Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Sometimes, You Lose Your Balance


From our personal wellbeing to the health of the planet, there are lessons everywhere—even in a dizzying BPPV episode.

I had my first bout of vertigo in September, and it was a pretty severe case. I know now that it was likely BPPV, four nasty letters I hadn’t given much thought to before this past wretched weekend—but they are now permanently strung together like a terrible rhyming poem written by the devil himself.

Not to be dramatic.

I’m sure I’m describing this at least a little wrong, but BPPV is basically a vestibular issue in which an ear crystal dislodges from the inner ear. My understanding is that that super-important ear crystal is basically what gives you your balance, so when it’s out of place, you have no concept of where up starts and down begins.

For me, the sensation was more or less like the world was in a hamster wheel. Or on a roller coaster. And just to mix metaphors even more terribly, I was free-falling beside it all.

It was totally horrible.

Image courtesy Jasmin Singer

At one point, I was grasping onto my coffee table basically yelling, “Please help me!” to my wife, because … how did that coffee table get onto the ceiling?!

The recommendation is to manage it by this series of totally masochistic exercises that involve nauseating head motions that basically guide the ear crystal back into place. The thing is, doing those exercises momentarily exacerbates the vertigo and also causes your eyes to dart all over the place (creepy!).

Lucky for me, my wife Moore used to be an EMT and happens to be very comfortable dealing with anything medical (maybe that’s why she’s fascinated by Dr. Pimple Popper). To distract myself from the hideous feeling of doing those head exercises, I asked my Google Home bot to “play Broadway show tunes” (this is generally my fix-it for … well, everything). Needless to say, when it started to play the lyrics from Dear Evan Hansen—“When you’re falling in a forest and nobody’s around, do you ever really crash or even make a sound?”—I was not amused (admittedly, now I am).

Again not to say dramatic, but just like that, I felt everything in my life change.

I know that this kind of a massive awakening—due to what was ultimately not a serious ailment, even though it totally sucked—points to my great privileges as (knock on wood) a relatively healthy person (believe me, I know how lucky I am). And though in general, I count my lucky stars to have intact overall health, one of the things I never even realized I was taking for granted was my balance.

It just never occurred to me that it would ever go away.

Since I’m me, I’m trying to find some big life meaning in this new turn (tumble, really) of events. The idea of losing one’s balance is so jarring, and yet I see now that it makes the other side of that—finding your balance again—a much more gratitude-worthy place to be. (Maybe it should have always been worthy of our gratitude.)

Though this was my first bout of BPPV (and, frighteningly, it’s likely to come back), losing my balance—metaphorically speaking, anyway—is not new for me.

There have been so many moments in my near-42 years that have left me upside-down, disoriented, and dissociated. Many of these moments were very indeed dramatic ones (that time I was sexually assaulted, that time I was in the middle of that horribly sad breakup, that time my beloved grandmother—my bright star—died). In a way, it’s much easier to point to these big life hurdles as the reasons why we lose ourselves and our way.

But I’m realizing that it has been those not-so-dramatic, unbalanced times that are actually the more disorienting moments of life.

The time you got into that work argument and it felt unresolvable. The time you felt unloved but you knew it was your ghosts haunting you—yet you didn’t know how to deal with it. The time you really wanted your book proposal to be picked up by that one particular publisher, but they passed.

Image courtesy Radvilas Seputis on Unsplash

In researching BPPV, a lot of what I’m finding in the resources online is a community-wide validation that this is an ailment that is extremely upsetting, no matter how other people might react. Apparently, there are many folx suffering from this whose partners and families don’t understand the absolute enormity of the shittiness of what it feels like.

Their vertigo is dismissed and misunderstood, and so are they.

When Moore was helping through those exercises while the speakers were blasting tunes about falling in a forest with nobody around, she (laughed at the irony of the lyrics and then) kept holding onto me and telling me I’m secure, I’m grounded, and she’s not going to let go.

During the final phase of this exercise when I had to sit up and basically let that asshole ear crystal settle the fuck back down, Moore wrapped her arms around me while I sat on the edge of the bed. My face was buried in her chest as she timed that last part of the series on her phone: one-and-a-half more minutes and I could stop. She was there for and with me, and she knew how serious it was, how unsettling it felt.

I can’t imagine, I truly can’t, what it would be like to go through that alone—or worse, alongside someone who says that what you’re feeling isn’t that bad.

When regaining our balance—whether from a vestibular issue or from a life challenge—we must allow ourselves room to grieve. We must understand and acknowledge to ourselves the gravity (pun intended) of the situation. We must give ourselves permission to bury our heads into someone’s chest as they reassure us, and we must reassure ourselves, too.

And then, when we are on the other side—which we will be on, I promise you!—we must remain grateful for those things in front of us that we never before realized are, and always have been, right-side-up.

P.S. I just finished listening to the audiobook of When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times by Pema Chodron. Although I had indeed purchased this book during one of the aforementioned big life changes, I only actually just had the time (or desire) to read (well, listen to) it.

For anyone interested in self-betterment and specifically in sitting with our discomfort, and finding meaning in it, I recommend this book (especially the audio version). Oh, and giant bonus: Pema Chodron is a vegan (!), which is a giant added perk for me since I can feel even more aligned with her teachings, knowing that as she’s speaking about non-violence and compassion, she’s also boycotting cruelty to animals. There is no kinder way to be.

This article originally appears on Jasmin Singer’s Substack. Republished with permission.

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