Photo by Mike Wilson on Unsplash

Does driving make you anxious?

She would never erase her brown spots

She is tall and willowy. To talk to her I look up towards the Colorado sun. She has a small dog and a small-ish kid with very blue eyes and I am asking her about my face. Generously she overlooks the enormous bloody scab that I have created trying to solve the problem of a clogged pore. Instead she looks as I trace my finger over the splotchy brown areas that caused Leo to ask if I were turning into a giraffe. “No” I told him “I would have to be a whole lot taller.” Today I am feeling part optimist and part hypocrite as she describes the way she, as a medical aesthetician, will use the “good stuff” on my melasma. She has just finished a seminar on melasma. I am in good hands. This is the optimistic bit. Erasing the marks of life on my face is where the hyprocritical part comes in. I have written articles and posts against botox, urging women to fill up on their laugh lines rather than fill them in. Now I am seeking a medical eraser, one to subtract the years of teenage birth control pills and decades of sunshine. It is not very different. I could have had it wrong. I don’t feel as though I am turning back time, but rather turning a fresh face to the next few decades. I stand taller. Then she tells me where her office is. And I sink down into myself. It is out of my two mile bubble. I am anxious to drive.

I will never get there.

Photo by Mike Wilson on Unsplash
This make me anxious. You?

Some of it I come by honestly, I have terrible night vision. So bad in fact that I suspect I am legally blind. I have not had this theory confirmed by an optometrist. There are probably no eye doctors in my approved area of travel anyways. I also have a rotten sense of direction. This is a bit of a chicken and the egg issue. I don’t know where to drive because I don’t drive. I rely so heavily on GPS that after three years in Denver I am still using it to navigate the two turns to the boys’ dentist. Which is in the same building as my doctor. And my pharmacy. The car navigation system is such a part of our life that the boys have named her Pam (map backwards). One evening we drove to the beer garden for dinner which has a pretty good landmark, a full sized jet parked in front,  and is one parking lot away from the dentist. Steve drove us (of course) and from the back seat I heard a small amazed voice. “You can get there without Pam dada?” It was a miracle. Even more surprising than the 8 nights of Hannukah, or that one time Oliver found his shoes on the first try.

Not anxious to drive or fly.

Last night we had a dinner party to say goodbye to my cousin and his new bride. There were ten of us and we sat on our small patio and made paper airplanes and toasted the couple who would be heading off the next morning at 6 am. Despite an actual tearful goodbye there were some nice parts of the evening. (Boy did I want to use the word literal in that last sentence.) We got to talk about our next big gathering, an engagement party for my other cousin. With my love of cheese and cloth napkins I have been tapped to help with the party planning. My aunt and uncle will be hosting in their house in Boulder. Boulder is 45 minutes away and I have been there dozens of times. My aunt asked me to drive up to figure out the flow and layout of the party. I froze at her reasonable request. I couldn’t get there. I mean, I could, but I wouldn’t. I wanted Steve to drive me. I spun it as a foothills hike for he and the boys and just incidentally I would plan a party. This was a strong idea, I wouldn’t have to drive AND I wouldn’t have to hike. But with his work and work travel there was no time to make the trip together before the party. I had no solution. Except the obvious one. I would have to take myself. OR. I looked over to my cousin. It was his party after all. Maybe he could drive me.

“Sure” he told me shrugging his linen clad shoulders. “No problem.” It was like someone told me I could skip my root canal. I would not have to drive to Boulder over overpasses, or past substations, through parts unknown.

I stand at the counter picking at the gluten free cheesecake thinking about my mental map. The places I love, the places I know, are lit with a glow as bright as the sun but easier to look at. There is Vermont and Truro, Anna Maria and Denver, a super small portion of Istanbul, Summit County and that one block in Florence.  I have always thought about my map in terms of these happy bubbles. But now I focus on the space between. Those spaces are darker than the circles were bright. The darkness is as thick and endless as the edge of the barrier reef that I snorkeled in Roatan. It was as if a piece of the world was ending and if I swam just one more stroke, took one more step, drove on more block, I would end too.

This, I realize, is unreasonable.

Photo by NASA on Unsplash
Like this but without the connecting threads. And with fewer bright spots.

I have written about gender bias in driving before, and my research showed that women are in fact not worse drivers than men. But perhaps they are more scared. My sample size of one confirmed this theory. I looked up from my cheescake and asked the woman who was about to drive from Denver to Monterey tomorrow morning “are you afraid of driving.” She paused, her dark curls falling forward. “Not really.” “But I don’t like to drive with anyone else in the car with me.” “Because you might kill them?”  I asked, as full of tact as possible. She crossed her slim brown arms in an unconscious gesture of protection. “No. Of course not. I’m just anxious they will notice my driving and judge me.” That was different. She didn’t imagine herself just driving off the road the way I did. She wasn’t afraid of rolling into some abyss. Then she continued slowly. “Maybe I am afraid. I think maybe I am. I would rather not drive.”

Photo by michael podger on Unsplash
On the web is better than on my shoulder

My aunt nodded. “Of course I don’t like to drive.” She is soft spoken, gentle, but about this she was firm. There was one other woman there. The one who had just reached across the counter to pull a large spider off of my shoulder without a break in her conversation. My cousin looked at me and said “she is more of a man than I ever will be.” I wanted to chastise him about his perpetuation of gender stereotypes but since I was working through one of my own I kept my mouth shut. She seemed fearless. Was she afraid? But the conversation she had not interrupted to protect me from a painful venomous death was serious. They were talking about their work, about life changes, about those late twenty years where you are getting married and moving and switching landscape architecture firms. About dentist board exams. About their own versions of the abyss, and how they will navigate them.

I noticed that none of them were staying in place. None of them were protecting the comfort of their bubbles. Instead they were driving forward, taking a bit of the light of this life into the darkness next place.

I have something to learn from them.

What about you? Are you afraid to drive? Is your life smaller than it might be?


Published by

Anna Palmer

Anna Rosenblum Palmer is a freelance writer based in Denver, CO. She writes about sex, parenting, cat pee, bi-polar disorder and the NFL; all things inextricably intertwined with her mental health. In her free time she teaches her boys creative swear words, seeks the last missing puzzle piece and thinks deeply about how she is not exercising. Her writing can be found on Babble,, Great Moments in Parenting, Ravishly, Good Men Project, Sammiches and Psych Meds, Playpen, Crazy Good Parent, and YourTango. She also does a fair amount of navel gazing on her own blog at

15 thoughts on “Does driving make you anxious?”

  1. I love driving! It’s a sense of freedom. The automobile and the interstate highway system are two wonderful things. Brown spots add color to your life. Looking for the + in a – – world.

  2. I used to not like driving, but I’m realizing that changed. I used to get panic attacks (you may remember ;-)) and so that was a big cause of anxiety for me with longer drives (fear of having a panic attack). I found some vitamins and amino acids that basically stopped panic attacks for me (vitamin B6), and I realize I don’t have a lot of fear around driving anymore. However, I do hate parking garages, and elevators, and I ESPECIALLY hate parking garages with elevators (that I have to use), so if I think driving somewhere I’ve never been is going to land me in a parking garage with an elevator, that really stresses me out. I guess driving in the city makes me a little edgy because I don’t really know it. But I do also enjoy the freedom of driving. And with a one year old, a half hour drive somewhere potentially gives me a little time to myself while he nods off for the trip, which can be really great 🙂 … I do totally hate it when people (guys) criticize my driving, and try to avoid driving with people who will be critical or anxious with me at the wheel… Thanks for your vulnerable and excellent piece, Anna!

    1. In fact I do remember your panic attacks. I’m so happy to hear that they are in your rearview mirror. I sort of hate myself for that joke. I also suffer from claustrophobia. I would link to that piece but then I would have to find it and since I suffer from laziness I will not. Bottom line parking garages are terrible, not just the low ceilings but the weird flickering lighting. Sadly my issues also extend to when I am overheated and my family tries to snuggle with me. I feel a little bit more like a mummy than a mommy then. I agree about the little kid(s) in the car. The best of course was when they slept, but even if they were grumpy I found solace in the fact that the best thing for all of us was for me to keep my head and hands forward and leave them safe (but bawling) in their car seats. I am so happy to hear from you and, as always, grateful to hear your story.

  3. My Nana would not drive at all. She refused to learn. My mother doesn’t like to drive, but will if she has to. I always thought it had something to do with being shy or introverted for them. But, maybe it is more about fear.

  4. I love to drive. For me one of the hardest parts of getting older would be having to turn in my car keys, the loss of freedom and independence. Long before any kind of portable communication devices existed, I routinely crisscrossed the country alone a couple times a year. But, I do notice that I’m starting to feel a little anxious on busy freeways and I never did when I was younger. Driving alone in the country, listening to music and drinking a diet Coke used to be my home remedy for depression! 🙂 (NOTE: Adding Lexapro to that routine was a really good move!)

  5. I drive but I don’t really enjoy it … I worry if I have passengers that they’ll think I drive too slow! I am confident driving the winding back roads where I live – major roads and motorways freak me out. If I have to drive somewhere new, I GPS it too – and consult a map beforehand so I can note any shortcuts …. Also, I won’t drive my husband’s car, although there is no reason why not, I just feel a tad more comfortable in my own little banger!

  6. I always loved driving and was a confident driver, until I was with my ex. As we only had my car, he started using it for work and I was with the kids, so I walked everywhere. I would still drive occasionally, but his yelling and critcising my driving made me unwilling to drive with him in the car, and the thought of the yelling if I scratched it or anything made me unwilling to drive without him in the car too. And then not having driven for years made me nervous about it too. But now I’m on my own, I have a car again & have remembered how much I like to drive.

  7. I love to drive. I used to drive from CT to North Conway, NH on a regular basis, by myself. Summer and Winter. Without GPS. The one place I hate to drive is NYC. My husband used to work there so I make him do it and still I hate it. I do not have the ability to veer around a double parked car without worrying about what the vehicles are doing on my left. Apparently not thinking about other drivers is a requirement in NYC.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.