Driving the brain

Driving Miss Daisy. Driving. Driving me crazy.

I said before that this recovery is all about milestones. It’s also about waking up. To things going on around me. To the incredible capacity of the brain.

In the early days of this journey, “I want my brain back” was the refrain playing over and over in my mind. Hit song. Partly dead serious. Partly not believing there could be anything wrong with me.

Then little moments reminded me, or instructed me for the first time, about how much is going on.

Mercedes Benz ad paint

Left Brain – Right Brain: Paint

Like the drive Marika and I took to pick up her sisters from camp.

On the U.S. side of the border, Marika not only had to move from one lane to the other, but also had to, for the first time in her life, navigate the umpteen cars merging into the traffic on the highway from the umpteen, short Michigan on-ramps.

“They’re merging. It’s their problem,” said Marika, trusting none of them.

“You have to move to the other lane, speed up, or slow down,” I instructed, hating the role of instructor. “The other driver has nowhere to go.” (If you really want to bend your brain, consider the physics of highway on-ramp entry!)

Fixed Cars

Who knew that the concept of driving could go back to personal philosophies? That my repeating “be ready for anything” could come back to bite? Had I gone too far in teaching fear? Will she be able to share the road of life?

At one point, I took over to give Marika a break. Forty minutes was good. We stopped for gas and food; I said I could go on. And then about 15 minutes later it was too much. I felt ready to drop into a deep sleep.

(This is what I refer to as “hitting a wall” and it can occur in all kinds of situations. The trick to concussion recovery is pacing, planning and symptom management. You need to be doing, but you need to be doing not too much. It’s part art, part science.)

Conserving energy and managing fatigueI knew that driving was up there on the Parkwood Pacing Points system, but I hadn’t considered why. (PPP is an activity diet, much like Weight Watchers; you’re limited to a certain number of points per day. Go over, and you risk bringing on symptoms.) Duh. You’re navigating the road. You’re planning what to do next. There’s so much going on.

After a quick stop at Potterville (the town that calls itself a city), it was Marika’s turn to navigate the on-ramp.

As she entered the ramp, she saw that her way was obstructed by a truck, workers and orange pylons. Marika made her way to the left. In the rearview mirror, she caught sight of a Mack truck. Then she had to merge into the traffic on the highway. Then, speed up, girl, you’re on the freeway!

Managing life was all there in that short series of incidents.

For me it was another moment of understanding. No wonder I had put off driving until week 10. No wonder it takes so much out of us.

Mercedes Benz ad passion

Left Brain – Right Brain: Passion

As a result of all of this, my youngest daughter has had unprecedented opportunities to try out her learner’s permit. Especially when I was doing no driving whatsoever. (Uber came in handy, but that gets expensive quickly.) Even now driving’s still an energy zapper.

Want to get away for Thanksgiving, Dārija? You’re going to have to navigate Friday afternoon bumper-to-bumper traffic up Victoria Park. The fridge is empty? You drive; I’ll wait in the car.

Even now, at week 22, I still have limits. Longer solo trips are out of the question. And I’m happiest as co-pilot (not instructor), preferably on non-400 highways, which aren’t off limits to Dārija’s G1 licence.

I also understand why the phrase “Driving Miss Daisy. Driving. Driving me crazy” claimed its place in the first line of this essay. Like Miss Daisy, I’m not the independent driver that I used to be (yet). And to be honest, that sometimes drives me a little crazy.

Mercedes Benz ad music

Left Brain – Right Brain: Music

[End note: I can’t remember how I stumbled upon the beautiful brain images embedded in this story. Thanks go to augenblick for identifying the origins of the 2011 Mercedes-Benz ad campaign.]


10 thoughts on “Driving the brain

  1. Thank you for your insightful and entertaining posts on your long and I’m sure scarily frustrating road to reclaiming your “self” from the invisible damage of that accident.
    Your story reminds me of a book by Jill Bolt Taylor, “My Stroke of Insight”, written by a neuroscientist, who recounts the onset, progression and gradual recovery from a massive intracerebral hemorrhage.
    What you are going through serves to remind us how fragile and how amazing our brain is. And also how amazing is our will power to persevere and not give up.
    Your story is inspirational.

    • Thank you, Andris. I’m just beginning to understand that reclaiming the self (in so many ways) is precisely what this recovery is all about.
      There are 7 holds on 48 copies of “My Stroke of Insight” in the Toronto Public Library system! I can’t wait to get my hands on it!

  2. Great story Mara. To me, the fact that there aren’t way more car accidents is proof of how very capable most people are. Driving is so freaking complicated; it’s best not to overthink it or else you’ll stay off the roads. Keep up the great work!

    • Right, there’s no way you could function if you were so on all the time, overthinking everything. I think that’s why recovery makes you retreat to a safe space. Then you have to slowly start weaning yourself back out into the world. Overdo it, and it’s two steps back.
      Case in point. Initially I couldn’t even handle answering these comments.

  3. Really enjoying your insights on brain injury and recovery… certainly has me thinking about past experiences for me and my son… who doesn’t speak with me any longer… I like to think it is the brain injury that has caused his what appears to be a huge resentment towards me when once we were so close… myself having been in an induced coma with 175 stitches in my head in 1978 due to a out of control Joy Ride… OHHH JOY, I have to wonder how that has affected my life for the last 40 years… of course things were different back then… and I guess treated differently or not treated I should say. And of course being young I’m sure helped immensely… It seems head injuries are seen to be a popular type of injury… thankfully people are finally waking up to how serious it is and the time it takes to heal… Thanks for your healing insights… and keep taking care… Your friend, Kim

  4. Pingback: This writing life | Postcards from my brain

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