When we got back to the car after this morning’s walk, we met up with the Single Red Setter man.
We asked after his wife who has been ill and he was pleased to tell us that she had gone out on her own the previous evening, the first time for several months.
We agreed it was a positive sign, and showed her returning confidence.
I can identify with that but for different reasons.
In my late teens and before I was first married, I had a panic attack in the street.
I have no idea what triggered it, but suddenly I found myself shaking uncontrollably and collapsed in a heap on the pavement.
I have always been a little unsettled in crowds or busy places, but as long as I could see the door or a way out, I was usually OK.
That was what made this attack so scary. There was no-one else around.
I was frightened, alone in the street, and there was no-one to help me.
I don’t know how long I sat there, huddled tightly against the wall, not knowing exactly what had happened or why. It was no wonder I started to cry.
Eventually, a couple walked past and one said to the other that I was probably high, stoned or drunk, and to come away.
A young mother pushed a baby in a pram towards me, but crossed over rather than get too close.
Someone came out of their house, saw me on the ground, and went back in again.
Any passing traffic didn’t even slow down.
I realised I had to get home.
It was only a short distance which would normally take me less than 5 minutes to walk.
I pulled myself up grabbing on to the wall, then dragged my sweating and shaking body step by eternal step up the hill, hanging on to walls, fences, gates, anything to keep me off my knees.
Crossing the road to get to the house was another nightmare. I still don’t know how I did it.
I had no strength to use my key, so rang the bell, and I fell into my Dad’s arms when he opened the door.
It had taken me over half an hour.
I could not face going out for over a week.
I tried once, and didn’t get as far as the end of the path.
I was off work for five weeks, with a variety of diagnoses ranging from glandular fever to summer flu. Panic attacks weren’t recognised as such then.
In my fifth week of debilitation, I told my Mum I wanted to go for a bus ride.
Getting me to the bus stop was an effort as we had to walk, but we managed and boarded a bus into town. We walked along the cliff path on a warm sunny day, me shaking, and Mum holding my hand all the way.
I went back to work.
I had wobbly days, but refused to give in to them. I looked for triggers, but usually there were none, so I ended up relying on the way I felt within when the shakes threatened.
Luckily for me, I got the better of them.
This experience was brought to the fore many years later when we were on a supermarket petrol forecourt on our way to visit friends.
We noticed a woman in her 60s looking totally bewildered and lost.
I approached her tentatively and asked if she was OK.
She wasn’t. Far from it. She looked terrified and haunted.
Hubby went into the kiosk to pay and mentioned the woman, only to be told huffily that she stank of alcohol and they were hoping she would just go away.
It wasn’t alcohol. It was a mixture of medication and fear.
We asked if we could take her home. She knew vaguely where she lived but couldn’t remember the address as she was new to the area. Her directions and landmarks were erratic and confused, but we encouraged her gently and eventually found it.
She let herself in, and we sat her down on a stool in the kitchen whilst I made us all a cup of tea. I found some potatoes in a cupboard and started to peel those to bring a degree of normalcy to the situation.
We discovered she suffered from a form of agoraphobia, but having taken her medication felt confident enough to go shopping as her husband had rung to tell her he was bringing guests home for dinner and she had nothing in. The supermarket was literally just up the road, but she lost her sense of direction, panic set in and she went to pieces.
We asked if she’d like us to call anyone and she said no.
Apparently she went to church and knew the priest so we suggested perhaps we could call him.
Obviously more in control now, she thanked us and said she would probably ring him herself later.
Making sure she was OK, we left after about an hour, nipping in to the in-laws to make a phone call to our friends to explain why we were running late (we didn’t have mobiles then) .
Back on the road, we did a quick detour back to the lady’s house to ensure she was OK, and looking through the window, noticed she was still sitting in the kitchen, but talking to someone on the phone. She looked more relaxed, and before she saw us, we slipped away and continued on our journey.
We were glad we had been on hand to offer our assistance, and were disgusted at the attitude of the supermarket staff who had showed her no compassion whatsoever.