One of the biggest effects anxiety has had on me throughout the years is essentially keeping me trapped in my house. My anxiety made me terrified of transit and terrified to be away from home without a quick way to get back. For many years I only went within walking distance. If I couldn’t quickly walk home or catch a cheap cab ride back home, I wasn’t going. Cars were okay, so long as mom was driving. She is the only one I trust to bring me home if I say I need to go home. When you don’t have a car, having a fear of public transit is pretty inconvenient. Rationally, I know there isn’t much to be afraid of with transit (other than buses that don’t show, train breakdowns, drunks and the odd violent incident). The problem with anxiety is that it doesn’t care about rational thinking. I know it is relatively safe, but do you think I am going to risk it? Hell no. Luckily, five months ago I realized that I was probably stable enough in my job to afford car payments (read about that here).
Having a car was great and all but I still wasn’t really free. Everything I wanted to do was still dependent on whether mom was willing to come with me. She often would drive me when I asked her to, albeit begrudgingly. Even though she usually said yes, I always had that sick feeling in my stomach when I wanted to go somewhere. I knew it meant having to ask mom and dealing with the sighs and the eye rolls. I get it. She works outside of the house and when she gets home, she wants to stay home. I work from home so when I’m not working, I want to be out. There are always festivals and parks and all sorts of things I want to check out when I am not riddled with anxiety. Unfortunately, for the most part mom isn’t really up to them.
I got my learner’s license shortly after we got the car. Mom tried to teach me but she was pretty freaked out with me behind the wheel which wasn’t really helping me feel confident either! I decided to drop some money on driving lessons. I did my research and found a school with good reviews and at a reasonable price. My instructor was great. We got along well from day one. I was always comfortable with her and she was never stressed about the roads or traffic conditions. She remained calm in all situations, which in turn made me calm. She had me on the roads within about 20 minutes of driving in an empty parking lot. Buying those lessons was probably the best decision I could have made for myself. Mom knows how to drive, but teaching someone how to drive is a different story. I started driving every time we went somewhere.
I was usually calm driving, which I attribute to my instructor. Having anxiety like I do, which includes intrusive images, I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to handle the constantly changing traffic flow. I worried that I would be afraid of cars acting erratically, jumping out from intersections, slamming on breaks, all that nonsense. Now yes, cars do that occasionally, but I keep my eyes sharply on the road and react if I need to. I have the general sense that most people want to get to their destination alive and without an accident, so I try to trust people to drive safely and follow the rules of the road. I have had a couple of anxiety episodes while driving. One episode actually required me pulling over and letting mom drive. I was just not in the right state of mind to be driving during that level of anxiety. Another time, I was very anxious on a busy road, but I kept going. I drove through the anxiety. If it reached a level where I was losing focus, I would have pulled over, but I managed to handle it and drove until the anxiety subsided to a lower level. I say “lower” because my anxiety is never really gone. It’s always there, it just has states that are more manageable. It ends up being an annoying little thought picking at the back of my brain instead of a monsoon of terror.
Having done all that driving, I booked my road test. I had originally booked it for next week but because of mom’s crazy work situation right now, I had to change it. The location near me is incredibly busy and when I was looking at rescheduling, the soonest appointment they had was in December. I remembered my driving instructor telling me to just keep checking and keep refreshing and see if someone cancels and I can get a spot. Luckily, I was able to. I found a spot for today (October 3rd) at 9:30 AM. I had my last driving lesson yesterday and my instructor took me on the route that the test takes, went over every little detail with me again and left me feeling confident.
So today was my road test. I was half an hour early but I wanted to give my nerves a chance to wear themselves out. The road test waiting area got crowded quickly. People of all ages were there, from teenagers to seniors. Even though I was the first to be there, I was the last to be called for my test. When my examiner called me up, she told me her daughter was in love with Twenty One Pilots as well (I was wearing my TØP hoodie). This put my nerves at ease a little bit, we had something in common.
As I was taking the test, I couldn’t help but notice the examiner ticking boxes on her grade sheet. Every tick made me think I was failing. I was making mental notes of all of the mistakes I was making. I didn’t shoulder check, I waited too long to go around that corner, I didn’t pull my wheels to the side when I parked uphill, I stopped when there wasn’t even a stop sign and let’s not even talk about the fact that I pulled out of the parking lot with the E-break still on.
Half an hour later when we pulled back into the parking spot at ICBC the first words out of my mouth were “I failed, didn’t I”. She smiled at me and shook her head. “No, you didn’t fail, but you have to work on your observation skills”. I did manage to keep my speed right on the dot. Even in the school and playground zones. I watched my signs closely and I was proud that I achieved that as it is something I had struggled with during lessons.
I passed. I passed my road test on my first try. I was in shock. My driving instructor told me about students that had passed on their first attempt, but I am a nervous wreck, surely something like that would never happen to me. I would need four or five test runs before I got it right. I walked out of that office with a shiny green N magnet for the back of my car. No more red L screaming about my lack of experience. I slowly pulled out of the parking lot, still in shock.
On the drive home I started breathing again. I’m pretty sure I held my breath for the majority of the test. I just kept repeating it in my head, “I passed, holy shit, I fucking passed”. I don’t think the gravity of the situation has sunk in yet. I still think to myself “Oh I wanna go…” and then I get that feeling again, “Mom won’t want to come with me” and I slink into my seat, only to remember that I can go by myself now. If I want to take daisy to the park, I can. If I want to go hunt Pokemon, I can. If I want to go get Doritos at 3 AM, I can. If I want to go hang out in Starbucks for an hour, I can. The entire world just opened up for me and the feeling is indescribable. I often daydreamed about being able to drive but always shrugged it off as something that people like me can’t do. I have realized that I tend to underestimate myself. I have found over the last year that I am far more capable than I give myself credit for. The more boundaries I push, the more freedom I discover. If I just let myself try, chances are I can do it. I need to stop saying no to myself because “people like me don’t do that”. Well guess what, I just did.