Behind the wheel

When you feel suffocated by your fears there’s only one way to break free— talk. Talk to your friends and family for the push you need to set yourself free.

My palms sweat, my heart drops, my hands clench, there’s only one place I could be– behind the wheel.

Driving has become one of the most anxiety inducing challenges for me, but it wasn’t always this way. I used to love driving golf carts and scooters around my whole neighborhood; however, the love of operating vehicles all changed in one singular moment.

It was a dark, January night when my family and I were driving home from seeing Waitress at the Van Wezel in Sarasota when, in an instant, bang, a car running a red at what I can only assume was 30 miles over the speed limit rammed into the side of another car, pinning it up against a street light.

Suddenly, the darkness was illuminated by the flames growing in the engine. The darkness that once filled the intersection of Bayshore Gardens Pkwy and 26th St was now dimly lit by the blaze ensuing from the crash.

My dad pulled over, he looked for the vehicle that had caused the accident, then he ran to the other car. The car that had smashed them into the poll had fled the scene. While my dad and I helped the hurt people out of their wrecked car, my mom called 911. At this moment I realized, had we not been at the scene, these people would have been left helpless with no one to help.

This singular moment altered my view of driving.

What I found was that I was scared of being the one to hit the other car.”

I’m not scared of being hit. It wasn’t the fear of being in an accident with no one to help that held me hostage every time I sat behind a wheel. No. What I found was that I was scared of being the one to hit the other car.

I saw how much harm that one instant caused the family in front of me. From that moment on, I couldn’t sit behind the wheel of a car without immediately regressing to my mindset that night. I had been sitting by the side of the road, vowing to myself that I would never cause someone this much pain.

Flash forward three years later, the fifteen-year-old has come of age and is now expected to drive. I have pondered this responsibility for so long that the whole time I had my driving permit, I didn’t use it once. The slightly humiliating reality came to light when all of my friends wondered why I didn’t have my license.

In our society it has become the norm for sixteen-year-olds to get their license on their birthday. Needless to say, I couldn’t follow my peers in this manner, and daily, I find myself criticized by others about my lack of license. My friends and family always ask, “Why aren’t you driving yet?” and when I tell them about my PTSD, it’s typically followed with a dry, “You gotta forget all that junk.”

However, my mindset on driving shouldn’t be taboo. My hesitancy towards driving has become a facet of who I am. And even though I am content with my perspective, I can’t help but feel ashamed. As a sixteen year old, all of my friends are getting their license and getting to experience the freedom that comes with driving alone– and I feel left out.

I always told myself I would start driving when I felt ready, but in actuality– I never will be. I know this statement seems wrought with certainty; however, when I retrogress to my prior mindset, I remember how I truly felt as if I could never be behind the wheel.

I will always be controlled in some ways by my fears, we all are; however, the moral is: don’t let your fears control your life.

Eventually, I had to tell my parents to sign me up for driving lessons because I knew that if someone else was holding me accountable, I would have to face my fear. Signing me up for lessons was the push I needed and now, after several lessons, I feel a lot better about the prospect of a car. I still get nervous and fearful, but I make sure I am doing everything I can to drive safely.

If you allow yourself to be pushed, your fears will slowly lose their grip on you. Instead of facing my issues with driving, I just stopped thinking about them.

When dealing with trauma, it is important to have mental awareness because the Goldilocks point (the point that’s “just right”) between processing the trauma and dissociating from it is miniscule. I fell into the dissociation category. I chose not to face my problems and as a result never grew comfortable driving.

The only method that awakened me was the push. It made me open my eyes and see what I had kept dormant in me for all this time. The push allowed me to safely break the barriers I had placed in my own mind by forcing me to venture out of my safety zone.

Now, when my mind regresses back to the boy who was standing by the side of the road, I can take a deep breath and exhale all the fears that held me hostage. My hands no longer sweat with fear and my mind is settled– I can finally be behind the wheel.