Letting Go: Finding Peace Through Therapy
As quickly as the weather changes in Singapore, anxiety attacks can come and go without warning.
This was how Dian Andriyani, 22, has experienced the debilitating effects of anxiety since she was a teenager.
For Dian, however, the symptoms hit a peak during COVID-19. At the time in mid-2020, Dian was homebound like most of Singapore as the gym she worked in was closed. During this period, she will suddenly feel breathless, weak and dizzy.
Dian thought she was experiencing life-threatening COVID-19 symptoms. She got to the nearest emergency room and admitted herself. Dian refused to believe it when the doctors told her she was tested negative for COVID-19 – how else can they explain her breathing issues and illness? One of her doctors asked gently: Has she considered she may be having anxiety attacks?
"I was shocked when the doctor asked if I thought I was having an anxiety attack. I was in denial, and I didn't believe the doctors," says Dian.
Discharged and given an otherwise clean bill of health, Dian felt no better. Her situation worsened and she had panic attacks almost weekly for nearly a month after the hospital visit. Her work was disrupted, as was her everyday life.
Nobody Talked About Mental Health
Dian knew since she was 14 that something felt "off" about herself, but she could not figure out what it was. Before her onset of panic attacks, she enjoyed dancing and singing, but was fearful of the attention pursuing her hobbies garnered. She avoided interactions with classmates and attributed her behaviour around strangers to regular “shyness”.
Dian’s family has never been comfortable with discussing difficult and personal issues like mental health. So, she resorted to self-help through Google and books on psychology but was unable to fully overcome her struggle.
"Mental health was a taboo back when I was younger and if I spoke up about it, people would call me crazy. At that point in time, I just did not want that to happen," says Dian.
Help Through A Screen
Dian’s situation is not unlike that faced by many younger people around the world, who are looking for help of any kind for their mental health conditions.
All her fears and deep-seated anxiety about seeking help finally gave way after the severe attacks Dian had to endure during the pandemic. She started looking into traditional face-to-face counselling, but her heart sank when she found out the sessions were reduced, and she had to join a long waitlist.
Dian learned from a friend that Clarity Singapore provides tele-counselling. Tele-counselling is a more unconventional yet convenient way of therapy that has emerged during COVID-19, and all Dian had to do was to have virtual sessions with a therapist.
“The first session went really well,” Dian recalls. Dian finally had an opportunity to share her mental health concerns in a familiar environment, as if chatting with a friend. To Dian, tele-counselling was the perfect medium as she felt comfortable attending therapy from home. Being in a space where she didn't feel awkward, she could be herself and voice out her thoughts without feeling judged. She felt a sense of calm and a weight lifted off her shoulders.
"Tele-counselling taught me to be independent as I would have to help myself without my therapist being there with me physically," says Dian.
Tele-counselling gave Dian a sense of safety since she was not physically in a room with the therapist, and she felt “freer” to talk without being judged: "It was easier to connect with my therapist because she couldn't see me completely. It lets me focus on myself and easily talk about my problems."
Therapy opened up Dian's perspective regarding her mental health and she learned techniques to approach anxiety and manage her panic attacks. Dian was also challenged to go out and make friends with new people so she could apply ways to cope with her stress and anxiety.
One major insight she gained was to stop obsessing over “why” she had anxiety attacks: "I learned now with my therapist that my trigger was not knowing the triggers for my panic attacks!" says Dian.
Dian has learned to view her condition in a unique way – like the weather.
"My therapist told me to view my feelings like a passing cloud and just let it through," Dian recalls. "Whenever I feel an oncoming attack, I would take deep breaths and try to distract myself."
Coming Out Of Her Shell
Dian feel changed after going for therapy, as it has opened up all the feelings she has locked away, fearing they were taboo.
"Therapy is where I learned to speak up about my feelings," says Dian. "It allowed me to validate myself, as I'm no longer afraid to open up and share my thoughts with others."
The young woman is now looking for new career opportunities and is keen to pursue causes close to her heart. She is also using her social media to talk bravely and openly about her mental health condition and encourages her friends to share about their struggles as well. This is where it starts, she believes – a heartfelt conversation can change lives.
“If you know you’re struggling with anxiety, just go for help. If you think that getting help is scary, it is scarier to go through alone. For those who have friends or family going through similar experiences, check in on them from time to time, ask them how they feel.” advises Dian.
About Clarity Singapore
Clarity Singapore is a mental health charity that provides services to individuals seeking professional help through support, acceptance, and recovery. It runs one of the community intervention teams (COMIT), which provides assessment, counselling, therapy and psychoeducation support for clients with mental health issues.
With the assessment, the team develops individualised care plans for clients or link the clients up with other more suitable services. COMIT also works closely with the community outreach teams, partner General Practitioners, Polyclinics and other community partners to provide holistic care to clients.
If you wish to seek tele-counselling as Dian did, it is available for anyone aged 15 to 65 years old. You may email Clarity Singapore at [email protected] or contact them at 67577990.
Learn more about the Mental Health and the support available from the following resources.