I have written about this topic before, but considering October is our month to focus on mental health awareness, and tomorrow is Mental Health Day, I thought it was fitting to re-share some of my thoughts and experiences here.
This drawing, ‘Anxiety Is A Bad Designated Driver’, is one I drew in 2012, while I was experiencing some difficulties with anxiety (which I still do, from time to time, but thankfully to a lesser extent)
I drew myself small, so very small, in comparison to the vehicle that I was trying to drive (Unhelpful that there is a flat tire, and that anxious arms are trying to steer)
This was the state of my mind when I was 17. I felt worried about so many things- the future, myself, how i fit with people socially, whether I was liked, but one thing in particular was the most crippling- driving a car.
I remember when I first got my licence, I would print out google maps and study them very intensely and repeatedly before driving anywhere. I remember also asking my parents to explain exactly the route to take, as well as having the map, and having to listen multiple times to directions before feeling any level of ease at all.
I also remember the feeling in my body- very, very sore shoulders all the time from being so tense before and during driving anywhere. I’d feel shaky. Panicked if the set route had any sort of detour. Almost that hyper-alert, uncomfortable state where I could ever just relax behind the wheel.
I was SO anxious about driving. I remember one night, I’d dropped a friend off after an event quite late at night, turned my GPS on, and still accidentally took some back roads because it was dark and I was tired. I completely panicked, pulled over and cried my eyes out, shaking and unable to think clearly, because I felt lost. Despite my GPS literally telling me how to get on track, I called my parents and cried to them. They gently listened and tried to work out where I was and help me find the way. Their calming reassurance soothed my anxiety, and my head finally cleared so I could follow instruction. Turns out I was about 20m from the freeway entry I needed to take the whole time..
Anxiety is like that though, isn’t it? Doesn’t matter if logic is presented to you, or things seem obvious to others-anxiety can feel like a blindfold that stops you being able to logically process anything.
Some things that the people around me did to help (which could be applicable if you know someone who experiences anxiety) are:
Offering me reassurance (even if I asked for it 10 times, or needed to hear ‘you’ll get there’ over and over again, repeatedly, until it sort of sank in on some level)
“bearing with” me to help me find my way again.
Not pointing out the ridiculous level of my worry, and not making me feel stupid for needing so much reassurance
I’m so thankful that some years later I really love driving. I drive A LOT. And now it is basically with complete ease- no trace of the panic, no trace of the tension in my body, no trace of the stress..even with unexpected detours, even with wrong turns. Back then though I couldn’t imagine ever feeling differently..panic and stress was all I felt about it. I don’t share this to brag about my driving skills now, I share to say- when we are experiencing something as immediate and crippling as anxiety it can be hard to believe we will ever feel differently. I’d have never believed that one day I would drive confidently and happily. I’d never have even imagined it could change.
But with time, help and support, and slow, incremental work, things can change. If you’re in the midst of that panic, that anxiety- things can change. You probably won’t believe me now. Anxiety probably won’t give you that permission. But just because there is a struggle that feels permanent doesn’t mean it will be.