Auntie SparkNotes: I'm Terrified of Driving
Dear Auntie Sparknotes,
I am an 18-year-old high school graduate and I don’t know how to drive. In fact, I'm TERRIFIED of driving. And this is affecting my life more than I thought it would.
I took driver's ed last winter, and I discovered that I am terrified of driving. So, I started to ignore it and never got my license. I've never been someone who’s struggled with anxiety before, but driving has flipped a switch in my head. Not only do I get anxious driving, I now get anxious being in a car at all. I've never been that way before, but it seems like now I've fallen down the anxiety rabbit hole. I get anxious all the time now.
Now that I have graduated and decided to take a year off before school, my dad is really on me about driving because I need to get a job. I don’t blame him, I just wish he understood why I don’t want to drive. He thinks it's because I'm lazy, even though I've tried to explain how anxious I get. I spend the majority of my time in my room alone, freaking myself out because I feel like I'm a failure. All of my friends either have jobs or go to school, so I tend to not talk to them because they remind me of how I'm not doing anything with my life. This isolation has put me in a dark place. And I know that all of this can be fixed if I could just get over my fear of driving. So my question is this; How do I get over my fear of driving?
Well, here's the good news, kiddo: You don't have to.
Because hoo boy, is driving the least of your worries right now.
...Which is the bad news, of course. And while you danced around this quite a lot in your letter, I think it's worth spelling out explicitly: the fear of driving might be a particularly fruitful branch on the gnarly twisted tree of your anxiety, but it's the tree itself that's the problem, y'know? You're having a mental health crisis, sweet pea; driving just happens to be the first place it started expressing itself. And even if you finagled it so that you could spend more or less the rest of your life never getting into a car again — by moving to New York City, for instance, or maybe joining the Dothraki hordes — I can virtually guarantee you that it would not solve your problem; it would just force it to take a new form and find a new outlet.
That's why the best advice I can give you is to head to a doctor, explain what you're going through, and ask to be screened for anxiety. It's a big hurdle to clear, I know, especially when your natural inclination is to withdraw (which may well be a symptom in and of itself, since nothing drives a person indoors and into isolation quite like mental illness.) But it's a step I can't urge you to take strongly enough, ideally as soon as possible, because getting out of a hole like this is going to take time and work — and possibly medication and therapy, depending on your individual case.
So do that, okay? Make it your priority. You're in a place right now where you want to change your life, so let that desire propel you out the door and onto a bus, or into an Uber, or maybe into an honest conversation with your parents about how seriously you're struggling after which you ask them for a ride to the doctor's office — or if nothing else, let it propel you to pick up the phone and call the NAMI helpline (800-950-NAMI), so that you can discuss your feelings and your options with someone who's trained to help. Just realize that right now, getting some help is far more important than getting behind the wheel. And considering the challenge ahead of you, it makes sense to save your energy for the stuff you can't get another person to do for you. I wish you lots of luck — and eventually, lots of road trips. But one step at a time, okay? Okay.
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