When I was sixteen, I went out and got my learner’s permit like every teenager does. I was so excited to drive a car, to have the freedom that comes with not having to rely on others for transportation, to be a normal teen driving around with her friends.
I started driving. At first, nothing was a problem. In parking lots, I felt in total control, I could pull in and out of spots like a pro, and I enjoyed whipping around the empty beach lots in fast figure-eights that made my heart pound.
Then came the real road.
Fast forward four years, and here I finally am with a full driver’s license at twenty years old. After that first sixteen-year-old excitement faded, I was left with a crippling anxiety about driving that made it impossible for me to actively learn in the time span that “normal” drivers do. Every time I would start to progress, I would stop myself. Whether that was making excuses for not driving, refusing to drive certain cars, or even making a mistake and freaking out about it, it all produced the same result: More fear.
The people around me didn’t help. Everyone, even those who I knew meant well, bugged me about not having my license. The social pressure to be like everyone else only made me more hopeless that I could never be. It made me want to drive even less than I already did.
This summer was my last shot before my permit expired. I knew that if I let it go, I wouldn’t be able to make myself get another. So, I started a DIY driving school with my Dad. In under two months, I went from the parking lot to Sunrise Highway. Thanks, Dad!
The difference this time was confidence. I knew if I could get my license, I could do anything, even if it seemed like the hardest thing I ever did. The addition of my family’s new car, which I named Sebastian, helped too: It turned out that many of my anxieties came from not feeling safe in smaller, older cars. I was still having panic attacks practically every time I got behind the wheel, but together, Dad, Sebastian, and I worked through them to make me the best driver I could be. And you know what?
It worked. I’m a pretty damn good driver, and I’m not just saying that.
The day of the test, I shook the whole ride to the site. When the time came to drive, my hands were so slick with sweat that the wheel was visibly wet. But I took every direction as a separate mission, remembered everything I was taught, and made it through with only five points for parallel parking!
Getting a license is exciting for anyone, but it was like winning the Nobel Prize for me. Everything I went through had been worth it. Now, even if I never get behind the wheel again, I know that I don’t have to worry. If I need to drive, I can, but I no longer have to drive for the test. It’s a huge weight off my shoulders, and one of my proudest accomplishments to date.
Everyone is different, with hopes, fears, and dreams that might be hard for others to understand. My path to driving is still continuing, and while I am much more confident in my skills than I used to be, I still have a long way to go before driving becomes a comfortable part of my daily life. I know there are others out there who are like me. If your fear is driving, I understand how you feel. If it is something else, if people think you’re “weird” for not being able to do something that everyone else can, I understand. Keep at it, and go your own pace. And for everyone else? Support them!