I’m sitting here trying to avoid thinking about the inevitable drive to my parents’ house this afternoon. It’s only thirty minutes from where I live, but the drive itself has developed into one gigantic monster that I must battle every time I want to visit them (or drive anywhere else of any significant distance).
I have a fear of driving (specifically long distance on highways).
It wasn’t always this way.
So when this unexpected surprise came out of nowhere, I decided I must resolve it — soon.
I’ve had to put together the pieces of the puzzle and retrace my steps in order to figure it out. I went from having no problem driving whatsoever to having random panic attacks while I’m driving 75 mph down the highway.
I didn’t put two and two together until years later when I would feel anxious about certain parts of the drive to and from the town where my parents live. Then it all came back to me. I had driven at night through flash flood weather with torrential rainfall several times in 2014. The weather was so bad that I thought I was going to drive off the road from the push and pull of the wind and rain. Just thinking of it now, is causing my heart to race. Fortunately, I was able to pull over that night but just barely. And then there was another time where it happened again unexpectedly out of nowhere.
Now, just in case you’re thinking that I should pay more attention to the weather, let me just clarify that I was paying close attention to the weather on both occasions. The weather was rainy and crappy on the way out of town but then suddenly took a drastic turn ten to fifteen minutes into the drive. That night, the rain started blowing sideways, the wind started shifting my car from side to side, and I couldn’t see because the storm was so bad. On one of these occasions, the weather was so bad; a semi-truck almost hit me because he couldn’t see either.
So after this happened randomly two or three times that year, I realized that I had developed a fear of driving on highways, especially at night. It was a subconscious fear that I didn’t even know had developed until one day when I was driving on a bright, sunny day to my parents and a sudden panic attack came on while I was driving down the highway.
Talk about freaky.
I’d never experienced a panic attack before. I’d had family and friends talk about having them, but I always thought they could just override it by thinking logically about the situation. Boy, I was wrong.
Panic attacks are anything but logical. My heart began racing, my breathing became erratic, and I felt scared. . . Like I was going to die. I felt irrationally upset while feeling like I was going to fly out of my body while driving. Talk about a scary feeling. It was NOT cool.
And no matter how much I tried to be Ok, I was not Ok. I was anything but Ok.
I managed to calm myself down and finally make it to my destination, but it was scary as hell. I didn’t want to feel that way ever again. When I drove back, I did much better. But when I went to visit them the next time, sure enough, it happened. The worse part is I never know when it will happen. It just does.
So for the past few months (since I left my soon-to-be-ex-husband), I’ve had to face my fear in order to visit my parents. I haven’t driven on a highway for four years which was my entire relationship with the ex. Fortunately, he loved to drive. But now, that we’re no longer together, I’m once again facing my fear of driving out-of-town.
It sucks. But it’s necessary.
As I’ve examined my fear of driving, I’ve noticed that my panic attacks come on only when I think about where I’m at on the road in comparison to where I want to be.
I suddenly get anxious and feel overwhelmed when I think about my final destination and the fact that I’m not there yet. It feels like I can’t get there fast enough and I begin panicking as I look further up the road from where I’m at. The cars seem to be racing around me weaving in and out of traffic with ease which only sets off my anxiety even more.
I then begin to feel completely pulled under by a feeling of being out-of-control and overwhelmed all-at-once. I want to be at my destination NOW. And the idea that I have “x” amount of minutes left and “x” amount of miles until I reach my destination — it unnerves me. It causes me to feel utterly incapable of making the journey.And the Fear sets in bringing on a deep feeling of hopelessness.
I have come to realize that my fear of driving is very similar to my fear of the future.
When I think about where I’ll be in a few years, I become entirely anxious and depressed. And I become overwhelmed by the thought that I may not make it to where I want to go in life. That I may not make it to my destination of achieving my dream of being a well paid, professional writer (a writer has to eat and pay bills just like everyone else) and living my life on my own terms, happy and full of life. Preferably living in a cabin in the mountains with wifi.
I got a super late start on my dream of being a professional writer. To be honest, I had given up on the idea almost right after I graduated high school and got married young. I put it away along with my dream of becoming someone great and making a significant, positive difference in the world. Instead, I followed my even bigger dream of becoming a fantastic mom and devoted wife. That dream didn’t exactly play out the way I had imagined it which I thought at the time was a huge life mistake that would never correct itself. But to my surprise, at the end of the long road of change, it did.
My passion for writing was reborn, and I felt alive again for the first time in a long time. It is honestly the only thing that has brought me so much immense joy and happiness (besides, my kids of course).
But every time I think about where I am in comparison to where I want to be I get overwhelmed with fear. Fear that I’ll never get there. Fear that life will throw more distractions on the road to my dreams and I’ll never reach my destination. Fear of the unknown. What if I’m not capable of making the “drive” to my final destination? What if I’m not strong enough? I look ahead at my life, and I’m immediately overtaken by all of the various possibilities that could throw me off track to my dreams.
What about my parents getting older? I’ll have to take care of them all by myself since I’m an only child and I do not have a spouse or significant other to help. How will I do it? How will I survive then?? Who will take care of me when I grow older? Will I be all alone? All kinds of fears flood my mind about my future. Not just about fulfilling my dreams but about life and where it will take me. There are no guarantees. And that scares the living shit out of me.
My fear of driving has taught me how to handle my fear of the future.
It’s incredible how life teaches you through different situations and seemingly unrelated events. I’ve learned that going through life is very much like taking a drive. The more you focus on your final destination and how you’re not there yet, the more stress and suffering you cause yourself.
But when I keep my focus on my immediate surroundings, I’m able to enjoy the ride — the beautiful clouds in the sky. The birds are flying by happy and free. I don’t feel worried anymore. I’m able to let go of my fear and just relax.
Life is the same way.
I’ve learned that when I focus on this present moment, this part of my journey, the future doesn’t look so scary. I’ve learned to live each day one day at a time. Worrying about the future only steals from the joy of living today. It’s important to make each day special by enjoying where you’re at in your journey.
Embrace the place where you’re at on the road to who you’re becoming. When you do, the future won’t be so bad because you’ll be making the best of each day.
And you never know — your future might turn out even better than you expected.