I thought I’d never drive again: now I’m back in top gear!

Despite spending two months in a coma and losing a lot of muscle mass, I easily got back into my work, however, I was terrified of driving my car again! I’m well versed in the subject of ‘fear’ in so far as helping my own Executive Coaching clients but couldn’t seem to conquer it myself! In the months that followed, I learnt a valuable lesson in tackling fear head on and how we often need others to help us out of a predicament. Passing my driving test is one of my proudest achievements given my muscle weakness from Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA) and I wasn’t prepared to admit defeat. Here’s my story on perseverance, pride and encouragement from friends.

Mirror, Signal, Manoeuvre

I have a muscle wasting disability called Spinal Muscular Atrophy and I drive a high-tech adapted vehicle from my wheelchair. Using similar technology as ‘fly by wire’ found in aeroplanes, I drive the car with a four-way joystick, which controls the steering, breaking and accelerating in one. I have a thumb-switch on the joystick that operates all my secondary controls like light beam, indicators and horn. I drive my wheelchair through the back door and up a ramp, which opens and closes electronically at the touch of a button. Once inside, my wheelchair locks into a docking system in the drivers position. As you may imagine, this technology isn’t cheap so thankfully the Motability scheme leases the vehicle to me, which allows me to travel independently for my work and to visit my friends and family.

Wrong Gear

I began to learn to drive at university but started in the wrong gear. On my first lesson, a white van rear-ended me at a roundabout. It was at such a slow speed that very little damage was made and the driver accepted liability immediately, however, later that week my driving instructor’s ‘ambulance chasers’ called me up demanding money for his severe whiplash, internal bruising and loss of earnings. I myself have two metal rods down the length of my spine — yet I suffered no pain from the impact. Needless to say, the instructor didn’t receive a penny and we didn’t have a second lesson.

First Gear

I moved to London to work for British Airways when I met Clive. Dubious about driving instructors it was such a relief when Clive wasn’t phased at all by my alien driving controls. From the outset Clive taught me advanced driving techniques, which later allowed me to pass my Advanced Institute of Motorists (AIM) test. Clive’s experience in the army and his teaching of defensive driving strategies helped me get my positioning, pace and manoeuvres ‘down to a T-Junction (excuse the pub). Jokingly, whenever I messed up a manoeuvre (usually reversing around a corner), Clive quipped that I should wheel laps around my car where his army subordinates were once ordered to do press-ups. That’s the thing about Clive, he had a brilliant sense of humour, every lesson was enjoyable and he eased my anxiousness amongst the bedlam of London traffic.

Emergency Stop

I enjoyed many years of safe driving thanks to the skills Clive taught me, however, a fight for my life in 2010 severely affected my driving. On April Fools Day a chest infection got out of control and then with a bleed on my brain I slipped into a coma for two months on life support. With my organs failing, doctors weren’t hopeful having tried everything they could do to keep me alive. The doctors called my mum back into the hospital to tell her that they doubted I’d make it through another night; however, my stubbornness pulled me through. Consequently, I lost a lost of muscle strength from lying in bed sedentary for weeks. This just compounded the already low muscle mass I had before this episode.

Along with the muscle weakness I lost a lot of confidence too. My vehicle had to be readjusted given my change of circumstances, yet I still couldn’t bear being at the controls of a powerful machine. Getting evermore frustrated with my restricted independence I needed help. In my opinion, there was just one man for the job — that man is Clive.

Shape Up and Crack On!

I spent a day with Clive driving around London and on a dual carriageway to blow the cobwebs off my car (literally speaking!). I got a lot of my confidence back since Clive helped me see that a lot of it was down to my mindset and not the lesser strength of my arms and hands. With Clive’s encouragement I realised that I hadn’t lost my driving aptitude and I’m as safe as ever.

What fear must you transcend? Who’s going to help you? Can you afford not to overcome your obstacle?