I’ve been struggling with anxiety. I hit rock bottom during a panic attack that occurred whilst I was driving in my car. Since then I’ve driven as normal, even on the motorway again and have had waves of small panic but always managed to control it, breathe through it and continue on my way. I was proud of myself; I’d got my anxiety levels down. It was still there bubbling away under the surface most mornings, but during the day I was remaining focused, in the moment and confident that I had a hold on it.
Last night, I relapsed. I was driving my partner to a show we were looking forward to see in Manchester. It was a nightmare journey. Rush hour traffic, driving rain, no lights on the carriageway and it took us three hours to get there. I took the first half with no problems at all; if I’m honest, I didn’t even think about the terrifying episode three weeks ago where I’d had to be rescued from the middle of nowhere after nearly passing out in my car. We saw the show – shocked when it was only an hour long and not as good as we were hoping and headed back to the car with the dread that it was a long way home, on a weeknight. It was a silly thing to do really, but it was something booked a long time ago and I thought it would be fun. This was enough to set off my anxiety. I felt stressed, frustrated, upset that we hadn’t had the great time I’d planned in my head. I got back in the car ready to take the first half of the journey.
Conditions were the same. It was dark, busy and the imposing lorries were switching lanes and indicating late as they swerved into the lanes.
That’s when it jogged my memory of that night; it was all it took.
I felt ‘unreal’, like I wasn’t really in my body anymore and my senses were numbed. I recognised the signs immediately but not wanting to scare my partner, I wound down the window and lent forward in my seat hoping I could breathe through it. It was worse knowing he was in the car with me. He was chatting away oblivious whilst the beads of sweat were running down my back and my hands tingled. I kept stretching my neck and moving my head just to prove to myself that I could; I was still there and in control. This was when the traffic crawled to a stop and we realised they were closing the motorway. We didn’t know another way home and from here the trembling began. My partner had noticed by this point and shouted at me to get a hold of myself. I was internally telling myself the same thing. ‘You have our lives in your hands!’ he said as I was breathing, breathing, breathing, wishing I wasn’t this pathetic and I could drive like a normal person…like I had been doing for 8 years without any problem at all. Luckily, as we were stationary we were able to make the decision to switch places and he took over the driving.
I felt awful. He drives an hour each way for work and he was having to take over yet more driving because I couldn’t get a grip on myself. Once in the passenger seat, I burst into tears, feeling ashamed and sorry for myself. My partner took my hand and told me it was okay – he apologised for getting angry and explained that he was just scared for me and us. We agreed that I work on my anxiety again and try meditation each night. I’m going to get stronger, again. We’re going to do small practice motorway drives in a few weeks when I feel strong enough because I refuse to let this become a phobia. I read an article this morning about how fears can become phobias if you actively avoid that thing. It grows and grows in your mind until you convince yourself you can’t do it. I can, though. Before 3 weeks ago I’d driven thousands of miles up and down motorways without a care in the world. I am not scared.
I just have to accept, that right now, my nerves aren’t great. That doesn’t mean it’ll be this way forever. I wouldn’t get a cold and freak out that I’ll never recover – so why should I do the same about the anxiety? Just like with any illness. Rest, rejuvenate, recover.