Oh, and if you haven’t already managed it, getting your driving licence.
That’s bloody terrifying.
If you are one of the majority of people who sailed through driving lessons in their teens or their early 20s then that's great but I'm not one of your people. I'm a different breed - the driving procrastinator.
I have plenty of memories of the few lessons I had as a teenager and the times my mum took me out and I have absolutely no recollection of nerves or fear or any major disasters. However, for various reasons I won't bore you with I somehow managed to still find myself with a provisional licence at the age of 30.
In August 2014 I took another step out of the comfort zone and started driving lessons after a gap of 12 years. On my first lesson I recall just driving round and round the same route turning left. Dull but necessary. I had forgotten it all. Reason no. 1 on a list of "Reasons not to give up on things" - I really was back to the start!
This particular foray into driving wasn't overly helpful to my confidence. My instructor was shall we say "punctually challenged" . One week she didn't even turn up at all with no explanation. I was too intimated by her to call her out on it. She definitely could have taken me in a fight.
After 4-5 months of driving lessons, life took a turn for the stressful and I took an executive decision to take a break. I didn't feel that my brain was capable of learning a new skill, especially one in a machine that could kill.
It was in October 2016 that my new partner then decided that enough was enough, I was clearly going to make excuses not to drive forever (my latest excuse was money-related) so someone had to give me a nudge. He arranged for me to go out with his old driving instructor who had also taught his sister. My first lesson was nerve wrecking, but went by without too much concern. I decided to give driving lessons another go. I wanted to get it done this time. That was November 2016. I had most of my lessons on a Saturday morning and with time I felt myself gaining confidence and improving. My biggest nemesis was roundabouts and lanes - I hated them and my lane discipline was not great because of my tendency to panic.
*Spoiler* The next fact is not attractive. Driving + anxiety = sweat. Many a lesson used to end with me climbing out of the car, my back damp with sweat due to the total fear I experienced behind that wheel. There is something about understanding the implications of your actions that brings the fear like nothing else. God knows what fear will come when I eventually become a mum!
I booked my theory test for December 2016 and started swotting like mad - no exaggerations, I was a total nerd. My driving instructor loved it and called me his star pupil *smug*. But I really cared about doing it right this time and wanted to give it my all. I came out with a 49/50 in the multiple choice questions and not so high in the hazard awareness but more than enough to gain a pass. Step one was complete!
In January 2017 I booked my driving test for that May. (Yes, May - driving tests are hard to come by these days). Over the next few months I worked and worked at building my confidence.
In the week approaching my test, I was still really struggling with some of my manoeuvres. The reverse around a corner was my nemesis and I the harder I seemed to try to master it, the harder it became, reducing me to tears even on the morning of my test. I did not pass that test. In fact, I failed it within about 5 minutes of leaving the test centre. At a roundabout. Quite simply I was not ready. I felt that in my gut in the time leading up to the test, and had a horrible feeling of dread on the day. However, I don't regret doing it - it was useful experience, in spite of the tears shed after failing. But that examiner was right to fail me. I should not have passed that day. I had a long way to go and a lot of work to do.
Not long after my failed test I was dealt another blow. My current driving instructor was taken into hospital and called to say he may have to stop teaching me due to ill health. Luckily he was ok, and not at any immediate risk. However, this was another obstacle as I would now have to start again. I was keen not to lose my motivation and so set about looking for another teacher. I was very fortunate to find one living on my road, so in July 2017 I began driving again and booked myself another test for the September, this time at a different test centre. My new teacher set about building my confidence and getting the roundabout and manoeuvre practice underway. He had a calmness and a more scientific way of looking at things than I had found before, which really seemed to work for me and keep me calm. We had a good rapport, and under his tutelage I went from strength to strength. We took advantage of the long summer evenings after work meaning that my weekends were no longer dominated by nerves.
The day of my second test came around in September. I woke with a good feeling - a nervous but far more positive state of mind than 4 months earlier. I had taken the day off work and had consciously booked the test at a centre with a better reputation for passes. I had also deliberately booked it for a Tuesday early afternoon as I hoped the roads would be quieter. The morning of the test I put my yoga practice to good use by incorporating a little calming meditation, followed by a relaxing bath and some positive talking to myself.
My instructor came to collect me around an hour before the test and I drove over to the test centre which was around 30 minutes from my house. My instructor had mentioned that there was a nice examiner by the name of Gareth who worked at this test centre. As my examiner walked into the room I prayed. "Hi, I'm Gareth." he said. "YESS!" I thought. I had spent the morning telling myself this was my day so this was another good sign. I felt good behind the wheel as I set off. Nervous of course, but I felt like I deserved to be here. I had worked for this, I had improved, I knew what I was doing now.
The test was going really well. My manoeuvre was a reverse park and although it wasn't perfect it was good enough. But as I went to turn left out of a road on a slope, the car stalled. It did something it had never done before and I simply could not get it started. I began to panic. The seconds ticked by. After what felt like an eternity I worked out the problem and managed to get the car started, but as I turned the left I clipped the curb. I was devastated. I had blown it. AGAIN. But then the examiner said something to me that I have not forgotten. He said "Put it behind you." It could not have been better timed. So I let it go - I thought to myself "I'm still in the running!" I gave the rest of my drive my all. A couple of minutes later I recognized the road I was on - we were almost back at the Test Centre! I held my poise for just a few more minutes and the examiner asked me to pull over. I did so and held my breath.
Gareth said "I'm going to put that situation down to nerves. Congratulations." I could have kissed him. Obviously I didn't, I did the natural thing and of course started crying and garbling about thank you so much, this means so much to me blah blah blah. My instructor was waiting by the car and looked into the windscreen with a curious look and a thumbs up. I returned the thumbs up coyly. As I got out of the car he was so chuffed he gave me a hug. I was a real bundle of emotions. I couldn't believe that I had finally passed my driving test! After all those years, and all that fear, I had finally managed to hold my shit together long enough to do it! Not only that, but I had only got 3 minors, all at the point where the car had stalled!! Apart from that my drive was flawless! I was in a state of shock!
I rang my partner who was over the moon and super proud and as my instructor drove me home I was a real mix of shocked, emotional and delirious with joy. I was super grateful for his help in getting me there too - he had done what no one else had managed.
However, I think I would be doing myself an injustice to give all the credit for my achievement to someone else. I had learned to control my often crippling nerves and anxiety, and had done what I had set out to do. I had managed to put my mistake behind me and carry on instead of panicking and dissolving into a mess.
I credit two things with that - one, the power of positive thinking and self belief, and two, yoga. I had learned that through practising yoga, I could fight my stress levels in a way I never had before.
It didn't mean that I would never encounter panics or anxiety in the future (fighting my anxious nature is an ongoing battle) but it did mean I now had a way to control them, and proof that it had worked. It felt bloody amazing.