How To Handle Train Travel When You’re Feeling Off The Rails
On good days, I love train travel. On not so good days, not so much. It’s all change now, thanks to a random encounter with an elderly husband and wife and a seasoned rail rider.
ONE of the things I’ve noticed since I’ve suffered from depression is just how easy it is for me to close down and become stressed and fearful, often in equal measure.
On not so good days even the thought of a long train journey can get my worry monkeys chattering and filling my head with ‘what ifs’. The negative possibilities before I even get on the train can be enough to send me into a downward spiral.
So today, on a day when I had more than four hours of train travel ahead, I was just a little anxious, a little tetchy.
Thank goodness we’d reserved our seats, I thought as we shuffled onto our packed train.
But as we worked our way down a busy carriage to our seats, horror of horrors there was a man sitting in one of them. A very serious, rather sullen looking man.
Great. Now we were going to have all eyes on us as we ‘argued’ over seat allocation, I thought to myself, my tension rising.
Thank goodness for my calm partner who politely and calmly showed the man our booking and he moved out of the seat. Phew!
It’s strange how when your confidence is shot it can be extremely difficult to deal with everyday moments like this; provoking such a strong emotional reaction sometimes that you wish you could just blend into the background and hide until everything is sorted and you can breathe more deeply again.
Moments like this can also rob you of your powers of observation. Not surprising really if you’re aware of hiding in the back of your body as I am. You can feel afraid to come out and face this noisy, crowded world. Why would you want to when you can retreat to that dark place, that comfy armchair ready to sink all your fears into? Not exactly the greatest viewing point to see things clearly, but ‘attractive’ nonetheless.
The ‘Sullen’ passenger
So back to my train journey. It was only as we sat down and settled in that I took a closer look at the ‘sullen’ man as he left his temporary seat (due to be occupied after next station). It was then that I had that lightbulb moment. Listening in to snatched conversations with his wife, it soon became clear. He wasn’t sullen, he was just a tad anxious like me.
So, when the lovely off duty rail man offered to give up his seat so he and his wife could sit together, his relief was palpable. So palpable I felt my shoulders drop in recognition.
This moment of relief was only temporary, of course. My worry monkeys, still lurking, didn’t waste a minute reminding me that the elderly gentleman (for no longer would I refer to him as sullen) still had to move from the seat opposite me at the next station for a new arrival who had reserved the space. And so the dreaded dance of the train carriage passengers would begin again.
This ‘musical chairs’ experience is always awkward, sometimes sparking several sharp intakes of breath and disgruntled sighs from fellow passengers, or at least that’s how I choose to interpret it during one of my low moods.
This ‘musical chairs’ experience is always awkward, sometimes sparking several sharp intakes of breath and disgruntled sighs from fellow passengers, or at least that’s how I choose to interpret it during one of my low moods. Perhaps it’s simply my worry monkeys trying to keep me in that dark place.
I dread these moments. However, on this occasion, it was time to kick those worry monkeys into touch. Time for positive action. Change body, change state. I knew what to do.
As the train drew into the platform I looked up, smiled at the man and offered him my seat. His face broke into a smile too and he visibly relaxed. We all did. Him, his wife, me. Cue lots of thank yous and even a little laughter. Wow, is this what life’s like when you make just one tiny change? I felt like Harry Potter when he gets his hands on the Golden Snitch. Magic!
A few seconds later, grabbing my cuppa (my equivalent of a stiff brandy or a puff on a cig), I went out into the vestibule and found a place to lean. The smiling man and his smiling wife were getting off at the next stop and it was only 20 minutes away so not long at all for my legs to do what they do best — move and support me without the luxury of a seat.
The Old Me
Feeling uplifted and connected for the first time in this day and buoyed by my ‘good deed’ I looked up again from my new vantage point. More eye contact, another smile exchange with a man sharing the space with me.
This time I could feel a spark of the old me — the journalist who loved talking to people, asking questions, listening to people’s stories. The me that I believe is the best me — the one who adores people and what they have to say, who always has time to share a few words with a fellow earth dweller, whoever they are and whatever their story. It felt good to be front and centre in the world in that moment, not holding back in the shadows. When those questions in my heart stopped, so did I. Disconnected. Disillusioned. Disappointed. And all the other negative words beginning with ‘D’. But no more!
Derek (at least, I’ll call him Derek for the purposes of this story and to carry on the D theme) was anything but negative.
In his late 60s, D had worked on the railway pretty much all his life. Today he was doing what he loved best — taking a train. He has travelled the length and breadth of the UK by rail since retirement. Despite ill health, both mental and physical, he regularly just hops on the railway and explores, talking to people and sharing his anecdotes along the way. He has timetables in his head and love in his heart for jumping on a train and seeing where it takes him. The great explorer who may have never left the UK but who is rich on life’s experiences just the same.
His eyes bright as he shared with me some of the stories of his train travel, it was impossible to not share his infectious enthusiasm for the railway.
His eyes bright as he shared with me some of the stories of his train travel, it was impossible to not share his infectious enthusiasm for the railway. And in this moment all fears of double booked seats, ‘sullen’ looking passengers and large cities packed full of people melted away. All that remained? Calm.
The conversation lulled and, with perfect timing (doesn’t that always happen when you’re feeling chilled, relaxed and absolutely present in your body?), the train drew into the station. Smiling Husband and Smiling Wife said their goodbyes and, with a final thanks, they were off as I thanked train traveler for his company and returned to my seat. Guess what? I was smiling too.
What’s the point?
So, what is the point of this blog you may ask? This: if you’re lurking back there in the recesses of your mind, even in the most challenging of times, please take a deep breath, look up and look out. Make those connections. Even if it’s just a two second eye-to-eye on your local bus or a shared smile over the counter of your corner shop. If you can, if you feel able to, allow yourself to feel that connection. Drink it in. Feel it, get a taste for it and do it again. Especially on those days when it feels like the world has done you wrong and is swallowing you whole.
Be the train traveler, the smiling husband and wife, or this rather anxious blogger and go explore. You can do it. You deserve it and you might just be the person that helps another one day.
Asha Clearwater is an NCTJ (National Council for the Training of Journalists) qualified journalist who’s been a news reporter, features editor and arts editor, as well as editor of several national business magazines.
Today, through her business Turquoise Tiger, she coaches SMEs on the art of great storytelling to promote their products and services.
Asha occasionally freelances as a writer for national magazines and is even behind some of the information boards you’ll find strolling through Woodland Trust Forests.