The more I experience mental health issues, the more stigma I realize is attached to it. So I think it’s vitally important to keep talking about it to try to alleviate the stigma the best we can. This is especially relevant in Hong Kong, where everyone is always at stress level 100, yet no one dares to speak about how they’re feeling.

Well guess what? I am more than happy to talk about it!

Living in Hong Kong is wonderfully convenient to visiting Hong Kong Disneyland often. It’s less than an hour by MTR, and the annual pass is quite reasonably priced (ESPECIALLY compared to the same pass in the States). So a friend and I decided to boost our spirits a little, and take a trip to watch the nighttime fireworks at Hong Kong Disneyland one random Monday night.

The reason I wanted to randomly visit Disney already reflected my mental state at the time: high anxiety. I was in the thick of finishing my thesis, which meant spending basically all of my time at the library and getting virtually no sleep. I was also constantly worried about the final product. So needless to say, my headspace was less than ideal.

Doesn’t a trip to Disneyland sound perfect to try and boost my spirits?? You’d think, yes. It’s called the ‘Happiest Place on Earth’ for a reason!

So let me set the scene: to watch the fireworks at the Disneyland in Hong Kong, you queue in front of Cinderella’s(?) Castle for about an hour prior, and are supposed to sit on the pavement so that as many people can see the show as possible. Sounds easy enough, right?

I tried to get a picture to set the scene, but it came out pretty shit. Helps you get the idea a bit, though:

We’d arrived early enough and had gotten pretty good seats in what would be considered the third row, with an hour to go until the fireworks display. Now I’m not sure if it is the same procedure to watch fireworks at the Disneyland/world in the U.S., but in Hong Kong, they were really strict about it. There was no moving from your spot for the duration of the waittime (makes sense), but you also weren’t allowed to stand up.

This is what eventually got to me.

Spending so much time lately hunched over my laptop combined with loads of stress had left my body and my muscles in a less than ideal state – all cramped up and sore. So sitting on the pavement with very little room surrounded by some quite pushy tourists who seemed to be closing in on me by the minute left me panicking to stand and strectch my legs. There seemed to be many hundreds of people trying to crowd to the front, where we were sitting and thus my personal space no longer existed.

Now many of my known anxiety triggers were set…..and cut to the panic. I felt like I seriously couldn’t breathe, and immediately needed to flee out of there asap.

But my company made all the difference. One of my best HK friends, Justein, was with me. With a graduate background in behavioral health, he suffers from the same types of panic himself. I honestly couldn’t have asked for a better companion in the situation, and made all the difference in the successful outcome. Justein noticed right away the change in me, and called me out immediately. He knew what panic looked like, and was there to help without judgement.

By acknowledging the situation, and being able to discuss it straight away, already lifted some of the anxiety, and made me feel a little less “trapped”. He acknowledged the triggers that were setting me off, and reminded me that everything was ok and to keep breathing. And I think most importantly, he brought humor into the situation by reminding me how ridiculous it was to have a panic attack at Disneyland.

This kept up for about 15 minutes (hopefully no one around us understood English) until I felt much better, and we were able to watch and enjoy the fireworks until their completion.

Being that this was a successful outcome in what could’ve turned into a really bad situation made it somewhat of an anomaly for me, and I have some key takeaways from the experience.

1)  The company you keep can make all the difference

I’m sure anyone who suffers from anxiety or panic attacks has come across friends or family members who just don’t understand it. Of course, these are usually people who aren’t prone to anxiety themselves, and are maybe missing that empathetic chip to understand what you are going through. One of the worst feelings is to be with someone like this when you’re in the thick of it, experiencing a full-blown attack, and having to hear, “Wait what exactly is anxiety?” or, “I just don’t understand it.”

That’s nice. Fuck off.

I’ve had the unfortunate pleasure of being accompanied by people such as this on many occassions when I was feeling very anxious, and honestly, they exacerbate the problem by making you feel like a lone weirdo. Let me be clear about this: you are NOT a lone weirdo. Everyone suffers from some sort of anxiety, panic or feelings of overwhelming pressure. Many people just experience it in different ways.

The thing that sets us apart, though, is the degree to which we are willing to admit it or talk about it.

But on the flip side, one of the best things is to be with someone who understands. Justein made all the difference in my Disneyland experience, and being with someone else could’ve easily tipped the situation in another direction. When I think about it, many of the friends I’ve kept the closest into my 30s are the people that know this side of me well, understand it and have been sources of comfort in my times of need, which I am always happy to reciprocate right back to them in their times of need.

If you are someone who doesn’t get anxiety or “understand” it, please keep that to yourself if you are with someone who is experiencing it. Just be supportive. Trust me, it makes a bigger difference than you may realize.

2) Know your triggers

Alas, this only comes with experience as there is no way to know what sets you off, until it has set you off. I’ve learned the [very] hard way that situations where I feel trapped are major triggers for me, and luckily through many bad situations, I’ve finally learned how to take proper steps to deal with it in the best way possible, for me.

Everyone is different, and what sets someone off may not affect someone else at all. So knowing yourself and paying attention to how you feel in different situations will make all the difference, but unfortunately this only comes with time and a few bad experiences. But guess what? It’s a part of life, and [I believe] why we’re here: to learn about each other, to learn about ourselves and to develop compassion towards one another and towards ourselves.

3) THIS TOO SHALL PASS

One of the most important things to remember when in the throes of anxiety or panic is that it will not last. It cannot. I remember reading somewhere that your body can only sustain the heightened levels of  anxiety for a limited amount of time before it must return to normal.

Anxiety is such a pain in the ass, but one of its only good attributes is that it’s a temporary thing. Even if you are experiencing increased bouts of anxiety over a longer period of time, it will not last forever. Ride it out the best you can.

Not many people overshare as I do, and therefore may not have the awareness of a support system the same way I’ve built for myself. But please know that someone always cares. I promise. At the very least, please feel free to send me a message if you’re going through a time of increased anxiety. I will be there to help you as others have done for me, and it has made all the difference.

We’re all in this together.