I have had a bus phobia for as long as I can remember.
As a rational person, I understand that phobias don’t make any sense. It’s not possible to reason with a phobia, because it’s not rational. For example, I only have anxiety on regular old city buses, with various stops, not like coach buses or school buses. I don’t have anxiety on trains. My fear is basically that I will get on the bus, the door will close, and the driver will say, “Well, as everybody knows, this bus now goes express to Texas” and I will somehow be powerless to stop this.
I certainly am not going to be able to explain it to you why this gives me anxiety, because I can’t even explain it to myself. For starters, that’s just not how buses work, and even if it was, surely I could stand up, make a scene, and insist they let me out. It’s not even a scary situation!
Regardless, if I have to ride a bus, I usually spend the entire time in a kind of fight-or-flight mode. I am sweaty, my insides are twisting, my veins are pumping adrenaline. If you surprised me at that moment, I would probably jump through the roof. It’s uncomfortable, and it’s to the point where I just don’t see taking the bus as an option. I’d rather do just about anything else, including walking a couple of miles if necessary. Just not worth it.
I think I even know the exact moment this all began:
I don’t remember how old I was, but I was probably about 5 or 6. My mom decided that, as a fun thing to do, we would go for a bus ride. We’d catch a bus downtown, maybe walk around a little bit, and catch one back. Cheap form of entertainment. However, when we got to the bus station downtown, everything was confusing and complicated. I don’t remember exactly how it went, but I’m sure everything was contradictory and full of sighs and eye rolls at my mom, who was juggling 3 kids in a pre-cell phone era.
My brother and sister were blissfully unaware, but I was old enough to know that my mom was upset and didn’t know what to do, that we were far from home and didn’t know how to get back. My feeling at the time is that we might NEVER be able to get back home. I think right at that moment a feeling settled on me that buses were scary and impossible, with unknowable routes and schedules.
The irony, though, is that the story actually has a tremendously happy ending! Eventually my mom decided that we were going to need to walk home, and that being the case, we had better get started. As we were walking down the street, a bus pulled up next to us. “Where are you going?” asked the bus driver. “Uh…where are YOU going?” asked my mom, fully aware that was not how buses worked. “This is a special bus, ma’am,” said the bus driver. “We take you wherever you need to go.”
Keep in mind this memory is pretty old at this point, and memory (especially MY memory) is unreliable. My memory is that the bus dropped us of in front of our house, though I asked my mom about it years later and she said that wasn’t true. In any case, that anonymous bus driver is an absolute hero as far as I’m concerned.
Still, that feeling remains: buses are a mystery that follow no rules, or rather, they follow obscure rules that everybody knows except you, and you’re probably better off without them altogether.
Anyway, what I wanted to say is that I rode the bus today, anxiety free, thanks to my smart phone. I used to have a lot of anxiety about taking taxis, but it has completely disappeared due to Uber (lol on my comments at that old blog post asking people what Uber is). Turns out, the anxiety-inducing parts of taking a taxi were payment and not being able to track if the taxi was going to show up at my house, and those are handled by the app.
Turns out, my bus anxiety was not so much different.
With the app I can see the bus route at all times (NOT HEADED TO TEXAS THANK YOU VERY MUCH), and even where each bus is / how long I have to wait. I can obsessively check how many more stops I have before I have to get off (which I apparently need to do about every 20 seconds).
And today I rode the bus like a big boy! Anxiety free, like an actual human being.