It was sometime in September 2019. I’d had a busy day of meetings and was finally winding down over dinner with some friends.
Was it the heat? Or was it exhaustion from the day’s work?
At some point, my mind struggled to focus and I broke out in a cold sweat.
Within minutes, I struggled to breathe and thought I was going to faint (though thankfully, you can’t actually faint during a panic attack). For the first time in my life, I experienced a sense of impending doom.
A trip to the A&E (Accident and Emergency) department ruled out possible health issues and the doctor sent me home with the words, “Just try not to panic.”
A DAMAGING MENTALITY
The year 2019 had been one of massive change for me. I’d relocated back to Singapore from the UK. This also meant moving my business. Amidst juggling the reverse culture shock, acclimatising to the hot weather, and trying to find my footing as an entrepreneur in Singapore, I fell really ill with dengue fever and was hospitalised.
After five days in the hospital, I left expecting to feel fully healthy. Nobody told me I could potentially still feel weak; everyone I knew seemed to recover fine!
That added another layer of pressure. It’s silly, but I was essentially telling myself, “My body’s wrong. I shouldn’t be feeling this weak, breathless, and exhausted. I should be fine already. Now, let’s get back to work.”
It wasn’t until months later, and after speaking to my counsellor, that I finally realised how damaging this mentality was. My body had gone through a battle with dengue and instead of giving it time to recover, I pushed it further simply because I didn’t want to feel like I was being too dramatic.
WITHIN MINUTES, I STRUGGLED TO BREATHE AND THOUGHT I WAS GOING TO FAINT.
SALT TO THE WOUND
In the days after my first panic attack, things got worse. Just leaving my room would trigger my anxiety, so I stayed in that safe space. To add salt to the wound, I began to notice that my hands were constantly shaking — especially when I wrote. This was crushing because I’m a full-time calligrapher. I write for a living! Work means creating calligraphy for companies (sometimes in public) and teaching it.
Being unable to leave my room and meet people, and losing the steadiness in my hands meant I had to stop work entirely. I’d lost the ability to do the two things that I enjoyed the most — meeting new people and practising calligraphy.
A VERY DARK PLACE
For the first time in my life, I felt no sense of joy at all. It wasn’t just that I didn’t; I simply couldn’t. My tears ran dry and I was afraid of being left alone with my thoughts. I was too afraid to go out or interact with people for fear of another panic attack, or even worse, embarrassing myself in front of my friends or clients if I were to experience an attack in front of them!
To those around me though, I appeared fine even during a panic attack. My husband said he couldn’t even tell when I was having a panic attack unless I told him.
I’ve experienced loss, heartbreaks, and failures in my life. But none of them left me this empty. Struggling to see the light at the end of the tunnel, feeling devoid of joy, and being unable to do the things I loved put me in a very dark place.
A place in which I wish you’ll never find yourself.
FOR THE FIRST TIME IN MY LIFE, I FELT NO SENSE OF JOY AT ALL.
To say that my mind was in pieces wouldn’t have been too far from reality.
The combination of stopping work, being afraid to leave home for days on end, and not talking to anyone left me feeling like my life had fallen apart.
Yet in my despair and struggle to see how I’d make it out of this, my instinct led me to look to God. In that pit, when I couldn’t see anything but felt only debilitating anxiety, all I could do was hold on to Christ.
In fact, that’s all I could muster between the depressive and anxious moments!
STEPS ON THE ROAD TO RECOVERY
I only began on my road to recovery when I fixed my sight on God and His words.
The first step was praying for courage to step out of my home to seek professional help. A lot was unpacked during my counselling sessions. I’ve since learned coping techniques to deal with a panic attack and ways to manage my triggers so I can still run my business. The biggest takeaways were learning to be more aware of my own needs and setting firm boundaries, especially with my loved ones.
The next step was praying for wisdom and open channels to have that uncomfortable talk about my condition with my family. I praise God that open communication proved to be possible, and they eventually understood that going to a counsellor would help me and shouldn’t be stigmatised.
As I learned to cope with the frightful possibility of panic attacks, I slowly took my final step and turned back to calligraphy. All I wanted to do was go back to why I started calligraphy in the first place — to write out the lyrics to the worship songs I loved!
But my hand tremors didn’t make this easy.
After realising that the shakiness was here to stay, it dawned on me that just as God accepts me with my imperfections, so should I with my art. This revelation encouraged me to allow myself to focus on creating my calligraphy without the pressure of being perfect. The funny thing is that this led to an evolution of my calligraphic style.
IT MAY HAVE TAKEN BEING STRICKEN BY ANXIETY, BUT GOD HAS TAUGHT ME TO LOVE MYSELF AS HE DOES.
MY GOOD AND FAITHFUL GOD
I look back at the journey that God has taken me on and see that I now understand Him and my artistic self better.
Colossians 1:17 will always be dear to my heart: “He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.” It’s a verse that has anchored me for years, serving as a reminder that God is the one who’s holding my world together.
It may have taken being stricken by anxiety, but God has taught me to love myself as He does — to allow myself to be imperfect and to move at my own pace.
I’ve experienced God’s providence in bringing the right people into my life — friends and family who don’t try to ‘fix’ me and who listen to what I need without questions. They don’t cause a fuss, and let me ride out each panic attack, just sitting with me or holding my hand.
I still marvel at how I’m able to run my calligraphy business and be out on my own today, because it was entirely impossible just two years ago. I’m able to speak candidly about my anxiety and sometimes even joke about it.
The bouts of anxiety still hit, the cold sweat, tremors, and breathlessness still happen. But God is always good and faithful.