Why I Don’t Drive

Last week, I wrote about not letting my neurodivergence prevent me from seeking new experiences. In spite of that goal, there is one “normal” skill I will not allow myself to be pressured to keep trying: driving.

I got my license on my 28th birthday in order to keep a job, but I have yet to drive alone and have only driven at all a handful of times. I used to tell people my reticence to get the license had to do with insurance requirements, but the real answer is more complicated. 

Despite all the doors it would open, I don’t drive. Here’s why:

Tics and Tremors

The most obvious reason for me not to drive is that I have unpredictable tics and tremors. This reason usually gets the least pushback from the “What do you mean you don’t drive?” crowd. It’s a physical challenge that is easy to see.

In particular, I have a tic that causes me to stomp my foot, so there is some concern I could accidentally slam on the gas or the breaks. When I suppress my large tics, my body compensates with facial tics, usually squeezing my eyes shut repeatedly, which is also generally frowned upon on the road.

Yes, some people with Tourette syndrome and tic disorders do drive, but I have reason to believe that driving will increase my tics rather than subdue them. For one, I tend to tic more in an upright seated position like the one required for car rides. As a passenger, tics usually increase on long trips. In addition, my tics are closely linked to anxiety, which is always heightened behind the wheel.

Terrible Sense of Direction

Even beyond the physical threats while driving, I choose not to drive for reasons that others can’t see. These reasons are the ones I have to defend or that are often treated as “normal.”

Maybe everyone feels these fears to some degree, but for me, they are linked to my conditions and can be debilitating in ways that make me confident they won’t just disappear with practice.

For instance, I have a terrible sense of direction. Lots of people do, but my navigational challenges seem to go beyond what a neurotypical person would experience. In fact, it’s possible this struggle is linked to ADHD, a condition that already drastically increases the likelihood I’ll be in a serious crash.

Despite going to and from my office five days a week or more for nearly a year, I could not get you there from my house, even if I rode in your passenger seat. I have never been able to tell my parents where my friends live and I even get confused while following GPS directions. During high school driver’s ed, my instructor told me to turn right. I got confused and almost drove us into a cemetery gate.

This challenge makes driving terrifying, particularly combined with this next reason I don’t drive.

Indecision and Slow Processing Speed

Particularly when I’m anxious or fatigued, I take longer to make decisions. When rushed, those decisions are often bad and impulsive, like driving into a cemetery. 

When faced with an unexpected challenge on the road, I seem to be incapable of processing the situation quickly enough to act. 

While practicing in a neighborhood, I was faced with a family walking in the road as well as a car driving in my direction. I froze, completely paralyzed. My husband urged me to make a choice because stopping in the middle of the road is bad, and I ended up throwing my arms from the steering wheel, hyperventilating and sobbing. 

Without a voice in my ear telling me to turn hear or stop there, I can’t make decisions quickly enough to adjust to traffic and pedestrians. The anxiety this causes can be overwhelming and I suspect it comes from a source much older than my first driver’s ed class.

Nightmares and Intrusive Thoughts

I’ve had recurring nightmares about driving for as long as I can remember.  I’m usually a kid (the dreams started when I was a child) and the car starts to roll forward while my parents are in the store. To save my siblings and myself, I have to crawl into the driver’s seat, steer, and try to find my parents because that’s how dream logic works apparently. This almost always results in my taking a turn out of the parking lot and onto the road. I never crash in the dream, but when I wake up, I know that’s what’s happened.

I’m 28 now and I still have variations of this same dream.

The problem is that I can’t just leave the dreams behind in my bedroom. Thanks to obsessive-compulsive anxiety, I ruminate and worry, particularly about that fatal wrong turn into traffic. 

The fears trigger checking habits and a string of what-ifs. Is the car in drive? Is my foot over the right pedal? What if I drive on the wrong side of the road? What if I run a red at a busy intersection?

Quite quickly, these experiences feed off of each other, building a cycle of anxiety, cognitive challenges, and physical distress. 

So despite the fact that it hinders my independence, despite the fact that my employment has been jeopardized, despite the fact that I feel like less of an adult, I will not be driving anytime soon. Not unless there are some major changes in my life through therapy or medication.

And if you’re thinking about challenging my reasons or judging me (or any other disabled person) for not trying hard enough, ask yourself, do you want me on the road with you right now?

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