Driving Anxiety

Greetings to you on this sunny Monday!

Another anxiety post coming up I’m afraid. But when your life has been full of it for over ten years, there’s a lot of ground to cover. And this particular subject is something that has given me the most horrendous anxiety I’ve ever known; and it still impacts me to this day.

Back in June 2010, I turned 17. I received a block of driving lessons as my main gift and I was genuinely really hyped up and excited for it. This would start me on the road to becoming an adult; pun totally intended. The first lesson came around and I distinctly remember it being a lovely sunny day, which elevated my mood even more. I got along well with my instructor so that was a relief. She drove me to the local driving lesson ‘stomping ground’ and, after a lot of instruction and chatting, I was able to get behind the wheel for the first time ever. Sure I only crept forward a few metres but I had actually driven! She then drove me home and I began the excitable retelling of how my lesson had been. I was hopeful.

After a couple more lessons, I was told I was progressing nicely. I hadn’t had any accidents or serious moments. But a sense of anxiety slowly washed over me. As the next lesson got closer and closer, my anxiety and stress would increase. I’d give myself horrible headaches and nausea from worrying so much. I’d find it hard to relax and would find myself becoming restless and fidgety. I cancelled lessons as I couldn’t handle it, but the same feelings would arise again and again. I didn’t know why. That was the hardest part. I knew it was driving related. That was obvious. But I couldn’t pinpoint a specific thought or eventuality that was setting it off. I wasn’t scared of crashing as the car had dual controls and I had great awareness on the road. I’d never been a nervous passenger either so it couldn’t have stemmed from that. Maybe, on some level, it was the responsibility angle that did it; not only being in charge of a car, but having to think of other drivers, pedestrians etc.

Eventually, my mental health deteriorated so much that, upon going to the doctor’s, I was diagnosed with depression. Whilst I’ve spoken about this before, I wanted to remind folks that the driving lessons were a huge trigger for my depression. I genuinely think that the sheer stress of the whole thing contributed more than 50% to my mental health decline. I had to fully cancel all my lessons and ask for a refund of outstanding ones as the circumstances were out of my control.

Fast forward two years and, not only do I have my depression and anxiety, I’ve had a diagnosis of M.E. After much deliberation, I decided to take the plunge and start lessons again. As I was receiving certain benefits, I was able to have a number of lessons free of charge, so that alleviated a fair amount of pressure. My instructor was even better than the first one. But the anxiety persisted. However, I also persisted. It was tough. Really really tough. It was basically the same as before but I kept on going. Looking back now I don’t know how managed it. The anxiety was awful and my health was greatly impacted. Maybe I had a different attitude or something. Frankly I can’t really remember.

I passed my test second time in June 2012, only 6 days after my 19th birthday. I took my first ever solo drive too. It was fine. I did it. But you know what? I didn’t drive at all for over FIVE years. Okay so most of that was admittedly down to my health and related cognitive issues rather than anxiety. But I knew it was still there inside me.

Earlier on this year, I decided to have refresher driving lessons, to hopefully get me back into it as my health has improved a fair amount. I was hoping that the anxiety would ease this time as I’d already passed my tests and knew I didn’t have to ‘impress’ anyone and that people weren’t judging. But lo and behold, it showed its face yet again. I only managed a couple of lessons before having to call it quits. The anxiety and stress were having such a negative impact on my physical health; it just wasn’t worth it.

It’s shit. It’s really shit. I’ve had high intensity CBT which has helped so many things immensely. We’ve discussed driving and my associated anxiety before. I’ve got coping techniques. I’ve got analysis of my own thoughts and know logically that my anxiety is unfounded. Yet it still will not shift. It may have lessened, which is a small blessing. But at the age of 25, I am totally reliant on other people to drive because my stupid brain is a pile of rotten turds. You’d think anxiety would start out bad but ease once you get the hang of something right? Mine often acts in the opposite way. Driving lessons were fun at first with little or no anxiety. Then they became stress inducing after I’d had more practise. Seriously, what is that all about? It doesn’t compute. Practise makes perfect couldn’t be any less applicable.

I’m not sure how to end this as it’s an ongoing and unresolved issue. Instead of exposure therapy, I’m having to completely remove myself from the driving world. Exposure has worked with so many of my other anxieties, like meeting new people, crowded places etc. I can’t even seem to get over the first hurdle with driving.

Peace + love.

Kelsey x

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