Driving After Brain Injury
Following encephalitis and acquired brain injury, driving has been a very tricky thing to reintroduce into the mix. In the early days of recovery, my vision problems played a big role in my decision to simply not attempt to get behind the wheel. My vision could be blurry, full of black spots, at times I would lose my peripheral vision, I’d struggle to refocus and I’d often had what I call delayed vision. Vision obviously plays a big role with driving, but I also discovered that other factors were to be considered. My reaction time was greatly reduced so I was mindful that all my reflexes were far from being optimized. Driving is also one of the most cognitively demanding exercise. It requires a huge amount of concentration, attention, and multi-tasking. In normal circumstances, much of the multi-tasking used to happened instinctively for me, but following brain injury, I discovered that it was no longer the case.
Whilst taking into account all these reasons, my partner and I made the decision for me not to drive in the early stage of recovery. I’d walk or bike places, I’d be driven places or simply stay home. Having a young family, driving meant that I’d typically carry a very special cargo with me and we established that it simply wasn’t worth the risk. Risking getting myself injured was one thing, but risking others being injured wasn’t something that bode well with me. With me not driving came a HUGE loss of independence and it made the family daily routine quite tricky. The weeks had to be planned down to a tee to figure out who/how we’d get the kids to their after school activities, who/how I’d get myself to appointments, do the groceries and so on. It was all very limiting and highly frustrating.
As months went by, I was slowly starting to regain some brain capacity and some of the residual effects were lessened or not “showing up” as frequently so we started to introduce short distance drives within a 5km radius, then 10km radius and so on.
Even then though, I’d base my decision to drive on the amount of brain energy available at that particular point in time. I soon discovered that I could get to a specific place ok, but that completing an additional task (e.g. grocery shopping) meant that I was using up a lot of my brain energy. Therefore, I didn’t always have the brain capacity to drive back safely. That lead to several hard to managed scenarios. How do I then get back? If I get picked up, how do we bring the car back and so on. So after a few trials, we put driving places that included additional cognitively demanding tasks on ice for a while longer. To manage this limitation, I’d grab rides into town with friends & I started doing pretty much all of my shopping online (so lucky to have that option nowadays). I almost always found a way to get out and about, but that loss of independence was another loss I had to learn to accept and manage on top of everything else. It had a negative impact on my sense of self-worth, my feeling of accomplishment and so much more! I knew I was making the right decision, but it also triggered lots of mixed feelings.
Years have now passed since the original brain insult, but driving remains an activity that isn’t considered lightly. Sometimes, I’ll find myself napping in the car before coming back home, some days I’ll postpone a trip into town for another time, I’m still planning my weeks around when/where I may have to drive, driving distances are still managed very carefully and I’ll still grab rides when possible. Every now and again, I still need to be rescued and I’m still avoiding driving at night as if my life depends on it...because it probably does.
It’s really hard to explain to others what this delayed vision feels like. But I hope the following photos give you a bit on an insight as to how the world truly appears to me when the brain slows down and stops processing things normally. It is always pretty scary when it happens and I think you’ll agree with me saying that driving therefore not always an option.