As my faithful readers know, I've struggled with panic attacks for years, and the very worst of them have happened on the highway. Until recently, even the thought of driving on the highway could send me into a nervous agitation for days in advance.
But today—suddenly, weirdly—I'm not scared. Does that mean I'm cured? Not likely, but I'm onto something. Here are my five pieces of advice for those whose panic seems to strike behind the wheel of a fast-moving vehicle.
1. Don't ask for help, ever. For a long time I would allow others to chauffeur me around, remarking that "I just didn't like to drive" and "it's easier to carpool." I let my husband drive whenever we went on a trip, which suited him just fine. When I simply had to drive, I'd beg a friend to ride shotgun to talk me through it. All this avoidance solidified a message in my mind: "You are weak. You can't drive." Every time you ask for help, that message gets stronger. Instead, try this mantra: "I don't need any stinking help, because I am a leader among men, defender of the weak. I AM the help, damn it. So gimme the keys and stay out of my way."
2. Find the worst stretch of highway you can, and drive it. Do it now, and stop hesitating. It is this very stretch of highway that keeps you in thrall to your fears. Head into NYC or Austin, TX, at rush hour, and then go back to the same stretch when cars are streaming through it at a rapid clip. Take it slow and then take it fast. Drive until it becomes boring. Drive it again. Nothing else will ever seem as bad, and your fear of future drives will start to collapse.
3. If an attack comes on, welcome it. The worst thing you can do is to be afraid when a panic attack strikes. Your fear will spawn further fears and fears of those fears until your fear is a layered as a teetering, malevolent sandwich. Understand that you are controlling the panic, not something else. Yours is the hand that turns the screw. So crank it up! Try to bring on the panic as fast and fierce as you possibly can. Pretend you are an actor in a play experiencing a panic attack. You want to win an Oscar for this performance. Really chew the scenery! Start screaming and cursing if you must, and use words like "doo doo" and "poo poo." Your kids will forgive you and will be amused. By riding into the eye of the panic attack and whooping as you beat your steed, you are owning it.
4. Stop taking bears on as passengers. I'm just saying, it's a stupid idea to ride around with assholes or bears. They will make you nervous and will probably gnaw on your arms while you drive. Your own personal "bear" might be that asinine baggage you're dragging around—you know, that mantra of yours that goes: "I am a weakling and a fool, and will always be such. I deserve to be eaten by a large animal." Ditch that, sister. Toss that bear out at the next rest stop.
5. If all else fails, stop the car and do jumping jacks. Pull over to a safe spot at the side of the road and do jumping jacks until the attack passes. You will look like an outright fool and will probably begin laughing at yourself, at which point you can get back in your car and drive. If you don't like jumping jacks, try the Charleston, the Macarena, or the horsie dance from Gangnam Style. I can almost guarantee that a panic attack will wither in the face of your extreme public shame at dancing to "hey, sexy lady"on the side of the road. N.B. Your kids may not forgive you if you need to use this technique.
What about you? Do you have any tips for managing panic attacks while behind the wheel or elsewhere?