Here we are, back to reality after a gloriously long Easter weekend. Blue, me? Let’s just say that I almost cried when my alarm went off this morning. Then thought about phoning in sick (I came up with at least four decent reasons). After another ten minutes I crawled out from under the covers and cursed the world. WHY IS MY LIFE SO HARD? Breakfast and a cuddle with Rigby sorted me out.
A little fact about me – three days a week I travel into work early, to go to the gym, but also to avoid rush hour. Nobody likes overcrowding on public transport, but if you have anxiety and panic attacks then it can be especially hard. I was once over an hour late for work because I couldn’t cope with being on a train (there was enough room, but I was having horrendous panic attacks and had to get off at every stop).
Picture this scene – It’s 8:15 and as you approach the station you notice that the platforms are already swarming with bodies. You have no choice but to join them, as you need to get to work. As the train arrives agitated people start to jostle with one another, trying to force their way to the front. The doors open and current passengers are practically spilling out of the carriage because it’s so full. Those standing next to you moan loudly “Oh for God’s sake,” then decide to push their way on, and you’re caught in the current. Suddenly you find yourself pressed against multiple strangers without a centimeter of space between you. You’re trapped and there’s nothing to hold onto. The train sets off with a jolt. It’s too hot, the man standing to your left is wearing a rucksack that pokes into your chest and in the corner a small child is screaming. “It’s ok” You tell yourself “it’ll be over soon.” The train pulls into the next stop and to your horror more people push their way on. You are now being crushed. Your face is smothered in another woman’s hair and you’re finding it hard to stay upright. You can’t breathe properly and begin to panic, your eyes frantically darting from left to right looking for escape. “I’m going to faint. If I fall I’ll be trampled. I need to get off.” After another agonising ten minutes the train pulls into a popular station and your fellow commuters flood out from the carriages with you caught in the waves. With shaking limbs you sit on a the platform and burst into tears. This isn’t your stop, but you can’t bring yourself to get back on the train.
This was me, the day I was late for work. When I eventually made it, a colleague asked about my tear stained face. While she was sympathetic she also said, “well nobody likes rush hour. We all just have to get on with it.” I completely agree with the sentiment, nobody likes to be squashed against other commuters like cattle. It’s a highly unpleasant experience, one that turns normally rational and polite people into raging bulls. It isn’t an acceptable way for anyone to travel, and I don’t believe that I am deserving of special treatment or consideration any more than the next person.
However, the lack of understanding of the difficulties that those with mental health conditions experience on public transport is alarming. If I was in a wheelchair suddenly people would understand (as they should), but having a panic attack and crying merely makes a person ‘dramatic’ and ‘fragile.’ The colleague later said with a grin, “you need to toughen up a bit.” I accepted it at the time, but now I find it infuriating. Panic attacks are a genuine condition and should be taken seriously in all situations.
Issues with public transport don’t just apply to the underground either. I’ve seen both buses and trams heaving with commuters.
At a recent summit, Laura Whitehurst of Anxiety UK addressed Andrew Jones MP, Department for Transport. She referenced the amount of money she spends each year on taxis to avoid public transport. Not because she’s mega plush! But rather because the overcrowding and general experience makes her ill. Although far from an ideal solution, Laura is fortunate that she has the means to do this. Not everyone is so lucky, mental health and poverty do not mix. Also present was Sue Baker of Time to Change. Between them, both charities put across a strong and passionate case for change. After the summit, Mr Jones signed a pledge to make public transport more accessible for those affected by anxiety. So we can only hope that the situation will improve in time. (If not I know a lot of people who will be on the case)!
In the meantime, here are my tips:
- Make sure that you’ve eaten and had something to drink before travelling. While panic attacks don’t cause fainting, low blood sugar can! (I found this out the hard way and Dan had to drag me off the train).
- Always carry a bottle of water.
- Create a relaxing playlist or listen to an audio book.
- If you find yourself starting to panic then do some belly breathing. This will double the amount of oxygen in the body.
- Distract yourself with mental games e.g. “Name all of the characters in the Walking Dead.”
- If the train is too rammed and you don’t feel comfortable then DON’T get on. Being late for work isn’t a good enough excuse to sacrifice your well being.
- Maybe talk to your employer and enquire if you can work from home a few days a week.
- It isn’t ideal, but travelling earlier (as I do), is a good way to avoid over-crowding. You can use the time to exercise, read or have a leisurely breakfast.