My Body’s Fear of Highways!!

There is a skeleton in my closet; something I have never written about in my blog; something that I have hardly acknowledged in words.  I have not intentionally avoided writing about it; I just never think about it when I am writing.  But this “thing” has become a pretty big impediment in my life.  I have developed an anxiety disorder over highway driving.

This may not sound like a big deal but I live in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA) in Ontario which is rife with 6-, 8- and 10-lane highways.  It is really difficult, and time-consuming, to get anywhere in the GTHA without taking a highway; there is the 403, the 407, the QEW, the 401 and the 410.  These are the major highways running through, and linking, all of the communities in and around Toronto and Hamilton.  I can no longer drive on any of them!!

This disorder has snuck up on me.  It began several years ago.  Every so often, when I was on one of these highways, I would have trouble swallowing.  At first, it was infrequent, and strange and disturbing, but I was able to write it off to something else; a reaction to something I ate for example.  But, as time has gone on, these episodes have become more frequent and more severe.  The last few times I was on a major highway, I was having trouble swallowing, then I started to feel like I was going to choke on my own saliva, then my heart started to race, and I had to get off the highway!!  Now, these physical symptoms arise whenever I approach a highway exchange even when I have no intention of getting on a highway!!

I am fine when I am driving on a 4-lane secondary highway.  I am fine when I am driving with someone else.  I just can’t drive on these highways myself.  This is after 39 years of driving!!  This is not rational.  I KNOW that secondary highways are more dangerous; I KNOW that major highways are safer!  When the symptoms come on, I am not thinking, “Oh, this feels dangerous!”  It is bodily response that skips over my intellectual thinking processes.

This has become quite limiting.  As this disorder has developed, I have been adjusting my behaviour and circumscribing my life.  I have not been talking about it, except when I absolutely have to, because it is embarrassing. Until very recently, I have not given it a name.  I have mostly ignored it, laughed about it, and coped with it.  I have been hoping that it would resolve itself.

A friend has suggested to me that this disorder might not have anything to do with highways; that it may have more to do with other things going on in my life.  She suggested that it might represent my fear of losing control of my life.  I have thought a little about that.  My life has felt out of control over the last few years with the turmoil in my work life, my kids leaving home, my husband travelling, my parents aging, and my health slipping.  After years of stability and constants  in our lives, all hell has broken out.  There have been changes in every element of my life.  Changes that are beyond my control.  Changes that are scarey.  Changes that involve grief and loss.  Changes with an unknown at the end.

Perhaps that is what the disorder is about.  Perhaps the highway is a symbol of the flow of life which is beyond my control?  Perhaps my inability to swallow represents my inability to accept the changes that are beyond my control?  I don’t know but several months ago, I consulted a psychic about the changes in my life, and she suggested that “I need to let go and let God/Universe direct me”.  Hmmm…

About kp

I am a woman and a mother, a sister and a wife. I have called myself a socialist and a feminist, an environmentalist and an activist, a pagan and an atheist. But, at this stage in my life, none of these labels feel right. I am searching; trying to find an inner calm; trying to make peace with life's disappointments; trying to answer the big questions in my own small life.
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9 Responses to My Body’s Fear of Highways!!

  1. Ann says:

    I also share this anxiety – and I just drove across the USA from VT to Oregon – timing the big cities for 4:30am!! For me it has something to do with the speed of the driving. Up to 55mph I am fine – when everyone goes 60 and above it is as though I cannot process the speeding cars on each side: I want to wear blinders – like some horses needed to – to protect them from being frightened. Tapping helps too.
    Thank you for so accurately describing it. It feels both dumb and lonely to ‘own’ it – but it exists!!

    • kp says:

      Hi Ann…Thanks for letting me know that I am not alone with this seemingly crazy fear! And what a creative solution…I will have to keep that in mind. Kim

  2. I was born and raised and hr. away from T.O. I absolutely hate Toronto and the driving there. It’s claustrophobic to me. It got worse being that’s where I went for IVF and so there’s now a lot of pain connected with it. I no longer live in Ontario. You’re friend is right, it might be connected to other things in your life. I hope you are able to come to some peace. Please don’t be embarrassed, You’re not alone with phobias! You’re helping others to know they are not as well xo

    • kp says:

      Thank you ….I know that you understand!! And, Toronto is really crazy for driving!! It felt like it was time that I acknowledge it ….and it really nice to hear from people, such as you, that it is NOT something to be embarrassed about!! Kim

  3. Your assessment of this makes a lot of sense…I know someone who suffers from mild phobias – going down escalators, or being enclosed spaces. Her anxiety always gets worse (to panic attack levels) during times when she feels her life is spinning out of control. Wish you peace amongst the chaos…

    • kp says:

      That is useful to hear….Because I have not really talked about it before, I don’t know if this is a common experience. Thanks….Kim

  4. jazzminey says:

    Kim, I admire your willingness to share this fear of yours. You are not alone. I am sure many people share this fear. I know of one friend of mine who has the same fear. The Milwaukee Wisconsin area is not as bustling as your Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area so she gets by traveling the back roads. I agree that the root cause of your phobia may not actually be highways but what it represents in your life. However, I believe that you can come to terms with the phobia itself while dealing with or before dealing the underlying issues, which could take some time, using systematic desensitization. Phobias respond well to this type of therapy. Wikipedia has a good article on this type of therapy however, you can type systematic desensitization into your favorite search engine and find tons of info. From there you can make an informed decision on which way, if any, to proceed. I do believe you are well on your way which ever way you choose to deal with this because recognizing and naming the problem is the first step. So three cheers for you. :) Hope this helps. Janice

    • kp says:

      Hi Janice…Thanks for both, the advice, which I will follow up on, and for the support. I will let you know how things develop. KP

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