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How driving saved my life, and why cars make us feel good


Staff journalist Zak Adkins reflects on his darkest days, driving nirvana and everything in between

I drive a lot. Instead of sitting home on the weekend and taking things easy, I am out on the road exploring and experiencing life every minute I’ve got free.

I get paid to write about and drive cars, something I cherish and hold close to my heart. I’ve only been doing it for a relatively short time, but this is only the beginning for me and my career as an automotive journalist. 

Why do cars matter so much to me, apart from the obvious?

Zak family picture
My awesome family who have supported me through everything!

I grew up a curious kid with big aspirations for the future. I remember vividly watching Jeremy Clarkson on BBC’s Top Gear – love or hate him, I admired his charisma. You could just see by watching the show how much he loved his job. As I grew up, I held that memory close to my heart and pledged to myself that I would do anything to get into a similar role, to be a journalist covering cars for a living. It wouldn’t be an easy journey, with the motoring journalism industry being relatively small in Australia.

Looking back now, I get emotional seeing how far I have come and that despite so many challenges and setbacks, I was successful in landing the job of my dreams – and I appreciate that every day. 

Zak XR5 Turbo orange
My Ford Focus XR5 Turbo, called Rhonda, because it’s hot like the sunrise!

As good as it is to look forward, it is just as important to look back and reflect. When I look at the setbacks and the challenges, there have been quite a few. I suffered from severe anxiety in my final years of high school and into university. Despite being confident, chirpy and somewhat charming (my mum thinks so, at least), I struggled internally. I put up a front for people so they wouldn’t worry about me. 

The not so good bits 

Then, in 2019, when I thought my life was in control with my work and just general life stuff, I suffered what the doctors call a ‘stress-induced episode’. I ended up being driven to the hospital where I spent the next 10 days in a ward with other people struggling with their mental health. It would take more than a year of therapy and relapse prevention training to get me back to baseline. 

Zak and Paula pic
Mum and I not long before I was admitted to hospital for the first time

I was told it could happen again, but I didn’t want to believe it. And sure enough, around a year and a half later, I relapsed. I found myself at my absolute lowest moment. This time, I spent around three weeks in a ward. As much as I hated it, I needed the help and to be there under the care of others. But I knew I would get better and eventually help others who struggle.

Having to restart life time and time again

Once again, I came out of the hospital like my life had been restarted. And it had been. My partner and I separated within a week of leaving the hospital and I was utterly destroyed and heartbroken. 

Zak XR5 Turbo orange dam
My XR5 Turbo has travelled far and wide with me, seeing all the good sights of Queensland and New South Wales

As hard as it was, I gradually got back into my interests of driving, writing music and general mental health therapy. As soon as I could get behind the wheel again, I did. I went for long drives, felt the car around me and felt so damn happy. 

I would take my car up the nearby mountains and together, my car and I danced up the snaking road, with the five cylinder soundtrack accompanying me and reverberating through the valley.

Driving is nirvana for me 

When I drive, I am fully at peace. If there was a winding road that would wind on forever, I would drive it.

Ford Focus XR5 Turbo boost gauges
A cool little feature of my XR5 is the boost gauges! Vroom

I was recently admitted for a third time to hospital, and this time I caught it before things could get out of control and escalate further. 

I only had to spend a few days in hospital, but afterwards I was back out driving and enjoying the beautiful world we live in.

I am fortunate to have amazing people around me, even if living on my own sometimes gets hard, and my family and friends back home in Brisbane are amazing at listening when I need someone to talk to.

But at the end of the day, when I go down to the garage and see my bright orange XR5 Turbo sitting there, I can’t stop smiling.

Ford Focus XR5 Turbo sunset
Rhonda with my mate’s Honda Integra on a beautiful sunset drive near Brisbane

When I open the door and sit inside, hugged by the leather Recaro sport seats, I feel more at home than anywhere else on Earth. 

My car, whether I love it or sometimes hate it (mainly because of its expensive upkeep), has pulled me from the furthest depths of depression and the extreme highs of my sometimes manic bipolar episodes and has kept me on track and focused. Yes, cars won’t solve the mental health crisis we live in. Yes, I have to take medication, and yes, I need to see doctors often and get therapy, but for me, cars are my idea of heaven.

I can’t wait for the next drive.

“Let’s do this”, I say to myself, as those five eager cylinders fire to life. This will be a good one, I can feel it.