I woke up Friday morning and the room was violently spinning. I stumbled to the bathroom, holding on to furniture along the way, hoping and praying it would just go away. It didn’t. I felt sick in every cell, horribly nauseous and out of control.
Finally I fell mercifully asleep and prayed that everything would be normal when I woke up. It wasn’t. The spinning started up again every time I moved my head. Somehow, Rob got me in the car and we drove the hellish couple of miles to East Bay Family Practice. I felt like I was dying with every pothole.
The doctor diagnosed it as benign paroxysmal positional vertigo, BPPV. She explained that the crystals in my inner ear that help govern balance had been dislodged and were free floating in ear fluid. She left the room with a sober message, “This may take a while to resolve.”
I slept through most of that nightmare weekend, except the third day when I must confess I mustered up enough energy to go have my hair done. Vanity wins out, even in the direst of circumstances. My good husband drove me there and waited as I got a color and cut. Poor Rosie, looking very worried, asked me to please not “hurl” in her chair. I’m sure she was relieved to see me go. I went back to bed for three more days. At least my hair looked good.
The wild, spinning vertigo part of it went away after four hellish days, but the dizziness persisted. It is an unsettling, exhausting whirling sensation, kind of like having my cell phone on permanent vibrate mode. There was a very weird pressure at the back of my head and base of my neck. It felt like my head would just roll off at any minute.
It took so much energy to walk, talk, turn my head, shave my legs, vacuum the cat hair, or prepare a simple meal. Basically it took everything I had just to live. I fell into bed exhausted at the end of the day.
Power walking got me through. I grabbed my water bottle and put my tennis shoes on and out I went. I especially liked the long, clean lanes of the cemetery, figuring even if I’m totally off-balance the worst that can happen is I will just fall over. Unlike driving, I won’t kill anyone.
I never understood how a chronic health issue can affect your self-esteem. What happened to me? I’m FUN! A major part of my identity is wrapped around my passionate interest in life. But that was all gone. Why would anyone want to be around me? I was sick. I was creepy. I was tainted. In one horrific moment my health had profoundly changed and I was a different person. It was lonely. It messed with my confidence. Had I lost that part of myself forever?
Thanks to the internet, I know everything about vestibular disorders there is to know. I went to a neurologist who tested me for Lyme disease, Vitamin B-12 deficiency and syphilis (negative). He ordered an MRI. The results of my MRI ruled out the scary stuff, like a brain tumor or MS, giving me great peace of mind. After the MRI, everything inside me changed. I didn’t have anything life-threatening. I wasn’t going to die.
My neurologist is the best doctor I’ve ever had. He asked me questions and actually listened. He treated me as a whole person. I walked out of there feeling hopeful, even safer somehow, knowing I was in expert hands. He encouraged me to keep a diary of my symptoms, which I did for many months. I began to see patterns with my dizziness. For example, it got worse if I was in a hurry, or if I was stressed or frustrated about something or didn’t get enough sleep.
I also went to several other specialists, including an otolaryngologist. The best part of that appointment was that I finally got a diagnosis. I didn’t have BPPV. Instead I had a condition called vestibular neuritis. A nasty virus had attacked one of the vestibular nerves in my inner ear. OK, so now I have a diagnosis. When will it go away?
Before I could even think about getting to the other side of this condition I had some serious therapy to go through. I love my physical therapist. She has never given up on me. She listened to me and patiently taught me all the exercises meant to help me compensate. Although they have helped – tremendously – I’m still dizzy.
Many months have gone by since my first crazy bout of dizziness and I’m feeling much better. I’m finding a different, more authentic way of being in my life, discovering parts of myself I didn’t know I had. I make meaning out of the hard stuff and I emerge stronger and wiser. I’m learning how to stand my ground and be centered in myself - finding my balance.
I‘m also learning to shed a lot of “roles.” The vertigo released me; it literally took me out of a lot of obligation. The roles that weren’t authentic had to go. They were too draining, even exhausting. I am moving slower and more languorously through the world. I am gloriously unhurried, content with a simple day.
Last night we had dinner with friends. After catching up I found myself talking about the vertigo. I shared pretty openly. It felt good but also a little exposing. I hadn’t shared at that level while actually experiencing the vertigo and the dizziness. I couldn’t. It was enough to just survive it.
Just that morning I had watched a couple of people on YouTube share about their experiences with labyrinthitis and vertigo. I’m not sure why I never looked for these testimonials while I was suffering from the condition. I noticed that most of them were writing and sharing from the other side of it too. We all had so much in common. It is an invisible condition. You don’t look sick. No one knows there is anything wrong with you. It is intensely isolating. You can be perfectly healthy, spiritually aware, emotionally intelligent, and it can still hit you. I found out these things:
- I didn’t cause it.
- It’s not all in my head.
- It won’t last forever.
- I didn’t “go crazy”.
It’s not that I want to dwell on all of this, but I’m gaining a perspective from the other side that I didn’t have while in the midst of it, and I am grateful for that perspective. I hope that I have the opportunity to give it back to others suffering from biological or mental/emotional anxiety. My compassion has increased a hundred fold; it has helped make me even more whole. And that is a worthy way to live - growing and expanding into greater wisdom and wholeness.
Karla’s blog: reinventingkarla.blogspot.com