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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I'm a senior in high school and I'm stressed out about the idea of driving. I took driver's ed during the summer and passed the course. Instead of being excited about taking that first step toward independence, I'm scared to death.

I know the goal of driver's ed is to learn safety precautions in driving, but I can't shake the feeling that every time I get into a car I'm risking my life. It has taken an emotional toll on me since last summer, and I wonder if I'll ever get past this fear.

I have talked to friends about driving, and my mom is investing in more driving lessons to boost my confidence. All I'm asking for is some reassurance that driving is not as horrifying as it seems to be. A little help, perhaps? -- I'D RATHER WALK IN HOUSTON

DEAR RATHER WALK: A car is only a machine. Like any machine, in the hands of someone who is careless -- or hasn't learned to use it properly -- it can be dangerous. You have successfully passed driver's ed. You will be getting more lessons so you can practice with supervision, which should make you an extra safe driver. If that doesn't give you confidence, then it's time to take your concerns to a therapist who can help you overcome your budding phobia.

DEAR ABBY: People write so often complaining about all sorts of irritating issues, so I thought I would add a touch of positivity. I'm 27. My boyfriend of five years and I struggle a lot. We're not where we'd like to be professionally, we're often strapped for cash, and frankly, life isn't going the way we planned. But the thing is, I'm happy.

I have a wonderful man who loves me and tells me every day. He makes me smile. Even after five years, the best part of my day is coming home to see him. He comforts me when I'm sad and cares enough to worry when he's away. We plan on getting married someday, but paying rent is more important to me than an engagement ring.

In these challenging times, I'd like to encourage other people to find something positive about their lives. It can really change your perspective. -- LOVES LIFE IN ORLANDO

DEAR LOVES LIFE: That's true, and thank you for pointing it out. I spoke recently with a reader who said that when she's feeling down, she "practices her gratitudes" -- which include being thankful for a sunny day, someone holding a door for her, having friends who will listen and empathize, as well as her job, which is working with small children whose laughter and enthusiasm brighten her day. In other words, happiness is wherever she chooses to find it.

DEAR ABBY: My father is 85 and has dementia. I'm having a problem with relatives who want him to sign papers for property and medical supplies he can't use. They say that Dad OK'd them over the phone. What do I do? -- WORRIED DAUGHTER IN MONTANA

DEAR WORRIED DAUGHTER: Consult an attorney, preferably one with expertise in elder law, in order to safeguard your father's assets. You may also need to contact your father's physician, who can explain to the attorney to what degree your father's dementia has progressed and whether he is competent to be signing documents. Do not put this off -- do it now.

For everything you need to know about wedding planning, order "How to Have a Lovely Wedding." Send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $6 (U.S. funds only) to: Dear Abby -- Wedding Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included in the price.)