Driving and Multiple Sclerosis

Abject fear of driving was my first "real" symptom of multiple sclerosis, which ultimately led to my diagnosis (albeit in a roundabout way).

It was weird, as most of these symptoms are - I would get in the car and immediately feel anxious. I would press on, forcing myself to go places, even though I was terrified the whole time. I felt like I was in a video game, even when there were few other cars on the road and the pace was slow. A car switching lanes 100 yards ahead of me would tempt me to slam on the brakes, as it seemed like a collision was inevitable with such "reckless" and erratic drivers on the road. Approaching a traffic circle would be a gut-clenching nightmare of trying to find an opening, waiting too long, finally speeding out in front of traffic as someone honked and yelled.

Everybody that I mentioned this to had a diagnosis and advice. "You are just stressed." No, I really wasn't (besides the driving experience itself). "You need more sleep." No, I was sleeping fine. "You just have to keep practicing." I had been driving for 20 years, so couldn't figure out what this one meant.

Once I got my MS diagnosis, about 6 months later, and learned a little more about this disease, things made a little more sense. I think what I was experiencing was a form of cognitive dysfunction, a slowing of information processing that made it difficult to integrate and make the hundreds of little microdecisions that are involved with driving.

These days, I might go for months without driving. That is hard, and I am basically dependent on my husband to help me get out-of-the-house things accomplished. However, there are also good times (driving-wise), where I will confidently navigate local streets (still no freeways for me) and feel like I am in control of my universe. There are also in-between times, where I find myself halfway to my destination, realizing that maybe this isn't ideal - during these times, I keep a running mental dialogue going, telling myself that a traffic light is coming up and not to slam on the brakes if someone slows down way up ahead of me.

Don't get me wrong - I do NOT drive if I think I am dangerous or if I feel the least bit anxious. Before I go out, I always ask myself how I am feeling and if it is a good idea to get behind the wheel. I allow myself to be disappointed, but proud of myself for my "maturity," if I decide that I have to stay home.

What about you? Do you drive? Do you ever feel anxious? Was there ever a specific event when you regretted driving? Have you stopped driving? Please, share your story in the comments section below.

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