I don’t know if you ever have that thing where you think that you are over a traumatic event and then you find out, usually in reasonably trying circumstances when you could well have done without it, that you aren’t?
I am, of course, talking about my feelings about my new car. Martin Launderette. For he is indeed a he, and he is absolutely a Martin. Right now he is a Martin Launderette. Maybe later he will morph into a more kindly Martin. I don’t know. I just know that I didn’t really want to call him that, but that is his name, and you cannot argue with destiny on these points.
My beloved car is still on the drive. She has until April 2nd, when the MOT certificate runs out before I have to legally give her up. I have been trying not to drive too far in her in the last week. She really doesn’t like long runs. Short domestic journeys are all that’s in her now, and zipping from home to the post office or the Tesco Extra have meant that I was able to kid myself that the moment of parting was far, far away and probably a figment of my over active imagination. That some amazing and miraculous event would happen to mean that I wouldn’t have to give her up after all.
Sadly, going the whole twelve miles to Loughborough to pick up Martin Launderette put paid to that little fantasy entirely. I chugged home on Friday afternoon, listening to the rattle of the failing suspension, feeling her sluggishness on hills and how hard she was trying to please me, despite being utterly exhausted, and I knew that it really was the end.
On Saturday morning I cleared out all the detritus that has accrued over the years. There’s the horde of tiny, spiral shells from that excellent holiday we had in Wales two years ago, the sand coating them now dry and dusty, sifted to the bottom. I kept them in the side pocket of the passenger door, so that when I was being driven about I could push my fingers down into the space and feel the holiday, still travelling with me. There’s the damaged piston from where I broke down on the ring road and thought I was going to a) die and b) miss taking the kids to the theatre and it turned out that I didn’t die and it was a simple fix and the AA man gave me the piston for good luck. There’s the torrents of cheap and terrible CDs that the kids and I would buy from Saino’s and crank up to eleven and drive all over the country singing to.
Jason had gone out to play golf, but I knew he would want me to drive Martin when he got back, and when he breezed in and picked up the keys and said: ‘Are you ready then?’ I couldn’t put it off any longer. I did spend an inordinate amount of time putting my shoes on, in the dark, in my office, with tears rolling down my face, because it turns out that the phobia of driving that I spent all those years conquering? It wasn’t conquered at all. It was just dormant, because I beat it into submission and threw a great lid on it and it turned out that losing my beloved car took the lid clean off and let it all come bubbling to the surface.
I blew my nose, wiped my panda eyes and went out and drove the car. I drove it perfectly competently and without any drama. I say without any drama. I mean any drama on the outside. Inside there was a whole fuck tonne of drama and I found a metaphorical lid from somewhere, and every time a drama tentacle threatened to snake out of my mouth or my eyes, I slammed the lid down hard and carried on.
We drove the grand total of fourteen miles and parked up in the middle of nowhere because by that point I was exhausted and stressed beyond stressed and needed to stop before I turned around to come home.
And I felt like an absolute fucking idiot. A total waste of space. I know that there is nothing to be afraid of. I know I can drive. I know that I can drive safely. I know that I can drive cars that are not my beloved car. I know all of those things and I have proved them to myself time and time again, and yet this absolute surge of panic and fear will not leave me alone at the moment.
It does not care about rationality, or reason. It does not care that I am lucky that I have a husband who bought me a new car and who understands, and who is beyond patient. It doesn’t matter that the fear is illogical. It matters that the fear is there, and even though I very much wish it weren’t, it doesn’t make it go away, and it doesn’t mean that I can ignore it. Because that’s what a phobia is. A phobia is a fear that is way out of proportion to the thing you are afraid of, and way out of a lot of your control. If it were simply a question of logic, people wouldn’t hide under the bed when there was a thunderstorm, or faint when they see a money spider.
It’s no good wishing I were someone different, because I’m not, and as my mother would say; ‘If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.’ This is who I am, and these are my feelings. I am not terribly accepting of them right now. I ricochet between terror, sadness and absolute fury at myself for not being ‘better’. I also know that that doesn’t help. Beating myself up about that adds another layer of shit to the shit sandwich. Go figure.
These feelings are so often circular and self sabotaging. ‘I want to do/feel/be that. I cannot do/feel/be that. I have tried my best, but it’s not where I am right now. I feel weak and that really, secretly, deep down I cannot possibly have tried my best, because if I had I would be able to do/feel/be that, because other people do and it looks simple. I know that I shouldn’t compare myself to other people, but I do and I feel bad about that but I cannot stop myself. I hate myself for my first failure, my second failure and every failure thereafter. I know that is unhelpful so I feel bad about that. I know I should love myself and forgive myself and be kind to myself, but I can’t, because I am a failure and I hate myself, and I shouldn’t even be thinking these thoughts.’ etc, and so it goes.
I am also pissed off that I did a load of work on this stuff several years ago, hypnotherapy, regular therapy, desperate prescriptions from the GP, and now here it all is again, like I learned nothing. So that’s a frisson of rage to spike the soup of self loathing. I realise that things have improved by the way. I am much more functional than I was. I am just emptying my head.
And I cannot possibly go out in the world with all this on show. I cannot function like this. So I slap my drag queen make up on. I tousle my too pink hair, and put on my brightest clothes, and I look really calm and collected, and rational (ish). When people ask me about it or I am in a situation where I have to make people aware that I am not quite as sorted as I seem, I joke with them, because how can I squat down and give a great, existential howl of anguish without frightening the living shit out of everyone I come into contact with?
I have learned how to pass as normal, because it’s easier and because I have to in order to life the life I want rather than the life that my fucked up brain would subject me to if I gave it freedom to do what it wants.
But that’s exhausting, because it’s like the me that is tired and ill and permanently fucked up, having to carry the jolly, socially acceptable, highly functional me around all the time. And over the years I have learned to do this, because necessity. Over time, the fucked up me has grown healthier and slightly more integrated with the other me, but there are times where we split apart at the seams and the weight is on me again, and right now is one of those times. Which is why, when I got home yesterday and really needed to work, I spent five hours dozing on the sofa because I was exhausted by myself and not fit to do anything. And why I was up until two this morning because when I woke up I had a head full of poison and a lot of panic to deal with.
And I am kicking out and railing against this like it will change things and I know it won’t.
Well, that’s not strictly true. I know that by pouring my heart into words it means that I am creating space in my brain so that I can get some perspective, and that with perspective and space comes a little more resourcefulness. I know that by being honest with myself it makes it a bit easier to tell myself to shut the fuck up when I start spiralling and I need to get a grip. I know that faking it to make it, as long as I am honest that I am faking it, will become less and less fake as time passes.
What it won’t change, right now, is that sick, tearful overwhelm when I go to start my car. What it won’t change is that feeling that I am an alien freak in a world of normal when I struggle to do what so many other people never even have to think about. What it won’t do is make it easier to do what I know I am going to have to do every day until things improve, which is feel all that stuff and go out and live and drive like a normal person until I am so exhausted and it is so automatic, I can shove it to the back of my brain again.
And it will come, because if I did it before, I can do it again, and I will just keep clinging on to that until it does.