Long distance driving is my weakness. I’m just not good at it. I initially thought that I could train myself to be good at it with practice, but actually practice doesn’t make perfect when it is a genuine limitation.
Have you ever experienced sensory overload? Well, it happens to me when I drive long distances. Particularly when I’ve been doing heavy brain work all day, my brain hits some kind of sponge-limit and can’t function properly. Consequently I feel extremely tired and struggle to focus.
It is less than ideal but I’m beginning to realise that it might be ideal…
So what do you do to combat driving fatique? I break often, I eat healthy snacks, I drive well-rested, I avoid driving at night, I do ‘all the things’. But my brain just can’t focus when I drive for more than two hours at a time.
I really did think I could train myself to be better. In my current job I’ve had to drive up to five hours, sometimes three hours after working eight hours, sometimes two hours in bursts either side of a day. And I’ve struggled through, pulled over, meditated, rested, snacked, stayed an extra night and more to get through it. But my realisation is this: it’s ok to recognise your limitations. And my realisation is that I just can’t.
There has been a lot of internal struggle for me coming to terms with this. Why can everyone else do it and not me? Why is my brain not able to cope? What is wrong with me?
Turns out, nothing, just that my brain is a hyper-focussing one. The same brain that allows me to solve problems quickly, come up with creative solutions, design visual systems and learn things quickly is the same brain that can’t process ALL the things all at once all at speed all while driving.
My brain can’t filter things. In the classroom, I can hear whispers in the back row without trying. I can register flicking lights, cloud cover changes and a dripping tap all at once. I often have two trains of thought at once. Kids have asked me before if I have super-hearing. I don’t, I just can’t tune things out. This is just how I am. In different contexts my brain is in its element.
Driving for me is like tuning into several radio stations at once. It is all the colours, all the textures, all the vibrations, all the sounds, all the air conditioning, all the seatbelt pressure, all the movement, all the chaos, all at once. It is no wonder that my brain gets so tired.
The heightened experience of driving doesn’t even begin when I start driving nor is does it make a reliably punctual announcement. It’s like it builds gradually with each corner then, like the sun coming out from behind a cloud, suddenly everything is too bright, too fast, too hot, too everything. And I have to stop. It isn’t even reliably there, but it is there often enough for me to have to give it a moment of recognition. Sometimes I’m fine – but more often I’m not and that’s the limitation I need to honour.
With every limitation comes potential though. Now knowing this about myself, I’m better at saying ‘No’. I’m also better at requesting flights or booking buses when I need to. And without forcing myself to discover the edge of my ability (by trying to drive long distance for so long), I might have never found a way to articulate how my brain functions, how my senses are rapid-firing, how I notice my senses, nor why I need to switch off ‘properly’ once in a while. I know my limit and knowing it means I can manage it.
If you know something about yourself you can craft your life to nurture that thing. I can now embrace local potential with the knowledge that it is best for me. I know my limits travel-wise and I’m happy to offer local or ‘somewhere I can fly easily’ as my newly refined destinations of choice. It makes things clearer. It makes things better. It makes life tidier somehow. It also significantly reduces the risk of burnout.
The exhilarating thing about recognising and honouring a personal limitation is that it opens up an exciting exploration zone. It sets very clear parameters for the next steps. Now I can focus my attention on things that fit my comfort zone. Now I can hone in on local connections. Now I can confidently turn down things that I am not comfortable with. I have better clarity in what I want and how I can put the way that my brain works to good use.
There is a valuable life lesson in being vulnerable, in recognising your limitations, in realising the strengths beneath those limitations and in being clear about how you want to show up. How I want to show up is locally, honestly, knowing my brain better, embracing neurodiversity and not being afraid to stand up for myself. I may have a two hour driving radius but I am (now) ok with that. It feels like a big enough circle that I can stand in the centre of.
May this blog inspire you to recognise your own limitations and uncover the strengths beneath them. I hope that this blog acts as an important catalyst for your self-discovery and more awareness of what makes you the amazing you that you are. We might all have limitations but they don’t have to be limiting. They can be empowering.
P.S. Here’s an article to read a bit more about how autistic brains process things differently. Both of our children have been diagnosed with autism and there is a vast number of women in my age bracket joining the ‘late discovered club’ because girls were under diagnosed in the 1980s and 1990s. That’s me too – I’m only just now figuring some of this out, but it makes for good figuring.