Learning to drive is bringing my anxious past flooding back but now, thankfully, I can talk myself down far faster. It’s also FUN…
I’ve always had a vivid imagination and while this is often a good thing, it was terrible when I was younger before I even knew that cultivating my mind might be a possibility.
The past decade or so, I’ve learned to amuse myself by SHARING (some of) the anxious thoughts that still pop up unbidden but which I can now diffuse and release.
Sunlight is the best disinfectant and just letting it out (to someone safe or a journal) is helpful.
And oddly, moving countries to a place I didn’t know anyone – even having just 9 days to find a rental in Ireland and close up my UK life, pack etc etc – was less stressful than learning to drive initially.
While people kept telling me I was brave, moving somewhere I didn’t know anyone, I’d done it on a smaller scale a few times. I’m the daughter AND granddaughter of immigrants (India to Kenya, Kenya to Scotland, Kenya to London, Ireland to London…).
Every time I felt overwhelmed, I imagined my grandmothers, mother and father (I never knew either grandfather as they died so young) and that helped me.
Yet even though I know many many MANY people who drive motorised vehicles, it always felt as dramatic as launching myself off into space.
I feel like I’ve REALLY befriended that anxious part of myself and learned how to use the body and breath to help retrain my nervous system and rewire my brain (tools I adore sharing with clients, supervisees, members, groups, audiences and readers).
I’ve been a trauma therapist for 14 years and have used trauma therapy pioneer Babette Rothchild’s learning to drive analogy with countless clients: Learner drivers are taught how to STOP the car first of all (it’s not about reliving the trauma, the client ALWAYS has the power to brake by grounding and resourcing themselves)
While the residual concussion means I haven’t started formal lessons yet (I’ll need 12 before applying to take my driving test) I’ve had countless lessons with an exceedingly patient loved one.
Some of these lessons have been 10 minutes, others 40. I think I’m nearly ready to book some hour long lessons with a professional instructor but am astonished at how far I’ve come in just 6 weeks.
Highlights include driving the 9km country lane loop around my house. Driving down the lane the first time felt beyond magical as I imagined myself as A Proper Grown Up giving other people lifts.
I’ve even given my first lift (for the first mile of a longer journey) and my loved one said it was smooth and that she hadn’t been terrified! Am winning!
Lowlights include driving up a hedge after scaring myself with too much acceleration (before I got that bit better – still a long way to go – with clutch control) and catastrophising about both launching us into space and crashing into the field.
But I (and my exceedingly patient informal instructor) gave myself a few minutes to breathe in a way that calms the nervous system and ground before (gently and very carefully) taking off again.
In Ireland, people call starting the car ‘taking off’.
I adore this phrase AND it also makes me picture myself in a rocket heading out of the earth’s orbit.
Knowing how to stop with confidence and in a smooth and gentle way is key.
My biggest mistake so far has been congratulating myself for a tricky (for me) turn then mixing up the brake and accelerator, having NO idea why Beatrice Lobster (my beautiful, patient, smiley, friendly and forgiving little Skoda) was making such awful noises.
I requested (and got) loads of extra practice stopping and starting in a quiet industrial estate before heading back onto the open road (quiet country lanes I’ve been practicing on) again.
Because I trust my instructor, I’m able to notice my usual nodding and smiling as if I understand the words that are being said and then say, ‘I didn’t get any of that.’
Until this experience of learning to drive, I had no idea how anxious I’d been about learning everything I’ve ever learned. I also hadn’t realised the extent of my nodding and smiling appreciatively, as if I TOTALLY understand, EXPECTING myself to understand new (to me) things not only on the first attempt but BEFORE they’ve been explained to me.
I recently started an online course and found myself researching related info hoping to sort everything out before the course even began. Then I reminded myself that the reason I’d enrolled in the training was to be taught what might be helpful. I don’t need to have all the answers before I begin.
It’s been a real learning curve.
And going back to basics over and over is really helpful.
Am noticing some parallels between learning to drive (with this patient loved one instructing me and, soon, official lessons) with my teaching myself to play the piano.
I adore playing the so old it was tuned to itself new (to me) piano which I got via a local Freecycle page last year.
As a small child, when my family moved from Tottenham in London to Essex, I loved picking out tunes on the piano that had been left in our house.
My parents (bless them) thought they were doing A Good Thing in getting me piano lessons but even though I had lessons for several years and passed several grades (violin too) I always hated sight reading and being told how to do it.
I just wanted to PLAY.
My teachers were always terrifying (to me). Presumably, teaching a little girl who never practiced and was always off in her own little world wasn’t their dream job but all I remember was being scared of them shouting at me.
Am pretty sure that the reason I’ve never worn heels was because my violin teacher always wore stilettos to our lessons and I thought THEY were the reason she always seemed so angry.
This piano and living out in the country has been really healing for me as I just sit down at least once a day and PLAY.
Maybe for a few seconds, maybe for a few minutes. But it’s not FOR anything, just a way to rest and relax and get tangled notes out of my head and into the air. Figuring things out that then either sound good or not.
But not worrying about mistakes.
Incorporating mistakes as best as I can into the tune.
And I’m using both hands! The last time I’d played (sooooo many years ago), I massively struggled to co-ordinate both hands. I’m imagining that all the trauma recovery, yoga and other mind body practices have helped me become more embodied and it just WORKS somehow.
Naturally, after talking to someone about this the other day, all smug, my instructor pointed out that I need to work on my steering as my left hand wasn’t doing ANYTHING.
He said lots of things about push pull steering and eventually, I said I didn’t understand any of that because I’d learned he was a safe person to confess such realities to.
And after he explained again, I GOT it.
Because my self talk has improved enormously (not in the immediate moment but very quickly afterwards), I’m no longer prolonguing each stress response.
What are you doing to expand your comfort zone?
Which helpful self care tools from your past are helping you again now?
Feel free to email firstname.lastname@example.org to let me know.
And please feel free to share this post so others who may find it helpful can read it.
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