So this is more of a personal post, it happens from time to time, as well as sharing things that have and do help me live with my anxiety I’m going to share with you some personal experiences as well. I think sharing that as well as what works may help to make me more of a human to you (if you read this and don’t know me, hopefully if you do know me then I’m already a human to you!), maybe help you feel better about the ups and downs of your life too. There is no magic bullet for this shit, there are always ups and down and we just get better at managing them, at riding the ride.
This is more me having a bit of a brain dump, talking things through with myself to see how I feel about it, get it out my system and figure out what to do. We are not alone with these experiences and I am not an expert in dealing with this shit, I am muddling through best I can, just like all of us – I get overwhelmed and defeated by anxiety still, it just doesn’t happen as much as it used to and I’m more savvy about what’s happening, why and what to do about it these days. However it still sucks and it still takes over me for a while.
Such as yesterday…
I knew learning to drive would be a huge challenge for me. Some of my biggest anxiety triggers are new things, not knowing what to do, not feeling in control, other’s judging me – all of which are clearly going to come up with learning to drive! These anxiety triggers are also the reason I challenge myself and put myself in situations that will be difficult for me, how can I live without trying new things, without learning, without letting go, without risking judgement? I tried that once… my life became so small, and the anxiety didn’t go away. It just doesn’t work, so now I push myself where and when I can.
The first two driving lessons my anxiety levels were very high, however, there was also a surge of adrenalin after the second lesson which gave me hope – but that’s the thing with anxiety, it can be impossible to pre-judge, a good or bad experience one time doesn’t always give a clue to how the next time will go. We have to develop a bit of a zen attitude to life when we live with anxiety.
My third lesson was yesterday evening after work. (Same as the second lesson annoyingly, which was fine)
Almost as soon as I woke yesterday morning, I felt the physical symptoms of anxiety which continued all day. My anxiety has clearly decided that it’s going to level up and now gives me the brand new symptom of chest pain. Most unwelcome! I spent the entire day feeling like someone had skewered me on a javelin feeling the pain in my spine as well as my sternum. While I can often put my anxiety to one side – like putting a misbehaving toddler in time out – as I did during my first lesson, sometimes it refuses to be ignored. I ignored the anxiety right up until the point I got asked to do something new half an hour into the driving lesson.
All I was asked to do was turn right across a quiet road into an equally quiet car park where we could look at reversing.
I started the car, started to move, then my entire system just went “NOPE”, I stopped the car and dissolved.
The entrance to the car park looked tiny (it wasn’t), turning right involved traffic wanting to travel down that side of the road (there wasn’t any), reversing risked bumping into the bollards (I’m in a dual control car, I have no doubt he’d stop it before that happened, he likes his car…).
As I type this, I can feel the fear welling up again in my throat, and actually, that’s weirdly comforting as waking up this morning free of anxiety symptoms I wonder why I ended the lesson early, why I couldn’t cope, was I just being weak and pathetically lazy? Thoughts which have tracked me my entire life as anxiety makes some of the most random things more difficult or impossible. Thoughts which have been vocalised by others not understanding how it is to live with anxiety. If just typing this brings back the fear then I can tell myself, no, I wasn’t being lazy, I was overwhelmed with anxiety. I was trying to run on a twisted ankle.
My instructor is calm, understanding, and asks if I want to call a halt at that point, that it’s fine, but I can’t do that. That will be giving in. Maybe I can’t deal with something new right now, but I can damn well carry on with the lesson. The only way out is through, I tell myself. New things scare me so lets focus on this not feeling so new. So I do. We carry on. We practise what I’ve done before. But it doesn’t work, the anxiety doesn’t back down, and now I’m frustrated that I’m struggling with what was going so well last week, I can’t think clearly, I can’t concentrate on what he’s saying, I’m forgetting the sequence and I don’t feel safe. I’m getting it right one time and all wrong the next.
I call a halt after another 40 minutes. Too much of my attention and energy is having to go on keeping myself from panicking and crying (and not being successful at that) and I just don’t feel I should be in a car if I’m in that state. Nothing is going into my head and my performance is erratic, there is no progress here and my frustration with myself is growing with each passing second.
It’s time to leave the battlefield, regroup, and consider another tactic.
Perhaps fighting anxiety for 10 hours before the lesson, including constant physical pain, just wore me down too much. My defences are usually better than this. There’s only one way to test that theory, have the lesson earlier in the day. If that lesson goes better, then that’s how I proceed, if it’s just as bad, then perhaps driving isn’t for me after all. I’m fine with having myself at risk, that’s my choice, but I can’t and won’t put others at risk, and if I don’t feel safe in charge of a car, if I don’t trust myself not to panic, then that’s what I’m doing.
Honestly right now, I don’t know if I’d be running away from something I can do if I push myself, or stepping away from unnecessary anxiety attacks. I guess that’s a decision to consider next week though…