Jane Haddam’s WordPress weblog

Driving Ambition

with 4 comments

Can I remind everybody, before I start, that if you’re having trouble getting the program to allow you to post, you should e-mail and we’ll fix it?

We haven’t had that kind of complaint for a while, but I don’t know if it’s fixed or if people are just giving up. 

Whatever, it’s Sunday, and in a minute I’m going to go play some music.

I just wanted to say that it’s a little odd, hearing all the comments about Matt’s driving.

For one thing, as I said, his father never learned, and never much wanted to learn. 

For another, I was like Cathy–I didn’t learn to drive until I was 21, and then my father forced me because I was going to be home for the summer, he was not, and my mother had a continuing medical condition he was worried would turn into an emergency.

Looking back on it, I suspect it was one of my mother’s periodic bouts of hyper-hyperchondria, if there is any such thing.  She has been all her life–and still is, now–subject to severe free floating anxiety attacks.   She managed, on three or four occasions, to convince doctors that she was genuinely sick and in need of some kind of care–once it was actually minor surgery.

These days, we’d put her on anti-anxiety medication, and in fact they did that when she first needed to enter a nursing home.  The problem was that she took it badly–even though her dementia was too far gone to know that she’d been given the pills, the side effects were terrific.

This makes sense to me, because I was subject to the same sort of thing when I was  younger–not the concentration on physical ailments, but the high levels of anxiety that seemed to come out of nowhere and completely wind me up.

Part of this was certainly natural–a genetic gift from my mother–and part of it was certainly the amount of caffeine I was drinking, which was massive.  But by the time I got to my doctoral program, I found myself being hit, periodically, with such massive, all-encompassing anxiety that I would end up having tachycardia.

And then, when the tachycardia was over, I’d be fine.  No anxiety at all.

I did get a prescription for anti-anxiety medication around then, and I took it for three weeks–the side effects were something like being hit over the head by a truck.  I lost all my ambition, which was bad, but I also lost my ability to write fiction–and every time I’d think it might be a good idea to go back on the stuff  just to take the edge off an anxiety high that would sometimes last weeks at a time, the same thing would happen.

In the end, it just mattered too much to me to be able to write.  Writing was the only thing I’d wanted to do since I was old enough to remember anything much.  Suddenly having no imagination was not an option.  So I finally threw the pills out and decided to cope. I also gave up caffeine in every form–tea, coffee, even diet Coke. 

Then I decided to take off for New York and “be a writer,” no matter what–and within weeks, the anxiety attacks disappeared.  They have never returned, at least on a free floating basis.  I’ve been drinking tea again now for years, although I keep the Diet Coke to the caffeine free kind most of the time.  If I get anxious these days, it’s because I have something to be anxious about.

But my experience is part of the reason I’m so resistant to the idea that we should meet “mood disorders” with chemicals. 

I’m sure there really are biochemical states that make some people anxious or depressed for reasons that have nothing to do with anything in reality. But I don’t think that the means that we should try to alter the chemistry artifically.  In fact, the whole pharmacopia thing seems to me to have more drawbacks than advantages, at least for some people.

My best friend in New York ditched her anti-depressants decades ago because they left her with no sex drive, no ambition, and not much in the way of interest in life.  Her alternative–self-medicating with cigarettes; nicotine, it seems, is a really good anti-depressant and available in a form that makes it possible to take in just as much as you need exactly when you need it–

Anyway, that altnerative may seem crazy to you and me, but for her, the issue was simple–have a longer but miserable life with no major accomplishments and not much to show for it otherwise, or have a shorter life full of things that made her happy and proud of herself.

I just wonder, however, if it might make more sense to at least try to deal with people with anxiety and depression by something closer to common sense–get off your butt and do something, take your mind off yourself, engage with the world, something.

In a world where we’re all supposed to be patients, and where every variation from an arbitrarily designated “human norm” is supposed to be some kind of “disorder,” I doubt that’s going to catch on.

But back to the driving. 

Like I said, it’s a funny discussion to be having, right this minute. 

The big news in Connecticut these days–big enough to be hitting the headlines six states away–is the deaths of four of five teenagers riding in a car together about a week ago, with the fifth in critical condition ever since.  It was dark but clear.  The road they were on was fairly straight.  Nobody was drinking. 

That’ll give an anxiety attack to anybody with a kid in Driver Ed.

Written by janeh

December 12th, 2010 at 6:41 am

Posted in Uncategorized

4 Responses to 'Driving Ambition'

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  1. Lots of teenagers are often dumber than any one of them individually–which is sometimes true of adults as well.

    I look on our attempts to “treat” bad moods and undesireable attitudes with drugs and counseling as a bubble which will burst–well, sooner than I expect serious educational reform. In a country with seriously escalating health care costs, taking conditions which can’t be consistently diagnosed or demonstrably cured out of the mandatory insurance package would make a real difference–enough, I think, to overcome the struggles of the “treatment” industry.

    If I’m wrong, things could get really ugly. Plenty of politicians are ready to say anyone who objects to the legitimacy of their rule is crazy–and they’re the paymansters of the mental health industry. It won’t disagree for long.


    12 Dec 10 at 8:13 am

  2. Well, without going into details, count me in as a supporter for the psychiatric medication. Sure, some people react badly to certain drugs and some – sometimes some of the same ones – can deal with their problems by changing their lives or using something like nicotine. Free-floating anxiety attacks are as unpleasant for the victim as for the people dealing with him or her, and so are a number of other mental and emotional problems.

    But I probably wouldn’t be here now if I hadn’t had the support of medication at one point in my life, and believe me, if ANY method I could come up with could have been substituted for the medication and counselling, I would have found it, because I spent a very long time trying them all while getting worse and worse. If anything, trying to ‘do it myself’ rather than getting (and following!) expert advice made my experiences far worse and far more prolonged than they might otherwise have been, but of course, I’ll never know for sure. I do know that nothing else worked, and some of my ‘self-help’ made things much worse.

    As for the driving…I got a licence at 16, as was normal in my small hometown, but I no longer have a car, which strikes almost everyone as quite weird especially as I still have a valid licence.

    One of my sisters, who spent her teenaged years in a large US school system which had a required drivers ed program, never got a licence at all and has never had the slightest desire to do so. She’s always lived in medium or largish cities and used public transportation. Her husband has a license, and once in a blue moon, they’ll rent a car for some purpose or other, and he will drive.

    It’s an unusual choice, but it works for some people.


    12 Dec 10 at 8:58 am

  3. As Robert said, cars full of teenagers are often dangerous – it’s a combination of goofing around and feeling the invincibility of youth – no one who’s 16 or 17 ever think anything’s going to happen to them.

    I learned to drive at age 20 or so, but not because I was resisting, just because Dad didn’t let us drive his cars, so there was no reason to get a license until I could afford my own.

    But I agree that unless you live in Manhattan or have a spouse who’ll act as chauffeur, it’s best to have a license.


    12 Dec 10 at 11:51 am

  4. My stepson didn’t learn to drive until he was 30, and his wife made him. This was 8 years after he enlisted in the Air Force.

    My son got his private pilot’s license at 17, and his driver’s license at 19. All of my own generation were drivers at 16 (in Detroit, that was a given)…I was taking driver’s ed at 15 and a half. Scary. Here in CA, driver’s ed in school is strictly bookwork and safety lectures, for driving lessons those under 18 must use a commercial driver’s training company, which is expensive as all get out. Those over 18 may get a learner’s permit and put in the required hours of practice with a parent. So we waiting until Daniel and Julie, my stepdaughter, were over 18, and then they each had their permit for a year before they went for the license.

    Older is better, and more prudent, with drivers. I think having the pilot’s license helped Daniel be a far better driver, it gave him a 360 degree awareness that takes a long time for new drivers to develop normally. But I can’t recommend it as a standard driving prerequisite, it costs about $10,000 for the training. ==:o

    A life-long non-driver, though, is a rare bird. Either you live in a very few cities, you depend on the kindness of friends or strangers, and you always hire movers. And you never ever go on driving vacations (unless as a passenger), which are my favorite way to travel.


    12 Dec 10 at 4:06 pm

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