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Learning to drive with anxiety - Phil's story

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We Are Marmalade

May 9, 2018

Learning to drive Young driver stories 5 min read

Phil has struggled with anxiety for the majority of his adult life, and this has impacted his driving journey. At 26, and after taking his first driving lesson around 10 years ago, he’s managed to get himself back behind the wheel. He’s here sharing his story, and to let us all know how he picked up his confidence, to get back on the road to that magic pass.


Everybody gets nervous on the build-up to their first driving lesson, for some, it’s no more than butterflies and for others, it’s a debilitating feeling. The latter is the best way to describe how I felt at the mere prospect of getting behind the wheel. Anxiety is a cruel mistress, in small doses she keeps us alive, but too much can quickly become a problem.

Over the years I had heard so many horror stories about driving on British roads, I had seen the graphic adverts on the telly and I have witnessed a few minor accidents. The sum of this was an overwhelming feeling of worry and fear that the second I sat behind the wheel, the countdown would begin, to the day I inadvertently robbed somebody of their life. To be in this situation before your very first lesson is horrible, its all well and good making people who are comfortable on the roads aware of the very real danger of death, but for young people who haven’t even been in the driver’s seat before – this can be a very daunting prospect, especially for somebody who has had issues with anxiety in the past.

The first lesson

I can remember my first lesson very clearly. I started learning to drive on the isle of man, the age to obtain a provisional licence there is 16 and since I had family living over there I was eligible to apply. I chose the biggest school on the island and the instructor who taught me was also the co-owner which in my eyes is the best position I could have been in for my first lesson. She took me to one of the many unused roads on the island, unfortunately, this one happened to have a sheer cliff face on the driver’s side, dropping straight off into the sea. Putting the fear of tumbling over the edge out of my mind wasn’t as much of an issue, however, as I felt I had far more control over the situation.

Confidence is key

We got stuck into learning the basics and my instructor was excellent, she was very understanding and patient. Under her tuition my confidence came on in leaps and bounds, I quickly perfected my manoeuvres and after a 40-hour intensive course, I was told that I was test ready. Unfortunately, I couldn’t take my test there as I wasn’t a resident, but I quickly returned home and booked a new instructor to drag me past the last few milestones before my test.

This time I wasn’t as lucky with my choice of driving instructor, the instructor I chose was the same one that had gotten my sister through her test, and it seemed like a logical choice. Except this instructor was obviously only focused on one thing… MONEY! Since I had already had 40 hours of lessons, he wouldn’t be seeing much of the paper stuff and upon realising this – started throwing up barriers between me and my test.

All the aspects of my driving, which I was happy with, and that I had received praise for just weeks earlier wasn’t in anyway good enough to this instructor. My manoeuvres which I was told I had perfected were suddenly unacceptable. To begin with, I doubted that they were as imperfect as he had said but after regular reinforcement, I started to believe it.

The upshot of this is that the confidence I had gained previously, took a nose dive and I had to make the conservative decision to save my money and stop lessons until I was in a more confident mindset.

via GIPHY

It’s time to try again

It may have taken a while, but after 10 years I am finally getting back behind the wheel. I have battled my demons and I have won! My only fear now is that I have left it too long and will be starting from square one. I have now booked my driving lessons with a highly rated local instructor, by the time you read this I will most likely be taking my first lessons, again! Contrary to how I felt the first time around, the closer I get to the first lesson this time the more excited I am. To finally taste the freedom I have missed out on all these years.

If I could give one piece of advice to young people looking get their first lessons and are overwhelmed by the prospect it would be: don’t feel compelled to start driving straight away, get yourself in a comfortable position first. Don’t let the pressure of others push you into something that makes you uncomfortable. By all means, push yourself if you are happy to do that but looking after yourself first and foremost is key.

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By We Are Marmalade

'We champion young drivers with award-winning low cost insurance for learner and new drivers and a great young drivers' car scheme.'  See more posts by We Are

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