I remember vividly how it felt after my car accident when I was finally cleared to drive. I got in my new car, turned the key in the ignition, and shook violently with fear. There was no choice but to drive on busy roadways. I was terrified, but drove myself to my friend’s house.
Since then I’ve developed a bunch of very avoidant coping tools to manage my new and very persistent fears around driving. I avoid highways if it’s possible at all-even if it takes twice as long. I wear sunglasses against the glare of the headlights, sometimes even when it’s night. I used to ride a motorcycle. I used to be assertive and confident driving. I haven’t been like that in a while. I have this trick for when the car behind me is following too close; I stomp the brake enough to make sure they’re as frightened as I am–and then I crush the accelerator so they won’t actually rear-end me.
The first time I went to Kevin’s* place we were expecting hurricane Florence. It was dusk and my eyes were tired. We had to drive on the highway. He asked if I’d feel more comfortable leaving my car somewhere safe and having him drive, so that’s what we did. As the oncoming headlights began to overwhelm me, I laid my head against his arm and closed my eyes. A few days later when we went back for my car, it was drizzling–like it had been the day I was rear-ended. I was scared. He asked if I’d feel more comfortable if he drove behind me so I knew nobody would hit me. That trip changed me. Sure, I was anxious and frightened behind the wheel. Didn’t want to change lanes. Nervous about what other drivers were doing. But then there in my rearview mirror, Kevin* seemed to know exactly how far back I needed him to be. When I had to change lanes I used my turn signal, braced myself, and then glanced in the rearview to see him move over and hold the space for me. Suddenly the dreaded moment was easy and comfortable; I breathed a sigh of relief.
I think of that sometimes when I’m driving, and I’m taking highway routes a lot more these days. I still don’t drive anything like I used to–I’m still scared and it’s still hard for me. But I’m not shaking lately as I signal the occasional lane change. Maybe I’ve internalized the beginning of possibility that everything might be all right.
*name has been changed