I remember my first panic attack (the usual, standardised panic attack you read about in medical books or on the Internet), the night before my final A-level exam. I had, of course, experienced throughout childhood, from the earliest of times, various intensities of alarm, fear, anxiety, sometimes strongly, sometimes debilitatingly, but never before had I experienced the profound depth of the panic that assailed me that night, the night before I would visit my school – in order to sit the paper – for the very last time. For with a sudden, unexpected, devastating realisation, I collided with the thought that I knew no one, had no friends, no acquaintances even, outside school. Even those two or three close friends I had, and with whom I would meet up independently of our going to school, even these few were heading for university in only a few weeks, and I would, in fact, make their acquaintance again, briefly, on only two further occasions.
I would have to manage on my own, and I had no idea how that could be done. No university or college course, with its fresh studies and new friends, beckoned me, for I had no idea as to what studies, what career, to pursue. Nothing seemed in the least bit appealing. I could not transfer my private joys and preferences to new locations beyond my private sphere, for all I ever craved was an interesting book and a peace and quiet, and pleasant environs, in which to read it. And facing in that direction, I could see no path to a career or to a future life, or to new friends.
I had some small sense then, and I realise now, that I needed an adviser, a guide. Even the Internet, as yet twenty years in the future, may have saved me. The potency of that panic attack opened such a deep wound of despair that has from that night never lessened. There is a sense to the idea that that panic attack never, in fact, stopped happening, and is happening still. The psychologist, perhaps, will say that this tells them something about me, but from my point of view, as the one who suffers the panic and despair, it tells me about the world, it tells me about the world that modern culture has created and imposed on us all, and it tells me that I do not belong in this world, that my desire for peace and time to read is a folly that cannot, and perhaps should not, be satisfied.
So I have blundered through this world, in all, for six long decades, hoping and hoping to find that secret of how to secure my heart’s desire, but always failing. I cannot find that for which I search, perhaps because I do not even know how to conduct the search. I am obligated to do things I do not want to do, pressed to satisfy the requirements of others and denied the option of satisfying my own wishes. The futility of this existence is beyond explaining. The hopelessness of its despair is beyond all comparison, and it is so vast that it fills the universe, and is already there no matter the direction I travel, or for how far.
This little text, I realise, confounds more than it clarifies. Adrift on this sea of hopelessness, I do not think I have ever caught a glimpse of land beyond those few illusions that proved false. This is the alienation that casts for each an unchallengeable mould that contains and constrains everyone. The mystery is that so few, so few, seem to have even the slightest awareness of their predicament.