On September 12th, 2017, a woman was rude to me on public transport. Five months later, I’m still thinking about it – this is the reality of anxiety sufferers.
Travelling with Anxiety
When I take the train at peak times, I often choose not to take a seat, even though the train is relatively empty where I get on. I am afraid I won’t be able to get off at my stop if I don’t stand near the door. However, on this occasion – I was attending a workshop at an alternate venue – I did decide to take a seat.
Everyone’s experience of anxiety is different – but this is my experience. Before I get on the train, I purchase a ticket. This will minimise the stress of an encounter with the ticket person. I read the scrolling text on the platform at least three times, double and triple check I am in the right place. The more prepared I am, the less likely anything is to go wrong. “What could go wrong?” you ask. Anyone with anxiety can tell you: we don’t know. I don’t always know what I’m anxious about, I just know that I don’t want anything to go wrong.
I know I need to travel seven stops. At each stop, I read the sign on the station, to make sure I have counted correctly. At each stop, more people get on. I am forced from an aisle seat into a window seat. I am approximately in the middle of the carriage. Essentially, with each stop I gain towards my destination, I am further obstructed from my exit point. My temperature is rising. I feel nauseated.
One stop away from my destination, I pluck up the courage to say “oh excuse me, sorry” and motion that I would like to get out of my seat. I receive a few strange glances. No one seems to understand my desperation to stand up when we aren’t yet at the next stop. My instincts are screaming that I need to be prepared, like a cat ready to pounce.
As the train slows, I inch my way towards the exit. No one else seems to be moving. Maybe they make this commute every day. I am sweating under my clothes, I hear a constant stream of thoughts – “you’re not going to make it off the train! You’re going to be late for your meeting! You’re going to have to walk in late! Everyone will look at you!”. Still no one is moving. I pluck up the courage to whisper a Very British© “Excuse me, do you mind if I squeeze past?”. A woman snaps back, without a second thought – “I’m actually getting off here. A lot of people are”. There is a distinct tang of annoyance on her tongue.
I almost burst into tears on the spot. This stranger could not know, but I have been worrying about getting off this train since the moment I got on it. I have never got off at this stop before – I do not know there will be a mass exit. As far as I know it will be the same as all the previous stops; more and more people will get on. Anxiety is there to back me up – “You idiot. You look ridiculous. All these people think you are an imbecile! This woman thinks you are an annoyance. People are looking at you”.
Things have gone “wrong”. I wanted to go unnoticed, to fit in. I have failed.
Maybe that woman had a stressful meeting that day, or was worried about troubles at home. Maybe she simply hadn’t had breakfast, and was hangry. Or maybe she was just rude. She didn’t consider that I had a different perspective of the situation. I don’t blame her – it isn’t her fault I overthink everything. But it does make me think, you should at the very least try to be polite to strangers. You don’t know what’s on their mind.