Random Musings

When Anxiety Narrows In and Focuses

Hello, loves.

My names Nicole and I have seriously bad driving anxiety.

And I hate it.

It’s such a weird conundrum. I enjoy driving. I enjoy listening to music, using the time to overthink (and sometimes, plot novels). But I also get so nervous when I drive. If I have to drive somewhere unfamiliar, I sweat. If I have to drive on the highway, I shake and curse. If I have to drive through heavy traffic, I’m white knuckling it and sometimes, my leg shakes so badly that I’m nervous I won’t be able to control it at all. I don’t like driving through parking garages, to places I don’t know or through big cities. Don’t even get me started on trying to drive through rain or snow.

Cool Dog GIF

I’m not sure exactly where this originated from. Perhaps it was the fact that my first car–a Chevy Shortbed, 1984; a rusted black, gem-of-a-vehicle that came with AC/C and heat (i.e., my windows going up or down), was loud enough to scare anyone in a mile-wide radius whenever I started it and only started when she wanted to–which, usually, was the very opposite moment of when I needed her to. But I loved that truck. However, it couldn’t handle going above 60 MPH before the steering wheel tried to break off, so I always had to find backroads to drive during my junior and senior year of high school, before we sold her for scraps after we couldn’t go longer than a few hours without her being unable to start.

My second car wasn’t much better. I got her my senior year of college from a used dealership and honestly, I can’t even remember much about her beside that she was a red Buick, she was that “eh” for me. She was a car, she got me from A to B…usually. But, after I took her to the mechanic once and then they messed up the brake fluid and then her breaks gave out while I was on the fucking highway, I immediately sold her and choked down the price of a newer car, my current love: a 2015 Chevy Sonic. She’s expensive, but she’s maintained, reliable, safe and I can plug my phone in and play music. I’ve never felt safer in a car and it’s just so nice to never have to worry about breaking down crying because I’ve gotten stranded yet again.

So, it could be that I didn’t get a lot of “proper” driving experience during high school and then didn’t drive at all during college, so that’s why I’m a little shaky with my nerves on the road. Perhaps it’s because, my senior year of high school, there were two, life-changing car accidents within one month of one another–one resulting in the death of my best friend.

There’s a lot of factors as to why I may have the worst nerves when it comes to driving, but I’m ranting about it today because I’m just frustrated that, no matter how much I practice or how much I force myself out of my comfort zone (by driving through downtown Memphis, for example, or driving alone 12 hours from Kansas to Wyoming), it doesn’t get better.

And now, I’m missing things because of it.

cat car GIF

I mean, this has always been a problem. I’ll avoid going to events that are downtown in KC, even if I really want to go, if I don’t have someone else to go with who is willing and comfortable driving (while I pay for gas to make up for my inability to do so). I’ll add 15-20 minutes to a drive to avoid the highway, if I can find a different option. It’s…embarrassingly bad.

But recently, I’ve been getting involved with the Tolkien Society of KC. I love going to the meetings, love discussing my favorite author and hanging out with people who are as big of nerds as I am.

Issue is, it’s on the outskirts of downtown Kansas City on Friday nights at 6:30pm.

Luckily, I found a slightly longer route that lets me avoid downtown and the highway, so I’ve been able to go, despite living an hour away. There is also a highway route that still lets me avoid downtown, so if I’m running too far behind, then I’m able to take that and only sweat an embarrassing amount. But, they started doing construction and, right now, both of those routes were closed, forcing me to go on a construction-filled highway through downtown to get there, during heavy traffic, on a Friday night.

car crying GIF

I was determined to go to this meeting, since I’ve had to miss the last two thanks to conflicting plans and prior commitments. It’s only once a month. I can handle a stress-inducing drive once a month for the good food, the comradery, the nerdery and Tolkien, for goodness sake.

Then, all Friday of the meeting, I was stressing out about it; sweating throughout work, getting random bouts of the shakes whenever I looked up at the route I’d pre-mapped to get there. It got to the point where I was so stressed out about arriving on time and getting there safely, that I couldn’t focus at work.

Eventually, I had to admit that I hit my limit and skipped the meeting.

And I still regret it.

dog driving GIF

I regret not getting to be there, that it’s my own weakness that prevented me from being able to do something that I wanted to do. I shouldn’t have to rely on others to drive me places so I can do the things that I want. I shouldn’t have to miss events that I really want to go to because my legs won’t stop shaking when I drive. I shouldn’t have to be embarrassed when I show up as a sweaty mess to events I do make it to. I shouldn’t be scared of the road, shouldn’t be unable to do this basic task of driving. I’m a good driver. I’m safe, I’m aware and I have a very safe car.

And yet.

I…just wanted to write about it and express this frustration. It’s something I’ve dealt with as long as I can remember and I wish I didn’t experience it. At this point, I just appreciate those who don’t make fun of me for it (because plenty do) and those who are willing to drive whenever I ask them to. And try to push myself out of my comfort zone and try to experience less anxiety while I’m driving, even if it’s only a little at a time.

Cheers.post signature

11 thoughts on “When Anxiety Narrows In and Focuses”

  1. That sounds utterly stressful, I’m so sorry! I’ve never experienced car driving that anxiety-inducing, although I do have a strong aversion to steep inclines. Like you, I had a very old starter car that always sounded like it was going to give up the ghost on hills, which always terrified me. Even though I have a much more reliable Honda Civic these days, I willingly take longer routes if it keeps me out of areas where I know my car will have to come to a stop on any sort of incline.

    I have no idea what the urban density of your area is, but is something like Uber or Lyft an option to get to things like the Tolkien Society? That may just bring its own anxieties, but maybe it would be less stressful? (Apologies if this is something you’ve already considered!)

    1. Oh gosh, I am lucky that I don’t live with any massive hills (mostly) but I definitely get nervous with that, as well, so I totally understand what you mean!

      I haven’t thought about that, mostly because it’s almost an hour away and I’m not sure I can justify the cost. I really just need to buckle down and just *do* it. But that’s still a great suggestion I hadn’t considered, so thank you so, so much for that. ❤

  2. DUDE. This is me life. I had to take driver’s ed twice due to a law change. I had to have eye surgery to drive (twice – 21 and again in me 30s). I didn’t get a license until I was 21. Even then I didn’t really start driving for real until I was 29. City life helped. But once I was out of cities well I had to drive. I can drive long distances and in cities. I can drive in rain or snow. I do. I just hate every moment. Even though audio books and gps are blessings. I do everything in me power not to drive and will avoid events in order to not drive. I am not proud of this. I do think it is sane to be nervous about driving. Working on court cases about car accidents didn’t help. Ye be me driving soulmate. I am sorry.
    x The Captain

    1. Ah, Captain, I’m so sorry this is something you have to experience, because I wouldn’t wish this on anyone. No one should be afraid to steer their own ship and be limited on what course they need to take to reach their next port! So I hate that for you, but it also was really comforting to hear that I’m not just overreacting and foolish. So thank you very, very much for that. ❤

  3. You’re not alone, I’m a very nervous driver too. The problem is I trust how I drive, I just don’t trust how everyone else on the road drives, lol! I get very stressed when there is heavy traffic and it feels like I am boxed in and have to look everywhere around me all at once. I also feel very uncomfortable driving on highways, and having to change lanes, ugh! It doesn’t help that I have a horrible sense of direction so the stress is highest when I am driving on unfamiliar roads or to a place I’ve never been because half my mind is focused on following the GPS. I’m fine whenever I drive on familiar roads to places I always go though.

    1. YES, exactly! Sometimes I’ll have family members make fun of me because I’m “such a shit” driver because I get so nervous, but I’ve never been in an accident, never gotten a ticket and am so *alert* because I’m so nervous, I know I’m a good driver. But yes, I HATE changing lanes in heavy traffic! Normal, every day driving? No problem. But introduce one place I’m not familiar with and shit, the sweat starts coming and it sucks. Hope you’re able to find some reprieve from it. ❤

  4. Though I can only speak to my own experience….I know how you feel. Driving has always been a source of anxiety for me–mine usually comes from this irrational fear of making the wrong turn and getting hopelessly lost?? haha. I understand just how debilitating anxiety can be.

    I read Amanda Palmer’s autobiography a long while ago, and one particular passage really stuck out to me:

    “Why do I keep doing this to myself?”

    …”Because, love–it doesn’t hurt enough yet.”

    I know it sounds strange, but I’m so glad for you, that you finally hit that moment of “this is holding me back, and I’m not okay with that.” It’s right when we think that we can’t do it anymore, that we have the greatest opportunity for change ❤ I know it's hard, and frustrating, and embarrassing…but as I've said before, you are always so much better than you think you are. You have nothing to be ashamed of, and really, shame on the people who would ridicule you for something like that. I'm glad that you know the right things to remind yourself of, at the end of the day. You ARE a good driver, you have a reliable car, and you have people who care about you and will help at a moment's notice. (It's okay to ask family and friends for help when you need it. I promise they don't mind.) You got this! Sending good and calming thoughts.

    p.s. Driving in KC is a bit of a nightmare anyway. I've never seen so many strange intersections and merging lanes in my life! My roommate drove me around for at least 2 years after I got here. No shame!

    1. Oh yes, I hate it when my GPS goes out or construction pops up and suddenly, I have no idea where I’m going and I’m just hopelessly lost. Even though I *know* I have people who will help me in that case, but still. It’s a definite fear.

      Thank you so much for sharing that passage with me and your kind words! Seriously, I can’t tell you how much that means to me. It is definitely something I want to improve, even though I know just getting experience driving in those ways that make me uncomfortable will prolly be what’s required to finally conquer this fear. But also working on knowing these limitations and not being embarrassed to ask for help is such a huge thing, too.

      PS: Gosh, YES. Maybe one day I’ll learn it, but I’m doubtful.

  5. My wife has anxiety about driving. Different than yours but she can get super stressed about what most of us would think is just a normal drive on a sunny day. But when there’s bad weather ugh…it can be real bad. Wish I knew a magic cure for both of you. And it sucks you have to miss things like your meeting. Hopefully the roads will be fixed and/or you’ll feel better for the next one.

    1. Aw, I’m so sorry to hear your wife has been dealing with a similar fear! That sucks. :/ I wouldn’t wish that anxiety on anyone. I’m really hoping I can suck it up and go to the next one!!

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