Coping With Taking Public Transport
It’s around rush hour on a Thursday morning, and I have to take the bus to an appointment. I manage to snag one of the last seats, next to a thin, average-looking man in his 30s who somehow looks like a realtor to me. As soon as I sit down, it starts.
Ever so insidiously, that feeling of being watched, noticed and judged creeps over me. People are packed into the double bus like sardines — there’s no possibility of employing my usual tactic of sitting quietly alone in the back today. I start to feel fidgety, and in the eight minutes it takes to go two stops to my destination I can practically feel all the things the other passengers must be thinking about me.
I start to get fidgety, trying to adjust my clothes ‘just right’ so that I look my best/thinnest. I worry that my hair is sticking up oddly or my roots need bleaching already, or that the guy sitting next to me is annoyed that he got stuck sharing a seat with the only plus-sized person on the bus.
If my bike wasn’t in the repair shop this would be a lovely 15-minute bike ride in the June sunshine. Why did it have to be broken? If I put on some music right now, will I be bothering Mr. Realtor while he’s reading his newspaper? Then he’ll be really annoyed. I’m trying not to sit close enough to crowd him, but now I’ll bet my butt is hanging over the edge of the seat. The people behind me must love that.
I take out my phone and check my email just to look like I have something important to do. What doesn’t kill us supposedly makes us stronger, but I really, really wish I weren’t getting quite so big a dose of ‘strong’ right now.
Finally the bus glides to a halt in front of my stop. I gratefully inhale its exhaust as it pulls away, and walk to my appointment (with my therapist) where I will spend the next hour gratefully relaxing in what has become a very comfortable and familiar place. Today I have other problems to discuss with the therapist, so my anxiety over the bus can wait til the next appointment, but I know what he’ll tell me anyway.
He’ll remind me that this scrutiny I feel is perceived, and I know he’s right. I tell myself that all the time, everywhere I go. Social anxiety stems from the feeling of being scrutinized, though in many cases we’re not even noticed, let alone judged.
This is not to say, “It’s all in your head,” because that’s dismissive and makes the symptoms sound imaginary, and anxiety should never be treated that way. I can tell you firsthand that there’s nothing made-up about it. The feeling of being judged and criticized by others, regardless of whether or not you’re actually being judged and criticized, is very real and serious.
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