Palms sweating, loss of focus, confusion, unrecognizable information, heartbeat racing, fear and anxiety setting in … I’m having a panic attack, at the beginning of an exam.
I had just returned from vacation and I was about to sit my final exam for my Masters degree the following day. I entered the exam room, sat down, took out my pen, pencil, sharpener and eraser in preparation for the exam. The invigilator placed the exam paper on my desk, I completed my name and filled in the date. I said a brief prayer, opened up my exam book and began browsing the questions.
Nothing. Blank. Zip. Nada. I could not recognize the information on the exam paper. It was like reading a foreign language. I couldn’t recall anything that I studied and then I became anxious, fearful and worried about failing. I looked to my left and right and people were reading, jotting notes on their papers, while I was fretting and sweating. My heart kept racing and I began to tear up, so I held up my hand and signaled the invigilator for assistance. I explained to her what was happening and she escorted me out of the class onto the corridor of the 2nd Floor.
She said to me calmly, “Breathe, it is ok. Just breathe.” I began to cry as I felt overwhelmed by the possibility of failing this degree and failing my parents who funded the degree. The weight and expectations of family and myself drenched me. I bent down and the lady held my hand. She said “Let’s pray”. She began to pray over me, for recollection of information that I studied, for a calm spirit, for confidence that all will be well. I am sure said spoke other things over me but I can’t recall. When I stopped crying, she asked me how I was feeling and if I was ready to rejoin the exam. Truth be told, I wasn’t ready but I was willing to try.
I went into the exam room and used my knowledge of other subject areas with similar scenario topics to compose an appropriate answer. Some bits of content studied from the exam topics casually strolled in and I was able to apply the information. I left that exam, filled with anxiety and uncertainty of my grade.
A couple of months later, I found out I passed by exam. I also found that the invigilator wrote a note on the exam booklet to the lecturer stating that I had a panic attack. The lecturer told my mom some time later that my overall course grades were very good so, by default, I would have passed the subject. However, he did take into consideration the circumstances and graded my paper with a bit of compassion and leniency. To God, be the glory.
I never knew what a panic attack was nor did I ever think that I would have had a mental illness. We often stigmatize mental illness without truly understanding what it means and the categorizations. Since that day, I have sought to inform myself about mental health and have been practicing good mental health through self care regimens. This includes spending time with God (more devotions and conversations), taking periodic breaks from social media, treating myself to my favourite foods and restaurants, actually taking my vacation days and decompressing from the rigors and nuances of work and home responsibilities, eating healthier, integrating a better and consistent exercise routine. I have been doing more for me and I am better for it.
There are various way to maintain positive mental health according to meantalhealth.gov. They include:
Getting professional help if you need it
Connecting with others
Getting physically active
Getting enough sleep
Developing coping skills
Check out my latest podcast episode on mental health here: EP.10 Demystifying mental health amongst millennials. I hope this helps.