Anxiety and Driving at Night

Not my picture, but a good idea of driving in Missouri at night.

I have found that the best remedy for combating anxiety starts with admitting you have anxiety.

I think that’s a crucial step that a lot of people seem to skip. There is a difference between someone who gets anxious and someone who is anxious.

As a teenage I was often taking online quizzes that I would find on less than reputable sites. Do you have depression? Take this 5 minute survey and find out. or 10 Questions that tell you if you have bipolar disorder.

If I were you I’d take the results of any of these types of quizzes with a grain of salt. If you in fact think that it may be an underlying issues I highly recommend talking to a medical profession. I’ve discussed before how I came out to my doctor as thinking I was depressed or bipolar and thinking my world would crumble. Instead of crumbling my world she made me feel so normal. She made me feel like not only was it not a big deal but that there are MULTIPLE ways to deal with these things.

Not every doctor will want to immediately put you on pills, and if your doctor doesn’t listen to your input and feedback about how you want to pursue treatment then chances are you need a better doctor. Doctors should not instill fear in you, but rather comfort and help you through any health problem. There are doctors like that out there.

Although I was never “diagnosed” because it’s hard to diagnose these things, I was told that it is very likely that I have anxiety and slightly possible that I have bipolar or depression.

Fast forward years later to last night and I made an important realization. Anxiety is not just fear, it can also be the irrational way we deal with that fear.

As of late I’ve been learning how to drive. It’s something that I’ve been scared to do for decades but I have been making some significant progress since June. Last night was the first time driving while it was very dark outside though, and I didn’t handle it well. I have shown that my driving skills have improved over the past few months and that I’ve gotten quite a good grip on my anxiety behind the wheel.

I didn’t see my anxiety for what it was last night until after the fact, while I was in it I didn’t think it was me. I had a hard time seeing things because I’m not used to driving while it’s dark. I’ve also noticed that Missouri has significantly less street lights than Boston did, even more so on residential streets for some reason.

I ended up making a few errors, although nothing too terrible bad. There were no near accidents or anything like that but I had a few freakout moment. While taking a left turn onto a large 4-lane street I accidentally turned into the wrong lane crossing over double-yellow lines in the process. That freaked me out and I corrected myself quickly, luckily not impeding any traffic in any other direction but seriously upsetting myself and my boyfriend (who’s bravely taken on the task of teaching me to drive).

A short while later he instructed me to go down a side street, and to turn around. I was going to pull into a drive way and back out but another car was coming my direction and because I had been spooked already once my brain froze. I couldn’t think of what to do, I pulled over and had already overshot the driveway I was intending to turn into. I put the car in reverse thinking I should back up and try for that drive way again, then I thought against it and put the car back in drive but still didn’t move. It was so dark that I couldn’t really see where driveways were up ahead. I wasn’t familiar with the street either.

“What are you doing?” He asked me just genuinely curious at this point.

“I DON’T EVEN KNOW ANYMORE!” I yelled back. That should have been my clue that my anxiety was taking over, but it wasn’t I was just mad now. Mad at myself for making mistakes, mad at my eyes for not letting me see shit, mad at him because he was the other person there and I could surely find reason to blame him.

He asked if I had vision issues, and I’ve had several eye exams over the years including every time I go renew my permit, so I don’t think it’s my eye site I think it’s just not familiar with how everything looks driving at night like that. It’s also a raging case of anxiety taking hold of me.

Symptoms of Anxiety

My heart was racing, and I actually had to ask him to fish out a bottle of water because my mouth had dried out so much. My arms were getting stiff on the steering wheel.

He told me to just drive forward and find another drive way. So I did and managed to get back to where we were going.

As we got back onto the old highway heading back towards our house there’s a left turn with a very short green light. That’s the turn I had to make. I’ve made this turn dozens of times without issue. There’s a guy riding my ass so closely that I can’t even see his headlights in my rear-view mirror. There were 2 cars in front of me making the turn too and the light turned yellow and immense panic set in.

I can probably make it, because it JUST turned yellow.
What if I don’t make it.
You’ll make it if you go!
Will he be mad if I miss the yellow light and say “You would have made it”
Will he be mad if I go on the yellow and you’ll yell “You shouldn’t have done that”

All those thoughts happened at once and I finally said “Do you think I’ll make it?” while I hit the gas.

“NO! BRAKES!” he yelled. I slammed on the breaks jolting us to a stop and luckily with enough space that the dude behind me didn’t ram us in the back.

He gave me very good advice at that moment “If you need to ask out loud if you’re going to make it or not, don’t take the risk. Don’t go.”

That was it though. I sat at that red light and I hated myself. I had put so much weight into every poor decision that I couldn’t think of anything else other than I had failed. I had failed to do well on this drive. I had made too many mistakes and mistakes that I know better than.

I have these days when driving sometimes and I feel ashamed and scared. I did bounce back though. I’ve started to catch these feeling by the time I get home and try to think better of the situation. He’s been driving for almost a decade and he still makes mistakes sometimes. There are no perfect drivers and I’m still in the learning process.

When we got home he gave me a long hug and asked if I was going to be ok. I nodded because I’ve gotten better at genuinely dealing with those emotions but in the heat of the moment it was overwhelming.

There’s so much to be aware of. My car, other cars, other people, lights and stop signs, location signs, speed, when you sit there and think about absorbing all of that at once it sounds incredibly daunting.

Then all I could think about was how I lost my temper, I literally lost control of my emotions because I was anxious. I realized anxiety isn’t always trembling or palpitations that sometimes it’s anger and yelling.

I realized I’d been like that at work earlier in the day too. I’m a cook in a nursing home and dinner was running a little behind. Not actually late to serve but I prefer to be ready 30-minutes prior to serve time and I wasn’t. It was 10 minutes prior to serve time and I was still trying to finish up a few last minute things. I started getting anxious and yelling at my staff to do certain things that they didn’t know how to do.

Luckily my staff is very used to me, and one of my employees laughed when I started yelling at her and said “Hey…relax. We’ve got this. Calm down.”

Sometimes that’s all you need, but sometimes it just sets you off even more. Luckily it had the former effect on me and I calmed down a little bit. It’s very convenient to have people in your life that understand that’s how you get and can help de-escalate the situation.

I’m glad they know that I’m not trying to be an asshole but rather that I’m scared and not thinking clearly. The shitty thing about anxiety is that it makes something so minor seem like a catastrophe and for whatever reason I expect perfection from myself at everything and the smallest hiccups can be shattering to me sometimes.

I am a work in progress though, and I’m familiar with what my brain is trying to do. I keep trying to get better at it. I want to drive more after I make mistakes like that. When I’m in the moment I never want to drive again, but I fight that thought and tell myself “You know how to drive. You know how to drive.” It’s that sort of self affirmation that helps change the way you think.

So today, my day off, I went for a nice fast paced walk to really break out a sweat. I did a little resistance band exercises and decided to write so that I could gather my thoughts and help calm down a little bit.

Anxiety is a struggle, but I’m a fighter.

I think I may go for a drive this evening…

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