Tuesday, January 28, 2014

What's your mill stone? - Mine is the 'designated driver.'

So my 'mental' health homework is to remove mill stones!
'A millstone around your neck
a problem or responsibility that you have all the time which prevents you from doing what you want'

My parents didn't drive, I've always had lots of friends and elderly relatives without a car. Add to the mix that I don't like the person I become when I'm drunk - think Absolutely Fabulous, Father Jack and mother from hell. Plus I don't like feeling out of control. So I became a natural designated driver. 

I would say that for the first fifteen years I enjoyed it. Especially in the North West of England. In that area a reliable designated driver is treated with the awe and respect of a unicorn. I never bought a drink, or had to find money for parking. I would frequently get a card, bunch of flowers, box a chocolate and told I was a star. Even my youngest sister who was at the time was a broke single mother always had a bar of chocolate for me. Best of all, every so often someone else would insist that they drive. It would always be on the shopping trip or going to the cinema where no alcohol was involved of course! They made sure I was pampered, it was lovely. And it really lifted my self esteem.

My confidence behind the wheel dropped when I moved to the South East. Nice well lit roads have been replaced with narrow dark country roads. Things jump into the path of your car. Honestly it is true. Badgers, who are not like the Wind in the Willows stories, but are literally the size of a small dog, just walk across the road without looking. Not to mention foxes, once a deer, and don't let me get started on pheasants which I'm convinced were invented by The Lord Almighty for no other reason but to annoy me. The road kill alone is enough to terrify me. 

Next, especially in Portsmouth, Winchester and Chichester is the parking. The problem is, there isn't any. 

I've lived down here now for nearly a decade, and I've happily taken on the role as designated driver. At first lived with my husband who did all the driving at weekends and drove the girls to Brownies, Guides, church groups and drama activities.

November 2012 my husband moved to Stevenage and I was suddenly doing everything at home which included all the driving. In December 2012 I had a car accident, I hurt my back and shoulder and was unable to drive. Then in the Spring and Summer due to mental health issues and medication I was unable to drive. I also had four minor surgical procedures over the last seven months. I have developed a few gynaecological problems which mean that sometime I need to leave an event - fast.

Just looking at the above list makes me feel guilty, makes me feel like I'm making excuses not to drive.

But surely that wouldn't be a problem because I regularly gave lifts to six people. They would step in and help - two did. They were amazing. The other four other people nothing, but the occasional email to ask if I was driving.

The other question for many ladies is whether or not to volunteer your husband to drive. My husband is a naturally shy man, not one to offer help without thought. But when my friend and I was went to a live poetry evening and our designated driver was called away for an emergency. We were stranded in Portsmouth, he came out and insisted he gave my friend a lift home as well.

A couple of weeks after that the same lady was at a Neil Gamien talk in Portsmouth.  I wasn't allowed to drive because of my medication, my children and I got there via taxi and train. I didn't ask for a lift and none was offered. 

Recently I was going to attend an evening talk and a lady who also drives, tried to bully me into driving. She lives 30 minutes away from me in the opposite direction, to take her home would put and extra 40 minutes to the time I would get home at the end of the evening. Instead of saying no, my goal, I didn't go to the event. But she did. She found someone else to drive.

Yet, last week when I was struggling I got an email from someone offering to come out of their way to drive me to an Art Class.

It's a tricky business. Many of us have mill stones. And it's may not be the driving, many women have a 'designated driving problem.' What I mean is something they happily volunteered to do, but now regret it with a passion.

It's not that I don't like the people I used to happily drive around. It is just my circumstances have changed. Mental Health issues don't just clear up in five days with a course of anti biotics and I have learnt to my cost that gynaecological issues don't just go away either.

The annoying thing is that despite knowing I'm doing the right thing by taking myself off the designated driver list. I'm no longer the reliable driver I once was - I feel so guilty and horrible. I'm missing events because I don't want to get sucked into a regular driving commitments. And some people who I thought were friends haven't been understanding, they have been huffy and just a bit mean. 

I want to just be able to look at the clock around six o clock and think, I will go to that. And not feel like I have to. Or if I've bought a ticket and I just don't feel like it - have the freedom not to go and not feel like I'm letting someone down. I want to just step out of my house and to be chauffeured to an event, without having to worry about the SAT NAV, the fallen trees and where I'm going to park. Or at they very least - take turns in being behind the wheel.

So if you do have a designated driver - or lady who always washing up - or always bring the milk. Just think, they may have honestly not minded seven years ago but is that still the case?

Remember when you step in the car and want them to turn back because you're forgotten the craft materials, and you want to detour to pick up milk. That the driver has probably faced stress and hassle to get to your house on time.

Remember when some is acting as your chauffeur, that when you have stepped inside and are kicking your shoes off and driving home. They are still in the car hands clamped to a steering wheel praying that a badger doesn't jump into the road. 

Don't just ring them when you want a lift. 

Don't take offence when after seven years of picking up the jumble they suddenly say no - see it as what it is - that someone is drowning.  I have been dumped 'friend' no longer - now they have found themselves a new driver, until of course a couple of months later when they want you to pick their kids up. People I have driven home for five years have nodded to me like I'm an acquaintance so they can sit and have coffee with the new person who may drive them home. Without a thought about the self esteem of the person who has been ferrying them around for the last couple of years.

I wonder - what is your mill stone?

Ways to be kind to your designated driver.

Be ready when they get there.

Don't let them be out of pocket.

Don't guilt them.

Are you asking when you GENUINELY need help - or taking advantage.

Accept that you need to leave when the designated driver wants to leave.

Offer to share a taxi, so neither of you have to drive.

Dump them as a friend the moment you find a new driver.

On a final note. I'm off now to buy a couple of boxes of chocolates to give to a few people I may have taken for granted.

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