Wednesday, January 27, 2010

It's hard to imagine I didn't drive for 12 years


I learned to drive at 15. I had the spectre of perfectionism looming over my lessons, where I assumed that I should be able to just learn without trial and error, and that something was seriously wrong with me because I did indeed make errors, like changing lanes without putting on my signal. My instructor was patient, and even gave a particularly riled up driver the finger when I was struggling along. I started a list of all the driving mistakes I made, and felt overwhelmed with all I had to fix. I kept driving through college, maneuvering a Chevette, which had absolutely no oomph after 35 mph. Then on to driving a van as part of my workstudy.

But when my husband and I got married during graduate school, his car was a stick shift, and I had learned on an automatic. I only had one experience with a manual transmission, and that was the day I got my driver's license and my father took me out in his tiny Honda, and expected me to know how to operate the clutch. It was the longest block of my life. I started by rolling backward and ended with much lurching, and felt entirely responsible for my deficiency, rather than realizing my father was expecting me to learn by magic.

My husband took me to a parking lot with the stick shift car, and I was sufficiently scared of making any mistakes that I didn't ask for another lesson. In the meantime, my husband was more than glad to drive me anywhere I wanted to go. He'd wait for me, find a place to sit or walk. When we got a new car 5 years later, I asked that it be an automatic transmission so I could drive if I needed to. But after one nerve wracking trek down to the grocery store, with every muscle tense, and my hands clamped on the steering wheel, I shied away from driving again.

Later, my husband told me that he was so willing because he was afraid that if I had an accident while driving, that it would send me over the edge with my anxiety. For 12 years we did everything together, "joined at the hip". Anxiety can tell you something important, an actual threat that needs to be heeded, but parasitic anxiety lives only to perpetuate itself. Much of my perfectionism was a child's way of dealing with the world--"If I am perfect, then I will be loved. Don't ever make a mistake." And the OCD latched onto this, amplifying the fear. I couldn't imagine myself driving, and therefore, until I could be certain I could drive, I avoided it.

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