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How I learned not to drive



I've never been a confident driver either in the front seat or the back seat. It all started the minute I had my first driving lesson, with my madcap driving instructor saying please don't kill me after I nearly banged the front door to his precious car into a cyclist, leaving us both shaking.

Cars in heavy trafficWith this strong fear in his mind everything became much harder for us both, and I failed many driving tests. However I think he also felt like a failure, for not being able to guide me with my slow reflexes, poor navigational skills and poor concentration linked to my schizophrenia. I kept blaming him for all my mistakes as well as wasting my time, not to mention my hard earned money.

While for some people driving is a thrill, I couldn't get it right, even doing a simple right hand turn.

In fact according to him I turned into a completely different person the moment I got into the car. Everything I did was either wrong or dangerous. However I knew I had to raise the bar. Had I tried a bit harder we both could have got much further.

I began to dread all the many never ending driving lessons, spoiled by his quick temper and my clashing negativity. I kept sliding backwards instead of forwards. Either too slow or too fast, according to my volatile moods. I could never get out of the woods.

I felt my instructor didn't understand my mental illness. One time I blanked out at a traffic light and didn't budge for at least five minutes, holding up all the traffic with many of them beeping their horns. He swore under his breath and called me unbelievable. I thought that it was his bad attitude that was unbelievable.

The more I saw him the more stuck I felt, even when not stuck in heavy traffic. He would hiss 'Look out Elizabeth' instead of Isabella each time I looked away at a crucial moment or missed a street. I felt I was doing everything wrong.


"He sure made me feel like a write-off or even a bloody idiot the more he kept telling me off. That's when I decided to stand up and take action against him."


The more I jumped lights and went over bumps out of pure stress and anxiety the more I felt ticked off by him even though we both knew that time and what little patience we possessed was running out. However his motor mouth kept running at a million miles an hour.

He would also get hysterical about the possibility of me going into poles or trees or somehow veering off the road and the car exploding onto the footpath, killing us both.

I began to think he was even crazier than me. Or maybe I was just too much for him. He would mockingly sing 'Jack and Jill went up the hill' each time I went up a steep incline slowly and awkwardly.

'Why are you so slow and scared? Most people your age can't wait to get their license. What's your problem?' I felt him really picking on me. He kept pointing the finger at me but gave me no good pointers. 

'We don't want any blue lights behind us,' he would constantly say, although I could understand his fear of me causing him huge fines or even losing his car. I felt myself on the decline the more I saw him. He was not well inclined towards me.

Even when going around the block he would tell me off for swinging around too wildly. He also kept looking at the car clock. I felt locked into his negativity as he told me that with my heavy-handed ways I would almost certainly break his gears and wreck the car.

He sure made me feel like a write-off or even a bloody idiot the more he kept telling me off. That's when I decided to stand up and take action against him.

With him now behind me I was walking to places instead of driving. No more foul play and horrible lessons, I thought during my pleasant stroll in the park. I also began to embrace the idea of getting around safely and even more cheaply on public transport. With these two great ways of getting ahead I now would not miss the pressure and hardship of driving.



Isabella FelsIsabella Fels is a Melbourne poet and writer. She has been published in various publications including Positive Words, The Big Issue and The Record.

Topic tags: Isabella Fels, schizophrenia, mental illness, driving



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Existing comments

If I owned an airstrip close to Melbourne, on a semi-rural property, say, I’d put the little plane safely away in its hangar and lend you a car so you can, as many times as you need, race up and down, sideways, and in curves, along the length and breadth of the tarmac, until driving with an elbow insouciantly out the window becomes second nature. Then, you’ll know how to forget the car and just deal with the road, and show up that anal-retentive of a driving instructor by passing him by in busy traffic without complication.

Roy Chen Yee | 01 July 2018  

Isabella, personally I wouldn't do even a good cyclist. It would be insane for my part to try to drive a car. Fortunately, I received in due time a good piece of advice and avoided assholes as the one you mention in your great article. Public transport and walking are terrific. Thank you so much for sharing your experience, that can be useful for many people.

Aurelio Gutiérrez Cid | 02 July 2018  

Isabella you put a lot of effort into your writing. Be glad to read more of your pieces in the future. Keep up your amazing work Don't give up. People love your writing and have real faith in you.

Helen Kilias | 04 July 2018  

Talk about a volatile relationship! A sedate walk is much healthier and those memories of driving mishaps will evaporate in the cool, clear air. A concrete walkway is being built, slowly, between my town and the nearest town and many drivers I know have remarked "They could be spending that money on the road". When it's completed I'm thinking about walking the entire length with a sign "Money well spent".

Pam Connor | 05 July 2018  

Thank you Isabella for affirming all those of us who just don't like driving, or just can't do it well and who, instead, enjoy walking and catching public transport. I have been shocked in recent times to hear people say they dread the day they will be dependant on public transport. Personally, I know of no better way to build a sense of community among strangers.

Janet | 10 July 2018  

Thanks Isabella for your heartfelt piece - again. You took me straight back to 1980 and my own enraged and florid instructor. First instructor. This may not necessarily work for you, but after 33 lessons with a second instructor (a beaut patient fellow) I got my licence. I then drove happily until 2008, also teaching my wife, children and others to drive along the way. Since 2008 I've chosen to strip back driving (for enviro reasons) so I now mainly cycle and use public transport; like you this endows me with such peace. Blessings always to you.

Chris Ryan | 15 July 2018  

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