Level-Up: Part 15

Every Sunday I record my health achievements and discoveries for the week here. To find out why I decided to start doing this, you can read an explanation in the first post of the series here.

If you’ve been following this blog series you’ll have noticed the name has changed from The Climb to Level-Up. There is a good reason for this and I shall explain forthwith.

Two of my biggest problems, not just in the context of this illness but generally in life, are figuring out how to reign in my ambitions to realistic, bite-size chunks and not jumping ahead to the future. They overlap each other somewhat. Wanting to take on the entire world isn’t a great idea for anyone. You rarely meet the high expectations you set for yourself. But if on top of that you have an illness that dictates how your day is going to play out, health must always be the first priority, regardless of what you really wanted your focus to be on any given day. Making plans for the future isn’t just fun, it’s crucial to fulfilling those goals. But spending too much time with your head in what hasn’t happened yet takes away from the journey. It’s a patience thing, and I cannot imagine an illness that would clash with my personality more than Vestibular Hypersensitivity has.

On Wednesday I was feeling terrible, physically. I woke up feeling tired, dizzy and sick. I knew within minutes of waking that the day was going to be a write-off. I was annoyed about that. To avoid getting bogged down in anger I tried applying my learned technique of telling myself that this was just one day. Once it was over the next was likely to be better. For whatever reason I just couldn’t do it. I looked into tomorrow and beyond and all I could see was illness. Every day for the rest of my life touched by discomfort and not one of my hopes for the future being fulfilled. I was hit by a wave of panic, because since learning how to live in the moment more, my coping strategy had never really let me down. Thankfully, with some help, I made it through to the other side.

This event was something of a wake-up call. It made me realise that even though I’ve been doing much better at not getting carried away with the future and staying positive about each day, there’s still work to do.  This brings me back to the name change. In a small corner of my mind there’s still the thought that maybe one day I’ll be completely cured because, of course, that’s what I would like. The fact that there’s a small chance that might actually happen at some point feeds that thought. But there’s no getting away from the fact that this is a chronic illness and it’s a reality that it might just influence the rest of my life. It can be a daunting and overwhelming thought at times. Especially when you’re feeling so unwell.

I liked The Climb, but the thing about climbing a mountain is that there’s always a peak. Step high enough for long enough and it’s a given that you’ll eventually reach the top. Maybe there’s no top for me. Maybe it doesn’t exist. Far more valuable than pushing through to reach a spot where I can plant my flag is celebrating each step, like completing a level in a video game. Level-Up! Vocabulary has a massive impact on psychology. I may complete the game at some point, but who knows how many levels there’ll be along the way? And maybe I’ll decide before reaching the very end of the game that I’ve done enough to be satisfied. If you’re interested in the concept of treating recovery from absolutely anything as a game, Jane McGonigal’s TED Talk on how she developed the SuperBetter app is recommended viewing. While I don’t use the app every day, it has definitely had an impact on how I view recovery; as a string of small but important achievements leading to something bigger.

My big physical achievement of the week took place yesterday. I got my first tattoo. I very nearly got one when I was in America about five years ago, but the fear that my insurance might not cover any possible adverse affects put me off at the last minute. After becoming ill almost four years ago, having pretty pictures put on my skin lost its place on the priorities list.

I always said that once I was better I’d get a tattoo. Much like I’ve already discussed, ‘better’ may never come. So I decided to go ahead anyway. I was worried and nervous. I handle pain fairly well and even though I’m not the best with needles or the sight of my own blood, I tend get through it if I don’t actually look at what’s going on.

My real fears were having to sit incredibly still for a long period of time (my brain believes that my body is moving even when it’s perfectly still) and how my wobbliness and vertigo would react to the shock of adrenaline you get when sitting for a tattoo. Nevertheless, I was quite determined that illness would not hold me back from doing this.

I was recommended a fantastic tattooist, who did everything she could to accommodate my illness. We discussed what I might need in advance so we’d both be prepared. The first five minutes were pretty difficult. I could feel the adrenaline surging with those first few strokes of pain. I was waiting for my body to flip out and make me even dizzier, but once I got used to the pain the opposite happened. Several times a day I feel like I’m falling. Every time that happens I get a little charge of fight-or-flight adrenaline. It seemed that my body recognised that it wasn’t a threat and settled into it. Four years of dizziness turned out to be excellent tattoo training. It took a fair bit of control, but I just tried to zone out so that the impulse to move my body too much stayed down. Oh and I dipped into the lolly tin for a hit of sugar, too.

The design is inspired by Kacey Musgraves’ Follow Your Arrow and I’m thrilled with how it’s turned out. There’s still some redness, swelling and bruising to go down, but this is how it looks a day on:

Follow_Your_Arrow_Tattoo

On a different day where I hadn’t slept as well or where my dizziness was at a less manageable level, the experience might not have been as smooth. But now that I know it’s something I can cope with on a good day, I should be able to do it again. And I definitely will. Level-up!

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