Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Dear Driving Anxiety


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 who only occasionally needs a "2.94-second following distance" reminder for my comfort's sake.   So a lot of my anxiety rests in the fact that I don't have control over the car; yet I do not want to be the one driving on the highway next to semis while changing interstates either.

So.

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.   

Quite literally.

Sincerely,
Me

14 comments:

  1. The thing I hate the MOST is being tailgated by an angry trucker while driving at night, in the rain, up an unknown, shoulderless, mountain road where I have to switch to another highway. We're almost twins!

    Seriously though, I also don't care for tunnels. :D

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    1. You and me both! You know, the best thing about outing myself and baring my soul about my anxieties is to gratefully learn that I am not alone in this! The conditions you speak of are terrifying. Please stay safe on the roads, and thanks for making me feel understood, Sean!

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  2. I can so relate to the precipitation one... we have so much rain here over the summer and sometimes it comes down so hard you can't see 2 feet in front of you... very bad. And to add to it all... people start driving like idiots. You can tell who's local and who's a tourist. It gets bad. Hope the meds helped some with the anxiety!

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    1. Heavy rain can be so dangerous, especially if you're on the highway! Yes, thank goodness the med helped. Even when I woke up, I was less on edge driving next to semis and on winding roads. It really beats feeling panicky for 8 hours straight. Thanks, and stay safe on the wet roads in Florida, Susi!

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  3. It's impressive when someone realizes what is "driving" their anxieties (like that, don't you). Good work and I mean that sincerely. I am of the mind that when you need a little help, take it in whatever form it is.

    As for driving, that is not one of my anxieties, but it is my husband's. I drive us everywhere. But he is in the copilot seat, using "the force" to avoid collisions, to slow me down when I'm driving too fast, to back another driver off that is following us to closely from the rear or inching towards us on the side, etc. He literally uses his hands to slow down or move other cars. It was funny at first, but now I take offense to it. It's been 10 years and I am a really good and defensive driver. He really believes it is keeping us safe, though. Whatevs - if it works for him, it's ok by me, I guess.

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    1. Ha! That IS a good one, Cindy! It's not easy admitting to needing help, but 8 hrs inside a vehicle with anxiety made it not-too-hard to ask for help.

      As for the passenger-seat-driver thing, I admit to that, too. In fact, DH wanted me to write about the "synchronized head turns" for lane changes and "phantom braking" for less abrupt braking, on my part. But in my effort to seem less ridiculous than I already am, I didn't include those. DH is a very good driver, and I certainly don't mean to say otherwise. I've asked him, and he assures me that he's not offended, so that's good. But it's probably annoying, so my passing out makes it easier for him, too.

      I admire assured and defensive drivers like DH and yourself, because it's a state of mind that I'm not always able to be in. But seriously, your description of "the Force" had me ROTF--because I can so relate to it! (And I hope my sheepish look over here is telling you that "we" just can't help it?) :)

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  4. I'm glad you were able to find a solution for your trip last week. And be glad that you don't live where I do. The next road from me is 55mph. And coming home the other day during dusk, there was a WALL of rain. You could see where it started, and man was it heavy. You wouldn't have liked it :)

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    1. No, I wouldn't have liked it at all, Michelle.

      I would have tolerated it if it were a familiar road close to home, but if I were on an unfamiliar highway, I'd be close to a panic attack. I definitely have issues. :)

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  5. Hey Girly. Sometimes I wonder, when I'm taking too long to get out of a parking spot because I'm freaking out that I might hit someone and people are honking, am I getting old and wimpy? I remember the days that I wasn't afraid and those days are gone! Anxiety has gotten the best of me too!

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    1. Helen, that's another one of my major 'dislikes': backing out. There's a lot of faith riding on that, as I don't have one of those rear-view monitor thingies. Old and wimpy? I'm just afraid that it's going to get worse as we get older! Oh nos!

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  6. I don't like driving unfamiliar roads either. I like being on auto pilot! Also, I don't like unfamiliar roads b/c around here, there are speed cameras everywhere and it's best to know where they are instead of receiving a ticket in the mail. Boo. Ah, junctions. I don't know why some roads are just designed horribly. Or after a construction, stuff just changes sides and you're like why couldn't you keep it somewhat like before instead of confusing everyone? Oh, I hate traffic circles too. And the first sight of rain or snow, the roads lock-up around here. Totally stupid. I know you have to slow down, but come on, don't just stop! I hate driving in the rain AND at night. And on highways with badly-painted/non-reflective lines. Uhg. Scary. I hate tailgaters but sometimes I am one of them, I admit. Glad the Xanax helped on the trip back, but like you said, you don't want to rely on it. I just remember to sit back straight, breathe, and not to clench my jaw when I drive.

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    1. You seem to dislike many of those yucky driving conditions, too! Accidents are not only dangerous, they're costly and plain troublesome. Don't like the though of car crashes, period. I can't totally rely on that medication since I can't drive if I take it. So that'd only be for when DH can drive us. Really, an entire day inside a moving vehicle is *so* not my definition of fun, so I do what I must. Thanks for sharing your dislikes and making me feel not quite so alone, Lisa! :)

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  7. I'm with you! When someone follows me too closely, I deliberately go slower until they pass me.

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    1. Same here, Asianmommy. If they want to be in a hurry, then be my guest and go right ahead in front of me. I've no problem with that!

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