Recovering Agoraphobic learns to drive

Sounds like the start of a comedy skit?
Ha bloody Ha

Lets be clear this is massive simplification of my own experiences not a psych study..
Firstly, since I currently leave the house most days of the week and work in a people facing job I would say I mostly have the agoraphobia and social phobia under control but, like all the clichés about the lifelong struggles of addicts, every time I step out the door I have to battle the fear. Some days I can’t fight it and the more often I do put the effort into going out the more I need time to recover from that effort.
Secondly, driving fills me with all kinds of dread related to my perfectionism and pressure from my family which rather complicate my progress.

Nonetheless.. when panic is induced by the swirling movements of people and the way crowds trap you and by being in unfamiliar places there is something particularly odd about forcing yourself out to a position where judging group reactions and making quick decisions in unfamiliar settings are what keep you alive.
When driving  there is an illusion of isolation and protection of the car which is contrasted with the reliance on the behaviour of other road users and their judgements. As I manoeuvre the vehicle I am excruciatingly aware that other people are basing their actions and reactions on what I do, judging me in a very real sense – to other drivers I am not an individual, I am a driver already marked out as to be cautious of by the driving-school board on the top of the car.
The number of things to remember, to pay attention to, and to deal with seem to turn into a blur as I struggle to contain my anxiety, exacerbated as it is by the sheer mass of stimuli. Simply breathing and not tensing all of my muscles become tasks in their own right. My instructor commented recently on how long it seems to take me to settle into managing simple sequences of action such as gear-changing and I wanted to tell her that its because I am fighting the tears and waves of panic at every new scenario, at every moment that she needs to correct me, wanted to but couldn’t find the words.

It wasn’t this hard before. When I first learnt to drive at 18, I was deeply depressed but oddly hopeful about starting a new life at university, I didn’t know that those unexpected breakdowns were called panic attacks and I’d never actually failed to walk outside my own door. I didn’t think I would be good at driving but nor did I think the whole world would think me a failure for not learning it then and there. I failed my test (mostly by being hungover and a bit nervous) and didn’t see the point in trying again in the middle of a town, no point worrying about that kind of thing – then I didn’t go out and people who don’t go out don’t need to drive and then I was busy and broke and struggling academics don’t think about driving. But the years crept by and the depression didn’t lift and the anxiety got worse and I still know that its a skill I need, so now I try to drive and it is new and harder.

Of course – maybe I just imagine that this is different for me. Adrenaline can help your reactions and surely everyone is made nervous by the power of life and death that a speeding hunk of metal puts at their fingertips – the ability to kill someone with simple inattention, the ease with which you could kill yourself…
But that doesn’t mean I’m not having to fight myself every step of the way

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