What it’s Like to Have a Panic Attack While Driving – A Poem

I wrote this in February of this year after one of the worst panic attacks while driving in my life. As I continue to work on my social anxiety, panic attacks, and my driving anxiety I wanted to reshare this piece.

A Driving Anxiety Poem

So I figured I should preface this with what happened. Last night I got in my car at around 5:30pm to run some errands and pick someone up. About five minutes into my driving (which I am now calling car anxiety or driving anxiety officially) my anxiety reached crazy levels. I barely was able to pull over, and I had to have someone drive my car home.

It sucked. I haven’t had a panic attack in my car in a few months and never this bad. To cope, I wrote this raw piece. Its kind of poem but more my thoughts. I never wrote something during one of my “in car” panic attacks, but I was able to capture on my phone what I was feeling. And this was the results.

Driving Anxiety

I don’t know why this happens to me—again.
It’s not an every time thing.
My anxiety rises the moment sit in the driver’s seat of my car.
I know my past experiences and these thoughts flood my mind.
“I know I can do this,” I tell myself. “I’ve done it a million times without issue.”
I put my car in gear with the hope it will be different this time.
My car moves with me down my street, and for fleeting moments I am okay.
I feel a little at peace, but it’s the anxiety building up.
I have this place down the road.
I call it my point of no return.
I know if I pass this point, it will take a panic attack to get me to turn back.
I pass it without issue, but it’s not long before the panic fully sets in.
I am losing myself on the highway.
My biggest fear.
My breath beings to leave me and I can’t seem to catch it.
I drink water, that has helped in the past.
I almost choke on the water.
I can feel it starting, at tips of my fingers.
It spreads down my hands quickly.
I can barely grip the steering wheel to drive.
I am hyperventilating and losing oxygen.
My panic continues to rise.
Desperately trying to find a place to pull my car over.
To pull over so that I can find myself again.
I use my wrists to drive as the numbness consumes my hands.
Can the people around me know what is happening?
I am in full-blown panic mode and it takes everything to pull over where bank.
It was my destination and the best place to stop.
I lose all feeling in my hands and it is impossible to make a fist.
I bail from my car barely letting it come to a stop.
The last time this happened floods my mind, it worse this time.
The fireman said, “your hyperventilating and you need to breathe.”
I do this and it barely helps.
I do my best, but I am alone and scared.
How could this happen?
My car anxiety found me and took me over.
The panic becomes more than I can bear.
I reach in my bag for those little white pills.
My salvation?
I can’t do this, there is no way I can drive back home.
I call my dad and he sends someone to pick up my car, and me.
He tries to calm me to no avail.
I am a bundle of mess,
And I have still had to make it through the drive home.
My safe place.
I try my best to keep it together so that my driver won’t panic too.
It is ten minutes of hell, it’s an eternity of torment.
I barely make it.
More Ativan and now I am writing in the dark.
I hope this goes away soon.
There is only so much I can take.
I remember, this happens when I drive at night.
I remember that this time of day is always the hardest for my anxiety.
I should have known it would happen this way.
I feel so lost right now. I have no control.
Panic attacks take so much out of me.
It takes all my energy before it leaves my body.
I just want to sleep.
One more Ativan ought to get me back.
I hate social anxiety, and my car anxiety, more than my depression.
I just need to relax they tell me.
breathe.
I finally come down after two hours.
I just want to sleep.

James Edgar Skye

Always Keep Fighting (AKF)

Photo Credit: Dino Reichmuth

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32 Replies to “What it’s Like to Have a Panic Attack While Driving – A Poem”

  1. This brought up SO many memories for me. I struggled with severe anxiety and panic attacks for years. I was living in Seattle and traffic was and still is horrific there. So, I’d sit in traffic, sometimes for an hour or more, and literally cry, tears rolling down my face. I have had to pull off the road and walk around, etc. I still have them, but getting off of my Benzos helped immensely as they were causing rebound anxiety in a major way. I had to taper them because you cannot quit cold turkey and it took 5 months, but it will be a whole year in November and I feel tons better! That’s just what helped me. I feel your pain, I hope you are completely free of them one day!! Meditation and mindfulness helps me too!! Thanks for sharing, it really helps others who struggle!

    1. How was being off your benzos? I am on high doses and I fear it doesn’t help my anxiety as much as it once did. I am not sure I can get off of them and it has been a major fear of mine.

      1. I have been doing much better being off of the Benzos, but it was a hard journey. I wasn’t on a high dose. I had been taking Ativan on and off as a PRN for years. I went through a difficult time getting off of my Depakote and that is when I increased the Ativan and took it regularly. In time, I noticed I was taking more and running out a few pills at the end of the month. I can’t even articulate how horrific my anxiety was for the past 2-3 years. I was trapped in a cycle of such anxiety I had to stop working and I could not sit with others to eat. I had increasingly weird and bizarre symptoms and was severely depressed and suicidal. My niece who struggles with addiction was on a Benzo (Klonipin) among other stuff and when we tried to help her detox, I realized, crap!, I have an issue with my Benzos and I can’t quit cold turkey. I then began researching like mad on the internet and decided I have to get off of these things.
        I did a gradual taper. I read everything on line and I followed the advice of those before me. I was only on .5 a day and I shaved that pill gradually, tapering it slowly over 5 months, before “jumping off”.
        It was scary and hard. The first & second shaves were the worst meaning the anxiety was unparalleled and I often couldn’t even sit at home with someone and eat. I had “brain shocks”, dizziness, disassociation, serious insomnia, anxiety, etc. etc. etc.
        I found with each “shave” I started to “come out” of a fog that I had not even realized I was in and things seemed brighter. I could connect to things more. I could “feel” more. I wasn’t as blunted.
        It has been 9 months now and the hold anxiety had on my life has released. I am happier and more connected. I’m Bipolar and so I still struggle and I still have times where I am tense and anxious, but I am remarkably better. I still feel my brain is adjusting and I will still gain a little more as everything I read said it can take a year or more for your brain to settle. And you can have “waves” of withdrawal for a year or so after where you feel anxious, etc. again for a time.
        I recommend gong on-line and reading millions of stories like mine. People will say the only way to get off of benzos with success is a long gradual taper… and they even say if you are on a high dose, take your time. It can even take up to two years for some people to “jump off”. Mine was 5 months.
        I make no judgment for those who decide to stay on them. Benzos actually cause damage to receptor sites that uptake GABA, so finding ways to increase GABA might help.
        Sorry for the long winded message. Please do not ever quit cold turkey because it can cause seizures. But, a slow taper at the level you are comfortable with will be uncomfortable and hard, but at the end of the road is “freedom” and I do feel free of the place I was trapped in for a few years.
        If your anxiety is ramping up it might be because the Benzo is dropping off in the body and you are experiencing perpetual withdrawals… I feel that was what was occurring with me and unless I had continued increasing, I would still be anxious.
        Good luck with whatever you decide. Everyone’s journey with them is different…. my doctor just told me I could stop taking them, DON’T… even my pharmacist thought that was crazy. Some MDs don’t know the danger of this med. RESEARCH “Benzo Hell” and withdrawl. Good luck with whatever you decide!!

      2. Thank you for sharing this, I have a lot of research to do. I am currently on 3-4 mg of Ativan a day and it’s not helping to get my anxiety under control. I have pondered life without taking Ativan.

      3. It’s hard and a personal decision. I don’t envy you either way. If you decide to do so, you could blog the journey. Either way, stay lifted and grounded!! ❤️🌹❤️

  2. Well written James. Thank you for sharing so people know they are not alone in panic attacks. I am glad your father was able to help you. 🙂 I had to read it because 4 years ago I had to pull into a parking lot once and cry for an hour because my anxiety was causing my breath to constrict, my body to tense up, and my vision to blur. It was hell!

    1. That is why I hate panic attacks so much because they affect both body and mind. You lose control of both and you feel really helpless in my experiences. I hate feeling helpless.

  3. Murray Bowen’s Triangles (tops) are an interesting source for poetic metaphors.

    Thanks for “liking” my blog post so quickly (within 3 hours)

    How did you find it so fast? Is there some search trick I should know about?

      1. And you did it again, thank you.

        I have extended Bowen’s “Triangle” idea to include things, idea, goals, etc in addition to people at the “Top” of the new triangle,

        And extended the “Bottom” of the triangle included you and another person, or another thing, idea object, etc.
        Next I will be working on his “Differentiation” idea. You, indeed, are special and different, “Be Proud” and maybe, maybe, maybe show your friends.

  4. I have been having panic attacks while driving too! It’s so scary! I found that I have to HAVE everything *right* in place, from the steering wheel, the seat, the mirrors, tires have to be fully inflated because even the slightest deviation will make me dizzy causing panic. Also, the windshield has to be clear. Sometimes all this still isn’t enough. The worst is when I have to admit defeat and pull over. My mind can’t help but shame myself. Like you said “it was never a problem before” I also had to cut out the caffeine, which was also causing panic attacks while driving so now I’m miserable and tired all day. It’s really sad when I have to ask myself “Can I handle this cup of coffee for the ride home?” But I have found that chewing gum while driving also helps me. It keeps my mouth moist and keeps my mind off things

    1. You know the caffeine is a tough one for me. I have trouble living this life without coffee. I tried only drinking before 12 and that helps but if had to cut caffeine I am not sure what that looks like. Thank you for sharing your story. It makes me feel less alone.

  5. I’m sorry to hear that you’re still having trouble with this, James. I thought about driving a little while ago and thought of, among other things, the stress of finding parking spaces and maneuvering a big machine into them, and said to myself, “Nah.”

      1. I’d rather take the bus and the occasional taxi, but I’m glad you have the fortitude to work through this. Good luck.

    1. I love driving but this continues to be an issue. It comes and goes. I will go through long stretches of no issues and then small stretches of major issue with driving anxiety.

  6. Firstly thank you for having a look at my last post and following. I really appreciate it. I to have anxiety and write poems and posts and that seems to help (sometimes) anyway reading this made me feel less alone. Its heartbreaking that anyone had to deal with anything like this but reading this made me feel more human so thank you. I wish you all the happiness and better times ahead 🙂

  7. Your experience brought me immediately back to some of my own notorious panic attacks. I’m so, so sorry you are having to deal with this. I do hope you can find some remedy. What ultimately helped me was Zoloft but you seem to be saying that Ativan is no longer helping you. May I recommend Recovery International? It is a peer support group that can possibly help. I wish you the best.

    1. You can become very dependent on Ativan. What sucks is the high dose I am on. It seems impossible that I can get off of it after almost 11 years of taking it everyday.

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