Anxiety Attacks Top Stories

The First Attack

Jakarta, Indonesia. 11 July 2017.

I was waiting for my good friend Pehm at Grand Indonesia, one of the posh malls along Jalan Sudirman in Jakarta. Since 2015, I was stationed at the Open Data Lab as regional research manager for Asia and was leading an international team of data scientists, designers, sociologists, and ICT professionals, in designing and implementing open data projects in Indonesia and in the region.

It was a job like no other. I was home-based for at least 50% of the time, while the rest of my days was spent on regular trips to Jakarta, and elsewhere in the globe. Because the parent organization, World Wide Web Foundation, was global, it was not unusual to work on peculiar hours, sometimes very late into the evening. For at least 2 years, I was sleep-deprived, with hardly any time for regular exercise, and in some instances, eating irregularly.

Pehm was also in the city for a regional assignment at the ASEAN. We decided to meet for dinner to talk about random stuff and savour good food like good old times. We ate at Shaburi and then decided to walk around and find a good place to have dessert.

As we walked, the first thing I felt was a sudden loss of strength in my lower legs. Then I sweated profusely and felt nauseous. I told Pehm I was not feeling well. I probably looked pale, because Pehm was a little disturbed but not frantic. I thought I was about to have a heart attack or a stroke. I panicked and was hyperventilating.

“Talk to me. Answer my questions in complete sentences. Tell me what did you do today”. I remembered Pehm saying, like a mother demanding an explanation from his son. I obliged. Later did I know that one of the tests to check whether a person is about to have a stroke is to assess whether a person experiences confusion, difficulty to understand simple sentences, or some trouble in speaking.

“Look at me. Raise your hands up.”, she commanded. I did as told.

Pehm was calm. She held my arm and guided me to a nearby chair in one of the lobby displays. She assured me I was okay, that I am not having a stroke. She sensed I was not gasping for breath and was not feeling a tightness on my chest. So she asked me if I still have the strength to walk so we can get to the nearby CBTL to order water. We managed to get there without much trouble on my part.

After two bottles of water, I felt fine and burped. I blamed the sashimi we ate. We laughed. Pehm told me she is good at this – having been a witness to the countless times her father had a heart attack (or a stroke, I can no longer remember). After roughly ten minutes, everything I felt – numbness in my left leg, weakness in my whole body, nausea, sweating – were all gone.

After assuring herself that I was okay, Pehm suggested that we go home and skip dessert so I can rest. We took a cab and she dropped me at my hotel. Though worried, she told me I am okay, and if there is anything I needed, I should call her. She suggested that if things didn’t feel fine and if I get to have those symptoms again, I should call her so we can rush to the nearest hospital.

Luckily, the symptoms never came back. But I did not sleep well during that night. It was the first time in my life that I feared death.

I could not die just yet, I thought to myself. My kids were still young. I still have big dreams for them. I cried many times that night, asking the Lord to help me sleep, to let me go through the night, to make me go home first, to postpone death if it was my time.

I slept at 3 am. I was almost late for my 930 meeting the following day. I never told anyone at the office. The day went on like a breeze. I was back to my old self. But the fear of dying is lurking somewhere behind my eyes.

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