Driving anxiety and Golden Earring

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grazianoI’ve suffered from panic attacks since late adolescence. Of the hundreds of panic attacks I’ve experienced, nearly half have occurred in cars while I’m behind the wheel.

It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to figure out why cars can be so triggering for people with panic disorders.

Panic attacks are often triggered by irrational fears of losing control[1], and when traveling in a motorized vehicle, any loss of control could result in serious bodily harm, or even death. There is also something claustrophobic about cars, something suffocating about the concept of being literally locked and strapped into a closed area.

For anyone who has ever suffered a panic attack in a car—particularly while driving—I don’t need to describe the abject terror that accompanies this experience. For those who haven’t, it’s like being locked inside a metal box, gasping for air.

Consequently, I try to avoid driving when possible, but living in a state that is largely rural without a convenient form of public transportation readily available, it’s limiting and, sometimes, impossible to avoid driving—particularly if your work isn’t either remote or within walking distance.

Last Friday, I couldn’t avoid driving. My daughter—who has inherited my anxiety and driving phobias—had a doctor’s appointment in Massachusetts that she needed to attend, and I agreed to drive her.

While down in Massachusetts, I figured that I’d also run some errands that needed to be performed specifically in that state—or Maine, or Vermont, or Rhode Island, or Connecticut—due to a certain governor’s antipathy toward establishing a greener New Hampshire[2].

Of course, unless I wanted to navigate through an extra hour of back roads, the drive required that I take the interstate, which is an exacerbating factor for me. Statistically speaking, the interstate is far safer than taking back roads, but anxiety has no adherence to logic.

But my daughter needed to get to her appointment at 4 p.m., so there we were—King and Princess Anxiety—buckled into my CRV en route to the Bay State.

That’s when the rain came.

And this wasn’t one of your run-of-the-mill showers. The second we hit the Everett Turnpike, we were slammed by a goddamn monsoon, complete with torrential rains and gusting winds and hail the size and consistency of BB pellets pelting the roof of the car.Golden Earring

To make matters worse, while driving 12 mph on the highway, with my visibility reduced to about six inches in front of me, Golden Earring’s 1973 song “Radar Love” started to play on the radio, and I was too terrified to change the channel.

This is what’s called “A Recipe for a Panic Attack.” But, for reasons still largely mysterious to me, I didn’t have one.

It was an apocalyptic scene on the Everett Turnpike, folks: Cars were pulled to the side of the road, engines had burst into flames, people were bleeding and screaming in the breakdown lanes, a blind priest—his habit drenched by rain—lifted a Bible to the rumbling sky and prayed.

Still I forged ahead, hell-bent on making it to the border[3].

Actually, I may have already repressed the trauma. I don’t remember much, other than my daughter continually checking her own pulse. Then the rain stopped as suddenly as it came.

When we arrived at our destination and parked safely in the lot, my daughter turned to me with a look of awe and admiration. “Dad, how the hell did you drive through that without having a panic attack?” she asked.

I let go of the wheel and stared at my hands, sweaty and still shaking. “I have no idea,” I said before running inside to grab something for my anxiety.


[1] While this is a generalization, it’s often difficult to pinpoint a single cause of a panic attack.

[2] In fairness to Governor Sununu, he seems to be coming around on this issue, but his adamancy in vetoing the legalization of recreational marijuana in New Hampshire is absurd, particularly by someone so laissez-faire about discussing his DraftKings account.

[3] Full disclosure: I needed an Ativan to write that description, but in that moment, I was Cool Hand Luke. I can’t explain it, and it speaks to the real irrationality of anxiety disorders and panic attacks. Most days, I can’t crap without having a panic attack, but there I drove with the calmness of a hero, sans the cape.


About this Author

Nathan Graziano

Nathan Graziano lives in Manchester with his wife and kids. He's the author of nine collections of fiction and poetry. His most recent book, Born on Good Friday was published by Roadside Press in 2023. He's a high school teacher and freelance writer, and in his free time, he writes bios about himself in the third person. For more information, visit his website: http://www.nathangraziano.com