The rat race

As you may have gathered from previous posts, I’m moving to London. The boy got a fancy new job in the big city so we’re heading back to the south to family and friends and I should be pretty excited. But I’ve been wanting to do a post on the big move for quite a while because, in all honesty, the thought of the move is so daunting that I wanted to write about it but couldn’t quite put it into words. However, as today marks the end of Fibromyalgia Awareness Week I thought it was about time I addressed the issues. 

London is the hub of all activity in England. I am madly in love with the North East, but if you want the best jobs, the biggest choice of music and theatre, the latest fashion, the most innovative pop up food stalls etc then you need to be in London. I hate that this is the case but right now I’m going to accept it, because if I accept the biggest and the best of everything exists in the big smoke, then I want to know how people with invisible disabilities access this. Seriously, how? 

London boasts one of the best transport systems in the world, and from an objective point of view I can see how fantastically the London Underground does its job. But, I can also assure you that there is absolutely no way I can use this as a way of getting around London. Seriously, look at this. 

People squash onto the London Underground during the morning rush hour.

I’m going to bore you with some stats for a moment in the hope this puts fibromyalgia into context for you. 

  • On average, I can stand still for approx 6 minutes
  • On average, I can walk pain/limp free for approx 0.7 miles
  • When I push through the pain barrier, I can walk for 1 hour maximum before I am unable to move
  • I am unable to walk up stairs without a handrail or person to lean on
  • When I get to the point where I can no longer walk I lose feeling in my legs, get sharp pains in my back, become dizzy and nauseous, my head becomes too heavy for my neck to hold and I often get shooting pains in my hands and feet.

The purpose of this isn’t to make you feel sorry for me; I am well aware there are hundreds of thousands of people with conditions far worse than mine. But I would like to know what is being done to help the 1.6 million people in the UK get around their capital city with a disability that cannot be seen or understood, and in some cases even believed. 

Having ruled out the Underground, I started thinking about the buses. Far more likely to be able to pick me up from the end of my road and with no need to walk the ten minutes under ground and then back up again, the bus was starting to look like an attractive option. Unfortunately it seems like lots of other people had the same idea as I did. 

Image: Commuters wait for buses at Victoria bus station in London

So having ruled out the tube and the bus, I was left with two options. The first option was getting back into my good old car, but then I checked out the roads. Has anyone seen the roads into London during rush hour? Crikey. I honestly thought no one would be stupid enough to attempt driving into central London, but it turns out the city is full of stupid people doing just that. I’m not about to join them. 

Drivers queue during evening rush hour on the M4 motorway, in west London, in this file photo.

And so I am left with one final option. A scooter. This idea intimidates slightly; it relies on my head being strong enough to wear the helmet, my back being strong enough to hold me upright without any back support, and my legs being strong enough to put the bike on and off the stand. But, if I can cope with all of that then I think I may have found a way to commute. Plus, let’s be honest, they’re pretty damn cool!

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I’m not expecting Boris Johnson to launch a new transport system for disabled people, that would be utterly insane and highly unfair to the able bodied people that have to endure the commuters rat race day in day out. I have yet to meet someone who enjoys having their head shoved in the armpit of a smelly man at the end of the working day. However, what I would like to change is an understanding and recognition for fibromyalgia and other invisible disabilities; if I walk onto the tube pregnant I’m guaranteed a seat, and if I walk onto the tube with a walking stick I’m guaranteed a seat, but if inside my body is screaming and the only visible sign are the tears rolling down my face, I have no choice but to sit on the floor of the carriage whilst being kicked (and often abused) by the people around me for taking up valuable space. 

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London is a beautiful city and there are so many reasons to be excited about the big move, but every time I think of it I am filled with dread in the pit of my stomach. How will I get to and from work? How will I see my friends? How will I live? How, how, how? I’m hoping that once I find work we will be able to find somewhere to live nearby but with the London rental market experiencing demand that far outweighs supply, and houses being rented before they even reach the internet, I fear we’re going to need a huge amount of luck to find something nice, in a good area, close to friends, affordable and with excellent transport links. Think it might be time to try out that scooter…