fbpx

Can You Drive… Please? My Excruciating Driving Anxiety

On my 17th birthday my mom left a car in the school parking lot and a key in my locker with a note congratulating me on getting my driver’s license.

At the end of the day I sat in the car wondering if there was a way to get both ME and IT home without actually driving the car. I had gotten my license because it was the natural thing to do; I had no intention of actually using it. 

I told my dad when I was 9 years old that I never wanted to drive. He laughed and told me to write that sentiment into a letter addressed to my 17-year-old self to see how my feelings would change. Shockingly (to him) they didn’t. 

Eventually I built up the courage to drive the car home, and along with it built up a nervous sweat and an unnaturally high heart rate. The anxiety that driving provoked at a young age was not unfounded. I had left elementary school one day to find out my grandmother’s car had been struck, flipped, and totaled because a woman ran a stop sign and flew into her bumper. I’ll never forget how impossibly massive her bruises were, how it seemed more of her skin was black and blue than wasn’t.  

Yet I do not pinpoint my anxiety to this traumatic event, nor to the deaths of two other relatives who passed in car accidents. Instead, driving has always been guilt-inspiring, rather than fear-instilling, to me. Cars are weapons, and I am palpably aware of the danger I might inflict while driving one. 

I do drive today, but I strictly avoid highways. I prefer two-lane roads where the speed limit does not exceed 35, and I prefer not to be driving in front of or behind anyone. My knuckles often turn white from gripping the steering wheel at 10 and 2 too tightly. My music is never loud enough that I can’t hear my heart beating out of my chest (in fact, my heart rate increases so much that my smartwatch has started tracking driving as physical activity).  I use Google Maps every time I get behind the wheel, even if traveling a route I drive every day, just in case the roads have changed.  You never know.  If I can help it, I drive alone. Driving a sibling is manageable, driving two siblings is anxiety-provoking, driving three siblings is almost forbidden. Friends are out of the question unless the circumstances are absolutely unavoidable. 

I never lay on the horn or come too close to another car. If you cut me off, I will probably smile and wave at you. I want to present myself as the most unthreatening moving thing on the road.  I envy every pedestrian I pass. Oh, to switch places with them, to be the one on foot and not behind the wheel. 

Deep (deep) down I know that I’m a good driver.  And I know that the more I practice, the more comfortable I’ll (probably) get.  But I also know the road to confidence is a long one, and I choose to take it slowly.

The views, opinions, and stories expressed in Promly Garden articles are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official position or policy of Promly.org. We aim to give Gen Z a voice and welcome articles and opinions from Gen Z contributors who want their voice to be heard. Please send any articles, poetry, or artwork you’d like to see published on the Promly Garden to heypromly@promly.org.

With immense gratitude, the Promly Team

Published by Elizabeth Kilgore