How I stopped my driving anxiety – and my swearing problem
For every Stig wannabe there are dozens of people who find the roads really scary. Here’s how one writer fixed her fear of driving
Worse than A Levels, dissertations, spending 10 hours in stilettos or reading my first James Joyce book, learning to drive was the hardest thing I have ever done. At its best it was thrilling, and at its worst it felt like I was catastrophe-prone Maureen from the Nineties TV hit Driving School.
Lowlights of the seven-month saga included me getting my brake and gas pedal mixed up and nearly plowing into the back of a parked car, and being yelled at by a very old man in a flat cap who could barely see over his own steering wheel. Tight, shallow breathing became all too familiar when I was at the helm of that Vauxhall Corsa and one lesson ended with me getting out of the car, sobbing, saying I was never going to do it again.
I dreaded every lesson. Learning to drive didn’t make me feel like I was gaining new skills, but just picking at the things I already knew I was rubbish at. It seemed so unfair.
There was something about doing hill starts that brought out the navvy in me…
One of the most vivid embarrassing moments of my life involved me getting very drunk at a wedding when I was 18 and another guest telling my mother: “Your daughter swears like a navvy.” Well there was something about doing hill starts in Streatham and Croydon that brought out the navvy in me.
Swearing is bad when you’re driving, everyone says, as it generally makes you even more tense. When I called a van driver the worst swear there is (don’t make me spell it out) I thought my instructor was going to faint. I sat up straight behind the wheel and attempted some girlish charm: “Is my language a little too salty?” I simpered. He glared. “VERY salty, Helen.”
Sigh. So, something was going wrong. I was crying and swearing like an 18-year-old who’d encountered her first free bar. If I was going to stop chucking hundreds and hundreds of pounds at lessons without improving or gaining any confidence, I was going to need to do something.
She put me under hypnosis, encouraging me to visualise leaving the test centre feeling calm
A friend suggested hypnotherapy, so I booked myself into Shirley Scott’s clinic in Clapham Common. I know, I know. Clapham, right? But my test was two weeks away and I was desperate. Telling people about my fear of driving often elicited snorts of disbelief, but Shirley was incredibly understanding and said she’d seen other clients with the same fear.
We talked about how I needed to understand what I could control and what I couldn’t, and in between the two hour-long sessions she gave me some exercises to do at home to help me understand the power of my mind when I was driving. She briefly put me under hypnosis, encouraging me to visualise leaving the test centre feeling calm.
And would you believe it, I passed first time with three minors. I’m now doing a Pass Plus course and while I don’t love it, I know I can do it. Even if I still do let the 18-year-old navvy in me out from time to time.