Trying to Unpack Why the Room is Spinning

Isuffer from vertigo.  It’s a horrible condition that I wouldn’t wish on anyone.  To date, in the now nearly 3 years since I first experienced it, it has taken me down twice for a solid week, and has also rendered me useless for a handful of days.

I first experienced vertigo in late December of 2014.  I had just come into a week off from work on account of the holiday season.  The day before it set in, I had gone out to see a movie and enjoyed a really lovely afternoon with my parents.  The next morning, I had plans to get together with my Dad for a coffee-this was before his own journey with blastomycosis and cancer had started-and I remember waking up sometime around 7, and trying to make my way to the washroom.  I was leaning heavily to the left, as I walked, unable to bring myself to centre, and while I had an inkling that something wasn’t quite right, I didn’t appreciate how not right that thing was.  I had to stop in the hallway of my small apartment, and lie down on the floor as I felt waves of intense nausea sweep through my body.  After a few minutes of lying there, I managed to get myself up, and in a moment of forethought opted to grab my mobile phone, which I kept plugged in in the living room.   I stumbled back to bed, thinking maybe I had got up too suddenly, and completely out of the norm for me, went back into a deep sleep.  I woke up a few hours later, still not feeling great.  Each time I even moved my head slightly to the right or left, the room began spinning at a break neck speed, and I would wince my eyes shut in an effort to make it stop.  Still not having any idea of what was going on, I remember calling my Dad to cancel our coffee date.  I told him I wasn’t feeling well-maybe had a touch of the flu, and just needed to sleep.    I slept for all of that first day, waking only to stumble quickly to the washroom, and to occasionally turn over in bed, although that proved to be an extremely unpleasant act.  I had been in touch with my Mom who checked-in on me throughout the day; she had proposed that if by the next morning I still wasn’t feeling well, she would come over and we would go to the hospital.  I remember thinking during that conversation that a trip to the hospital sounded a little extreme, and that whatever I was suffering from would likely pass in the night.

I woke up the next morning in much the same condition as I had passed the previous day.  I called my Mom to let her know, and she made plans to drive in to come and get me.  For myself, being the fan of control and perfection that I am and not wanting to bother anyone or let anyone help, I attempted to get out of my pyjamas and into clothes before my Mom arrived, so that I could make the trip into the hospital as seamless for her as I could.  The act of changing out of my pyjamas took far longer than I anticipated as the room continued to spin.  I managed to get to the kitchen, where, again being the perfectionist I am, I attempted to do some of the dishes that lay in the sink.  My stubborn attempt at cleaning while the room spun out of control failed, and I was able to get to the hallway where the door to my apartment was, and had to lie down.  I literally couldn’t move.  Each time I attempted to sit up, things would spin and I would feel as though I was going to be violently ill.  At some point, my Mom had checked in with me just before she left her place, and I told her that I didn’t think I would be able to walk.  Up until that point, our planned trip to the emergency room involved her driving me there.  The plan ended up being tossed in the bin, as I lived on the 8th floor of an apartment building.  The thought of getting up and walking the 50 some steps from my door to my Mom’s car seemed daunting, to put it lightly.  I ended up calling 911 as I lay there on the floor, and was shuttled to the hospital by way of an ambulance.  The only positive that I saw come out of that day was when the ambulance attendant asked if I was a runner, on account of my low resting heart rate.  I was so proud.

I ended up getting a diagnosis of benign paroxysmal positional vertigo, and was told by the doctor that certain crystals in my ear, which normally stay in one location had managed to get loose and were quite literally floating around in there, which is why my sense of balance had been so greatly disturbed.  The next 3 days, during which I stayed with my parents, as I wasn’t too quick on my feet, involved my Dad helping me out with the Epley manoeuvre-a series of movements with the head that is supposed to redirect the floating crystals back to where they should be.  I learned that week that my Dad had suffered from his own vertigo for some time, as well as my auntie Carole (on my Dad’s side), who informed me that there were other members of my father’s side of the family who too were stricken with vertigo from time to time.

I made some pretty small changes to my life, to help me better manage with the vertigo.  There isn’t any cure as such for the particular type I was diagnosed with.   I was told it could come on at any point, and last a few hours up to a few days.  I got myself a medic alert bracelet.  Living on my own at the time, I had figured if I was suddenly struck with vertigo while out on a run or a walk, I wanted some piece of information on my body that would distinguish me from someone who had just had too much to drink.  That’s the thing with vertigo-it not only feels like those last 30 seconds before you pass out after you have had too much to drink, your actions and movements look like those of someone who has had too much to drink.  When I have vertigo, I can’t walk straight.  I walk like a child does when they have spun themselves around and get dizzy and try to walk.  For me, the only thing that brings some relief when it does hit is to immediately lie down, regardless of where I am.  In addition to the medic alert bracelet, I also stopped driving on major highways.  My logic there was that if I suddenly got vertigo while driving, I would want to be somewhere where I could easily pull over.

A year and a bit followed that first episode before I would experience it again, in February of 2016.  Again it was an episode that lasted for an entire week, where I was not only house bound, but bound to my bed as well.

Since that 2016 episode, I’ve experienced two lighter versions now, since late June of this year.  While they weren’t the full blown versions I endured before, these mini-vertigo episodes still stopped me in my tracks for a good 24 hours.

I know the traditional medical reasoning and explanations behind my vertigo: it’s hereditary, and from a physiological perspective, it is quite simply, small crystals floating around where they shouldn’t in my inner ear.  I was told that only in extreme cases is surgery called for, and that the only way I could manage it when it did come on was to do various manoeuvres with my head.  I would have to tough it out.

I’ve been trying more and more though, to look at and regard the various cues my body is sending to my brain as messages.  There was that really bad cold I caught in late June which rendered all of my recovery plans useless.  I’d like to think the vertigo is trying to tell me something too, although if I’m going to be completely honest, I’m not quite sure what its message is.

Somedays I am better able to move with flow than others.  Those other days, I am beginning to appreciate, are days where I know I am trying just a little too hard.  Trying to change.  Trying to let go.  Trying to listen more to my inner self.  Trying to look into my past to see various patterns that might help explain why I am where I am today.  Trying to do it all perfectly.  It’s like that old adage: when you try too hard or try to force something, you only end up exhausting and frustrating yourself.  There’s a certain grace to trusting and letting something happen as it will.

I feel this significant sense of stubbornness in myself.  One part of me desperately wants to trust and believe and let go.  One part of me holds onto the past with a vice-like grip that seems impossible at times to loosen.

I am, to all intents and purposes fighting myself.  I know it is frustrating for others to watch and experience, but it is a struggle with myself that I have not known the likes of before.  The intellectual part of my brain knows what I need to do to continue to heal and recover.  The emotional side of my brain is still playing catch up and doesn’t quite buy what the intellectual side is selling.

I sometimes wonder what is more frustrating: being oblivious to this struggle and simply remaining the same in a state that lacks growth, or being aware of what is going on and trying to reconcile the two sides.

I haven’t quite got things figured out.  Maybe that’s the point.

With Love,

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Olivia Shaw

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