Swimming in the Jungle: Living with Panic Attacks and Anxiety

But when we stop for a moment and think of what society has done for us, we will find ourselves trapped in an empty space filled with judgments, frustration and pain at the same time.
 I was coming back from a party in midday, drunken and happy. I hopped on my bed while the loud music was still playing in my ears and the colorful lasers rose when I closed my eyes. Some minutes later, I felt this harsh tension going all over my body. I went to the bathroom and what I saw is still fixed on my mind. Someone deep inside I didn’t recognize. Afterwards, I had a strange heat going over my tongue which ended up swallowed and rolled down. I put my hands in my mouth, grasped the tongue trying really hard so it does not fall down. I found myself lying in the corridor, neighbors coming out to help, the noise of some other footsteps coming from the upper floor. The sound of the ambulance seemed too far away, and that’s when I thought about death. In a second everything appeared like a short movie in my mind, my childhood, the first kiss, people I lost and those who stayed.

As you can see, I am still living. But what occurred after it, has changed my life in every kind of way. Immediately after it, I started having panic attacks and a tremendous level of anxiety. Panic attacks and anxiety can rise at any point of life. There are a million kinds of panic attacks and anxieties, all depending on one’s character, fears, past stories, traumas and a lot of things who can trigger the panic attacks and anxiety very easily. Usually, panic attacks appear as follows: your body trembles, you feel like you are losing your mind, your hands start to sweat, difficulty in breathing and a dreadful fear that you are about to choke or die. Anyway, as mentioned above this can depend on one’s experiences and many other factors.

The first four months were absolutely a concrete mess. I felt like I was drowning in nowhere, everything seemed so unrealistic and frightful. During this period of time, I changed three apartments because I could not feel comfortable anywhere. I would sleep in hospital hallways because there I felt secure. I pictured doctors as angels who could save me from death.  The moment that I would leave the hospital, I would feel insecure and highly anxious. In private hospitals, it was not allowed to sleep in their hallways so, therefore, I and my mother would please them if they could allow us for only this one night.

Photography © Fatlind Duraku

In the period of five months, I changed a lot of hospitals and doctors in my hometown in Kosovo. Each one of them came with different statements which made me confused. One of the doctors in the Department of Psychiatry in the regional hospital of Prishtina gave me Xanax, which he thinks are the most required medicines in case of anxieties and strong panic attacks. Right after I started to use them, I started to get very strange hallucinations and hear noises before I slept. This made my situation even worse, to the point that I thought I was going crazy. Some days after, I went to his office and explained all. He said that there is no possibility that the hallucinations could happen because of this and started wondering if I took something else. I confronted him with the idea that one’s organism differs from the others and that some organisms can be sensitive to these kinds of substances. He was stubborn and protected himself with the Dr. title. I just threw the package of medicine on his table and ran away. And you maybe can guess what happened after I stopped using this medicine. The hallucinations stopped.

Photography © Rina Celina

Panic attacks were getting stronger every day and more, so much that I could not stay in one place. I visited some other doctors, who also gave me cheap drugs and sent me back home. I asked myself very often, are these doctors so stupid that they mistake drugs with some kind of cookies? How much does it cost them, to say a good word to the patient who is feeling bad? Sure, their coffee will get cold, new notifications on Facebook and the new employee with whom they are flirting just crossed the way. Their first reaction every time I went in to the emergency room would be ‘’ Why come here at this young age? Anyway, this injection will calm you down after a little time’’. Wait, I need to know what is going on with me and why my body is acting in this way. They said that this will take a little time until it goes away but there is nothing dangerous. Thank you, I will sleep good tonight.

Photography © Fatlind Duraku

My situation was getting serious, and in a kind of a way I was losing touch with the outside world and the reality seemed so surreal for me. I started to lock myself in a room and lay down unconsciously. I didn’t want to talk to people because it seemed like no one is understanding me. I hated the world. I hated everything around me. I started eating less. I couldn’t go to work anymore. I started getting afraid of leaving the house and confront me with the old places which I used to visit. Every time I crossed a bar or a situation that has happened before it triggered my panic attacks and I would immediately run to the doctor. Most of the people whom I explained my situation, would come out with the statement that my experience is nothing and that everything is in my mind. I felt alone and insecure. Everyone seemed so far away from me, and I felt I was being left aside. I started crying hysterically without no reason, and with no will to live anymore.

My immune system was breaking down, headaches and weird body trembling were following each night’s sleep. I started getting quickly nervous even for the little things. I would get mad immediately when I would be in a group of people and everybody was talking at the same time. I read about passive aggressive people and that is how I started to become. In one moment I would feel very calm and at peace with myself but the next minute a small thing would get me mad to the point I would scream my anger out. I started to run so that I would feel tired and I didn’t do anything which could harm the others.

One night before going to sleep a light panic attack made me tremble and it built inside of me the idea that I was going crazy. Afterwards, I wrote a note to myself and glued one of my passport photos to the front of my work desk.

I am putting you here. I hope the glue won’t disappoint me. I want you to remind me that I  used to live once, each time when I start losing myself at night. I want you to let me know that I am good, each time when I think about all the bad in me. I want you to remind me that I should smile sometimes, each time when my mind and body cry together. Dear Me, I am putting you here. I am forgetting a lot lately. I’m just hoping that I won’t forget your face these days. Please, don’t forget mine.



Photography © Fatlind Duraku

One day, as I was reading outside in the garden, a horrible feeling captivated me, and I thought that I am about to choke. I again went to a hospital, and that’s when they would accept me as one of the patients at the Psychiatry Department of the Regional Hospital of Prizren in Kosovo. When I first got to the hospital I was shocked and wanted to get out immediately. It was very unclean so that you could smell the toilet from far away. In Kosovo, people who are in a psychiatry hospital are considered crazy and dangerous. With this idea that was built in my brain, I feared that the other patients will do harm to me. Later on, it turned out that it is not true. When I entered the room that was chosen for me it was like entering a horror movie scene.  Half of the curtains were missing, and the other half was covered in dust and dirt. The beds were smelly, and still with signs of blood and god knows what from the other patients who laid there. The windows seemed  not to have been cleaned for years, and the worst thing is that they should remain closed because of the ‘’safety’’ thing.

The walls were covered with writings and figures from the other patients. I started to analyze every millimeter of the wall and try to understand what they have meant by these figures. I could not find a meaning.

Photography © Rina Celina

What I understood in my two weeks stay in the hospital is that the doctors don’t really care about what is going on with you. All they did during this whole time was give me injections three times a day so I would fall asleep like the dead and they wouldn’t have to bother with me anymore.
Normally, in a psychiatry hospital, it is necessary that the doctors come and talk to you, practice the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which is really needed in these kinds of cases. But, if you are not capable of that, let’s just have a small talk for god’s sake. But instead, they sent students to my room who pretended to be psychologists and asked me stupid questions while texting on their phone.

The good part of my stay there was getting to interact with the other patients. The hospital had this big room where we always would gather to talk and smoke cigarettes. In the middle of the room was placed a ping pong table for which we needed to buy the balls ourselves. In the corner stood an old TV which didn’t work most of the time. Every time after our injections taken we would sit to talk and sing.
They became my very good friends, and right after I got to know of what they have been going through my state of mind changed. From that moment on, I didn’t think any more about myself but I was full of energy and will to find a way of making these people happy.The doctors warned me, in the beginning,  not to have too much interaction with the other patients, because you can never know where it leads.I find this ridiculous and heartless of them, because what I understood after, is that these people laying on those beds were dying for somebody to talk to them.

I started to get to know their characters and tried to interact with each one, even with those who could barely talk.
An old guy who had lost the sense of time and couldn’t take care of himself even for  small needs, turned out to be a genius in maths, languages, and history. When the evening came, we both would sit next to each other and solve math enigmas. His eyes shined every time I brought papers and pencils in the big room. Every time he spoke good words came out, a will to live, and an urgent need to get free from the jail built inside him. He taught me kindness, appreciation, and love for life.

A woman in her thirties was abused by her parents and was always told that she wasn’t capable of anything and that they regret her birth. She barely talked, and she always seemed lost in a very far away world. She would smoke a whole package of cigarettes in a matter of an hour.
I invited her to play ping-pong with me and for this I needed to please her hundred times. Every time she would lose the ball, she started crying and saying it out loud that she is a loser. I pushed her to continue playing until she understood the game and could play well. A feeling of joy would cover her face and after that day she was the one who invited me to play.

Dear Parents, when you decide to have a child protect and hold them even when they make mistakes. Treat them with love and kindness and never bring them down. Just because you have given us the life, that doesn’t give you the right to decide for us and treat us like trash.
Otherwise, whenever you get horny use protection so that you don’t make other creatures regret they were born.

An old woman, whom I called Teta(aunt) Selvije, came in to the psychiatry without consciousness. Because of a lot of stress and daily problems, as she explained me later her feet stopped working and she stayed in bed for three days without being able to move. We would talk a lot, tell stories and laugh out loud until the doctors would come to warn us for the noise.
Even though she had been through many things, she found the power to laugh. She is the perfect example of how a person should stay strong, and greet difficulties with a smile.

Photography © Anna Fleischhauer

After I left the hospital, I started to analyze things and find a way out of my panic attacks. It was not that easy and it is still not gone. I have forbidden myself a lot of things which can trigger panic attacks.

I think that we are being haunted by the idea of fitting in the society. And that’s when the things get difficult. Most of the time we forget our own body just for the sake of the others. We start doing things that do not really fulfill us, but people around us will like it. But when we stop for a moment and think of what the society has done for us we will find ourselves trapped in an empty space filled with judgments, frustration and pain at the same time. You don’t have to think that you are not important just because someone who crossed your way said you can’t. Don’t give a damn about the society. That’s not the path you want to follow.

In one of my sessions with a psychologist which I visited later I said that I felt like this place is eating the good parts of me each day. And her advice was: We are all in this, so you have to start trying to swim in the jungle.

Photography © Rina Celina

After many months of suffering, I started to get on my feet. I started to make myself comfortable with the little things I have. My small book shelf, the right music, and long walks in the nature.
I started doing meditation and yoga which I find very profound and needed when it comes to panic attacks and anxiety. It allows you to get in contact with your body and your inner self. By yoga and meditation, you will find out how much your body has endured and how much more it can. These two techniques taught me to be thankful for what I have never noticed, my own self. I try to be calm and at peace with myself every time I start having nightmares about what the future may bring.

I learned that life is very precious. Every little moment counts and we need to make the best out of it. I no longer agree with the term that life is too short, it’s just the matter of what we do with the time given to us. Be thankful every time you wake up because each day is a big adventure, if you only can find it out. Be kind and help the others, it affects your brain and cheers the heart. Learn to say no, and do not let others push you down. You are your own boss. Focus on the things that really matter and try new things out. Don’t stress yourself over a mistake, because mistakes are there for us to learn. Breathe and think before taking any decisions. Read whenever you can, that’s the only way to open yourself doors of what you want to achieve. Take care of your own body by eating healthy and drinking lots of water, because it’s the only one who didn’t let you down while walking the roads you both only know. Create around you a comfortable place, stay calm and be nice to yourself. You are special.

Now, each time when I don’t feel good or start having panic attacks I repeat to myself the words from a book a German psychologist advised me to read, which says: I keep my goals in front of my eyes and think of the forward steps that I have made despite all of the difficulties.

One thing is for sure, panic attacks do not come without a reason. They are there to let you know that you need to change. They torture you, but they try to show you the path you need to follow. I already know mine!



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