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Panic While Driving

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Unread 08-17-2011, 05:15 PM   #1
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Default 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.
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Lara (08-23-2011)
Unread 08-23-2011, 06:35 AM   #2
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G'day Roger.

I also have problems with anxiety with driving.

I was a very confident driver for most of my long life. I enjoyed my cars and my driving and the wind in my hair. Then, out of the blue one day, I experienced a panic attack at a red light with my two little children in the car. I thought I was dying. It was a long time ago now and I rode through it. Here I am about 17 years later and I am back in the driving panic zone again.

It seems to me that there's usually a trigger. The one terrible, terrible time which starts the ongoing anxiety.

I also have vertigo problems resulting from a fall and subsequent concussion some years ago now. I'm not sure how much that has to do with my fear of driving these days though. It's more my life-long battle with anxiety issues. My vertigo affects my ability to actually get to the car which is parked down the slippery drive and out on the road more than it affects my ability to drive around my streets here.

I do have a pattern these days. I do find it easier to drive the familiar. (similar to how you describe). I actually force myself to go driving. Once I'm in the car in the "familiar", it's so liberating. I'm surrounded by beautiful beaches here, so I do what I call a "surf check". Keeps me motivated. However, it wouldn't keep me in work if I needed to drive on highways or freeways.

I'm not depressed either, but I would really love to get back on the highway and drive as far as I could. I just can't. Yet!

I think the main problem after experiencing this type of anxiety is the actual avoidance. It gets to feel so safe. I have this book called "Feel the fear and do it anyway". Well, that was fine for many years but I'm presently having difficulty just attempting to do it.

Once we begin to avoid, it's a huge signal, I feel, that we need some professional help. All my life I was able to work through my fears on my own and I got there. Once I began to actually "avoid", then things took a downward turn. Sometimes we need to force ourselves back out into the uncomfortable in order to keep our lives on track.

I do not believe a person who may have anxiety/panic issues is necessarily "depressed". The anxiety/panic issues can however result in a depressed state of mind I personally feel. It's because the anxiety can limit our lifestyle so much once it takes control. Just how I see it.

Avoidance is a huge red flag. It can become too safe. You have so much to do and to live for. Seek professional help now. Please also check out the Anxiety/phobia info. at PsychCentral if you can. http://psychcentral.com/disorders/anxiety/phobias.html
There may be something there that is helpful for you. Good luck with it all.

Last edited by Lara; 08-23-2011 at 07:03 AM.
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Unread 08-23-2011, 08:05 AM   #3
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Hi ~ Being a former sufferer of panic attacks, I have to agree that talking with a therapist is the answer. Since you seem to know the root of the problem, the therapist can help you answer why you're still HAVING the problem. Many times it's just anticipation -- we think that because we USED to be panicked, we'll continue to be.

Sometimes medication is called for -- and your therapist can discuss that with you.

Get the help soon -- you'll feel much better about everything once you do. God bless & take care. Hugs, Lee
recovering alcoholic, sober since 7-29-93;severe depression; 2 open spinal surgeries; severe sciatica since 1986; epidurals; trigger points; myelograms; Rhizotomy; Racz procedure; spinal cord stimulator implant (and later removal); morphine pump trial (didn't work);now inoperable; lumpectomy; radiation; breast cancer survivor; heart attack; fibromyalgia; on disability.

Often the test of courage is not to die, but to live..
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Unread 09-13-2011, 05:01 PM   #4
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Default driving me nuts

I have had this same issue since 1989. I have MS and one day while driving down an interstate, I started to feel as though something "broke loose" in my brain and things were no longer stable in front of me....almost like I was moving differently than I was suppose to.
Ignored it at first as it came and went. Docs thought it was inner ear etc., but it never went away...it got worse.
Pretty soon I was way too hyper aware when I got in the car. I was afraid of everyone behind me and increased speeds made me really scared...I felt lightheaded and felt like I would only be safe if I got off the road.
Well, which comes first the chicken or the egg? I don't know for sure what started it all, but the fear is still with me. Familiar places are always better, so we must push ourselves to do the uncomfortable. Take a different route etc. Also invest in a GPS system to give us more confidence in unfamiliar territory. I have found the constant talking of the systems helps distract me from everything going on around me (those things that I have toooo much focus on!) Also being higher up off the road as in a pickup truck seemed to help as well as turning my rear view mirror to night driving tilt......I focused way too much on the vehicles behind me and that seemed to help put them in perspective. Also you have to keep telling yourself.....I have a right to be here! If I'm going too slow for you than guess what???? I'm going to slow down even more and force you to pass me! Explore what scares you and sets off the panic.....for me it was speed and cars behind me.
The other thing I had to do was reach out for help. I had recently moved and the unfamiliar area made me....paranoid to drive again. So my doctor put me on Celexa. Celexa is an antidepressant, but it also has benefits for OCD and Phobia. Phobia is where I think I am at this point. It has really helped me gain some confidence. It has allowed me to feel more determined to drive. Before Celexa; When my mom was sick and in the hospital, I noticed I would drive 22 miles on the highway on TERRIBLE winter roads because I was not going to let her be alone. That taught me that so much of this was in my determination. After mom was well, my determination to drive subsided back to fear.
The celexa has helped me more on a day to day basis which is what I needed.
Another thing I had for a while was very low dose (0.5) Ativan. It worked like a charm and when it kicked in I would feel totally centered again. The problem was it took a long time to kick in and I need something to work when I wanted to just hop in the car. Doctors can be hesitant to give Ativan because of the class of drug it is.
Celexa gave me a headache the first few days so I cut it in half and slowly built up to the full dose (20 mg). I still have some fear when I've been away from driving for awhile, but its just fear and it goes away as I drive a bit....nothing scarey happens that makes me want to pull off the road.
I'm still working on my issue, but the Celexa has really helped me get back out there. The days I truly feel off balance, I do not drive. But on the good days I am not so afraid to go down the road. The other day I was going down a two lane hiway and I looked down and was doing 65mph! Unheard of for me in over 15 years! And I felt fine with it! (except I was speeding). Someday I want to take off and drive about an hour away.....then I want to drive back to where I moved from which is about 4 hours away.
Keep active in trying whatever you can until you get results. For me it ended up being medication and I am thankful for it. HUGS to you all.

If you obsess about things that may happen and they don't come true...then you've wasted your time. If it does come true....then you've lived it twice.
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