I’m experiencing a relapse. At least I hope I am. I hope I am because that would mean that the symptoms I have now are temporary.
I am always tired, but right now I’m even more tired than usual. My balance is very poor, so sudden turns invariably result in a staggering that appears drunken to the naked eye and there’s been a significant worsening in my walking. My left foot has a tendency to periodically drag on the floor or fold itself under me at random resulting in some fairly spectacular falls. At the moment it threatens constantly to do either or both of these things, so I walk with an almost crab-like precision (not quite crab-like. Actually an extra 6 legs would make things rather easier, I think), putting my feet down with extreme care and constantly watching the floor for the tiniest discrepancy in height between paving stones that my dragging foot could catch on, any slight dip that could throw me off balance.
I look around at other people, and I perceive that the world I am picking myself through is so different to theirs. When I was younger, walking was an automatic series of movements that I didn’t have to think about at all. The mental effort comprised the act of thinking ‘I’ll go over there’. Then – as if by magic – I was over there. Now, I have to concentrate so hard on performing each of the movements involved, and it’s exhausting.
Once upon a time, I walked everywhere. I love London, so much that I loved to be physically in its streets, immersed in its grime and inhaling its pollution. I loved to lose myself in the city, following a meandering way and finding myself somewhere I hadn’t expected. In those days before smartphones I carried my battered copy of the A-Z like a totem, tracing the streets with my fingers, finding my own routes to where I wanted to be.
In the mid-2000s as digital started creeping in, I would plan my journeys on the Transport for London website. I’d always select a maximum walking time of 60 minutes, and choose the option ‘I’d rather walk if if makes my journey quicker’. That wasn’t so long ago but it’s hard to believe now that I used to then print out my route, stuffing A4 wads of paper into my bag to refer back to if I needed to remember a bus number. Though I took tubes or buses when necessary, walking was my default mode of transport and I felt sorry for tube-bound commuters, who never really ‘properly’ experienced their city.
And then, in the last 5 years, everything changed. I started selecting a maximum walking time of 5 minutes when planning my route. I frequently drive (and I hate myself for adding to the pollution that I’m distinctly unhappy for my children to be immersed in) rather than take public transport because there’s no route available with a short enough walk. The Sunday morning rambles I loved so much through the City (and I mean the financial district of London, rather than the city itself), through the ancient streets around the Bank of England that are deserted on the weekend are a distant memory.
Life changes for everyone, and things get harder for us all, if we’re lucky enough to get old. I suppose it’s a silver lining. I can live with struggling a bit, a life that’s too easy doesn’t really feel like real life after all, but sometimes I just wish that other people understood. I wish they wouldn’t stare at my ‘please offer me a seat’ badge as if it’s something I’ve made myself because I’m too lazy to stand up on the bus. I wish they’d see me stagger and not think I’m drunk or on drugs. I wish their first reaction wasn’t to make a negative assumption about me, but rather to try and understand me, and the world I’m living in.