The first time I failed an exam was at my A-Levels. I was more stunned by the abysmal failure than the repercussions of the actual failure. When that amount of money is spent on your education, failure is really not an option, and that experience left me terribly scarred. I became that person who started becoming anxious about results. So, on the day our Bar results were to be released, I was a blubbering mess. I paced about the living room, went to the bathroom sooo many times, cried, imagined a world where I had to go back home to say ‘I need money to re-sit the exams’. The wonky Nigerian Law School website did not help matters – as I had to keep refreshing the page. Long after I saw my results and I passed, I was still unable to calm down. It was a truly awful experience – my first major panic attack.
Having an anxiety attack as a Nigerian is one of those things that is hardly ever spoken about as a real issue. You’re told to ‘Calm down’, as if there’s a switch you can flick and everything will be made better. In reality, it’s not that simple. Anxiety issues can be triggered by even the littlest thing; leaving your phone in the car when you quickly dash into a supermarket is enough to upset someone who is prone to panic attacks. An uninitiated observer might wonder why you’re all wound up, after all you’ll get back to the phone in 30 minutes at the most. However, for someone who suffers anxiety attacks, it’s not ‘just 30 minutes’. A lot of times, the person has thought 300 steps ahead of just having that phone in the car. ‘What if my best friend calls me while I’m in the store?’ /’What if she fell in the bathroom and needs me to come and take her to the hospital?’/ ‘What if she dies because she can’t reach me?’/ ‘How will I live with the guilt of knowing my best friend died because I left my phone in the car?’.
It’s a wild churning of thoughts and it’s very difficult to dial down.
My ex-housemate has a severe case of anxiety issues. She apologises for EVERYTHING SHE DOES. If she opens the door to the kitchen and you’re in the kitchen, she starts fretting. “Oh, I didn’t know you were there. I’m sorry.’ When she first moved in I didn’t get why she was always shaking as I’d never seen that level anxiety attacks before. One time she wanted to use the oven and I had just finished grilling something, she started apologising for wanting to use the oven, calling herself stupid, and saying should have just stayed in her room till the kitchen was empty. By this time her mother had told me she had severe attacks so I told her it was fine and I left the kitchen for her. Before then, I’d probably have told her ‘calm down’. It’s not that serious.’ But because I’m more sensitive to it, I know that telling her to ‘calm down’ is not necessarily helpful.
People with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder are usually prone to having panic attacks. It’s that thing about wanting things to be in the right place at the right time. My two-year old niece gets apprehensive when you don’t put your coats on the hanger, IN the cloak room. If one leg of her boots is in the wrong place, she starts panicking till both legs are together, in alignment. We no longer laugh at her obsessing for perfection; instead we do everything we can to try and restore balance to her universe… because she won’t stop fretting until you put the straw in the bin, the remote control in the holder and the magazines in the stand. It’s not as simple as saying ‘Keep Calm’.
Sometimes, it’s funny to watch someone lose their composure because one of their shoes is not in its right place on the shoe rack, if you’re not aware that the person probably has panic attacks. A lot of times people react with irritation when they see someone being anxious over something that is, prima facie, ‘nothing’. Sensitivity is key at all times, in all dealings with human beings.
Defusing a panic attack, however, is not clear cut. Sometimes drugs are needed, sometimes all you just need is space and time to resolve the thing that set you off. Sometimes, all you need is a distraction – that has never worked with me though. Telling a person who is having a panic attack not to panic is not really helpful, because I’m sure the person isn’t exactly enjoying being in that state so saying “O de f’ara bale now” (Calm down) is moot. These issues stem from mental health issues and a lot of times, people who suffer these issues need medical attention.
It’s not just okay to assume the person has an inability to withstand stress. Imagine sitting in traffic for two hours to get to work, another two hour to come back home. At some point, a switch is bound to flip in a person’s brain – when there’s inadequate rest. Yes, that’s why I get nervous when Gala traders keep hovering around my window in traffic.
Panic attacks are real and they’re not just ‘Oyinbo’ issues.
After staying up all night to watch the rather underwhelming Headies 2014, I woke up at 9am thinking ‘Oh God! I haven’t written my Banter. It’s 10a.m in Nigeria.’ A cup of green tea in my hand has helped defuse the tension. 😀 Speaking of the Headies, special shout out to PSquare! They made the entire fiasco worth it at the end. Those guys are truly performers – no miming, no lip-syncing. Just pure talent, experience, professionalism and they’re so real too.
Ah! okay, enough about the Okoye brothers. Have a fabulous week ahead. Smile. Let your life be an illumination to someone this week. Be sensitive to people’s quirks… no matter how weird you think they are. 🙂
Oh and don’t forget to share some of your anxiety issues if you suffer from them, and what helps you get through it. If you have a friend who suffers from panic attacks, how do you react? 😀 Don’t worry this is a safe space, we don’t judge.
Peace, love & carrot sticks.
Photo Credit: Dreamstime | Mocker