SETBACK IS NOT FAILURE

I’ve been off social media and blogging since mid June. I took a short break after I felt my mental health suffer from the constant negative news of COVID-19 and the re-emergence of a second wave of the virus where I live. Many things have happened during my sabbatical – some funny, some embarrassing and a few not so great. I’ll start at the beginning; the moment that prompted my temporary absence.


Reflection from 26/06/20 – prior to the second wave of COVID-19 and subsequent lockdown.

For the last six months, I’ve been feeling happy and mentally healthy. I’ve worked on improving social connections, reducing social anxiety and negativity, and lessening the need for control. ‘Let It Go’ has become my new mantra. In fact, not long ago, I suggested to my doctor that perhaps I had reached the stages of maintenance or recovery. Yesterday, I had a humbling reminder that achieving good mental health is an ongoing journey and setbacks can happen. In actuality, setbacks are part of the recovery.

Late in the afternoon, seemingly out of nowhere, I started experiencing shortness of breath, coughing and tightness in my chest. It felt like an elephant had nestled down on my sternum. My immediate thought was ‘grab the puffer, it’s an asthma attack’. If I hadn’t panicked and had taken a moment to think, I would have concluded that a random asthma attack while playing a Nintendo game was improbable.

Frantic to alleviate the shortness of breath, I puffed Ventolin like it was going out of fashion. It did nothing but gave me the shakes and dizziness. You’d think being an ex-pharmacist, I’d be a tad more informed but no, gasping for air must have killed all rational brain cells. My husband suggested I sought medical attention and question possible COVID-19 infection.

I was promptly seen at the medical clinic with the doctor checking all of my vitals, including oxygen saturation. When asked what triggered the symptoms, I was at a loss. In the morning, my three-year-old son and I had watched trains past at the nearby train station, played at the local park and had babychinos.

At the time of the attack, we were playing Animal Crossing, making ‘money’ through the sale of harvested fruit. It’s a big loan, two and a half million ‘dollars’ to be exact, so there could be some causality. It’s not completely outside the realm of possibility.

The most likely trigger was the discussion I had with my husband, which had taken place an hour prior to the onset of symptoms. We were deciding whether or not it was in everyone’s best interest to travel almost seven hours to stay with the in-laws amidst the possibility of a second wave of COVID-19 infections. It was a mutual agreement to can the trip.

The doctor gave me two options; go to the emergency department for oxygen nebulisation and get checked for COVID-19, blood clots and asthma or stay in the clinic’s treatment room for observation after taking a Valium for a suspected panic attack. I countered with ‘I think I’ll just walk it off. Uh… or go home and rest.’ In the end, I reluctantly took the Valium and waited in the treatment room for the dizziness, pins and needles, tremors and chest tightness to dissipate.

As I sat on the treatment bed, several nurses came in and out of the room to gather medical supplies and asked why I was there. I felt embarrassed having to repeatedly admit that I had suffered a panic attack and as a result, hyperventilated. I also felt ashamed for occupying a treatment room and wasting the doctor’s time, who could have attended to patients with ‘real’ problems. Stupid, right?

Instead of accepting it for what it was – a panic attack, I let the experience colour my interpretation of my self-worth. I failed. Therefore, I am a failure. I allowed myself to believe that falsehood.

That internal dialogue of mine can be cruel and critical, making me proficient at self-sabotage. I’m quite the high-achiever in that regard. I have such a negative perception of myself that every time I am faced with challenges or a setback, I am quick to accept defeat.

Ironically, I am fast to point out to others the importance of being kind to yourself and owning and valuing your truth. It’s high time I heed my own advice.

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