As part of Mental Health Awareness month, we're bringing you real life stories from drivers who suffer with anxiety and other mental health issues, and how it has impacted their driving journey. This blogger wished to remain annonymous - but I think you'll agree that the story is worth sharing. Remember - you're not alone!
Hello! I am in my early 20’s and have suffered from depression and anxiety since my early teenage years. Unfortunately, my anxiety has also impacted my driving journey and because of this, I have had driving lessons on and off for five years. The main purpose of this blog is to help people who struggle with anxiety when driving overcome it, and you can overcome it! I’ll let you know how I felt when I first started my driving lessons and how I managed to shake off the anxiety to get to the magic pass. Remember, you can do this!
The anxiety of my driving lessons
My anxiety towards driving has taken its toll on me, and there are many things about driving that would lead me to panic and overthink with every lesson. It got so bad, that I would feel physically sick hours before my lessons started, and the anxiety didn’t stop when I got behind the wheel, either. I would panic if I saw another moving vehicle on the road if I made a mistake I would think about it for ages afterwards, which then would distract me from the lesson I was having. If I knew a roundabout was coming up I would also panic, and often end up in the wrong lane or forget to indicate! I also hated driving at night time because the headlights would startle me when they came around the corners. I think it’s fair to say my anxiety when driving was pretty bad. I quit lessons quite a few times because I kept getting distracted by my thoughts, I felt I wasn’t capable of driving and I was wasting my instructor’s time. I honestly thought that I’d never get be able to get over my fears to pass my test.
After having a break from driving lesson for around a year and a half I saw an instructor’s car drive past and wrote down her number quickly. I live in a small village where public transport isn’t very frequent, none of my friends can drive and I was getting fed up of having to arrange lifts all the time so I decided enough was enough and even though I was scared, I would try again and I haven’t regretted it one bit.
The right instructor
I went through three different driving instructors before finding the right one for me. I think who you choose as an instructor makes a huge difference to your confidence in driving, and can really make or break your whole driving journey. You need someone who will make you feel at ease and help you build your confidence on the road, and luckily after a few instructors who didn’t help me with this, I found the right one. For me, I found it a lot more relaxing when my instructor made small talk with me or when the radio was on while driving - because my mind often wandered to other things in my life which I was worried about while it was silent, and this would distract me from the road. Talking about simple things helped me focus on the road and be aware of hazards that may have occurred. The same technique won’t work for everyone who suffers from anxiety, but it’s important to find a method that works for you and an instructor to help you with this. It took me a long time to stop the panicky feeling when I saw other cars on the road but I realised that they would know I was a learner after seeing the instructors sign on the roof, and those beautiful L plates and they wouldn’t judge me or get angry if I stalled the car or made minor mistakes. Other driver’s patience and understanding made me feel a whole lot better.
I overcame my driving anxiety
I passed my driving test on my first attempt with only three minors. I’d had five months of driving lessons. Waiting in the test centre made me very nervous but I was also excited. I chose to have my instructor sit in the back of the car on my test to make me feel more comfortable. It felt awkward at first because I could see the examiner looking at what I was doing but pretending he wasn’t there made it less off-putting. I made a minor mistake where I didn’t indicate when pulling up on the side of the road and thought I’d failed for sure so after that I just treated it like it was a normal driving lesson and it was like having two instructors with me instead of one but it made me feel more at ease.
I feel incredibly proud of myself for doing something which I never thought would be possible. It felt strange being alone in my car for the first time but it was an amazing feeling. I am a lot calmer when I’m behind the wheel now and don’t ever panic or let myself get distracted. If I am going on a long journey I always make sure I have had plenty of sleep the night before, and make sure I clear my mind from any negative thoughts before setting off. I also find that having a drink and something to eat before is really beneficial, before getting in the car to keep my anxiety at bay. Just like anyone else, I do have bad driving days - but I will never let it put me off getting back out on the road again.