Driving Phobia and How I Overcame it

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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?

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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.

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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.

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Watching YouTube

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.

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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.

 

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New Year, New Decade

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Welcome to 2018, my first blog post of the year and I am very much looking forward to what this year may have in store.

I skipped my usual Christmas/New Year posts when for the past few years I have found that I become very reflective at this time, both about this blog and about wider life in general, and have tended to set myself new goals (usually writing more frequently features on my list… sadly I never manage to write as often as I want to).

However, this new year period I found myself feeling very resistant towards the “happy new year” attitude… and after wondering why I felt this way (so grumpy!) it dawned on me that there was more going on… in fact, the “new year” was being dwarfed by an impending big birthday that was making me feel very apprehensive – the big 3.0.

Having a January birthday does mean that after Christmas the celebrations don’t stop – you get to prolong the eating and drinking a little bit longer; you get a second load of presents and you get a little bit of joy in what would otherwise be a dreary winter month.

But this year I was approaching January with trepidation. The big 3.0. seemed looming and I had an urge to become invisible and let it pass me by without a word. A couple of weeks before the big day, I deleted my birthday off Facebook in the hope that people might not notice my birthday and temporarily removed the ability for people to post messages so that no one could send me a “Happy Birthday” message – for me it wasn’t going to be a happy occasion.

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This feeling of wanting to hide from my birthday was made harder by the fact I have a twin sister, who didn’t seem at all bothered by turning 30 and wanted to celebrate like any other birthday. Our different attitudes towards the day made me think about where my feelings were coming from. It’s just that, when we were younger, we would often talk about what we would have done by the time we were 30. We had ambitions, we had goals. We would think about where we would be living, what our jobs would be, we’d be married, we’d have children. The dream was of a stable, happy family life.

This is probably a dream that most people have or at least that most people of a certain generation would have, perhaps things are different now. But as children of the 90s and from quite a traditional family, these were our goals.

Comparing my real life now with these goals – they didn’t happen, not for me. I’m not married; in fact I’ve never been in a serious relationship. I have no children – and I do feel as if time is ticking. Whether it’s true or not, the notion of the “biological clock” does play on my mind because I would love to have a child (if the situation was right). I feel as if I should have progressed more in life than I actually have, that 30 is a truly “grown up” age and that I’m not mature enough; throughout my 20s I’ve been childish and now I’m falling short of social expectations. Where these expectations come from and whether they are right or wrong is a debate in itself – but feeling as if I’m not achieving what I should be makes me feel inadequate and that I’ve got some “catching up” to do.

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Many people have laughed when I suggested that I was sad about turning 30; saying that I was taking it too seriously, that the day after your 30th birthday you would wake up just the same and nothing would have changed. One friend did share my feelings and perhaps she also feels as if she hasn’t lived up to expectations.

Well, of course, the day came and my feelings had mellowed towards the day slightly. Having a twin who wanted to celebrate ended up rubbing off on me and I had a lovely day which was filled with love and good wishes sent to me from friends and family. My sister and her friend have also organised us a joint party happening next weekend, and I know it will make me happy to share the special occasion with my family and friends.

As I enter a new decade of my life, it’s time to set myself some new, more modern goals. I do dream of a stable, happy family life and I dream of being in a relationship, but you cannot force or rush these things. It’s easy to be hard on myself for all the things I haven’t achieved but I should really think about what I have achieved – and that is recovering time and again from stress, anxiety and depression which plagued my 20s, as well as travelling and living abroad which gave me amazing life experiences and made me a stronger person. In my 20s, I learnt the hard way just how important it is to look after yourself and I’m going to try and use all that I learnt to make my 30s as healthy and happy as can be.

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Can your heart change colour?

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The Christmas period is  coming to an end, and for me, personally, it has been a bit of an emotional roller coaster. But, during this time, I have felt so much love from my family and friends. For that I am truly grateful.

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In the last couple of years, for quite some time I had this feeling that some bad events had irrevocably changed me for the worse. I remembered the time when I used to be compassionate and willing to give much of my own time to help and listen to others. At school and university I had always been involved in voluntary work and it made me feel happy to help other people. But in the years after university, I sensed that I had gradually started to lose this compassion and, because of this, I felt that I had even lost a deep part of myself. Some difficult circumstances and my reaction to them seemed to cause a bitterness inside me, a deep unhappiness with myself and people I felt I should have been able to trust, perhaps also a latent anger.

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I realised this had happened, not from consciously articulating it, but just because I had this very strange but strong feeling, even a visualisation, that my heart, which had once felt big, had shrunk and turned black, or turned to a small black stone.

I know that might sound crazy, but that’s the image I had.

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I decided that I needed to try and change my heart back to its original size and colour. I tried to give more kindness by doing simple things, like making time to talk to others even when I thought I didn’t have time, by trying to speak in a nicer tone even when I felt stressed (although I didn’t always succeed at that!), by helping a grieving neighbour, by even letting myself not feel guilty about the fact I can’t help others as much as I used to because now I have a full-time job and I also have to make time to look after myself.

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Later in the year, I think it was just before I moved house in August 2015, I had another visualisation about my heart (perhaps it was a dream or maybe just a mental image). The image was that my torso had a zip in it, which I unzipped, reached inside the darkness for my heart which I then took out in my hands, cupping it like a baby bird. Then I put it back inside. I felt that it was gold and glowing a whiteish light.

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I don’t know why I had these mental images which seemed to really speak to me about what was going on with my feelings. After the second one, I sensed that I had started to heal the bitterness and that I was in control of how my heart looked or felt.

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I don’t know how common this kind of thing is… but if you have ever also had a strong visualisation or a mental image that has really meant something to you, don’t be afraid to share it by commenting below or messaging me. I know that to others the mental images I had might sound weird or crazy, but perhaps they were actually very intuitive and trying to tell me something I needed to know. I am just curious if others have experienced this as well, so let me know if you can.

I hope that in 2016 I can keep being kind and compassionate, because it’s a part of myself that I don’t want to feel I have lost.

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Appy (Apathetic) New Year?

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So it’s that time of year again where I start to get a little sentimental and reflective about the year gone by, and to think about the new opportunities and challenges of the year to come. To be honest, being sentimental and reflective is kind of something I am all year round… but end of old year/beginning of new year tends to heighten this personality trait (or should that be defect?!)

Anyway… for anyone who has followed my blog for a while, you might remember some optimistic posts I wrote that in 2015 I was aiming to make a Princess Elsa-like transformation in the spirit of ‘Let it Go’, and I set myself some goals:

  • relax, laugh, release inhibitions – in other words – take opportunities to have fun, enjoy myself and go for it!
  • keep learning to sew on my sewing machine (there are a lot of projects in my head that I would like to literally “materialise!”)
  • keep writing
  • keep learning to cook (I’m getting better!)
  • keep developing inner strength and work on projecting it on the outside too

It’s kind of sad that I am looking back at those words now with a really self-critical view, that I was so naive and my optimism was silly… because I know that soon after this post something happened where I started to lose this sense of a fresh start for 2015 and actually gave up on the idea of a new beginning… instead I went back into old habits of negative thinking, hence I can’t really say that I have achieved the first goal on the list, or the last one. However, I definitely progressed with my sewing and writing and I made some things I am really proud of. As for the cooking, it hasn’t got any worse so that’s something 😉

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One of my more successful sewing projects!

So I guess looking ahead for 2016, I am approaching the new year with a slight feeling of trepidation compared to last year’s rose-tinted view. I don’t really know what goals to set myself which will be realistic to achieve. But what I would really like to do is just to keep going, keep experiencing new things, keep developing personally and emotionally so that I can enjoy what life has to offer. Worry less, be productive, and make the most of my time. And to not be so afraid. I am aware that needless fear could hold me back.

I feel that this post has been rather self-indulgent… and I wonder what approach others are going to take to 2016… is it the rose-tinted optimism, or the sense of trepidation, or apathy? or something else?

Whatever your approach, I really do wish you a Happy New Year; may you have luck, health and happiness. x x x

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