Saturday, November 20, 2010

On driving and living

I mentioned in an earlier post that I hate driving. Most people think that's because I'm a hippie and driving is harmful to the environment. That's true, but there's much more to it than that.

I hate the act of driving. At first, I was eager to get my license; the idea of independence thrilled me, and I took driver's ed at fifteen like everyone else. But I quickly realized that driving made me incredibly anxious, so after I got my learner's permit, I kind of just "forgot" about it and let it expire. This wasn't a big deal to me until my peers started getting their licenses. At that point, I started to feel like I wasn't measuring up because I had failed to meet this milestone of getting my license at sixteen.

Around that same time (my junior year of high school), everyone was starting to freak out about college applications. My parents and teachers noticed that my GPA/ACT score didn't match my work ethic. I took a ton of AP classes and worked as the editor-in-chief of my school's art and literary journal. But my GPA didn't reflect that because I kept failing my math and science classes.

Okay, so this is sort of thing happens to a lot of people. Not everyone is good at everything. But in my case, the disparity was huge. On paper, I looked like a C student because I'd get A's in one area and F's in the other.

I was born with a condition called Persistent Pulmonary Hypertension, which, from what I've heard and read about it, affects about one in every 1,000 newborns. Basically, I resisted "switching over" to breathing outside the womb (AKA using my lungs). Obviously, those who don't make the switch die, because you can't stay alive if you fail to use your lungs. I'm writing this, so clearly, I made it, but not without the help of a long hospital stay.

I can blame my epically poor vision on the damage that was done to my optic nerve as a result of the oxygen deficiency. I'm legally blind in my left eye. Those who love me affectionately refer to my left eye as "crooked" or "droopy." It's pretty funny-looking, and I actually keep it closed most of the time (those who have ever paid attention to me while I read know this). My glasses seldom leave my face.

I don't know who decided to explore the connection between my difficulty learning to drive, grades, and medical history. But at any rate, in May of 2006 (when I was seventeen), a psychologist came to my high school and administered a ton of tests, among them an IQ test. I'm cynical about IQ tests, but the results were interesting. Verbally, I placed in the 98th percentile (which is pretty damn sweet). Spatially, however, I placed in the 2nd percentile. The psychologist said repeatedly that she had never before seen such a huge disparity. And the disparity was consistent with my grade point average: On paper, I placed in the 47th percentile overall. But that speaks to neither my mad skillz verbally, nor my epic failure spatially.

Armed with those test results, I went to see a neurologist, who ran tests of his own and discovered that the part of my brain responsible for spatial functions had literally shut itself off. This too, he determined, was a result of the oxygen deficiency at birth. This means that literally everything I've ever done spatially, I've learned with parts of my brain not meant to learn those things.

Badass, yes?

People have asked me if I'm bitter about not figuring this out this until I was almost done with high school; I would have been eligible for a whole lot of help had it been discovered earlier. But whatevs. I try not to dwell on it too much, because I can't change how it happened. And besides, because I had no idea that it was "physically impossible" to learn certain things, I learned 'em anyway--or tried my damndest to, at least.

And I did get my driver's license, by the way, in August of 2008. I was nineteen. It's really hard to live in Michigan without one, for one thing. And as much as I love the people in my life, I don't like relying on them for much.

But I really limit my driving. I'm terrified of freeways, which makes visiting my friends in Saginaw difficult. When I lived there, getting my car to join me took the effort of both my parents. My dad would drive my car up there, and Mom and I would follow in hers. They'd leave my car at my apartment, and both drive home together. If nothing else, I'm very lucky that they've always been so accommodating. They tell me they'll continue to be as long as I try and always do my best. And I don't know how to live any other way.

It's weird. I realize more and more that the only reason I'm such an anxious person is because I have failed over and over again to fit into boxes. There are so many ways in which my life hasn't played out the way I was told it would. I didn't get my license at sixteen. I won't graduate from college within a four-year time frame. Grandma's dream of watching me get married and have babies is totally never going to be fulfilled.

I wish I could say that I'm happy and comfortable with all of this, but I'll admit that I'm not. I'm working toward that. But it's all part of the process of "unlearning." My own experiences have taught me that many of us are a lot braver/stronger than we'll give ourselves credit for. Sometimes it takes tremendous amounts of strength just to keep our heads above water and do what's expected of us as people.

Getting my driver's license was one of the hardest things I've ever done. Accepting/respecting my own personal limits is still really hard for me. But it's part of life, so I do it.

And this is why I'm such a big fan of small victories. Because they're not really small victories at all. Living isn't easy. But as long as we're doing it, we've got reason to celebrate.

1 comment:

  1. There is a really great quote about "unlearning" from Gloria Steinem. I can't remember it offhand, and I'm too lazy to google it, but maybe you won't be lazy. It's worth it.