Driving Sideways


I didn’t always have anxiety problems. That part of my crazy brain pretty much only popped out after my parents died. But there was one bit of foreshadowing, and that was how I reacted to trying to learn to drive.

In New Jersey when I was a teenager, you had to take six hours of professional driving lessons to get your learner’s permit, usually taught in six one-hour classes. Most people spend their first session in a parking lot, but maybe get to drive around the block one time at the end of the lesson. I didn’t get to leave the parking lot until my LAST session. And when I did that, my hands were shaking so hard it was jiggling the steering wheel.

I hated driving so much I barely practiced. I was plagued with a recurring nightmare where I had to attempt to control a careening car from the passenger seat, the place I thought I should be in the front seat of a vehicle. Pretty much every “practice drive” I took with my dad ended in tears (mine) and yelling (his). I failed my driving test within the first five minutes and vowed to never drive again.

But after my parents died, I had to suck it up and learn to drive. My brother was going to need me to come pick him up after track practice. I needed a license. My friends pulled together to help me out: Ben became my “driving guru,” expertly teaching me tricks for how to feel more comfortable on the road like how to judge my lane placement and how far down the road to set my gaze. Abby let me drive her sporty Subaru as much as possible, even though it took us twice as long to get anywhere than it did when she was behind the wheel. Fellow non-driver Liz got her learner’s permit at the same time so I had a “study buddy.”

Only a month after getting my permit I took my road test and passed easily. Within the next three months I bought my first car and put 5,000 miles on it, including my first cross-America road trip. Within two years I’d survived driving through a Pittsburgh winter, and my anxieties about driving were just a memory.

Until now. South Africa, like about 1/3 of the countries of the world, drives on the left side of the road. And suddenly I’m back to square one, my nightmare about driving from what I think of as the passenger seat is coming true, and even though the steering wheel is on that side now, I still feel as out of control as confused as I did in all those scary dreams.

It shouldn’t be that different. Everything’s the same, just flipped, right? I could play those mirror levels in Mario Kart, why can’t I do this?

Well, I can do this, it just takes a lot out of me. I have to concentrate on every step. I have to think “tight left, wide right” every time I make a turn. I flick on the windshield wipers when I mean to put on my turn signal about half the time. I look on the wrong side of the street for the road signs. I scrape the hubcaps on the curb when parking. I make Collin cringe and gasp when I get too close to parked cars on the left side. When I turn from a one-way street onto the left side of two-way traffic, I have a flash of panic that I’m about to be in a head-on collision.

It will get better with practice, and I know this. I’m sure by time I visit the states in October it will feel weird to be back on the right side of the road. Won’t that be a lark.

But meanwhile, I hate that in this really difficult, stressful period of huge life change, one of my oldest anxieties, one I thought I had conquered, is back in full soul-crushing force. It’s another way that I feel like I’ve reverted somehow since moving here, when I was hoping this chapter of our lives would be a bold step forward.


  1. This is perfect…… Because this is going to show you how far you have come! … You have to do it ….. And you will … With flying colors Robbie! It will show you that there will ALWAYS be obstacles you face in life… Alot of them suck…. But you can do it , it probably won’t take as long…….you have a choice: to face it or give up….. And I don’t see you giving up!!! You had an awesome dream as a child that I believe WAS a premonition of what was to come on many levels…… Grab that wheel… Practice practice practice, you’ll get better and you will become an adorabley fun ambidextrous driver!!!!! And I love you!!!

  2. I give you serious props for this. I don’t think a lot of people, including me, could handle the pressure of that switch. Yeah, I get that some people have no problem with it, but I also get what a scary thing driving can be. It’s scary but you’re DOING it. You’re consistently awesomeing up this adventure and it’s…awesome.

  3. I definitely think you’ve earned the right to be chauffered on your visits to America

  4. Oh god, I hate having to learn to drive on the other side, too. Are you having to use stick shift as well (hatehatehatehate)? Are there roundabouts (they might call them islands- where, instead of a normal intersection, several roads all join in a circle and you have to sort of time it right and get in, like “jumping in” in jumproping (which I could never, ever do as a kid)?

    I definitely recommend getting a few professional lessons, just to help your comfort zone (Collin may be the best person to drive with for you, but I know my husband and I would kill each other if he was my guide while I practiced).

  5. This is one of the hardest things, and I was waiting for you to talk about it.

    I didn’t get my license until December 2004, and in February 2005 my bestie and I flew into LA to begin a 3 month road trip of the states. My heart was in my throat for 2 months of that. Also add to the equation speed limits in miles (whattt??? The limit is 35 kms? That seems slow… why is everyone zooming past? OHHHH.) And, the worst, reverse parallel parking. One particular horrific demonstration in Little Rock had me explaining loudly “I’m from AUSTRALIA” to the bemused diners at the restaurant I parked out the front of. Nightmare.

    All my very best driving wishes to you.

  6. Driving is one of the things that really stresses me out about moving to the UK in the fall. Just being a passenger was majorly anxiety filled – I felt so powerless, being on what felt like the drivers side but with no wheel or brakes.

    The other big challenge will be learning to drive stick – so it’ll definitely be… an adventure. Hopefully we can both conquer it!

  7. I never comment here, but I really enjoy your posts! I moved to London from California in March and a coworker told me to remember while driving that your body always needs to be in the center of the road. That really helped because it’s easier for me to visualize than wide right. Hope it helps!

    • YES! That’s exactly what Collin’s boss told us and it has REALLY helped. It really only leaves me terribly confused when I have to go from one-way traffic back into two-way traffic.

  8. これらは本当に内事実 印象的 関係方面の話題にでアイデアブログ Driving Sideways | HitchDied 。ここで物事ポイント要因は、いくつかの良い気難しいいいに触れた。何か方法はwrintingついていく。
    バーバリー ストール http://www.amazon.co.jp/dp/B019PSCTZQ/ref=sr_1_6?ie=UTF8&qid=1451275003&sr=8-6&keywords=バーバリー ストール

Leave a Reply to Robin Cancel reply

Required fields are marked *.

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.