The open road conjures images of freedom, adventure, and possibility. Unfortunately, for some people with PTSD the possibilities are dark. The road, other drivers, and even the dark of the night can trigger stress, anxiety, or other PTSD symptoms.
Jamie MacWhirter has pretty classic road rage. The author of “A Soldier Returns: My Battle with PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder),” was a truck driver in the Canadian Armed Forces and did a tour of duty in Afghanistan. He often drove a truck full of fuel on roads where the biggest risk was IEDs (improved explosive devices). Upon return to Canada, he found that slow drivers triggered road rage in him. He wrote:
I can feel the heat coming off my face as I stare with hatred at this piece of crap car in of me. How I wanted to slam my truck into the back of it, or smash into its side and drive it off the road. Was it an old person driving? Could the person not see well? Well, if that’s the case, then they shouldn’t be driving. Maybe I would be doing the city a favour by taking this person out so they are not endangering the lives of other drivers on the road. My knuckles were white as my hands gripped the steering wheel in anger. I had to turn off the radio because the sound of the song playing was getting on my nerves.
In the case of Roméo Dallaire, night driving brought out strong emotions. After serving with the UN Peacekeeping mission in Rwanda, he tried to escape his demons by working. He received a posting in Ottawa, but his family remained in Québec City. Every weekend, he would make the drive to spend time with his wife and children. He recounted these drives in his book.
For the first time in years, I faced straight hours in which I had nothing to distract me. Hours in which I was alone with my thoughts. Alone with my feelings. Something about tearing down the highway at a hundred klicks in the absolute privacy of that little metal box unleashed deep emotions. Four hours and hours, in the dark, a formless agony burst out of me– uncontrollable, racking. Oh the things that went through my mind on those endless drives, as I blared music, stuffed myself with gas station junk food, smoked one cigar after another, screamed, cried, honked my horn. Christ, it was terrible.
The road posed other dangers for both Jamie and Roméo. On one occasion, an incident enraged Jamie so much that he drove off with a baseball bat. Fortunately, he friends followed him. When he came back to himself, he had no recollection of how he got to his destination. Rom got into an accident on Parliament Hill, where he drove into a post. In media reports, he blamed lack of sleep due to the looming anniversary of the Rwandan genocide.
At the same time, others who have PTSD find open road a comfort. Some enjoy taking a car or motorcycle out, and just driving. Others have reported having fantasies of driving off and not coming back.
How about you? Is the open road a trigger? Or a relaxing pursuit?