This morning I had to do something mundane and inconvenient – I had to take my car to be fixed after it got quite a bad chip in the windscreen that had started cracking. Luckily a really lovely guy at Halfords sorted it right out and I can feel safe going into those cold, frosty winter days.
But wait. Stop. Let’s just back up a bit.
I have a car. I can drive.
There was a time, not even that long ago, when I thought I would never be able to sit in the driver’s seat. Even the thought of driving would make my heart stop and I’d get a lurch in the pit of my stomach. I would feel a strong anxiety that my body is almost feeling again as I sit here typing these words.
Fear of driving dictated decisions I made about where I lived and worked, where I visited and how I travelled. In the months after university, looking for a job in the period of austerity and recession, not being able to drive restricted my opportunities for employment and whether I would even be able to attend interviews. Fear of driving ultimately contributed to my decision to work abroad and then contributed to my decision to live in London, where everywhere was connected by public transport.
I always knew that if I wanted to return home to Lincolnshire, it would mean facing one of my greatest fears. And my fear of driving meant that I stayed away from Lincolnshire for many years, even though, deep down, I really wanted to be at home. For many years I wasn’t ready, but after overcoming other challenges in my life, I finally gathered up the confidence to confront this deep-seated and irrational anxiety that was preventing me from living the life I wanted.
So, how did I do it?
Reading About Other People’s Experiences
My first step was to buy myself a self-help book. This tends to be something I do when I experience issues, and in this particular case it was well worth it. I bought ‘How to Overcome Fear of Driving’ by Joanne Mallon. One of the most helpful things in the book were the stories of other people’s driving fears. They made me feel as if the way I felt was normal, and in fact, that other people had fears and feelings about driving that were just as strange and irrational as my own.
My deepest anxiety connected to driving was a fear that I would do something dangerous and stupid, and that as a consequence of my own poor driving, I would end up killing someone.
That is essentially what all the fear and anxiety boiled down to.
When I had confessed this to other people (and only people I deeply trusted), they had heard what I’d said and we both knew what I’d said was kind of ridiculous. But there was nothing anyone could say that would take this fear away.
When I read the book, there was one story of a person with a similar fear to my own. This person was so scared that they would kill someone, that as they started to confront their driving phobia, they went on a 1 mile drive around the block, then parked the car and walked all the way back around their route, checking for bodies, in case they had hit someone on the way round.
When I read this, I was shocked that someone not only had a similar fear to me, but had also behaved in that way afterwards. It made me realise that I wasn’t alone and put my own fears into a kind of perspective. Having read that this person had eventually overcome their fear, it made me realise that I could do this too.
A Refresher Driving Lesson
The next thing I did was to book myself a refresher driving lesson. It is worth mentioning here that I did actually manage to pass my driving test in 2008 (and I blame some bad experiences on driving lessons and tests for triggering my phobia), but ever since the day I had passed my test, I hadn’t sat in the driver’s seat. That meant that I hadn’t driven for about 10 years.
So when I saw the AA Driving School pull up in front of my house, which was then in Balham, South London, I had no idea how I would feel or how my lesson would go. When the driving instructor greeted me, I almost joked that I’d be OK, as long as he didn’t take my down Brixton High St. The first 10 or so minutes were hilarious as I worked out what to do with my feet – but the instructor was great. He just said we would stick to the quiet roads until I was ready. As the lesson went on, I gained more and more confidence and the instructor ended up just letting me drive, without needing to give guidance on the driving, just directions. And we did end up on Brixton High St – and it wasn’t at all as bad as I’d thought it would be. At the end of the lesson I figured that if I could drive in London after not driving for 10 years, then I would definitely be able to drive back home in Lincolnshire.
The final stage of overcoming my phobia was how I prepared for my first solo long-distance drive. Back in 2007-8, when I was learning to drive, learners didn’t get experience of motorway driving, so before last year, I had never actually driven on a motorway. And in Lincolnshire, even dual carriageways are hard to come by. So the prospect of driving at high speeds with many lanes was nerve-wracking to say the least.
The best thing I did was to watch video tutorials on YouTube about motorway driving. The ones I watched were filmed by police officers specifically to teach others how to drive on the motorway, and for example, how to change lanes safely. I definitely recommend this if motorway driving is a fear of yours. It helped me to see visually exactly what to do and why.
Driving phobia can happen to anyone and it affected my life for many years. But I’m proud to say that I have overcome my deepest anxieties and I now even look forward to driving – a way that I never thought I would feel. In the last year or so I have driven to so many places, including: Oxford, Northampton, Ruislip in North London, Swindon, Barnsley, Huddersfield, Aylesbury… and I’m so pleased that I have been able to take control of something that had actually taken control of me for so long. That’s why the inconvenience of a chipped windscreen didn’t bother me too much – because, when it comes to driving, I’m just so grateful and happy that I’m able to do something that I once thought I would never be able to do.
To end this post, I would like to say a big thank you to anyone and everyone who has ever supported me over the many years of my driving phobia, and in the last year or so when I have overcome it. And a huge thank you to anyone who ever gave me a lift or did a road trip with me – you were my inspiration.