If I can do it, anyone can do it, be strong and find it within yourself. – JC
So I meet this fireball at a café on her work break. Beautiful, energetic, and funny, Jennifer Cottell gave me the ins and outs of her experience with overcoming the fear of driving. She was brave and honest as she shared her story. I admired her complete transparency and courage.
Many people have had crippling incidents on the road. Sometimes, and often, people don’t work up the gusto to get back behind the wheel after experiencing terrifying accidents, or being witness to accidents, or even having severe episodes of anxiety or medical issues while driving.
I am, for one, a person who experienced anxiety attacks while driving and it took me a concerted effort to get back on the road. But this is not about me, this is about this amazing woman.
What tripped Jennifer up was a horribly terrifying accident she had when she was just a new driver as well as a new mother. She had young children in the backseat when her mother picked them all up to go from Mckenzie to Prince George for some grandmotherly care and respite.
But what started as a great plan turned into a nightmare when another driver, in the wrong, hit their car. Jennifer was injured badly, as well as one of her young children who ended up with several broken teeth. To this day, Jennifer still deals with physical damage to her neck and spine, something that will likely haunt her for her whole life.
“The injuries were extensive. There was major damage done to my L3/4 and at the base of my neck and shoulders. I had debilitating pain. I was given a care aid to come into my home to help do housework duties and child care. I couldn’t walk stairs, in fact, walking at all was excruciating and difficult. I was prescribed medications that left me forgetful and mindless. I spent over a year in rehab just to walk again. It was a very extensive rehab program and I would often pass out and throw up from the pain after these treatments.
I was told I would suffer more serious issues later on with age, such a arthritis. I now live with disc degenerative disease in my L3/4.”
For 24 years this mother couldn’t bring herself to drive. To the point of going grocery shopping on bicycles with her kids carrying backpacks. Even when riding as a passenger she suffered extreme anxiety. In her perspective? Not being able to drive was a huge inconvenience. Here she talks about it:
“Not being able to drive has limited me. I have always overcome and become anything and everything I have wanted to be. When my husband and I divorced, my kids and I would each grab a backpack and bike to the nearest store to shop. We often couldn’t accept invitations to join friends and family at the lake or parties or vacations because nobody had the room to accommodate five of us. The most simple excursions became the most impossible and we most often went without.”
A self described stubborn woman, Jennifer set her mind to becoming a driver again. It took her eight different times of setting the goal before she went to take her test. And when she found out she had passed? She was elated, and still terrified. Many friends cheered her on with constant support, something she is very grateful for.
Currently Jennifer has worked up the courage to go to her vehicle and sit in it. She is working toward starting the engine. For those who don’t experience extreme anxiety, it can manifest itself very physically. There is sweating, shortness of breath, sometimes feelings of disconnect from reality, and a host of other scary symptoms. But the ‘stubborn’ and fierce woman has come up with some winning strategies to get to her goal.
“I’m going through a lot of things at once. I have to take time before even thinking to go sit in the vehicle. I take deep calming breaths and tell myself I can do it. I don’t try to minimize or forget what happened, but rather tell myself I can move past it.
I set very small baby steps or goals daily. I’ll imagine myself sitting behind the wheel and what it feels like to grip the wheel and hear the engine. Then I think, next week I’ll sit in the car with the engine running and get more familiar with all the buttons and where everything is.
Next will be just putting the car into reverse, and feeling the gas pedal and the brakes working. This may take weeks or months. Just writing about this makes my heart race, but I push it away. I will do this. I can do anything I put my mind to.
Watch me, I’m scared as shit, but now more than ever, I need to do this. It’s not just to make life easier for my kids and to show them we can conquer our fears, but this is also for me.
This fear has affected my life in more ways than I could ever explain in words. We take these things for granted. I will do this.”
Thank you brave lady for sharing your story, I know it will help others!
Please leave comments about your personal experiences of anxiety and driving and any encouraging words and advice for Jennifer as she works to conquer her fear.
You can find Jennifer’s blog at Diaries Of an Addict’s Mother.