Disordered Driving – passing your test when you have mental health issues

Hello all, and sorry for the hiatus.

These past couple of weeks have been hectic; I passed my driving test, got a car, became officially discharged from outpatient. It’s been a wild ride to be honest.

But now, let’s get down to business to defeat the Huns! (Had to, sorry.)

When I was 18, I started having driving lessons. I wasn’t on any meds at this point, and I would have panic attacks before every lesson. Shaking. Crying. Unable to breathe. After about two months, I gave up because I didn’t need to drive. Why put myself through something that was such an ordeal every week?

In an attempt at self-encouragement, I passed my theory test. I had pressure from all sides of my family, who mostly all had driving licenses (including some who can drive HGVs and tractors.) That plan didn’t really work out and I ended up not driving again at all until I was 20, at the start of last year. By this time my theory test was running out – they only last for two years.

During my time away from driving, I had an emotional breakdown. I don’t use this term lightly. I literally had to quit my job, I barely made it in to lectures at uni, my relationship ended because this was the worst my BPD has ever been. In hindsight, I should have been hospitalised, however the person I was living with at the time insisted that that wasn’t the right thing for me.

Back then the idea of ever passing my driving test was laughable. Even my little brother had surpassed me, when he got his license in February 2017, after learning for just five months. One day as I was traveling to an appointment with my CPN, I thought, Now my brother could drive me to my appointments. Almost instantly, a voice I hadn’t heard for a long time spoke up in my head: or you could drive yourself.

I sat with this thought for a while. It made me feel sick. The fact that I was thinking about learning to drive again by choice was terrifying to me, because it meant I might actually be ready to try. Although this seems like a positive thing, it was disconcerting. When you’re ill enough for long enough, it feels like there is no personality inside you beyond your disorder. This was a sign that there was a part of my identity growing. I was becoming stronger. In turn, this meant there was likely to be a retaliation from my illness.

I’m sure this will upset some people, but for me personally there is something about being ill that is easy. It is easy to sink back into this, because my illness is severe. It’s my natural, organic state. It is who I am at my core. But I don’t want it to be. Fighting to get out of that, to become a person who doesn’t just survive but functions was something I longed for.

So I decided to give driving another go. It was horrible. Before every session, pretty much, I had a panic attack. I’d stim and shout noises that were akin to a screaming goat. However, after a while of witnessing my white knuckles gripping the steering wheel and grabbing the gear stick so hard I’d ram it into reverse instead of first, my instructor asked me if I have anxiety.

I laughed. How had he only just noticed?

But wait. He thought I was neurotypical. He thought I was a person who can function.

I told him I had depression and anxiety (I hadn’t been fully diagnosed with EUPD and PTSD at the time.) This meant he adapted our lessons. He took the time to drive around country lanes, on scenic routes so we could look out over views of the hills. He was pagan, and he told me after he did this in part because green is such a calming colour.

After he did this, I became so much more relaxed. Well, apart from when I had a panic attack and cried during my first mock test, but hey we all have ups and downs.

And then, on 23rd May, I passed my driving test. First time. Eight minors but it doesn’t say that on the certificate so who cares?!

I got my brother’s old car, which I love. My favourite thing now is to drive down the stretch of road when I’m on my way home with the anthems of my teenage years playing loudly as a ‘screw you’ to the mental illness that took my adolescence away.’

 

As always, thank you so much for reading.

All the best,

Rowan

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