My first brush with the panic monster was an unforgettable punch to the gut. I was eight or nine and my small village primary school had gone to a big inner-city secondary for some county sports day jaunt. My mum was even there with us, acting as a driver, teacher's assistant and secret comfort blanky for me. We spent a while on the netball courts - I can't remember if we played or not. We probably did for a couple of hours. Then we were going to see the other stuff that was going on at the massive playing fields at the back of the school. This involved going through the car park and circling various buildings and recreational ground. As we went by my mum's and the teachers' cars it seemed like we would stop for a drink, as several people went and got water bottles out so I assumed we would be staying there for a few minutes. But when I looked up - and this happened in what seemed like less than a millisecond - they were all gone. Somehow I had been left behind. I was shouting, "Mum! Mum! Wait," but no one heard me. They were long gone. Three older girls were stood chatting and I said, "Did you see a group of people just go that way?" But it was the weirdest thing, my voice was coming out in rasping breaths. I was hyperventilating, severely. Hello panic, nice to meet you, ya bastard.
I still have no idea what it was that made me panic so badly within a few short moments. I think it was a combination of being far from home, the frightening busy road the other side of the barrier and the way they had been right there next to me, then I looked up and they had all vanished and I was totally alone. I've always been a very disorientated person, as well. I can find an empty banquet hall labyrinthine. Anyway, the girls said they didn't know so loudly I wheezed down a path I thought they had taken. It was just like a dream where you are trying to run away from something but you cannot move fast enough. My body was crippled with panic and I couldn't catch my breath. They must have walked off at pace because I did eventually catch up with them up on one of the hills behind the school buildings.
They were completely nonplussed and not at all sorry for having left me behind. I never did adequately explain the extent of the terror I experienced when, as it appeared to me, they disappeared in the blink of an eye. It was very out of character for my mym not to notice that I wasn't part of the group. And for all the teacher cared I had been whisked into the back of a passing Transit van. Stuff like that can happen in a matter of seconds, something I was all too aware of at the time. Thankfully I never did experience such a violent panic attack again, though I have often been frightened that I might. It would be several years before a different type of panic attack became a regular feature of my days with the symptom that terrifies me more than anything else on this planet (unreality). But these have all been quiet, passive affairs that weren't at all apparent to anyone else. Of that at least, I'm glad.