I am a twenty-year-old Canadian woman, and I've been living in hell for most of my life. For much of my life, my father has been abusing me physically and emotionally, and has tried to isolate me socially from my peers. Of these three things, emotional abuse is the most predominant. In addition to this, I have recently been diagnosed with four mental illnesses (dysthymia, major depression, GAD, and avoidant pd). As you can see, my life sucks.
For the past few years, I have been suffering from driving phobia. But the problem goes beyond simple fear. Here's the deal: whenever I'd practice driving (with my father and with instructors), there would be times when I'd make extremely stupid mistakes behind the wheel, even after regular practice sessions for a period of six months or more. Sometimes I would grossly misjudge distances when checking my blind spot during a lane change, practically hitting the other car which I had thought wasn't there. Other times, I would screw up on turns which I thought I had mastered months earlier. If I had a bus or semi-trailer driving in the lane beside me, I'd get very anxious and practically drive into it every time (strange as it may sound, I sometimes felt INCLINED to drive into these large vehicles, like I was being magnetically pulled or something). There were also other times when I'd completely tune out during driving, despite strenuous efforts to stay focused. Just so you know, I NEVER KNEW when these behaviours would strike; they were totally unpredictable and scary. As you have probably guessed, I quit driving two years ago due to these behaviours. My crappy driving made my father more emotionally abusive to me. Also, being a non-driver has made me withdraw socially from others. I haven't made efforts to make new friends, because I don't think anyone would want to befriend a driving phobic.
I feel very lonely, and my loneliness makes me think of committing suicide. Recently, I have thought about re-learning to drive, and practicing only with a driving school and not my abusive father. But here's the catch: I'm planning to study away next year. Both studying away and private lessons are very expensive, and I can't afford both at the same time. I feel that studying away could help me to overcome my avoidant pd, because I would have the opportunity to make new friends and get away from my father's polluting influence. However, I feel VERY GUILTY about not solving my phobia at this exact moment in time. I don't know what to do!!!
My questions about this problem are as follows: 1) Would you say that my bizarre driving behaviours are the result of a possible mental disability I might have (like a motor skills deficiency)? Could my mental illnesses be partly to blame? How can I find out for sure? 2) Should I tackle the driving phobia now, or should I study away first and solve it when I'm finished university? Considering that I'm being abused, which of these two options will better help to preserve my mental health in the long run? 3) With respect to the issue of friendship and driving, are my actions of withdrawal normal or abnormal? Is there any way that I can still make friends and go out even if I can't drive to places? (I fear that people will make fun of me if I don't drive). 4) Is my guilt about my phobia rational or irrational? I hope you can answer these questions for me. The answers might be of use to people who are in a situation similar to mine, and who don't know where to turn.
Drowning in Despair (20 year-old woman)
Dear 'Drowning in Despair',
I have wonderful news for you. You are not disabled. You are not crazy. You are reacting in a sane way to an insane situation. Most people in your circumstances would react in some 'pathological' way. Not necessarily in the exact way that you have, but in that kind of way.
Let us first get rid of those hateful labels. For a start, you cannot have both dysthymia and major depression. Dysthymia is persistent but not severe feelings of sadness. Depression is a severe version of the same thing. Second, these labels don't explain anything. They are not states of being, or diseases, but shorthand descriptions of behavior patterns. What they say is that you tend to be sad in situations where most people wouldn't be, tend to be anxious where most people wouldn't be, and tend to avoid situations where you have no particular reason to do so.
Given what you have said, these claims make no sense. You are persistently sad for the same reason concentration camp inmates tend to be sad. You are often anxious because you are being victimized. You avoid many situations because throughout childhood you have learned that this is the safest thing to do.
As I have said, there is nothing wrong with you. You have learned some habits that have allowed you to survive in an impossible situation while you were a child. My dear, NOW YOU ARE AN ADULT! Now you can get right out of the situation!
Then you can build a new set of habits of thought, feeling and action for yourself. This can be done through therapy. Go and study as far away from home as possible. While there, make use of the College's counseling service to rebuild your way of doing things and seeing the world.
Finally, about the driving: this is an example of a 'self-fulfilling prophecy'. I am usually meticulous about anything I do, if anything I am overly perfectionistic. And yet, at one stage of my life I frequently worked with a woman who expected me to stuff up, and guess what? I did, all the time. When working with her, I did all sorts of things I normally just don't. And she'd catch me at it, and make a big song and dance, and therefore I was more likely to make the same kinds of mistake, again and again.
I suggest you concentrate on first building up your self-confidence in other fields, not yet poisoned by your father's expectations. You will know you have won when you once more have a need to learn to drive. You'll do it as well as anyone else.
Have a good life,