Nb. I wrote this at the beginning of July.
Today is my 100th day of Quarantine. And remarkably, my last day. 100 days. That’s a lot.
As I plan to leave my family home and go down to London (just for a few days as I have some things to take care of) I find myself being short with my mum and sister and I’m nipping at them. I’m not focusing on any of my to do list and I’m procrastinating. I haven’t eaten and had to change my coffee to a decaf because my heart was racing.
I’m trying to pack my bag and end up having an extremely outlandish fashion show for myself with black sports leggings (covered in my dogs hairs), my nude Louboutin Pigalle inspired spiked high heels, my mums old autumnal coloured thick long cardigan, a hair fascinator from a wedding and some very questionable love heart shaped sunglasses I find in the same box as the fascinator. I’m now pacing, quite unsteadily, up and down my room. Hands on my hips. Desperate Housewife’s is on in the background (I’m watching it for the second time – best decision I’ve made all lockdown.) I feel like I am a desperate housewife.
I’ve got it in my head that I’m going to use this trip down to London as a chance to take a load of stuff down with me. Transfer it down to London. I’ve spent time during lockdown organising a LOT of old clothes and accessories. There is a lot of stuff, it’s actually quite embarrassing.
So I’m staring into the abyss of the wardrobe willing myself to start putting clothes into case and my mind is a whirl of ‘I can’t carry a super heavy case down to London AGAIN’, ‘What are the new social distancing rules for travel’, ‘what if I take that down to London and then I want it up here’. My brain is spinning with worry and freaking out at the fact that I don’t have space down in London for another item of clothing let alone a whole wardrobe load! I don’t even have a wardrobe, just hanging rails that CONSTANTLY break. *Repeats to self I love living in London. I love living in London. I love living in London.
I’m getting myself into a state of panic and I feel like I’m spiralling out of control. For some reason travel, in particular train travel, ignites my anxiety like nothing else. Ironically, I’m absolutely fine on planes and even enjoy turbulence and train travel is also my favourite form of transport, but the circumstances have to be perfect for it to be enjoyable.
Mid-week, afternoon train so it’s quiet.
Feeling accomplished in my trip.
A window seat at the end of the carriage close to the luggage rack, and the luggage rack having space for my case.
I have a coffee pre boarding the train, my water bottle is filled, and I have a packed lunch.
I haven’t forgotten anything, and I arrived at the station with enough time to not be rushing for the train, but also to not be sitting waiting for ages.
And the carriages not being too cold which most of them time, they are anyway.
There are so many variables it makes my head hurt.
I don’t know why it’s trains in particular that make me feel this way. Even when they zoom past when I’m standing on the platform. The tube really gets me worked up with this too. I have to stand as far back away from the platform edge as I can and turn my head away looking down. And now, for those of you who have experienced London tubes, you know you won’t get anywhere doing this on the Underground. May as well set up camp at Bank station for life. So, living in London has forced me to try and quash this fear and actually stand towards the edge and board the train, but the underlying fear is still there. Crazy rebel living on the edge… I’m actually just a really bad Londoner.
I’ve never really thought about it all in so much detail. About something that can seem so small and just an auto-pilot action when done so regularly. How much we take ‘travel’ for granted and how much we’re always on the go and ok with it. Constantly moving and bustling about. Visiting, travelling. How a simple movement like getting on a train can incite so much from within.
We as humans prefer complexity. We see complex as better, as superior. We often forget how important the simple things are and more often than not, we make life harder than it should be. Simple things can seem boring and dull, monotonous. Take my travel anxiety; it’s something so simple. Something I/we do so frequently, yet I make it very hard and complicated for myself with my never-ending list of variables that need to be perfect for the perfect day of travel. (I guess there is a whole other conversation about anxiety surrounding this, but I do find it so interesting that I do make it remarkably complex for myself).
The station is eerily quiet when Mum and I arrive. I spent the journey repeating “deep breaths” to myself without actually taking them. We make it in an orderly time to my satisfaction, I always tell my Mum the train departing time is 15 minutes earlier than it really is. Tricking myself into believing it too because if your mum says it then it’s true. Duh. And I know it takes 25 minutes to get to the station so then I have 20 minutes to get a coffee and casually take the lift to the platform.
I go in to see a lady standing by a hand sanitiser pump which she motions to, so I use it. I turn to go to get my coffee and of course the café is closed. I have been so wrapped up in my panic of travel that I forgot about the other world panic – Coronavirus.
Once I’m on the train, I find my seat and realise the carriage is quiet and there is plenty space for my luggage. Ironically, many of my needed train travel variables are being met on this journey, which pleases me as much as it frustrates me. The germ fear sets in though as I pull tissues out of my pocket to use to touch the arms of the chair and pull the tray table down and I’m starting to get panicked again.
“Deep breaths” I keep telling myself, but I feel like I’m being smothered by my mask and can’t catch a big enough breath. I need a deep full breath, come on Kirsty. Breathe! I need to take my mask off quickly but I’m too scared. Don’t take it off! I’m glad I don’t have that coffee now as my heart starts racing again. I even feel like the music in my ears is suffocating me.
And then the train conductor comes in. He has a clear face visor on. Great, more panic. He’s going to make me show my ticket, he’s going to touch my phone. Oh god, I don’t want him to touch my phone. Can I tell him not to? Is that rude? What if he can’t see that I’m smiling through my mask?! WHAT IF I START TO CRY!
And then what he does totally catches me off guard. He’s so relaxed. He says hi to a neighbouring dog and walks through the carriage smiling at everyone. It instantly relaxes me, and I start to begin to feel my breathing levelling out. I catch a few good breaths and start to ground myself. Go back to basics, note your surroundings; what can you hear, see, smell? I start looking and notice that there really aren’t many people in the carriage. We’re all spaced out and everyone is following the guidelines and have their masks on. It smells clean, like disinfectant. It’s quiet. I’m calming down a lot more and I manage to get comfortable. I open up my laptop and here we are.
I can’t help but think how incredible it is that one person’s smile can transform so much to another unbeknownst to them. It’s a beautiful action that we all have the ability to do. You flex the muscles either side of your face and a smile forms. We’re always so wrapped up in our own narrative and our own busy-ness that we forget how much influence we can actually have on someone else’s day. A kind smile, holding the door open, saying thank you. Things that cost us nothing yet are the richest gifts.
Smiling. It makes us feel seen, we’re being acknowledged. We sit behind screens; phones, computers, televisions, for most of the day in ‘normal’ life. But it has been exacerbated with Coronavirus and human contact practically ceased for many weeks. We weren’t going out, and on the rare occasion that we did to do our weekly shop, we are wearing masks and more often than not, there has been panic in our eyes.
It got me thinking about the simple things in life. How a simple journey can bring on bounds of anxiety. Travel: how something we’ve taken so much for granted that when it’s taken away from us, we panic. We feel trapped and claustrophobic. And how a smile can bring us up, back us off the ledge and make us feel seen.
That train conductor will never know how much his smile and demeanour helped me. It made me realise even more how important kindness and compassion are. Always, but especially now, as we start to come out of hibernation. As we’re opening our eyes, stretching our arms above our head and coming out of our nests. Eager and scared to see what the ‘new normal’ is.
What damage has been done?
What do we need to change to move forward safely?
Are there some things still the same?
Am I ready for this?
The train conductor will never know how something as simple as his smile, incited so much within me.