Tuesday, 21 May 2013

How to overcome the fear of driving

How to overcome the fear of driving

I haven't written about my fear of driving for a long time. When you have a fear so deeply rooted it can be difficult to find the words to explain how you feel about it, why you haven't driven for ages. What happened the last time you were at the wheel while going through a good driving phase that stopped you driving again.

For me the last time was a broken iPhone at the end of a long week when husband was away at a conference abroad. It was a Friday, I never leave the phone in my pocket outside of the house but I was tired from the long week alone with toddler and work. The phone fell out as I got out of the car and the screen broke. It made me think that I shouldn't be driving if I was so tired. Then I got thinking that I am always tired, a mother's exhaustion. That was September 2012.

When your fear lives strong, when you struggle to find the willpower to even find the car key and your hands start sweating at the thought of sitting at the wheel, it is easy to hold on to any little excuse.

So I did, hold on, just like I had been holding on to my fear for over two decades.

The thing is that I can drive, two instructors told me so quite clearly during my refresher lessons a year and a half ago, one even turned to me and said "You quite enjoy driving, don't  you?". Yes, I do, once I'm in the car I really enjoy it but then my brain would always find that little crevice where the fear hides.

Once I was out of the car, it was difficult to get back in it; no problem if other people were driving, if it was me behind the wheel it was a different kettle of fish.

Every once in a while my husband would get frustrated and ask: will you ever drive again? After Christmas that frustration seemed to increase but a friend had just died in a car crash and, although that was a wake-up call for us all close to her to get our lives and dreams in gear, it also accentuated that fear of "what if".

It took me a good 3-4 months to recover after that and to start to even consider driving again. But this time I was armed with a couple of extra weapons to fight my fear: a book and a method.

When I was taking my refresher course a fateful comment from a lady called Joanne Mallon on one of my blog posts led to where I am now:

How to overcome the fear of driving

How to overcome the fear of driving

Joanne, who had also suffered fear of driving herself, was indeed writing a book, How to overcome fear of driving, she kindly sent me a copy last year. In it she asks a lot of questions and based on them I was supposed to make a list. I love lists!

Now, Joanne had already warned me that, based on what she had read of my history and accident trauma, hypnotherapy could be a good option for me. But I had never ever heard of hypnotherapy until she first mentioned it to me and, to be perfectly honest, it sounded a bit nutty. I am a very logical person. I could just picture myself barking every time a bell rang with no control over it.

But more people mentioned hypnotherapy and when I was reading the book and duly drafting my list it became suddenly clear that Joanne may well have been right. It still took me a while to take the step, when I was ready I searched for a local hypnotherapist, amazingly enough there was one in my small town. There I was thinking that I would have to (as well as making excuses that I wouldn't be able to) go to Cambridge. Then I asked around to find out if anyone had used him, he had lots of good reviews on his website but I am one for impartial advice, it so happened that a friend of a friend had indeed used him and was really happy.
Joanne Mallon's How to overcome fear of driving helped me
Joanne's lovely dedication

It still took me a while to actually get round to contacting him but I did finally go to to meet him during a free consultation. I wanted to see what he was like. I was expecting some hippy guru type with bohemian clothes and longish greying hair but he was a totally normal family man with young kids who, as it turned out, only lives a couple of streets away from us. I felt at ease so I booked a first appointment and there I went, still with no particular knowledge of what hypnotherapy was all about.

It was nothing like I expected, after about 5-6 sessions (I can't remember exactly how many) I don't bark when a bell rings (I know you were keen on knowing about that bit!). Instead I have come away with exercises to train my brain in a very logical way. Not just that, these exercises don't just work for my fear of driving, in fact the first time we tried them it was on a tiny regret from my childhood that has been regularly popping into my mind ever since, I immediately learnt to think of it differently, to literally view it differently.

Hypnotherapy trains the mind to think differently. Fully utilising the brain as a muscle and its ability to change. My memories of my accident, and I well up as I write this (but in such a different way to how I would have done it before), have totally changed. I think of that day, of the months and years that followed it in a totally different way. In fact I now smile, sing and dance, when I think back to that moment.

At his stage I have to confess one small detail: I didn't tell anyone I was doing this, not even my  husband. I needed to take control of the situation, I needed to feel like I was figuratively in the driving seat and I didn't need the outside pressure of: have you had more sessions? have you driven yet? how far? Sorry honey!

What hypnotherapy does is give you control, I think a common misconception with hypnosis as we know it is that people lose control and a trigger is put in place to make them, for instance, bark at the sound of a bell. This doesn't work to the advantage of the word "hypnotherapy", does it? What I have found is that it's quite the opposite of what I imagined, hypnotherapy has allowed me to take back control. The worst thing about fear is that it invades all parts of your life, conquering that fear has to be down to you, hypnotherapy gave me the tools to do so but, at the end of the day, no one but me could get back in that car and drive.

So mid-way through my hypnotherapy Dan gave me a task, I was to get in the car, we needed to see whether I would be able to and how I felt about it, had anything changed? So I did and things had indeed changed, in fact I can remember I drove the car back home from somewhere but I can't even remember where from. A week later I was driving back from 15 miles away. Not bad for someone who hadn't driven for over 7 months.

Something had indeed changed, in the following sessions we focused on any nervous feelings I was left with and then that was it, it was all up to me because a hypnotherapist can give you the foundations, your brain finally dealing with that trauma is freeing but no one but you can get in the driver's seat, grab a hold of the steering wheel and go for it. You are in charge of the footwork.

No one but yourself can make you a good careful driver but that new confidence is enough to allow you to be one.

I am now in the fourth week of full-on driving. Except for two days, I have taken husband to the train station every working day. The days I didn't were actually positive days as I had no trouble getting in the car again the next day. I now sleep ok the night before, despite knowing that I will be driving in the morning.

I am however exhausted, I think my brain is working overtime regenerating decades of hurdles and stumbling blocks, as well as unblocking itself, letting go. I guess I would equate hypnotherapy to unblocking your drains: your brain, your mind, your emotions, all finally find a release and you are left with the tools to not let them back by regularly performing tasks that take only a few seconds. Even I can fit a few seconds into my hectic day, don't ask me for minutes but seconds I can do.

Last Friday, after taking my daughter to the childminder and then from there taking my husband to the GP surgery (i.e. driving through streets I had never driven and even through the centre of town), I drove back from the train station with a silly grin in my face as one of the songs I would always have on a tape in my car back when I did drive frequently two decades ago was played in the radio. I can't even remember the song now but I can tell you, I got all emotional thinking I was doing it all again, I was this time giving it a fair go.

This is the longest I have driven in a row since I was probably in my very early twenties, in fact I'm not sure I have ever driven this frequently for such a long period of time in my whole life.

Driving again has allowed me to feel like a normal mum, the days LittleT is with me when I drop Mr Tapas at the station we stay on at the adjacent Tesco or go to see the ducks. A couple of Fridays ago Mr Tapas even got back from London with plenty of time for us to pick him up and go for a drink by the river. That made me feel extremely norma, it also made me think that I need to remember to wear nicer clothes when feeling in an impromptu mood as I was wearing an 18 year old skirt that I tend to wear at home (same thing happened yesterday with a hoodie and stained jeans, you know "mum works at home uniform").

Any little mishap I have now while getting used to the car, to driving on the other side of the road, to negotiating roundabouts while sitting on the right (which, to this Spaniard the wrong) side of the car, I try not to dwell on it, instead I have little mind exercises to empower me, breathing exercises to calm me down and focus.

Today I would have liked to drive to a client's office 25 minutes away but I feel like I may stress about parking and in fact delay the meeting while trying to find somewhere for the car, as the office car park is small and will be packed so I'm taking a conscious decision to go by taxi but in the knowledge that this morning I drove husband to work in the rain (those of you reading this with a fear of driving will know that the elements can make that fear worse). So it's ok not to take this massive step today, I can take it another day, in the knowledge that I will keep on driving. One small step at a time.

If, like me, you have been told time and time again that you are a good driver, that you just need to be less nervous but you know you feel quite clumsy in the car as you feel the panic building up: letting go of that fear and then practicing your driving gets rid of that clumsiness, it doesn't happen overnight and I have had to put some work on my part but it has helped massively and from one day to the other I  see an improvement on how I handle the car in various situations, then the next day I will feel my driving is smoother, it's gradual but "it is", and that is the main thing I can ask for.

The above is what worked for me. I will give you all an update when I'm ready (I am taking control).

I send this to into the blogosphere with fear of jinxing it of course, now I'm going to work on an exercise to wash that fear away and instead hope that you or someone you know may find this useful and, if you know you are actually a good driver at heart, that it may encourage you to give it another go, to feel normal again.

Don't miss Joanne's Six tips to overcome fear of driving, a very sensible post that might help you get back on the road.

MarĂ­a (driver trying to overcome her fears, on her fourth week behind the wheel).

*I received the book "How to overcome fear of driving" as a gift from the author.
** I paid full-price for my hypnotherapy sessions with Dan Regan of Ely Mind Coaching and, at £60 each, they were money well-spent. I am driving again and feeling positive that this is something I may be able to continue doing and Dan has been in touch a couple of times to make sure I am doing ok, to check whether I am still driving.
***This post contains one or more affiliate links, this means that should you purchase after clicking through, it won't cost you an extra penny but I may get a penny or two towards running the blog. Thank you!!

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