I grew up in a small town — one mile wide with less than 10,000 people. Getting my driver's license meant freedom, freedom to escape and drive over large bridges in my little Volkswagen and visit friends or shop at the mall almost 30 minutes away. It was liberating and I loved it.
From my 20s through my 40s, I've driven in a lot of different situations: Southern California rush hour, the Sierra Nevada mountains, torrential Florida rains and Minnesota winters, endless roads getting me from point A to B and never had a problem.
A few months ago, I took a new position that required me to drive on the highway for 30 minutes — sounds easy enough, right? I've been driving in the city and doing some highway driving for over the last 15 years, why would this be different? Oh, but it was.
For some strange reason, I've developed anxiety when on the highway and not necessarily while I'm the one driving. My husband thinks I'm crazy as I sit with my eyes closed and holding my breath as he takes the on and off ramps at 65 miles per hour. (OK, it's slower, but it feels like 65!)
During my first few weeks of highway driving, I could feel my stomach churning as I drove to my new office. By the time I got back home during rush hour, both of my wrists would actually hurt from hanging on to the wheel! Thoughts like, "Why are these lanes so narrow?" "Why can't truckers stay in their own lane?" and "Is it really necessary to drive faster than the speed limit?" filled my brain until I was at my destination — exhausted.
The drivers where I live take pride in their cars. They build them and know how to drive them — or so the commercials say. They remind me of test pilots, constantly pushing the limits past where any normal person would — or should — go. We need people like that in this world, just to make sure planes, trains and automobiles do what the various manufactures say they can do. But shouldn't that all happen on a track somewhere and not here on a two- or four-lane highway?
Thinking I was losing my mind, I did what anyone else would do: I Googled "driving anxiety" and found that it really is a thing and, unfortunately, very common. Great, so I'm not losing my marbles, and I'm driving alongside other people who are just as anxious as me. Now what? I did the logical thing and kept driving and hoping that one day it would just go away.
After a month or so, I found myself driving home between a pickup truck, a seemingly angry semi and a Chevy that appeared to be able to time travel — if only I would pull over and get out of his way! I started to tense up as I put a strangle hold on the steering wheel. That's when I came up with an idea: I needed a distraction. So I turned on the radio and started to sing — loudly!
At first, it was tough, trying to focus on everything around me while remembering the words to a song. So I tried to soften my death grip on the steering wheel (only a bit), I pulled my shoulders back, took a deep breath and did my best to keep up with Lady Gaga and her "Bad Romance."
"Rah rah ah-ah-ah..." I sang as I slowly passed the pickup truck noting various things were haphazardly thrown in it's bed and praying that they stayed there as my death grip tightened.
"Ro mah ro-mah-mah..." I sang a bit louder as I pulled in front of the pickup, giving the semi some distance.
"Gaga ooh-la-la! Want your bad romance!" I belted out as the Chevy whizzed by like something from NASCAR, a blur of Sebring Silver!
The first thing I thought of was how much better I felt — not great, but better. The second was panic at the sight of a state trooper strategically parked in the middle of the highway waiting for speeders. Looking at my speedometer, I noticed that I was speeding. Yes, I was actually going faster than the speed limit, but I didn't slow down. No way! I wanted proof, solid evidence that this self-proclaimed "grandma driver" was driving faster than the speed limit, because I knew no one would believe it! To me it would have been a badge of courage and I felt almost giddy that I would soon be pulling over and saying, "Yes Officer, I know I was speeding and I deserve a ticket!" I would have shown it off proudly, telling the story over and over again.
Alas, the Trooper's car sat still as it became smaller in my rear view mirror. They weren't going to chase me down, lights flashing, to give me the ticket I felt I had earned. Apparently, it takes driving more than four or five miles per hour over the speed limit to get the attention of the law — at least on this day.
That's OK, I knew I had done it and could do it again. Plus, I now have a routine to help me focus on other things besides my nervousness: I get in my car, turn on the radio until I find a song I know and then I start singing. I sing while driving through my neighborhood (my neighbors already think I'm kind of crazy) and keep singing until I reach my destination. While my anxiety is still there, it's much, much better — thanks to Lady Gaga!
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