An inner ear disorder makes me avoid quick movements, Japanese cartoons, patterned floors and Joy Behar.
My head is its own perpetual thrill ride.
If I move my head too quickly, everything starts spinning. Floors feel like they are dropping or being carried away by ocean waves. If I’m around a strobe light, the air around me starts to pulsate and the blinking colors replay in my head for hours. If the room is quiet, I can hear the sound of buzzing bees or feedback squeals from a microphone. Sometimes, I can barely hear at all even though I’m surrounded by noise.
Welcome to the world of Meniere’s Disease. It’s a chronic condition caused by an imbalance of inner ear fluid that creates spontaneous vertigo, tinnitus and hearing loss.
The inner ear is home to a fluid-filled cavity that is lined with hair-like sensors. The sensors respond to movement in the fluid and help the body assess motion, balance and sound. However, this fluid needs to retain a certain volume, pressure and composition so that the sensors can work properly. When the fluid goes rogue, people like me end up hugging a floor.
My jacked-up ear fluid can make an ordinary day feel like a trip to Six Flags, minus the $64.99 admission fee. When my inner ear rebels, I feel the sensations you would feel on the Tilt-A-Whirl ride or after a game of Dizzy Izzy. Walking is difficult, but staggering around and falling sideways are very easy. Face-to-face conversations are challenging because my rapidly darting eyes make others think I’m watching a ping-pong game while I’m talking to them.
There is no cure for Meniere’s, and treatment options are limited. My diagnosis 14 years ago led to me limiting my salt consumption so that my body doesn’t retain extra fluid. I take Antivert to reduce the vertigo, antihistamines to reduce fluid in the ear and Valium to slow everything down when the inevitable episode does hit. I also do my best to avoid things that I know will trigger an episode. My list of triggers is weird and sad:
- Police cars: I react to the flashing blue lights.
- Japanese cartoons: I am living proof that some folks fall out watching these.
- Patterned floors: I can’t walk on them because the patterns look they are moving.
- Ocean waves: I used to love sitting on the beach and watching the waves roll in. It was gloriously peaceful. Thanks to Meniere’s, my body feels like it’s being pulled and pushed along with each wave.
- Jazzercise and Zumba: The quick movements make me dizzy. I am also ridiculously uncoordinated.
- Light shows: Twinkling Christmas lights are so beautiful and playful, but I can enjoy them only in very small doses. Sadly, I will never be able to enjoy a Pink Floyd Experience laser light show at my local planetarium.
- Electronica music: Not a huge personal loss.
- 3-D and IMAX movies: I felt cheated by having to watch the flat screen version of “Avatar.”
- Airplanes: Take-off and landing mess with my head. I confess to using the helpful bag located in the seatback pocket MANY times.
- Amusement parks: When your head is its own thrill ride, who needs amusement parks? I do. I used to LOVE rollercoasters. When the Rip Ride RockIt opened at Universal Studios, I was determined to ride it. I knew better. The ride video, which I forbade my family from purchasing, shows my eyes rolling around my head and my numerous attempts to keep from spewing. I struggled with walking and nausea for two days after that incident. Today, my amusement park participation is limited to holding purses and water bottles while my family rides.
- “The View:” I’m not kidding. The women on this show trigger episodes of vertigo and hearing loss for me.
Despite medicines and trigger avoidance, Meniere’s episodes can still pop up out of nowhere. The inner ear decides to proclaim, “I OWN YOU! Sit your butt down and don’t move!” You have no choice but to comply. I’ve met other Meniere’s sufferers who have been bedridden for days because the spinning won’t stop. A few are afraid to drive because they fear a sudden attack. The symptoms can be so unpredictable and debilitating that some Meniere’s sufferers are unable to work.
Thankfully, my symptoms have not incapacitated me for long stretches. I’ve been able to accept the episodes, but I certainly do not like them. My doctor suggested a surgical procedure that would stop my episodes by destroying the inner ear and its connecting nerves. The procedure would also destroy my ability to hear. Most people have Meniere’s in only one ear, and after surgery, the other ear easily compensates for hearing loss. However, Meniere’s impacts both of my ears and has already caused some permanent hearing loss on each side.
Even with the promise of relief, I don’t want to have the surgery. As much as I hate the spinning, buzzing noise and nausea, I love the sounds of my life – my kids’ voices, music, laughter, rain and even bubble wrap.
I also love thrill rides – but only when they’re not in my head.