My Freeway Phobia Drove Me Into The Arms Of My Greatest Love

A debilitating fear of mine had a surprising bright side.

Woman having anxiety attack on highway Anastasya Ignateva | Zurijeta | Canva / Antonio_Diaz | Getty Images

As somebody with a phobia, let me tell you, phobias aren’t fun.

I don’t recommend them.

By definition, phobias are uncontrollable, irrational and persistent fears of an object, person, animal, activity or situation.

It’s not enjoyable to be so terrified of something that it affects how you behave, think and feel.

You work to be in command of a situation and at the same time, feel completely controlled by your fear.


You may be like me and plan out your life so you can avoid the fear-making situation, or you may deny your fear, and scare the crap out of yourself on a regular basis.

I can do heights.

No problem, I can do heights.

Oh crap, I can’t do heights.

I’m no stranger to fear, and for most of my life, I’ve been able to manage it, even living right alongside it. But fear is a petulant child who doesn’t like to be ignored, and will strike when you’re at your most vulnerable.

RELATED: Why We Experience Fear — And What To Do About It

I’m a late driver.

It’s not that I never arrived on time, but I wasn’t one of those kids who got their learner’s permit as soon as it was legal nor did I count down the days until I could legally drive.


Neither my parents nor my brother drove, so driving wasn’t encouraged in my family. I wasn’t going to get a car when I got my license, so I wasn’t in a hurry.

I hated having to take the bus or walk everywhere, so after many years of lessons and driver’s test failures, I finally got my license at the ripe old age of thirty.

Since I was already living in Los Angeles, the first place I drove to was Northern California. I still had so many friends and family in the Bay Area, I knew I’d be making that drive a lot, so I’d better master it.

When heading up North or down South in California, you have two choices — take Highway 5 or Highway 101. Highway 101 is the coastal route, beautiful, but at least an hour longer.


Highway 5 has no scenery and takes you past a slaughterhouse, but it’s faster.

My least favorite part of Highway 5 is "The Grapevine" which is a 40-mile stretch through the mountains. It’s twisty and turny, and there’s always some rude driver who insists on tailgating until they make a big show of changing lanes, letting you know they’re too important to go the speed limit, and the rules don’t apply to them.

Both routes have a lot of big trucks on them which means a lot of exhausted drivers doing whatever they can to stay awake.

I was a little nervous when I first drove The Grapevine by myself, but I handled it and went on to drive it many times over the next eleven years, even in the snow, rain, and hail. I must have done that drive at least twenty-five times without incident.


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July 4th, 2001, I was driving to San Jose to hang out with friends over the holiday weekend.

No big deal.

I don’t know why I chose to take the 101 (yes, the SNL sketch, "The Californians" is correct, we do put the in front of our freeways, ) instead of the 5, but I did.

It was a sunny day, but once I was on the 101, it was a little windier than I would have liked. My little red Honda was relatively light and was being blown around quite a bit. Then I’d get control of my car and a tanker truck would pass me by, and my car would swerve.

I was terrified I’d lose control of the car and it would be blown into oncoming traffic.


I squashed my nervousness and reminded myself that I was a pro at this drive. No matter how I tried to calm myself down, I felt a familiar rapid thump in my heart, a paper towel-sized sheet of heat rising up on the back of my neck, and the urgent need to remind myself to breathe normally.

As soon as I’d get back on track, a livestock truck or a semi would appear right alongside me threatening to merge uninvited into my lane.

Although I wasn’t anywhere near the Grapevine, the road was unexpectedly hilly. The wind speed had morphed from a moderate breeze to a strong gust.

Like the wind, my anxiety intensified.

I felt lightheaded and searched for my water bottle so I could splash cold water on my face. My shoulders, neck, and jaw were all tense and my breath became choppy.


I needed to pull over but there was no shoulder available.

I took the first exit I could find and pulled off the highway. I sat there in my car and tried to get it together. The last thing I wanted to do was faint and then have to get back on the road feeling woozy and nauseous.

I knew I wouldn’t survive the drive up North, so once I felt calm enough, and my breathing was regular, I got back on the highway going the opposite way and went home.

There would be no festivities in the Bay Area for me that weekend.

RELATED: Why 'Don't Be Afraid' Is Bad Advice

When SoCalHoser reached out to me in an online chatroom, I thought to myself, "Why is this girl talking to me?"


I thought hoser was slang for a girl good at oral, not the slang for a Canadian dude.

I watched SCTV, I knew "The Great White North Sketches" and the catchphrases of Bob and Doug McKenzie, but I didn’t get the reference at first.

Once I realized SoCalHoser was a cute guy who had been born in San Diego, grew up in Edmonton, Canada, and was back living in San Diego, I warmed up slightly.

He liked classic rock, animals, and taking long drives, but he lived over two hours away, and I didn’t think we’d ever meet in real life.

But there I was on the 4th of July, with a completely cleared schedule and absolutely no plans. SoCalHoser aka Andrew/Andy volunteered to drive up from San Diego and meet me for coffee.


If he was willing to make the drive for a coffee date, why not?

Since I had a roommate, and I have good instincts about people, I gave Andy my address.

When I opened the door a few hours later, I was met by a handsome man with brown hair, sad eyes, and a shy smile.


Our coffee date turned into a day-long date that included grocery shopping, making dinner at my house, and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

Somewhere in the middle of the movie, we had our first kiss, but we broke apart guiltily like we were teenagers, when my roommate came into the room.

After that, Andy drove up regularly and I went down to San Diego when I could. Eventually, he moved up here, we got a house and have lived together with our five cats ever since.

I still have my freeway phobia, and when we make trips up North or anywhere, he does the driving.

Baby, you can drive my car anytime!

I’ve sought help with my phobia, but as of this writing, I haven’t found a cure, but that doesn’t mean I won’t.


For now, I’m looking at the surprisingly bright side of this sometimes debilitating fear of mine.

 If it hadn’t been for my sudden-onset-freeway phobia, I never would have met my life partner and the love of my life.

RELATED: Once You Do These 7 Things, You'll Finally Meet The Love Of Your Life

Christine Schoenwald is a writer, performer, and frequent contributor to YourTango. She's had articles featured in The Los Angeles Times, Salon, Bustle, Medium, Huffington Post, Business Insider, and Woman's Day, among many others.