Driving While Bipolar

City bus



The Seizures

Just over ten years ago I started having seizures. They started off minor, but grew more intense and one day I had a series of them one after another. I panicked so much that I didn’t show up for work. No calls to my employees and no calls to my district manager. I just stopped going because I was in a panic. This occurred at the same time I started having more serious symptoms of bipolar disorder.

I believe there’s a connection to bipolar disorder and seizures. Studies have had mixed results

Goodbye Driver’s Liscense

Eventually I was put on leave and laughed when I heard the rumor around the corporate office that I had a nervous breakdown and was going to sue the company. Nothing was further from the truth. I knew what was going wrong was from inside my head, not because of my environment.

Because of the seizures, my driver’s license was put on hold.

Getting Around

Los Angeles is trying to improve public transportation. Subway and light rail construction have been growing for years and there’s been a large increase in express buses. Despite all that, it’s hell to live here without a car. This is especially true for those of us in the suburbs.

Our terrible bus system is hard to learn and navigate. I found this especially true due to my inability to think clearly. On two separate occasions I got lost when I attempted to change buses. I had panic attacks and wandered around with no idea where I was. Both those incidents required me calling Maurice and give him vague descriptions of what was around me. Fortunately, his employers were sympathetic to my plight and gladly allowed him to leave work and search for me. The problem became so bad that my pdoc insisted I no longer take the bus. If not for the generosity of friends and fellow church members, I don’t know how I would’ve gotten to appointments with my pdoc, my therapist and my neurologist

A couple of years later, after we found meds that made me more stable, I was given the okay to ride the bus as long as I did not have to change buses. It was terrifying. Before riding I’d write down where and when to catch the bus and where and when to get off. When I got on the bus I’d ask the driver to tell me when we reached my stop, but still kept my notes in my shaky hands at all times. At each stop I’d look at my notes. Several times the drivers would notice my actions and assured me they’d tell me when to get off. A nice gesture on their part, but not enough to ease my troubled mind. I continue my obsessive checking and rechecking my notes.

Eventually my seizures stopped. As the med game continued and we found more meds that were improving my life, I was given the okay to change buses, but only one change per trip. This was still restrictive with our horrible transit system, but did open new doors for me. I was still scared, but each month got a little better. This was especially true because we were finally close to discovering the right med cocktail that worked for me. With time, I decided I was no longer going to allow myself to be so restricted and began taking the bus wherever I damn well please. The fright greatly decreased, and I was grateful for the freedom. It was a year later that I casually mentioned to my pdoc that I was taking the buses anywhere I wanted to go.

Getting my License Back

I did work through the fear and the time came that I was able to get my license back. I had no seizures for years, but because we are a one car family, I put off getting my license. Why bother when Maurice drove us everywhere. That worked for a while until he put his foot down. He was tired of having to drive all the time, especially the 2 – 3 hour trips to visit his parents.

I took my driver’s test.

I studied the driver’s manual harder than anything I studied before. I drove around parking lots doing three-point turns and parallel parking. Finally, full of piss and vinegar, I marched into the Department of Motor Vehicles ready to take my written and my driving test. I gloated as I stood at the computer screen easily answering the questions. When I was done with the test, I walked over to the window where the clerk told me I passed. Then, much to my surprise, he handed me my temporary license and said my permanent one would come in the mail.

“What about the driving test?” I asked.

He replied, “You don’t need one. You only needed the written test.”

I was baffled. “But, I haven’t driven in over 10 years.”

“Yes, but you didn’t lose your license due to a moving violation.” He then smiled (Yes, a DMV employee smiled!)

Driving While Bipolar

That was a year ago. I wish I could say it was all good, but it’s still a struggle. Despite being a good driver in the past, I drive too fast or too slow, backing up freaks me out and changing lanes on a busy highway scares the shit out of me. Worse of all is the night driving. I don’t see street lights, and headlights, and lighted signs. What I see are lights, lights, lights and all of them in my eyes at the same time. I’m scheduling time with my optometrist, but I don’t think my eyes are the problem. I think it’s the anxiety. We’ll see.

I’m glad Maurice still drives most of the time. I have my regular bus routes memorized and don’t sit in sheer panic waiting for my stop. If you happen to see me driving our PT Cruiser around town, be sure to wave hello, but also be cautious. Remember I was easily given my license back despite not having driven in over ten years. A scary policy if you ask me.

12 comments on Driving While Bipolar

  1. I’m so sorry that driving remains a struggle! I totally relate to your driving fears, but for different reason. I feel like my reflexes/reactions aren’t the same the way they were before my meds. I do “old lady-style” driving!!! I don’t drive too far – luckily the girls’ school is close by.

    You’re that lucky sweet Maurice helps you out – I like him more and more! 😉 (You can tell him that…)

    p.s. Last time I was at the DMV I had a really nice staff person help me too – what a shocker!

    1. I hope the trend of friendly DMV employees continues. “Old lady driving” rings so true. I feel I’m guilty of “old man driving” and I hate it. My apologies to all my fans out there who are older drivers.

  2. I’m also afraid of driving on a highway. I also have this terrible fear of getting lost. I’m a good driver but I don’t like it. They’ve widened the lanes on two of our main roads so they each are 6 lanes wide (3 lanes on each side of the road). Switching lanes in busy traffic gives me a knot in my stomach and chest. I rarely drive more than 18 miles from home. We don’t have public transportation where I live. So my world is rather small except when my husband drives. It frustrates me that I have these unreasonable fears. So I can understand what you go through. I’m proud of you for getting out there and driving occasionally in spite of your fears. I’m glad you can get around on public transportation now to go wherever you please. As you said, it’s opened up the world for you.

    1. I use to be one of those terrible people who changed lanes frantically trying to get ahead of the rest of the pack, but now I’m at an awful extreme. Your world does seem small and I understand how frustrating that can be.

  3. I completely relate! Especially to the lights, lights, lights at night. Don’t even talk about driving at night in the rain to a destination I’ve never been to before. That is my particular hell on earth!

    I also had seizures in 2008 and professionals couldn’t fathom the cause. A few years later I was presented with my Bipolar diagnosis and I’m convinced the seizures were a precursor.

    Love your blog. Thank you for your honesty.

    1. I use to have a problem at supermarkets. I’d walk in and all the lights, the sounds, the colors, all came to me at once and I had to run out hyperventilating. That’s past, but my light experience on the road now feels identical. Thank you for the compliment and for stopping in. Come hang out anytime.

  4. Oh my goodness. I can just imagine your fear and confusion and then more fear, panicking when lost from the bus stop! I love how you walked us through that, your journey in overcoming that, bit by bit.
    I wonder now about bipolar and seizures — I know some people…

    About driving at night, I totally relate. I have had anxiety about driving so long, it feels like it will never end, although I must admit, it’s getting better. I went back to work this summer and only recently realized, for much of the winter, I will drive home in the dark. I am NOT looking forward to it. I wear my glasses when I drive, not because I need them to see, but because I find the anti-glare properties help me some with those lights! lights! lights! I don’t even care if it’s all in my head, my anxiety disorder prefers I wear glasses.

    1. It’s the driving at night problem that gets to me the most. It’s a difficult thing that many of my elderly friends struggle with. I’m not ready for that to be me!!! I went cheap and got the lowest cost anti-glare. Maybe that’s part of the problem.

  5. Buses scare me too. Where do I get off? Do I have to ring the little bell? I avoid them 🙁
    I hate reversing my car too. Even with rear parking sensors.
    Sounds like you’re making progress though and that’s good!

    1. I am making progress, as usual it’s just not at a pace I’d like. Buses and cars both can be scary.

  6. “Yes, but you didn’t lose your license due to a moving violation.” Hi Brad, on this note I start my comment. Hoped over because I thought if we were friends on Lose It, why not at least follow him too? So I’ll be hopping by as I can. Did that guy mean if it were a sitting or sleeping violation the outcome would have been different? 🙂

    1. LOL. Funny response. Thanks for stopping in. I look forward to hopping over to your blog for some good reading.

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