Being Free

6 years ago

I used to drive a lot.  For years, I had a long commute to work and I liked it that way.  It was my own space to prepare for a long work day and to decompress on the ride home.

My car was also my freedom, and the highway was the ribbon that connected me to any place I wanted to go.  Back in my single days, I'd hop in my car to go anywhere I felt like--into Boston to see a concert; clear across the state of Massachusetts to meet up with a hot Aussie for a couple beers;  down to Philly, to reconnect with a college friend. I loved me a road trip.

Something changed in 2006.  Still reeling from my mothers illness and rapid death, I had sought out counseling and had been prescribed meds to help me with issues of depression and ADHD.  The panic attacks that I had only a handful of times in my life began to occur when I was behind the wheel, and I attributed that to the Adderal.  In a fit of pique, I flushed the medication down the toilet, never to touch it again.  The attacks stopped.

Well, they stopped for the most part (until recently).  There was a single exception.  I couldn't drive on the highway.  The act of simply navigating the on-ramp sent me instantly into the heart-pounding, tunnel-inducing, over-active nervousness of a full blown panic attack

When my Hub dislocated his hip in a motorcycle accident on the northern end of the Maine/New Hampshire border back in 2007, he spent five days at the Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center. I had to bring him home, and I drove through two-plus hours each way of extended anxiety attacks, getting to and from the hospital. 

It's a good thing he was so drugged up for the ride because instead of clenching and unclenching my fists as I typically do during an attack, I was accelerating and braking, accelerating and braking, for the entire ride along Interstate 91--to the delight, I'm sure, of my fellow road warriors.  I also talked my way through the whole thing.  Perhaps the hub thought I was talking to him as I chanted repeatedly, "Everything will be OK.  You are going to be FINE," in an effort to just get myself through the horrifying drive home.

Now, as many of you know, I live in Podunk, which lies in a rural region of southern New Hampshire.  The only way to get anywhere of substance is by driving.  Avoiding the highway means that if I need to get somewhere, the ride is twice as long because I will only take secondary roadways.

It means that I am limited in where I can reasonably go under my own steam. 

It means that when my husband had shoulder surgery two winters ago, I had to enlist the help of my nephew to get him to and from the surgical center in MA, because I couldn't make the drive myself.

It means I have been hamstrung by my inability to simply get in my car and go.

Since the motorcycle accident, Hub has known that eventually he'd have to have the damaged hip replaced.  Though it's sooner than we expected, that time has come.  Because we are blessed with choices in terms of medical facilities in the Greater Boston area, he's having it done by a surgeon who is top of his field in the 'mini-hip' replacement arena.  A surgeon who works at an excellent hospital.

A hospital that is about 60 miles from here.


I've been doing pretty well on the anxiety front.  But the highway thing?  Ugh.

It's been at least two years since I even dared to get on a highway.  But with the surgery date looming, and my depression and general anxiety under fairly good control, I knew that I'd have to at least give it a shot.  How do I ask someone else to deliver the hub to the hospital, and then make that same round trip all over again a few days later?  That's 240 miles of driving, because I couldn't do it.  This issue, this abject fear of the highway, had to be addressed.

Only two people knew that I was going to attempt route 2 yesterday.  I didn't want too many to be aware of it, because honestly, I was really worried that I was just going to lose my shit on the road, and get off at the first available exit.

As I approached the on-ramp, I was waiting for it.  The heart pounding, the feeling of slowly becoming disembodied whilst my ears burned hot, the light-headedness.  I'd prepared, I was ready to talk myself through it, I knew I could leave the highway at any number of exits between my starting point and my destination.

But I did it.  I drove fifteen miles or so on Route 2 until I got to the Mall at Whitney Field.  And it felt normal.  Like it used to feel.  I was in control.  My heart wasn't palpitating, my hands weren't clammy, I wasn't sweating bullets and I fucking DID IT!

This was a case where the journey was far more important than the destination--(I am not a Mall girl).  I parked the car, grinning from ear to ear, and went inside.  I popped in to The Children's Place and picked up a few things for the kids, went to CVS, and then left.  Like a normal person.  A normal person, I might add,  who just kicked some serious ass in her own mind.

I got back on that highway, jacked up some Red Hot Chili Peppers, and drove my no-longer-freaked-out-self home on the highway.  Happily.

For five years, I was sure that I would never again be able to safely and comfortably drive on a highway.  For five years, I have worked to find alternate routes or alternate drivers if I needed to get somewhere distant.  For five years, I was afraid.

And now?  Now, I am free.

Margaret Barney writes at Just Margaret and is a contributor at Prime Parents Club. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.

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