If I hold my arms out, I can tell you which way is east and which is west. I can point up and down to tell you that the sky is “north,” and the ground is “south.” Behind the wheel, that changes. “Head east” does not make sense to me. I have to think extremely hard to grasp what you might mean by that, and I’m usually wrong. Driving also does not operate on the timeframe of when things start to make sense to me. I have to make a move before that happens. I have to go when it’s my turn to go, and if I don’t know where to go, how can I do that?
Then, the horns start honking. That is overwhelming. It feels like an attack, and it is one. They’re pissed that I’m not moving or that I turned the wrong way. I tell people that “driving is too social for me,” which might not make sense to anyone else. Remembering to make the gestures and trying to figure out all of the motives of other drivers is difficult when the car that’s next to you changes every other second and you’re still sitting there trying to figure out what “head east” means. I miss what other drivers are trying to tell me, which is very reflective of every other social interaction that I have.
The speed limit was 25 miles per hour a few minutes ago and I just got used to that. Now, it’s 70, and that is terrifying to me. I drove on a freeway once – only once. I’m surprised that I survived. Freeways move in straight lines for the most part, though, so that part of the experience made things better than they could have been. I do remember that I memorized a couple of routes, which was great, as long as there were no deviations from that route. I could drive to Trader Joes. It helped that the drive was only three minutes long, but trust me, it felt like an accomplishment. “Let’s try going a different way this time,” she instructed me. Absolutely not.
Speaking of straight lines, it’s really hard to stay within those lines painted on the road. I got pulled over once for swerving. They thought I was drunk. “Just a student driver,” I said, and pulled out my ID card. They let me go. “Pay attention!” I AM. I pay attention perfectly, but I can’t pay attention to so many things at once. I can focus on one or two details at a time, but that’s about it. The ability to hyperfocus makes me very good at some things, but driving isn’t one of them. Driving has a lot of things that you need to focus on at once. The good news is that I can do them all individually! The bad news is that I can’t make myself do all of them at the same time.
“Watch the road!” Sure! But, how do I watch the road if I also have to look at the speed limit signs and figure out which way is east? Glance up and down, up and down – anxiously and rapidly – from the dashboard to the window ahead of me. That’s how you watch them both. Okay, got it. “Pay attention to the other drivers! It’s your turn to go!” “But what if someone else goes first?” “That was last time, this time, you have the right of way.” When I was trying to learn to drive, they always told me that I was going too slow. I got 100% on the written test. The road test, though…well, if you’ve read all of this, you can probably understand why I wouldn’t have passed it.
How does anyone do it? I tell all of my friends that can drive that I admire them and that it’s like they have a superpower. They always think that I’m being an asshole or that I’m being sarcastic, but I’m not being either of those things. It amazes me, it really does. “Why can’t you drive?” is a question that I get asked sometimes. “Dizzy spells,” I say. That used to be true, I did have dizzy spells, but I haven’t had one in a long time. Now, it’s become a cover-up that I still use to avoid all of the questions, comments, and judgments that I get when I tell people that I can’t drive. “Oh, it’s so easy,” they say, “you just have to get used to it, it’s simple,” “but, driving is so relaxing,” “you can do it, you just have to try harder.” If you’ve been in the car with me while I try to drive, you’d beg to differ.
I’m not ashamed of not being able to drive. Being different is nothing to apologize for. If you can drive, you can do something that I can’t do. That is true. It’s also true that I can probably do a lot of things that you can’t do. I am writing this today because I have let go of the fear of judgment. To anyone that is reading this and can relate to any of what I said, I want you to know that you are not alone. I want you to recognize your own power. Maybe you can’t drive, but you’re a brilliant researcher and have a ton of knowledge about science, history, technology, languages, whatever the topic may be. Perhaps, you are a phenomenal writer or artist. You can build all of those things and use them to have a fulfilling life, a fulfilling career, whatever it is that you want. You can create new ideas and educate others.
Most of us have something or another that society calls a deficit. It might be something disability-related, appearance-related, finance-related, school, work, or status-related, and so on. Certain parts of life might be easier if I didn’t have a deficit in driving, yes. I have learned to navigate the world despite this difference and I am very happy. Happiness alone is something that a lot of people say that they can’t find. Whatever it is that makes you different, know that there are so many ways to think outside of the box and make it work. You don’t need to fit the stunning artwork that is your unique existence into other peoples ideal. We all have something to teach. We all have something to learn. We all have something to share. What’s yours?
*Special thanks to CEO Sarah Fader for inspiring this piece.