Mind, Life Stories, Advice, Life

My driver’s test gave me so much anxiety that I couldn’t pass – until I kept it a secret

After failing my test the first time, I developed a phobia of driving.

I failed my driver’s test three times.

In South Africa, where I live, a driver’s license is often seen as a rite of passage to adulthood. I was 20 years old when I finally got my driver’s license and I was the last one of my friends to do so. Part of the reason that getting a driver’s license is so important is that public transport is not widely or easily accessible in most South African towns.

After failing my test the first time, which happened because I simply hadn’t practiced enough, I developed a phobia of driving. I vividly remember the disappointment in my parents’ voices when they phoned me to find out how my first test went.

“Well, how many more lessons do you think you’ll need?” my mom asked anxiously when I told her I failed.

I didn’t have an answer for her because I knew the number recommended by my driving instructor would cost too much money. So I only did a few more lessons and rescheduled my test.

On the day of my test, the second time I failed my driver’s license, my feet were shaking so much that I could barely start the car. It took multiple attempts for me to manage to do the hill start, which was the easiest part of the test that I did effortlessly the first time. Remembering my driving instructor’s advice, I stopped the car and did breathing exercises. But this only made my anxiety worse.

It only took a few minutes after that for the traffic officer to inform me that I failed the test for rolling the car. Shaking, I climbed out of the car and thanked the officer while my eyes brimmed with tears.

I felt hopeless. My parents wanted me to pass the test but I just couldn’t do it.

It took me almost two years before I started working towards getting my driver’s license again. Part of the reason it took me so long is that my learner’s license expired. The other reason was that I had grown to hate driving. It filled me with dread and I had lost all confidence in my driving ability. But I had no independence and when I went home for the holidays, my mom refused to drive me anywhere because she wanted me to focus on getting my driver’s license. So I practiced driving at home and, again, rescheduled the test. I had spent hours practicing parking in my mom’s car. I felt confident and ready.

But I failed my test again.

This time, my dad was waiting at the testing grounds. My mom was anxiously waiting at home to find out how it went. My friends all knew about the test and had wished me luck. And, once again, I was overwhelmed with anxiety.

When I finally passed my driver’s test, I kept it a secret.

Thanks to my part-time bartending job, I managed to fund my own lessons.

I had a wonderful female instructor who helped me work through my anxiety and didn’t rush me into booking my test. So, when I finally booked my test, I did it because I was ready and not because of external pressures. I was anxious but my instructor talked me through everything that was worrying me. Unlike my previous tests, I felt far more relaxed and confident going to the testing grounds. Plus, I had no one to answer to except myself if I failed this time. And so, I didn’t fail.

Driving anxiety is awful and if it manifests itself physically as it did with me, it can inhibit you from managing to drive at all. I got through my phobia of driving, for the most part, by practicing a lot and keeping my driver’s test a secret. Your coping mechanisms may be different but if driving also fills you up with negative energy, remember that it’s OK.

It’s OK to need extra time or extra lessons and it doesn’t make you a failure.

Now, despite passing my driver’s test over a year ago, I am still working on my phobia of driving and there are often moments where I refuse to get behind the wheel. But I know that it’s because I don’t have a car and as a result, don’t drive regularly.

I believe that one day I will be confident behind the wheel and for now, I’m just proud of myself for making it this far.