Surviving Public Transport
4 years ago, asking me to travel by public transport was a bit like asking someone with a fear of heights to do a bungee jump from the International Space Station.
The timetables confused me, I was terrified of missing my stop and getting lost, I didn’t like being close to people, and sitting still for so long gave my brain way too much time to catastrophize and come up with elaborate self-sabotage worthy of a Looney Tunes villain.
I could mostly avoid it while I lived on campus at University, but once I graduated, moved out to a suburban flat, and started work, it became something of a necessity, since I find driving even more petrifying.
Like my OCD, I figured that I could gradually build up an immunity to it through a combination of practice and palliative coping techniques. So I started small, travelling short distances, and only via a single train/bus/tram line. I’d use an online travel planner to plot my route, write it all down on a piece of paper to take with me, (though I suppose it’s easier nowadays to just do it all on your smartphone on the go. Pen and paper, some Millennial I am) and ask the driver or other passengers if I was ever unsure. (I was nervous about talking to strangers at first, but once I actually tried, I got nearly entirely understanding and helpful responses)
Next, I started reading books en route, as a way to keep my mind off the anxiety. This worked very well, and had the added benefit of making the journey seem to pass more quickly. For those of you who aren’t into reading, portable gaming, music, and spoken word books are viable alternatives.
As I became more comfortable with the whole process, I started taking longer and more complex trips, such as taking a train, then a bus, then another train. To be honest, trips like these where I have to change transport a lot still stress me out a little, but years ago I would have just put them in the “too hard” basket and not even dared to attempt them, so I’ve come a long way.
For a lot of people I know with anxiety, driving and public transport are a big challenge, and this can interfere with their ability to work or attend social events. If, like me, you’re one of these people, I really do recommend trying to gradually acclimatize yourself to public transport the way I did. I know it might seem impossible, but if you start with very short and simple trips, and build yourself up gradually, I’m sure you’ll get there, just like I did.