The Panic at Westfield Mall

When I made the decision to leave, I had reached a point of acceptance. This was real – come Monday, I wouldn’t be waking up and getting ready to come into work like I’ve been doing for the last three and a half years. At the end of the Friday, I had packed up my belongings on my desk – all of the little trinkets and photos I had collected over the years. I spent the week saying goodbye to my colleagues, talking to them about my next steps, and answering any lingering questions. I thought that I was fine and I was happy with the way that I handled everything. But there were two things on my mind that I hadn’t quite settled – telling my parents that I had left my job and securing my next job. “They” say you should never leave your job without having your next one lined up. The world says that and so do my parents. I say that because I’ve always been the girl with a plan. For me, my biggest fear is letting my parents down. So I kept it inside. The plan was to tell them once I had my next job so as to not worry them about the period of time I would have in between. At this point in time, I had been harboring the news for a week, but little did I know that every day this would chip away at me.

The day after leaving my job, I had plans to see a movie in the city with my friends. I was running late because of an accident on 101. Initially, I was hoping to park at Manan’s so that we could go together to the theater, but this hiccup forced me to change routes and instead meet them at the theater. I don’t particular enjoy driving in the city and I wasn’t aware that parking wasn’t easy near the mall. I was forced to park in the Tenderloin, a place that I don’t feel comfortable walking around in by myself even during the day. Rushing to the theater inside Westfield Mall, I was called to by bystanders in the Tenderloin. I held my breath and kept my head and eyes down only looking up to catch glimpses of whether or not I was on the right street. Inside the mall, I realized I had to go to the 7th floor, but couldn’t find a direct elevator. I took escalator after escalator after escalator and landed inside a Nordstrom. But where was the theater? After finding it, Manan said he left my ticket with the person at the front. I went to the first person I saw, but she told me my theater was on the opposite side so I walked back to the other side and retrieved my ticket. Out of breath already, I receive a text from Manan and he says that they’re in the last row. The last row… in my head I’m thinking, but does this mean the first row or do I need to climb all of these steps? The movie has started and its dark. I’m upset at myself that I didn’t make it in time and that I missed the trailers. I start to wonder why I didn’t just leave my house 15 minutes earlier to avoid this situation. I’m in the corner of the theater near the entrance and not only do I feel myself getting hot and the sweat on the back of my neck, but I feel eyes on me that I’m being that girl in the theater right now with their phone light visible who can’t functionally find their friends. I’m texting him, but every text I receive feels like it is taking 10 minutes to get to me. That’s when I recognize what is happening.

I leave the theater and find a table and two chairs outside of it. I had just driven a little over an hour to get here and now that I was here, I wanted to drive an hour back home. I was starting to panic and I needed to leave before anyone saw me or knew what was happening. I try to make sense of what’s going on and start to wonder what is wrong with me and why I can’t just go into the theater again and find my friends so that this situation wouldn’t even be a situation. Instead, I text Manan and tell him that I couldn’t find him, but that I was having a “moment”  – code for what I was trying to cover up and that I was leaving. “If they ask, tell them an emergency came up” I text as I swiftly make my exit. I start making my way down the hundred escalators again, but before I step outside, I wonder if stepping into the nearby Aritiza might calm me down a bit. The clothes are nice, but even that can’t distract from what is actually happening. As I walk outside to Market Street again, Manan tells me that he’s not into the movie and that he’ll come find me. I know that he’s lying to me and is trying to be a good friend so instead I think about sprinting to my car in the Tenderloin before he finds me. Outside on Market is another protest. It is chaotic and there’s more people around than I feel comfortable with. My body is paralyzed. I hear nothing and my vision begins to blur, but not because I’m crying. The tears don’t feel cold or hot, but my face is completely wet and in a constant stream. They don’t stop. When I cry, I feel like I remember myself making a sound – some kind of sound to indicate that I am crying – an obvious indication that I am sad or an expression of a sob. In the state of my panic attack, I’m consistently crying, but completely quiet. In this moment, I’m grateful that no one “sees” me or at least I pretend that they don’t and no one is asking if I’m okay and if they can help me. If they tried, I wouldn’t be able to give them a response.

Manan finds me outside of the adidas. Even the act of locating him in all of this is hard for me. He greets me with a smile and a hug as if what just happened did not happen at all. We take a walk and he checks in with me asking how I’m feeling and what I want to do. Everything around me is moving slowly, but my mind and my heart are still racing. I feel like I don’t quite fit into what reality actually is in that moment and am still waiting to come down. Finally, exhausted from everything, I tell him that I just want to sit and not have to think about what I’m doing next. He suggests that the best place to go back to is where we started – back into the movie and that this time he would help me find my way to our seats. It wasn’t exactly one moment that set this panic attack off. It was a lot of little moments triggered by a life event that I couldn’t 100% control. Up until this moment, I realize that while I’ve tried to play it off that I was okay with everything, there’s a part of me inside that is not okay and I need to address it somehow.

I have been having panic attacks since I was 19 years old and I’m writing this post because of encouragement that I’ve received from Mandi and because of the series that I’m writing about my job transition. It didn’t seem right to leave this part of my journey out just because it was a moment in which I struggled. I don’t jump at the chance to share some of the hardships that I deal with on Yow Yow! because in Asian cultures you don’t admit your flaws. You keep these stories close to you and to every outsider, you always have it together. Here’s the thing about my panic attacks though. In addition to accepting this life change, I am also accepting that panic attacks are going to be a part of my life. They will never go away. They may become easier as I understand how to deal with them and that seems like the most important thing that I could work towards for myself.

In 2016 and 2017, there has been a lot of discussions about how people are portrayed on social media and the pressures to make your feed and essentially your life look like you are living a perfect life. What I’m more interested in is having these honest conversations about a thing that is very common and very REAL among people. When you don’t talk about these things happening to you, you can feel like you are very alone. Instead, I can turn to Mandi who can relate to my experiences or to Manan who can support me when these “moments” arise because he’s seen it. And lastly, we can educate. My brother and I are both watching “This Is Us” right now on NBC and recently they filmed a scene in which one of the main characters, Randall, is experiencing a panic attack both as a kid and as an adult. I mentioned to Kevin that I had a moment like that very recently and instead of dismissing or laughing it off, he wanted to know more. “Is that what that looks like for you?” “Is that what you go through?” “How does it get better?” I’m lucky to have the three of them by my side showing me what healthy support looks like from three different views.

“Panic” is on my list of least favorite words. I hate saying it aloud and I’m scared to admit that I experience this because I worry that people will immediately associate it with the word “crazy” and back away from me with their hands up without an explanation or an understanding. However, I’m more scared of going through this alone and I would rather confide in those closest to me about what I go through than have to hide this part of me. It’s not pretty. I don’t get to choose when it happens or make sure that I’m in the comfort of my own private home. It’s not something that I’m proud of and life would be easier without it, but let’s talk about it. And maybe then, we can begin to start accepting it instead of harboring it as something we have to be ashamed of or embarrassed by.

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