This long blog post is in the style of a diary, as I feel as though it’s important for me to document the emotions I felt when it comes to learning to drive and taking my test. I would like to think this is beneficial and not off-putting but feel free to correct me.
I’ll start with some backstory. For my 17th birthday I got my provisional licence however, due to the fact I was still in college and would be starting university, I didn’t start driving until my 19th birthday. This was with my dad in his automatic Renault. I was pretty nervous. We went to what’s basically an abandoned car park where there were no other cars or people. Slowly I began to get to grips with automatic driving and things felt good. Then uni began again and I didn’t go driving till the Christmas holidays. It was then another year till I drove again as my placement got in the way of things during summer 2016. It felt weird to be back driving but over the Christmas holidays, then during the summer holidays my confidence was growing. Fast forward to June 2017 and I was by no means professional but I felt as though I’d be able to drive somewhere. For my 21st birthday my parents got me an intensive driving course, which I was both excited and nervous about. The wait until the start date went by too fast and soon enough it was here. Now here comes the diary (if you prefer lists, scroll to the bottom to find the list of my tips and a list of my thoughts on an intensive course) :
It was the 17th July 2017, and not only was it my first lesson in a manual car, but I also had a job interview thirty minutes afterwards. I felt anxious and nervous and generally scared. Then the time came. My instructor (who’s lovely) tested my eye sight, then drove me to a housing estate, pulled up on the side of the road then asked me to swap with her.
I was shook.
She wanted me to sit in the driver’s seat on an actual road used by buses and people and cars. Bear in mind when I first drove a car it was an abandoned car park, this felt weird. I had never even touched a gearstick before, I’d only seen it used twice in person and my only knowledge of a clutch was from videos on YouTube.
We swapped seats and she talked me through the start-up procedure. All was fine. She then showed me a load of diagrams and information about how the car works. Also fine. Then it was time for me to set off. All was not fine. My legs were shaking. She talked me through what I needed to do and amazingly, I set off without stalling.
But I felt very confused. Going from two peddles, to three, was not easy, her Vauxhall peddles felt different to the Renault peddles and I had no idea how much pressure would correlate to speed.
After a jolty start I was going a solid 10mph and felt so scared. Over the course of the first hour I’d felt okay. I’d stalled a few times but on the whole was okay. The rest of the 5 hours is a little bit of a blur. I remember doing turns in the road, traffic lights in town, emergency stops (hideously disturbing), roundabouts, junctions, reverse bay parking and the dreaded hill start. Never going out of first or second and occasionally third gear. I was good at changing gear on the move. But when it came to actually stopping, then moving off again I just kept stalling. I couldn’t find the bite point at all.
I was frustrated and annoyed. I’d rolled backwards down a steep hill countless times. Which is embarrassing enough alone, but when there’s a class of primary school children out on a trip watching you make a lot of noise, it’s even worse. I’d caused traffic jams at traffic lights, making people wait for the lights to change more than once as I was unable to move the car forward.
When you combine low confidence, with anxiety and frustration, the result is a mess of a human. I am that mess. The only thing it reminds me of is having maths anxiety (which is a thing, there’s a TEDTalk) when I was in secondary school. It wasn’t that I didn’t understand it, I just couldn’t do it, no one else can understand why I can’t do it, but I just can’t. And that feeling of disappointment is the worst feeling in the world.
I was trying to hear the bite point or feel it or see it but nothing looked or sounded or felt any different. It was like I was blind to it. I felt immensely stupid and started to slowly and silently cry to myself. By the beginning of the last half an hour the instructor (who had offered to drive me to my interview) gave me the option of driving myself. I could not face it, I shook my head and muttered something about it being best if she did. I had blurry vision from the tears, a lump in my throat and a violent urge to scream and slap myself.
She was telling me I was doing well, I was nearly there. There were only the few issues of needing to stop crossing my hands on the wheel, stop looking in the mirrors in the wrong order, stop signalling before looking in the mirrors, and most importantly learn to use the bloody clutch. But all I could hear was my own self-hating voice repeating the words;
“you are a failure, you can’t do anything”
The journey to the interview was pretty awkward, I was silent and sipping my water to stop myself crying, and, bless her, my instructor was trying to ask me about my weekend. We arrived at the place my interview was and I went into the loos to have a cry, as well as try to soothe the bleeding cut on the back of my foot caused by wearing new shoes for the first time (I wouldn’t recommend this but I had no choice, they were my only summery smart shoes for the interview). By the time I’d got home at 5pm after a 10 hour day I wasn’t sure if I was crying because of driving, my doubts about my future or the damage my shoe had done.
It’s the 18th of July, and I woke up feeling sick with nerves. However, overall my confidence had improved, miraculously, as if feeling sorry for me, the car seemed to make its bite point more obvious. I still stalled a dozen times but thankfully on empty roads. I had managed to go through traffic in town, around a traffic light controlled roundabout with roadworks, with no real issues (other than fear and a permanent grimace.) Todays new manoeuvres were turning around a bend (downhill which was slightly scary), and reverse parking.
The 19th and 20th of July marked my halfway point and although I was still stalling a handful of times, it was becoming clear that my stalling was down to me overthinking everything. Every time I doubted what I was doing, I would say “will I stall” and sure enough I did. If I could offer one piece of advice, it would be that having no confidence does damage your ability to drive. Which does make it somewhat a cycle. But over time it will become easier, no one is born with a natural instinct to drive.
The second week of lessons went as well as the end of the previous week. It was two days prior to the test and I was already feeling anxious. I kept waking up in the morning feeling sick, I couldn’t eat properly, and my breathing was a mess. However as my driving went on, suddenly, as if by magic my confidence and driving ability grew. I had the day before my test off, which I can’t decide was a good thing or bad thing. All I know is that I was so, so nervous.
Test day was probably my best day of driving, well, it was before the test actually started. I felt comfortable and confident for the first time. I wasn’t making many mistakes, all my maneuvers were good, and I was repeating “you can do this” in my head so many times, it could have been seen as disturbing. Waiting in the test centre was hideous. Walking to the car with the instructor was hideous. My breathing was not normal. I was so SO afraid. I think it showed. I got confused answering the show me-tell me questions, and then on the way out of the centre I stalled. So by this point I was convinced I had failed. I just drove as normal. I stalled once more on a hill, then went into the wrong gear, but somehow I recovered it.
The 40 minutes flew by, I hadn’t even realised we’d finished until we were almost back at the test centre.
The man announced I had passed. I nearly choked I was so shook.
So the bit you’ve been waiting for, here are my thoughts on an intensive course:
- You learn a lot, quickly. If you’re a quick learner you’ll find it really fun
- I won’t lie. It’s painful. About 6 straight hours using your left leg hurts. I mean, maybe it’s me being unfit, but I found it painful.
- I think if you have anxiety, or have low confidence, I think an intensive course might be a little hard for you. I found I didn’t have enough time (or felt like I didn’t have enough time) to grow confidence, and remember all the things I needed to.
- You get to know your instructor and it kind of feels like you’ve made a friend, it’s quite fun chatting to someone whilst driving.
- On the subject on instructors, make sure you choose yours well, and make sure you know your hours. Nothing is worse than turning to a lesson too early or too late.
And now for the test tips:
- Use your mirrors, and be obvious about it.
- Stalling won’t fail you unless it causes someone else to take evasive action.
- If you select the wrong gear, don’t panic, you can still change it to the right one.
- Take your time doing maneuvers.
- Don’t be too cautious at junctions (*cough* like me…)
- Be careful about lanes and positions at roundabouts.
- Don’t think too far ahead. Stay in the moment.
- Keep reminding yourself that you can do it.
- If you like to talk through your thought processes, do it internally.
- Try to breathe as calmly as possible.
I really hope this helps you, and I wish you lots of luck in your lessons and course. I’d also like to thank my friends for their amazing support. You were all invaluable.