THE ROAD TO NOWHERE’S A SCARY PLACE
Form filling is hardly a dangerous sport, so how can it leave me feeling so anxious? I’m betting my fellow drivers will understand.
MY hands are shaking. I can feel a dull headache coming on. My heart is racing. All this from filling in a form.
But it’s not just any form.
This form, or series of forms, represents everything to me.
My hopes, my dreams, my sense of adventure, and, most of all, my freedom.
And that’s something we can all relate to this past year, in this Covid-bruised world.
Filling in forms has never been a favourite thing to do.
But since being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 2006, it’s taken on a whole new meaning — a new level of significance.
Every three years I must reapply for my driving licence. 2021 and it’s that time again.
It’s a necessary ‘evil’ and I fully understand and accept this if we want to stay as safe as possible on our roads.
And yet each time, in the few minutes it takes to fill in those three forms for the DVLA and my doctor, I worry unnecessarily.
I am well. I’m physically fitter than I have been in years. I’ve not had to go back to my GP or a hospital consultant for years and years.
I feel good.
And yet, despite this, a tiny part of me feels vulnerable.
When these anxious feelings show up again during my latest form filling, I take a step back and think about my triggers.
What was it? Why now, when I’ve successfully gone through this process several times, without any relapses or major deterioration in my health?
And then it hits me.
It’s a memory.
A memory so vivid that I am back there in the moment.
I see my dear mum who, like me, was diagnosed with MS, aged 38. She is frustrated and deeply, deeply sad.
She’s just found out that, due to her advancing condition, her driving licence will not be renewed.
I’m not used to seeing my mum’s emotions. It’s a shock when I see the pain on her face.
No more days out, no more proudly picking me up from school in her red, automatic DAF that she loved with a passion.
My mum’s immense sadness, the grief for the loss of her independence, is palpable. I feel it. I see it. I hear her voice again, heavy with emotion.
As a kid, I didn’t clock the significance of this moment, but now, as I fill in the forms, a part of me understands.
Driving is a wonderful gift. I’ve been doing it since I was 19. I’m now 53. I’ve driven the length and breadth of the UK and abroad numerous times.
Moose On The Loose
I’ve driven on mountainous roads, through the Canadian Rockies, where I had to execute an emergency stop to make way for a Moose, performed epic and pulse-increasing hill starts on Greek dirt tracks, posing as roads, with a sheer drop beside me, and traversed a six-lane highway on my quest to visit Mickey Mouse in his Floridian home.
In recent years, the I-4 has been named one of the most dangerous highways in America. I can believe it, having driven up and down it countless times on the way to the theme parks.
Remembering all these moments, even the more challenging ones, make me smile. I want more of them behind the wheel.
I passed my driving test first time in 1987 and was so happy I kissed the chief examiner in the passenger seat. That’s not a euphemism by the way. Not sure who was more shocked — me or him!
Up until lockdown, I was driving every week, for work and pleasure — often driving hundreds of miles to a business appointment or a networking meeting.
Yes, there were roadworks and traffic jams.
Yes, there have been moments when, whether it’s luck, or a divine force watching over me, I have escaped an accident by seconds.
And despite this, I love to drive. I always have. I always will.
I hope for a life post-lockdown where I can drive carefully, responsibly and safely on our roads again.
Where I can explore new places and revisit some old favourites.
Nothing beats that feeling of a drive through our beautiful countryside, or that rare moment of a clear-ish motorway, with bright skies overhead and your favourite radio station wrapping you up in the music of the day or night, or an interesting conversation.
So now, as I stick the latest photo of an older, hopefully wiser me, onto my licence form, I take a deep breath and tell myself that my driving days are before me, not behind me.
An open road awaits. Now is a time for patience and hope.
I’ll be listening out for that gentle thud of a new licence on the doormat.
Then I’ll be on the road to somewhere, everywhere, but never nowhere.
Asha Clearwater is an NCTJ (National Council for the Training of Journalists) qualified journalist who’s been a news reporter, features editor and arts editor, as well as editor of several national business magazines.
Today, through her business Turquoise Tiger, she coaches SMEs on the art of great storytelling to promote their products and services.
Asha occasionally freelances as a writer for national magazines and is even behind some of the information boards you’ll find strolling through Woodland Trust Forests.
She is also curator of TEDxPeterborough. www.tedxpeterborough.com