Dear Driving Anxiety,
I kindly ask you to take it easy on my poor, fragile heart, as I fear that you will only become more terrifying as I get older.
Fortunately, I am not plagued by driving anxiety on a day-to-day basis. The trips to the grocery store, after school lessons, or around the neighborhood are quite pleasant and easy-going. But as life would have it, we venture where the roads take us, whether I like it or not. Here are my Top Ten driving conditions that make me want to stay on solid ground instead of inside a moving vehicle--as a driver or a passenger:
10. Speed. Local roads are no biggie, as speeds that can only cause fender benders do not rattle me. When the speed limit goes above 50 mph, however, I begin to grip the steering wheel--or anything I can grab a hold of if I'm not driving--harder, where strength of grip is directly proportional to increase in speed. #SpeedyWhiteKnuckles
9. Unfamiliar roads. It's scary to say that on my daily, familiar drives, sometimes I don't remember how I got from point A to point B. Auto-pilot, they say. But on unfamiliar roads, all my senses kick into full throttle and my Driving Radar is on high alert. #LikeAVirginDrivingForTheVeryFirstTime
8. Junctions. Those five lane multi-highway junctions where there are more signs overhead than the number of seconds you have to get to the exit lane? Where if you exit too early or too late you will end up on another entire wrong highway so that you can't just get right back onto your original highway? #NeedISayMore
7. Semis. If I had my way, 18-wheelers should never be able to change lanes and should never be allowed to drive alongside any cars. Because if momentum equals mass times velocity, then semis are part of the formula that spells Big Trouble. #StayAwayAtAllCosts
6. Precipitation. I seriously believe that people forget how to drive when precipitation--in the form of rain, snow, sleet, fog, or hail--occurs. All hell breaks loose as drivers suddenly have amnesia. All the while I only have one word in my mind--"hydroplaning"--the only word I still remember from my very first driver's test. Of all the things I have forgotten because of my dying braincells, this one stuck just to make me a little more obsessive with the brake pedal than usual. #SlipSlidingAway
5. Darkness. When you can only see as far as your headlights shine, it's not very far. A bunch of moving vehicles on the road that cannot see each other very well makes me feel like the world is caving in on me inside my invisible vehicle in the depth of obscurity. #DarknessLikeACancerGrows
4. Narrowed lanes. Sudden elimination of comfortable lane spacing due to construction, tunnels, or bridges risk my passing out since I pretty much hold my breath during the entire lengths of them. #CodeBlue
3. Tailgaters. I've noticed that people don't follow the "3-second following distance" rule anymore. Which is why I stick to the 2.94-second rule. Which is why when anyone goes below a 2-second following distance behind or in front of me, hyperventilation from my airway ensues. #WheresMyPaperBag
2. Steep terrain. Mountainous, winding roads--whether uphill or downhill--do not fare well with my head. Working against gravity or gaining speed because of it both make me uneasy. And don't even talk about those roads with a cliff on the side of the lane. #MercuryRising
1. Mad drivers. No matter how carefully we drive, being on the road means putting a lot of faith in the safety practices of other drivers. Which is why the existence of crazy drivers scare the living daylights out of me. #<InsertExpletivesHere>
And if by now you imagine me as a stereotypical old Asian driver with the steering wheel on her chest driving below speed limit, I wouldn't blame you. Because if I actually looked like that, then you'd know I'm a nervous driver and stay away from me. But, instead, I am plagued by invisible driving anxiety--the silent kind that toys with my mind's ability to separate reality and imagination.
So all jokes aside, I am starting to come to terms with this uncontrollable anxiety I have about driving and riding in a vehicle. The commonality of all these undesirable conditions is my fear of crashing. My mind goes places that are not kind. Pictures of horrific accidents in my head seem so realistic that they may as well be real.
When we drove the long distance trip to see my grandmother, I realized how much this anxiety affected me. About an hour into the drive, I was already feeling really uneasy. I wasn't sure if it was caused by the last-minute nature of the trip, the uncertainty of my grandmother's health, or the fear of having forgotten to pack or do something before we left. My chest was aching with tightness, and I was breathing as if I could not get enough air. It was when we finally got out of the city and onto quieter roads that I realized the discomfort had faded. Oh, it was this. I realized where all that anxiety came from.
You see, at one point, we were on a narrowed two-lane highway in the midst of construction, in the rain and in the dark, and there were two semis occupying the space in front of us, side by side. Dear Husband was driving less than "2-seconds following distance" behind them, and we came up on a curve where the two semis came within a foot of each other. I just about lost it. It was a Perfect Storm that included every item on the list above minus one (#8). I would have been happier unconscious at the moment.
But closing my eyes during such a drive is not an option, either, since I cannot help but want to keep an extra pair of eyes on the road. To be fair, DH is a very good and safe driver
Finally, seeing how crippled and uncomfortable I was in those first four hours of the drive, I decided to accept the help of anti-anxiety medication for the next day's eight-hour drive. After the Voices in My Head battled it out, they concluded that for everyone's sanity, Xanax was going to get me the calm I needed to make it to our destination. So the next day, I ended up drifting in and out of sleep, thus missing out on those winding, mountainous parts of the highway and too many semis and construction cones to count. I survived the remainder of the drive with minimal worry and discomfort.
As such, I am starting to become more aware of my anxieties that I have always had, but are more prominent now due to different factors, such as age and being a parent. I know that medication won't always be the right solution, but it is an option for a case like this.
So, Dear Driving Anxiety, I am glad that you are not a frequent visitor. I know that my greatest fear rests in the fact that there is Precious Cargo in my possession. When my backseats are occupied by little people who share my DNA, driving becomes a much more serious matter. If my overactive imagination makes me a better driver, then great. If it gets the better of me, then I'll take the passenger seat and take a chill pill.