My Hazardous Driving Condition

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On days like yesterday, when the roads are a mess of icy-slush, there is always that car that just seems to be inching along.  Annoying, right? That person should have just stayed home. Well… I hate to admit it but that’s me hunched over the steering wheel, staring wide-eyed at the road. Okay, maybe I’m not quite that bad. But I can’t help it – driving in lousy weather terrifies me. I promise you, when I can, I avoid it. But I’m a diligent employee and live closer than almost anyone else to the store.  It feels wrong to call out because I’m afraid to get behind the wheel.

Every winter I am determined to be brave. After all, other people drive in the snow and don’t seem traumatized. But my hands cramp from squeezing the steering wheel. I need to remind myself to breathe, I shrug my shoulders to release the tension that threatens to paralyze me. Plotting my route carefully – I go for the roads most likely to be clear – although I stay off the highway – the less speed the better for me and I certainly don’t want the additional terror of 16 wheeler trucks barreling alongside me. Usually I head for the Post Road – although equally frightening can be those crazy-huge SUVs with names like “ENVOY” disdainfully spraying me with slush as they speed by.

Honestly, I’m really a little embarrassed by this crazy fear of mine. Even more so because I drive a Subaru Forester with excellent tires. I mean, you can’t get much better than that for great snow driving. It’s me. I lack physical confidence and weirdly, I feel like even my car knows it, as if it were a horse. As a 12 year old, I tried horseback riding. After a summer of lessons, I finally admitted that I didn’t believe the massive creature I sat upon would ever think I was in charge. I certainly didn’t think so.

In other ways, I am not a coward. I’ll travel the world by myself without a thought. I willingly went to live in a war zone – and was not fearful. Public speaking feels completely natural for me – something many of my bravest friends are terrified of. But physically, I am a complete chicken. I don’t like adrenaline rushes brought on by physical thrills. I’ve never ridden a roller coaster and never intend to, in fact, amusement parks are a waste for me – I’m not going to willingly get jerked and tossed around.  I got as far as the swimming pool part of scuba diving training and bagged it.  The last time (and I mean, the last time) I took a ski lift ride I kept my eyes closed the entire time.

I think my dread relates to control — of my lack of it. That terrifies me. During those last years with my husband as he slid faster and faster down the steep slope of addiction, I felt like I was spinning across an icy highway full of traffic. Through the chaos, I tried to hang on, sliding along on the scariest, slipperiest slopes, flailing about for stability. There wasn’t a damn thing I could do. I kept trying. Until I didn’t. And then he died.

Maybe I’m reading too much into this. But a decade later, it’s only on those messy roads full of fearless, or maybe reckless drivers, that I get that same sick-to-my-stomach feeling. It’s a familiar horror as the steering wheel becomes useless in my hands as I slip on an icy road — even if only in my imagination.

What am I afraid of? Crashing the car? Injury? Death – either mine or someone else’s? Yes. I am afraid of all of those things. I should stay home.

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3 Responses to My Hazardous Driving Condition

  1. Julia Roberts says:

    You know I hated my commute and am so relieved not to have it anymore. However, I will share what a psychologist told me when I was struggling with what was causing anxiety attacks. He said that usually therapists want their clients to face their fears and eventually get over them. That was true with flying for me. I kept struggling through and suddenly one day I was no longer afraid. In fact I love looking at the clouds and reading and often don’t even notice we’re landing until the wheels touch down. Instead, with this particular instance, my anxiety was getting worse with each reminder as I drove through well-meaning towns. He said there are just some things best to avoid. Ergo, we now live in the Midwest,I’ve retired, and I avoided media yesterday. I know that is not your option or choice, but skipping work or going in late once in awhile may be just what the doctor ordered, friend.

  2. Tricia says:

    Yes, I am a brat to complain when so many, like you did, have horrible commutes. I will try and follow doctor’s orders! xx

  3. Maybe you could try snow tires? I used to feel like that and as a result would often get stuck in snow in NH. Now I have them I feel I’ve done everything possible and drive more confidently. Not any faster, necessarily, but not terrified either. In fact I’m more scared driving with the men in my life, who are fearless. (Back to that control thing…)

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