I was on Twitter the other night and read a tweet from a lovely girl that I follow, that mentioned her anxiety over taking her driver’s test.
I read that tweet and just nodded my head and immediately sent her a tweet back that basically said “I get it girl. I’ve been there.”
My own relationship with driving has always been a little shaky. I am a very confident driver….when I am actually driving. It’s quite surprising really, because I am not too terribly confident about anything. I’m not confident about meeting people. I am still a little afraid of half of the lamps and electrical outlets in my house. I still won’t give my 5-year-old twins hot dogs unless they are cut to the size of a piece of rice. But put me behind the wheel of a machine that lets me fly down the road at 65 mph, and I’ve never felt stronger or more capable in my life.
As long as I am actually driving, I do great. But “pre-driving”…..that’s a different story. Just knowing that I will be driving soon, gives me a sense of dread and apprehension every time. I have no idea why. Maybe its one of those odd random anxiety things that seems to strike for no reason at all. Or maybe I just have too much time to worry about what “could happen”. Or subconsciously, maybe I still associate driving with that intense fear I used to have, back in my younger days, of panicking while driving. I didn’t drive for a long time because of that fear, and even though I no longer actively have that fear, maybe it still lingers in the back of my mind. I don’t know, but the dread in the hours before I drive is still there. Until I get driving. And then it is a whole different story and I feel amazing and fabulous and free.
But if I know I am going to be TESTED on my driving……..forget it. The idea of somebody sitting next to me while I am driving, making notes and paying attention to every move I make, fills me with such intense fear. It literally makes me feel sick to my stomach.
It’s no great mystery where that particular issue stems from though.
Come back in time with me for a minute, and imagine sweet, naive, nervous little me sitting in the passenger seat, next to my high-school driving instructor, getting ready to take my very first driving test. I was very nervous, but mostly excited. I had been looking forward to this day for so long. We had done a lot of driving around the neighborhoods by my school and I felt confident, and failure never even entered my mind. I was going to nail it. I loved challenges and this was no exception.
It was a beautiful day and I was feeling good about everything. I found it odd though, when my instructor told me he was heading toward downtown so we could take the test there. We hadn’t really focused on that area of town much during our practice driving sessions so it never occurred to me that would be where we took the test.
And when I say downtown, I mean I live in a city with a real “downtown”. It has tall buildings, one way streets, bridges, a million stoplights, and a river. It is very metropolitan. However, we had practiced downtown once or twice before, and it went okay, so even though I was definitely feeling a little more nervous, I still felt like everything was all good. Plus I was only 16. Life hadn’t had a chance to make me too cynical yet and I was still pretty naive about how bad a day could actually get.
After we arrived downtown, my instructor and I switched seats and as I pulled away from the curb, I immediately became very aware of how busy traffic was. And for whatever reason, I started to get panicky. I became very overwhelmed, and what can I say? I choked. I became very confused and it was like I had never driven a day in my life. After about 60 seconds of driving, my instructor slammed on his brake in the middle of an intersection and looked over at me like he had just been a split second from certain death.
As it turns out, it was because he really had been a split second from certain death.
As I sat there, stunned and shocked, having no idea what had just happened, he told me that I was getting ready to turn in front of a truck. And then he said those awful words “That was the closest I have ever come to being killed in Behind-the-Wheel.”
And then I….poor, dumb, naive little me……… looked at him and said “Does that mean I fail?”
Uhhh…yeah. Yes it did.
Needless to say, I am pretty sure that has something to do with my present issues with driving tests. I eventually did go on to pass my high school driving test a few months later, but the memory of that day has definitely been burned into my brain.
So you can imagine my horror…my complete and utter horror…. when I found out that 30 years later, after accidentally letting my driver’s license expire during the chaos of having newborn twins, I was going to have to take the driver’s test again. I could have just died.
I put off the test for a full year.
I didn’t drive at all. And over the course of that year, my driving phobia really kicked into high gear until I couldn’t even think about driving without getting scared. The thought of getting behind the wheel again for any reason seemed highly unlikely to me.
For a full year, my kind, understanding then-husband who has the patience of a saint, did all the driving, all the grocery shopping, all the EVERYTHING for me. I was so grateful at the time of course, but now I kind of want to punch him in the arm for it because he should have told me to get my ass down to the DMV and take my test. But he is just way too good of a person to do something like that. Plus I was a little scary postpartum so maybe he was afraid I would throw a vase at him if he didn’t just do whatever it took to keep me happy.
But at any rate, I put it off for a full year until finally I just said “Lisa…you are being ridiculous.” And I put my plan in motion to take my driver’s test.
I started gradually. First I practiced backing in and out of my drive-way. Then after I got comfortable with that, I drove up and down the street in my neighborhood…yes illegally, I know. Next we went to a parking lot and practiced what we thought the instructor might ask me to do. And finally, I just woke up one day and said “Lets do this. Today is the day.” , and we went to get my driver’s license.
I chose to go to a smaller DMV in a nearby town because I know people at the one here in my city and I thought if I had a complete breakdown, I would rather it happen in front of people I will probably never see again. It’s not that I am ashamed of breaking down or being an anxious person, but you know, if you have the choice to NOT have it happen in front of people you know, then why not take that option, right?
We drove to the DMV and I took my written test and I aced it. I am a great written test taker. I love competing against myself and that is how I look at every written test I take – as a little competition and I really enjoy it.
They then called my name to take the driver’s test, and my test giver was the nicest guy, but it was almost closing time and I sensed that he was really not in the mood to be taking me out on this test. So that made me a little more nervous because I thought it might make him more likely to be un-amused by my “quirky charms”.
Then we went out to get in my van and I got my keys ready and as I climbed into the driver’s side, I realized that he was not climbing into the passenger side.
“What is he doing?”, I thought as I watched him walk to the front of our van. He then looked at me and said “Okay, go ahead and turn your lights on for me.”
My mind froze. “What?? Lights?”
I had no idea where the lights were. I hadn’t driven that van at night in months…if not years. I could not remember where those damn lights were. But I covered it up well, and thank God I just happened to look in the right place and found them quickly.
Then he said, “Left Turn Signal.”
Ugh. You have GOT to be kidding me.
Again, my mind completely went blank. I could not remember how to turn on my turn signals.
I ended up turning on the wipers.
My heart sunk even lower than I thought was possible. I wanted to just crawl in a hole and hide.
But no, I kept my game face on and said “Oops!“, and laughed a little and did a few more things……there may have been some wiper fluid involved, I really can’t remember…but eventually I found the turn signals.
After taking a few notes, he got into the passenger side, and I hoped that the smell of essential oils filling my car didn’t betray how much I needed help with relaxing. I tried my best to breathe them in deeply in a desperate attempt to kill the adrenaline rush I was experiencing, and pulled away from the curb. Once I got going, I was surprised at how well I did. I really seemed to be handling the pressure well and not letting my fear take over. Thank the Lord for my husband’s good coaching because if not for that, I know I would have forgotten so many things.
Halfway through the test, I had to back out of a driveway that he had me pull into and I was so nervous because I had to back out into a lane of traffic, and not go into the other lane. I have done this a million times, but I was so nervous and there were cars in the other lane of traffic and my hands were shaking so hard and I was trying to concentrate, and then I thought in a very irritated inner voice , “Why can’t I focus….what is that noise?”
Then my heart sank yet again , as I realized that I had forgotten to shut off Elmo’s World from the kids’ DVD player in the back. We had been listening to it blaring thru the entire test, and I was so nervous that I hadn’t even realized it. I turned it down and looked over at him and sheepishly said “Sorry about that.” and thankfully he had a sense of humor about it but oh, I really wanted to disintegrate into a cloud of dust right then and there. Poof.
But the good news is that I got through it and I passed my test and as I pulled up the curb back at the DMV, all my kids were outside with my husband cheering me on and saying “Good job mom!”
They didn’t even ask me if I passed or failed, they were just so proud that I did it because they knew how scared I was, and I realized that was the best part of the whole thing. I was SO glad that I had my license back and it felt amazing to hold that little card in my hand but I just knew that even if the instructor had told me that I failed, I still would have cried those little tears of happiness when I saw my kids showing their love for me in that way. They were PROUD of me, and as a person with anxiety I don’t always feel like I give my kids a whole lot to be proud of. But I did in that moment, and it is one of my favorite memories as a parent.
And as a bonus, I was also really proud of myself.
So remember this readers, and to my fellow Twitterer (Tweeter?) who is so nervous about her test: It’s not about whether you pass or fail at any test you are given in life. What is important is that you simply take the chance and risk failure, and put yourself out there.
Maybe just “showing up” is not a big thing for the “normals” of the world who don’t have any anxiety or emotional issues. But the truth is that a lot of us DO have those issues, and for us it is a VERY big deal, and when we do it…..when we step up and say “I’m here…let’s see what happens”.…..it is a victory and it is awesome.
For some good tips on how to manage your driver’s test AND your nerves, check out this link from RoyDrive.com.
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