That Time An Intense Hill Start Gave Me A Panic Attack

This post was originally posted on www.youmeandanxiety.co.uk

Anxious tendencies or not — learning to drive with your parents can be… tricky. Or stressful. Or just damn, right nightmare inducing. But you know, everyone’s experiences are different.

For me, I’ve grown up with a very health and safety conscious father. And, yeah, I know a lot of people see their parents in this way but my dad is a little different. So much so that he’d make us do actual drills before we went away on holiday to make sure we knew our own individual escape routes and tools from different points of the house. Yep.


As you can imagine, he wasn’t exactly the happiest man in the world when it came to me and my brother getting behind the wheel for the first time. In fact, he had a bit of a bad reputation for holding onto the handbrake for dear life and even sometimes slamming it on unexpectedly when we (and I quote) “looked a bit close to the kerb”.

So anyway, when I was at a fairly competent level of driving we started going out every day after I finished work at a local cafe. After a particularly stressful shift, my dad picked me up and said we’d be going for a short drive. I reluctantly agreed.

I was on edge the whole time, but this experience saw panic hit me like a brick wall. Pulling up to the junction I started to get nervous. Hill starts. The monstrosities that kept me from booking my test. Heart pounding in my chest, I indicated, found the biting point, released the handbrake and… stalled.

“Okay, don’t worry. Try again. Nice and slow.”

Embarrassed as the line behind me slowly grew and grew, I put the car in neutral, restarted the engine, went through every tiny movement as specifically and carefully as possible and… stalled. Again.


And so on and on this went. I think the third time my dad protected the handbrake, saying he’d do it himself if I couldn’t. I did everything perfectly and… stalled. He forgot to put it down.

Time after time it felt like such an injustice. Every twinge of hope melted into the inevitability of stalling. I remember even at one point my dad was grabbing my leg, pulling it up and down and shouting “MORE REVS, MORE REVS”. It probably would have been funny if I hadn’t been in such a mess.

I knew I was crying but it wasn’t until I pulled away and drove off that I realised that I was having a panic attack. My hands and even my face were tingling so hard, I was sobbing and struggling with my breath. All I wanted was to stop and pull over and have my dad drive me home so I could just have a good old fashioned wallow. But he made me keep driving.

Although that seemed like the harshest thing, it was probably the right decision in terms of my driving progression.


What I learnt from this particular experience:

  • I am a good driver — the panicking meant that I was almost on auto-pilot, and ironically, I drove the best I ever had up to that point.
  • It felt like the worst had happened; as an anxious person, I had always worried a bit about being distracted by having a busy mind or being emotional. Yet this experience showed me that actually, when it comes down to it, even when panicking I can still prioritise my safety and the safety of others.
  • BUT it is dangerous to drive when you are unfit to do so — my dad wouldn’t have let me if I were alone. That’s important to mention.

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