Look Both Ways: The Anxiety Roadshow

I’m afraid of crossing the street.

Well, I’m afraid of vehicles when I cross the street.

Okay, I’m actually afraid of the people in vehicles when I cross the street.

bumper sticker
Patience and kindness.

I’ve recently been venturing outside to walk around town, the weather being so nice and my therapist being so insistent. It’s nice getting fresh air and a mild sunburn, but I have to face my totally rational fear of people in vehicles.

If I’m approaching an intersection at the same time as a vehicle and it appears our two paths are going to cross, I generally take one of two actions: 1) I slow down to a virtual stop some distance from the intersection so the vehicle passes through first or 2) I pretend I’m not crossing the intersection at all, but instead turning to continue down the sidewalk (after the vehicle has driven away I cross the street). Either way, the vehicle doesn’t have to stop for me and there is no conflict.

Because that’s what I’m really afraid of: conflict. I’m not afraid of getting hit by a car; I’m afraid that the people driving in their cars are going to get mad at me if I make them stop and wait while I cross the street. Like, I said: totally rational.

I’m not only overcome by this fear when I’m walking; I’m also a victim of it while driving. This fear makes me fairly religious about driving the speed limit. About driving exactly the speed limit. Sure, it’s nice to avoid speeding tickets (and let’s face it – speeding is breaking the rules. THE RULES!), but it’s equally important not to drop too far below the posted maximum speed because the drivers behind me might get angry if I am too slow.

angry driver
Patience and kindness.

There’s a construction zone I’ve been driving through regularly for the last year, and the speed limit has been lowered for a stretch of road that exceeds the actual area under construction. This means the average driver speeds through at least part of this zone. If they’re not speeding, it probably means they’re stuck behind me.

Do I know these other drivers? Probably not. Do they know me? Again, probably not. But it is vital that they not get mad at me. And, in my mind, it is guaranteed that driving behind my speed limit following self fills all these anonymous drivers with rage.

This leaves me completely frazzled. I want to speed up when a car starts tailgating me but THE RULES! When they can finally pass me it feels like a slap in the face.”I’m sorry!” I want to tell them, “Please don’t be mad at me!”

Where does this fear come from? I’m so glad you asked! It’s time for an episode of DADDY ISSUES!

My father is an angry man. I like to save the best stuff for my therapist, so let it suffice to say that good ol’ dad suffers from road rage and that from a very young age I learned that it takes next to nothing to force a driver into a slavering fury.

Nice Turn Signal
Patience and kindness.

Slavering fury is scary. A neurosis is born.

So, how do I un-born it? There are a few things I’m going to try.

When I’m walking:

  • Pay attention to my posture. It may seem unrelated, but studies (like the ones Amy Cuddy talks about in this TED Talk) suggest that posture impacts mood and behaviour. Maybe if I walk as if I have a right to some space on the street I’ll start to feel and act that way.

  • Remember how I feel about pedestrians when I’m a driver. Surprisingly, I don’t feel a murderous rage when I’m forced to stop and let someone cross the street. Maybe, just maybe, other drivers have some patience and kindness.
  • Follow the rules of the road and cling to the knowledge that pedestrians have the right of way.

When I’m driving:

  • Use cruise control whenever possible. Sorry, man – it’s out of my hands. The car’s in charge. (Remember to cover the break, though, and don’t use cruise control in wet or iced conditions. THE RULES.)
  • Think about the consequences of other drivers being mad at me. There are none, really.
  • Put on some music and turn up the volume. 

Any other suggestions? Post them in the comments!

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