Driving Miss Katie

I remember how excited I was as a teenager to get my driver's license. Growing up in a small town, driving meant freedom. I could jump in the car with my friends and do anything on a whim, no longer restricted by my parent's schedule. My 1996 Altima and I saw a lot of miles up and down the east coast. Years later, the mere mention of taking off on a 4-hour road trip seems miserable to me. Whether driving or sitting in the passenger seat, being in the car, even for a short period of time, can be extremely exhausting and potentially dangerous if I'm not careful.

What happened after I passed my driving test?

After passing my driving test, I ran to the store about 5 minutes from the house. On my way back, a visual aura hit me. My sight was impaired, and I panicked. There were no cell phones then, so I couldn't call my parents for help. Instead, I drove like Mario Andretti back home. I barely remember how I got there, but I know I was recklessly driving. That was the most irresponsible thing I could have done. I could have caused an accident or worse.

Then there's the migraine fog that takes over. I may feel well enough to drive, but I'm really on auto-pilot. I've been known to miss a turn on my way home, lose my car in a parking lot and even run red lights unintentionally. Another accident waiting to happen.

Should I be driving?

I can't tell you how many times people have looked at me and asked, "Are you ok to drive?" and I lie. No, I probably shouldn't be driving, but I can only think about getting to my bed. Sleeping in the break room for the next few hours does not sound appealing. I don't want to inconvenience anyone, so I push through and somehow make it home. I'm sure I'm not the only guilty migraineur out there.

How have I altered my driving habits?

With migraine attacks now a daily occurrence, I've altered my driving habits. Recognizing the dangers of driving unaware, I may go for weeks without taking the car out. Driving becomes a scary proposition when I'm in a bad cycle of migraines. I don't trust my judgment. I'd rather live off of ramen noodles than drive to the grocery store.

I never drive when an aura hits. I pull over until it passes. I'm also very cautious about taking certain medications when I know I need to drive. It may mean that I'm in pain for longer, but I know I will be more aware of my surroundings and get home safer.

I'm better about asking for help getting to doctor's appointments, going to the grocery store, and picking up prescriptions. I'm lucky to live in DC, so I can walk, take the Metro, or a cab to do almost anything. However, when I'm in the migraine black hole, I get confused easily and get lost. I'd rather not go out unsupervised.

Overall, I drive a lot less. I'll stick to about a 3-mile radius around my house, even on good days. My boyfriend is often my chauffeur. Being a passenger can be challenging when the nausea is bad. My muscles tense up, and inevitably my pain level increases. Being in the car can be as physically draining as running a marathon to me.

How has migraine taken that freedom from me?

Not driving for long stretches of time can be very isolating. It feels like I'm back in junior high when I had to rely on my parents to take me everywhere. Or like I'm grounded. I love nothing more than driving with the windows down and singing at the top of my lungs along with the radio. Migraines have taken some of that freedom from me.

Driving with an aura, while under the influence of migraine drugs, or in the middle of a migraine fog could be as dangerous as driving drunk. I feel lucky that I've never caused an accident. I'm much more aware now of when I'm able to get behind the wheel and when I need to call someone to drive Miss Katie.

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