A few years ago, I chose to stop driving. It was physically too much for my body to handle.
Not being able to drive was difficult to say the least. I missed the independence it gave me, the freedom of being able to go where you want when you want. Not driving meant I had to release my independent personality streak and ask other people for help, and rely on other people to drive me around. I had an identity attached to me as the person that could be relied upon to drive or provide a lift if someone needed it, and I had to let that go too.
I lost the convenience of being able to run to the shops when I needed something, as opposed to what I do now by meticulously planning ahead to make sure I had what I needed well ahead of time or just in case. Planning what I needed to do or pick up when I was already out and about with people who could help carry bags or push a grocery trolley for me. Sometimes it means that other people organise to do things for me when it is more convenient for them to just do it, rather than including me to do it for myself.
On the flip side, it has allowed me to spend more quality time with people that I wouldn’t have otherwise had if I was well, working or able to drive for myself. Spending time with my retired parents on the way to appointments and errands, and friends picking me up on the way to coffee dates and catch ups. I’ve been lucky that I’ve had people around me willing to help and I’m grateful for their generosity.
After a while, it had been so long since I had driven a car, I didn’t know what I was missing. I had forgotten what it felt like to have that sort of independence and freedom of choice. The grief of not being able to drive had lessened because I wasn’t constantly aware of what I was missing. When you have too many things in your life that get cut down in size, life can get dangerously small. There comes a point where you have to work hard to expand your life again, even in little amounts.
I recently started driving as I’ve regained a lot of strength and stability with my conditions and trust in my physical body again. Even short amounts of driving gave me a glorious high from freedom and independence again.
It also gave me a grief that was hard to explain.
To give you some background, I place my own limitations on driving and only drive when I feel well enough, only at certain times of the day are best for that level of activity, and consider the weather and lighting conditions. It is a little luxury that gives me a taste of independence, and not my main form of transportation, so I still rely on a lot of assistance from others. Whenever someone with chronic conditions is going somewhere, there is so much consideration of their capabilities and they have to plan how far they can travel, do an activity (such as shopping), and still get home without wearing themselves out.
The practical and emotional side effects wear and weigh you down – a little drive is a little high and a little grief in a neat bundle. I am always wanting to drive or stay longer than I can. I get a taste for it and it’s hard not to want more. It is craving long drives, going with the flow and exploring. The constant assessing of my capabilities is exhausting. Not being able to do all the things I wanted while I was out and about. Spontaneity disappears with conditions that need to be managed carefully.
This is just one example of the many compromises that anyone with a medical condition has to make at some point. There are so many things that we have to decide on a daily basis not to engage in fully and the constant heartbreaks that go along with it. We give up the full experience because we have to, not by choice, and try to feel satisfied with the little we can get.
Sometimes, it is just easier to not know what you are missing out on. If you aren’t doing an activity at all, then gradually over time you forget what it feels like and it becomes an obscure, distant sort of grief. Less daily compromises, dissatisfaction or little heartbreaks. Either way, it’s an emotional toll just as much as a physical one, when it comes to what your body can or can’t do, and what decisions you have to make. But easier decisions lead to a smaller life, and less joys, challenges and growth. So even when it comes with a little grief, I’ll still choose the thing that brings a little joy.
Take heart, Readers. I’ll keep the light on.