Friday, November 17, 2017
Published in Womans' Weekly 2017 Sue Kittow, from Cornwall Following a very unfortunate episode with a colleague at work, I suffered from a panic attack on the way home which was so terrifying I had to leave the car in a layby. I still had to drive to work every day, but it was a horrible ordeal, and I dreaded every journey. But I was ashamed of my fears, and didn’t want to admit them to anyone, even my husband. I continued to have panic attacks while driving for over 25 years which made me feel extremely vulnerable. I tried seeing a therapist, but he said he didn’t cater for “minor” problems like that - only death and divorce - so I did a lot of research and tried to live with this constant fear that had me in its grip. I hated the loss of independence; the fact that this irrational fear was holding me back, and imprisoning me. When I finally told my husband, he insisted doing most of the driving, trying to help, which in retrospect probably made matters worse. It was the death of my husband that made me realise I had to get in the car and drive, for there was no one else to do it for me. I was terrified, but as I needed to drive for work and to walk my dog, I just had to get on with it. Gradually my fears receded to the point where, although not overly confident, I can drive several hundred miles without panicking. I’m much better if someone’s in the car with me, and I wouldn’t want to drive long distances, but I am much more confident now and I’m not plagued by these anxieties that used to cloud my whole life, making me feel imprisoned, useless and belittled. Last year, I wrote a blog about my driving fears, and was amazed at how many women contacted me saying, “This made me feel so much better - I thought it was just me.” Sue’s tips Talk to other people - don’t be ashamed of how you feel. Start with small trips and then bigger ones. Do a long or difficult drive with someone else, then do it on your own. When getting over panic attacks or any anxiety, remember it’s not a straight line - you will get wobbly days and that’s OK. It will get better. Marilyn Roberts, Somerset Marilyn Roberts, from Somerset, stopped driving after a car crash. Despite repeated attempts to conquer her fears, she is still plagued by anxiety and avoids driving where possible. “I used to drive to work, but over the past few years we’ve had four accidents and I now dislike driving intensely. In the last six years I’ve got much worse. The main reason is fear of another accident because there are so many cars on the road with arrogant, inconsiderate drivers. I hate having to drive fast because I feel like I’m on the dodgems, where one small error can have catastrophic results. This makes me panic stricken as I’m afraid I will make a mistake and cause an accident. Also, being small myself, I can’t see properly to judge the width of a car or see round it, and I’m never comfortable: my foot isn’t properly on the accelerator so I’m always too tense, and can never relax. A smaller car might help a bit but cars aren’t made for small people: my body won’t fit into it comfortably. A car’s a very claustrophobic environment. But I felt I had to do something, so last year I had 12 driving lessons for Fear of Driving with a really good instructor. She had dual pedals which made a difference, so I felt safer with her in the car. But on my own I still feel really nervous. She told me I was a good driver and there was no need to worry - that it was all in my mind - but I was always shaking and never felt confident. I am driving a bit more now - I drove twice over the weekend, but I won’t go when it’s busy though I don’t mind driving at night. Perhaps I could try hypnotherapy - if someone came up with something I’d give it a go. Other people take driving for granted but I hate feeling like this - it makes me feel isolated and inadequate, and that really affects my confidence.” Marilyn’s tips Try Fear of Driving lessons - it does give you confidence Be open to trying new ways of getting help Don’t give up! Vivien Simmons, from Dartford, Surrey “I didn’t learn to drive until I was 35, and I only learnt then in case of an emergency. I was always very nervous, and I hated parking or reversing, but I never had to drive far as I could use public transport. Then when I was 50 my mum had a stroke. She lived in Cornwall and a friend came with me and drove my car down there, but she had to fly back early, so I had to drive my car back to Dartford on my own. I was terrified, but I had no option - I had to get back. I couldn’t sleep the night before and was terrified the whole journey but I kept thinking of it in short journeys of 10 miles and did that 25 times. I had to keep going back and forth because of mum’s recuperation, and I was really nervous, but each time got a little easier. Now I’m 65 and much more confident. The journey doesn’t worry me so much, but I still prefer it if I’ve got company.” Viv’s tips Visualise a long journey in short sections. Know the route well and plan plenty of breaks. Keep in the main flow of traffic and keep to the speed limit. Don’t drive too slowly and don’t be intimidated by other drivers. Listen to the radio or play your favourite CDs or audio tapes.