Mental Health Awareness Month, or: Why I Don’t Drive (Yet)

Hey! Did you know it’s Mental Health Month? It’s a subject that’s near and dear to my heart, for various reasons- the biggest of which is my own anxiety. With the AHCA looming over all our heads like the impending clap of doom it is, it’s more important now than ever that people who live with mental health problems speak out and tell our stories.
Like I mentioned earlier, I have anxiety. It ranges from not that bad to pretty fucking bad to back to being not that bad again, usually within the space of a twenty-four hour period. I’m on medication for it, but that doesn’t really stop the occasional panic attack from ruining my day. It’s kind of terrible, because there’s really violent crying jags and this fear that I’m going to die for no explainable reason. The worst part is, my anxiety has stopped me from doing a lot of things I want to do- mainly, get my driver’s license.
You see, I’m 26 years old and can’t drive. I’ve never had my license, though everyone in my family and several friends have tried to teach me. I’ve been to driver’s ed (the instructor sat on a towel the entire time I drove and panicked every time I turned the wheel). I’ve even actually driven before, on the expressway (we almost died). It’s gotten to the point where at every family event someone pops the question: so, you driving yet? My grandma asks me in this really concerned tone over the telephone if I plan to start driving anytime soon. My answer is, inevitably, I’m working on it.
I’m not lying when I say I’m working on it, because, technically, I am. My poor boyfriend has been subjected to five years of driving me literally everywhere, and sometimes I feel worse than usual about this. I force myself to go out and drive, and it usually ends horribly. My one attempt at the driving test resulted in my harried instructor having to inform my long-suffering boyfriend that I had done “not well” while I sat in the car I’d nearly crashed having a laughing fit. This is not the worst thing that has happened.
The very first time I drove, at 15 years old, my dad and I circled the parking lot of a local high school in my grandpa’s borrowed car. We lapped around once maybe before it all went to hell. I pulled up a hill and into some grass, put the car in reverse, and stepped on the gas. We flew backwards down the hill, through a fence, and hit a telephone pole. I screamed “FUCK” as loud as I could. My dad said nothing. He said nothing all the way home. When we got home and he told my mom, she didn’t believe him. She did believe him when he went back to pick up the fender later that evening. Though this by far did almost more than anything to kickstart my terror, it was not by far the worst thing that happened.
Ooooh no. Not at all. The worst thing that happened was the time I hit a guy with the car.
We lived in a scenic, overpriced part of Ohio that featured a lovely, winding bike trail that crossed the street that led out of our apartment complex. It was a difficult turn in the best of circumstances, as the road itself intersected with another road that people sped around like maniacs. Once you sped through this hurdle, you were forced to slam on the breaks immediately to make way for whatever fitness brigade was parading through at .5 miles an hour. So, one day, during yet another bout of guilt-induced driving, I set out to go to work. I cleared the initial turn okay, then came to a stop at the bike path. A biker arrived at the same time as me. I waved at him to go. He waved at me “thank you.”
I thought he was waving at me to go.
So I went.
So did he.
If I had just hit him, it wouldn’t have been that bad. Not that it wasn’t already goddamned awful, but it would have been…you know, okay. I was only going about 5 miles an hour, and so I just sort of tapped him.
I freaked out. My brain just sort of shorted out momentarily. Much like that time I’d panicked and sent us flying down a hill and through a fence, my anxiety took over, and I proceeded to step on the gas again.
It’s funny now. No, really, it is. I have two of the most important things to help me deal with this: time and distance. The biker was okay, thank the dear sweet whatever higher power may or may not be up there; I have no idea what would have happened if he’d chosen to be a dick or if I’d actually managed to hurt him. And, more importantly, I have actually come away learning one of those trite sitcom life lessons: whatever horrible, terrible thing I think is going to happen, there will be life on the other side of it. It may hurt, it may not necessarily be good. This story took place over two years ago, and I to this day do not have my driver’s license. I’m not proud of this. I have been practicing, however. I still have anxiety attacks, and my poor saint of boyfriend still has to drive me everywhere. But you know what? Sometimes, I look back, and I laugh. That right there is one less thing I have to be afraid of.


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