There is a skeleton in my closet; something I have never written about in my blog; something that I have hardly acknowledged in words. I have not intentionally avoided writing about it; I just never think about it when I am writing. But this “thing” has become a pretty big impediment in my life. I have developed an anxiety disorder over highway driving.
This may not sound like a big deal but I live in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA) in Ontario which is rife with 6-, 8- and 10-lane highways. It is really difficult, and time-consuming, to get anywhere in the GTHA without taking a highway; there is the 403, the 407, the QEW, the 401 and the 410. These are the major highways running through, and linking, all of the communities in and around Toronto and Hamilton. I can no longer drive on any of them!!
This disorder has snuck up on me. It began several years ago. Every so often, when I was on one of these highways, I would have trouble swallowing. At first, it was infrequent, and strange and disturbing, but I was able to write it off to something else; a reaction to something I ate for example. But, as time has gone on, these episodes have become more frequent and more severe. The last few times I was on a major highway, I was having trouble swallowing, then I started to feel like I was going to choke on my own saliva, then my heart started to race, and I had to get off the highway!! Now, these physical symptoms arise whenever I approach a highway exchange even when I have no intention of getting on a highway!!
I am fine when I am driving on a 4-lane secondary highway. I am fine when I am driving with someone else. I just can’t drive on these highways myself. This is after 39 years of driving!! This is not rational. I KNOW that secondary highways are more dangerous; I KNOW that major highways are safer! When the symptoms come on, I am not thinking, “Oh, this feels dangerous!” It is bodily response that skips over my intellectual thinking processes.
This has become quite limiting. As this disorder has developed, I have been adjusting my behaviour and circumscribing my life. I have not been talking about it, except when I absolutely have to, because it is embarrassing. Until very recently, I have not given it a name. I have mostly ignored it, laughed about it, and coped with it. I have been hoping that it would resolve itself.
A friend has suggested to me that this disorder might not have anything to do with highways; that it may have more to do with other things going on in my life. She suggested that it might represent my fear of losing control of my life. I have thought a little about that. My life has felt out of control over the last few years with the turmoil in my work life, my kids leaving home, my husband travelling, my parents aging, and my health slipping. After years of stability and constants in our lives, all hell has broken out. There have been changes in every element of my life. Changes that are beyond my control. Changes that are scarey. Changes that involve grief and loss. Changes with an unknown at the end.
Perhaps that is what the disorder is about. Perhaps the highway is a symbol of the flow of life which is beyond my control? Perhaps my inability to swallow represents my inability to accept the changes that are beyond my control? I don’t know but several months ago, I consulted a psychic about the changes in my life, and she suggested that “I need to let go and let God/Universe direct me”. Hmmm…