17 August 2016

Anxiety on wheels

Driving is one of those apparently straightforward day-to-day activities that causes me anxiety for a whole host of reasons.

My biggest fear is the perhaps rather obvious one of being involved in a crash, though this generally only rears its head when I'm on roads where high speeds are permitted. 

The main issue is my lack of control over the vehicles around me - I'm worried not only about other drivers' competence (or lack thereof), but also the risk of mechanical failure that might send tonnes of metal hurtling into my path.

It doesn't help that my car - a striking copper-coloured Micra - is nearly 19-years-old and only has a 1 litre engine. I can't even overtake speedily, let alone nip out of the way of trouble.

Up until the beginning of this month, I hadn't driven on a motorway in more than 18 months, although I had often been on busy - sometimes 3-lane - A roads. This was due to circumstance, rather than avoidance, but I was starting to worry that I would lose my nerve completely, if I didn't get in some practice.

Image courtesy of pakorn/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
As it happened, I had to travel to the Midlands a couple of weeks ago and I was nervous as I set off on my journey of 100 miles or so up the M1.

Once in the flow of fast-moving traffic, I was plagued by visions of doom. I imagined every high-sided lorry that passed toppling onto my car and crushing me. I expected a tyre to blow out, or my engine to fail, at any moment. And every time the traffic slowed and began to bunch up, I envisioned a multi-vehicle pile-up.

Also, I couldn't help thinking of the neighbour whose car was written off, when a wheel came off a lorry on the opposite carriageway and bounced across the barrier onto her car bonnet. She and her passengers escaped with minor injuries, but it could have been a different story, had the wheel landed a split second later, on the roof.

It's this kind of unpredictability that those of us with OCD find hard to deal with. We seek comfort in compulsions that give a sense of control and seem to establish a degree of certainty over our environment and our lives. Certainty is an unachievable target, however, and trying to carry out compulsions while driving is likely to be counterproductive!

Other anxieties also come into play when I'm driving. Every time I smell smoke or burning, I assume it's a problem with my car. The same goes for any unusual noise. A couple of days ago, as I parked up, I noticed that my engine was 'roaring' - only to get out of the car and realise the sound was coming from a motorbike further up the road.

As an anxiety sufferer, my senses are on permanent high alert for problems, whatever the situation, but I've become even more nervous about my car, now that it's so old. My recent journey 'up north' has, at least, helped me to regain some degree of confidence on motorways. 

And I very much appreciate the convenience and freedom that driving affords me. Those benefits more than make up for all the associated anxieties: as is so often the case, facing your fears definitely has its rewards.