One of the things I said about my trip to Ireland was that I would be reliant on the help and goodwill of strangers. Moreover, I knew I’d be sleeping in shared dorms with people I’d never met before, including a mixed dorm in Drogheda.
(Apart from family members, I’ve never really lived with men in any capacity. I go to a women’s college, so even at uni — which in any case doesn’t have shared rooms — I don’t encounter them in accommodation. It’s proved more of an adjustment than I’d have thought.)
For me, as someone with anxiety, striking up conversations with strangers isn’t easy. It might seem it at times, because when I’m nervous I tend to talk a lot, but plucking up the courage to approach them in the first place is always a struggle. Whether I’m asking someone to watch my bags for two minutes so that I can go to the loo at the bus station, or having a conversation in the pub about where I learned the whistle, I usually agonise for ages about speaking, and if possible leave it to the other person to start. I’m getting better about it, but it’s difficult, as is accepting help when it’s offered.
And people have offered, or when I’ve asked, they’ve given it without hesitation. I haven’t needed help getting my suitcase onto the bus, but I’ve twice received lifts to the bus station with my luggage: once from a hostel staff member, and once from a complete stranger who saw me dragging my suitcase along in the rain and stopped to pick me up. A member of the staff at the same hostel also called a taxi for me when my anxiety wouldn’t let me make the phonecall myself, and the taxi driver told me all about the time he had a panic attack on the Tube and then only charged me €10 even though it should’ve been more.
I’ve lost track of the number of strangers in bus stations who have watched my bags so that I can go to the loo one more time before my bus leaves. Sure, if someone actually tried to steal the bag I’m not sure what any of them would’ve been able to do, but it’s usually just a case of needing to know someone’s got an eye on it.
Not everyone has been friendly. Some bus drivers have seemed downright unfriendly, and I sat next to the same person for the four hour journey from Dublin to Donegal without exchanging a single word. I haven’t been murdered in my bed while staying in a shared dorm, but there was that guy who wandered around in his boxers constantly and didn’t know the door code so had to be let in every single time he left the room. He wasn’t my favourite person.
To be honest, most people here probably think I’m unfriendly. I’m a Londoner: making eye contact on public transport feels downright unnatural, or even rude. Plus sometimes I’d love to say hi, but I’m panicking too much and I can’t, especially as I’ve been having some trouble understanding people’s accents.
(I’m not very good at hearing / understanding people anyway, which is why I always watch TV with subtitles. When they have a strong accent, it’s even harder. I keep having to ask people to repeat themselves, which makes me anxious; when I’m already anxious, it’s easier just not to talk and that way I don’t have to try and understand what’s being said to me.)
When I was in Dublin the first time I did everything I could to avoid the kitchen at busy times because the first time I went in there I had a panic attack, and at breakfast I stood away from everyone else and tried not to get in the way. It took some time to get over that when I was at other hostels with fewer people, and I probably came across as super weird to others because I would stand in a corner, cook in silence, and leave as quickly as possible.
But I’ve been doing my best to talk. There were some people in my dorm in Drogheda last night and we realised that we’d met before, in the pub in Glencolumbkille. A couple on the bus home from Newgrange recommended places to visit during my final day in Dublin. I’ve met enough Australians to ensure my accent continues to confuse everyone I ever meet (apparently I sound Australian sometimes??).
I’ve had some really great conversations, too. I told you guys about the Leprechaun Museum, right? If I didn’t, remind me to do so. That was a GREAT conversation, even if it took me several attempts to pluck up the courage to start it.
And at the start of these two weeks, it took me hours to fall asleep in a shared room, knowing I was surrounded by strangers and not wanting to piss them off by snoring. By last night — even though the dorm was mixed and I’d been super wary about that — I was out of it almost as soon as I went to bed. It’s like my body’s finally realised it’s okay to fall asleep even though people are in the room.
When I started writing this I was sitting in a bus station in Drogheda. Now, I’m lying on a bunk in Dublin. I only have an afternoon and a morning here before I have to start thinking about getting to the airport, so I want to make the most of it; I also want to sleep, possibly forever. The next day and a half are the last final push before I go home: the last few incidences of ignoring my fatigue and my anxiety, leaving the hostel, and doing stuff. Even if it involves talking to strangers.
Still going to cook dinner at 5.30pm to avoid kitchen crowds, though.