Written by Tea Jay.
There’s a lot of things I have to do because of my mental illness. I have to make sure to take my medications to insure that I will be stable. I have to keep my drinking to a minimum because alcohol can be a catalyst for episodes. I have to meditate and learn DBT and CBT skills to be able to get through my days. But there’s one thing my mental illness stops me from doing; driving.
I wasn’t ready to get my license.
When I was in middle school I would countdown the days to my 16th birthday when I could start driving. My background to my school computer was a light blue Volkswagen bug (my friends and I all wanted to own VW bugs). However, when I finally turned 16 my Junior year (I started school a year early) I wasn’t ready. I was overwhelmed with failing grades and I was explosive. I wasn’t ready to get my license. I waited until I was 17 and about to graduate to even pursue getting my permit. My mom and dad would take me driving, however I’d get so overwhelmed and upset that most times they’d make me pull over and sit back in the passenger seat.
I would walk the streets late at night, sobbing uncontrollably.
I went to college without my license and I moved outside of Boston, where you didn’t really need a car. I had access to affordable public transportation; cabs, buses, trains. I could get anywhere I wanted to go for $5 and I could get there fast. It didn’t make sense to spend all the money on a car. I was independent without one. However, during that time my emotions controlled me. I would storm out of my apartment during episodes and engage in risky behavior. I would walk the streets late at night, sobbing uncontrollably, not thinking how dangerous it was for a young woman to be walking city streets alone so late.
I would be a danger to other drivers on the road, and I would be a danger to myself.
I moved back close to home a few years after moving away. Here, I needed a car. I had to depend on my mom for rides, or take a bus that runs a lot less often than my previous home. I started talking to my therapist about getting behind the wheel. She was concerned, with my overwhelming emotions and constant need to run away or wander when I was in episodes. She thought I would be a risk driving. She wasn’t wrong; I would have been an at risk driver. I had no concern for my own safety or life. I wasn’t calm, and would drive aggressively. I couldn’t think straight with all my emotions, and could hardly control my crying. I would be a danger to other drivers on the road, and I would be a danger to myself.
I thought I was just “too crazy” to drive.
So for the next few years I avoided driving. I only worked within walking distance, and had to quit jobs the bus would bring me to because of the crappy bus service we get in my area. I got married and had a baby, and still wasn’t driving. I worked on my mental health, and was still scared to drive. I think other people around me were always worried with how explosive I was, and were also terrified of me getting behind the wheel. I felt unsupportive. I took driving off the table altogether. I thought I was just “too crazy” to drive.
This therapist encouraged me to seek independence and to pursue driving.
I changed therapists and started new medications. This therapist encouraged me to seek independence and to pursue driving. I told her she didn’t understand, that I wouldn’t be safe. My medications made the need to flee less and less severe, until my habit of running off in the middle of the night stopped altogether. My emotions became in check. I was balanced. But I was still so afraid to step behind the wheel of a car. I used every excuse; I couldn’t afford a car, I don’t know how to drive, I’m not smart enough.
That night I applied for my permit test.
One day my mom was driving me from an appointment and we were talking about how my new medication was making me a stable woman. I hadn’t had an episode in months, and my suicidal ideations were dissipating. She looked over to me and said, “You know, this is the first medication you’ve been on where I can see you driving safely.” That was the moment I knew I could do it. It meant so much to me to have someone else believe in me, even though driving was my biggest fear. That night I applied for my permit test.
A few months later I passed my adult permit test, and now I’m working on practicing driving and working on my license. I still have yet to drive, but I did just schedule my driving lessons. I plan on getting my license this summer, and to get a car early 2019. I am starting to build up my confidence.
Mental illness doesn’t have to handicap you.
Mental illness can stop us from living our best, independent life. It can be debilitating. It can make you fearful, and want to give up. There is hope. Just because something is impossible one day doesn’t mean there’s not a brighter day in the future waiting for you. Stability is a reality for so many people with a mental illness, even if right now you’re at rock bottom. Mental illness doesn’t have to handicap you. You can overcome any obstacle and tackle any fear. The secret is to, even if it starts off as miniscule, believe in yourself.