Level-Up: Part 56
This post is a couple of days later than I wanted it to be because I was either incredibly tired or very busy, so I’ve been trying to fit things in where I can. Such is life.
When I last saw my rehab therapist at the hospital she told me that my next challenge was strengthening my balance functions in low light and in darkness. As my eyes do a lot of my balance work for me and pick up where my brain and inner ear fail, the lower the light, the fewer points of reference they have to inform my brain of my body position. This inevitably makes it more difficult to walk alone in the dark. In the winter when it’s often dark by 4pm, that cuts out a few hours I might have had in the summer.
On Thursday I had a late afternoon, routine doctor’s appointment. They were running late and I spent about 30 minutes past my appointment time waiting to be seen. During that time I contemplated walking home in the dark. It’s a decent walk for me in daylight, but instantly becomes more difficult without all my eye-power. I eventually decided to give it a try, figuring that if I couldn’t go any further I could just call a taxi from wherever I stopped. I’d called a taxi to take me there, so one more wouldn’t hurt.
I slowly made my way past the shops, trying to keep my steps steady, and decided to stop in the last one to get a hot chocolate to warm myself up with. It was freezing and I figured I didn’t need to shiver any more than was necessary. Also…HOT CHOCOLATE! While stood at the machine waiting for the cup to fill I was hit with a massive dizzy spell. The kind that feels like my face is draining to a kind of grey tint and makes me want to drop to my knees. It’s so scary when that happens. I feel like my body’s moving and swaying all the time, but when the big vertigo attacks layer on top of that it’s hard to keep your cool. When it first started a few years ago, the panic at what was happening to me in that moment often took over and made me cry in the street or in public. It remains distressing, but it’s really unhelpful to let that happen. It zaps all the strength you need to stay upright. So I’ve taught myself over a period of time to ride it out. It seems weird that this massive thing was happening to me but nobody around me had a clue.
After a couple of minutes it stabilised enough for me to move out of the shop and carry on walking. It was a very wobbly, unstable walk but I eventually made it home and felt accomplished for having carried on when I didn’t know if I could. The intensity of the vertigo kept trying to wave over me again throughout the walk, but using my harshest expletives I kept telling it to pipe down until I’d made it home.
For the next few days the vertigo attacks remained as sudden and powerful. Sometimes they were short, other times they were longer and needed some very controlled breathing. On Saturday I was desperate to go out somewhere for a few hours. The weather was sunny and frosty. My favourite kind of weather. I knew, though, that my brain was asking for some rest and pushing it wouldn’t help. I compromised. I put my jacket on, took my audiobook and some tea out to the garden for a while so I didn’t have to sacrifice being outdoors on such a lovely day.
It’s nice to have made an adjustment and enjoyed it. Yes, I wanted to go out for a walk, but to have found an alternative that didn’t feel like it was ripping me apart was a nice little moment of emotional progress. I managed a short walk on Sunday and by Monday I was feeling slightly more stable but tired by those few days of having to keep myself still so consciously.
The final moment of recognition that I was learning to cope with and around my illness came in the form of happiness for other people this past week. I don’t want to go into this in depth, because it feels a little private. But last weekend I had an opportunity to get excited about other people’s fun and the thing was, I didn’t even have to try most of the time. There was somewhere I wanted to be and people I wanted to be with. I couldn’t be there, but I was excited on their behalf and thrilled they got to have the fun they deserved. There was no self-pity, no knot in my stomach, no dread as it approached. As long as I got to hear all the brilliant stories about it afterwards, it was okay. It was so instinctive to feel happy for other people that I almost dismissed it as not being an achievement at all. But in many ways it’s the biggest. It’s a year and a half of hard work and there’s only one other person who can appreciate how much work that’s taken, because they saw the lowest moments. In a way, it felt like claiming a little piece of my personality back from the illness that stole and skewed it. It’s the piece that’s kind, caring and giving. The piece that says someone else’s happiness is a reason to smile along with them, not curse them because you’re not doing it too. That’s who I really am. Given the choice, would I have chosen to be there? God, yeah. Yes x1,000,000. But hurting other people with your own misfortune and making them feel guilty about the things that make them happy is about as destructive as life gets. I’m not saying I’m never envious. That’s human. But I promise, with hard work, it becomes something you can deal with.
Once per week I record my chronic illness achievements and discoveries here. To find out why I decided to start doing this, you can read an explanation in the first post of the series here.