Thursday, 23 July 2015

Healing Diary: Why I'm Nervous about Driving

I get very anxious about driving my car. I used to be really confident, and if you read my post about getting my provisional license, I was ecstatic that I could drive on my own, I felt free, I described it as one of the greatest feelings in the world.
But now, when I drive, I feel this sense of dread. Not about crashing or anything, oddly enough, I know how to drive safely and I have airbags even if I crash. No, my concern is getting lost, running out of petrol and, basically, my car losing its abilities to get me home.
It's irrational, you don't have to tell me that, I know that. But there's precedence for it. There were three incidents in my life which have triggered this anxiety when it comes to driving. The Word of the Day is: 'LOST'

Lost /lost/ adj. 1. No longer possessed or kept: Lost friends. 2. No longer to be found: Lost articles. 3. Confused as to place, direction, etc. 4. (of time, etc.) wasted. 5. Not achieved or won: A lost prize. 6. Attended with defeat: A lost battle. 7. Destroyed or ruined. 8. Lost to, a. No longer belonging to. b. No longer open to: The opportunity was lost to him. c. Unfeeling to: To be lost to all sense of duty. ♦v. 9. Past tense of lose.

Incident 1: You Can't Trust Petrol Stations

The first time I drove my car on my own late at night, it was because my brother James had just finished work and discovered a flat battery. He called me, asked if I could come with jumper cables, I said no problem. As I'm driving, I see that I have about a quarter tank of petrol. I figure, no worries, I'll just get some fuel. There are two petrol stations on the way, but one's on the other side of a busy road, I figure I'll pull into the one on the way. So, I pull in, open the fuel panel, undo the cap and rest it on the back of the car, then I put the pump in and pull the trigger . . . nothing. I was confused, so I put the pump back and walk up to the storefront. All of the lights are on, but it's closed, dead empty.
I thought that was pretty stupid, but I figure I'll cut my losses. I get back in my car and drive off. As I execute a lane-change, I see in my rear view mirror that I've left my fuel panel open. So, I easily pull over the car by the road. There, I get out, walk around to close the panel and . . . the fuel cap is missing. Because of the disconnect of not having the fuel pump work, the whole ritual of refueling had stopped mid-session, I hadn't put the cap on or closed the panel. I left it on the boot of the car, but it's not there anymore, it must have come off as I drove. I'd driven about 100 metres at this point, so I run up the road, looking in drains and all along the gutter for my fuel cap, but I couldn't find it. I looked for a solid 20 minutes, since I didn't know what would happen if I drove without a cap, but after searching for ages, I again, decide to cut my losses and drive on.

My dad bought me a new petrol cap a day later, but ever since that experience, I've been wary of petrol stations. I mean, if it's closed, why are the lights on? Even the lights up the aisles, is it for the security camera?
It's very confusing to me, because unless I'd looked it up beforehand, how am I supposed to tell if it's open or closed? The closed sign wasn't on the door, the shop was just empty and the door wouldn't open. I didn't even know that petrol stations could close, sure after I put some thought into it I can understand why some might, but I hadn't consciously considered it until then; especially because they leave their lights on even when closed, it was very misleading. So, I was wary of petrol stations.

Incident 2: "You Can't Find Your Way Home"

Not long after that, I was still pretty confident with driving, but I had become wary of petrol stations, so I avoid them unless I have to use them, not only because I don't want to waste money buying fuel any old time if I can wait for a cheaper day, but also because this was before I was on Newstart Allowance, so every tank of fuel was a scoop out of my slowly depleting bank account, and I liked to wait for a moment when I could con my parents into driving and then refuelling my car.
I organized to watch a movie with a friend of mine, at Indooroopilly Shopping Centre, a mall nestled beside the Brisbane CBD.
I left the house with a quarter tank of fuel, and I figured that, if it took too long to get home, I'd just refuel on the way back. In fact, as I drove into the city, I saw two petrol stations on the road I'd have to take back, so I felt safe that I could use them. In fact, as I drove into the carpark, I saw a third petrol station just next to the shop, so I felt satisfied that I had plenty of opportunities to refuel.
  Three hours later . . . 
I've seen my friend, we had a fun time at the movies, we had lunch, now it's time to go home. The sun is setting as I get in the car, and I see that my fuel is still around the ⅛ mark. It's enough to get home, but I figure I should get a refill anyway, if I can. So, before I even leave, I check my directory to make sure I know where the petrol station is. I find it, it's all good, I just need to go around the block and there it is. So, I drive out. Unfortunately, Indooroopilly is a shopping centre, and this petrol station is right beside it, as is the entryway, so by the time I spot it, I'm past it. But I don't worry at first, I just figure I need to circle the block and I'll get it next time, right?
Well, no. There's no "circling the block" in the city, because for some reason, whoever designed the city had more of a "plinko" style of traffic flow, whereby even if you knock around left and right, the one-way streets still drain you in the same, general direction. So, despite looking for more left turns to escape, I find myself passing down several side streets with "no left turn" signs, By the time I finally do, I'm passing a school zone, and I have no idea where I am. but, before I can take another left turn and start heading back, I find another "no left turn" at a T-section, I have to head right again.
So, I join another river of traffic, and I just get carried along. I consider pulling over to the side of the road to check my map, but I wasn't very confident with my parallel parking, and the side of the road was lined with cars bumper to bumper, no spaces except for alleyways, crossings and corners. Now, I'm heading further into hills and suburbia at this point and I have no idea where I am, so I decide "I'll meander until I can pull over, then I'll find my way again."
So, I find a side-street away from main roads, drive in and pull over next to some school field somewhere. Okay, so at this point, the sun is well and truly down, it's night time. I look for this school on the map and find it quickly, then I find a path back. I abandon that petrol station, it would be too hard to get back, I just want to find the highway that heads home, because I know there are TWO petrol stations there, remember. I'll be fine. The petrol is still around that eighth, but I'm feeling uncomfortable about it, and no longer is it an option, I know I need petrol, I just need to get back to the main road. So, with my path figured out, I get in the car and drive. I've memorized. Drive straight down, right, left, right, right (or something like that) and I'll be on the road back to the main path.
So, I drive straight down . . . right, then wait for it, drive down this road . . . left, and there's my turn . . . no right turn. I get to the intersection and it's a one-way street, or so it seems, I can't pull over, I have to turn in. So, I follow the road left instead, starting to feel uncomfortable, but maybe I can turn around? So, I try to correct this little error, but i can't. The road heads for an intersection, and my only options are to cross the road or turn left again into a slip lane. So, I opt for the slip-lane, but that slip-lane leads me onto a main road in a suburb I don't recognize. I am swept along, swaying and dipping with the hills as we go, and I don't remember this many hills driving into the city, so I feel very uncomfortable. But then I get to a T-intersection. I don't have time to decide, I have to turn right, I'm in the right-turning lane, so I enter it, but I'm on some kind of escarpment overlooking a rolling suburbia, and I start to get upset.
No no no no, I tell my steering wheel, as we follow another winding road, and I can't pull over, because cars line this street too. So I follow the street, but I don't know where I'm going, I feel lost. And I start going up and down hills, shifting gears so that the engine can manage. And I start to panic as I go up one hill that's so steep I'm in first gear, and I imagine the gurgling fuel getting sucked dry like chocolate milkshake at the bottom of a parfait glass, getting slurped dry.

In fact, as I head uphill, the "low fuel" warning light comes on. I panic and pull over. I immediately turn off the car and the lights and I start to fret. As I catch my breath, I realize that it's just the tilt of the car because I'm on a hill at a forty degree angle or so. There's still fuel, it's just not near the indicator in the tank; but I still feel my heart racing anyway.
I have no idea where I am, I have no idea how much fuel I have, I have no idea where the next petrol station is, I have no idea how much fuel I'll need to get home and even if I use my directory to point me in the direction of a local petrol station - thanks to my previous encounter with a small-chain petrol station - I have no idea if it will even be open at this time of night.
But, I am determined not to panic. With a surge of nervous energy, I jump out of the car and run up the street. There's an intersection up there, and a street sign. I just need to find two street signs, and I will have identified my location. Then, knowing that, I can find my way back to the main road. As I run up the street, I also realize, one of the stations I passed on the way here was covered with lights and had a recognizable name. Those brands are always open 24/7, I can feel hope for the first time all evening. So, with sore legs, I get to the top of this hill, I find one sign, but the other one is further down the road. I jog across for twenty metres or so before I come to it, I write the name down in my notepad, then I head all the way back. I walk down the hill, in an effort to slow my heart rate down, but it doesn't work, I'm anxious, but kind of excited, I have my first clues.
I get to the car, quickly open the door, grab my directory and shut the door. I don't know how long it will take to map this out, so I don't want to use my car's interior lights, I use the flashlight on my phone to search the book.

When I found out where I was, I realized it was rather far from where I had come from (about two pages in an A5-sized street directory), but I saw that I was close to a main road that would lead me to a highway, and towards home, I just needed to follow a little route to get to the highway. So, I double-check to make sure that I won't get turned away from my route, I hop in the car and, with fingers metaphorically crossed, I start the car. Easy as pie, Gemini fires up and we head up the hill, I'm a little upset that I have to head all the way up in first, but I follow the path and soon I'm on the main road again.
But, I'm not on the main road for more than a minute when I see an opportunity. A big, green sign pointing off, it had a street name on it that I recognized. It was basically a sign saying "highway - this way! >>" I took the chance, I slipped right through, and shortly after that, I was back on the highway, baby!
I came to a set of lights, and stopped, and as I sat at the lights, I realized that my feet were shaking. As my foot sat on the clutch, and my other on the brake, my heels were bouncing nervously, I couldn't control it. I used the floor mat to steady my feet, so that it wouldn't disrupt my driving, but it was very distracting. In fact, when I saw the petrol station, I didn't even realize that I was in the wrong lane. I quickly changed lanes, and as I did, I heard a screech of tires!

I didn't crash, but I don't know what happened, I can't remember. At the time, I assumed that I didn't check that the lane was clear, properly, and that the person behind me had hit their brakes, but I didn't see any lights in my rear view mirror, or in the lane I'd just left, and I hadn't hit anything because there was no crash. I pulled into the petrol station, and I checked the car and looked over at the road, there were no dings or skidmarks or wrecks, and I figured that if I'd gotten into an accident, one of the three other people at the pumps would have told me, but they didn't even look up when I checked around. Perhaps the brakes were mine as I slowed down to turn up the drive, and I was so focussed on turning I hadn't realized how quickly I'd decelerated, but I honestly don't know, all I know is that it also set me on edge.
I had a $20 note, so I filled up my tank that much, and paid the person inside. I made sure that I'd re-capped and closed my fuel tank, then I headed off. But I was shaken up, and the whole way home, my heels were still shaking.

Incident 3: "You Can't Trust Your Car"

Throughout all of these occasions, there has always been one constant: my car. I love my car, I call it Gemini. I bought the car from my friend who is a car fanatic, just like his father, and they took great care of the car. It has a lot of power, a lot of torque and although its fuel economy isn't as slick as newer cars, it's a reliable car and hasn't let me down.
Well, that is to say, it usually doesn't let me down.

It's probably my fault. See, I had an appointment to get to - I can't remember what it was, but it was just a month ago or so - and I got in my car, turned the key in the ignition and . . . nothing. I was confused.
There wasn't revving, no spinning, no lights. All I could hear was the keys jingling in my hand when I turned it in the ignition. The battery was flat. I didn't believe it, it made no sense that the battery would just die for no reason, so I checked around the console, and when I turned the dial for the lights, I realized that I could turn it off. The lights had been left on.
I don't know whose fault it was. There's a very high possibility that it was me, and I choose to believe that, although there is doubt in my mind because the "P-plate" stickers weren't on the windows (which are always on after I drive my car home), and the doors were unlocked, and since I park my car in an open carport, I always lock my car doors.

But, the reason why doesn't matter, what matters is my battery was flat. Now, I was fine with that. It's happened before, once Dad was driving and broke the alternator, but the alternator failed in an open position and that depleted the battery. That wasn't what made me anxious. Rather, Sean wanted to go out one time, and I told him "I can't, my battery is flat".
He said that he'd come around and we'd give it a jump start, so he drove over and we hooked up the cars, and we charged the battery. It was very, very flat because it took the full ten minutes before the ignition could even catch a spark, there was a tense five minutes when every turn of the key gave a slow, sad, rolling whir from the engine. But eventually, it started, and we got ready to set off.

Now, I think I made two fatal mistakes now. Firstly, I relaxed. I don't think that I should have been tense and anxious, that's part of why I have a problem in the first place, by being tense all the time. But I probably should have been a little more cautious, because I just rolled back into my same routine.
I got in the car, turned the air conditioner on, turned on the radio, all of that. Admittedly, some of this was to make me feel more comfortable. I don't like sitting in silence, so I always listen to the radio when I'm alone in the car, but that might have been a little silly. But I didn't think it would matter. I knew that the battery would charge when I got on the highway, I just needed to get onto the highway, so the alternator could recharge that battery as I sped along.
I stopped on one street to turn the corner, but as I hit the brakes, the lights dimmed slightly. I thought it was a little odd, but I was fine when the car stopped, so I went down the hill and turned the corner.
My second mistake was, I didn't use that opportunity to stop and/or change my driving. Because of my experiences with being unable to find a petrol station, I used to drive in quite a high gear, since that uses less fuel. It's a bad habit, but because my car has a lot of torque, it wasn't usually a problem. I could get away with it, since my car had the guts to do it. But I wasn't concentrating, so when I turned onto the main road, I revved up through second and third and got to my comfortable fourth, then cruised up the street and saw the lights.

I changed down to second and third, then I applied the brakes. As I did, the lights began to dim again. I figured I needed to come to a stop and revv the engine a bit, but I was freaking out about running up the arse of Sean's car that had stopped in front of me. If I had the time, I would have realized that I could have held the clutch in, and given the accelerator a tap. Hell, I could have slammed on the accelerator as hard as I wanted, since with the clutch disengaged the car wouldn't have moved forward; and after giving the battery some juice, I could have pressed the brake to my heart's content.
Hell, in a pinch, I could have applied the handbrake and given the engine a roar, ignoring the foot-brake completely. I did none of these things, however, I pretty much held the brakes, and prayed for a miracle which didn't come . . . the lights turned off, the engine went cold.
All warmth dropped out of my body, as silence and darkness fell over me. I turned the key, but it didn't even turn. The ignition lights turned on, but it wasn't turning the starter, the battery was as good as dead.

Sean was right in front of me. I pressed the horn, but the horn didn't work. I tapped it three times, hearing the pitiful click of the plastic button tapping against a metal switch that was on a dead circuit. So, I opened my door and rapidly tapped on my roof and waved to get Sean's attention. He got out and asked if the car would start. I showed him, no, totally dead out. I pressed for my hazard lights, but they too couldn't turn on, the car was dead.
He said to open the bonnet, and wait for him to come back, he needed to move his car out of the intersection. So, he got in his car, and drove around. As he left, I knew my hazard lights weren't working, and although my hood was up (the international symbol for "this car is fucked"), cars were approaching from behind, and couldn't see it. So, I stood around the back of the car, waving cars to go either side. That's perhaps the worst part, I was in the centre lane, cars either side and I felt like I was surrounded by danger. No sane person wants to get hit by a car, I needed to get people to go around me, as I stood in the path of oncoming traffic, hoping that they would see me and my unlit car as we stood in the middle of a busy main road.
Some people asked why my hazards weren't on, so I just called out "dead battery", they seemed to get it. But I was panicking, I wasn't sure what to do. I checked my RACQ card and called the number, but my phone was out of credit and wouldn't connect. Sean had disappeared from view (since it was a main road, and he couldn't just park on it, he had to move his car out of the way and run back), and I didn't know what to do. It was the only number I could dial anyway, so I tried 000. The operator asked if I needed fire, ambulance or police. I explained my car was obstructing the intersection, and I needed help to move it. He paused for a moment and asked. "So, do you want me to transfer you to fire, ambulance or police?"
I thought for a second, and in a stomach-sinking moment of clarity realized that I wasn't on fire, I wasn't hurt and there wasn't any crime going on. I apologized, and said I didn't really need any of them. I hung up as Sean returned. He asked who I was calling, and I said I tried to call RACQ, feeling embarrassed, exposed, lost and completely incapable of helping myself.
He told me to get in the car and he'd push. I offered to push, but he insisted, just get in, go down the hill and pull over somewhere. So, I got in my cold, dead car and he pushed the car to the intersection. My window was wound down so I could hear him, and he told me to ignore the lights, just go. The path was clear, so I let go of the brake, he pushed, and I turned the corner. I had to force the wheel around, because my power steering was off, and then I began to roll down the hill. Sean jogged to keep up and told me to pull over where it was safe, then he ran back for his car. I pulled into the first side-street, by braking slightly, then peering out my windshield in the darkness, trying to see where the curb was, and I steered myself as close to the side of the road as was comfortable, and braked to a stop.

After starting my car up again, I didn't feel comfortable driving at all. Even when Sean offered to drive my car for me and get me to drive the car he'd brought, I couldn't do it. So, we drove my car back to my place, and I got in the passenger seat, and we went to his house.
We just kinda chatted for a while, and blew off the outing we were going to go to, but for some reason, I lost my cool. See, I tend to just go with the flow, I enjoy different experiences, if someone needs for me to stay on the couch or make my way home, that's fine. However, I didn't feel comfortable, and as the time slipped on, I wanted to go home. So, although he was tired, Sean drove me to the train station and I caught one of the last trains inbound to the city.
But, as I stood at the train station, I felt uncomfortable. It's a feeling that I now associate with anxiety, but at the time I thought it was a niggling edge of depression. I was basically stuck, wondering what the point if that night was. I wanted to go out, and all I had achieved was a broken car, and feeling cold, stuck at a train station, with no idea when the train would actually come.
Worst of all, I remembered what I used to do at train stations. I used to think about story stuff, and solidify ideas. I tried to do it, but I couldn't, I was cold and exhausted and alone in the dark.
I managed to distract myself by reading the graffiti scratched into the chairs and phone alcove, and wondering what kind of maintenance would be required on the soda vending machine which stood out in the open, noisily humming away, and wondering what kind of technology stabilized the refrigeration temperature. It was all dumb, boring stuff, but it was better than sitting quietly and waiting, because my mind would then start going in circles, trying to figure out how exactly I got from happy at home to stuck at a cold, empty train station in the dark with a dead car battery, no writing done, no job and feeling lost.

I also had some trouble getting home, because after the train arrived, it was the last train meaning it stopped at central, and they told me to get a taxi home, and then I had trouble paying because I didn't have enough money in my front account. But, I was glad for that, because it occupied my mind, and kept me from worrying. When I finally did get home, I felt tired, but I talked to my girlfriend about it, and managed to move on. But ever since then, I have felt very uncomfortable about driving my car, especially refuelling it or driving with less than a half-full tank.

In conclusion, I know that it's irrational, and after buying a battery charger and restoring my battery, I have driven my car, and on some occasions - especially driving somewhere I know - I have even felt that sense of freedom I used to feel whenever I drove. I do enjoy driving.
But if anyone says they need me to drive somewhere, I get a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach and try to avoid it, because there is this sense of unease. Thankfully, this is something that I'm working on with my psychologist, identifying these feelings and working to resolve, appease or annihilate them, but I'm not over it yet. I hope this has helped you to understand a little better what it's like to be inside my struggling mind.

1 comment:

  1. Very understandable. Cars do bring a certain bulk with them. The added weight of their technology, their layout, their materials, their fueling mechanisms. All of those can be rickety and unstable, and their complications can domino on each other. In the end though, it's about maintenance and making sure that all the aspects of your car has been checked. Once you do that, and you are in the clear, then you'll be fine.

    Abraham Yates @ Apache Oil Company


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