If you’ve never suffered from anxiety, let me tell you my story. Now I’m not talking about the anxiety associated with taking a test, or that is normally associated with tasks or events we do not particularly like – I’m talking about the kind of anxiety that causes panic. The anxiety that closes in upon you like a dark cloak, and chokes you. It’s the kind of anxiety that sends you to the emergency room convinced you are having a heart attack.
A few years ago I was having a horrible bout of anxiety that would start, of all places, in very public places such as restaurants, or grocery stores. The sound of the clinking of silverware against glass or cash registers and automatic doors stuck in my brain like hair in a sink drain. It would disorient me and I’d catch myself to make the room stop spinning. Often, I’d run out of the building to take long walks and breathe deeply. Once, during a faculty meeting, it completely overcame me. I remember saying to those sitting at my table, fully aware that I was losing it, “Um, I’m going to pass out. Catch me, please.”
Of course, every time I went to the doctor’s office, or the ER, my vitals were fine.
“You’re fine, Mr. Ho,” was the last thing I wanted to hear.
I knew something was wrong, but it took a long time to figure out. Finally, after years of these types of episodes, I was diagnosed with a type of anxiety associated with an imbalance of electrolytes due to my crappy kidney. I went on medication, and I’m happy to say that these days, I no longer have this menacing condition stalking me, ready to pounce when I least expect it.
But if I’m being completely honest, I believe that I’ve suffered anxiety all my life. The first time I can recall I panicked was in the second grade, sick with the mumps. My older brothers, who had just recovered from their bout of it, were taunting me, warning me to keep still and rest or else the mumps would travel throughout my body and land in my privates. I was terrified. A few years later, Guam Cable Television came to the village and with it, the Orson Wells-narrated film “The Late Great Planet Earth.” My mother freaked out and stockpiled the cellar with barrels of rice and canned food to prepare for Armageddon. I was sensitive to her paranoia and experienced bouts of silent panic in class during those years. I wept quietly when no one was looking and was generally morose until Saturday Night Fever and the hustle cheered us up.
Now that I am older, and have benefitted from a bit of education in the field of indigenous studies, I have come to my own conclusion that many Pacific Islanders of my generation suffer quietly from some form of anxiety and panic. To clarify, the generation I speak of is that group of people whose parents were prisoners during the war and who witnessed the violence, atrocities and hardships in the years during and after the Japanese occupation of World War II. I personally did not ever see my parents panic, but I witnessed them act out in ways that informed unresolved wartime trauma – my mother’s reaction to a fictional film about the end of times, for example. My father never stopped working – if he wasn’t in the office, he was at the ranch or in the yard doing something or building another structure. He simply never relaxed.
Added to this are the many works by indigenous scholars regarding inherited traumas that run rampant among the native peoples of the Americas, including the Native Americans and Alaskan natives. Better known and referenced research involves the transmission of Holocaust trauma, claiming that nightmares can actually be inherited, but the world is full of war. Imagine the postwar generations of Rwanda, Vietnam and the Middle East. We are hardly alone.
And then, of course, are the many stories I have shared with friends I have grown up with. A lot of us have had that scary, phantom chest pain that medicine cannot explain. We’ve all silently endured inexplicable anxieties over and above the pressure to succeed in America. We live with unintended bequests of our forebearers.
Dan Ho, a native of Agat, is a writer and teacher and holds a Ph.D. in indigenous studies. Follow his garden adventures on Instagram @HoandGarden.