I’m not sure why, but the distressing events at Leytonstone at the weekend seem to have triggered a need to do one of those weird confessional posts that I seem to be prone to posting from time to time. So here goes.
A couple of weeks ago I visited Waitrose in Western Road, Hove. Nothing particularly unusual about that, you might think, although it isn’t actually a very convenient supermarket for me as I live on the other side of town. I’m not sure why I suddenly decided to go there, except that I had been avoiding it for such a long time. In fact I hadn’t set foot in that store for the best part of thirty years. The last time I went there was a few weeks after I had been beaten up on Brighton seafront. I had more-or-less recovered from the physical effects of that late-night encounter with four yobs, but I hadn’t quite got over the anxiety of going out, even in daylight. Little did I know that things were about to get a lot worse.
I only went in to buy a couple of things so it wasn’t long before I was waiting in the queue at the checkout. Suddenly I was gripped by a deep feeling of apprehension or dread. I began to sweat and tremble, my heart was racing. I became aware of strange shapes moving unpredictably through the corner of my eye. Rapidly the shapes intensified and became threatening, monstrously distorted faces began to swirl around me uttering all kinds of threats and abuse. Terrible sounds reverberated in my ears. I couldn’t take it any more and ran from the store.
Unfortunately I was still carrying a pint of milk and some coffee so, not unreasonably, the security man jumped to the conclusion that I was shoplifter. I made it as far as the street before he tackled me. By then I was completely incoherent, sobbing and struggling to escape, still beset by all kinds of scary visions. Someone must have called the Police, or maybe they were just passing, and I was soon bundled into a patrol car.
Thereafter it is all a bit of a blur. I was taken to a Police station and spent some time in a cell. I don’t remember how long. A person – presumably a psychiatrist – appeared and tried to talk to me but I don’t think I was making much sense. Pretty soon after that I was informed that I was being detained under then fairly new Mental Health Act (1983). In other words I was sectioned. I think the idea that I was a shoplifter was abandoned at this point. I was taken to a psychiatric institution some way outside Brighton which looked like something out of a Gothic horror novel and was held there, for assessment.
Fortunately the worst effects of the panic attack I had experienced disappeared fairly quickly, and I was transferred to a (slightly) friendlier-looking hospital nearer home. After a couple of weeks I was discharged with a renewable prescription of heavy-duty antidepressants which seemed to work at preventing further episodes but at the cost of some quite unpleasant side-effects. I returned to work, making up a story to cover my absence. After six months I gave up taking the drugs.
Over the years since then I’ve experienced panic attacks of this type on an intermittent basis, usually much milder but sometimes not. I have been told that there isn’t really a treatment that will banish them for ever, so for the past few years I have been controlling them using a different type of drug which seems to have fewer and less serious side-effects. I don’t like having to take medication every day, but have come to accept that’s just the way things are.
Anyway, you can now probably understand why I have avoided Waitrose in Western Road. It’s a place of painful memories for me. In a sense I went there a couple of weeks ago to attempt to exorcise a ghost.
When I walked into the shop, however, it was completely unrecognisable. The layout had changed. So had the colour scheme, the staff uniforms, the lighting, the lot. Expecting to be overwhelmed by dread, I instead felt nothing. Relieved, I actually did some shopping. No ghosts. No swirling shapes. No terrifying noises. The only scary things there were the prices…