I want to take a moment, before you read any further, to give public transport the love that it deserves.
I may have grown up in an era that took great pleasure in being as abusive as possible to Sydney’s transport system (once known as City Rail … ahhh those were the not so distant days) but we really never give it credit. It may not run quite so smoothly as the Underground and it sure as heck doesn’t apologise when it gets things wrong, but, more often than not, gets us from A to B, which is more of privilege than we ever acknowledge. If you were lucky enough to travel from Sydney to Wollongong for University like I was, it did more than just get you where you needed to be, it gave you one of the most spectacular views along the way – something I will never forget.
And of course, there’s nothing quite like leaning your head against the window of the train when it’s pouring with rain outside and pretending you’re in a dramatic film.
Unfortunately, as much as I love it, I actually find public transport very stressful, particularly trips that are longer than the 15 minute trip to the shops. For many people, it’s as simple as grabbing their transport card, tapping on, getting on the train, tapping off and disembarking at their destination.
For me, it goes a little like this:
- The very last train I can get might be the 10.06am, so I’ll aim for the 9.00am just to be safe, even though there are at least 6 I could get in between. I could be running late; I might get stressed on the train and have to get off; I might get motion sick on the train and have to get off; maybe I’ll see someone I know and get in a conversation I can’t get out of and end up missing my stop just so I appear polite.
- I need to know exactly where the doors will open on the platform, if I get stuck in the middle of the crowd of people getting on, I will have a meltdown because of the body heat surrounding me and pressuring me to do things at their pace. I need to be either first or last on, but last is out of the question because what if people don’t move quick enough and I GET STUCK IN THE DOORS? Once, the platforms were so busy that I couldn’t bring myself to get up and walk on the train; it felt impossible. I sat at the station for two hours, unable to move.
- Finding a seat is a whole other ball game. I don’t like sitting next to people I don’t know, I can’t sit on the window side of a three-seater because I might have to ask someone to move when I need to get up and that is an insurmountable task. Mostly, I choose to stand but that’s also dangerous because if I’m facing sideways on the train, I will get sick and I will need to get off at an obscure station in the middle of nowhere.
- Getting off is also an issue. I am that person who will be in front of the doors three stops before she needs to be to avoid that last minute pushing and shoving to get to the doors. It’s just not practical.
- Even if I’m prepared and ready to go, all that preparation and getting in the zone goes out the window if it’s hot on the train – which it ALWAYS is on Sydney trains, by the way. In summer, it’s hot naturally and in winter, even when it’s relatively warm outside they PUMP their heaters and it’s revolting. I automatically get stressed and overwhelmed when I am hot.
Almost all of these points are irrational, so it will probably come as no surprise to you when I say that I struggle with anxiety. This post started off as something completely different, but the more I wrote, the more I wanted to share how something as simple as getting on a bus or a train is complex when you have a mental road block. When I try to take public transport, it’s almost like City Rail is running my brain (ha! A relevant reference!). Sure, it will probably get me from A to B, but it won’t be simple and my brain definitely doesn’t apologise for all the mess that goes on up there.
Now that you’ve sat through a few minutes of what my brain thinks at times like this, if you ever see me on a train or a bus, you can remember this and when I look like a deer in the headlights or like I may throw up at any second, maybe it will be easier to understand. Maybe. But I don’t really understand it myself, so good luck to you.
A disclaimer? Over the years, I’ve learnt how my anxiety works, what triggers it and mostly, how to manage it. I still get a nasty surprise every now and then but most of the time I can manage to feel like I’m in control. Not everyone is as lucky and I do not pretend to speak on behalf of everyone who has some kind of anxiety disorder – it’s completely different for everyone and we’re all just doing our best!