Overcoming a fear of driving on the motorway
I consider myself to be a pretty confident person. I don’t tend to shy away from people or places and when life obstacles pop up, I do my best to find a way to bash them out of the way. (It doesn’t always work. But I try.)
I learnt to drive when I was 17. I passed on my third attempt (I managed to drive over a roundabout in my first test – it was a low point) and very quickly I was on my way, tooting around London town in my little old Mini Cooper.
I drove to Soho, down Baker Street, through the city and the parks… I sped through Hertfordshire and Buckinghamshire without a care in the world. The radio would be on, I’d sing at the top of my voice and I’d enjoy the feeling of freedom and independence that only driving your own car can give you. I loved it. I loved driving. And I still love driving.
But. As much as I loved driving, I would always avoid the motorway. No matter what.
I didn’t fully admit to myself what I was doing, but I would just find other ways of getting to places, even if it meant driving for longer. Sometimes hours longer…
The moment of clarity hit me when I realised I was planning my trip to Glastonbury on back streets and A roads… and I was apparently ok with the additional 3 hours it was going to take me to get there… it was clear that something wasn’t right.
I was scared of driving on the motorway. And that turned into being really afraid, to being terrified… and then one day I was driving home from my dad’s and there was a sign for the M1. I was miles away from the M1. I wasn’t going on the M1. But the bright blue motorway sign made me break out into a sweat. I went pale and clammy and my heart started to race… I had to pull over to the side of the road to calm myself down. It was a kind of mild panic attack… and I had no idea why.
Why was I afraid of the motorway? I just couldn’t pin it down. On a purely rational and practical level, yes, there is something unnerving and potentially dangerous about zillions of people speeding along at a crazy pace in the same direction. Yes, I am a safe driver, but there are plenty of people who aren’t. Yes, I might miss my exit, but then I’d just get off at the next…? None of these were the reasons. And I still can’t tell you why I was scared.
But what I do know is that the fear had grown and grown in my head, like an ugly force of evil. It had become so huge, that even the thought of driving on the motorway had my heart pounding and I’d start to sweat.
I found the whole thing extraordinary. I just couldn’t understand it. I’m not afraid of spiders, snakes (unless it wants to eat me) heights, anything! My mum thought it might have been her fault as when we were young she missed her exit and may or may not have freaked out a bit… but I don’t remember that at all.
Either way, there was a moment in time for me, about 3 years ago, where I wasn’t prepared for it to get the better of me any more. I had met and was with the man I knew I wanted to be with forever, I knew we wanted to have children and I wanted to be able to drive them wherever they needed to go, I had a gorgeous Fiat 500 and we were going to the Wilderness Festival. AND I WANTED TO GET US THERE LIKE A NORMAL FUNCTIONING ADULT.
I asked friends and family if they’d come with me on the motorway. They all said yes. And I always cancelled. I was absolutely terrified.
About one month before the festival, I knew I had to do something drastic. And that is when I discovered Driving Therapy. Or, more specifically, I discovered Carmine at www.csmdrivingtherapy.com.
I called him up one morning when I was feeling brave and he explained to me how he uses a combination of life coaching, driving instruction and CBT (Cognitive Behaviour Therapy). He could either work with me over a number of short sessions, or I could book a day session with him and take it from there.
I booked the day session. And I put the phone down. And I felt amazing. For the first time in a very long time, I’d done something about my driving phobia. And that’s exactly what it was – a phobia. I had proper full on driving anxiety, a fear of motorway driving and I had finally made a step towards taking control.
“Driving Phobias are very common. In fact, a lot of people suffer from driving phobia without even knowing. There are many different types of driving phobias. A few include; driving in heavy traffic, driving on motorways, parking in busy areas, driving at night, driving on steep hills, dealing with other road users, dealing with roundabouts or complex junctions. These are just a few examples of driving phobias as driving phobia can manifest itself around any part of the driving experience.” – CSM Drive Therapy
We had some email correspondence before the day and he asked me to think about and write down some short, medium and long term driving goals (i.e. particular routes, junctions or road types) for me to bring along to my session. Which I did.
On the day of the session, I woke up and felt sick with nerves. I looked green. But I picked up my keys, walked out the door and drove to our meeting point, which was near a junction on the M25.
The knew that my day was going to look like this:
10.00am Introduction to Drive Therapy
10.15am Consultation, Coaching & Goal Setting
11.00am Short Assessment Drive & Introduction to Drive Therapy Techniques
12.00pm Break for Lunch (I was most excited about this)
12.30pm Structured Driving Exposure
3.00pm Planning for the future – putting a Driving Plan in place
3.15pm Session Ends
I was pretty certain that this session was going to be the first of a few and I had set myself no prior goals and had no expectations…
As soon as I met Carmine I felt better. He talked me through how the day would work and also explained the spectrum of the people he has worked with. I thought I was a bit of a hopeless case, but after hearing a story of how he worked with one woman who couldn’t even leave her own driveway, I realised that I was not nearly as dramatic a case as I thought I was. Which in itself was extremely reassuring.
We talked about what the problems were and what I wanted to achieve, before we went out driving in the back streets, nice and slowly and where he showed me some techniques that I could use for when driving on the motorway. (Even that word made my heart stop).
We took a lunch break and then all of a sudden, we were going to drive on the motorway. I REPEAT. WE WERE GOING TO DRIVE ON THE MOTORWAY.
Already, just from completing the morning session, I was feeling much more confident about it. I was still very anxious, but not as petrified as I had been even the day before our session.
We drove towards the junction where I was join the M25 and my heart rate began to rise… and then. with Carmine next to me in the passenger seat, he reminded me of the techniques I’d learnt with him that morning… and all of a sudden I was in 5th, then 6th gear and I was off. It was the first time I’d been on the motorway in years and years… and I was ok.
I was gripping the steering wheel tightly and Carmine told me to relax.
I relaxed. I was fine.
We came off the motorway a couple of junctions later (they were very close together) and we went around the roundabout… and then… back on the motorway heading in the opposite direction. And I felt fine. And then again. And again. And again. And again… and then I changed lanes. And then I changed lanes again. And I was FINE.
It was extraordinary. I couldn’t believe it. And as I came off the motorway for the umpteenth time I felt extremely emotional. I was so proud of myself. But more than that, I knew that I’d kicked the overwhelming fear forever.
It wasn’t gone entirely, but I now knew that I could beat it and actually drive on the motorway. And the only way to stay on top of the fear and not let it grow and ferment inside me again, was to keep doing it.
So two weeks later, I drove us to the Wilderness Festival in Oxfordshire.
On two motorways.
And I was fine.
And I booked no further sessions with Carmine.
Now, three years on, I can still get a little niggle… but it’s nothing I can’t handle and I pay no attention to it. The best way to de-niggle the niggle is to jump in the car. The niggle disappears as soon as I join the motorway. It literally vanishes.
I no longer feel anxiety when I think about motorways, nor when I see a motorway sign.
And I can’t wait to drive Isabelle to her first Wilderness Festival in a couple of years.
Because that’s what mums do. They bloody drive on bloody motorways.
p.s. Carmine also offers a free 30 min consultation – so if you know that you’re hindered by a driving anxiety and want to kick it, get in touch here – www.csmdrivetherapy.co.uk
Photos: Life of Yablon