On a Sunday.
With a pandemic going on.
I’ve always loved walking around my local area because of its abundance of green spaces, cute, little coffee shops, and pretty streets lined with plane trees. Today, that love was suffused with stress. The clocks had gone forward, spring had definitely sprung, and it felt like the world and his wife was out and about.
As I stepped onto the pathway that winds through the spacious Common at the end of my road, it suddenly felt like I was part of a crowd, leaving a stadium concert.
Bang. My anxiety flared up, as people were not really keeping their distance. I tried to focus on the natural beauty around me—the cherry blossoms, the huge pond reflecting the blue sky, the swans, and the ducks. But instead, I found that I had been drawn into a state of constant alert. Those walking behind me were coming up too close, cyclists were weaving in and out of us all, and the fourth jogger in a row had literally brushed my shoulder as he passed.
All I could think about was, “I don’t feel safe.”
After 15 or so minutes, I was able to get off the main path and take a rather muddy route through a thick clump of trees, which I knew led to a way out. I’d be soon back on the street—not as scenic, but at least there would be far less people, and I could breathe as deeply as I liked.
Stepping onto the street, I calmed down a little. I spotted a wooden bench near the roadside and took a seat, my brain whizzing with a thousand worries.
The lockdown restrictions in England were gradually easing, and summer was on its way. People were going to be emerging into the outside world in droves, enjoying their newfound freedom. And I sure as hell didn’t want to go through the foreseeable future, this “new normal,” getting upset every single time someone came near me.
All I knew was that I didn’t want to shut myself away—I wanted to fully experience this great city I’ve called home for 20 years. I had been looking forward to getting back to work too. What scared me was the apparent lack of mindfulness from so many people in public; people not wearing masks on public transport, standing or sitting too close, brushing past me on escalators, seemingly unaware that this pandemic is a real and prevalent threat to us all.
And I couldn’t do a thing about it.
Suddenly, it hit me.
I was scared because I could not control other people’s behaviour. I felt powerless and vulnerable. So I decided that I just had to make a choice here. Either I could shut myself away from the world, or I could take control of the only thing I was able to—my own actions, my own measures to keep myself as safe as possible.
Now I try to use public transport less and walk more. I try to avoid shopping during busy times. I slow down when I’m out and about so I can respond calmly to whatever is happening around me. If someone comes too close and I feel the anxiety rising in my chest, I hang back or stand to one side, breathe, and let them pass.
I still feel vulnerable as hell. But at least I feel calmer and more positive. And I’m happy I made that decision on that first day of spring.
I stood up from my wooden bench, took the long route back home, and on the way, I treated myself to an organic latte at a nearby coffee place turned takeaway.
I’ll walk on the Common on Mondays from now on.