Sudirman train station in the morning is a study in Jakarta’s ruthlessness. Picture this: a horde of employees working in the area get off the train then walk half-awake out of the train station. Some of them head for the Dukuh Atas Transjakarta stop. Some of them take motorcycle taxis. Some of them walk to their offices, if within walking distance. Dozens of them wait for a Kopaja or a Metromini at the juncture between Dukuh Atas and Sudirman.
If you have never been to Jakarta, Kopaja and Metromini are buses that simply do not give a fuck. They don’t stop, they just slow down and expect you to take a running leap through its doorway. When you are one out of dozens trying to get in, as you are every morning in front of Sudirman train station, you start to question the life choices you made that put you in this position.
Minor existential crisis aside, though, you make your way through the crowd, elbowing others and squeezing between bodies and jumping into the bus. Then you endure the next five to ten minutes hanging on the metal bars screwed to the bus ceiling for dear life. This was what happened the past months since I started working here.
This was not what happened last Friday morning.
Last Friday morning, as I was trying to make my way through the crowd, a cold dread seized me. My skin was clammy, it was hard to breathe, everything was too loud. I recognized all the symptoms and yet I could not stop it from happening; I froze.
The bus, along with the crowd, passed me by and I just stood there, trying my hardest not to scream.
The next bus came and my body worked on autopilot: one step. two step, jump. Hold on the handlebar, don’t let go, try to breathe. Pay the fare. Knock on the roof to stop the bus. Jump off.
Breathe, breathe, breathe. Break into tears.
The next day, I told my psychiatrist what happened, and he upped the dose again. I was doing so well, my medicine was tapering off, until this happened. For a fleeting moment I wondered if I should have shut up and pretended nothing happened. Which was stupid, which was why it was but a sliver of thought.
After that episode, it was understandable that I was apprehensive about getting on the bus this morning. So it was with no small trepidation that I walked towards the crowd.
I saw the bus coming and counted, one. Two. Three.
I pushed myself through the crowd, squeezed through and jumped and got into the bus.
And I was okay.
I did not break into cold sweat or lost the ability to breathe. I did not break into tears or stand frozen on the spot. I did what I had to do, what I have been doing all this time, and I was okay.
I might have to take medications for the rest of my life, but that’s fine. This illness can knock me down, but I can get up again, as many times as I need to. It will not get the best of me.