“I think I have shortness of breath,” I say when I stop into the clinic my old apartment owner runs. “I just lost a friend the other week and my heart is racing and I don’t feel well.”
A look of concern rushes over the gentle doctor’s face.
“That’s hard,” he says, pondering what to do. “I will give you some medication to help you.”
Yes, that is perfect.
He hands me two little baggies to calm my nerves and bids me on my way. When I arrive to the office a few minutes later, I pop a pink and white capsule for anti-anxiety and then my colleagues and I head off to the first funeral service for Adam.
As soon as we step out of the van and I see the old photo of my friend, he blue eyes and smiling face peering back at me, I feel instantly grateful that the medicine has kicked in. The shortness of breath I have been feeling all day is gone.
We walk through the temple, where our staff has created beautiful posters adorned with photos of Adam working, living, loving life. I want to fight the tears, to keep calm … but there is no use. Seeing him alive, happy … grief overcomes me and I let myself sob openly.
For about 90 minutes, monks chant. Later, I learn the monks are telling Adam that he has passed away, and he is no longer a part of our world and to go and leave this world and move to the next.
“He will collect his footprints tonight,” Lek informs me. “He will stop by your house, Diana, and say ‘goodbye.'”
I leave the service and head to go and see Ron at The Playhouse. I feel OK, but a little off.
Then, as we sit together watching the ongoing battles for affection on Loi Kroh, I start to feel lightheaded.
“I think I need to go lay down, I feel like I am going to pass out,” I tell him, feeling everything in my body tighten and panic being to envelop me. Panic that I am going to collapse right there.
“Go lay down on the couch,” he instructs me. “I will check on you in a little.”
I barely manage to get up and go to the couch. The bar starts to spin. I lay on the little black couch and try to text my friend, but the phone falls from my hands, which have started to shake.
I close my eyes and feel drunk, even though I haven’t had a drink.
I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. My heart is beating out of my chest.
I gather strength and go to the bathroom. For some reason, just sitting on the cool tile floors of the bathroom makes me think it will calm me down. But, it doesn’t.
I’m overcome with nausea and instead of calming down, I get hysterical and sick, vomiting in the toilet. I struggle to catch my breath as I sob and heave. Locked in the bathroom, I call my friend, Aaron, barely able to talk.
“Hi! How are you?” He asks, unaware of what’s going on.
“I … I …” I gasp, trying to speak between cries. “Something is really wrong with me. I can’t breathe. My heart is racing. I just puked. I. Can’t. Stop. Crying.”
“Oh …” he says quietly. I know there is panic in my voice. Panic in my breathing.
Panic, panic, panic.
“I just … help me … talk to me … do something to get my mind off what is going on with me … I can’t do this …”
He begins to recount a trip he took to Las Vegas until I have caught my breath.
Moderately calm and off the phone, I look at myself in the mirror. I look like death. White face. Red eyes. Tear soaked lashes.
I look like I just lost someone dear to me.
I go and sit back outside with Ron.
“You ok?” He asks.
“Yeah, I think so.”
Then, I start to get light headed again.
What the fuck is going on with me?
“I need to go. I need to walk. I have to get out of here,” I tell him.
Then, I leave.
The walk from his bar to my house is about 15 minutes, but I’m not sure if I can make it. I go between fits of feeling like I am going to pass out to fits of wanting whatever is going on in my body to fight this. To walk. To let the warm, tropical breeze wash over my face, my arms, my legs.
Finally, I succumb to the terror that is starting to race through my veins, and I get into a songthaew and head to my street. Along the way, I look for friends to help me, but no one is there.
I get to my house, shed my clothes and crawl into bed. But, then it hits me again. My heart races. I feel lightheaded.
Adam is collecting his footprints tonight, Diana. And, he is collecting you.
Fear grips my heart.
Then, my phone rings.
“Are you ok?” She asks me after hearing my breathy words.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” I lie.
“Do you want me to come over?”
“No,” I breathe. “I am just going to go to bed.”
“OK, well, if you need anything, you tell me.”
I lay back in my bed and death consumes me.
I’m going to die tonight. I’m having a heart attack. I have to get out of here. Adam, you can’t take your footprints from here. I’m sorry.
I dial Paula back.
“No,” I begin to wail. “I’m not OK. I feel like I’m dying.”
“OK, I’m coming over.”
“No, I will meet you. I have to get out of here.”
I struggle to get out of my bed. Struggle to turn the light on. Struggle, shaking violently, as I put my clothing back on.
You have to do this, D. Fight the urge to pass out. Stand up. Get dressed. Get. Out. Of. Here. You are not being logical.
I make it to my front door and fight with the lock to open it.
“Please,” I sob. “Please open.”
Finally, I get out of the house and begin to walk barefoot to Smith. Hysterical. Crying like I’ve never cried before.
“Oh my god,” she says when she sees me. “What can I do?”
“I don’t know,” I say through cries. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I think I am going to die.”
“Do you want me to go and get the doctor?” She asks.
“No, no, no. I don’t want to go to the hospital. I don’t want to die. I don’t want to miss the rest of Adam’s funeral tomorrow.”
“Do you want a hug?”
But, I am frozen in one position, and one position only. Face contorted into sheer fear and grief, arms up at my shoulders, tense. “I … I can’t move.”
I ask her to call another friend of ours, Ducko, who I know can help talk me down. And when I can’t stop heaving and struggling to breathe, I have her go get the doctor.
He comes out and grabs my wrist.
“I think I’m having a heart attack,” I sob hysterically. “I can’t breathe. I can’t stop crying.”
“You’ve been through a lot,” he says, taking my pulse.
“Am I going to die?” I sob.
“No. No, you’re not. You’re not having a heart attack. You’re not going to die. You are having an anxiety attack. You’ve been through a lot. You need to sit down and breathe and take one of the pills I gave you earlier. You have to.”
I finally am able to moved to the bench outside where I puke again, but not before I get the pill down.
Paula and Ducko surround me, making sure I am ok.
“I feel like I am going to die,” I whisper. “I feel like he wasn’t supposed to die so young, but he did. And, now tonight, I am going to die, too.”
“You’re not,” they both say to me. “You are going to be fine.”
“What is wrong with me? Why is this happening? I have no control … I can’t stop crying … I can’t …”
I tuck my head between my legs and succumb more to the uncontrollable sobbing, my whole body convulsing with each cry. With each short breath.
The two finally convince me to go up to the little bar at the apartment and sit with them and calm down. Within minutes, the medicine has kicked in and the terror and feelings of death have all but disappeared.
I feel stoned. I feel safe.
“You want to stay with me tonight?” Paula asks. “Or do you want me to come to your place?”
The scared hasn’t entirely left. I worry that once the medicine wears off, I will die in my sleep but no one will ever know because my doors are locked.
“Will you please come over?” I ask.
She obliges and we slowly head back to my house.
By the time I crawl into bed, I am exhausted.
I go through the final funeral service like a zombie the next day, keenly aware that at any moment the panic can once again take over my body and I will be paralyzed with fear. But, I manage.
It isn’t until the next week when it hits me again. I’m at lunch with my friends and my hands start to shake. My heart starts to race.
“Fuck,” I whisper. “I think I’m about to have another anxiety attack.”
“No, no, you’re not,” they both reassure me. “There’s no reason.”
And, they’re right. There is no reason. I try to breathe deep and when we leave, I pretend I am ok. But, I’m not. Within the quick walk from the restaurant to the office, I start to feel light headed again. Instead of walking to the office, I go to the restaurant where my co-workers are and ask one of them to come out.
Carolyn leaves lunch and looks at me.
“I think I’m having another attack,” I say, beginning to shake. “I’m so sorry, but I need your help to get through this. I can’t freak out like I did last week. I can’t lose it again.”
We sit together on a step.
“It’s ok,” she says. “Breathe. You will get through this.”
“I just don’t understand why this keeps happening to me. I was fine before Adam died. I was fine. Why now?”
I feel like my body is rebelling against me. Like there is something I must have done massively wrong to go through the torture of yet another anxiety attack.
“I can’t do this. I need help.”
She goes and gets me a glass of water and I pop a pill to stave off the looming attack.
Again, within minutes, I’m fine. But, I make a decision I need to get help.
I message my therapist in Vegas and tell her what has happened, explain that I’ve never had these attacks before, and how scared I am that something is wrong. That Adam’s death has triggered something in me and now it has its hold on me. Something that won’t let me go.
She advises me to go to a doctor to make sure it’s not medical. Then, I get a message from my parents telling me the attacks, like the depression I used to suffer until I went to a shaman, run in my family.
The next morning, I go to the hospital and meet with the psychiatrist there.
“I am going to prescribe you two different types of Xanax,” he says, pulling out his pen to write the prescription. “One you take twice-a-day, one you take two of if you feel like you are having an attack.”
“But, I don’t want to take them,” I explain. “I don’t want to be on these pills.”
“You are going to have to, at least for two weeks,” he says.
I walk out of the hospital, defeated but at least reassured that I won’t have to go through the attacks again.
In the meantime, I try to figure out what the hell has happened in my life that has triggered this. Yes, my friend just died. Yes, I’ve been under stress. But, what makes this different from anything in my life that could lead to such attacks? Has this always been in me, just laying dormant?
The thought of that alone makes my heart race and my hand reach for a pill.
For two weeks, I teeter between racing heart and calm. Racing heart. Calm.
“Mind over matter,” Ron tells me. “You can get over this”
And then more friends come out of the woodwork.
“I have them all of the time,” one says.
“I know what you’re going through,” says another. And suddenly, this uncommon, alien feeling in my body isn’t alone. It’s all around me. And when I start to feel light headed or like I’m going to have an attack, I simply give one of them a look and they tell me to breathe.
This newest addition to my life isn’t easy. It’s especially hard when my family isn’t here and they know what’s going on. I get worried messages from my mom checking in to make sure I am ok.
I’ve been to two doctors and now have to go to a psychiatrist to see what can be done without having to be on meds forever.
But, I’ve learned to quell the attacks a bit. I’ve learned that when my heart races, I’m not going to die. I’m just about to have an attack, and I breathe and I drink a glass of water and I sit in quiet until it passes.
It’s not an easy thing to live with, but the past few weeks I have never felt more loved and supported by people who unexpectedly have come into my life. In Thailand. My community of friends is so amazing. I am so grateful. When I feel like I can’t live like this, I think about all of them, and all of the support and care they have showered on me. And, that blessing helps the anxiety so, so much.
Have you ever had something like this happen to you when you’ve been in another country? What did you do?
25 thoughts on “Anxiety abroad”
I’ve both lost somebody very important to me while in Thailand and have dealt with anxiety. I’ve certainly felt like I was dying at points while having intense panic attacks. I had the same apprehensions about taking anxiety pills and have chosen not to. I’ve found that exercise, meditation, and yoga work to alleviate the symptoms of anxiety, but the biggest thing is finding the underlying cause of the anxiety. As I understand it, panic attacks happen when your body is telling you that there is some thought process that isn’t working for you and you need a new perspective, but you’re body goes into fight or flight mode which makes it harder to gather your thoughts. I try to look at it as a positive thing and as an opportunity for personal growth. If you ever need to talk with somebody who has dealt with this stuff, don’t hesitate to contact me.
Alex (from otp)
Thank you, Alex! I have started to work out and am getting acupuncture to work through this and relieve some of the anxiety. Also looking into other methods to deal with this. It’s new and I was scared, but am slowly getting used to dealing with this change in my life. I know it isn’t permanent, but I also need to know I need to work through it.
Thank you for posting something so honest. I’m really sorry you’re going through this. I suffered from anxiety attacks a couple of years ago and it was terrifying. I couldn’t even get on the train to work.
Losing your friend was a stressful, horrible thing to happen and stress and anxiety go hand in hand.
You will get through this, D. I did.
Thank you for the support, Claire. It isn’t fun to go through, but I do know I can GET through it. 🙂
That’s really scary 😦 I’m glad you had friends around to be with you through it. I think it’s easy to forget that bad things happen no matter where you are in the world. I always used to feel like being abroad, was kind of a shelter from bad things because it’s a trip and not the mundane life, but that’s night right. In fact, I think tragedy is sometimes harder to take on the road, because it feels like a loss of control and traveling is already uncontrollable. I used to get really anxious and hyperventilate when I was in high school. I had an awful time in high school, felt like I didn’t belong at all and it just really affected me at times. I never took or saw anything for it, because I knew it was simply a case of unhappiness, so I worked on getting myself involved in things that would make me happy. But it’s an awful feeling. I remember it happening to me in Australia when I was fired from a job and a guy dicked me over in the same week. I know that is nothing compared to what you are saying, losing someone, but I definitely had that tight feeling in my chest and loss of breath. I think it’s completely natural and you’re handling it right. Surround yourself with friends, talk about it. Don’t go through it alone. It just makes it worse. xxxx
It is SO easy to forget that bad things happen no matter where you are. I’ve been living in this bubble of happy and then to have that change really sent me on this spiral. You are very right about travel and being away from home and going through it. It isn’t easy. I have definitely surrounded myself with friends and their support and reminding me that I can get over it have been a huge help.
My best friend died when I was in my early 20s. Even though I didn’t suffer panic attacks the effects shook me for some time and still affect me to this day. I work hard to make the thoughts positive. The feeling of immortality is all the more reason to do what you feel is right for you and not put things of for too long.
Death is certain but it doesn’t make it any easier to deal with.
It does however teach us to cherish the friends and loved ones we do have and not to let go of them or treat them bad. You will get through this and you seem like you have the tools and love around you to do so.
I do have the tools, that is for sure! And, I think, aside from my friend’s death (which is the first time I have ever lost someone unexpectedly or outside of my family), there have been other issues at play, too. Issues I am working to fix. 🙂 Thank you for the support.
I completely understand, Diana. I’ve been having anxiety attacks like this since I was little, crying and not knowing why. It started to affect my travels, but I think I’ve finally learned how to deal with it. I hope you feel better soon.
It is a wild thing, Caroline! While I haven’t had any as intense as the first two, it was just such a surreal/out-of-body experience to have. I had no control and no idea why I had no control. Now, they are definitely under control, but those first two, on that first night, was the most scared I have ever been in my life. Thanks so much for the support!
Wow Diana, this is very very deep indeed. I feel you all the way. I haven’t reach the panic attack and hope I don’t but I have been going through something similar since last September. I live abroad too as you may know, all the way from Costa Rica to Barcelona. I’ve been working here since 2010. One of my colleagues was in a terrible car accident in august 2012…suffered in an ICU room over a month until he passed away. I was in the middle of a traveling month and I had to go back to this reality after that month. I was able to come and say goodbye to him the last night before they disconnected him. And I had to fly again the next day. It was all VERY confusing…even as a physician, the rational part inside my head was not getting all of it. When my traveling month ended, I went back to work…crushing! Awful, my right hand and partner was gone. Felt like he was on vacay too…but he clearly wasn’t. Then in December, I got a call from my dad, crying, telling me how a cousin had a car accident abroad too and died instantly…oh boy. I couldn’t believe it. Before 1 month from that call I was going to visit my family, and I was able for many reasons, to be in my cousin’s funeral service with all my family. That certainly helped my anxiety. But it was going through the same thing all over again…in less than 3 months twice. Then I had to leave my family and head back to Barcelona. Feeling weird, thankful for being able to be there but weird to feel people just going dead. All young and under unlucky circumstances. That’s when I start to get anxiety for life, a bit, not too much. But I think frequently “what the hell, I will do this or that because what if I get hit by a truck tomorrow?”…and stuff like that. More like a life philosophy now. I ma not suffering daily over it but the thought is always present. I want to live my life because I don’t know when it’s gonna end. I want to be happy and travel for example, for people like my friend or my cousin who died before 40 both of them. She left 3 kids and a sad husband. So I get thoughts of this kind of fear, of the future, of what can happen, what if I die after having 3 beautiful kids? I want them, but I don’t want to go through that. But we don’t know that. So I have been reorganizing my thoughts so I don’t get extra anxious over things we don’t have control on. That’s how it has been to me. And I am sure you will get through this, but it definitely takes, time, thinking and living. I get a lot of sigh-doing frequently, until I realize I better calm, think and get busy on something. Or simply day-dreaming on a next trip, or writing, or cooking, or buying a chocolate bar or a nutella jar. Anything that helps me sooth the feeling of “what if something bad happens to me while young in a terrible accident and my soul remains suffering around”? Is not pessimist. Instead, I have transformed it into plans and wanting to live and do more stuff I love, not caring about anything else, just the real important things and people around me. Well, hope you feel better within time. I made my comment too long already! But I feel totally identified. *HUGS*
Thank you so much for sharing your story with me! What horrible ordeals you had to go through. It does remind you how important and precious life is and to tell those you love them every day. While I don’t have attacks like what you’ve gone through, I do know that with every little roadblock, you just take a different direction, so that’s what I’ve been trying to do. I’m working with someone who does acupuncture to try to get them out of me like this and the first treatment went really well! I also have been trying to cut some of the stresses and unhealthy habits from my life, which is a good start. 🙂
Losing a loved one is one of the most traumatic and horrible things we experience in life. It’s so important that we learn how we go through this experience best because perhaps it will help for the next time. And that’s the thing: the older we get the more people we are likely to lose. One thing that can sometimes help me is to put a band-aid over your heart while grieving and don’t take it off until you feel ready to and you will know when that is. I’ve heard that Adam was very thoughtful and took care of at least 2 people that I know when they were not feeling well. Imagine what he would do for now during your grief and then do that. 🙂
Don’t forget to ask for hugs now and again either. 🙂
Thank you for that, Ligeia. I know he wouldn’t want to see me upset. The past couple of months have just been pretty emotionally exhausting. Adam’s passing was by far the hardest, but when there are the little things, too, they just all start to build until it gets overwhelming. I’m working on it and think I’m doing pretty well at this point. 🙂 And, trust me, I definitely ask for lots of hugs!!! See you soon. ❤
Oh, my dear friend. I love you so much!
I love you, too. ❤
dear diana. you are very brave and very strong, so please try to remember this at low, difficult times like these. you will be ok. you have been through a LOT and need some time to let everything sink in and to heal. sending you lots of strength and positive energy to get through this! xx amy
Thank you so much, Amy. It means a lot to me 🙂
Diana my love! My prayers are with you! You are strong and mentally stronger!
Dayle and I have your back 🙂 I love you!
I love you, Lindsey! Thank you so much!
Diana, thank you for sharing this! While I’ve never experienced it abroad, I have experienced it at home. Even though I was surrounded by family, I may as well have been somewhere abroad and alone because the only response I received was an eyeroll and “get over yourself”. I was put on meds but, like you, they’re not something I’m comfortable taking for the rest of my life – I’m currently trying to find natural alternatives and, so far, I’ve found one natural pill that seems to help just as much as whatever concoction the doctors gave to me.
I hope you’re doing better! Anxiety is an evil, nasty creature to battle with!
It is evil! Thank you for sharing you experience, Sky! I actually started acupuncture a few weeks ago and it is REALLY helping a lot. No pills for me!! 🙂
that is so scary! 😦
I am so glad you have such an amazing support system there. You really need people around you to get through these things.
The day I arrived in Argentina, I lost it. I had gone through a horrible breakup, I had spent over 30 hours traveling, my apartment was not what I expected, and I just snapped. I cried so hard that I fell into what I now consider a sadness coma. My dog curled up next to me, unsure of what to do, but knowing I needed the only connection I had to my former life. I woke up hours later to a phone call from the one person I knew in Buenos Aires – a guy I had met in a hostel 3 years earlier. He called to make sure I arrived ok and to invite me to hang out the next day. He became my best friend in BA, and any time I had freak outs, I knew he would be there.
I am very lucky to have the people I have in my life here. I count my lucky stars often at the blessings in my life — namely the people. I’m so glad you have a friend in BA to help you. It is never easy to adjust or deal with issues like that when you are alone. So easy to get in a rut. It’s times like that when those people pop up into your life at the most perfect time.