When I spent those 5 months unemployed (and looking), I was pretty bummed out. I wanted something to do–needed a reason to get up every morning and leave my room, besides going to the kitchen to get a box of Kashi cereal. It happens. The worst part is that when you have anxiety, the more you stay inside, the harder it is to go outside.
Then, I was hired. Somebody decided I was worth a chance, and to this day, I still enjoy going to work. I like my job, I like my coworkers, I like the the location. The commute is very simple–but I have to admit, taking the train was an adjustment for me. In the beginning, I’d be sitting on the train crouched over, squeezing my stress ball and struggling to catch my breath as I listened to Jesus Culture’s album Come Away. Then gradually, I was able to put the stressball away and just listen to music, but I would still be crouched in the fetal position. Recently, I graduated from fetus to sitting upright. It’s taken me two months, but I’m getting used to the train. Even starting to enjoy it, to an extent. Except when there’s a problem.
Today there was a switch malfunction…or a fire…or a broken pipe…I don’t know, I can’t find an accurate story. All I know is that when I got out of work, all trains going uptown to the Bronx were out of service. I noticed when I first walked into the station that there was a swarm of people rushing upstairs from the 4-5-6 platform. They looked like rats scampering to get out. And me, like an idiot, thought “Oh wow, there’s a lot of people getting off the train.”
So I swiped my Metrocard, went downstairs to go uptown, and figured everything would be business as usual. I noticed it was a little more crowded than it normally is, but I thought, eh, maybe something’s wrong with the 7 train (I always blame the 7 train). But then the people on board the 5 train were told to get out. Well, you’d think the conductor must’ve said something about their mothers, the way one man reacted. But the 5 train people stayed. So we had a mobbed platform full of hungry, angry, lonely, and tired people. And when you are Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired, you need to HALT and make sure you don’t do something regrettable. It was by this point that an already packed 6 train left the platform, and then the disembodied voice came on the PA to announce that “due to a switch malfunction, 6 trains will not be running between 42nd and 139th.” Okay, I thought. I don’t need to get off between here and 139th anyway.
But the longer we waited, the more “delays” showed up on the schedule, and I realized I’d better get my behind to the express bus stop if I wanted to get home anytime soon.
Walking to the express bus is, for me, a revelatory journey of sorts. The few times I’ve done it, I’ve found it tiresome, confusing, isolating…even though I’m surrounded by people. Technically, the express bus is not that far from my job. The problem is me. So I walked to the express bus and had my moment of crashing at 331 Madison Avenue, where I sank down in the hallway of an elitist apartment building. The security guard was about 30 feet away, but I figured I should let him know that I was not deliberately trying to loiter.
One thing I’ve learned as a receptionist is the value of courtesy. Like the Bible says in Proverbs 15:1, a soft answer really does turn away wrath, and in order to come across as disarming, I’ve softened my voice. (To the point that if my mom calls me at work, she remarks about how nice I sound on the phone. Haha. I learn from the best!)
So I told the security guard something like this: “Excuse me, sir, I’m not trying to loiter. I’m just staying until I recuperate.” He said it was okay. I continued. “You see, the 6 train had a switch malfunction, so I’ve been walking to the Express bus at Madison and 45th, and I’m really out of shape.” He said it was fine if I stayed. I could stay as long as I needed to. I could even sit by the stairs.
His kindness undid me. I was going to weep. I got myself together, gulped down some Gatorade and water, put my coat on, grabbed my bags, and headed out to walk to the BxM8.
Where there was a line of people waiting.
I managed to get a seat, and I figured I was set, but then the bus driver had to tell boarders at the next stop that they would have to stand if they got on the bus. One middle-aged blonde lady didn’t care–she just wanted to get home. We all, in fact, just wanted to get home. This is the goal of every commuter. This lady–I’ll call her Cassandra–stood in the aisle right beside my seat, where she proceeded to murmur and complain.
I felt like I should give her my seat. After all, I’m young. I’ll live. So I offered my seat to her. She asked me if I was sure. And I was all, “Yeah, of course!”
Look at me, getting all optimistic. As the bus got fuller, we aisle-standers had to make our way towards the back. I took my coat off and put it in that shelf above the seats. I felt stylish and confident in my black blazer. The feeling was short-lived. Let me tell you something–Express buses were not made for standing. This is why they have narrow aisles and lots of seats. So after awhile, my anxiety kicked in. My feet got numb because I wore my heeled boots today. My legs felt stiff and strained. I tried various positions of leaning. But I became pretty scared once the hot/cold flashes started coming over me. I contemplated sitting on the floor. It wouldn’t be comfortable or socially acceptable, but I don’t know these people so it’s all good. I continued to stand, though.
And it was strenuous. I appreciated the scenery and all, but the traffic and swerves and whatnot made me feel thrown, and I was starting to feel weak.
When I finally felt like I couldn’t take it anymore, the bus driver announced our first stop. Then I was finally able to sit. And I cried because of 3 things: 1) I was glad it was over. 2) I felt bad I put myself through that. 3) God proved me wrong like He always does–I can do it. Because He will give me the grace/strength I need. I prayed while I was on that bus, and the song “Shoulders” by Tal & Acacia played on my iPod.
Slowly, I’m building up resilience. I’m not like I used to be. And I’m not alone.