How, I wonder, biting back the tears, did I let myself become so afraid? I’ve never enjoyed driving, but I used to drive my daughters to school, get myself to work, take my dad to the Royal Marsden and squeeze into some horribly tight spaces in the hospital car park. But in the last couple of years, a dislike of driving has become a full-blown phobia, one that’s made me feel horribly guilty every time I have to ask Tom to take me somewhere and something that’s made me terribly ashamed of myself.
We live in a remote spot which we love, but there’s one bus an hour to the nearest town and the nearest train station is 25 miles away… yet the more I told myself I had to beat my fear of driving, the worse it got. Until last week.
‘You’ll be fine,’ Tom assures me, having given me a refresher tour of various switches. ‘Take your time and go off when you’re ready.’ He heads back indoors and I take some deep breaths and repeat my new mantra, I am a calm, confident driver… and then I’m off. I honestly don’t know how I’ve found the courage to do this, but I do know I can’t go on feeling so disgusted with myself. For the first few moments, I freak myself out with ‘what ifs?’; what if I get stuck behind a tractor and can’t overtake? What if I encounter temporary traffic lights and the red light stays red? What if I make a (completely unspecified) Horrible Mistake?
Then, I stop turning everything into a catastrophe and deal with the road one stretch at time; I drive slowly along our narrow lane and turn right on to the main road. I drive 8 miles to the nearest roundabout, turn right and drive home again. As a final flourish, I decide to reverse into the steep, narrow entrance to our drive. It takes me three attempts and I stall the car twice but I get in without knocking down a wall or gouging a lump out of the car. Success. Over the next couple of days, I repeat this journey and each time it gets slightly easier. Say, 8/10 on the fear factor instead of 10/10.
On Tuesday, I drive myself to my dental appointment in town - an 18 mile round trip. On the way back I think about Dad who, when I was a teenager, gave me the keys of his brand new Volvo and said, ‘just drive it, Miss Chris.’ What I’d give to be able to drive Dad somewhere now. He’d laugh about me making such a fuss, but he’d be proud that I’m trying to overcome my fear. It’s a small step, but a giant leap.