Panic While Driving
Hello all. I actually used to post here years ago under a now forgotten username in the Chronic Pain section. Thankfully the need to post in that forum as decreased as I'll detail below.
I'm a 46 year old male. I had been a very confident driver until about 10 years ago. I have been a suffer of Chronic Pain for in excess of 20 years (started in my early 20s). The physical pain that I have endured has been quite severe. Pain doctors generally ask you to rate your pain on a scale of 1 - 10 (least painful to most painful). For almost two decades my pain stayed in the 7~8 range almost 24/7 and was very resistant to treatment. I typically got no more than 4 hours of sleep per night for many years. Thankfully, this problem appears to be resolving itself and most days my pain is in the 2~3 range and I've either radically reduced or completely eliminated most of the medication I was taking to combat the pain. I have been able to continue working throughout the pain ordeal and continue to do so.
In spite of being a confident driver for many years, about 12 years ago, at almost the peak of my pain problems I started to having problems driving. As a side effect of the pain itself (which was facial and cervical pain) and probably due to some of the medications I was taking at the time, I started having extreme dizziness (even when sitting still in a chair) and I had the feeling that my reflexes where not what they once were. Driving under these conditions became progressively more difficult and I became more and more aware of trepidation while driving. Finally, I had a couple of events on the interstates where I had to pull to the shoulder of the road and get my wife to drive. From that point on everything went downhill and I became more and more afraid of driving and started to avoid it. Much was linked to actual physical symptoms (dizziness/vertigo in particular) and it became difficult for me to even drive on regular surface streets. This went on for some time, I just gutted through driving on surface streets and avoided entirely driving on interstates.
About 8 years ago my pain problems slowly started to abate and I am now relatively pain free. However, the driving problem remains. As the pain abated so did my dizziness/vertigo, and I can now drive surface streets without any issues, about as good as I did before this whole thing began. However, I still get what I believe to be strong panic attacks when attempting to drive on the interstates. My heart races, I start to sweat, and I sometimes feel as if I'm in danger of passing out. This has become a great obstacle in my life. There are many occasions in my work where I need to drive out of town. Usually I make up some excuse and get someone else to do the driving but situations are arising where that is more and more difficult.
I actually drive on the interstate 5 days a week. About a year ago I forced myself to drive on the interstates to work, about 10 miles each way. This was very difficult for many months, but as it became more familiar it became easier and now I do it without too much difficulty. So, I can drive stretches of interstate to which I have become accustomed. However, this has not translated into a general ability to drive on the interstate without problems.
I feel somewhat hopeless about this, that there is little likelihood for change. In the rest of my life however I am generally happy and would not consider myself to be depressed. I asked my wife about this and she agrees that aside from the driving issue she does not feel that I am depressed.
Any advice would be appreciated. In looking for help on the web I've found so many sites dedicated to driving anxiety who's sole purpose appears to be to sell me some sort of program, and I'm very skeptical about these in general (though I'd certainly invest in something if it was really likely to help).
This has gone rather long, but if anyone wants any more details I'd be glad to answer. I have wondered if medications I'm taking are having an impact and if anyone feels that might be an issue worth exploring I'd be glad to go over the current list.
I would appreciate any advice or guidance anyone can offer. If this isn't the right forum to post this in please direct me to the right place.
Thanks in advance.