Stress and the city

The tang of metal is on my tongue, back in town from a few days away I notice the pollution more, is it a wonder with the assault on the senses that I get stressed out in the city.

Breathing. After a cold a few years ago, I developed asthma again though mild it’s worrying that the last time I had this problem was when I was at school and the playing fields were next to the M6 motorway. Breathing in all this pollution I worry for what it will do for my health long term, and I only live on the outskirts of London.

Getting sick. If I go into London, a few days later I will have a cold. You must get immune to if you are always going in. I have become religious about hand-sanitizer. I didn’t know that I am unusual in feeling a sensation on my hands if I haven’t cleaned them for a while. I get this cloyiness on my palms, and it won’t leave until a wash my hands. The fact that my skin breaks out or I have a virus within days of any trip on the tube seems proof enough that the City is not good for my mild anxiety-led germophobia. Squashed with too many people, holding on to the handrails like you’re supposed to on the escalator, these are all hard for me.

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Sensory overwhelm. It took having a child with Sensory Processing Disorder to understand the world differently. His overwhelm at noises, his reaction of running from busy crowded places has opened my eyes. The world is often too noisy, too busy, too bright, too loud. And though my I can regulate my reaction to the barrage of too much information, I also hate it at times. I may not respond so much but it builds up inside me that tiny irritations build up so that often I reach a point where I need a sensory break too. My go to move is to put my headphones in and looking around, a lot of other people cope this way too.

Too loud. Except not everyone uses headphones. Music out loud on buses is a pet peeve. I have asked many a (usually young man) to put in headphones. I saw a man blasting his music from a player on his shoulder the other day. On reflection, he was probably promoting his own music but I stood nervously to see if he was getting on my bus. Would I have to confront him? Would the bus driver say anything? I want to be polite even if you show no-one else courtesy. But he stayed at the bus stop. The whole imaginary argument had been in my head but left me frazzled. Calming myself with the mantra, nothing happened, and “use this” irritation.

The Big Smoke. I hate the smell of smoke and particularly weed which permeates everywhere. I took precautions to hide it when I smoked in my twenties so no-one found me but now it’s ubiquitous. I will never know if then, in my reckless moments, I was in fact bothering a Mum with a young child who asked her “What’s that funny smell?” Just like my son has asked me.

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His palate is more sensitive and no doubt some of my anger at near neighbours for smoking is because I worry for him. I want to make life as easy for him as I can. But this like my other concerns seems like a characteristic of the urban experience, to me. It represents people doing what they want, where they want without considering others. An individualist way of living.

I have been writing a short story about a woman driven mad trying to catch fly-tippers. This pre-occupation with her surroundings, well let’s just say I can relate. But where my concerns really come from are this desire to make the world a better place for my son. To think about how we can be more considerate to other people and to our planet.

If you’re interested in what it can be like for a person on the Autistic Spectrum with associated sensory difficulties, I recommend this campaign called “Too Much Information” from the National Autistic Society.