My immediate thought is that you need to get in the car in a safe area and drive for some times on a regular basis to feel like the car is like a glove, comfortable and grow in confidence.
I'd seek out a country area (post Covid restrictions) where the road is deserted. Drive, drive, drive. In order for licensed passengers to not become bored, allow for the day to be broken up with a cafe stop and lunch. You can ask other fully licensed friends/family to accompany you on the same plan.
The type of car is a consideration also. Smaller cars will be easier to drive, easier to know the space it takes up. Some cars I'm never comfortable in so keep that in mind.
Country roads and maybe a few more driving lessons by instruction. BTW, before you get into the drivers seat mention to the licensed driver that they need to be patient with you. That prepares them and they should be more relaxed.
You just need to get acquainted with the vehicle, become one with its dimensions and begin 'feeling' the mechanicals responding to your command - can't really think about that when navigating traffic or variable road conditions (by this stage, it has to be instinctive).
Place a paper cup somewhere and see if you can run over (squash) it - do this 4 times, one for each wheel. Then repeat the process in reverse gear (much more difficult!). That satisfying 'splat' is confirming you know where the wheels are - and if you know that, you will always remain in charge of the vehicle.
If you are brave enough, develop your road sense with a bit of bicycle riding on busier roads - it takes constant alertness to read other road users and by the time you get back in a car, you will appreciate the safer environment within, along with more effortless acceleration to get you out of tricky situations as required.
Although not to be misunderstood, becoming assertive in your driving can assist other road users to read your intentions - changing your mind midway can lead to unwanted surprises for everyone (almost picked up a Lamborghini as a hood ornament when they decided to 'not' turn right!).
Lastly, a tip I gleaned from my mum: Watching the car in front is pretty obvious, but the astute driver also watches the car in front of the car in front - it gives you an early warning to any sudden changes in conditions! Overreaction ('jumping' on the brakes, or 'wrenching' the wheel - white knuckle syndrome!), while driving is to be avoided at all costs. It sounds bizarre, but allowing the car to drive itself with minimal overbearance, is good technique.
... happy 21st! A new chapter in your life?
Thank you for coming here and asking, its a very sensible move and I'm sure will make you feel more comfortable and that yer hesitancy is not peculiar to you, many have had it -and overcome it in the end.
I think you have been given some pretty good suggestions, practical tips on what to do - all good.
In all those words the one you may not have picked up on is patience.
It takes patience both by you and the passenger/instructor.
You anticipate when you get in the driver's seat you will react, a full blown panic attach or maybe just a lesser one. So make that your plan for that session, let yourself have the reaction, then when it lessens tme to end the session.
The next time see if you can plan to do anything at all after the attack, even if it is only touching each of hte controls in turn. That is a victory, you have got past the first hurdle.
The third time ... well you get the idea.
You have two things to contend with , acquiring the skills in driving the vehicle -and you have had good advice on starting in an area without obstructions, and taking it from there.
The other and really harder thing is to cope with your own reactions. Now on that one I would imagine you might have some ideas, maybe taken form other times when you have controlled panic attacks, or discarded feelings of not being good enough.
Would you like to make suggestions on this?
I have my license and driving is still very daunting for me. The lead up is probably the worst part, then turning on the engine and reversing out of the drive way is slightly worse. I feel nauseous and my heart pounds really hard. As I start moving though, the anxiety begins to fade. The longer you're on the road, the more your mind seems to wonder and go into automatic relaxed mode.
I try to tell myself this, and I hope this makes you feel better.. Having a level of anxiety and stress while driving is actually a great thing. It means you're more alert to distractions, your reaction time and decision making is quicker, because your mind is in fight or flight mode. I know you feel that you're a danger to others on the road (which is completely understanding as a learner), but being a nervous driver is much more safer than driving completely relaxed in my opinion.
I think you're right, the longer you leave it the more afraid of it you'll be, so your only option really is to face it. But there are things you can do to make it easier on yourself.
When I was learning to drive, I was lucky to have a very patient instructor who made me feel really safe and at ease in the car (seeing as they have pedals on their side so they can stop the car if needed). When you make the decision to drive next, it may be worth finding an instructor that's very supportive and patient.
When you notice your breathing starting to speed up and the anxiety kicking in, focus on your breathing, 4 second breaths in, 4 second breaths out. Focus on the things that you have to do in small steps and read them out in your head - adjusting your seat, putting on your seatbelt, adjusting your mirrors, and so on. Don't be hard on yourself for your anxiety and be patient with yourself. Learning to drive is a great thing, and the fact that you want to conquer your fear is a great thing. It helps to try to turn your anxiety into something helpful rather than something that's stopping you.
I hope that you can bring yourself to make the step of booking a session and getting behind the wheel again.
Just wondering if you are aware that there are actually psychologists that offer specialised services in this exact area. They can help change the negative associations you have made with driving over the years. I had a fear of flying that was completely fixed by seeing a psychologist that specialised in it. I believe it is much more effective than just seeing any psychologist about it. They really do need to specialise in the area if you are going to get the best care.
I'm not sure where you live so if you just google Fear of Driving Treatment - and your city/state then I'm sure a few services will pop up. If you do choose this method I recommend just checking the credentials of whatever organisation you choose to ensure they are reputable. Registered psychologist would be preferable. You also want to check if they are rebated by Medicare. Then you can visit your GP and get rebated sessions so that you will not be out of pocket by much. Some actually offer bulk billing so you don't pay at all.