On my sweet sixteenth birthday, I was excited to finally feel like I was growing up, like I was getting out of the morbid years that had been my fourteenth and fifteenth (you should see my diary from those years!) and that I was in my last year of high school, finally feeling like I belonged somewhere and wasn’t floating between friends and work trying to be what people wanted me to be. I had a lot to look forward to, but one thing that I most certainly wasn’t looking forward to, was getting my Learner’s driver's licence.
So many people ask me why I hate driving, what scares me about it, what is it that makes me sick to my stomach about getting behind the wheel.. Well, here I am going to try and explain how it feels to be petrified of something that is so simple to most other people. It is also going to be handy to have some point of reference to show others who question my seemingly ridiculous fear as I have never really documented what it is about driving that makes me so anxious. It might even help me to sort through my issues to physically write how I have gotten to this point and why. Maybe it will one day become a ridiculous fear to me as well – and that would be my ultimate dream.
I have never been a thrill seeker. I grew up with two older brothers who love cars, motorbikes and practically anything with an engine. They love to drive. When I was 8, my second oldest brother was in a really serious car accident and almost died. I had always thought that he drove too fast. Whenever he took me anywhere, I would cling to the bottom of the passenger seat for the entire trip. Whether or not his speed is exaggerated I’m not sure, all I know is that as a child, I was scared. This same brother took me on a motorbike for the first time when I was about 10. I sat at the front, and I had never been more afraid in all my life! In my mind, I knew that he wouldn’t put me in a dangerous situation, and he told me this numerous times, but for some reason I was just always scared. Even going in Dad’s four wheel drive to the bush terrified me. Going up the slightest incline or over the smallest bump would send me into a complete panic. Nobody ever understood why and obviously I didn’t either!
As soon as I did turn 16, my parents pestered me to go and sit the test to get my L’s, and for months, I procrastinated as much as possible. FINALLY I got the info book and studied up, sat the test and passed. My Dad had acquired a very old, very dirty, Mitsubishi Colt for me to practise in, and the first time I drove it, was with my previously mentioned older brother. I was doing kind-of-OK for the most part; I eventually went from first gear to second, with the end of our gravel road rapidly approaching. My brother instructed me to pull the steering wheel hard to the right, which reluctantly I did, and he pulled the handbrake on. The car spun crazily spun around and did a decent sized skid before coming to a halt facing back towards my house. I was so angry and scared! I bunny hopped the rest of the way home and stormed into my room, swearing never to let him try to teach me again!
A few weeks passed and my Mum wanted me to go for a drive with her. Thankfully we lived on a quiet road which is where I did the first 10 hours of my driving. It took me forever to get the hang of the clutch, like most Learner’s and for those first ten hours I cried, screamed, sighed, swore and fumed at my poor Mum. I simply hated every second of it. I do still remember the first time I got the clutch to work flawlessly though, that was a good feeling! I continued to drive whenever I was forced to, which was far too often for my liking. Everybody told me that the more I drove, the more I would like it and that the fear would go away, but it never did. By the time I had driven 50 hours, I was a fairly decent driver, just had absolutely no sense of direction. That is still my biggest issue today.
I have no internal map. Even when I did get my Provisional licence (One month after my 18th birthday..) if someone asked me to go somewhere that I’d never driven to before, you can be 99% certain that I simply would not go, unless I could get a lift from someone. In fact, that's pretty much still how I am today, five years later! That’s not something I like about myself and the fact that I truly don’t know where I’m going half the time is really embarrassing! I also really hate parking. I will park a mile away and walk to where I need to go rather than risk having to drive around a full car park, or stuff up a park with someone watching me impatiently.
Since I’ve been taking some medication, I can process things more clearly and more slowly in my brain, so when I do need to drive somewhere different, I seem to be able to take it in my stride a bit more readily. I still get scared, but I can at least think through a solution logically instead of going into full blown panic mode, sweating and shaking and feeling like I’m going to vomit.
My fear of driving tends to be the thing that I am laughed at for the most. My family thinks it’s completely stupid, my friends think it’s a bit laughable and poor Reid would have to get sick of having to drive me anywhere and everywhere when we’re together. I have tried so many things to improve. I drove to Sandy Bay every day for Uni; I drive to work every day now and have had to drive to some places that absolutely terrify me for my job. I guess the point I’m trying to make, is that yes, my anxiety where driving is concerned can definitely be seen as irrational and even hilarious, but it’s not for me. For me it’s a very real, very horrible, very embarrassing issue. I have been told to just not talk about it, because that will “make it worse” and “I’m only talking myself into it”, but I disagree. I’m trying to be really open with this blog about my weaknesses, but I also want to be able to see my strengths. Throughout this whole post, I have mentioned the words: fear, anxiety, terrified, scared and panic. However, I DO drive. I DO have my licence. I DO push myself to learn to go to new places and I DO get behind the wheel most days. So while you might think I’m stupid, weak and a complete and total sook, maybe think of something you are scared of and how you face it. Everybody is scared of something. While I definitely have a long way to go as far as becoming a confident driver goes, at least I recognise this weakness in myself and do my best not to let it hold me back.