At 19 I experienced a traumatic brain injury which changed my life in many ways. For starters, my interactions with people changed drastically. I went from being an outgoing, outspoken and confident individual to somebody who even I could no longer recognise. Now, I am extremely shy, since my injury, I despise going out in public. I strongly, (emphasis on the strongly) dislike having to take public transport to places. Here’s a reason why…
Its challenging having a hidden illness. Often things that cannot be observed by the naked eye, go unnoticed and unappreciated. “Out of sight, out of mind” I guess? I remember a really bad train journey which left me questioning myself – the whole journey, I questioned whether or not I was really entitled to feeling how I felt on this particular trip?
This is a story about my first day out (post-injury):
It wasn’t much of an ‘outing’. It was a scheduled routine check-up to go and see a specialist Doctor. I was anxious about getting on the train and being surrounded by loads of people. It was 7am on Monday morning (rush-hour). I was accompanied by my mum, for moral support. Being in hospital for a very long period of time, you lose touch with reality. My occupational therapist wanted me to ‘take back charge of my life’…and ’get back to normality’ with baby steps. Starting with this. If it’s not already apparent, I was dreading this journey from the very beginning. However, I convinced myself to put my big-girl-panties on and suck it up. It was a two hour journey to the hospital and two hours back. I kept repeating “it would all be fine”…I mean what the worst that could happen?
20 minutes on the train, my back began to ache, I could feel the pressure of my weight pressing on my feet. This pressure seemed to have travelled all the way up to my brain. My brain was throbbing. There were too many humans around and my ears were oversensitive to the slightest of noises. Between crying babies, the operator making constant announcements, and the doors opening and closing constantly, there was just too much going on for me. I just needed to sit down and find a place
to rest my head, but nobody was offering a seat. There was a man in a suit and tie playing candy crush on his iPhone and a child sat on the seats closest to me. I needed a seat, I was beginning to feel light headed but wasn’t sure how to ask an older person or a child to give up their seat for what appeared to look like a perfectly healthy teenager (me). I pressed my head against the glass near the train window and impatiently waited for the next seat to become available. The train was packed. I
probably had 5 more minutes of standing left in me before I would pass out.
Finally all the office workers got off at Blackfriars station and I rushed to grab a seat. I looked over and realised my mum was still standing. I could see the tiredness in her eyes, I offered my seat to her but knowing I needed it more, she kindly declined my offer. Out of nowhere a middle aged woman who was eavesdropping on my mum and my private conversation. She kissed her teeth “mshhhtttt” and added ‘kids of today have no manners, or any sympathy for their parents’ she in directed me as she
rolled her eyes at me. I was in disbelief. Desperately trying to Ignore her and avoid eye contact at all costs, I tried to close my eyes and rest. why couldn’t she mind her own business? It upset me how she did not know me, or my situation, yet felt it necessary to pass a judgement about me. The fact that I always offer my seat to people regardless of whether they seem worth of it or not. I know better than to judge a book by its cover. It’s a shame that the same courtesy is rarely reciprocated.
Over time I have become more familiar with the ‘can’t you offer your seat to others who need it more’ looks. I just wish people were more open minded and wouldn’t observe my physical appearance as ‘looking normal’ and assume things about my health. Fortunately for me, not all illnesses come with a label that you can read. Although TFL does offer blue badges which read “please offer me a seat” I am still hesitant to wear one, knowing that I don’t look pregnant, elderly or ‘unwell’. This post is to raise awareness for those who are unfamiliar with the blue badge and to consider others who may struggle to ask for things in fear of being judged. I hope that by raising awareness commuters will be more inclined to offer their seats without passing judgement. You never know when you may be in need of a seat.
Give up your seat today, for a seat tomorrow.