Freed From Anxiety
My driver’s license has been a large concern for the past few months. I was due to retake the written test over a year ago, which fell in the middle of Covid. The DMV extended all licenses for six months, and I obtained an official notice to prove the extension. But that extension ended after, of course, six months, and I began worrying that I was driving without a license. For several months, I tried to renew my license on line, but kept receiving “Not eligible” as a response—even though several friends had done so. I decided that my particular problem must have to do with my Real ID, even though they are not required until 2023. So I filled out that application online, uploaded my documents, and was informed that I now needed to make an appearance at the DMV.
Simply thinking about going to the DMV caused me to worry about the written test. I still struggle, all these years after college, with test anxiety. Put an official exam in front of my and my anxiety skyrockets, like those midway High Striker attractions, where a contestant slams a mallet down and tries to force a puck to rise to the top of the tower and ring the bell.
So I began studying, reading the booklet and obsessively taking online practice tests. Even in the safety of my own home, sitting on my own sofa, I could feel my heart begin to beat a bit faster every time I opened my computer to study. I’m embarrassed to admit that I was soon taking online tests every spare minute–waiting for a client to arrive, for the chicken to finish roasting, the clothes to complete the drying cycle.
Finally, last Friday I set out for the DMV, arriving at 7:45 for its 8:00 opening. The line was already two blocks long. I waited for 45 minutes, was admitted into the building, and given a number: G28. When I looked at the board, they were servicing G10. Fifteen minutes later, they were on G 13. I left.
And returned yesterday, this time at 7:15. I was third in line, and felt optimistic about my chances of accomplishing something, so I settled into my place, opened my phone, and began taking practice tests. At 8:10, nothing had shifted, so I walked up to the front door, and read that on Wednesdays, the DMV doesn’t open until 9:00!
I continued studying for the next hour—tests I had already completed multiple times. I mostly got the answers right, but could feel my body vibrating with anxiety. And I wasn’t even planning to take the test that day. I was there for my Real ID.
At 9:00 I was beckoned inside and told to walk up to Window 10. “I’m here for a Real ID,” I told the woman at the window.
“Let me see all your documentation,” she replied.
I handed my passport, two utility bills and my driver’s license over, and began to explain, “My license is overdue.. .”
“Be patient,” the woman admonished, tapping away on her computer. Then, “Check over your application,” she said, pointing to a small screen to my left.
“Looks good, “ I announced with all the cheer I could muster.
“So all you want is a senior identification?”
“No, I didn’t know how to answer that question,” I replied sheepishly.
“Just say yes or no,” she snapped back.
“No, I want a license and Real ID.”
Without replying, she began tapping away, then handed me several sheets of paper. “Take these to get your photo, then return to this window.”
I dutifully picked up the papers, wandered over to the “Photos Here” sign, and stopped. There was nobody there, so I settled in for a wait, watching people come and go in the line next to me, all of them appearing so much more certain of what they were doing than I felt.
After about ten minutes, the woman from the next window slid to her left and motioned for me to advance. “Stand at the line and remove your mask,” she said.
At that moment, I began worrying again about the test. Once my photo was taken, would they demand that I take the written test before I could receive my Real ID? My breathing quickened. But I tried to assemble a pleasant expression as I stood waiting for the woman to signal she was about to shoot.
Once she had, she stamped my papers, then turned her back on me. I stood for a moment or two, wanting to be certain I had fulfilled all my photo obligations, then began wending my way back to find the first woman. But I could no longer remember the window number.
“You’re to come to this window, Jane,” I heard someone announcing from Window 10. Feeling anxious and incompetent, I walked over to Window Ten and handed over my newly stamped papers.
“Here are your documents,” the woman said as she slipped my passport toward me. Then she quickly added several more stamps to the papers I had just handed to her and waved them toward me.
Will I have to take the test? I began worrying as I took hold of the packet. I looked at the women.
“You’re finished,” she announced.
“But what about my license?” I asked.
“The governor has announced that nobody needs to take a renewal test. You’ll receive your new license/Real ID within two weeks.”
Ten words and all of my anxiety drifted off into the ether. I was floating. All those months of worry, and in one minute I felt fine!