Yes, yes, and yes again – 100 times yes – to the synonyms listed above for the word “phobia” as it applies to me and driving.
Most phobias have something to do with being hurt – snakes, heights, bodies of water, they each present a person with some kind of danger. My fear of driving has to do with not wanting to hurt others. In my head, driving makes me the danger.
If I were to seek therapy on the matter, it might come down to a lack of trust or confidence in myself, a fear of not being in control, or my compulsion towards perfection. Whatever the diagnosis, for a long time my own prescription was to just avoid driving.
I didn’t get my license when I was 16, like my twin sister and all our friends did. In fact, I was 20 before I got my license, and only then because my mother-in-law insisted (thank goodness she did!). But even after getting my license, I didn’t drive much, and never on freeways.
While it’s possible to successfully skirt most phobias, having a fear of driving puts a serious crimp in one’s lifestyle. I still can’t believe how patient my husband was during our early married years; he had to help run every errand, get me to work and back, handle the kids’ appointments, anything I couldn’t reasonably manage with public transportation.
I still remember the day I resolved to begin driving more often. Someone needed my help, and because I was too afraid to drive to her, I said no. That afternoon, in my regret, I recalled all the other times I had declined invitations, passed on opportunities to help, or just generally missed out on experiences because I was too afraid to drive. That next week I began forcing myself to get behind the wheel – for short distances at first, and then longer.
Soon after my resolution, our family moved from Oregon to California. I hadn’t been on the freeway in years, and yet I sat with my stomach in my throat as I drove our little Hyundai Excel more than 600 miles down I-5 behind my husband in the UHaul. And you know what? The trip was a breeze. Not that I didn’t want to throw up the entire time, but everything worked out fine.
Small victories. That’s how I conquered my fear of driving. Deciding I wasn’t going to let my life pass me by, and then just tackling it little by little. And storing up those wins to give me courage for bigger challenges.
Like driving my kids to Yellowstone by myself for a family reunion. Or driving through big cities like Houston. Or taking a 6,000+ mile road trip in 2010 across the western states.
I wouldn’t describe myself as comfortable during any of those drives, and I still hate (hate, hate) driving on the freeway or in big cities. But while I’m not comfortable, I’m now confident, and that’s huge for me.
Over the years I’ve also gotten good at putting myself in situations that force me beyond my fear of driving. Last summer at the BlogHer conference in San Jose, I signed up for an experience with Bridgestone to drive on a closed course with a race car driver. We were on wet pavement, testing their DriveGuard tires – in fact, one of my four tires was entirely flat (to show that you can drive up to 50 miles in almost any condition with the DriveGuard).
My partner, Summer from A Mom Less Ordinary, was the first to drive. I sat in the backseat the entire time near tears. I was shaking all over, sure I could not do it. I was ready to skip my turn. But our instructor was so calming and so good at giving instructions, I thought maybe with his help I would be ok.
When it was my time to drive, I surprised myself. I put all my trust in the car, the tires, and my instructor, and really pushed the limits. Poor Summer got thrown around a little in the back seat, but it was a lot of fun! So fun I took TWO turns on the track. From wanting to cry and walk away to successfully completing that track was such a rush. Just one more victory to store up as I continue, day by day, to conquer my fear of driving.
video of my drive with Bridgestone: