A triggered student driver

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pianissimo

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A triggered student driver
« on: October 03, 2021, 05:42:11 AM »
Hello all

So, what has been going on with me is that I bought a car five months ago, and I have been learning how to drive it every since. But, this process has been challenged by my, I guess, traumas as well as other things (during this time, there was a three week COVID-19 lock down, a hot summer in a city overcrowded by tourists). All this time, I thought I was observing my state, but, apparently, in relation to learning how to drive, I wasn't fully there for myself.

What I realize is that, when I get in the car, I think that I get into a triggered state, so I become hyper-vigilant but, I guess, I also dissociate a little. Like, at the start, when I go through the routine of adjusting the car seat and the mirrors, for a few minutes, I actually go blank and become confused. I suppose, on some level, I'm aware of this, and I panic because of it. I panic knowing that everything is confusing and I know that it's not safe to start the car at that state. I think that I try to come back to my senses by talking to the person next to me (who has either been the driving instructor, or, occasionally a friend). In this state, I second-guess myself, like "Am I missing something, is my way free to go", so I kind of rely on other person's senses too by saying out loud "There is nobody in the rear, there is no car in my way, so I'm taking off." so that they will contradict me if I'm wrong.

So far, I have been trying to manage the situation by giving myself time. I allowed myself to take as many driving lessons as I like. I think that I'm still a beginner, so I think my driving skills are at a level a beginner would have. But, I also feel pressure to get better.  Additionally, realizing I'm in a triggered state when I take my place in the driver's seat worries me. I think that I'm right to be worried. A part of me wants to keep going, because I think that I have the ability to drive, and it would be worth doing it when I needed to commute to work, but another part feels like quitting.

What makes this situation difficult for me is that, all this makes me feel like a failure. I know that it's not my fault that I become triggered in the car, but, so far, it felt to me like my precaution (and mistakes) because of it was perceived as incompetence. Actually, I feel better now knowing that has been what's going on, so I can be there for myself now. But, for now, I don't know if that means whether I should keep going or just quit trying.

I wondered if any of you had this kind of experience when you started to learn how to drive a car or to do anything else. How did you overcome your trauma response? What would you advise? Being aware of it certainly helps, I think I might take a lesson tomorrow just to observe myself how my trauma response is playing out.

Thanks for all the responses
« Last Edit: October 03, 2021, 06:07:39 AM by pianissimo »

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Penny Lane

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Re: A triggered student driver
« Reply #1 on: October 04, 2021, 06:22:05 PM »
Hi! I don't have experience with this but I came in to say, thank you for taking this seriously! A trauma response is a medical condition, you are totally right that you are not in a fit state to drive.

I wonder if a trauma informed therapist could help you sort through this?

Anyway you are doing exactly the right thing in taking it slow. Pushing yourself could lead to a very dangerous situation.

I hope you are able to work through this and get yourself on the road!

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Call Me Cordelia

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Re: A triggered student driver
« Reply #2 on: October 04, 2021, 11:21:59 PM »
Hi there! I completely relate to your post. I had trauma from my uPDF "teaching" me to drive, aka holding me hostage to a constant barrage of verbal abuse while I tried to figure out operating a vehicle.

I didn't know anything about trauma, but I did white-knuckle through having panic attacks every time I had to merge onto a highway or a cop car appeared in my rearview mirror, even if I was doing nothing wrong. As you might imagine I am in fact a cautious and conscientious driver. It took me about three years before I could even drive with another person in the car, because I was so sure that they were constantly harshly judging my driving the way my father did.

I do not recommend the grit your teeth and do it anyway approach. It really isn't safe and your awareness does you credit.

What finally did work for me was EMDR. Getting to the root of that trauma response and rewiring that part of my brain did the trick. Not that I never have irrational moments of anxiety behind the wheel, but it's much more manageable now and my feelings are generally in harmony with reality.

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ShyTurtle

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Re: A triggered student driver
« Reply #3 on: October 05, 2021, 06:50:05 AM »
There is a technique which is good for those trauma related dissociative moments. When you feel yourself checking out, do the 5,4,3,2,1 method of bringing yourself back.
That is, in your mind list 5 things you can see, 4 things you can hear, three things you can touch, 2 things you can smell, and 1 thing you can taste (or label an emotion you are feeling)

While it's true that you can sometimes overcome fear based reactions through desensitization, please be careful when it comes to driving a car. If it counts for anything, my own trauma has been my challenge when it comes to driving. Eventually I was able to become a calm and conscious driver in all situations but only after 25 years of driving on and off.


In the beginning my muscles would tense up so tight that I would be in pain after driving anywhere. I was determined to relax when I drove so I made it as comfortable as possible with tea and the seat warmer on. Eventually I was able to consciously calm myself and stay fully present while driving. Driving alone a lot, and having jobs which involved a lot of driving really helped with this process.
🐝➕

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pianissimo

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Re: A triggered student driver
« Reply #4 on: October 05, 2021, 06:37:16 PM »
Hi everyone

I did something similar to what ShyTurtle recommends. Apparently, there are ways to calm your nervous system. There was a video about these techniques by Emma McAdam on YouTube.

Also, I got some support and validation around this issue which helped me feel better.

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1footouttadefog

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Re: A triggered student driver
« Reply #5 on: October 05, 2021, 09:20:52 PM »
I taught a friend who had experienced a great deal of trauma to drive.  He had social anxiety and also had trauma memories related to (not) being taught to ride a bicycle by his abusive father who finally gave up after tryi g to best and insult him into it.

We did each step until it seemed less triggering.  We might have for example  just had him repeat the same little get ready thing over and over.  He would approach the car make adjustments then back up a tiny bit then pull forward then lock up get out then do it again.

When we first started we would go out to an abandoned road and I would just have him start and stop then we would switch, I would turn the car switch then he would start and stop. Then we had him drive straight each way.  Baby steps.

I have taught other hesitant drivers since.  They have all been good drivers despite the slow start.

Driving is important, and a big responsibility.  Don't feel rushed.  You will get past the triggers, things will become second nature and you will be a great driver because you care.

You might be able to put some time in by your self to run through things, and self talk is fine.  I actually self talk when driving with my teens to teach them then they do it back when they get behind the wheel to start.

You've got this.  Take your time. 

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pianissimo

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Re: A triggered student driver
« Reply #6 on: October 06, 2021, 01:39:10 PM »
Thanks 1footouttadefog. I'm doing as you advise.

After realizing I become triggered in the car, I realized I become triggered when I work too! I use relaxation techniques while working too. This is all so surprising to me because, most of the time, I assume I'm doing OK.

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Call Me Cordelia

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Re: A triggered student driver
« Reply #7 on: October 06, 2021, 02:54:04 PM »
Our baseline “normal” has become trauma, pianissimo. I think you’re far from alone, but it sounds like you are coming into awareness. It was a revelation to me that it was NOT typical to have to psych myself up to go do everyday things like go grocery shopping or participate in a class. All of those things were opportunities for my inner critic to get fired up on me.

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Nomoreblind

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Re: A triggered student driver
« Reply #8 on: October 22, 2021, 05:54:33 PM »
Hi, you are not a failure at all.  You are a person making great effort to acquire a new skill.  So that's a good thing. For some people it is easy, for others it is trickier.  We all get there in the end.  It may just be nervosity.  I remember my instructor told me that he has taught me all he could teach and that I just need to learn to relax during the test, because I was so stressed that it seemed that 2 different individuals were driving before and during the test.  Easier said than done, I know. 

Hang in there, when you let go and enjoy the process, it gets better.  If there is anything triggering you, try to identify what it is, tackle it before entering the car and ask yourself how you can improve things for yourself without necessarily trying to change others.  Believe in yourself.  Also only go in the car with people that you feel comfortable with.  I love my hubby, but he was more nervous than me when I was learning to drive in the beginning and that was contagious.  I had to avoid driving with him when I started.  Now he is happy I can drive.  Good luck!

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DaisyGirl77

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Re: A triggered student driver
« Reply #9 on: October 22, 2021, 06:24:50 PM »
I am also like everyone else who's commented here.  I don't have my license & I'm closer to 40 than 30.  I've gotten behind the wheel & have driven in empty parking lots & around quiet streets.  But lemme tell you that I was hollering the whole time until I got back into the safe parking lot, lol.  (That I was hollering says something because I, as a rule, do not holler like I did in the car those two times.)  I'm back to holding a state ID because my state only allows for people to renew their permit twice before they're forced to choose to go for their license or are switched to a state ID.  The next time I get a learner's permit, I have to be absolutely sure I'm ready to follow it through to licensure, otherwise I'm screwed.

I have had panic attacks after stepping outside my scaredy cat box.  My friends have seen me in that response mode &, although I'd warned them several times & never understated just how badly I'm scared of driving, they're still shocked at how I react in these situations.  So...  For now, I am safer to others & myself by not being behind the wheel.  It's still a goal of mine, & I'll tackle it next time...armed with Valium or Xanax. ;)
I lived with my dad's uPD mom for 3.5 years.  This is my story:  http://www.outofthefog.net/forum/index.php?topic=59780.0  (TW for abuse descriptions.)

"You are not required to set yourself on fire to keep others warm." - Anonymous

NC with uNM since December 2016.  VLC with uPDF.

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pianissimo

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Re: A triggered student driver
« Reply #10 on: October 24, 2021, 12:44:45 PM »
Call Me Cordelia, your answer made me think a lot, because I didn't know one could go to grocery shopping just like that either. There is usually a relatively big time gap between me deciding to do something and actually doing it.

Nomoreblind, I found a way that works for me. I focused on learning the routes I needed to go. This both motivated me to learn and reduced my anxiety because I know what comes ahead. I actually drove myself to the station a couple of times. I started to learn longer routes. It's still a slow progress, though.

DaisyGirl77, giving yourself time certainly helps. I sometimes feel like quitting, everything about the car feels too much, but then I think to myself "Let's take a break for a while and get back to it."

Well, learning to drive has been quite a challenge because it kind of revealed some aspects of my life that were failing. I think this adds to my anxiety. There were two times I felt like crying behind the wheel, and in neither case, it was because of driving. The first time, the car had a problem that needed to be fixed, and the second time, it was a busy time in the city, so I had difficulty finding a spot to park the car. Both times, I felt the absence of support. That person who would show up the moment you ask for help. I thought I had had this, but, apparently, I don't. Both times, in my mind, I went to a dark place. In another post of mine in this forum, I mentioned this yearning that comes up when I feel helpless (which makes me feel abandoned). So, that feeling has defined the process, sometimes more than anxiety itself. Well, when I do it on my own, it's rewarding, but, I also end up feeling angry and resentful against people who,I feel like, let me down.
« Last Edit: October 24, 2021, 12:51:21 PM by pianissimo »

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DaisyGirl77

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Re: A triggered student driver
« Reply #11 on: October 24, 2021, 01:18:21 PM »
DaisyGirl77, giving yourself time certainly helps. I sometimes feel like quitting, everything about the car feels too much, but then I think to myself "Let's take a break for a while and get back to it."

Thanks.  I'll pick it back up...uh, eventually. ;)  For now I get around just fine with Uber/Lyft.  I do need to get to the root of this fear of mine though, because having panic attacks behind the wheel isn't safe for me & everyone around me on the road.
I lived with my dad's uPD mom for 3.5 years.  This is my story:  http://www.outofthefog.net/forum/index.php?topic=59780.0  (TW for abuse descriptions.)

"You are not required to set yourself on fire to keep others warm." - Anonymous

NC with uNM since December 2016.  VLC with uPDF.