Driving and Multiple Sclerosis; Independence

I can remember wanting nothing more than to get my driver’s license. I studied, I went to driver’s school, I studied some more, I practiced whenever I could and I passed the test on my first try. Freedom! Getting a driver’s license and a car is probably the first real feeling of independence for youth in the USA. All of a sudden the things you can do in life multiply greatly! You can get around on your own! No begging Mom and Dad for a ride! It is great!

Of coarse as you get older priorities change. Sure you may still want to visit a friend but now you have to worry about driving to school, your job, the store, or maybe even taking the kids to school. Soon driving just becomes another necessary task of life like paying the bills, especially if you live somewhere like me where the nearest anything is 2 miles away and there are no cabs or reliable forms of public transportation. Many people cannot even imagine life without a vehicle! Especially with a disability like MS! How can it be done? How is it even possible to maintain a life?

But that is not what this article is about. No, right now I am focused on the freedom aspect of driving. The feeling of independence. You see that is a difficult feeling to maintain when you are living with Multiple Sclerosis. Independence. There are many simple tasks that people with MS may not be able to do on their own anymore and for some of us, asking for help is really difficult (some of us may not even have anyone to ask for help) but we often do what we have to do. But despite all the things I have to ask help for, I would say for me, the most difficult loss of independence (mentally/emotionally speaking) has been the times I have lost the ability to safely drive. Maybe that sounds stupid but I know I am not alone because I see people all the time fighting to not give up the ability to drive. People who should not even be thinking about getting behind the wheel! I have lost so many forms of independence to MS, so when it starts to take away my ability to drive it almost feels tragic. So I do understand.

You see I think we (after time) take driving for granted. As I sit here writing this article I have lost so much of my vision to oscillopsia that I know I cannot safely drive right now. It’s killing me! I feel like I am stuck in the house unable to get anything done! I can’t get myself to my appointments or even pick up my prescriptions! Forget visiting friends or attending any “extracurricular events”! It turns into a logistical nightmare just trying to find someone who can take time off of work and take me somewhere I need to be like an infusion! The clinic to do blood work! Or as I mentioned a minute ago, simply picking up a prescription down the street. All the things that are just part of my life, mundane things that never felt like a big deal at all, are now such huge endeavors. Life is no longer on my time. I like to leave at a certain time and be places early but now it’s like I am a child. If I need to be somewhere I will get there when my ride gets me there. I am on their time. I am at their mercy. Just like when I was a child.

Maybe that is why it is so hard? I no longer can make a choice. That is what freedom is, the ability to make your own choices and that freedom is now gone. As much as it kills me though I have to be smart and accept that I cannot drive right now because I refuse to be responsible for hurting someone else just because I stubbornly want to drive. I know I developed this discipline after watching someone suffer a stroke and still insist he can drive when he clearly should not. I told myself I would never be like that. I think it shows more strength in a person when they can admit they need help then when they try to do something on their own that they should not be doing putting the lives of innocent people and themselves at risk. A car is a 2-ton weapon and I think people forget that. Even the smallest and lightest of cars can crush someone and change their life forever if they don’t die. That being said, I wouldn’t walk around shooting a gun if I was unable to clearly see so I won’t drive a car either. It’s difficult but it’s necessary.

I plan to later write about how I personally feel you should determine whether or not you should be driving based on the many different factors that can hinder the safety of driving but for now, I am curious, how do you decide if you can drive or not?

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