Driving Anxiety

I’ve been getting driving lessons for over a year now and passed my theory test on Tuesday, but I feel like I still have a long way to go before I’ll be able to sit the practical test. 

I felt like the first driving instructor I had was just trying to con me out of money and despite having a lot of lessons with him, I made relatively little progress. I took my parents’ and grandparents’ advice and stopped having lessons with him, and started having lessons with another driving instructor who, my dad had heard, was very good. But I feel that lessons with her are even worse. She criticises me for every little mistake that I make, and has shouted at me on a couple of occasions for things that weren’t even my fault. For example, once when we were out driving, another driver was tailgating me and I had to brake because the instructor suddenly wanted me to turn left. I didn’t brake harshly but the other vehicle was so close behind that it had to swerve, and was inches away from going into the back of the car. She made me pull over the car after this and then gave me a massive row, as if it had been entirely my fault. I was obviously anxious before I started lessons with her but I think she has made me into an even more anxious driver. I tried explaining my anxiety to her at first but she just dismissively told me: “Don’t be”. When I do something wrong, she keeps telling me that I need to think faster, as if she thinks I’m half-asleep at the wheel or something. The problem is not that my thinking is too slow; it’s that my thinking is either way too fast and about too many things at once, or it’s impaired by anxiety. I hate the way she talks to me and I hate the way that she often mocks me if I make a mistake. I actually enjoy having driving practise with one of my parents because I’m less anxious then and they don’t mock me (unless it’s in a joking way), whereas I hate driving lessons with that instructor. I actually end up crying after some of our lessons because of the way she talks to me and because of how anxious I feel during the lesson (and contrary to what my last couple of posts may have led you to believe, I am not someone who cries at every little thing). I don’t think most people would put up with being talked to the way she talks to me, but of course, having SA makes it very difficult for me to be assertive. And it’s because I lack confidence that she gets away with it. It’s no wonder that many socially anxious people have issues with repressed anger, given that we find it so difficult to stand up for ourselves when someone is treating us badly. I had hoped to get my practical test passed before going back to university but when I asked the driving instructor how many more lessons she reckoned I would need, she said that it will probably take me a long time, and she essentially said that I’m a terrible driver. This instructor, combined with being criticised at work, has not helped my self-esteem or confidence in recent months.

After being angry and fed-up with the way that the other instructor treats me, I very recently started having lessons with my cousin’s driving instructor (my cousin has already passed her test and recommended her instructor). In terms of anxiety, this instructor does seem to be a bit better. She doesn’t panic me when I make a mistake and doesn’t criticise me constantly. After our first lesson last week, she says that my driving is very good and that it won’t be long before I’m able to pass my test. She says that my reversing around a corner and turns in the road (three-point turns) are already at test standards. I honestly don’t know who to believe. I’m feeling quite annoyed and disheartened by the process of learning to drive. I’ve already spent well over £1000 (more than most people spend on their first car) on lessons and probably still need many more before I’ll be able to sit the test. It feels like I’m throwing my money down the drain. All the money I earn at work (which is not a lot) is going towards driving lessons at the moment, and that doesn’t cover the costs of driving practice with my parents (which is gradually depleting the money in my savings account). I’m currently still having lessons with the critical instructor. I can’t decide whether to stop having lessons with her or not. Even just the thought of texting her to inform her that I don’t want any more lessons from her fills me with anxiety.

I know that learning to drive is something that many people with social anxiety find very difficult. It’s the combination of performance anxiety, having to make small talk with the instructor, worrying about making a mistake or doing something dangerous because anxiety impairs our driving ability, and worrying about being judged negatively by other drivers. Making small talk with someone is difficult enough when we can focus more of our attention on it, never mind when driving at the same time. I worry that I’ll never be able to pass my test due to how nervous I’ll be during the test.

The most frustrating aspect of progress with my driving being so slow is that my dad and people at work are pressuring me to get my test passed. My boss at work says that I’m “falling behind everyone else” with the driving and “need to get a move on”, and ever since my cousin (who is a year younger than me) passed her test, my dad keeps nagging me, telling me that I need to get my test passed soon. It does get quite annoying. I just try to keep telling myself that, despite what these people seem to think, it’s not a race. It might take me considerably longer than most people, and I may have a few failed attempts first, but I’ll get there eventually. I suppose I need to remind myself that it’s the same for other things, such as finishing university, making friends, and being in a relationship. I just hope that I manage those things eventually as well.

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