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to have a phobia of driving and wonder if it can be cured?

(37 Posts)
LastTrainHome Fri 17-Jun-11 18:51:53

I'm new here, this is my first post. I've spent a little time reading the forums and can see I'm likely to get more replies here - be kind!

Im currently learning to drive and really struggling with the levels of anxiety I feel building up to lessons. During a typical lesson I shake, sweat, get pins and needles and dizziness and sometimes a sense of unreality, my heart thumps and I get butterflies in my stomach. Afterwards I can hardly get out of the car, my legs are like jelly! I've never suffered from panic attacks before, but I'm guessing the above symptoms may be similar to a mild one?

I'm told I'm a very good driver, but I know the fear I feel hinders my progress so much, I make stupid mistakes and honestly wouldn't consider driving in this state even if I do (somehow!) manage to pass my test. I simply wouldn't wish to put anyone at risk. My problem is that I'm under quite a lot of pressure to pass my test, from my DH, for work, plus I have two small DC's and would love to be able to take them out and give them the days out and adventures they deserve.

I know that my vehophobia (?) stems from having an awful instructor when I was much younger. He was a complete pervert who always had his hand on my thigh, making suggestive comments etc and I was to young and stupid to ever stand up to him/report him for his behaviour. I just kept going to lessons and taking the abuse until I was in too much of a state to function! These days I'm older and wiser and certainly wouldn't take the same kind of crap from anyone, but I'm afraid it's stayed with me, despite having a lovely, understanding female instructor - I still feel the same level of panic that I used to. It's totally irrational, yet out of my control.

I've started to think that some kind of therapy and/or medication might help me deal with the anxiety, I've done a little research and booked an appointment with my GP for next week. I guess I'm just wondering if anyone here has had a similar experience, doesn't have to be related to driving - panic attacks, anxiety, phobias etc that you've been treated for and if you've managed to overcome it? Particularly interested in medication (I have this romantic vision that I'll be able to pop a little magic pill before a lesson and it will make all the nasty fear go away.... I know, I know!)

Sorry for the essay... AIBU to ask about your experiences here?

Medea Fri 17-Jun-11 20:45:19

Hi there--I'm a phobic driver too. I've a license to drive in the USA (where driving tests are much easier!) but I am a REAL hazard on the road and have mainly given up.

And NO ONE has ever called me a 'very good driver' ha ha--so that's greatly in your favour that you've been reassured you are not a menace.

I live in London and therefore have the 'luxury' of public transport and don't need to drive. Yeah, my kids HATE it that I'm the only non-driving mum and that we have to take buses etc everywhere, but they are otherwise not too badly deprived.

That said: I do think it's a good idea to be able to drive. Independence. Emergencies. Convenience. Etc. And if you don't live somewhere with lots of public transport then driving is a necessity, no? I'd therefore recommend getting referred by GP for CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) which WON'T delve into your past with your perverted driving instructor (poor you) but which will give you practical tasks and means for overcoming your phobia.

The only way to get over phobias is through exposure.

As for popping a pill. I don't think technically you are meant to, but a psychiatrist once encouraged me to take a small dose of xanax (alprazolam) before driving. When I said how the leaflet says not to, he explained that my HUGE degree of anxiety was actually more dangerous than taking a tiny bit of sedative. But I have a feeling a lot of doctors would disagree with him. Still: might be worth asking the GP.

Good luck-- I do sympathize.

Mandy2003 Fri 17-Jun-11 20:55:51

Me too, for the same reasons as OP! I was also told by my parents and a friend who I went for driving practice with that I am a good driver but...

And I lived in London for 20 years so no need to think about it. We are now back in the country with 1 bus per hour and none on Sundays.

I am thinking hypnotherapy might be the answer. Medication wise, beta-blockers would probably help, I think they take away the anxiety symptoms but don't cause drowsiness? I cannot take them though as I am diabetic and they mask the symptoms of hypoglycemia.

I will be watching this thread with interest!

fluffles Fri 17-Jun-11 20:58:51

i had a serious bout of phobia after an accident where i wasn't hurt but was terrified (woman came at me on a dark country road with full beams on and blinded me so i clipped a wall!) the sense of complete powerlessness freaked me out and i got sweats when i had to drive for a good couple of years but i just kept forcing myself to do short simple local known drives and now i'm totally fine in all situations except for dark twisty country roads... i reckon that'll come eventually though.

LastTrainHome Fri 17-Jun-11 21:01:16

Thanks so much for your reply Medea, some really helpful info there! I completely agree that anxiety can be very dangerous when you're on the road, it affects judgement and perception and wrecks your confidence. Did you find a small amount of sedative helped you to function better as a driver?

I so hope I get a sympathetic GP next week, I will mention CBT, I'm willing to try anything smile

LastTrainHome Fri 17-Jun-11 21:16:39

Mandy2003, from the little I have read so far about different types of medication, it seems there are 3 types; beta blockers - work by blocking the flow of adrenaline and control the physical symptoms of anxiety, but don't affect the emotional symptoms, antidepressants and benzodiazepines - although these can be sedating and addictive...

It seems medication in most cases will only mask the problem, and that the source of it should be treated through therapy alongside, which makes sense.

My main issue would be that I'm still breastfeeding my 10 month old, I'm unsure, but guessing that would be a major issue, must return to google and do more research!

WannabeaShootingStar Fri 17-Jun-11 21:20:58

I was similar, learning to drive took me a long time, find an instructor (female) you do like and who has lots of patience and doesn't even shout or panic. Take Kalms / rescue remedy / prozac. Realise it will take time but you are a step closer with every lesson and every test (took me five tests). I've been driving four years now and only shake when I cross the dartford bridge for some unexplained reason....

trixymalixy Fri 17-Jun-11 21:37:31

I developed a phobia about driving after I had passed my test. The only thing that cured me was moving to a house that required me to drive every day.

In other words you need to force yourself to do it so often that it becomes commonplace.

I still have Theo odd moment mainly driving somewhere I don't know where I am going. Using sat nav has helped a lot.

pointythings Fri 17-Jun-11 21:39:43

DH has a phobia about it too, you are not alone. I suspect DH will never learn to drive and am fine with that (it keeps my alcohol intake down smile). But if you are young and know you will learn to drive I would suggest getting some therapy and find an instructor who specialises in supporting anxious drivers - they do exist.

All the best to you.

RufusTFirefly Sat 18-Jun-11 09:17:38

I passed my test yonks ago and drive everywhere these days. But I was the most nervous learner out. I got an instructor who specialised in nervous people (a man), who on the first lesson told me I could trust him and he'd never do or say anything to frighten me. He was brilliant. It still took me three goes to pass, and Ken the instructor said that the only person holding me back was myself, and that I could have passed first go.

I also drove with my Dad beside me, as he was calm and peaceful and would not have dreamed of shouting at me. This helped a lot - I reckon he would have made a good instructor himself. Once I'd passed, Dad sat beside me as I drove on the motorway over and over again, until it became second nature.

Is there anyone in your life who's like my Dad? If so, I think it would help as the more you drive, the easier it will get. Good luck with it anyway.

RufusTFirefly Sat 18-Jun-11 09:22:46

Me again. I also think learning to breathe effectively will help. It goes like this:

Relax your facial muscles and jaw. Let your shoulders drop as you release the tension in them. Take a deep breath and feel it going all the way to the bottom of your lungs. Expel the breath, and repeat. Do this before each lesson - it may make you dizzy to start with.

This cured me of stage fright!

skeletonbones Sat 18-Jun-11 09:46:24

I suffer from this too and it makes me feel rather inadiquate! I have had endless lessons and lots of tests (and the bloody theory lapsing after two years doesnt help, have done that twice and would need to do it AGAIN now if I wanted another go) Have you thought about not having more lessons if you are now at the point where you have learned enough to be a good driver and just driving your own car whenever possible with a friend/relative/partner you trust who has had their licence for three years or whatever the length of time is where you can supervise other people? Then you can drive untill it becomes a normal non scary activity and take the test in your own car? This is my plan when I decide to face my driving fear again.

PrudenceNightly Sat 18-Jun-11 10:19:34

I sympathise with you and had exactly the same for 5 years and completely lost my independence. I went to see a consultant psychiatrist (I live in the middle east so can just self refer) and he put me on cipralex. No faffing around with how was your childhood or how do you feel, he said you have a physical problem, deal with it and get over it. Since then I have clocked about 50 000 km on my car and have gone from having numb hands and feet, vomiting and fainting and once actually pooing myself in terror (sorry but you did ask) to driving without a second thoughyt. I would also recommend a big 4x4.

PrudenceNightly Sat 18-Jun-11 10:19:35

I sympathise with you and had exactly the same for 5 years and completely lost my independence. I went to see a consultant psychiatrist (I live in the middle east so can just self refer) and he put me on cipralex. No faffing around with how was your childhood or how do you feel, he said you have a physical problem, deal with it and get over it. Since then I have clocked about 50 000 km on my car and have gone from having numb hands and feet, vomiting and fainting and once actually pooing myself in terror (sorry but you did ask) to driving without a second thoughyt. I would also recommend a big 4x4.

LastTrainHome Sun 19-Jun-11 10:40:43

Thanks for the replies, it's so helpful to read your experiences and comforting to know I'm not alone in this. Prudence - oh how awful, I'm considering myself very lucky to have not yet pooed in fear - if you can overcome that... just... wow!

DH is suggesting as well as therapy and drugs, to perhaps switch to automatic instead of manual, one of the first things I do when the fear hits is stall, then get into a worse state because of that (again, flashback to pervy driving instructor who screamed 'For fucks sake - you'll kill us all!!!' very loud when I once stalled on a roundabout) and I wonder if he may be right.

Some options to consider anyway, I'm determined not to give up on this!

bellatrixrocks Sun 19-Jun-11 11:00:51

Hi Last train!
I was exactly the same as you and didn't drive for 10 ten years after passing my test because I was so anxious and having panic attacks in the car!
I ended up having to get a car when we moved and I couldn't walk to work anymore. I had some refresher lessons with a very nice, calm instructor until I was ready to have a go in the car on my own.
I also switched to an automatic with powered steering which really really helped! I would never drive a manual again - too stressful for me!
I'm much calmer and confident now, I've always been a very careful driver but I'm so dithery anymore!
I still can't park very well and haven't been on the motorway on my own but I can live with that!

Don't give up! If I can do it anyone can!! grin

shuffleballchange Sun 19-Jun-11 11:08:37

I alos suffer from this after 10 years of having lessons on and off and 5 failed driving tests I finally passed. I was just starting to get up some confidence and not go into meltdown whenever I knew I had to drive somewhere, when our car broke down, and would cost too much to fix, we have not been able to afford a replacement for the last 3 years. So when we do finally get another I will have to have some revision lessons to build up my confidence. If you find a magic cure, please let me know grin GOOD LUCK

JoanneMallon Fri 24-Jun-11 11:27:23

Hello - I just spotted this as I have a request over here in the media section and am currently writing a book about fear of driving. I'm not trying to drum up interest in the book, though anyone who's interested is welcome to look at my request.

I just wanted to reassure you that this is a very, very, very common fear - both amongst people who drive and people who don't. I have been amazed by the number of people who've told me that they're scared of driving, and each assumed that they were the only one. Research into this topic is very sparse, but some experts put it in the top 10 fears along side fear of flying, fear of spiders etc.

As to what helps - yes some people do use medication, whilst others simply force themselves to get out there and drive (this is what I did after I had avoided driving for 7 years). It's such a common problem that there are specialist driving schools around the UK who can help - I spoke to the chap who runs this one recently and he seems to know his stuff. He estimated that up to 20% of people have some sort of fear of driving. Several hyphotherapists have also told me that many people come to them feeling like you do. So if you do decide to go and see somebody like that, you certainly won't be the first or last to do so.

Good luck and very best wishes to you.

izzywhizzyletsgetbusy Fri 24-Jun-11 16:46:14

There's likely to be a long waiting for CBT and it seems to me that you haven't got an unreasonable phobia about driving - because of your past experiences you've got an understandable fear of driving which is causing you to experience extreme anxiety and panic attacks.

Describe your symptoms and ask your GP to prescribe a beta-blocker which should go a long way to alleviating your problem.

Your GP may be able to recommend a local hypnotherapist, but if not source a reputable practitioner and book a few sessions.

You know the root cause of your fear, and with a little help you will be able to overcome it.

I do hope you'll come back with an update.

gethelp Fri 24-Jun-11 17:05:06

Keep going though, I didn't pass my test until I was 30 because of the same feelings as you. Passing your test and driving on your own gives you confidence and the more you drive the better you feel. Independence is a great thing and worth the nightmare of nerves now. I think the beta-blocker is a great idea.

JIRkids Fri 24-Jun-11 17:16:01

I was afraid for ages too. I think the main problem was that I passed test at 18, never had a car, then went to uni never had (or could afford to run car), went to work in London didn't really need a car. Once had my first child moved away from London, would have loved a car to get around easily with children but was too scared. I only started driving when it started being really hard to get around with 2 children, we also wanted to move and it was limiting our options. We eventually bought a second car for me (automatic as wanted to keep both hands on the wheel and not stall or worry about changing gear every two seconds!). I drive all the time now as we have moved and I need to do all school/pre school runs in the car until they move to local school. I still haven't been on a motorway which some people think is a bit weird but I get to where we need to get to on a daily basis!!
It makes sense to be afraid of driving, you could have a small lapse of judgement and cause all sorts of damage, you could kill someone, it is a huge responsibility.

BabyDubsEverywhere Fri 24-Jun-11 17:33:37

This is so me, I am convinced that I will kill someone if I drive. I really want to be a driver, although i tell everyone i dont want to be.

About the BetaBlockers.....does anyone know if my docs would allow me to take these...I have BiPolar so already take Quetiapine, I want the magic pills to take my anxiety (about everything!) away smile

BabyDubsEverywhere Fri 24-Jun-11 17:35:09

The auto idea seems like an option, hmm, this has given me food for thought, thanks OP smile

inatrance Fri 24-Jun-11 17:45:20

Hi I am a hypnotherapist and have successfully treated driving phobias many times. I would recommend a therapist who uses hypnosis combined with NLP or EFT for best results.

BabyDubsEverywhere Fri 24-Jun-11 17:52:55

What is NLP or EFP?

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