Panic Attacks? Definitely Possible
Somto Dimobi,’19, Egineering
Before college, I thought I knew how to study perfectly, and I had never experienced anything close to a panic attack, especially not in an exam hall. In my head, exams, academics and I were a trio of best friends. Until my sophomore year, I had no clue about the concept of mental health or good wellbeing practices. So, what exactly happened in my sophomore year?
It was 8:30 am and I sat on one of the tables in front of the Stevenson Library finalizing my study for my third calculus midterm exam. I had already been studying for 4 hours and I had definitely felt worse about past exams and still did well. My exam was scheduled to start by 9:00 am, so I was getting ready to head out when I realized that my mind had drawn a blank. It was like I had forgotten everything I had read for the exam. I frantically flipped through pages, trying to regain the composure I had just 30 minutes ago, but to no avail. I even decided to go a bit late for the exam (never do this unless you are absolutely sure time would not be a constraint), to try and re-read as much as I could. When I finally walked into the exam hall, I could not write anything down. Even the problems I could figure out just kept going around in circles in my head. I was crying and shaking and replaying worst-case scenarios of getting a terrible GPA and ruining my chances of getting a good job post-graduation. When I handed in my exam sheet, I had only succeeded in answering just two out of the questions asked. Shaken, I ran to the Center for Student Wellbeing (CSW) asking to speak to someone. I spent the next 30 minutes crying to a counselor while he tried to calm me down and help me plan strategic next steps, one of which involved going to talk to the professor.
To cut the long story short, I was able to explain everything to my professor who allowed a final replacement because apart from the panic episode, I had gotten A’s in the first two exams and had been consistent with asking questions and going to office hours throughout the course. This story is one example from many of why it is important to build relationships with professors and other staff on campus.
The more vital part of my story, however, was the realization that my weekly all-nighters, inconsistent sleep schedule and lack of exercise were not sustainable and I had to start taking care of myself. I was not about to encourage another panic attack, especially since I had acknowledged that it could happen. I started having bi-weekly appointments with the CSW to build healthy mental practices including meditation, exercise, and proper time management. The counselor I saw was really great and helped keep me accountable too. It was also really cool to consistently use one hour to reflect upon how I much I had grown or slacked in recent past and find out ways to improve. That semester, albeit its rocky start, was one of the most pivotal for me growth-wise. I developed a habit of introspection and started putting a lot of effort into living a healthy mental life. It also showed me how important the mental health resources on campus were as I had a first-hand experience with CSW.
As a final word, we all know it gets hard and the struggle at one of the most highly ranked colleges in the U.S. is as real as it gets. Academic deadlines, engineering projects, extracurriculars, dance practices etc. may become overwhelming and it is really easy to slip into a constant robotic routine where self-care is the least of your worries. BUT, especially then, we should remember to take care of ourselves, our friends and open up to the people and resources around us. Panic attacks definitely happen, and though not all professors are as understanding as mine, lifestyle changes can prevent recurrences while campus resources can help with coping.