Dear Thelma: Everyone criticises me for my panic attacks

  • Family
  • Sunday, 05 Aug 2018

She suffers from panic attacks and nothing helps.

I’m a 19-year-old undergraduate.

For more than five years now, I have disassociated from my family and friends for no reason.

Two years ago, I started having frequent panic attacks. I was depressed, and fainted during my first panic attack in school. I also left my class midway through a lecture a few weeks ago.

I have skipped lectures because I feel numb and unmotivated, but I still get good grades.

I’m also about to complete my studies but I haven’t found a placement to do my industrial training.

The deadline to apply for industrial training is days away.

Due to that, I have been criticised by my family, lecturers and classmates who said I “just talk but do nothing” and am “lazy and constantly making excuses”.

Whenever I am entrusted with a responsibility in class, I’d do well for a few minutes but I’d get irritated and rude the next minute because the task was not as perfect as I had expected.

My classmates shout, “Stop stressing yourself!” but little do they know that my anxiety is making me think and act in unusual ways.

I push people away and that has caused my friends to ignore and ostracise me.

Most of the time I avoid certain situations like talking to someone, socialising at an event and making enquiries as it makes me feel anxious and panicky.

I also tried to commit suicide once but I survived. I talked about this with my mum but she refused to listen to me and said that it was all in my mind. She asked me to do meditation and things that calm me down.

Unfortunately, all my efforts are futile, worsened by my family problems as my parents don’t talk these days. When they talk, it ends in chaos and they have decided to go separate ways. I love my mother but she gets angry sometimes and says hurtful things to me. I have hidden my panic attacks from my family because I’m a very obedient child.

My friend who’s abroad tries her best to help me by giving me advice and being a sister to me on social media.

However, whenever I have panic attacks she also becomes upset because her efforts to help me don’t work. Our friendship is shaky because of my condition.

I’m really worried that I might have a mental illness. I am concerned as my grandmother had depression before she passed away.

It’s taking over everything and I am afraid that I can’t live a good life like other people.

I don’t know how to approach a doctor or anyone else to explain my condition. If my mum knows this, she will be very angry at me because she has a prejudice against mental illness.

I need help. Please advise.

In A Tizzy

Dear Tizzy

I’m sorry you’re having a bad time and not finding the help you need. I’m happy you wrote in because it means you’re looking for solutions – that’s a good thing, so hold on to that.

From your description, it sounds as though you are experiencing elements of both anxiety and depression. Moving from school to college and your parents having trouble won’t have helped, either. As you tried suicide once and you have a family history of depression, I think you are quite right in that you should talk to a professional.

You are in college, and so you should have access to a properly trained counsellor. This should be a person who has at least a Masters degree in Psychology or Counselling. If there isn’t one at your school, ask student services to find you one. You can also go to a public hospital and make an appointment. Again, ask student services to help you.

Tell the therapist exactly what you wrote in this letter. Mostly likely, you will then be asked to complete tests (like multiple choice quizzes) and have several discussions.

You see, tests are good for checking on symptoms and seeing what’s going on, but no test is perfect. Therefore, you need to have the conversations so that the therapist can build up a complete picture of what is going on.

Once you have a good overview of exactly what’s happening, you will be presented with several options on how to best tackle each issue. If you are diagnosed with depression and/or anxiety, there are two major routes: medication and talk therapy. Adults tend to choose one, the other, or a combination of both.

Generally speaking, people of your age are usually encouraged to try talk therapy first. Of course, every person is unique, and you’d need to be assessed by a psychiatrist to see what’s suitable for you. I’m saying this so you won’t be surprised if medication is not immediately suggested.

Now, the good news is that talk therapy can be very effective. Basic treatment typically includes building up a support network and figuring out your personal triggers and managing them.

Your therapist can also help you approach your parents. While you are technically an adult, you are very young, and I think that it would be helpful if they were roped in to help.

I also urge that you discuss with your therapist how to talk to teachers, fellow students and others about depression and stress. From your letter, they aren’t very informed about these conditions. You don’t need to become an advocate; just reducing the unhelpful comments from these sources may be a boost all by itself.

Finally, talk therapy can have awesome results, but effective change can’t happen unless you put in effort. That means paying attention, doing your homework and sticking with it.

I’m saying this because you mention you have trouble keeping to plans. Depression and anxiety can have this effect, something you will learn more about when you get treatment, so when you think it’s all too much, know those thoughts come from the dark side. Keep your courage high, okay? You can beat this.

Please, do get proper help. You deserve to be happy, so reach out and make it happen.

Is something bothering you? Do you need a listening ear or a shoulder to lean on? Thelma is here to help. Write to: Dear Thelma, c/o Star2, Menara Star, 15, Jalan 16/11, 46350 Petaling Jaya, Selangor. Or e-mail: Please include your full name and address, and a pseudonym. No private correspondence will be entertained. The Star does not give any warranty on accuracy, completeness, usefulness, fitness for any particular purpose or other assurances as to the opinions and views expressed in this column. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses suffered directly or indirectly arising from reliance on such opinions and views.

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