I am not weak! I am the person who advice others on how to be strong. I practice positive thinking and always will be able to dig myself out from negativity quickly. Yet, I didn’t realise that I was suffering from panic at work and it was slowly destrorying my mental health.
How it Begin?
Last October, I received my long awaited promotion. I was elated. The pay different is not much but I am progressing in the corporate ladder. However, when I saw the department that I am being promoted to, I know it is not going to be an easy journey. Work load is going to be hectic and the core business is something that I am not familiar with. I love challenges so, I decided to accept the promotion. My thought was, I will always thrive no matter how difficult the job is. I have done it before.
On my first day of work, I realised that I will not be having a team but will be sharing the team with other colleagues. However, I have one subordinate under my core business. I am okay with that because I have done well in a limited resource environment.
Next, everything about my job scope looked alien to me which is no surprise because in my 16 years of service I have never done something like this before. I started looking at the past projects, studied the core business and did as much studying I could do about my work.
Later, I realised that this job comes with speed. Projects that comes in requires very short delivery time but with extensive amount of work. I am okay with that too but when more projects started coming in with overlapping deadline, I begin to struggle. I had to study about what is needed on the project before I can commence. This means my work hourse became erratic and I continue working till late night.
My daughter begins to ask me, ‘How come you always work, work, work, mommy?’
I felt guilty when she asked me that. I am good at planning and prioritising my work. But lately, I begin to question myself whether I am really capable of organising my life. I kept telling myself that this will phase out.
On my 4th month, my only subordinate was transferred to a different department. I have experienced this before and I am always able to cope with it because I was working in area that I’m already well versed. But in my current work, I begin to realise that things does not look great anymore.
I tried to do as much as I could but I felt I kept falling behind. I begin to develop so many negative thoughts and it was destroying my mental health:
- I am disappointing my boss
- I am not smart enough for this job
- I don’t deserve this promotion
- I suck!
My Body’s Reaction
One Monday, I had terrible stomach ache, vomiting and shaking. Doctor suspected food poisoning. I thought the same as we had eaten so much during my husband’s birthday on Saturday and Sunday I didn’t much because my stomach felt full.
I was on medical leave for a day and the next day I went to work. Every time, I work on something, I will have stomach ache, cold sweat and nauseous. I would feel imbalance and I felt like I am going to faint. I decided to check with another clinic since the effects does not seem to stop and beginning to become worse.
Following week, the doctor in the clinic referred me to a hospital as she suspect I could be suffering from vertigo or anemia. As I went to the GP in the hospital, he begin to examine me and asked me a few questions on how I started developing these effects.
Then, he started asking me questions on my work. That’s when I begin to get choked and words were hard to come out from my mouth. Tears started flooding on my cheek. The GP calmed me down, ‘It’s okay, take your time and tell me about it’. I told all my frustrations to him.
The GP told me that based on his examination, the health effects that I was experiencing is called ‘Panic Attack’. I was shocked and I told myself ‘Impossibble! I don’t panic!’. Then, he showed me the symptoms of panic attack:
- Stomach pain
I ticked every symptom in the panic attack box. Then, reality sets in. I was experiencing this every time I am at work especially on Mondays. Lately, my Sundays were being affected as well. How I know this? Because I do keep track of my symptoms to make it easier for me to narrate to a doctor, just in case I develop something.
The GP took my blood samples just in case to rule out other medical disorders. The test turned out good minus my slightly elevated cholesterol level. He prescribed me something to help me sleep because my brain is active (I was working in my office in my dream too) even though I am sleeping. I was asked to come back for a follow-up. He gave me advice on how to handle stress and anxiety.
I was delighted to know that there’s nothing seriously wrong with me. But, I started to get worried how this going to affect my work. I told my boss that I am on medical leave on that day and told about the doctor’s diagnosis. She asked me to take care of myself and rest.
Next day, I listened to motivational speeches and meditate in the morning. But the same churning started again as I was about to leave to work. Once reaching at work, I begin to cry without reason. I took 6 deep breaths and told myself everything is okay. I prayed.
My boss approached and asked about my well being. Once again, my tears started rolling, it was difficult to control. I felt so vulnerable and hate to show that to others, especially my boss. But, she understood. She said that she knows that being new and not having the subordinate has gotten me overwhelmed. She said that ‘It’s not you but it’s the work that we do here.’
The talk with my boss helped me to elevate some of my negative thoughts. I did feel at ease but not in whole. I do feel anxiety creeping in as I work. I walk away and do something else that takes my mind away from the work stress.
I have not won the battle yet. But I am consistently checking on myself more often than before. That episode has taught me to be mindful as I analyse on the areas that I need to adjust.
- Taking on so much responsibility without even thinking that there is only 24 hours in a day.
- Caring so much about my good performance streak when my health matters the most
- Being emphatic towards others but I am not being emphatic to myself.
- Being a workaholic
- I can only do as much as I can and not everything.
The Reality of Panic Attack at Work
As I researched on panic attack, anxiety and depression, I realised that many of us suffer quietly at work because somehow we feel there is no way out. I did think like that. I did not want to talk to my boss because I was afraid that she would think negatively of me and effects my performance evaluation at the end of the year. I did not want to take leave because I thought that since I am the only one who is in my unit, then no one else will be doing it. I did not want to admit that I am suffering from work over load because I have this image of myself as being someone strong and I can take on anything.
My mental health was affected because I assume things. The reality was, when I talked to my boss, she undestood my situation and she helped me a lot more than before. She guided me and ensures that she explains to me things that I didn’t know. When I was on medical leave, my work was still taken care of. My boss did not trouble me and she delegated the job to someone else.
I learnt that I don’t have to carry the burden alone. I have people who loves me. I have people who appreciates me. I have God who is always there showing me signs that he is by my side all the time. What more could I ask for?
This story is personal to me. I am a private person and I don’t tell my problems to anyone. The reason why I am sharing it here because I want people to know that you are not the only one experiencing this. I believe that the strongest people are the hardest to admit they are experiencing break down because they don’t want to be labeled as WEAK. Trust me, this is not the sign of weakness but it is the sign of STRENGTH.
Admitting that you do have a problem depicts STRENGTH and doing something about it helps you to transform to a better you. It is not an easy road and painstakingly a slow process.
But, it is okay, I am fine being Slow now.
This story was first published in Medium on 28 March 2021 by author