conversation with him, I decided that it was time to change how I operated. We came to the conclusion that hiding away the real feelings and pain inside and not expressing them was the real part of the problem.
I took a stand to be open with how I was feeling, and ever since then, things have been a lot better. When someone asks me how I’m doing, I try my best to be as honest as possible. Trust me, we are not doing anyone a favor by downplaying how we feel. It’s hard to be a new mother, and there’s no reason to hide how we feel! If I’m exhausted, I am. If I need a break, I will take it, and when I want some quality me-time, I will take a break from my duties as a mom without feeling guilty. Self-guilt is the exact opposite of self-care and can over time cause much detriment to a person’s psyche and confidence.
As women, we often expect people to read our minds and understand how we feel — we’ve got to stop doing this! It’s time we communicate our needs and take the break we deserve because we are human at the end of the day! Now, when someone asks me how I’m doing, I am honest with them — even if that makes them uncomfortable (and trust me, sometimes it does). But that’s on them, isn’t it?
If it helps to know, expecting others to guess your state or if you’re suffering is unfair to them as well. After all, everyone is occupied with their own affairs and going through their own personal struggles. Though it feels nice when someone does read exactly what we mean, expecting that can often lead to dejection. Instead, we all can try to enquire about each other’s well-being and be honest in our answers on being inquired. That way we won’t have to worry about mixed signals or misunderstandings and be very open about it.
I learned that there is no reason to lie about being “fine” when I’m not, and there is no reason you should do it either. Be open, be honest, and know that everything is temporary. So, if you’re fine, great! If you’re not, it’s okay because you will be!