Learning to Drive with Anxiety

It’s time I touch base on this. I’ve finally made a commitment to getting my driver’s license and will finish the process this time.

I remember having thoughts that I didn’t need to drive, but as time went by, I grew tired of public transit where I had to sit waiting for buses or trains that weren’t always punctual or be delayed transferring between buses because of someone boarding or exiting at the pace of a snail. That would sometimes cause me to miss my second bus when I exited at my stop; which I’m sure they had good reasons for being slow like they were old and using a cane/wheelchair or were a parent with a stroller, but I rest my case, I just wanted to get to my destination.

The other thing I was sick of was that I felt like my commutes were more time-consuming like if I had an appointment at say, eleven, I would have to leave the house almost an hour early to catch the bus and be there on time if it wasn’t within walking or biking distance. Taking a cab is expensive and I never use Uber because I simply do not trust it, don’t ask me why. My family would also drive me places I wanted to go like any appointments, meeting with friends, concerts, etc. Although grateful, I personally felt like I was becoming a burden, even though I was told I wasn’t.

Many times after my G1 expired (due to my increased focus on college and certification exams after graduation) I had thought of giving driving another go, but my anxiety would always eat at me and I would have thoughts of fear of being surrounded by other cars on the road or hitting someone. There were also the bad memories that the last driving instructor I had was impatient and mean and the time I screwed up a right turn in my neighbourhood and went onto the grass. Hell, I was lucky I didn’t hit the nearby fire hydrant!

But when covid hit, it somehow gave me time to think things through since I was at home all the time when I was not at work, and I realized what I really wanted and that was, I did want to drive, even if I did have some mental challenges or memories I wanted to forget.

I took the written test again and started off slow in my dad’s car: practicing making turns and stopping in empty parking lots. Then we moved to driving on the road where I was nervous at first but gradually relaxed over time. Now here we are almost a year later and I have been taking lessons regularly (my new instructor is much friendlier and more patient this time) as well as driving my parents around or just general driving on Sunday mornings when I’m not working. I feel pretty good about most of it: turning, stopping, changing lanes, and I’m pretty solid at parking. But there’s one big challenge I have to address and it’s when my anxiety kicks in at certain moments.

Sometimes when I’m behind the wheel and there’s someone in the passenger seat with more experience, they might shout if I’m about to make an error, like I almost hit a curb when turning for example. Of course, I understand that people raise their voices for a reason because some errors in driving can result in lives put at risk or damage that can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars to repair. But living with anxiety puts me in a state of panic behind the wheel when someone uses a tone like that where I interpret it as a personal attack whenever I almost make a costly mistake.

This is a problem that I have dealt with all my life depending on people’s tones and words because of my ASD and a former victim of bullying. ASD is one thing, but bullying is something you don’t forget easily when you survive it. I have been working on training my brain to not see everything as an attack, with a simple strategy as saying inside “It’s not an attack”.

The other piece that contributes to my anxiety when driving is the desire to be perfect. I get easily distraught if I don’t make a smooth stop, or I’m too cautious and slow down too much approaching an intersection that I’m going to turn at and the light is green. Sometimes if my dad is in the car with me, he’ll have to tell me more than once to make my turn when it’s clear because my mind wandered briefly out of desperation that I wanted to get that turn perfect. That often happens because I might have made a bad turn earlier and I was still dwelling on it.

Hence I have been trying to also train myself to process information faster when I drive. One way I do this is by telling myself verbally what to do as part of pre-planning. For example, if I know my right turn is coming up, I’ll say that out loud, even if there is someone else in the car with me. The more I do it the less ashamed I feel of doing it in front of others. Whatever works as they say. Eventually, I’ll be able to do it all in my head.

You’re probably wondering when I’m going to take the road test, well I really hope I can this year, especially once the weather warms up. I have two lessons left in the package I paid for from the driving school and trust my instructor’s judgement that he’ll know I’m ready, and then I’ll book the test. I might still have to wait a while but at least I’ll be on track towards it.

I still have some hiccups on the road like I get nervous changing lanes when there’s lots of cars around me. They always look closer than they appear in my mirrors but other than that, my driving skills are much better than they were a year ago, I have smoother turns, stops and starts, etc. so I’m looking forward to having more freedom. I wish I could have pursued this sooner but driving is something that isn’t to be taken lightly and if someone isn’t ready when they turn sixteen and decides to do it in their twenties, thirties, or beyond, then so be it.

I also spend a lot of time thinking about what I want my first car to be. It’ll definitely be something used since new cars are so damn expensive, as is my dream car which is anything electric (not just Tesla). I’m thinking something not too fancy and not too bulky like a truck, so maybe something like a Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla or Camry, or a Hyundai Elantra. Mazda also has some nice options too. Suggestions are welcome in the comments but I don’t want an SUV, truck, or sporty car! I also wish there were more colour options available!

That’s my driving story so far, it’ll continue to grow from there, what driving stories do you have to share?


4 thoughts on “Learning to Drive with Anxiety”

  1. That’s awesome! Definitely do whatever makes you more comfortable when driving. If saying out loud what you’re about to do works, absolutely do it. True friends in the passenger seat won’t even care because they understand it’s how you maintain safety under anxiety. As for the vehicle, I was actually surprised with how much I liked my Toyota Prius. It’s a hybrid fuel/electric car with great gas mileage. But I love my wife’s car which is a Nissan Altima (kinda sporty-looking but not like a Dodge Charger sporty lol). Hondas and Toyotas are very reliable 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I thought I replied to this comment, but I guess I didn’t. Nissan Altima is a nice model too. It’s becoming more frequent that people are not obtaining their licenses until their older because driving is about maturity, not just with how responsible you feel you are but also how mature are you mentally to handle it? I’m also looking forward to being able to play my own music in my own car someday! My road test is booked for August.


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