My eyes open with a snap, and I sit up much too quickly, frantically reaching for my phone, fingers fumbling to quiet the melodious clanging of the “harp” alarm on my iPhone. I slide the phone into snooze and fall back against my pillow–also much too quickly–and the world I see spins violently once before I close my eyes and fall asleep for another blessed eight minutes.
My eyes open again, slowly this time, and with a smooth arc, everything I see twists and falls to the left. Reset. Everything I see twists and falls to the left. My eyes catch and reality lurches back to center. Reset. With a smooth arc, everything I see twists and falls to the left. Reset. Everything falls. Reset. I stare at the gap in my ceiling where the skylight is, and for a fraction of a second it remains stationary before it too falls to the left, blurring as it escapes my focus. Reset. Everything falls. Reset. My breath is shallow now, and I am terrified.
At this point I am fully aware that I’m having another episode. My girlfriend is next to me in bed, but I don’t want to tell her that the vertigo is back, because there’s nothing she can do except worry. I tell her anyway, because she knows something is wrong. I’m trying to be stoic while she gets out of bed and gathers her things, preparing to leave. I get up slowly once she’s gone and try to go about getting ready for the day. My feet waver slightly on the eight-foot trek from the bed to the bathroom, while the world around me twists with a smooth arc and falls, spinning ever out of control, and despite a cognitive understanding that I am not falling, my hands are out in front of me, bracing for an impact that doesn’t come. Reset. Once I’m in the bathroom, my hands trace their way to the sink and turn on the faucet. I splash water on my face and as it drips from my beard onto the counter and floor, I look into the mirror, where a vile, twisting kaleidoscope of color occupies the reflection instead of the my face looking back at me. Reset. I catch a glimpse of my eyes before they dissolve back into the falling mass of color. My irises bleed a trail of green into the roiling mass, and I’m nauseated. I’m still foolishly hoping it’ll pass and that I’ll make it to work, so I slide my hands along the wall to the shower and turn on the hot water. I need to use my hands to stay upright in the shower, and finally admit that this attack is different. I get out of the shower and put on a pair of pants, and literally stumble back into bed.
I tried to breathe slowly, but the spinning kept getting worse. Much, much worse. It reached a point where I couldn’t see anything beyond the terrifying, swirling blur of the spinning world. It stopped resetting, and just spun and spun without end. The only position of remote comfort was with my face buried in a pillow, hands gripping my skull. Every time I pulled my hands away, my hair was stuck to my palms with a mixture of sweat and tears. The thought of making it to work wasn’t even on my radar. I called my parents for support, and they convinced me to go to the emergency room. After over six hours in the hospital, I had no answers, but I could at least walk on my own and the dizziness was fading, and after several more hours, and some vomiting, the center reset for (hopefully) the last time. There isn’t a clear treatment, because they aren’t sure what’s causing it.
I have been dealing with vertigo for almost two months now, and I thought it was behind me until last week, when this attack took place. It’s hard to really capture the visceral terror that grips you when you lose all control of your sense of balance, and your eyes and brain can’t be trusted. Alongside the terror is a deep sense of hopelessness; I have no idea how to end it, if it will end, or what’s causing it.
It’s an odd thing, though, to talk about it with others. Something about having vertigo is embarrassing. People don’t truly understand what the condition does, and tend to make jokes about “spinning in the other direction” or they start moving around a lot to try to “catch your eyes.” The reality of being trapped inside of a horror-movie-roller-coaster that nobody else can perceive is one of weakness and fear, and it’s nearly impossible to relate to, so I’ll try to paint a picture that others might understand.
Most people have gotten way, way too drunk. They get the spins, and most often vomit from the nausea and alcohol, and subsequently fall asleep at the nearest convenient (or totally inconvenient) location. Take those horrible spins and amplify them. Take away the associated confusion resulting from inebriation and replace it with relative clearheadedness, and an awareness that something is medically wrong. Now make the dizziness last for eight hours. That should give you a very basic idea of what vertigo is like. Sort of. The image above is a photograph of my room with a radial blur applied to it. It’s a weak approximation of what this experience looks like to the person having it.
I’m not spinning today, and I haven’t been for a few days, but I’m afraid, because every time I’ve had an attack, it has started seemingly out of nowhere. There’s no clear instigating cause for the attacks, and the doctors I have seen have thoroughly frightened me with claims of possible neurological damage and tumors, but I’m holding out hope that the problem is benign and can be solved simply. It’s psychologically draining though, because I’m almost constantly anxious that while I’m at work or out and about, I will be gripped by the vertigo, and rendered into the almost non-human state of fear and lack of control that took over last Thursday.
As of right now, I have follow up appointments scheduled with specialists, through which I hope to learn more and reach an understanding of this condition, and I wish fervently for a solution that will keep me from having future attacks. I feel indescribably grateful to my family and friends who have been so kind and supportive when I’ve displayed remarkable hopelessness. In writing this, I hoped to achieve some kind of release of the stress and pressure I’ve been feeling, and it has helped tremendously.
I intend to return to my usual repertoire of reviewing Brandon Sanderson books and music shortly. Thanks for bearing with me while I process this.