Quiet Commutes

I started a new job two months ago, and it involves a two hour commute each way. Not ideal, but manageable for a while until I make other arrangements. A large part of the journey is on Sydney trains, and my general level of irritation has increased significantly. If its not people eating loudly and making those smacky saliva sounds and rustling their food wrappers, it’s people incessantly sniffing…. to the point that I get up and hand them a tissue. Must I carry tissues to supply to the moronic masses? Then it is people speaking on their phones or having loud conversations with their mates. The worst of them all is the recent assumption by some ignorant or inconsiderate members of the community, that playing music or videos on their phone without earphones is somehow acceptable. It absolutely is NOT. I don’t care how low you put the sound (and some don’t even bother to do that)…. I can still hear it and it fuels my anger.

I have tried various avoidance techniques, such as moving carriages, yet in most carriages you find someone abusing the common silence for their own entertainment with a smug sense of entitlement. I have tried the first and last carriage, as when you travel on intercity trains these are silent carriages (a concept that requires someone to monitor it as families clamber onto these and abolish the silence without a care in the world for others). I have had to move through three or four carriages in pursuit of a reasonable level of quiet, and often I have been unable to find it. The level of irritation climbs and I feel like shouting at everyone. It has affected my view of Sydney and has lowered my enjoyment of living here. This daily battle is not fun, and I all I want is to be able to travel in a quiet carriage with people who are polite and considerate of others. When it is really bad I listen to my iPod, yet the noise penetrates my ear buds, and I continue to endure the external noise.

As avoidance of the problem did not work, I now find myself telling people off. Asking them if they have headphones, and if not to turn it off as no one else wants to listen to it. I don’t want to be angry everyday for two hours as I travel my already taxing commute to and from work. Some people are not sensitive, and they are not sensitive to sound, so they will probably tell me to ‘relax’. Those of you who are sensitive to sound and their environment may understand my struggle.

Public Speaking

Public speaking is an element of life that has troubled and perplexed me since my early twenties. It seems to permeate so many aspects of life: wedding speeches, delivering eulogies, at work and being a student. Some take to speaking in front of groups with ease and grace; speaking of nerves as a tiny component that accompanies them right before they are required to speak, and which they flawlessly override. Others describe public speaking as something they did not naturally warm to, which they overcame with practice or by taking an acting class or similar. Then there are others who would rather die than speak in front of a group, and I am part of this group.

My fear of public speaking is a phobia, and a serious one. Each time it comes up in conversation, I have been the beneficiary of many reassuring tales of overcoming a dislike of speaking to groups. Although insightful, and interesting to hear someone else’s experiences and thoughts, the helpful advice feels woefully disconnected to my experience of public speaking.

I am interested in the role that public speaking plays in our society, and the general expectation, that you should simply ‘get over it’. Now in my late thirties, I can see that many workplaces are structured around the ability to, not only speak to groups, but to do it well. Being a nervous, emotional wreck in front of a group is not pleasant for anyone. I can see that despite my intelligence, experience, hard work ethic, strong people skills and problem solving abilities, opportunities for career development dissipate if I am not prepared to speak to groups. Society is geared toward accepting this, and I am questioning whether it is reasonable, based simply upon the scientific differences between introverted and extroverted people.

It never made sense to me that when a loved one passes away, those closest to them often feel pressured to speak at the funeral. I have no objection to people speaking, who choose to do so, but I disagree with people feeling they must, when it is the last thing they want to do and they are struggling in the grips of grief and despair.

My experiences around public speaking centre around higher education. To address my difficulties speaking to groups I completed a Toastmasters course, and consistently participated in Toastmasters meetings for six months. My acute response to public speaking, it is irrational and severe. If I know I have a presentation coming up, I experience anxiety for months in the lead up to it. A constant awareness that I will have to speak, and the heavy anxiety in your body that most people probably experience on the morning of a speech, envelops me. This exhausting anxiety is persistent and amplifies as the time draws nearer. I have been unable to alleviate this response, despite numerous approaches and wide reading on the topic. On the day of a speech I would rather be dead, and I enter a state of numbness as my feet to take me closer to the place where I will have to attempt to do what I find overwhelmingly distressing. Trying to hold my nerves together, to keep some semblance of calm rationality is challenging, and the later into the day my speech is, the more difficult I find it to hold everything together. Speaking to a group is like an out of body experience for me, and it is intensely uncomfortable. One particularly difficult experience involved my throat physically closing up while I was trying to speak, making it impossible to speak without coughing or clearing my throat to allow a couple more words squeak out. I completed the speech knowing it was as painful for the audience as it was for me. I was the second last speaker of the day, and held myself together until the end. Upon reaching the outside of the building, I burst into tears and sobbed as I walked home, and that night.

This level of distress is beyond what I imagine most people experience, and I think it is unreasonable to think it is okay for someone to experience this, once let alone regularly. I have put in a concerted effort to overcome this severe fear of public speaking, and it has not altered the level of distress I have experienced. I want society to consider whether for some people, it is unreasonable to expect them to speak to groups and that despite this, they hold great value and deserve the opportunity to excel and develop their career with the support of workplaces to accommodate this.

Pedestrian Crossings

The city heaves as dense living continues to increase in Sydney. Is it just me…. or are people becoming more aggressive? Are the stresses of overcrowding, high costs of living, longer workdays and less time for leisure, changing us?

I have seen my own behaviour change in response. Absent a car, I go everywhere on foot and via public transport. Over the past months, I have had numerous incidents with cars. Pedestrian crossings have morphed from a safe place to cross, into a gamble. Pedestrians are forced to stop and judge whether the oncoming car will stop, or whether they will drive straight through. Commonly, cars accelerate to get through the pedestrian crossing before they must stop, not slowing upon approach. It is as though the concept of stopping to allow people to cross at designated crossing is foreign to them.

Not only illegal, this boorish behaviour is dangerous and upsetting for pedestrians. Is everyone so hurried they no longer worry about the prospect of hitting a pedestrian? Do they feel so entitled to the road, that pedestrians are simply an inconvenience? When I used to drive, I would slow upon approach to crossings, making sure it was safe for me to drive through it, and stopping if anyone looked like they may soon cross the road. It was a matter of respect, safety, kindness and manners.

It now feels like the responsibility has passed onto the pedestrian, who gambles with their life each time they step foot onto a crossing. Drivers appear to be angry that they had to stop for you to cross the road, and they so often demonstrate a complete lack of manners, respect or kindness.

When carless, you walk everywhere, wait for public transport and carry everything: groceries, work items, books, and any household items you buy. This has made me strong, but exhaustion plays a part, and a sense of struggling to get the basics of life in place develops. Combine this amped up aggression from drivers, and I often arrive home feeling battered by the world. I don’t want to fight with drivers to uphold my right to cross safely at designated crossings.

I approach pedestrian crossings hoping to time it when there are no cars, so I can cross without angst. If a car is approaching, I stand at the edge of the crossing and look at the driver in an attempt to communicate that I want to use the crossing, but that I am not sure if they will stop. The speed, at which most cars approach a crossing, indicates that they have no intention of stopping, and will only do so if forced. This is wrong. It negatively impacts my daily experience in the world, leaving me feeling disrespected, upset, unsafe, and tired. This emotional burden reduces my quality of life, significantly. It is time drivers consider pedestrians, and how it feels to approach crossings and be treated with aggression and disregard.

I don’t know how to redress this phenomenon but I want it to change. I want people in the city to remember others and approach them with kindness.