I learned to drive ten years ago. I had my accident ten years ago. I am afraid of driving.
Driving is one of those anxiety-inducing triggers that I must face every single day. I have to drive. I have to take myself to work five days a week. I have to pick Sunshine up from school five days a week. I have to run errands, go to ballet, and take my children to the doctor.
To be a functioning adult in suburbia, I need to drive.
I will always hate it. I will always be afraid of it. But I will always do it.
I know that everyone who battles anxiety must have a few triggers that they cannot avoid. That they must face every day. That they need to overcome in order to exist. I cannot avoid this trigger in the way that I avoid other ones.
Late last week, I was driving to pick up Sunshine from school. Her school is in a complex located just off one of those highways that run through commercial areas. The flow of traffic is steady, broken only by the occasional red light.
I was driving along, listening to Taylor Swift, Sunshine’s favorite artist, thinking about how much I did not like the book I was reading at the time. Maybe I should give that up and find something else. I was driving 40 miles per hour. A car waiting to turn right at the next light turned in front of me. There was plenty of space between our cars. She made a good decision. Without hesitation, the minivan behind her also made the same decision. This time, there was not enough space between us. I braked slightly, but the minivan did not speed up. My car rushed toward its rear bumper. I slammed my brakes, they squealed against the road, I hit my horn, my heart race, and I checked my options.
There was open space in the left lane, so I quickly pulled into it and passed the minivan.
My heart was in my throat when I pulled behind the last car in the parent pickup line, put my car in park, and picked up my phone.
I texted Saint Daddy.
“Driving seems like such an outmoded way to get around. There must be a better way to do it. Someone should get on that.”
I am always afraid that I will be in another accident. My accident was entirely my fault. Although, Saint Daddy did say that he had noticed that my Breeze did not maneuver turns well. He wished he would have warned me. Even if he had, though, I am sure the same thing would have happened. I did not think I was going too fast.
I am not worried about my driving, though. I know that my accident made me a hyper-aware driver. I check my mirrors, I pay attention to my blind spots, I wait my turn. I am not 100% sure if the opposite of an aggressive driver is a passive one. I do not even really know if I would consider myself to be the opposite of an aggressive driver, but I trust myself behind the wheel.
What I hate about driving is not me; it is them.
Driving is unpredictable because I do not know what other drivers might do. I was being perfectly safe and cautious in the right lane. Sunshine’s school was less than a half a mile away, so I would not have gone into the left lane of my own volition in case I had to be aggressive in getting over again. I am not interested in high emotion driving. The minivan, though, is something I could not predict.
I do not know what went on with the driver of the minivan. She made a dangerous choice, but I do not know how much thought went into it. The minivan turned out of a medical complex, the same one where I take my children to their pediatrician. Maybe she had received bad news. Maybe she was distracted and not thinking of the task at hand. There are a hundred maybes for that one driver.
And there are millions of drivers on the road.
I cannot even begin to imagine their maybes. I cannot even begin to fathom their what-ifs.
I hate driving because it is unpredictable. At any time, a white minivan could pull out in front of me. A red SUV could slam on its brakes. A black sedan could swerve into my lane.
I have to be hyper-vigilant, and I feel the weight of that bearing down on me every time I get behind the wheel. I cannot know, and that lack of knowledge threatens to throw me into a hurricane of thoughts I cannot control.
My children ride in the car with me. Recently, I drove Saint Daddy somewhere and dropped him off. I then drove our three children home with me. It was dark and raining. While we were near home, I was not very familiar with how to return to our safe little nest. Sunshine was telling me all about My Little Pony. Grumpy and Sleepy were taking turns shouting out nonsense and giggling. I missed a turn, and I tensed up.
It was early fall. 70°. And my brain told me to watch for black ice.
What if you’re in an accident with your babies in the car? What if you destroy part of them like you destroyed part of you? What if you give them scars to carry? What if you’re the problem?
The thought was absurd. I knew it at the time. “There’s not going to be black ice right now. What’s wrong with you?”
But how do you know?
I fought against my anxiety as I “uh-huh”-ed everything Sunshine said about Princess Celestia and Princess Cadence and their cutie marks. I told my anxiety about science as I found my way unto the bypass, a road that meant familiarity and increased speeds.
In the rain? You’re going to crash!
It meant more people around if there was a problem but also more headlights coming the other way.
Those bright lights are blinding, aren’t they? How are they even legal? You’re never going to see the turns in the road. You’re going to miss your exit. Look at that big puddle!
I hydroplaned a little bit. I always remember what Saint Daddy told me to do when that happens. I gripped the wheel, I let off the gas, I avoided my brake, and I felt traction come back under my wheels. Grumpy called for me “MA-MA!” Sleepy yelled, “DAD!” Sunshine kept prattling about the ponies.
I managed to make it to our exit and down the steep hill that led to home.
Sunshine began asking me about the reflective plastic in the middle of the road, and I explained to her that they helped drivers know where their lane ended to help everyone feel safe.
I wanted to make sure that Sunshine felt that safety, even though I rarely do in the car. Having the responsibility of three tiny souls while I drive only adds to that lack of security.
It is easier for me as a passenger. I can read or play on my phone and ignore the parts of being in a car that make me feel tension.
But I have to drive. I will always have to drive. It is a fact of my life that I cannot avoid.
I had thought that, by now, ten years later, a lot of my fears related to driving would have begun to disappear, but they have not. I am sure that is because of the unpredictable nature of my fellow drivers. I will never be able to control that variable.
So what can I do?
I make sure my babies are as safe as possible. The law says to rearface them until they are two, but science says to keep them that way until as close to four as possible. So that is what we do. Sunshine was three months shy of her fourth birthday when we switched her. Her brothers are still riding in the convertible carseats we strapped them into when we left the hospital with them right after birth. The law says to use a five point harness until four, but science says to keep them harnessed as long as possible. At the rate she is growing, Sunshine may fit in her convertible carseat until she is eight and she will be harnessed until she grows out of it. Grumpy and Sleepy will get the same seat Sunshine has when they are ready for an upgrade. Safety is worth inconvenience. Safety is worth the cost of a seat that will last longer. Safety protects my babies if something horrible does happen because of those variables that I cannot control.
For this reason, safety helps me handle my car anxiety.
I was not wearing my seatbelt when I crashed my car. Because of that, I lived and I walk. But I always wear it now.
Safety measures bring me traces of sanity when I feel powerless to overcome my thoughts.
There was no chance of black ice on that night, but my brain often tells me the impossible might be true.
I will drive, and I will be afraid. But at least I know some things that will help. And sometimes, that is the best I can hope for.