Did you know that there’s a word for the fear of driving? It’s called vehophobia. Turns out that it’s not a particularly rare fear.
In an earlier post, I wrote that my paramedic friend helped me plot a route to a nearby gun club so that I could continue to shoot skeet. You can read it here: https://lindabittle.com/of-good-men-and-gunsmoke/
As I gained confidence driving 11 miles on dirt roads every Tuesday evening and then home afterward, I started to think that I might be able to do more. But I’d have to find a reason that was stronger than my fear. And I never got behind the wheel to drive without feeling varying levels of anxiety, sometimes even full blown panic attacks.
Just today, someone mentioned that I might suffer from a form of post traumatic stress disorder (PSTD), and that may be a factor. There were certainly near misses and scary car rides with drunken stepfathers at the wheel.
Once, going over a mountain pass in Colorado, Mom wisely steered into the mountain rather than slide off the side when she hit ice. I had a goose-egg on my forehead. But people in the car that stopped to see if we were OK died in a multi car accident a little further on. That might be the first time that I realized that the worst thing I could imagine could become the thing that saved me.
“You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.”– Eleanor Roosevelt
I hadn’t even gotten my driver’s license until I turned 20. The written test was easy, and I nailed it. It was parallel parking on a hill that caused me to fail. I got the gears stuck in neutral when the officer told me to go on. Apparently that’s not cause for the state to issue a chauffeur. It was OK with me that I didn’t pass, but my husband was tired of taking me to the store and the laundromat, so I did practice and passed the test on my second try.
The Missouri town that I lived in was the county seat, but the population was less than six thousand people. We had one stop light. It terrified me! I would go blocks out of the way to avoid it. And I never made a left hand turn there.
One day, after the divorce, I was too tired to plot a route that avoided the light. I needed to be somewhere, and the fastest way was to make a left hand turn at the stoplight. And I did it. It wasn’t easy, and I thought that my heart would burst from fear, but I did it!
Working Up To The Next Step
It really is true that facing your fears does help conquer them. However, there are a couple of other factors in play aside from any residual PTSD from childhood traumas.
A big factor is that I’ve had migraines since middle school. Bright lights and flashing lights are primary triggers for me. I’ve had more migraines in the car due to sunlight bouncing off of chrome and glass than almost anywhere else. Losing a large part of my vision when the aura hits makes driving at speed especially scary. Night driving into oncoming headlights leaves me disoriented – also a scary thing, and that can trigger a migraine.
Another difficulty is that I seem to lack the coordination or spatial awareness that allows a good driver to see and react to danger in time to avoid it. Merging is a mystery. How do people make that work? How does one judge one’s own speed and the speed of all the other vehicles in order to slide in without causing a massive accident? I have trouble judging a parking space properly. Put all the cars in motion and, well, I’d just rather be a passenger than the driver.
Still, it’s impractical to be an absolute non-driver. I decided to find something important enough to me to stretch my idea of what I was capable of doing. And I had an idea of what that might be. In my next post, I’ll tell you about a couple of outdoor organizations that helped me overcome a big barrier to living an adventurous life.