About the Driving Thing

So last year at the end of October, after MANY years of going without one, I finally got my driver’s license, and I have a few thoughts on the subject, eight months later.

The first thing I did when I actually got the stupid thing was to tell myself that NO MATTER WHAT, I had to drive every day. Once per day.  And at first it TERRIFIED me.  I think the first place I drove was preschool and I felt like I was going to throw up the entire way there, but I kept doing it, and pretty soon that trip was no big deal.  More than no big deal, it was amazing, actually, because I could just throw the kids in the car and bam! Two minutes later, we were at preschool.  It required a lot less planning on my part than a half an hour walk in the jogging stroller.

Then I started venturing farther afield, but each time I went to a new place, the first few times were always pretty terrible.  At this point, I was still making myself drive, just because I knew that I had to force myself or I wouldn’t do it.  I can remember driving to the new Target , by myself, and being so prepared for the transcendent wonderful experience of an hour alone by myself in Target, and instead I was so shaky and miserable and stressed about having to get BACK IN THE CAR that I couldn’t enjoy myself.

But it got better.

Then I started having to go places I didn’t want to go, that were outside my little comfort zone of preschool and Target.  I drove myself to therapy, and again, I shook the entire way. It was terrifying.  Then I wanted something at Home Depot, and the want of whatever it was edged out the want of not driving, so I conquered that trip, and that one had a tricky turn and a weird thing with the railroad tracks and I just…I figured it out.  And then I made it to Trader Joe’s, and then finally I drove to the mall and to Cost Plus and I drove downtown, and somehow, someway, it all started to just…not be a big deal.

And then I became someone who LIKES to drive.  Who would rather drive than have her husband drive, and I barely recognize myself, and I honestly have no idea how this happened, but there it is.  Now these trips to Target or to Trader Joe’s are nothing, they are a trifle, and it’s just so odd, how it went from being a hulking desperate terrible presence in my life to being close to nothing at all.

The funniest thing for me is that people around me still act like it’s a BIG DEAL, when to me, it’s somehow not.  I feel like I’ve been driving for years! I am pretty much totally over it, my fear of driving, and I guess the only thing I can figure out is that I just did it, over and over, and somehow in the doing it, I took all the fear and build up out of it and it became just another thing.

One thing I think is interesting is the getting lost thing.  I am TERRIBLE with directions.  Terrible.  I used to get lost all the time, when I was walking places, and I hated it.  I was always VERY stressed out about directions, having to go somewhere new, finding my way, all that stuff.  I thought this would be a huge issue when I started driving, and it’s actually not at all. I still do get lost all the time, but the funny thing is that when you are driving? Getting lost is actually kind of no big deal.  When you’re walking, getting lost is a HUGE deal.  It can mean you are an hour out of your way. It can mean you are going to be very late, and very tired, and you may be walking around for hours with no idea how to fix where you have ended up.  When you’re driving, you are not going to be wandering, exhausted, you’re just going to have to figure out a way to turn around and retrace your path.  You have invested much less physical energy, and you are way less stranded.  It’s remarkably stress free to get lost while driving.

I also had this….thing. This insane thing, that I couldn’t help, where most of the time when I pictured getting in the car and driving my kids around, every damn time I had this horrible vision of driving along and then being t-boned at top speed by some driver, just SMASH, some car coming like a bat out of hell right into the side of us, and this was something that held me back from driving for a long time, because dudes, my babies are in that car.  Putting them in the car and then driving them around seemed like it was just asking for death, and so I’d chosen “No Thank You” to that scenario.

But then one day I just casually turned to Erik and said something like “Don’t you ever worry that you timed something wrong, and you picked the exact moment to leave the house that means that someone is going to drive into you and kill you?” and he said “Well.  People worry about that stuff all the time, but it’s stupid to think that, because statistically you’re way more likely to die of heart disease or cancer and no one’s doing that much to prevent those things” and you’d think that would be an obnoxious statement but somehow it was perfect.  Somehow when I talk about these things with Erik, he has this key to my brain, he knows the things to say to quiet the monsters and I haven’t see that vision of death since since. (See also: anti anxiety medication, the taking of.)

The other thing that I think is interesting is how much easier it is for me to drive alone.  Because it took me so long to get my license, A LOT of my driving practice before I got it was with Erik, and I love the man dearly, I do, but we are pathologically unsuited to sitting next to each in a car, and I never ever thought that maybe it wasn’t me, maybe it was us, but I am someone who likes to know the next three turns I am going to make, the lane I need to get into three miles down the road, and the side of the street I am turning on.  WAY AHEAD OF TIME.  Erik is a lot of things, but he is the WORLDS WORST DIRECTION giver, and trying to follow directions as he says, very very slowly: “You’re going to want to goooooooooooooooooooo overrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr thereeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee that waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay” makes me want to stab someone in the eye, and by someone I mean him.

So that is also surprising, that it actually got a lot easier to drive once I was responsible for figuring this stuff out myself.

I do find that I spend a lot more of my time running errands. I have vowed never again to take two children to Trader Joe’s, because it’s a total disaster and believe me when I tell you I found that out the hard way.  I wish sometimes I had back the freedom of knowing that we had a whole day to do nothing and we weren’t going anywhere and no one expected anything of us, but at the same time, I have been freed from so much anxiety that it is worth it, times 1000.  I don’t have to fret about doctor’s appointments and how I will get there, I don’t have to fight with my husband about why I can’t drive, I don’t have to make four people go to Cost Plus when only one person wants to go there, I can run to Home Depot and grab something for a project while everyone else stays at home, even I do sometimes stand in the quarter round aisle debating the merits of trim and think to myself “Aw, I wish Erik was here.”

Eli had a preschool field trip, 15 or 20 minutes away.  The old me who couldn’t drive could have come up with a lot of really good sounding reasons why we didn’t go on that trip, and heck, he didn’t even have that great of a time.  But we WENT.  He got to go, and he got to go because I girded up my loins and I did this hard thing and as much as I will always wonder why it took me so long, I will always be so proud of myself, so in shock almost, that I took this hard thing, this black thing in my life, and I smashed it to smithereens for the people I love.

I still have not conquered the expressway, and I am not like, making day trips to Sausalito, but basically, this is it.  I am a driver.


14 Responses

  1. You are awesome. And, the day you show up on my doorstep, having driven here, will be the cherry on top. 🙂

  2. Lady, you are officially my inspiration.

  3. That is FABULOUS. 🙂 Now get in the car and drive to NJ, our kiddos need a playdate.

  4. “the only thing I can figure out is that I just did it, over and over, and somehow in the doing it, I took all the fear and build up out of it and it became just another thing.”

    THIS. This is exactly what my dad used to tell me about EVERYTHING growing up. He was very conditioned to just face his fears and well, as a kid, I wasn’t. But honestly what you wrote up there is is one of the best pieces of advice I have ever gotten and continue to give to this day. The first time you do something scary ALWAYS sucks, so the quicker you get in more repetition, the quicker it stops being this crazy thing.

    I’m glad driving has stopped being a thing. What’s next on your list to conquer?

  5. Yes, what Holly just said. I need to keep that in my brain for all of my many, varied fears I encounter weekly.

  6. I live in Nebraska (I’m not from here) and I could never figure out why you hated it so badly. Then when you said you didn’t drive, it all became very clear. It’s very difficult to not drive here, I would think.

    That is so awesome that you conquered this. I don’t even know you, but I feel proud of you. 🙂

  7. Yay!

    And also, something that has made driving experiences like, 100 times better for me, has been the GPS. If it is ever in the budget, I highly recommend. I know now that if I ever do get lost, it can get me home.

    This story of fear is exactly as Stories of Fear OUGHT to go: repeated exposure kills fear. And yet they so often DON’T. So it’s satisfying to hear one that DID.

    • We had one (a GPS) but I think I left it in the car and it got stolen, and then I got a phone that does it, in theory, and I just need to activate it, or what have you. but I haven’t really gotten around to it yet.

  8. I am so impressed!!! You are all that is woman! I loved this post.

    And I loved your husband’s way of fixing your anxieties. Mine does that too, and I’ve never explained it quite so eloquently.

  9. My grandmother never learned to drive (because of the T-bone visions mostly, I think, also it was a different generation) and I think it seriously affected this later chapter of her life. Even before we moved her into the retirement home, she was so dependent on everyone else to get her EVERYWHERE. So good for you, INDEPENDENT LADY!

  10. I love that you wrote about this! I didn’t get my license until I was just a few weeks from my 20th birthday because even though I knew how to drive, I was terrified to actually do it. I remember now, reading your post, the almost drunk feeling of exhilaration upon realizing how much I enjoyed driving!

  11. I also am a huge fan of the GPS. I feel like it has reduced my driving stress a bazillion times. No more printing out directions or calling Bart saying “I CAN’T FIGURE OUT WHERE I AM” (although granted, that happened WAY more often in Boston where absolutely nothing is marked).

    What a great post – I am just so impressed that you made this happen.

  12. I passed my driving test at my second attempt in 1990 in a tiny Scottish town. I was stunned because I wasn’t confident or even particularly competent. And then, as no one I knew then had a car (I was at university, students rarely had cars), I didn’t get to drive. I graduated in 1992 and immediately moved to France. It’s now 2011 and I have essentially never driven since (maybe 3 hours in total, all before 1993). Taking a (long) refresher course is on my list of things to do, but lessons here cost €40/hour (about $40) and I just don’t have th emoney. But now that I4m a single mother, being unable to drive is a huge handicap. Of course, I can’t afford a car, either, but your story gives me hope that I might, maybe, one day, manage to overcome my fear of driving. Oh – added to my fear of course is that fact that I learned in my native Britain, where they drive on the right of the car/left of the road, and here in the crazy south of France they do the opposite. Totally freaks me out. I’m really proud of you and hope that I’ll be able to say the same of myself some day!

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