ANXIOUS IN BOSTON
On Valentine’s Day in Boston, I woke up on the floor of the train to two kind gentlemen asking me, “Hi, do you know your name? Do you know where you are?” And no, it wasn’t the start of a cheesy pick up line because I had just fainted on a crowded train at Hawes Street stop during my morning commute to work.
There’s a blurred memory of loud gasps, rushed paramedics and police officers collecting information from passengers but the one thing I so vividly remember was the iced water one of the men offered me – it’s frigid coldness rushing through my body, reminding me that I am awake and I am alive.
While fainting on crowded trains turns out to be somewhat common in busy cities, it is not the first time I’ve passed out, albeit, it has been 7 years since my last episode with my parents catching me each time. Once the paramedics let me go, I hopped on another train and continued my commute to work. Little did I know, that it reignited the terrifying anxiety I experienced in the years prior. I thought I said goodbye and good riddance to anxiety in 2016 when I realized that I could attend AND enjoy rooting for the Dawgs in a chaotic football stadium with 92,000 die-hard Georgia fans. But it came back and it came back with vengeance.
I started experiencing severe anxiety attacks on the train – daily – sometimes, hopping off on the next stop when home was still 12 stops away. Frantically texting my boss that I’m going to be late at Fenway Station, less than two stops away from work. FaceTiming friends in distress. Biting my nails. Pinching myself. Shortness of breath. Pounding heart. Crying. “I need to get off and I need to get off now.” What is the worst that could happen? You’re fine, just breathe. No, I think I’m seeing stars? Is it happening again? Am I going to faint? Breathe – she looks nice, is she going to catch me if I fall? Oh wait, this is my stop! Okay, good – you did it, Sita, you’re okay now….you’re free.
These daily attacks were physically draining the energy out of me so it led to spending a lot of money on Ubers and Lyfts but it saved me. It is not easy for me to justify it to other people when public transport would be less than $5 a day but it wasn’t for other people. It was for me so I could feel safe in a new city, alone. I can recall several times when I’ve climbed into the backseat of an Uber right at the height of my anxiety attacks and felt my heart returning to its normal rate – reminding myself that I’m okay. I AM okay – I was always okay.
The thing about anxiety is that it doesn’t know when to stop because it thrives off of your fear so it followed me to work – a new, exuberant and supportive place where I knew I had no reason to feel anxious but sure enough, it was sneaking into the one of the safest corners in my life. Then it invaded my sleep. How did a fainting episode on a train 20 minutes from my house lead to me having an anxiety attack under the covers of my bed in my own home?
At this point, anxiety created a deep ripple effect in my life and it was debilitating and relentless. In moments I felt hopeless, I turned to my family and friends. When I shared my frustrations, they responded with their own stories battling with anxiety. Their boundless love and support gave me the strength to try again and to start at the root of my anxiety – the train.
I’m not writing this for you to read at the end that I’m “cured” because anxiety doesn’t rest but that it is teaching me new beautiful things about myself every day. As someone who has leaned into medications, therapy and many at-home remedies, I’m still leaning into new ways to cope with my anxiety.
1.) I wake up an hour earlier to catch a train with open seats
2.) I forgo my coffee before my morning commute.
3.) I FaceTime my mum before I head out for the train because talking to someone who accepts and celebrates all of me fuels me to go out into the world with confidence.
4.) Instead of fighting and resisting the oncoming anxiety, I force myself to pause and listen to what is happening. I check in with my senses as a way to come back to the present. What do I see? People. What do I hear? The intercom, “Next stop, St. Mary’s Street.”. What do I smell? Oh geez buddy, someone forgot to put on deodorant this morning. What do I feel? My skin. What do I taste? My Cheerios!
5.) I’m not sure why this one works for me but I wake up every morning by telling myself that today is going to be the best day of my life and I can’t wait to see what it brings me.
Even through my dark periods of anxiety, I still found lots of joy in the city. I reconnected with old friends. I celebrated new friendships. I embraced every snowfall with wide open eyes. I watched my street turn from winter wonderland into a bright green forestland with orange and purple flowers blooming through. I ice-skated like JVN in Cambridge. I danced in the sun alongside a group of strong women in Jamaica Plain. I gazed at the luminous orange sunsets that shined between the buildings in Back Bay. I rooted for the Boston Marathon runners as they jetted through Brookline. I kayaked in the Charles River. I discovered the beautiful northern beaches of Massachusetts. I laid on the lawn by the harbor and watched the 4th of July fireworks. I drank wine on the patio and laughed until I couldn’t breathe (in a good way, for once!) Part of battling with anxiety is fighting to infuse pockets of joy into my life because I want to remember this stage as a happy and joyous one. And I do feel abundantly happier and stronger and freer.
As a Southerner from a small town, I think public transport is such a neat thing and I’m slowly getting back on the train. I celebrate every ride I take – joyfully sharing with my friends, “I took TWO trains to Cambridge today!” But on my hardest days, I still get eye rolls and deep sighs when I choose to Uber over hopping on a crowded train. Then I remind myself that this is my way of honoring my body which quickly turned into a practice of self-love. When I do find the strength to catch the train in the mornings, my heart sinks a little bit when I reach Hawes Street stop but it also sings with joy when I make it all the way into the city. When I emerge out of Hynes Train Station into the brightness that is Boston, I am physically smiling and humming with joy to myself – actually feeling like that “perfect city girl” in the opening credits of a movie, stopping by to pick up her iced coffee, maybe a little too often.
I share this because in a world of filtered photos and funny memes, it is so easy to join in and post a picture of me smiling and “loving” life as a twentysomething in the city. While I have taken a liking to Boston, it didn’t come without a price. I’m a firm believer in silver linings and that there is one in every situation. For mine, it is that anxiety is a teacher – a mean and vicious one – but a teacher, nonetheless. Through these lessons, it is teaching me to be a more compassionate, more present and more empathetic person.
To Sita, I’m proud of you for giving yourself grace and patience as you fight through the fogginess of anxiety. I’m proud of you for choosing yourself first and asking for help along the way. I’m proud of you for trying your best every single day so you can fully experience this stage of your life. You are resilient, you are courageous and you, oh you – I am just so proud of you.
In other news, I got a new cochlear implant! And it is incredible but that’s a post for another time 🙂