real life

"I was driving down the highway at 2am when the police pulled me over and asked me why I was alone."

I was 22 years old when I was leaving a party in Sydney’s inner west around 1.30am. Why? Well, because many wise people have told me that nothing good ever happens after 2am. 

At the time, I lived in the outer western suburbs so the drive was a good 50 minutes long down the highway. 

As I was driving, I noticed that on the opposite side of the road a car had been pulled over by the police. Random breath testing I presumed. I made a mental note that if there are police patrolling that side of the highway, there well and truly could be police on my side as well. 

Watch: Five lifestyle hacks to help with anxiety. Post continues below video.


Video via Mamamia.

Soon enough about 10 minutes away from my exit I see the red and blue lights flashing in my rearview mirror. I had anticipated this, so there’s definitely no need to be alarmed, right? Except by then I had already started to sweat. 

I pulled over to the extreme left lane, put my car in park and waited. 

After what felt like the two longest minutes of my life, two policemen finally got out of their car and approached me. Policemen. ‘Oh great,’ I thought. 

One of them asked me for my licence while the other asked: “Why are you alone?”

I went stiff. 

How do I answer this? Was it wrong to be out alone? Did I miss some new driving curfew rule? I felt like no matter what I said, it would be the wrong answer. 

I pretty much regurgitated an essay back to him. I shared every single thing I did that night from start to finish. How much I drank, how many people were there, where it was, what time it started, where I was going. 

All I knew was that as a woman of colour, I was in a situation where if I gave them even the slightest indication that I was in the wrong (which I wasn’t) then it could go VERY bad for me. 

The other policeman came back with my licence, and then more questions came. 

“What are you doing out so late?” 

“Why aren’t you with anyone?” 

ADVERTISEMENT

I began fumbling my words and my breath became loud and heavy. They then both laughed and said “hope you have a good night, get home safe”. They handed me back my licence and went back to their car. 

I left straight away, but I was shaking. I was shaking for the rest of the drive back home. I was shaking in bed unable to fall asleep. 

This fear, panic and sleepless night is caused by what I now know to be ‘authority anxiety’. Also known as the fear of authoritative figures. Of people in power. Of people who hold more power than me. 

Since that night, I’ve noticed that the fear I had has seeped into other figures of authority in my life. My boss, doctors, professors, security guards, pretty much anyone who sits in a position of higher power.

On The Undone podcast, I spoke through some tips when dealing with authority anxiety. To avoid feeling anxious in these situations I’ve had to remind myself of my rights (literally by reading and researching my legal rights) and to stand my ground when I feel like I’m not being treated correctly. 

Listen to Emily speak about 'authority anxiety' on this episode of The Undone. Post continues after podcast.

I do want to say that I acknowledge that my experience with law enforcement is miniscule compared to the experiences that other people of colour have had. 

The rise of the Black Lives Matter movement and the rightful media coverage of police officers abusing their power had definitely intensified some pre-existing fear in me. Having to re-establish that trust with figures of authority to avoid the anxiety that comes with it has been hard work.

I know it’s important for me to remember that most of these people actually want what’s best for me and have my best interests at heart, but for my own comfort levels, I make sure to try and have as much control over a situation as possible. This sometimes requires extra work on my part, which sounds unfair but has helped me avoid some anxiety inducing situations. Ways that I do this is by measures such as getting a second doctor’s opinion on something, going to therapy, making a mental list of points I want to cover when I’m talking to an authoritative figure so that I remain calm and focused.  

However, I still have a deep fear of policemen in particular, and I believe that this fear will also have a huge impact on my future decisions. 

I know, deep within my soul, that if my house ever got broken into that I would call my dad before I even think about calling the police. Not because I don’t think that they won’t be able to protect me, but because I never want to be alone with a police officer ever again.

For more from Emily Vernem, subscribe to her newsletter, or follow her on Instagram.

 Like a $50 gift voucher for your thoughts? For your chance, take our survey!