I closed my eyes and tried to focus on my breathing. I was experiencing my first panic attack.

The first time I noticed something wasn’t right, I was at my cousin’s house.

There was the usual witty banter, laughing and catching up as each of us took turns to hold her newborn baby. My sister was delivering one of her hilarious anecdotes, so it was a blessing that all eyes were on her.

As my heart started pounding and my stomach had tightened, I wondered whether I had eaten something bad. I tried to hide my shallow breathing while resisting the urge to run out of the room, or house altogether.

Over the coming weeks, my symptoms progressively got worse. Shaking, a tightened stomach, light headedness, and uncontrollable diarrhea, was what I was experiencing frequently. It included the debilitating feeling of being out of control.

Not being able to breathe became mentally synonymous accompanied with vivid thoughts of feeling stuck, nauseous, and thoughts of imminent death. Trying to block out surrounding sounds and people’s voices became impossible while trying to calm my body down at the same time.

Before long, I couldn’t trust myself to drive, be a passenger in a car, or sit in a room full of people without needing to flee from the scene. I couldn’t see my friends, speak on the phone, or go to my parent’s house.

I had even sat shaking in the foetal position as the postman continued to knock at the door for a signature. Everything had made me feel stuck. Anything that required focus had become a trigger for my anxiety.

Even prayer caused anxiety as I had to stand in the same place for what seemed like an eternity. Then the feelings of guilt, shame and spiritual inadequacy eventually came in, leaving me feel worthless. I couldn’t talk about it to anyone, due to my fear of being judged by everyone around me.

After years, I reached out to a friend who insisted I seek help through the National Zakat Foundation (NZF), in which I was connected to services through the Muslim community. Only then was I able to speak openly about my life and this condition’s affects.

Looking back, I know these struggles were tests from Allah as He tests those He loves, and Alhamdulillah He made me strong enough to push through them. I realised that not only was I living through the hardship that comes with a mental illness like anxiety, but also how alone I had felt during that time.

There are so many others within our community that continue suffering silently like I had, and perhaps knowing this would’ve made me brave enough to seek help sooner.

Whether it’s anxiety, depression, PTSD, bipolarism or any other mental illness, know that help is there for those who seek it. Friends, family, and welcoming community organisations like NZF are always there to make things easier for us.

People out there do care about you, and are more than happy to lend a helping hand, or an ear to listen. All we need to do is let them know.

Based on an NZF client’s story.

Learn more about NZF’s Smiling Minds program at www.nzf.org.au/program/smiling-minds or contact us on 1300663729.