On Tuesday, July 1st, I renewed my driver’s license. Because my birthday is in early August, I wanted to get it off my to-do list quickly. I completed the renewal and now my right to drive is assured for the next five years. Although the process was easy, I muttered, “whew” when it was over, “I can relax” -something I never did before. This normally routine event was charged with anxiety, tension, and irrationality.
The main reason for the angst, I think, was that because I am 75 years old (turning 76) I couldn’t renew my license on-line. I had to go to a Registry of Motor Vehicle office and take the vision test. “Oh, no,” I spluttered into my mind and clenched in my heart, “what if I don’t pass?!” This was a totally bizarre, illogical reaction as I just had my annual eye exam at which my ophthalmologist said that my vision was fine. In fact, it was slightly better than it had been last year. I didn’t need new glasses. Rationality should have prevailed and convinced me that my vision was very unlikely to have changed during the previous three weeks. Yet, mindless panic overrode mature reasoning and I fretted about things that made no sense.
Since I wasn’t at home but on the Cape I found that as an AAA member I could do the renewal at a branch in South Dennis about one-half hour’s drive from my place. I made myself silently nutty, “What if I don’t pass the test? If I don’t pass, will I have to leave my car there? If so, how will I get back home? Maybe I need to have someone come with me? Who could I ask to come with me? My kids and friends aren’t around. Maybe I should wait and do it when I get back?”
Convincing myself that I had to stop being inane and idiotic, I drove to the location. There were several people ahead of me and I watched while they took the test. One, a very young man, aced it in seconds. Normally, I am not a cheating person, but I tried to listen to his answers thinking other dumb things like “maybe I can remember them and say the answers” knowing that the DMV is smart enough not to do the same test within hearing range of waiting applicants. The man just before me appeared to be somewhat older than I am and he had some difficulty following instructions – where to look on the screen – up, down, or sideways. He kept stopping to ask questions, but the tester was kind, and guided him until he passed. “If he can do it, so can I,” I thought.
Then it was my turn. I sauntered up with fake confidence, handed in my paperwork, and took the test. I, too, passed in seconds. How anticlimactic! Why was I such a ninny? I opted for a new photo, which shows me as I am now with grey hair. “See, I am older and I renewed my drivers license.”
I will have to do this again in five years. Part of me says that I don’t need to worry until right before my 81st birthday. Why drive myself crazy while I move towards that point in time? This feels like a reasonably healthy approach to getting older. However, another part of me nags that I should not only be aware of what my options are if I fail the test, but more importantly, be sage and strong enough to recognize the signs that would indicate my driving could be a hazard. To be truthful, I can identify habits that I have already modified. I don’t drive very much on the highway at night, especially in the rain. Oncoming headlights interfere with the clarity of my perception and swerving drivers make me nervous. I am less likely to drive when there is snow and ice, and will postpone appointments if I am faced with those challenges.
Finding out about ways to get around other than driving is really simple. A telephone call to the Senior Center will give me all the answers. More difficult is the decision to make that call. Recognizing that a call is necessary will be the result of endless internal conflicting arguments having to do with remaining independent and in control versus the risk of harming others or myself. I hope that I am wise enough to make plans before something dire happens or someone tells me I have to stop driving.
In the meantime, I will continue to alter my driving with negligibly intrusive changes like avoiding ice and wait until I have to renew again when I will probably experience the same neurotic reactions. Well, maybe it isn’t so neurotic. Maybe it is practice for when I will need to make hard decisions that could painfully alter my self-image as a competent, independent, and rational (mostly) older adult.