Learn to Drive with anxiety

Hey I’m Jessica 33, mum to 4 boys, and a house wife. I first started learning to drive in a manual at 20, but due to anxiety I gave up.

Now at 33 I started again. With 4 children, and 2 being autistic, I knew that I needed this, and always dreamed to drive but with no self belief that I could do it. I made goals: renew provisional, find an instructor, and book an automatic lesson. It’s not as scary if you break it down!

I decided automatic as it allows me to concentrate more on the road etc., and not have extra anxiety of stalling dangerously in the middle of a busy road etc. I felt more relaxed about it; my main aim was to learn to drive and have a licence that I need for my children and myself.

From my first lesson up to the eighth lesson,  I was so nervous to get in the car,  but after 5 minutes I started to relax, and off I went. I found a pure essential lavender oil mixed roll on from Amazon for pressure points for £5 and I thought anything’s worth a go. Well, I couldn’t believe it worked, but I was so relaxed, so every lesson I would put it on my temples, back of neck, wrists and breathe, and had self belief that I was in control and I can do this.

The dreaded bay park & dual carriageways!                                                                                                                                   Then came bay parking and slip roads, which were my biggest fears ????  I found reverse bay parking easier, but I really struggled with forward bay. Graham, my driving instructor,  would show me points on the car of when you would need to turn, and once parked, secure the car and then open the door to check if in bay, and just keep practicing.  My advice is to not focus on your mistakes, but go away and think what you did well,  or what you learnt from the mistake, not the mistake itself.

The slip roads are very scary;  you are going so fast, looking for a gap, checking your mirrors, etc., and the first time I flew off the slip road, I was nearly sick. I think it was a mixture of anxiety and the pressure to find a gap, but once on the dual carriageway, I composed myself thinking, ‘well, I can’t be sick over the car, I cant stop, and I cant pull over, so I need to just be safe.’  Once composed, I explained to Graham how I felt about the slip roads so for a 2 hour lesson we went up and down slip roads nearly the whole time, and after five times, I felt more confident and comfortable each time. I found trying to match or increase my speed to the other cars on the dual carriageway meant that I managed to secure my safe gap to enter. By planning ahead,  and taking note of the cars coming down the carriageway, getting my speed up and indicating early then I could start to  judge the other cars. I then found that the the motion sickness and big fear soon went away, as I now understand the theory and idea of a slip road and dual carriageway.

Test Preparation… and the test itself                                                                                                                                                    So, test days! Well, they were cancelled due to lockdowns and I felt so sad.  I had planned, and got the courage up to do my theory and practical to have it taken away from me, and I felt defeated, but eventually I got to rebook and had something to look forward to again.

I managed to do my theory and had a long wait for my practical, so I bought a cancellation app for £17. My date was November but then it was rearranged for February, but I managed to get a cancellation for 16th December,  and I thought ‘just book it!’,  so I did.

Well,  after that came the self doubt again. I watched mock tests on YouTube each day to mentally prepare for what a test day would be like, went over all the show me tell me questions so I felt in control and prepared.  I kept telling my self to just drive like my boys or my Nan is in the car;  the examiner just wants to feel safe.

Test day came round so quickly,  and I hadn’t told anyone but my partner. I prepared myself by getting up earlier to get ready, have a banana and put on  my lavender roll on oil, and I had the boys to get ready for school. Graham picked me up at 8am for my 9.10am test and we had a little drive around, practiced my dreaded forward bay park, and headed to test centre. The examiners started coming out calling our names, and I had a man called Jon. He was very nice; we did paperwork, and he explained about the sat nav and we set off. In my head,  I said to myself, ‘he just wants to feel safe, my boys are in the back of car.’  I had pull up on the right, sound the horn, and explain how I would check all my lights are working. During my test I had two slip roads, but I just planned ahead and concentrated. We then arrived back at the test centre and examiner said, ‘thank you, please get out and I’ll come and speak to you in a minute’.  I thought oh no, with a smiley, but worried, Graham asking me how I felt it went. Nothing can explain how happy but astonished and relieved I felt when Jon came over and said, ‘I’m pleased to tell you that you have passed and only incurred just one driver fault’.  My dream had come true,  I could drive! Graham drove me home, and then I started telling all my friends and family that I had had a test and passed

I really feel self belief, preparation, knowing how test day would be, and thinking of what I was taught and pretending my boys and Nan were in car is what made me feel so relaxed, and Jon the examiner was very relaxed and kind. Don’t be afraid to ask questions; when he asked me to pull up on left I asked if driveways mattered, and  I also asked should I just listen to the sat nav or look at it, and he answered my questions politely and happily.

So, now I can drive… right?                                                                                                                                                                      So moving on, I’ve passed 1st time with just one driver fault, so I can drive right?   Oh my goodness, next came a whole whirlwind of emotions that nothing had prepared me for!  I had no one to check what I was doing was right, I had my 4 boys in the car and I was alone in my decision making, and I was driving my own car,  different to my instructors!

The anxiety came back, but different. I felt responsible for myself, other drivers, and I started over thinking what could go wrong. I explained to my children how they must behave in the car,  and why,  and the dangers of misbehaving and being distracting.  I sat in my car for 30 mins double checking all controls, getting comfortable. So,  with my lavender oil back on, a banana eaten, radio quiet but as a background noise, I started my first local 10 minute journey to school. It was fine until I got to the packed, busy carpark! We aren’t taught how to park side by side in a busy small carpark and I started to feel emotional searching for a space. I drove to another carpark slightly less busy and parked up. I felt relief; the first hurdle was done!

I have been passed for 3.5 weeks now, and have kept all my journeys quite local; my longest drive has been 45 minutes. Staying local and short journeys has allowed me to build up my confidence again in my own car and on the roads, practice my parking in busy carparks, and being responsible for myself and my boys. I got an RAC package, which means I’m less anxious thinking about the car having a problem when I’m out alone with the kids, as I know I have someone to call for help wherever I am.

We are still learning!!                                                                                                                                                                               This is what I tell myself before every journey. I will encounter new situations, new problems so I am still learning, and will be for probably the next year or two. I didn’t have many lessons in the rain, and it has done nothing but rain since I passed! My main aim of each outing is to keep everything safe, and by using this positive attitude and realistic way of thinking is what has helped me all the way through I think.

When you pass it could be easy to get complacent, and you need to remember to drive like you were taught, even double check mirrors etc.,  as no one else is there to do it for you now; it is your job to keep yourself and others safe, stick to the speed limits as they are there for a reason,  and I don’t want to lose my licence that I worked so hard for and spent a fortune to get.

So remember, take your time, think what you are worried about and try to rationalise it into stages, we all learn differently. Stay local at first and go out little but often, be comfortable and confident in your car. With children, maybe explain how they need to behave a certain way and why. This has helped my boys to understand why I need to concentrate, and they have been very good especially as they are aged 4, 6, 9 and 14!  Don’t rush if other drivers put you under pressure  as that makes a situation dangerous. Just think what you are doing, and why. Everyone was a learner at one point and only with experience of every situation will we know how to handle every situation. Even though I’ve passed, I am still learning, but I’m just at a safe level to learn alone now.  Don’t give up, you can do it, and  find what works for you.

Enjoy it  x

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