Monday, February 24, 2014

Driving on the Freeway

Something is new in my life. Last week  I started therapy with a PhD student at The Ohio State University to try and overcome my fear of driving on the freeway, over bridges, and up over-passes. The problem began in 2002. One day driving to Cincinnati with one of my darling daughters to a dance competition,  I drove onto the bridge to cross the mighty Ohio River and suddenly got hot, sweaty and exceedingly nervous. I was afraid I would pass out. I distracted myself with singing loudly and patting my palms on the wheel as they were getting slippery and sweaty.

I met a college friend who lives on the other side of the river and told him that I think I had a panic attack and wasn't sure I could drive back over the bridge to go home. He encouraged me and somehow I drove back home. I had a several more trips to Cincinnati for one reason or another and the same thing happened each time, only the panic would set in about 5 miles north of the river. I decided to never drive to Cincinnati again.

I make my living as a real estate agent and it requires a lot of driving. Little by little, year after year, portions of the freeway became off limits for me. Now years and years later I am only driving on back roads and even in some instances I can barely get over over-passes or through huge intersections that have 8 lanes or more. My city grows daily and continues to get bigger, higher and higher over -passes with more and more traffic.

Since 2010 I started telling most real estate buyers that I don't take the freeways. So, either they can drive and I'll get in their car, or if I drive I will be taking back roads. I justified this behavior because many times I arrive at a house via back roads  10 minutes before the Buyers who took the freeway. The congestion on the freeway makes back roads faster perhaps 50% of the time. However, this is no way to live.

I have searched for years and years for a treatment and solution to no avail. I decided I'd probably end up one of these people who never drive and eventually will end my real estate career. Yet, last week messing around on google, I stumbled on a pdf article written by a researcher at The Ohio State University. His research paper written in 2002 used two groups of people with OCD. Both groups stopped medication. One group did Cognitive Behavior Therapy for 12 sessions. The other group did regular talk therapy. The group that did CBT was symptom free six months after the study. The other group was back on medication and somewhat worse in symptoms. Though my symptoms aren't OCD I wondered if panic could be treated with CBT. I decided to try and find this researcher at OSU, but he had moved on to the University of Florida in Gainesville as a professor.

I then decided to type in the words "anxiety clinic" in OSU's search box. Ta-Da, there is such a thing and the best part? It's FREE! In exchange for being a working with a student and agreeing to be video taped for educational training purposes, the service is free. I asked them if they could help me drive on the freeway and the answer was "it's certainly possible!"

I went last week for my first session and met my counselor. I'm old enough to be her mom and I could tell she was a little nervous. She did a great job though, and I think we can work well together.
We are going to work through a book and I just read Chapter 1. Chapter 1 actually made a few bells ring for me as to what was happening in my life back in 2002. I hope after 13 weeks I will be driving on the freeway again. I also have a terror of heights, and some of these overpasses are like a roller coaster, which I hate. Just today on a back road I had to go up, up, up an over pass and I thought for sure I was going to pass out. My stomach flipped just like it does on a roller coaster and I got dizzy.  I just kept my foot on the gas pedal and both hands on the wheel. I lived through it, but that wasn't even an 8 lane freeway with a sky high entry ramp and bumper to bumper 75 mile an hour traffic. I can't wait until I conquer this thing!

6 comments:

  1. I had the same phobia. But not only could I not cross bridges, I could not make left turns. It was very difficult for me to plan my routes each day for my job as a sales and marketing rep for our bank. Somehow my Ron, whom I married in 1999 managed to cure me of these phobias and I am now able to drive expressways with the best of them and make left turns without fear. Since his death, I have managed to move forward and the phobias have not returned. It can be done.

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    1. Thank you so much for the encouragement! I haven't met anyone who has overcome this-everyone I've met has given up! This gives me hope, because it feels impossible right now! You have really given me a lot hope for this!

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  2. Wow, I hope the 13 weeks can turn it around for you. In your profession driving is so important, I would hate to see you retire before you want. I have heard of others with this type of a phobia. Where I live we have so little traffic that it is not a problem, but we have many steep mountain roads and there are many people that hate to drive them. Good Luck and keep us informed.

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    1. Thanks Neil. I have been thinking of retiring to small town in an undeveloped area so I can drive or walk to what I need. I've driven Wyoming mountain roads at night with snow almost blinding me--I'm not sure what happened to me that I know right now I could not do that again. Hopefully I can work this out!

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  3. Panic disorder is one of the problems most amenable to CBT, so good choice.

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  4. I am beginning a career in real estate soon and have this same problem but I live in LOS ANGELES!! The highway capitol of the world. YIKES! I can go up and down on the freeway but I cannot imagine driving to Las Vegas or somewhere far away. I'm trying to cure myself by going for a mile or two at a time right now and getting myself used to it. I'd love to know your progress and any tips you might have! In LA sometimes it's quicker on the city streets too, but I just wanted to be able to do this..

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