Ever since I can remember, my family and I have travelled on trains or in the car. I could probably count on one hand the amount of times I’ve been on a bus. I’ve never really like it, the motion makes me feel ill and the fact I hadn’t done much them made me feel scared.
For some context, I find painting and card making very calming, a way to relax my overworking brain. Every month or so, I like to make a trip to a shop or do an online order to buy new supplies. After realised I’d be spending the whole day inside on Monday, today as I’m writing this, I decided to go to the nearest arts and craft shop to me. Usually, my mum takes me to the shop, but she was working. I’d thought about the train but the route was far from direct and would involve a walk I’d never done before. The pretty much door-to-door solution was the bus.
As an autistic person, doing something that I’ve never done before is so daunting. Yes, I’d been on the bus, but hardly enough to remember and never by myself. I have to try and prepare for every eventuality before even deciding to do something. The reason for this is that when things go wrong, my body goes into meltdown. I usually cry, go non-verbal and feel completely crushed inside. It hard to explain but even harder to deal with, especially alone. As a result, my parents and I went through everything last night – how to get the bus to stop, which side of the road to stand on and which number bus to get were just a few of the things we discussed.
This morning, I woke up feeling ready and somewhat excited – I love buying new art supplies! I brought my bus ticket on my phone with my mum, which meant I didn’t have to worry about asking for the right one. Approximately ten minutes before the bus was due to arrive, I was standing at the bus stop, nervously checking the live timetable on my phone to get an idea of when it would arrive. Bouncing on my feet, I realised I was also shaking, although that shouldn’t have been a surprise. Whenever I’m doing something new, my hands shake in a way that seems like they want to remind me I’m anxious, even though I already know.
A few minutes later, the bus came around the corner, I held my arm out and it stopped for me. After showing my ticket, I sat down. And that was that. I was on a bus – on my own.
Achievements can be so subjective. For some people, getting on a bus is nothing, but for me, that was huge. Not only was it me getting over a strange fear of the bus and the likelihood of the motion making me feel unwell, it was somewhat symbolic in my journey of recovery from burnout. This time last year I’d only leave the house for school, and most of the time I couldn’t even walk myself there, relying on my mum or dad for a lift. It’s not just ‘getting on a bus‘, it’s doing something new, something I’ve never done before, alone. I’ve got to say that I was pretty proud of myself! It was easier than I thought it’d be, and I felt the need to send my mum a picture of proof, a sort of “Mum, I’ve done it!”
This positivity doesn’t mean that my trip when without problems. After finishing shopping and a cup of tea, I found my way to the bus stop on the other side of the road, to go home. Again, I was ten minutes early and checking the timetable. A single bus arrived, and according to the timetable, my bus should have arrived then. Not being able to read front of the bus due to glare from the sun and glasses that aren’t strong enough, I got on and showed my ticket. Everything was okay…until I realised the bus had gone the wrong way.
Panicking quietly, I pressed the stop button and got off the bus at the next stop. Behind the bus stop was a patch of grass, where I sat down and – in tears – called my mum.
I have a strong sense of ‘wrong’. Other people might feel that if something isn’t completely okay it isn’t necessarily wrong, but for me it is. Getting the wrong bus, for me, meant that everything was wrong. The day was wrong and I shouldn’t have left the house, I shouldn’t have bothered. Even the things I’d been so happy to buy felt wrong. It was all wrong.
On the other end of the phone, my mum tried to calm me down and told me the only option was to walk back to the first bus stop. I knew this but clung on to some hope that there would be more options. I felt angry, not at my mum, but at myself for getting the wrong bus. I was crying, having a small meltdown on a small patch of grass, wishing that something else would happen.
After calming myself down just a little, I began walking back to the first bus stop – crying some more, mainly because I was just so confused by it all – and texted my mum, saying I never wanted to get the bus again and that I didn’t want to leave the house for the rest of the week. While that sounds melodramatic, I have a disorder that I’ll explain fully in another blog post called alexithymia. In short, I can’t really understand my emotions so all I felt was a cloud of confusion and negativity while I was desperate to get to my safe space, my bedroom. I wanted to be okay and at that moment, I couldn’t see myself leaving what was okay for a long time.
The correct bus arrived and once I’d gotten on it, I calmed down and called my mum to apologise for the anger from earlier and for disrupting her while she was at work. Reassured everything was okay, I hung up and continued the bus journey home. It was a slightly less relaxed journey than the way there but it was okay.
On reflection, it all actually turned out alright. Yes, I had a meltdown but I’m autistic – of course there’s going to be times when I have meltdowns – and that’s okay. It’s part of who I am. It might not be the easier part but being proud of who I am means I accept that they are, and always will be, part of me. For anyone curious, I will be doing the bus again but maybe once I’ve got some new glasses so I don’t get it wrong…