IF YOU ALWAYS AVOID SITUATIONS THAT SCARE YOU, YOU MIGHT STOP DOING THINGS YOU WANT OR NEED TO DO. YOU WON’T BE ABLE TO TEST OUT WHETHER THE SITUATION IS ALWAYS AS BAD AS YOU EXPECT, SO YOU MISS THE CHANCE TO WORK OUT HOW TO MANAGE YOUR FEARS AND REDUCE YOUR ANXIETY. ANXIETY PROBLEMS TEND TO INCREASE IF YOU GET INTO THIS PATTERN. EXPOSING YOURSELF TO YOUR FEARS CAN BE AN EFFECTIVE WAY OF OVERCOMING THIS ANXIETY.
I found it extremely hard as a passenger to begin with. I don’t really remember my very first time back on the road (some days in my earlier recovery are a real blur). I didn’t have much choice though. I was being transferred from the John Radcliffe hospital to one closer to home via ambulance. I was TERRIFIED. I hated hospital and I made it known! It was less than 48hours? ’til I was discharged from the RBH. A dreaded car journey home this time. I remember gripping on, so tight I had imprints on my hand, to the door handle the entire way home. It was like this every journey for a while. If I had had it my way, I’d never get in a car again. But with my injuries it would have made life basically impossible and I didn’t want to be a prisoner. Hospital was bad enough! Nothing wrong with a bit of exposure therapy anyway..
Sure enough, I became more relaxed as a passenger although the exposure was also beginning to set off some pretty horrible visions/flashbacks/nightmares. It got so bad it would make me sick or cause me to have panic attacks. As far as I was concerned, I was never driving myself again! How was I going to get rid of these horrible thoughts and feelings?
I had formed a very good relationship with my driving instructor and she came to visit me one day. We talked lots.. I think we even cried?! She told me that when I wanted to get back in the car she would be there no matter what. I worked SO incredibly hard for my pass (I was in an accident as a passenger before I got my license and this made me avoid learning ’til I turned 21 (I got money for my birthday for lessons). My anxiety caused me to be a bit of a nightmare to teach!), she wanted to see me back on the road. I took it with a pinch of salt. In my head there was NO WAY I was getting back in the drivers seat.
10 months after my accident I couldn’t take it anymore (the thoughts/flashbacks/nightmares/insomnia etc). I somehow came to the conclusion that to make it stop I was going to have to quit avoiding, feel the fear and do it anyway! Yep, that’s right, drive a car. I messaged my instructor and we arranged a day and time; 3:30, 4 October 2017. That evening was surreal! From what I can remember, it took me around 45mins to turn the car on. Foot on the gas pedal, I immediately pulled over to stop! Trying not to let fear take over, I took a few deep breaths and started again. I managed to drive us from my work back home with a little detour to the petrol station on the way. We practised near enough daily (I’m super lucky, my instructor lives just around the corner from me and was kind enough to let me drive to work every morning). After 6 months I got back in my own car. It’s been bloody hard work. I will never forget that day. I turned the engine on and moved about an inch before immediately switching the car back off! I spent some time breathing before starting again. That was it, I was off around the block! I think I was in a bit of shock after. About 5 minutes after my spin around the block I burst into tears and breathing became tricky. My mum was SO proud 😀 she held me tight and told me so, reassuring me that I was okay and I did it. I was okay and I did it!
I still needed/ need to build my confidence back up. I found that I was developing lots of “safety behaviours”
No children in the car, avoiding areas by the accident No nighttime/ driving in the fog Avoiding motorways Only driving short distances Driving in convey to work Leaving early to avoid traffic Listening to only the ‘Greatest Showman” soundtrack in the car 5 months later, Sweetner is the new favourite Driving with the windows open to avoid windows steaming up and vision being affected
Overtime, I have managed to cross some of these behaviours off my list. There are some I still need to work on and there are some that I may never stop doing…. but that’s okay!
YOUR ONLY LIMIT IS YOU.