THE CAR ACCIDENT REVISITED
In our posting of July 14, 2016 you will recall how Andy was in a severe car accident and had some post-traumatic stress symptoms that made him unable to drive through the intersection where the accident occurred. Unfortunately, avoiding this area meant a significant increase in Andy’s work commute, plus his avoidance bothered him a lot and made him feel like some kind of coward. That feeling kind of disgusted him and goaded him into action.
First of all, let’s note that Andy had to enroll in a safe-driving class (it was that or lose his license). The class helped him confront the impulsive road rage he let get out of control on the fateful morning, and he vowed he would never again let his car become a kind of rage room. (See our post of June 29, 2016). Still, Andy knew the class alone was not going to be enough to get him through his anxiety and avoidance actions, and he decided to take some action on his own to deal with the anxiety attacks and difficulty in getting near the intersection. This was a good first step: Confront the issue. He then made a general plan and reached out to a trusted friend to help him fine-tune the plan. They decided that Andy should gradually take a series of steps.
First Andy rode as a passenger in his car while his friend drove through the intersection again and again. At first they took this step very early on Sunday mornings when there was virtually no traffic. Under these conditions Andy’s anxiety was minimal.
While his friend did the driving, Andy took good hard looks at the area where he made his foolish mistakes. He visualized exactly what went wrong and relived the reality of the accident. “It was amazing,” Andy said. “The first time we did it I actually saw the paint stains from my car on that damn concrete post. I couldn’t believe they were still there.”
As Andy became more and more comfortable going through the intersection his anxiety attacks and flashbacks went away. Eventually, when he felt comfortable doing so, Andy took the wheel and drove through himself, although still very early on Sunday morning and with his buddy in the passenger seat. Over a period of several weeks, Andy moved the drive through later and later in the day until he was driving through the intersection under traffic conditions close to those during his commute.
Soon Andy was taking his normal route to work. He made sure, however, to leave the house about ten minutes earlier than usual so he would not feel overly stressed about being late for work. Thanks to the classes, he was also a changed driver. When he got in the car each morning, he cleared his mind of everything work-related. He also mentally rehearsed the steps he would take well before reaching the intersection to make sure he would be in the proper lane. He kept to a reasonable speed and was content to let the raging masses charge past him in a frantic attempt to make up for their lost time.
We might note that, with the exception of the driving class, Andy took these steps on his own. He did not go to professional counseling, and he did not go to his physician to get a prescription for anxiety or sleeping medication.