Driving Phobia and How I Overcame it

driving-quotes-and-driving-sayings-images

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?

IMG_1752

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.

IMG_1753

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.

IMG_1754

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.

IMG_1755

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.

 

Advertisements

A Celebration of Wellness

I’m currently on a train to Lincolnshire, travelling to my brother’s wedding, and instead of doing my usual train journey thing of eating followed by sleeping, I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to grab a few minutes of quality writing time.

You see, there is something I have been meaning to write about, but I kept refraining from putting pen to paper (or letters to screen?) because part of me didn’t want to jinx it.

It is, essentially, a celebration.

istock-000018581868medium-a6fc-cropper-1270x654

A celebration that I am in a good place, and I’m not going to take that for granted. Because I know that not so long ago I was in a terrible place and wondered if there would ever be a way out.

I feel so much better and, having felt stressed, angry, sad, irritable and all other shades of depressed for so long and not really known it, I now feel generally calm, happy, strong, rational, clear-headed and excited about the future, and have done for several months.

In my experience of managing mental health, I once read somewhere that it is a good idea to write down what it feels like for you when you are well. There might be a few reasons for this; one idea is to read it when you are down to reassure you that you can feel well (because when you are in the throes of mental illness it may feel like you will never feel well again). Another good reason for doing this is that you are able to identify how your body feels and what your emotional state is like when you are feeling good, and, by comparison, to recognise when you aren’t feeling so good. This kind of personal understanding of your own reactions and moods can be extremely helpful if you begin to feel ill again; you can then take steps towards wellness before it becomes worse.

So, what brought about this change in me? I feel so different, I almost feel younger (which must be a sign that I felt this hopeful and happy at a time in my past; I’m thinking of my final year at uni where everything seemed to come together and I was excited about graduating and what the future would hold).

It didn’t happen by accident, that’s for sure. It’s not like I woke up one day and was like, Oh, I feel well again! (which is kind of what happens after a few days of having the flu).

There are a few things I did, and am still doing, which have helped me to feel so good in myself:

  • I stopped taking the anti-depressants. Obviously, this may not work for everybody, but I realised that since I had been taking the pills, they had made my moods more erratic, and I had never had a feeling of being well. I had the dosage changed several times and nothing seemed to work. In the end, I decided I didn’t want them any more. I had actually felt better without them and thought that I would see how it went for me and if I needed something else, I would try that. It’s been a year now, and things have just got better and better. Obviously, if things had not improved, I would have probably tried a different type of pill. I’m not advocating coming off the drugs as a cure, I just had a personal feeling that they hadn’t helped me. I think it’s important to listen to your body in these situations. If you need them, take them; I know many people who have taken anti-depressants and it has worked for them, it just didn’t work for me.
  • I gave up caffeine. This one is so simple, but it had the most amazing affect! I started drinking decaffeinated tea and coffee instead of the usual kind, and it didn’t take long for me to notice a difference in my moods and general feeling of well-being. I’ve always been pretty sensitive to caffeine and had avoided coffee for a long time, but cutting it out completely was probably one of the best things I did to feel well again. Now, if I drink it by accident or when there’s no alternative to decaf, I instantly feel the effects on my body. To me, the effects of caffeine on my body mimic those of anxiety (fast heartbeat, feeling a little nauseous, feeling angsty) and are just unpleasant. Without it, I feel so much better, less anxious and highly-strung.
  • I had therapy. I did the NHS CBT counselling and it gave me some practical short-term strategies to manage anxiety and depression, but it didn’t go anywhere near deep enough for me. I saw a private counsellor instead. It was in central London, it was pricey, but it was an investment. I knew in the very first session that this counsellor was going to be a great help to me. I went to see her for around 9 months, every week to start with, then every two weeks when I felt better. Did I enjoy going? No. Did I always want to go to the sessions? No. But I did it because I knew it would be good for me. And it was.
  • I joined a choir. I feel like a member of Glee Club… I joined a choir which sings the cheesiest songs but it’s so much fun. Every Monday night, I go to the local Salvation Army Hall and sing classic pop tunes, such as ‘True’ by Spandau Ballet and ‘How Deep Is Your Love’ by The Beegies and Take That! It might not be everyone’s cup of tea, and part of me is a little embarrassed, but the other part of me has so much fun I don’t care. I also feel part of my community and I meet other people so there are lots of good things about it. Plus the instructor makes me laugh from beginning to end. It is definitely good for my soul.
  • I stopped overreacting to little things. In hindsight, I can see how stressed and irritable I was, because little mishaps and annoyances used to upset me beyond belief. Now I often find myself laughing in the face of adversity. Sometimes I have to stop a negative or stressed thought in its tracks and consciously decide not to engage with it. It works. Don’t sweat the small stuff. It’s not worth the negative effect on your body and mind.
  • I stopped bringing so much work home. I realised that when it came to work, something had to give. It was a choice between my health and my job, and my health had to take priority (because, without it, I wouldn’t be able to do my job anyway). As a teacher, it is easy to take work home and the hours can stack up if you don’t notice. So I set myself some boundaries, made sure I stuck to them, and I really noticed a difference. I now feel like I have a much better work/life balance, which I once thought was absolutely impossible.

These are some of the main things I did which have helped me become a happier person in the last year or so. There are other little things which all add up, like making more time for friends, getting enough sleep, and maintaining a healthy diet.

There are so many parts of your life where changes can be made: your diet, your social life, your exercise, your work/life balance, your sleep patterns, and even if you start working on improving just one of these life areas, everything else somehow begins to fall into place too.

I am just so grateful that in the last year or so, I have made some amazingly positive changes in my life and feel so much healthier, happier and stronger. There was a time when I didn’t think this would ever be possible. I still get my moments of anger and sadness, that’s human, and they are just moments, not stretches of days or weeks like they once might have been.

I’m grateful to all my friends and family who supported me through this time, but also for my own strength and perseverance which got me through and I’m writing this partly in case I do ever feel down again; to tell myself, that yes I am strong and I can feel well and I can overcome depression and anxiety.

So, here’s to the future, and to finding strength, health and happiness.

happiness-is-the-highest-form-of-health

 

 

A Letter to Anxiety

Dear Anxiety,

My toxic friend, my emotionally abusive lover, we’ve had an on-off relationship for years (mostly on… but you know there were times when you weren’t there).

You know what you do to me and how you make me feel.

The intense times, the passionate times, that is when you are most destructive. You make my head spin, my heart is in pain, my breath is short, I shake, I feel as if something terrible is going to happen, I cry, I snap. You are all-consuming.

Other times you aren’t so intense, but your damage is always there. Making me feel sick to my stomach, making me feel restless and edgy, making me upset at the slightest thing.

Sometimes we even have a threesome with depression. It’s like you two hang out together. Feeding off and into each other. Into me.

But, Anxiety, I’ve lost touch with you recently. To be honest, it’s like you just walked out on me. Where are you? Where have you gone and how long for?

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want you to rush back. The last few weeks have felt so good without you.

But then… maybe I’ll start to miss you and the things you do for me. Because you are someone I go to as a knee-jerk reaction, a default setting, and in a very backwards way you are protective and safe.

But right now, I’m telling you, Anxiety, feel free to stay away as long as you like. Seriously. I love it now you’re not here.

When you come knocking at my door again, there’s no guarantee I’ll let you back in, but if I do, it won’t be for long. I might even be strong enough to kick you out.

Love,

Jo

 

This Blog is about ALL of me!

I’m writing again for the first time in weeks and it feels weird, a little scary, but I am enjoying the tap of my fingers on the keyboard because I have really missed it.

I have not felt able to write; there are things I could have shared but chose not to because I was too afraid.

beinglatini-wordpress-com_

But maybe… maybe today will be the day where I feel I can. Because it will explain why sometimes I blog again and again… and other times there is a great empty chasm of weeks or months where I don’t, won’t or can’t write (I don’t actually know which verb to use here).

The thing is that back in October I made a huge change in my life which in the short term has been really difficult, but hopefully in the long term will have a lasting positive effect, allowing me to move forward and experience more joy out of life 🙂

screen-shot-2015-09-18-at-9-15-18-pm

Back in October I began to accept that I suffer with depression and I started taking medication to help me with that.

(That just felt SO SCARY to write!)

The reason why I am finally sharing it on here is that this blog is so important to me; it’s as if writing is a part of me. By not allowing myself to write about the bad times as well as the good, it’s as if I’m pretending they don’t exist, as if I’m denying them. In doing so I am also not giving myself an outlet that may actually be helpful to myself (and potentially others too).

The blog is called Life Is Beautiful. And I believe that. But it doesn’t always seem beautiful. Sometimes it seems so hard, so exhausting, so painful.

Other times it is so joyful, so exciting, so uplifting.

life-is-all-about-finding-the-right-balance-between-every-good-and-bad-moments-easy-branches

There are good times and bad times in our lives. And I need to stop avoiding writing about the harder times. They happen. But we get through them.

I’m trying not to be afraid of them.

I’m feeling better, stronger, and after this blog post I feel as if I can write about ALL of me, and not just the parts I think are nice for others to read, but write about the parts I am afraid to share. Because if you are afraid of something… perhaps what you really need to do is… take a deep breath… and do it!

always-do-what-you-afraid

 

Can your heart change colour?

sunlit-girl-cupping-hands-into-heart

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.

keep-calm-and-know-you-are-loved-3

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.

a7da91bb9964ab542d551089e3cd3ecf

is-your-heart-empty-feeling-alone-37597794-300-199

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.

7c8225dd25f0503d9f284cbdab8e457e

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.

you-can-be-bitter-or-better-1

suffering

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.

7-3-15-hands-cupping-heart-shutterstock_95191339-by-hxdbzxy1

spiritual_gifts2-jpg

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.

lonely-heart

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.

56829

Forget about Enlightenment

white delicate water lily

Hello readers… I feel slightly ashamed as I type this, that I haven’t written a blog post since August and the months have slowly passed by and my poor blog has been sitting here waiting for me to put words on the page.

I hadn’t forgotten about writing; in fact it was on my mind that I should write something (because writing and creating is actually an important outlet for me) but I felt as if I had no inspiration and to be honest, I still don’t feel inspired. There’s the thoughts that say You have nothing to write about and No one will be interested anyway and You don’t have time and simply, What’s the point? 

But listening to those thoughts and sitting around waiting for inspiration to come wasn’t getting me anywhere… so think of this post as me popping in to say hello and by starting to write, hopefully more inspiration to write will follow.

The kind of negative thoughts I was having about writing are not just limited to this area of my life; they seem to be a daily struggle, especially things like, You don’t have timeWhat’s the point? and a very common one, I can’t be bothered. It’s as if the thoughts are talking me out of doing the things I enjoy… and more often than not I do listen to them. But there are times when I know I have to ignore them, which isn’t always easy to do.

2014_12_08_05_20_24_yoga600e

This happened to me just yesterday, before I was about to go to my weekly yoga class. I absolutely love this class and I really do look forward to it. It is challenging but there is something about it that I just love and when it’s over, it’s as if I can actually feel the new suppleness of my body from the stretches. Often in the class, during the final resting pose, the teacher will offer inspirational thoughts, anecdotes or poems. At that point in the class, there is a feeling of openness, where you can almost feel each person in the room listening to her words and taking on their meaning in whatever way they personally need to.

So yesterday, at home before I left for yoga, despite looking forward to it beforehand, I had a very strong feeling not to go and to stay at home instead. I can’t be bothered and Just stay at home and You won’t enjoy it anyway made an appearance. I decided that they were talking rubbish and made myself go to the class. Of course I enjoyed it… and there was one more thing I took away from the class. This week, the final message was a poem called, “Forget about enlightenment” by John Welwood. Below are the words and I’ve also included a video if you want to hear the poem being read. Personally, the line about opening your heart to who you are right now struck a chord with me. But perhaps you will find it meaningful in another way that is personal to you. I hope you enjoy it.

Forget about enlightenment.
Sit down wherever you are
And listen to the wind singing in your veins.
Feel the love, the longing, the fear in your bones.
Open your heart to who you are, right now,
Not who you would like to be,
Not the saint you are striving to become,
But the being right here before you, inside you, around you.
All of you is holy.
You are already more and less
Than whatever you can know.
Breathe out,
Touch in,
Let go.

Where did January go?

It’s a good job I have 11 months left to achieve my new year’s resolutions because it seems that January whizzed by before I had time to blog or start all those sewing projects. You’ll be pleased to know, however, that I have started working on my transformation into Princess Elsa and will be striding up North Mountain with my sparkly braid flowing down before the year is out 🙂

January 2015 felt too fast and a little stressful, as if I’d smashed a sand timer and was desperately trying to catch the grains, but they just kept slipping through my fingers. There was a lot going on, and some of it was wonderful, but most of the time I let work take over my life, and my happiness. This weekend I decided to put the brakes on and I feel better for it, but having left it until the first day of February to take a step back, I can’t help but feel it is a shame to have felt so stressed for a month. I mean, today, I actually put the Christmas decorations away. It shouldn’t really have taken until February to do that, but I kept telling myself that I didn’t have time. Instead, I piled them in a corner and kept trying not to look at them… but I knew they were there, and it was another job I hadn’t done, just to add to the list.

time away
Photo Credit: Time Slips Away – Cheesov http://cheesoz.deviantart.com/art/Time-Slips-Away-394197227

So February is here and I’ve taken control of the time that felt so elusive to me throughout January. I’ve cleaned, I’ve organised, I’ve put the Christmas things back where they should be, and I’ve decided that I need to spend more time putting myself before my job. The question is how exactly to go about doing that. I’ll have to keep you posted on how that works out for me…

Because I haven’t blogged at all about January, and because some lovely things happened amongst all the stress, I have decided to write a brief list mainly just to remind myself that it wasn’t all a blur of work, work and more work:

  • I went to stay in the Tower at Scotney Castle with my wonderful girl friends 😉
  • I turned 27 and celebrated with cocktails and danced in my pyjamas…
  • I went for a delicious Italian meal to celebrate my, my sister’s and brother’s birthday with Mum and Dad
  • I generally had a lovely time with friends and family, who made me feel so loved and cared for (birthdays tend to make me a little sentimental)

So there was a lot to cherish about January 2015, and I just hope that February goes a little slower so I can enjoy it more, feel more peaceful, and appreciate it more as it happens.

timeflies1