I was living in London when I had my first attack of reactive arthritis. Every couple of days I’d take the underground from Bethnal Green where I was couch sitting to Charing Cross Hospital. Sometimes, when I felt up to it, I’d stop and sight-see on the way. I was more mobile then than now, but still painfully slow.
And so I spent a lot of time hobbling in and out of Tube Stations. I would alight from the train, shuffle out of the way, and start towards the exit. First amongst a throng, then a crowd, then a trickle. Then by myself, in the empty echoing tunnels. If the station was large enough, or the walk long enough, other trains would arrive, and the walkway around me would fill with sound and people again, before it emptied out. Occasionally, I’d have company; the brave or determined elderly. Sometimes there’d be a line of us, spread out along the handrails like mountain climbers on a rope.
The other day, I was having coffee with a friend who also has a chronic illness. We talked, as we often do, about the frustrations of being unwell. One frustration that I wouldn’t have predicted in the days before the arthritis is the frustrated grind of expectations, the things I want to do with my life, still set by the norms of the people around me and life before I was sick, against the realities of being unwell. Things could be much worse, and I’m lucky and have a lot to be thankful for. But it’s hard not to feel sorry for yourself sometimes when it seems like life’s bustling out of the station in front of you, and you’re left limping along behind.
Or, at least, that’s the glum view of it all. What I need to remember is that, despite the faltering steps, I still made it out of the Underground in the end, and got to see most, if not all, of the things the city had to offer…