Since being out of the workplace for the last year, it is fair to say that I feel OK more days than not, and I sometimes tell myself that I could go back to a corporate role in London if I so wished.
But, it is only when I have to go into Central London that I get a massive reality check and invariably realise that this is probably not going to happen.
Practically 12 months to the day that I left Wankers R Us, I had to go and meet a close friend, G, to go to an art exhibition a mere five minutes walk from their offices.
At the time of booking this event, I didn’t think twice. So what if it’s down the road from the corporate hell? So what if I do bump into someone from my old life? What are they going to do?
Pelt me with rotten fruit?
Spit at me?
Call the men in the white coats?
I bought the tickets online without a moments hesitation. I didn’t give a shit about going back to the scene of the crime, and even if I bumped into old Voldermort, I’d just flip him the finger, smile sweetly and whisper ‘Cock’.
When the day finally arrived though, it was a different story. As I got ready, the atmosphere started to change. I couldn’t find stuff. Nothing fitted. I tried on outfit after outfit, went from shoes to boots to sandals and it got later and later.
What was I trying to achieve?
A look that said ‘new me’, ‘success’, ‘style’ and ‘fuck you’ without looking any way contrived whatsoever, but as if I’d just dragged the pieces on without even thinking about it, the end result being effortlessly cool and elegant nonetheless.
But nothing looked right.
I could feel the oh so familiar panic start to rise. This is what I went through pretty much every morning before work for about 18 months. I’d only just realised that I rarely did this anymore.
Then just when I found a combination of garments that just might do, it started to rain, totally rendering my new burnt orange suede ballet flats obsolete, so I had to start from scratch.
By the time I’d pulled together a new ensemble and boarded the bus, I was at least thirty minutes late.
The air was thick, damp and humid and my hair immediately flattened and frizzed up simultaneously with equally unflattering results. I could have saved myself the hour I took washing, drying and styling it and just popped outside for five minutes, rolled in a puddle then shoved my head in a bush instead as the end result would have been remarkably similar.
The exhibition started at 6pm, so this meant I would be travelling into town during rush hour, something I hadn’t done for a long, long time.
For good reason.
I don’t like queueing.
I don’t like crowds.
I don’t like strangers touching me.
Now that I know I’m HSP and an Empath, these fears and aversions all make sense now, but that didn’t make the journey any easier.
As I got off the bus and approached the Tube entrance, I felt my hackles rise and my neck tighten.
It seems that as soon as people go underground, they lose the concept of personal space and promptly graft themselves to your back/arm/curve of your waist/the cleft of your arse.
Don’t get me wrong; I know that there has to be some leeway when travelling during London rush hour, but seriously?
Do. Not. Touch. Me.
Whilst the Urban Dictionary defines Personal Space thus:
- Roughly defined as a one foot radius around a person. It can only be entered by close friends, family members, significant others, etc. You know when you’re in a person’s personal space. You can sense it! Whoa, man! Personal space! Arm’s length, bucko!
- An area around a person, within which other people make them nervous, except for intimacy. Also spade and my space. You’re invading my personal space. Get out of my space!
And Wikipedia, as follows:
‘Personal space is the region surrounding a person which they regard as psychologically theirs. Most people value their personal space and feel discomfort, anger, or anxiety when their personal space is encroached. Permitting a person to enter personal space and entering somebody else’s personal space are indicators of perception of the relationship between the people. There is an intimate zone reserved for lovers, children and close family members. There is another zone used for conversations with friends, to chat with associates, and in group discussions; a further zone is reserved for strangers, newly formed groups, and new acquaintances; and a fourth zone is used for speeches, lectures, and theater; essentially, public distance is that range reserved for larger audiences.
The amygdala is suspected of processing people’s strong reactions to personal space violations since these are absent in those in which it is damaged and it is activated when people are physically close.
But whilst I’m willing to be flexible to a degree, all I can say is that there are a lot of Londoners with fucked up amygdalas out there.
And when examining the two very helpful diagrams of what is and what is not acceptable:
This is what we’re dealing with in London’s labyrinths:
Mate, if I can feel condensation forming on my face from your soggy pits, it’s time to get the fuck away from me!
Because I don’t care how busy it is or how late you are, if you cannot grant/allow even one inch of space between you and the stranger next to you, then stay on the platform and get the next train. That’s what I do!
What are we? Animals?
But no, that is still apparently too ambitious an expectation.
Even standing on the train platform before boarding, someone stood next to me and applied their clammy bare upper arm to mine, causing me to turn my head and give the little toad a look of such anger, disgust and distain he actually went the opposite platform and waited for a train going in the opposite direction.
And that was just a preview of what was to come. As our train door opened, it practically sighed as a warm, damp fart of sweet, fetid air greeted us as we held our collective breath and fought to get a seat or a tiny space to call our own.
I managed to get somewhere to sit, balancing my relatively small butt on the edge of the double seat so that I didn’t have to touch my neighbour, but this huge hairy legged tourist in shorts who smelled like a combination of raw meat and soil hurled himself down and pretty much sat on me, letting his big dimply thigh slide over mine as he settled himself, leaving half of it balanced there as he sat back with a happy sigh.
I nearly asphyxiated with horror, yanked my (meaty man sweat coated) leg free and burrowing under a forest of skanky armpits, and found a quiet-ish corner to jam myself into until my stop came.
When it finally came, I realised that I’d pretty much been holding my breath for near on 25 minutes, and gratefully squeezed out of the door and allowed myself a big sigh of relief only to be met with….
….another damp, heaving, stinking mass of commuters shuffling in the direction of the exit at the approximate speed of one inch per minute.
By now I just wanted to escape very, very badly. But there was no quick way forward and no going back, so I had to merge in with the soggy shufflers and join in with their dismal dance of dismay.
Two shuffles forward, one shuffle back and two to the side.
Then one besuited little rebel of a City chap tried to force his way past everyone and nearly took off one of my tits with his elbow, shouting in a very clipped English accent ‘Excuse me, excuse me, excuse me…’ as if he, Mr fucking Angry of Mayfair wanted to get out and conduct very important business, and the rest of us were just chilling out and shuffling around like zombies because we liked it. Mind you after I paid him back with a nice sharp jab to his nuts with my brolly, he calmed down a bit and decided to step in time with the rest of us mere mortals until we reached the exit. The dick.
By then I was beside myself with anxiety.
I was nearly an hour late, hot, dishevelled, sweaty, had man-musk on my right thigh and an injured boob. Not only that but it was raining quite heavily and old thunder thighs had broken half of the spokes of my brolly when he sat on it.
As I marched past my old workplace in the rain, head down, battered brolly up, I braced myself for the very worst, i.e. my ex boss exiting the building in a smart suit, looking
good,* erm, smart whilst I looked like I’d been sleeping in the park for two days.
(*he could never truthfully be described as look good. You could put a tiny Armani suit on a turd and give it a pair of Churches brogues and an iPad 3 to clutch, it would still be a turd)
But as you can probably guess….nothing happened.
And by the time I reached the exhibition halls and a worried G, I was a whole lot calmer if absolutely exhausted.
‘Are you OK?’ she asked nervously.
And I was.
But I will never, ever travel during rush hour (if I can possibly help it), let alone do it five days a week, again. I used to put up with that shit for nearly 3 hours a day, can you imagine? What a waste of life. I will never get that time back. Ever.
It’s no longer worth the stress, as far as I’m concerned.
On the way home, we walked past the building again.
‘What do you feel?’ asked G, ‘you know, being back here again?’
And do you know something? I felt nothing.
Because that was then and this is now.
That was a different life and now I have a new life.
And that was a different Sista who marched out of that building in a smart suit, with neatly styled hair, a file of legal documents in her hand, her heart in her boots, and her head held high, who looked strong from the outside but was a broken mess on the inside.
This Sista, who might on this particular day, be wearing soggy jeans, have tizzy hair, with a broken umbrella in her hand, but her heart is in recovery, her head is naturally held high and not in defiance, but with bearing, and she is both stronger on the inside and well as the outside.
And even if old Voldermort had come strutting out of that door in his finery?
He can’t touch me.
None of them can.
And if any of them were dumb enough to ever publicly disrespect me again?
It’ll be Hammer Time all over again….