Driving Me Mad

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.

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