I live in Colorado Springs, a city where most people depend on automobiles to get around. However for many people on limited incomes, the cost of buying and owning a car is out of reach. This is especially true for adults with physical, developmental or psychological disabilities. Public transit is available, but the bus system is not as flexible as it needs to be. Running once an hour or on the half hour is the norm and the routes don’t go to all the places that people need or want to get to. Having said that, the buses themselves are comfortable to ride in and fares are affordable. I understand these transportation challenges. After my family and I moved to Colorado in 1996, we owned a string of old clunkers and for several months I rode the bus to and from work in icy cold weather. As the saying goes, “You do what you got to do.”
I work with adults, especially young adults (ages 18-29) who struggle with the challenges of leaving home, living independently and exploring meaningful career choices. My specialty is life coaching for men and women (of all ages) who are also dealing with the barriers created by mental health problems such as anxiety, bipolar disorder and depression. When encouraged and motivated most of them choose realistic goals to work on and then make progress. It’s enjoyable to come alongside these awesome people and help them do things they never thought they would be able to accomplish.
Now, if you will pardon the pun, ‘let’s get back on the bus’. Transportation is an essential element of daily life; finding and getting to work, socializing with friends, attending school, going to a place of worship, and keeping medical or counseling appointments require a method of getting from point A to point B in a timely manner. Depending on other people (including parents) for transportation is ok as a short-term or occasional solution. For practical and psychological reasons, there is nothing as satisfying as having your own ‘wheels’.
As I stated earlier, for some people the only option is public transit. I have worked with young adults who tell me they would ‘never’ consider riding the bus. That’s their choice. There is the new option of using ‘ride-sharing’ services like Uber and Lyft that is popular among some young people. Nevertheless, whatever your game plan is in life, it takes motivation to consider all your alternatives and be willing to try new things. Options like ride-sharing technology require you have a good smart phone that has unlimited minutes and you have a credit or debit card that has sufficient money on it all times so you can request a ride for yourself (and friends too).
However, this may not be a viable option for someone like Sam whose situation is like some of the adults I work with. Sam is not his real name, but a fictional representation of some of my clients. What follows is a story to illustrate a common life problem involving transportation. Sam has panic attacks and bothersome mood swings. His symptoms come and go and he usually manages them effectively. However, to live independently requires among other things, ‘a home, a job and friends.’ These things are in short supply when you have a serious mental health condition. To choose, get and keep each of these things requires transportation, especially in a big city like Colorado Springs that spans 20 miles in each direction.
Sam is 26 and lives alone in a small apartment with his cat. He receives a modest monthly allowance from his parents who also pay his rent and utilities. Hospitalized 10 months ago after experiencing several panic attacks, Sam was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder and bipolar. Six months ago, he began to feel much better after getting some medication to take the edge off his nearly constant anxiety and stabilize his moods. He also has monthly visits with Susan, his therapist. Susan has taught Sam some mental health skills that he is starting to use to find the courage to leave the apartment and control his anxious mind instead of letting the anxiety control him.
He's not ready to go back to college (he dropped out the year before he went into the hospital) and because he caused one too many small auto accidents, his driver’s license has been revoked. Yet, to move forward in what Susan calls ‘recovery’ and to become more independent, Sam decides he wants to get a job. He has an appointment at the local Workforce Center where the staff can give him some guidance about what kind of jobs he might be best suited for. Though part of him would like to just stay home, lay on the couch with his cat and watch television he really wants to earn some money to get things he needs and wants. Susan also tells Sam that having a job would really help him become more confident and improve his self-esteem.
Sam is now ready to take this big step forward in life. There is just one problem: how can he get to this appointment on time? It’s next Wednesday at 1:00 p.m. and his parents are both out of town. He calls his friend Jose who he attends church with to ask for a ride. Jose is busy that day and cannot help Sam. He calls Susan for advice and she tells him to buy a bus pass and just take the bus. Sam has never used public transit before and is afraid of the idea as well. “All that traffic! All those strangers! What if I get lost?”
This is where a life coach with mental health training can be of help. Susan refers Sam to Robert who has experience in helping young men with these kind of everyday life issues. Robert meets with Sam and explains that with learning any new skill, you need to break things down into small steps. However, for a person living with mental health challenges, just getting on the computer to find the website with the online bus schedules and fare information can be extremely difficult. “What if the page freezes on me like it did last time? Why is this stupid machine taking so long to even start! I wish my sister was here to help me!”
Robert is patient with Sam. They do the bus trip plan online. It will take two buses, meaning Sam must transfer to the second bus at a specific time. Sam gets very nervous and tells his coach, ‘Why don’t you just give me a ride, Robert?” To which Robert replies, “Yes Sam I could do that, but one of the goals of all this training is to help you get around town on your own until you get your driver’s license back.” Sam sighed briefly and then said, “Yeah, you’re right. Let’s get this done.” After creating and reviewing the trip plan, Robert and Sam set an appointment to do a couple of practice rides, one to the workforce center and the other to a fast food place that Sam and his friend Juan frequent eat at.
The practice rides give Sam some confidence that he can solve his transportation problem and get to his employment appointment the following week.
When the big day comes, Robert reaches out to Sam by text and asks, “Are you ready? Need any help right now?’ Says Sam, “Got everything covered. Wish me luck.” Though still somewhat nervous, Sam makes his way to the bus stop. He double checks the route information that he had downloaded into his phone. After getting on the bus he says to himself, “I hope I’m not late. And I hope these people have got some good info for me. I really want to find a job.”
Later that day Sam arrives home. His cat, Garfield is waiting for him on the kitchen counter. After putting his backpack on the couch, Sam sends a quick text to his coach, “I did it. Everything is fine. Talk to you soon.” One step closer to reaching an important life goal, Sam feels ready to get out of his apartment more often. He thinks to himself; “I still want my license and I’m sure my parents can help me find a car to drive. Meanwhile I can ride the bus…”