Growing up in the suburbs, the best sweet 16 present you could get yourself was a driver’s license. It was freedom, at last. Freedom to go to the mall. Freedom to pick up your friends. Freedom to be a functioning adult. 

I still question how they let teenagers on the road after one test that we could easily game, which I did. My driving instructor taught me how to not fail, instead of proper driving techniques. Sometimes, out of laziness, he would pull out toy cars from his pocket and reenact some complex scene on the center armrest. I just nodded as if I could learn to parallel park with my imagination.

When I was young, I was confident and reckless. I regularly bumped the recycling bin on my way out of the driveway. It never occurred to me that my mom was patiently replacing said bin. I braked too suddenly and caused the driver behind to hit me. I skidded out on the ice and kept going. I even backed into the garage door once because I didn’t bother checking the back mirror. 

But then I started caring about my mortality, as one does. And somehow it made me a worse driver by inviting in my anxiety. Then, I began equating driving to anxiety. On my worst day, I hit a pillar with the side of the car, and in a blind panic, slammed the gas thinking it was the brake. The result was a deep gash across the entire car, instead of a light scrape. That was an expensive lesson. 

Every time I got in the driver’s seat, I felt like I became a danger to society. Eventually, I handed my keys over to my mom for the last time and vowed to only live in cities with public transport. It was definitely possible, until I was ready to settle down and try to build a family. You never really escape the burbs, you see.

More than a decade later, my partner is teaching me how to drive again. This time, we’re dealing with driving and the associated anxiety separately. I am starting to meditate to deal with panic attacks. I will also be trying these calming Ashwagandha pills for additional support. I guess real freedom is when you don’t just walk away from problems, but deal with them head on. To freedom!

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