Anxiety Made Me Leave Thailand

The day I anticipated taking place in December made a quick turn and came when I least expected it nor wanted it.  I left Thailand. Just past the 7 month mark and just shy of the 1 full year I had planned, I am back in the good ole USA.

When I came home, I was incredibly embarrassed and mostly ashamed.  I talked about my experiences and my timeline openly when it came to living abroad.  I was set out to complete 1 full year living and working in Thailand.  Although I feel like I failed in my “goals,” I surely didn’t fail when I think about my accomplishments.

I packed up my life at the end of 2014 and moved to Thailand.  I didn’t take a vacation.  I flat out moved. I packed my bags and said “see ya later” to my closest friends and my extremely supportive family and boyfriend.  I left everything familiar for the experience of a lifetime.  And, it was nothing short of that!

I was taken in by the most amazing Thai woman and her family – she cooked for me, taught me bits and pieces of Thai, protected me from my Cambodian stalker (true story), and she let me tutor a group of students in her restaurant weekly. She was a real life angel and who I call my “Thai Mom.”

I rode elephants in Chiang Mai, danced for 3 days straight during Songkran in a hawaiian shirt and butterfly backpack water gun. I helped facilitate an overnight English Camp with 60+ 1st graders and fought off a parasite crawling through my foot.  I learned how to surf in Sri Lanka and I drove a motorbike in the chaotic streets of Chachoengsao. I hung out with monkeys in Bali and I ate the most amazing food on the planet. I set baby sea turtles free on the beaches of Hikkaduwa and I stepped into a classroom and taught 1st graders English without any previous teaching experience. 

I look back on my time in Thailand and it brings a HUGE smile to my face. I did that! ME! All by myself! 

I also look back on my time in Thailand with confusion about my departure.  How was I able to do all of those things but I couldn’t get out of my bed on that random Wednesday?

Wednesday morning around 4am, I snapped. I couldn’t move. My anxiety turned to panic. I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t bring down my heart rate, and I couldn’t shake the tingling feeling throughout my entire body.  I thought I was dying from a heart attack and drowning simultaneously. For some, this feeling is all too familiar and for others, you may never experience it. However, in the USA, 40 million adults (18% of the population) are affected by Anxiety Disorders.

I sat in my room for 4 hours giving everything I had to calm myself down.  I called my boyfriend and had him narrate his entire day as it was taking place while I kept telling myself, “you are not going to die.”  Eventually, I made it to my school and tried to stay calm and relaxed out of fear for sparking another panic attack. I made it through the day and went home to start the entire process all over again.  I was waking up every 1.5-2 hours gasping for air, then trying to breathe-in through my nose and out through my mouth until I would fall asleep only to wake up the same way.

Thursday morning came around and I called my mom and begged her to fly to Thailand to take care of me and bring me home. I needed help and I needed it quickly.  As the time came closer for me to head out to school, I broke down and barged into the room of my co-worker, Kaitlyn, who ended up staying home with me. I slept ALL day long.  Any time I woke up, I checked to make sure Kaitlyn was there with me.  In my mind, if I was going to die, I wanted someone to be there with me.  It sounds so morbid and twisted, but this is the ugly truth to anxiety.  It feels all too real in the moment and looking back makes me more frustrated – it sounds SO ridiculous!

Around 5pm I talked to my Mom and she booked me a flight home to get the medical help I needed which would be faster than her flying 28 hours to get me and then another 28 hours back. Kaitlyn and a few other friends packed up my entire room while I laid in bed completely debilitated with the fear of another panic attack before getting on a plane.  They got us a private taxi and took me to the airport to catch my 11:30pm flight home. They stayed with me until the very last second prior to going through security. And they were there for me more than I ever expected.  I’ll never be able to show the level of gratitude I have for their patience and understanding during these few days.

And just like that, I was back in the States with my Mom and Dad. So, my time in Thailand came to an end in a way that doesn’t entirely surprise me but was how I least expected it. My frustration comes from the post-attack feeling of failure.  How did I let my anxiety get the best of me?!

I had my reservations about sharing this experience.  But the reasons to share far outweighed the fear of appearing weak to my peers.  I know I’m not alone.

If you are experiencing anxiety attacks or panic attacks – please seek medical help.  My panic attacks may have been prevented if I knew my triggers and I knew how to calm myself down before, during, and after the attacks. Anxiety Disorders are very treatable and a persons coping mechanism may be different than the person next to them.

If you are around someone who is experiencing an anxiety or panic attack – be calm. From my personal experiences, I just need to know someone is there with me.  A quiet room or even soft voices will help.

And lastly, you, or they, are not alone. Mental health is just as important as your physical health so take care of yourself.

As an update, I am doing better. Some days are easier than others.  I’m still learning my triggers and how to calm myself down and I’m extremely fortunate to be staying with my parents where there is virtually no stress in my daily life.  I’ll be more cautious of how I react to certain things that take place throughout the day and I can’t wait to be back in California with Sean and enjoying our life together.

I will continue to travel because I won’t let this set me back further.  I plan to complete my backpacking trip through Southeast Asia. The more articles I read and the more people I talk to, traveling has helped them overcome their anxiety – so, I’m not giving up what I love to do. I will continue to explore more of the world.

1 Comment

  • Barb Hiemenz aka Auntie Barb says:

    Katherine Elaine – you mmfmbn are my hero🐾 What a phenomenal story of experiences, truth and immense love. I don’t think I have ever been more proud to be your Auntie Barb than this very moment. I love you so damn much💞 Look out Southeast Asia – here we come 😎😎✌🏻️

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