Control/No Control

Janet Coburn
3 min readNov 19, 2023

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When I was a kid, my family used to go to visit relatives in Campton and Beattyville, Kentucky. It was always a good time. There were barns to play in and fishing, berrying, eggs to gather, and so forth. To get there, we took what was then a toll road called the Mountain Parkway. I loved dropping change in the bucket as we passed through the toll stations.

The road wound and twisted up into the mountains. There were steep dropoffs along the sides. I don’t remember railings, though I suppose there were some. We visited there about once a year during summer vacation. My Dad drove.

I have a number of things on my List of Things I’ll Never Be Able to Do Again, and going to Campton is one of them. For one thing, I have no relatives left there anymore — most were quite aged back then and their children have scattered. But the more important reason is that I could not handle the drive.

When I was in Ireland with my husband, we rented a car and drove around the country. The GPS that came with the car was sketchy at best. It took us on one-lane roads that meandered through the hills. On the larger roads, there were many rotaries, which we hadn’t driven before. Eventually, we started relying on my phone and Google Maps, which didn’t get us lost as often or run us off into ditches. We still ended up going on twisty back roads.

But I was terrified the entire time we were driving. Dan had to drive since I couldn’t adjust to driving on the left (I tried once and gave up). My nerves couldn’t handle it. The entire time we were driving, I had my hand braced against the roof of the car. When it was particularly frightening, I made a peculiar humming noise that Dan had to learn to ignore. He’d remind me that I had anti-anxiety meds I could take, too. I did, but they didn’t stop my symptoms.

Fast forward a couple of years. We were in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, driving around looking for where we stayed and where we were going. Again, we used Google Maps on my phone. Again, we were traveling on twisty back roads with sudden hills and no shoulders to speak of. Again I clung to the Oh Shit handle and made the weird humming noise as we navigated the convoluted routes. Again I took anti-anxiety meds.

Then I had a revelation: I could never go to Campton again, even if Dan was driving. The bends in the road and the steep drop-offs would prove too daunting. I don’t want to put myself through that again if I don’t have to. And I don’t want to have to.

I don’t have trouble driving on surface streets or highways, even alone. Those I can handle — even for four- or five-hour drives.

When I’m driving, I feel in control of the vehicle and don’t have the massive anxiety. That is, unless the circumstances involve something that makes me feel out of control, like left-side driving or narrow roads with switchbacks and doglegs. Even if Dan drives and I navigate, I still do the clutching and humming thing. It’s exhausting. If I were driving, I would have to go 20 mph and mightily piss off the cars behind me.

The bottom line? I can drive myself places, but only under certain conditions when I feel in control. If there’s a factor — or more than one — that makes me feel out of control, I can’t do it.

I like to think that I’m not a control freak under other circumstances. There’s just something about a machine that weighs that much going at a speed that feels unsafe in terrain that strikes me as difficult. This still leaves me a lot of places I can go, even without Dan. But not everywhere. And that makes me feel sad and incompetent, two feelings that I don’t like and that there’s no medication for.

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Janet Coburn

Author of Bipolar Me and Bipolar Us, Janet Coburn is a writer, editor, and blogger at butidigress.blog and bipolarme.blog.