I’ve had driving anxiety since I was sixteen years old. It’s been getting better. I no longer start hyperventilating at just the thought of getting behind the wheel, or consistently cancel plans so I don’t have to drive. I still avoid driving alone to places I’ve never been to, and now that there’s snow, my anxiety is at a higher level. I don’t like the feeling of skidding on the road after just trying to stop at a red light.
I’m not sure where the fear of driving came up, I’ve always had it. When most kids were passing their driving tests and getting licensed, I was in the middle of the worst bout of depression I had ever experienced. I was terrified at the idea of having to spend hours in a car with a stranger (who I knew was going to be a man) for the behind-the-wheels, and it wasn’t like I had a job or an active social life to motivate me to get a license. All I wanted to do was sleep and be left alone.
I wasn’t ready to take the driving test until I was about eighteen. For some reason, we went to Arden Hills, which was notorious in my circle for being impossible to pass the first time. They had created their own course and the lines on the road were confusing; I’m fairly certain no streets actually look like this. I managed to start going down the wrong way on a one-way within the first minute. Things only got worse from there. The instructor yelled at me for being confused about what to do when the car in front of me started to parallel park. I started crying, but had to continue. I just wanted it to be over. I knew I had failed. What was the point? The instructor was a mean-spirited sort of person and didn’t make any attempts to comfort me. When he left, I wanted to run him over with the car.
For my second attempt at the course, I had a woman instructor, which made me feel better. I still failed, but she was sensitive about it. I was really scared now though. I had heard that if you fail the driving test three times, you have to redo all the driver’s ed hours and behind-the-wheels. It was my worst nightmare.
I did eventually pass a driver’s test. We went out to the boonies, where the test was just a short drive along a deserted street and parking in an empty lot. It felt good to have a victory. I still hated driving though. I couldn’t trust my brain to keep my body from falling over; how was I supposed to trust it with a soda can on wheels going 70 miles an hour? A few bad experiences with other drivers yelling at me and my anxiety was at its highest. I wanted to run away from civilization and eat leaves for the rest of my life.
When my brother was in Scotland and not there to drive me places we both went to, I had to take over the car. That semester gave me a lot of practice and the anxiety lessened. Then I had the car accident. I had dropped off a pair of friends at a bus station in Minneapolis and was driving on what I thought was a ramp to the freeway. I didn’t see the red light. I was hit on the left side, by the headlight. The other car looked totaled. I was in shock. It felt like I was caught in a bad dream. The other driver was quiet, much to my immense gratitude. If she had yelled at me, I probably would have willed myself to drop dead right there in the middle of the road. The worst part was then having to drive away from the accident. The police officer said it looked like the wheel had gotten loose, so I was supposed to stay off the highway and take back roads. I had no idea where I was going and the GPS was no help at this point. I wrote down what he said in detail and then called my parents to try and figure out where to go. I managed to drive to our designated meeting spot in one piece, somehow. That whole part of the day is kind of a blur now.
I was off driving for a while, but recovered out of necessity. I haven’t driven back to Minneapolis and at this point, I just refuse to. Memories of anxiety can sometimes be worse than the actual experience because it proves – at least emotionally – that there is a reason to be worried.
My counselor says that driving anxiety is one of the most common anxieties out there. Some people go into treatment just for that. At least I’m not that bad. I have my few little drives I do all the time – going to Hugo, going to Macalester, going to the store, going to Chris’ work, to counseling, and now, to the library. If I know what I’m doing, I’m a pretty confident driver. At least when there isn’t snow.