I use public transport, specifically the tram, to travel to work daily. In the past I have used the bus, and also the train when travelling on business.
Sometimes, public transport can be a nightmare for those living with chronic illness.
Regularly, I will get on the tram home after a long day at work. Some days, I am shattered and can barely think straight, due to brain fog, let alone stand well, and so, as the tram pulls in, I eye up any empty seats I can see through the windows, ready to grab them when the tram doors open. When I manage to grab one of these seats, I often get given stares, deep sighs and grunts by those who didn’t make it to the seat in time. Especially if I sit in a ‘priority seat’, which should be given to those who ‘need them most’.
Now, if someone was to get on who I felt deserved the seat more so than myself, and if I was able to stand without major issues, I would of course offer it to them, and I have in the past. I’m a kind and considerate person. But in most instances, if I was to stand up, my legs would go to jelly. And I’m allowed a seat, just as much as the next person, if not more.
I’ve spent other tram journeys, where I wasn’t able to get a seat, and have stood wobbling around on my weak legs, praying for my stop to get off to come sooner. I’ve been obviously struggling to stand, and people sat in seats have made awkward eye contact with me, I expect realising that I’m struggling, but they don’t offer me their seat. Instead, they quickly look away. So I sit on the floor, when my legs finally won’t take my weight any longer.
Some days, it really annoys me, but other days I understand that people don’t know if I’m struggling and require a seat unless I ask, but then, when I’m reduced to sitting on the floor, I’d have thought someone would offer. Then why don’t I ask, you might say? Because I’m sick of explaining my illness and most days, I don’t have the energy for it.
With trains, whether it’s for business or leisure, I will always book ahead in advance. The main reason for this is so that I have a guaranteed seat.
If I don’t book ahead and reserve a seat, I might have to stand for all or part of the journey, and the last time this happened, it was a ninety minute journey and I almost passed out. I was un-medicated (declared ‘borderline hypothyroid‘) at this point, it was a really hot day, and I was having to stand on a really crowded train, where no windows were available to open. I didn’t feel fully conscious; lightheaded and very sick. It was a total nightmare. I couldn’t wait to get to the train station on the other side just to sit on the floor and breathe in some fresh air!
Needless to say, this experience really, really scared me, so I also put in a complaint about none of the train windows opening, with the train company..
So, now I always reserve a seat, whether I’m having a good thyroid day or not, it just makes sense. I never fully know how I’m going to feel. It also helps control my anxiety about the whole situation.
One day, on my way back from a work event, I got on a busy train, and I breathed a huge sigh of relief that I booked in advance, because there were no free seats. As I located my carriage, I walked up to my seat, and as I saw someone sat in it, anxiety filled my stomach and I became hot and clammy. I’m going to have to ask them to move, I thought.
“Hi, erm, I’ve actually reserved this seat,” I said to the young man, my tone apologetic and awkward. He replied with “Can’t you ask someone else to give their seat to you?”
Astounded, I reply with “No, that’s not the point. I reserved that seat.”
I specifically always reserve a window seat too, as I can feel claustrophobic and panicky, sitting in the aisle.
Without another word, the man sighed, rolled his eyes and made a fuss about having to move himself and his belongings out the chair. I wanted to shout at him all the reasons why I reserved this seat, but I knew I shouldn’t have to. I was sick of always needing to feel like I should explain myself. How, just because I may not look obviously sick, it doesn’t mean I’m not entitled to a seat, to the seat I booked and planned ahead for that very reason, no less. Even if I was completely healthy, this still wouldn’t be a reasonable reaction from him. It wasn’t fair.
I bit my tongue and didn’t say a word. I didn’t feel I needed to justify myself. And although I maybe should have done, to show him up and make people take note, his comments were designed to embarrass me. To make me look selfish and rude. And I wasn’t going to waste my breath explaining when he wouldn’t have cared anyway, and when I shouldn’t have to. I wasn’t going to stoop to his level. Instead, I kept my head high.
Even if I was a healthy person, I paid for and reserved that seat, and so I was entitled to it. I had booked ahead and gone to the effort of securing it.
His reaction wasn’t appropriate no matter what my situation.
Thankfully, my hypothyroidism, adrenal issues and everything else that comes with it, have gotten better recently, thanks to finding the right medication for me, but I still have bad days. You can never tell how well someone is just by looking at them, and people need to stop making these assumptions. Equally, if someone is struggling, people should be aware and much more open to asking them if they’re OK, or if they can help.
A seat is a simple thing, but it can be very much needed by someone struggling with chronic illness.
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