On paper my life seems great. I have a mortgage-free house, parents not far away, plus I mentor autistic children which I love to bits. I am also a full-time staff member at IAM RoadSmart, doing a job that I totally love.
However, I sank into deep depression around September 2018, which got progressively worse until I became convinced everyone hated me. Having tried to hide this from my manager and work colleagues, it became too much. I was paranoid I had failed at work, that everyone was working against me, that I was about to be fired, and my friends weren’t interested in me anymore.
Not only did I have issues with depression, there was anxiety and panic there too.
Finally, it was suggested two months ago that I go on sick leave by my very sympathetic manager. I was away for seven weeks, during which time I started counselling and sorted out medication from my excellent doctor.
I wasn’t really ready in my head to come back to work after seven weeks, but I wanted to pull my weight in my team, so I bit the bullet and came in. And thank goodness, it has gone incredibly well – mainly thanks to the very caring attitude of the management of IAM RoadSmart.
The charity has recently highlighted the issues of mental health and driving in an online campaign, which you might well have seen.
In my experience the effect of my issues on driving is this. I often drive very long distances for my mentoring work – and before, those long journeys felt very long, as I was concentrating on the only job that mattered … driving the car.
As my mental state got worse, the journeys felt very short. And that was because I was daydreaming and thinking about all the issues buzzing around my head – everyone hates me, I’m going to lose my job, etc.
With panic and anxiety having an effect too, I found myself getting angry behind the wheel at the simplest of things – traffic lights seemed to be going red as soon as I approached them, every zebra crossing had a person waiting, and I always seemed stuck behind a bus!
And I became increasingly agitated at the thought of being late for anything – especially for an activity with one of the mentor children, which I was intent on making perfect for them.
Frankly my head was not clear, and not ready to the task of driving.
We at IAM RoadSmart talk often about the dangers of distraction, but also know that life must go on. Things don’t just stop because you’re ill.
So, I did this: I stopped the car every time I felt my mind wandering. I found deep breaths and fresh air really helped me. I also switched off the radio – and as Depeche Mode once said (ask your parents if you don’t know who they are), I enjoyed the silence!
I realised that it is better to be late for something than not show up at all. People were far more sympathetic than I thought – getting stuck in traffic is a part of everyday life, it’s not personal, and it needn’t spoil the day … unless you choose to let it spoil it.
I am pleased to say I am slowly recovering from my illness. And I really don’t know if I am offering anything useful here. But this has been my journey, and I hope it might help someone.
IAM RoadSmart has put together some helpful resources for those suffering with mental health challenges when driving or riding, which you can find by clicking here.
By an IAM RoadSmart staff member