It’s time to talk day today and I’m shining a light on anxiety. Here’s a recent experience I want to share.
It’s my final day in London before Christmas and I’m making my way home. Let me tell you, I know I’m beyond standoffish when I travel. I’m in my own bubble and if I don’t know you then I don’t want you to talk to me. Fact. I interact in a ‘needs must’ way with anyone employed to help me with my travel. But that’s it. I’m happy with my book or music, they’re the only acceptable company. My journey today is a well trodden path, I’m close to autopilot. I’ve just got on the tube and there is a free seat. Yes! This bodes well.
And then it happens. He talks to me. The person sat to my right, who I don’t even realise is male until he speaks. That’s how focussed I am. Remember I’m in my bubble and he’s just pierced it. I can’t leave him to speak to a person the other side as I’ve sat in a two seat area – darn it. Now I don’t care who you are, there’s no distinction. If you’re human and talking to me, I’m going to be aloof to shut it down. Some of this is driven by stranger danger, some of this is just wanting to get home and some of it is my discomfort. But, as I turned to take him in, three things crossed my mind. Firstly he did actually look genuine. Secondly, his opening question to me is inoffensive. He’s simply asked if I’ve finished for Christmas and going home. The final thing was my concern if I didn’t answer much he might think I was racist. He doesn’t know I don’t want to talk to anyone regardless of age, gender, race. So now I’m fighting all my instincts to shut down the conversations so I don’t appear offensive.
I answer, basically and return the question. Over the next four stops he asks me questions, nothing that asks me too much about me. All polite. We build rapport. And I keep returning the questions. I’m actually keeping it going. It’s pleasant. I learn that he moved here about ten years ago and his kids were born here. I learned they live near Windsor and his kids were captivated by the royal wedding. It’s nice.
But I learned much more than that.
As we reached our penultimate stop, he told me about his relief that there was only one more stop. I had to ask why. He shared that his anxiety hasn’t let him travel underground for years. Talking to me was his coping strategy. Between that station and the final destination we had a brief chat about travel anxiety and ways to manage it. We reached Paddington, stood to disembark, he shook my hand, thanked me again, wished me a Merry Christmas and then went on his way. And that was that.
Now, I don’t think you either have anxiety or you don’t. I think it’s in all of us to a degree. But for sure, many people suffer at the hands of their anxiety and it’s beyond debilitating. I have never experienced that level of anxiety, something for which I am immensely grateful for. I do know the rising feeling of anxiety and know it’s onset. Funnily enough my trigger is also the underground, not the train, but in the tunnels. It starts for me when I’m walking in a sea of people. I also struggle in small lifts and confined spaces. My panic starts in my throat and rises up my face. It’s different to my fears. I have a fear of heights but that’s not the same as anxiety. That gives me wobbly legs. I don’t know why it’s different but it is.
When it starts, I get on top of it. I know enough about anxiety to know it’s like many things in life, easier to control it before it controls you. Once it gets its grip, it’s hard to come back from it. My main strategy is to actively talk to myself (in my head!) and point out things that I know to be real. I list them. Anxious thoughts thrive in the dark, the great pretender, fooling you that they’re real and speak your truth. I blind mine with reality.
My travel companion that day was vulnerable. He was brave and he talked. I too was vulnerable and also brave in a different way. He was given the energy that he needed by taking a chance on me. So why not give it a go. It’s time.
This blog is dedicated to anyone who is being brave and speaking their truth. Much love x