I was trying to concentrate on the telly, after all, me and my husband liked to guess ‘who did it’ before the end – but I just couldn’t. I had an overwhelming feeling of dread. It was impossible, for me to enjoy anything, until I had got tomorrow morning out of the way – my first driving lesson. Well, technically that’s incorrect. Tomorrow was my first driving lesson, of my ninth attempt at driving. I was 38 and my first attempt, was when I was 19. I remember it well – intense fear. I just couldn’t imagine, being behind a wheel and being in control of a gigantic machine – at least that’s how my mind saw it.
My pattern with driving began then. A couple of lessons, cancelling lessons, a couple of lessons again, then cancelling the whole attempt; after all, it was so expensive and I didn’t need to drive – public transport was much easier to get around on. This went on and on and now, I was 38 and ashamed. I hated, driving coming up in conversations; “What car do you drive?” then the embarrassment of declaring, I couldn’t drive, with eyes of disbelief going straight through me. The truth was, that I DID want to drive. I really, really wanted to drive. I was just scared. More than scared, it was like a phobia. This time I needed to do it. I needed to fight my fear.
I didn’t sleep well that night. A tired Rachel the next day, just made my nerves flare even more. It just seemed like the most unattainable goal. I just desperately wanted to be like a normal person. That morning I pulled back the curtains. I watched everyone in the street, getting into their cars, driving off, like it was the easiest thing in the world. Why couldn’t I do that? My driving instructor was very nice and VERY patient. I confided in him about my fear and he was very understanding. I was shaking when I got behind wheel, but I drove! Only at 20 mph and only around the village, but technically I was driving! The next few lessons went well, but then that gremlin took over again. I was sure I felt unwell that morning, so cancelled my lesson. The huge relief I felt after cancelling, soon turned to deep depression. I had let myself down yet again. It was 11am, if I’d stuck with it, I would have done it by now. I just felt crippled with fear. I couldn’t move. Waves of dread swept through my body and I felt physically sick. What was the problem??! Everyone can drive! What was wrong with me?
Of course, at the time, I didn’t quite realise I was suffering with anxiety. I treated people for anxiety in my work, yet didn’t notice it within myself. When the penny dropped, I knew I had to work on myself. I spent hours going through childhood memories – there had to be a trigger somewhere. My mind had been programmed to think driving was scary. I did find the trigger, simply seeing a scary traffic incident when I was 4! Now I had to exorcise this memory. I started doing Mindfulness. I needed to stop projecting into the future, worrying about what might happen. If I wasn’t focused when driving, then I WOULD make mistakes. I booked a 2-hour lesson, every day for a week. I scrapped all other plans and devoted all my time to driving. I hated myself that week. Every evening was ruined, as I faced going to bed and waking up each day with dread. The third morning was particularly bad. All I wanted to do was cancel and run away. I felt paralysed to walk out the front door, let alone drive. I threw up. My driving instructor pulled up outside my house. I felt my stomach lurch.
I stuck to my week, doing Mindfulness and trying to keep as calm as possible. I was just taking each day at a time – and I did it! I didn’t cancel any lessons and felt like I was driving like a normal person – I was even enjoying it! That was, until I booked my first test. I was going to do a driving test – I had never got that far before! I could feel the anxiety creeping in again. Visions of losing control and sending a lollipop lady flying, kept filling my mind. I was doing it again, projecting away! I literally absorbed myself in Mindfulness and positive thinking. The morning of the test felt surreal and I was really hoping I wouldn’t pass out – but I did it! No, I didn’t pass – but that was ok (I got reverse around a corner and anxiety had nothing to do with that – I was physically unable to turn backwards!). But what I had done, was beat my demon – I had done a test! My nerves didn’t flare – I failed, but I failed just like a normal person would! The elation was immense, however, that bubble soon burst, as I realised I had to book another one.
On the way to my second test, I wondered how many times I would have to do this. I just kept saying to myself, it’s not a test, it’s not a test, you’re just driving someone else around. This test was a bit of a nightmare. I kept calm, but there were lots of lanes, lots of major roundabouts and it was raining – window wipers! I struggled to see through my anxiety as it was – but window wipers! I was just relieved to get back to the test centre. I had done a good attempt though – I would crack this eventually! Everything seemed to slow down and time just stopped. I looked back at the examiner – “Pardon?”’ I said. “Congratulations you’ve passed your test!” Waves and waves of just, feelings, came over me. I got out of the car in a trance and when I saw my instructor, I just cried – I had done it! I had passed my driving test!
See it wasn’t driving that was the actual problem, it was being an anxiety sufferer. Anxiety is about feeling out of control, a feeling that driving heightens. When I look back, I had acted this way over other things in my life – cancelling job interviews, not going to parties, or suddenly feeling ill, if there was a big presentation or exam coming up. I had a mental health illness and didn’t even realise it. I just beat myself up, for not being ‘normal’ – whatever that is! Mindfulness got me through my driving and made me realise that my mind had been my enemy, not driving. Anxiety had made me feel like a prisoner, overwhelmed and trapped. I thought I was over all my anxieties from the past and that I just didn’t need to drive. In truth, I had just been avoiding it. I drive around now in my own little car! Yes, I feel nervous some days, but I just do my self-care to right myself again. I finally freed myself. It may have taken me 19 years, but I did it. I faced anxiety square in the face and refused to allow it to dictate my life.