My son Dan was fearful of driving and hesitant to take driving lessons. Having driven with him a bit, my husband and I could see he was a conscientious, cautious driver and we encouraged him to work toward this important goal, which he did. We didn’t know at the time that he was struggling with obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Whether you have OCD or not, driving can be scary. It’s a huge responsibility, and one mistake could mean the difference between life and death. Every time we get behind the wheel our lives are at stake. When you think about it, it’s a wonder any of us have the courage to drive at all!
When you think about it.
That’s the thing. Most of us don’t think about it. Perhaps some drivers are acutely aware of the dangers of driving, but I think that typically, once we gain experience and build our confidence, we become more comfortable driving and the worrying dissipates. It might actually become an enjoyable thing to do!
But as we know, when you’re dealing with OCD, life is rarely that simple. As Dan’s OCD worsened, he became more fearful of driving, even though he already had his driver’s license and some experience. He stopped driving on highways, and would only drive on roads he felt were “safe.” When I commented that he was a good driver and was likely to remain unharmed, he responded, “I’m not worried about getting hurt; I’m worried about hurting someone else.”
His comment seems to reflect some common fears those with OCD face in reference to driving. They are worried about others, not themselves. “Did I cut someone off and cause an accident?” “Did I hit someone without realizing it?” Hit and Run OCD, as it is known, involves compulsions which might include checking the spot (over and over again) where you think you might have hit someone (and often there was never even another person in sight), watching the news or calling hospitals to see if there are reports of accidents, and mentally reviewing the events leading up to, during, and after the “accident.” Couple these compulsions with the vivid mental imagery those with OCD often experience, and it’s not difficult to get an inkling of the torment those dealing with hit and run OCD might feel.
So they avoid driving. Maybe, like Dan, they start avoiding certain roads and routes. Maybe they restrict their driving to certain times of day, when the roads are less likely to be crowded. As time goes on, OCD places more and more restrictions on where, when, and how they can drive, often resulting in them giving up driving altogether. After all, isn’t that the “safest” thing to do?
Thankfully, driving was not a huge issue for too long for our son. He had places he wanted and needed to go and the only way to get there was to drive himself. So he did. OCD didn’t win that battle.
It all comes down to embracing uncertainty and living the lives we want for ourselves. Exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy can be extremely helpful for those with hit and run OCD, as well as for those without OCD who struggle with driving fears. With the right help, we can all go anywhere we want – literally and figuratively.