Some Kind of Vestibular Disorder 

With a lack of coordination-control and a pounding head, I feel both drunk and hungover. I’m walking on sand, sinking with every step.

Image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay

It’s Sunday afternoon. I’m lying on the sofa, a cushion between my knees. The culmination of pressure in my head and ears commands my attention. I feel as though I’m continually falling. I can’t rely on my legs to keep my balance. I’m dizzy. The force inside my head is making my eyes water.

I’m trying to focus my gaze. The small fan is rotating slowly; every few seconds it blows in the direction of the table making the tassels of the table runner dance in the soothing breeze. The window shutters are closed, keeping out the strength of the brightness from outside. 

Around the corner from where I am lying, is my boyfriend who is in the kitchen, preparing food. I know it’s scary for him too – the unpredictable nature of this condition. The extractor fan whirrs tiredly amidst the muffled tap of the wooden spatula on the frying pan. There’s a soft hum of the radio and the smell of onions softening. 

I’m frustrated. Trapped. I try to convince myself better, to think myself OK. It doesn’t work. My tinnitus squeals with more intensity than the usual soundtrack to my days. I want to be better. I’m so angry with this condition. When it decides to strike there’s no fighting it. Fighting will only aggravate it. I have to wait it out. 

I remind myself to make sure I focus on the good days, to seize and enjoy them. But, on days like this, I have to let it win. I can’t beat it, I can only manage it with acceptance and with obedient patience.


In a dark and quiet room, there is no peace. High-pitched sparks are flying like shooting stars in my head. It feels like foam insulation – the type that builders use – has been sprayed into my left ear and is quickly expanding inside my skull, my jaw, my neck. Like an arm wrestle in stalemate, a band tightens around my head pushing against the strength of the packing. The pillow hurts my head when lying down. Sitting up, my head feels so painfully heavy.

The boat is more rocky than usual. The world seems to be spinning faster or has it slowed down? My arms and legs feel weak and loose. Simple coordination tasks demand a disproportionate amount of concentration. With a lack of coordination-control and a pounding head, I feel both drunk and hungover. I’m walking on sand, sinking with every step.

I’m looking through thunder clouds full of murky unclear pressure. Lights cause pain behind my eyes and it’s difficult to focus.

My body is on high alert. I’m more sensitive, nervy, jumpy. Even the smallest of noises make my heart tingle with nervousness. My energy is draining by the second. My thoughts are muddled, jumbled.

I’m trying to be patient, waiting for it to pass; trying not to feel guilty for not doing the things I wanted to, for not being productive. I don’t feel how I used to. I don’t feel like myself. I don’t want to be this person. This isn’t who I am. This isn’t who I’m supposed to be.

Diagnoses are ever-changing, multiplying and evolving with every new symptom.

Whether it’s days or weeks, this time, until the symptoms fade back to a low rumble, I know I will get through this.

 

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Follow the Yellow Brick Game

After waiting a few minutes while the results of my initial posturography test were recorded I was asked to play some more ‘games’. I assumed this was the beginning of the vestibular rehabilitation. I was hoping this therapy would help train my balance system to manage the feelings of dizziness I was experiencing everyday.

This time there were only three bricks on the screen, arranged in a V-shape. Again, one square at a time changed from red to yellow, and I had to make my stickman move into the square that was, at that moment, yellow. The movements were simpler than they had been in the test, and the position of the yellow square appeared predictably; moving around the V-shape in a clockwise sequence. The ‘game’ was repeated, this time with the yellow bricks appearing in an anticlockwise sequence. Next, the metal plate I was standing on was programmed to be more sensitive, and the ‘game’ was played again, this time with lots of swaying, trying to keep my balance whilst controlling my stickman.   Then, all these ‘games’ were repeated but with the bricks forming an inverted V shape (like the capital Greek letter Lambda). When the plate was moving with increased sensitivity, I felt a little sick, and my stickman soared clumsily across the screen; dipping in and out of the target brick, like a staggering drunk trying to walk along a straight line.

I was asked to exit the booth and the nurse took the harness off me. My legs felt weak and wobbly and she held my shoulders to support me.  I put on my boots and was told to sit back in a chair so that I was comfortable. The nurse turned off the lights and the room relaxed into darkness; apart from a slither of natural light peeking from behind the window blind.

Across the room, opposite where I was sitting, was a thin tube about a meter long, and supported in a vertical position by a clamp.  Inside was a small red LED light which moved slowly up and down the length of the tube. I was instructed to follow the movement of the light with my eyes. I’m not sure how long I watched the light; the passing of time became difficult to judge whilst concentrating. It was perhaps only a few minutes, and my eyes started to merge the image of the red light together with its black surroundings, losing visual focus. Next, the light clamp was loosened and the tube was rotated into a horizontal position. I watched again, this time, as the red light moved from side to side.

Next, the nurse turned on what looked like a children’s bedside lamp. It was a black, short cylinder-shape. The face of the cylinder that went all around the lamp was decorated with a rubrics cube-type design. Small square lights of red, yellow, blue and green were arranged in two rows of repeated patterns. When the lamp was switched on it started to revolve slowly and I was asked to look at each green square light. My eyes focused up and down as the lamp turned, following the positions of the green squares. Then I focused on the other colours one by one; observing around 12 repetitions of each colour.

Finally, I was shown some exercises which I would need to carry out twice daily. I stood, with a chair in front of me as support, and looked at myself in the mirror opposite. The nurse stood behind me so I could copy her actions, from watching her reflection, as she demonstrated the exercises. The exercises focused on moving my head in different directions first with my eyes open and later with my eyes closed.

For two weeks I completed a half-hour session every day; harnessed into the booth, followed by a 15-minute calm-down period watching the lights. I started to learn more about the ‘game’ and the rehabilitation process. I realized there were different difficulty levels for the yellow brick ‘games’. The metal base, on which I stood, could be programmed to be different levels of sensitivity so that a higher sensitivity setting meant that a small shift of weight could make the cabin move quickly. Sometimes I would start on 40% difficulty and work my way to 70% during a session. Sometimes the red bricks were further apart, and there were varying amounts of bricks. Some of the ‘games’ involved my stickman moving back and forth between just 2 bricks, and other times there would be 8 bricks, all separated. Each brick remained yellow for 10 seconds and each level lasted for 5 minutes. After two weeks of intensive therapy I was assessed again; completing a test similar to the initial platform posturography.

I would return in a couple of weeks for one final session, followed by a consultation with a specialist to discuss the progress I had made and also to talk about the results of my vestibular tests.