by Stephanie Grossman, M.A.
As a “New Yorker” for the past 4 years, I have learned to expect the realities of NYC living: the rats that run across the street, exorbitant rent, smelly subways etc. Still, I often struggle to accept the daily hassles of NYC life, particularly with regards to commuting. For example, this past weekend I was meeting up with a friend for dinner in Brooklyn. I had already spent the entire day commuting (driving to a local train station in the Philly suburbs, taking the train to the bus station in Philly, 2 hours later on the subway in NYC back to my apartment, and out once again on the subway to Brooklyn). So when I learned that the L was not currently running from 14th and 7th, and that I would need to take a bus to the next subway line, I was frustrated. But, I was able to recognize this frustration as a healthy negative emotion. I didn’t let it get in my way and promptly got on the M14D bus to Union Square. This was not the commute I expected, but it was okay until the bus moved only one avenue over in 20 minutes. That’s when I got angry. Now I knew I would be late and that my friend was waiting for me, and I experienced a sense of helplessness and uncertainty that contributed to my anger. Since we had yet to reach the next bus stop, I couldn’t even get off the bus and walk. I was trapped, along with many others, on the M14D.
My thoughts were demands: “I need to get off this bus. I should be allowed to get off this bus even if we haven’t reached the bus stop, because it’s been 20 minutes in a standstill. The bus driver should let us off.” And then, I added some frustration intolerance to the mix: “I can’t stand not knowing why we’re not moving! I need to know why!” and “I can’t stand being trapped on this bus,” which only furthered my anger and led to feeling anxious too. I then became angry with myself: “I should have just walked to the L, it’s not even far. It’s my own fault for getting myself into this situation,” as if I could have predicted the future. My subsequent behaviors included sighing, eye rolling, and arching my neck in an attempt to “assess the situation.” Unsurprisingly, none of these actions eliminated my anger or anxiety, they only fueled these unhelpful emotions. I then looked around at the other passengers—some were also clearly itching to exit and trying to open the door, while many others were sitting patiently, enjoying whatever they were listening to on their headphones or continuing a conversation. I wondered, how are these people so calm? Why aren’t they as angry as I am? Observing the varied reactions of the passengers reminded me of the central tenant of REBT: situations don’t lead to unhealthy negative emotions, our beliefs about them do. And clearly, not everyone was placing the same demands on the MTA and on themselves as I was. It seemed they had accepted MTA’s flaws, accepted their own powerlessness in the situation, or maybe were even thankful for an opportunity to be forced to slow down. Ultimately, we were allowed off the bus, I walked to the L, squished my way onto the subway, and made it to Brooklyn. In the future, as difficult as it may be, I will try to remind myself to expect MTA disasters, and to enjoy the rare occurrence of a smooth and easy commute (and maybe one day move back to the suburbs…).