Getting your drivers license is something most teens experience as exciting and fun. It's your key to freedom and independence. Well, not so much for me. Getting my driver's license was a bumpy ride. (See what I did there?)
For those who don't know, I have a variety of symptoms since I was nine years old and was finally diagnosed at nineteen with fibromyalgia and M.E./chronic fatigue syndrome. You can read my chronic illness story here.
In Belgium you can learn how to drive a car when you're eighteen years old. At that time, I was still in denial about my health issues. Due to a lack of medical support and a stigma around auto-immune diseases, there was still hope for me this wasn't going to last forever. My chronic pain and fatigue was something only my friends and family knew about. I was hiding this huge part of myself from the outside world and it wasn't going to stop me from living a 'normal' teenage life.
Once I passed my theory test I started practicing on parking lots. That went better than I expected. But every time I came back home I was extremely exhausted and found myself in a lot of pain. Yes, the stress and tension probably took a big toll on my body but there was something else going on. It required much more energy than I thought it would.
I started taking driving lessons with a local driving school. I chose to drive a manual car because our family has always been used to drive manually. The driving lessons were tough, both mentally and physically. My feet, legs and wrists were completely sore after a two hour lesson and my fatigue reached its height. Add brain fog on top of that and I became very insecure about my capabilities. Keep in mind that at the time I didn't know what was wrong with me so I became very anxious for driving. I didn't want to feel those severe symptoms again. Finals were coming up and they were a good excuse to take a break from driving.
Two weeks in college, my health started to escalate pretty quickly. I was going through a lot. My dog passed away, I experienced heart palpitations like never before and I realized I couldn't continue college.
In November 2015 I was finally diagnosed with fibromyalgia and M.E./CFS. Which was both a blessing and a curse. I needed time to grieve from my 'old' life. There was no more hope my illness was curable but it was also a big relief. My health issues were finally confirmed by a doctor and I could get treatment.
When my intense physical therapy program was slowed down and I was finally starting to accept my conditions, I still kept avoiding the topic driving. Although, I knew it was time for me to pick it up again. I was so insecure. I felt stupid for not being able to concentrate for two hours and I didn't want to experience even more pain.
I talked about this issue to a nurse and she suggested to ride with an automatic car because it requires less concentration and actions but no one in my family drove an automatic car. Besides, there was another problem. The two hour lessons were too heavy for my body and after doing some research online, I couldn't find any driving schools that offered shorter lessons.
I was ready to give up but my family encouraged me to explain my condition to a driving school and ask for a different program that fits my lifestyle. We decided to make an appointment with a local driving school. The manager was very understanding and said he would make the lessons more accessible to me.
I felt hope again and I felt excited about getting more independent. Even though I was nervous, I was ready to give it another try. In my imagination I was even planning trips with Ollie (my dog) in the back of the car and listening to my favorite songs while sipping a frappucino.
A few days later I got a call from a teacher who wanted to schedule lessons. He had no idea about the adjustments and all the things the manager and I talked about. I had to explain everything all over again which was and is still something difficult for me to do. I know from experience how small-minded people are when they hear the word 'fibro'. It was so frustrating how bad the communication between the manager and teacher was. This made me feel less motivated. And I was on the edge of quitting again but decided to give it one last chance.
After a month or two, the lessons finally started. My teacher was a replica of Grumpy from Snow White but he respected the one hour limit and booked the automatic car. The car was a huge relieve for me. It helped me personally to focus more on the road so I could carry on longer without being in too much pain.
There were lots of organization issues though. The driving school only had two automatic cars. Apparently, a lot of people want to learn how to drive with automatic cars these days so I had quite a few breaks when the cars were occupied. Which made the process even longer but when you have a lesson almost every day, you're too low on spoons to do anything else. So honestly, I was kinda thankful for those breaks. Then I had some time to work on this website, you're looking at right now and design the first collection you can find in my shop which was a great distraction.
It was the end of August 2017. Grumpy thought I was ready for my test and I couldn't be more nervous. On a day when I needed my muscle relax meds the most, of course, I forgot to take them. The entire test I was shaking and sweating. But I passed! I couldn't believe it the first few hours and I was too exhausted to celebrate. But of course when my body recovered my family spoiled me with a fancy dinner and I couldn't be more happier. I'm truly proud of myself for passing the first time.
Learning how to drive was a difficult thing for me and I'm sure other chronic illness warriors are going through the exact same thing now. With this post I hope to encourage you to be more open about your illness. This is today still something that I struggle with but I'm so happy I asked for an adapted program. Asking for things that help or things you need is not something you should be ashamed of. You might need adjustments and you'll need more time than a healthy person but that's okay. Driving doesn't have to be an unreachable goal.
Thank you for reading,
Pic credit: WE HEART IT