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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.

Not long after I passed 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.

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 really shouldn’t be driving, but all I can think about is 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.

With the Migraines 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. When I’m in a bad cycle of Migraines, driving becomes a scary proposition. 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 that I will be more aware of my surroundings and will 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 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.

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 when you feel like you’re in 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.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • kmripple
    5 years ago

    I don’t drive very often anymore. And when I do it is pretty close to home and almost never in the highway. The few times I’ve driven longer distances I’ve dealt with the consequences later that day or for days after. Sometimes just a short distance will set me off. I also get symptoms as a passenger, but luckily most days I recover a bit after. This has been, by far, the hardest thing for me to accept about chronic migraine. But after having two near accidents due to brain fog, I am not about to risk my life or the life of others. Living in Orlando, where public transportation sucks, is not easy. BUT, I have a wonderful hubby who gets mad if I apologize for needing to be driven places, and our friends pitch in and drive me when it is needed. It was so very hard to accept I couldn’t drive like I used to and giving up that independence, and not being able to for example reliably take my kids to extracurricular activities and birthday parties and stuff, but once I accepted my new reality I have been much happier with life’s new circumstances.

  • BethBlue
    5 years ago

    This article really hit home for me! I remember the days when I’d pile 15,000 miles a year on my car and think nothing of it (due largely to an inhuman commute). In the past ten years, things have really changed. When my 2008 Nissan was totaled in an accident recently, it only had 45,000 miles on it — and they certainly weren’t all mine. And last week, I had to park in a huge outdoor lot, and when I returned, I realized I had “lost” my car. Thankfully, I had the presence of mind to rely on my keychain to get it to “talk” to me. That, along with the good humor of people around me, helped me to not only find my car, but to “cover” once again for the “stupidity” brought on by a “migrainous” life. I used to love to drive — now, I sometimes fear it.

  • Katie M. Golden moderator author
    5 years ago

    Beth- I think we should both get an app on our phones to help us locate our cars! While using the car remote to find it definitely works, maybe using an app will help us look less silly trying to find our cars!

  • Heather Benton
    5 years ago

    Nothing worse than not being able to drive! Living in the country where you can get anywhere at all. I was very independent as a young teen. Moved out as soon as I was done of College and had a good job. Bought a new car!
    Around that time my VISUAL ARUAS started (19)scared me. But only stopped me when I had a migraine. I was a single mom for a little while which of course I BECAME EVEN MORE INDEPENDANT and HAD TO BE ON DUTY 24/7! When I meet and married my amazing hubby I was a hard nut to crack! Stubborn sure, I was brought up to ‘NEVER LET THEM SEE YOU CRY'(them=men) So accepting help was hard and weird for me. Then to admit I was sick and needed help was horrible!
    Buy the time I was hardly able to get out of bed to get to work, and got home only to crawl into bed…he said enough is enough….and I stop working…followed soon by not driving much to not driving EVER! Silly as it sounds, I hate it so much. Just to get in a car and go where I want, when I want, to do what I want, with out asking and planning around what my husband is planning, DRIVES ME NUTS!
    Inside I am still that independent girl I always was…so often I don’t even ask or speak out for what I want to do. It is just to confusing and I just hate it that much.

  • Katie M. Golden moderator author
    5 years ago

    Heather- I’m Ms. Independent too. I’m working really hard on asking for help when I need it, including driving when I’m in a bad stretch of headaches. I always feel like I am burdening someone. But I’ve found that people who care about you actually want to help and they feel useful when you ask them to do something for you. It’s such a hard balance!

  • Angie
    5 years ago

    Katie, thank you for your honesty. And in turn, I know I have said on many occasions that I was ok to drive when the truth is I wasn’t. But like you, I just wanted to get home, get to my dark room and get to bed.

    My migraines are chronic now and I am on so many meds that I usually have my son, boyfriend or father drive me when I need to go somewhere. If I must drive, again like you, I will put off taking some of my meds so I am not in a drug haze. But, to be fair, that does not take care of the brain fog that seems to come hand in hand with migraine. For the most part I just don’t go many places, it just makes the pain worse.

  • Annette Cawley
    5 years ago

    Just experienced this migraine fog the other day after being in bed 3/4 of the day with a migraine. I had taken the maxalt and other preventive meds. throughout the day and was feeling better. Thought I was ok to just go to bank, post office and store. I drove. First, I messed up on filling out my deposit slip at the bank. Luckily the teller saw the mistake. At the store I went in one door and came out another. I was disoriented a few minutes and couldn’t find my car. When I did figure it out, it was 1/2 a parking lot away. Lastly I noticed I parked quite crooked in the spot. I was rather embarrassed, but then it occurred to me that maybe I really do get that “migraine fog” that “others” talk about and I should be more careful and just stay home on those days when everything is “off”. Thanks for sharing Katie!

  • Katie M. Golden moderator author
    5 years ago

    Last week while traveling, I left my purse at the check-in counter and left my tablet on a couch in a hotel lobby. Thank god my boyfriend saw the purse and a hotel worker noticed the tablet. Some days you just need to stay home!!

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