The beginnings… Part 1
To begin with, this is a very intimate and personal experience and I have been extremely apprehensive of putting this down on a blog for obvious reasons. I have been deliberating over this for quite a few months and have decided to put it up out here for the simple reason that I will be doing an immense disservice to hundreds of thousands of people who suffer from some form or the other of anxiety, panic attack and depression, if I don’t share my experience.
I distinctly remember the day during the winter of 1991, I was in the second year of my post graduation, when my professor asked a question on a subject which I had been conversant with the past 3 years, I put up my hand to answer and when I wanted to respond, my mind went blank, my head started spinning and the heart started pounding furiously, and in no time I was soaking in my own sweat. I remember getting out of the class and taking a cycle-rickshaw back to the hostel, probably my first and only ride in a cycle rickshaw in the three years that I spent at the college campus in BIT Mesra. That was the first of the several panic and anxiety attacks I was going to have in my life.
The Wikipedia says that “Experiencing a panic attack has been said to be one of the most intensely frightening, upsetting and uncomfortable experiences of a person’s life.” and I tell you that the sentence does not capture the enormity of what it means to experience a panic attack.
Consequently when it reoccurred a second and a third time, I tended to believe that it could be either due to general weakness or I may have inherited a heart condition from my family genes.
One of my helpful classmates, Sunil, took me to the General hospital in Ranchi only to be prescribed a few vitamins and a tonic by the doctor. Being a thin, lanky, 6 feet tall,50 kg chap didn’t help either. The constant advice from everyone used to be, eat well and put on some weight the general idea and consensus was “ you are so thin and weak, put on some weight you will be fine”. To make matters worse a combination of amoebic dysentery plus irritable bowel syndrome hit home and I was in a terrible shape, I had no clue as to what was happening.
Even worse was the fact that my college was 1300 kms away from my home – a 2 nights, one day long journey from Hyderabad where the rest of the family was, and this was way before the cell phone and internet days (early 90’s). Even if one had to make a phone call, one had to walk all the way to the main campus building which was a kilometer away from the hostel or travel 20 odd kms to one of the STD booths in Ranchi city. Home sickness and a strange illness, made matters seem worse than they were in this small town.
The frequency of the attacks increased – I reached home during the holidays a nervous wreck. When the panic attacks occurred, the instant reaction I used to have was to run away from the place. And while I find them funny now, trust me, I would never ever wish that even my worst enemy (not that I have any) to be in this situation. How does one run away from a moving train? How does one get out a cinema theater in the middle of movie? or What does one do when one has a panic attack, right while driving a scooter in the middle of the road? or while sitting in a meeting at work?
A visit to the friendly neighbourhood doctor, resulted in me being prescribed – not the right word – he gave some 60 odd white tablets, with no names and asked me to take half of them every time I felt like I was having an attack! Till date, I don’t know whether it was a tranquilizer or a anti-hypertensive drug or even a placebo. One thing was sure, it didn’t work.
On the way back to Ranchi from Hyderabad, after the vacation, I boarded the train at Nampally and got down at Secunderabad due to another panic attack in the train. A classmate of mine who was to board the same train at Warangal was left wondering as to why I didn’t make it.
Finally after a couple of days my brother accompanied me all the way from Hyderabad to Ranchi to make sure I completed the journey, but not before suspecting that I was on drugs and that panic attacks are probably some kind of withdrawal symptoms!
I was somehow able to cope and manage the rest of the days at college. But I didn’t knew what lay in store for me next.