Warning- before I start this post I didn’t want to write this to sound like an “attention seeker”, I simply have a story that I want to share with anybody who wants to listen. SO get your cuppa and your tissues ready because we are about to get deep.
SO..let’s start from the start.
It all started exactly a year ago today as I post this, on this day in 2017 my parents bought me a car for my 21st birthday (which wasn’t until late June but I was impatient like that), after passing my test nearly 4 years previously. The day of my driving tests haunts me, to be honest, it couldn’t have been worse; you always hear stories of people who have the examiners who examine your examiners in the car… well that was me but 17 year old me, who had scraped all of my money I could earn during sixth form for driving lessons, had passed. 4 years later I still hadn’t gotten back in the driving seat. I got in the car and I couldn’t remember anything, I constantly stalled and barely knew how to turn my lights on but still, I was proud. Being at university I found living sans-car hard, the monthly visit home took 3 hours by train, I relied on taxis to get around my town and the idea of getting to and from a placement in the following year was looming. Having my new present was amazing and I felt like a newly independent woman.
Unfortunately, a few weeks after starting up my driving life, I was involved in a pretty minor accident, I’m not comfortable going into too much detail however it was both parties fault and ultimately nobody, except my ego, was hurt. That’s when the problem began. I suffered from flashbacks of the event, the guilt keeping me awake most nights. The thought of getting back in the car, particularly alone, made me feel sick. I was afraid to talk about it with anybody out of embarrassment, guilt and mostly the fact that I didn’t want people to think I was a bad driver. People never understood why I couldn’t just drive somewhere, like to pick people up or to go for dinner because in my head I meticulously planned any alternative method of getting there.
During term time I had issues in my university house and eventually moved out, I stayed in rented halls over summer and continued to work at my part-time job. I spent a summer facing an internal war of anxiety vs practicality, forcing myself to drive when I could. I began fixating on stupid rules that unless I followed I would surely get into a crash, this included only being able to drive with sunglasses on, only being able to wear a particular pair of trainers to drive and the worst was having to drive without music on. I missed interviews for placements because I couldn’t drive there and ended up taking the train for most of my travels as I couldn’t bring myself to overcome the irrational thoughts that outweighed all of the rational thoughts in my head.
Eventually, the sleepless nights got me, I visited my GP, who I have to admit wasn’t overly helpful, who prescribed me sleeping tablets and gave me a leaflet to self-refer to a 2-year long waiting list for CBT. I tried the tablets a few times but funny enough sleeping tablets give you long-lasting drowsiness meaning I wasn’t able to drive, clearly not very helpful. Next, I tried the university wellbeing and counselling service and thankfully, as I was there over summer and most students had gone home, they fitted me in with a counsellor in good time.
In my first session I explained everything to her; about the crash, about how before every drive I would cry, shake and almost vomit. During my sessions, my counsellor and I spoke about things I had never said out loud, feelings I didn’t know existed. I came out of each session in floods of tears but for a reason, I couldn’t quite put my finger on. In time I came to realise driving wasn’t the issue, a combination of all the shit (pardon my french) I had to deal with during my problems within my university house, as well as things from my past has effected my self-belief and made me doubt myself, and the crash from before must have been the cherry on top for a recipe of self-guilt and anxiousness. She helped me block out flashbacks – yes I was hypnotised – and taught me methods of relaxation including mindfulness to help connect my rational thought process back to my brain as clearly that has taken a backseat.
My biggest memory of that summer is the day I had my interview for my current placement. It was the only interview I had been offered and was pretty much my last chance- no pressure, right? I remember scrutinising the route to the hospital in which I was interviewed on google maps, following it road by road so nothing could surprise me, but this didn’t stop me from spending all night imagining awful things and ultimately working myself up into a frenzy. I found myself at 6am vomiting in the toilet and telling my family I would have to cancel the interview. Some part of me must have known how stupid that was because I got up and did the most me thing I could in that situation… I made myself a cuppa and put on a face of makeup, they say fake it to you make it. I held my breathe and I got in the car and drove to the interview, even giving another candiatate a lift. Was it a bad journey? No. Did antyhing bad happen? No, of course not.
Fortunately for me, I must have done something right and that same day I was offered the placement in the department I wanted. I continued going to as many counselling sessions as time allowed (in such a busy university you are only allocated a certain amount of sessions) up until it was time for me to start my year-long placement. Now to present Tamsin, Hi. So I’ve driven every single day give or take to my placement, the “big scary A roads” that filled me with pictures of my own death before are my daily commute, I don’t wear sunglasses and I haven’t cried whilst driving for about 2 months, which to me is a damn good improvement- do you know how hard it is to drive whilst you’re crying? I blast The greatest Showman track and sing along at the top of my lungs and can say I genuinely enjoy my trip to work each day minus having to sit in traffic. I still have bad days if I see car crashes in the news etc, and following the recent bad weather which caused me to get stuck halfway up a hill, I can say I’m still not prepared for every event possible but I’m OK with it, I’ve admittedly accepted lifts when I could have driven a few times but in general I am fairly happy to drive. For those who know me, not everybody was/is aware of the extent of my “problems” as I have called them – (god forbid if I was too self -diagnose) but for those who have been there, I appreciate it. Anybody that knows me would say I am far from an anxious person, I am a social extrovert who thrives around other people (if I do say so myself), definitely not your stereotypical “anxious person” but mental health is such a complex thing and it’s so easy to lose yourself in a completely different irrational world no matter what personality you are.
I have kept mental notes of all the things I have achieved in the past 365 days, driving myself home for Christmas in my own car was a huge achievement for me and something I couldn’t see me doing not so long ago. As I read back and correct my many spelling mistakes in this post I feel like crying, not out of sadness or embarrassment but happy in the fact that I’ve come this far and knowing that I have gained back the independence I almost gave up on.
For those who do suffer from anxiety out there, whether it be social or localised or PTSD related, get the help you need, speak the things you were afraid to say out loud because it does help.