Highways scare the crap out of me…literally

I don’t like driving on highways. In fact, they terrify me.

I’m OK with two-lane roads, parkways or laneways. It just the major highways like the 401, QEW or Lakeshore Boulevard that scare the crap out of me.

In fact, I haven’t driven on a major highway in quite awhile…actually it’s been more than 15 years. Fifteen years!!!

I used to love big highways. I used to love driving big highways at night, during rush hour, in the rain, in the snow – OK maybe not the snow, that’s just silly.

And then it hit me one day - sweats, shortness of breath, heart palpitations. A good old-fashioned anxiety attack.

But why?

I remember the first “attack” didn’t happen in a car. It was during a flight off the coast of Fiji in a small floatplane. I enjoyed the take-off as we bounced across the waves. The sky was a beautiful blue and the sun was shining. It was magical. But when I looked down at the turquoise water, I was suddenly in panic mode. I felt a sense of helplessness and the only solution was to get out of the situation. Not so simple when you’re flying in a four-seater plane over a massive body of water. I couldn’t breathe; I was sweating terribly and my heart felt like it was going to burst through my chest. It was absolute terror.

Slowly, I worked my way through it with slow, methodical breathing and I was able to focus on something other than the need to escape. I survived the flight without anyone else on board knowing the anguish I was facing.

It continued with me on future flights and hit me big time when I returned to Canada and tried the 401 one more time.

The need to escape was overwhelming and all I wanted to do was slam on the brakes and get off the road immediately. Again, not such a great idea when you’re driving at 120 kilometres per hour.

I tried counselling, but it didn’t help. I tried medication. It helped to calm me down, but didn’t solve the problem.

My anxiety also developed into a problem as a passenger. My stomach becomes really nervous and I have to go…you know, go to the bathroom immediately.

One time my wife Angela and I were driving through Toronto on the 401 during

rush hour when it hit me.

“Angela I have to go,” I yelled. “Angela I have to go right now!”

Unfortunately, we were in bumper-to-bumper traffic, in the express lanes and there was no way we were going to get close to a bathroom in the next half hour.

I was panicking. I really didn’t what to crap my pants, but my stomach was telling me different.

“Try to think of something else,” suggested my wife in a calming voice. “You’re walking along a beach. Or how about your mother? You love your mother. Think about her.”

All I could think about was how I needed my wife to take her meditative suggestions and shove them in the one place I was trying to avoid.

But her suggestions helped and I was able to hold off until I found a bathroom.

So, it’s been 15 years of highway avoidance. Fifteen years of long trips on quiet roads.

Surprisingly, I’m not alone when it comes to drivers who avoid the major highways. The more I share my problem with others, the more I have learned that other drivers also face my issue. There are also various reasons for drivers no longer taking the major highways - the sheer volume of vehicles, bad drivers, increasing speeds, fatigue.

For me, it means roads like Highway 2 are my only way to get around. Visiting my daughter in Toronto used to be a 60-minute drive on the 401. Now it’s more like three hours as I meander my way from town to town. But, it’s not a big deal anymore.

As my wife Angela likes to say: ”If you’re spending tomorrow in Toronto, you better leave now.”

Got to love her sense of humour.


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