I’d like to thank Maureen from Sunshine and Chaos for writing a very emotional post for us. Maureen is on a mission to embrace the new her, a person with an unnamed invisible illness. Her blog is very up beat, and inspirational. I suggest everyone check it out.
Maureen told me that she thought this would be an easy post to write, but found it very hard. She said everything about her condition is just so general. “When you not on firm footing you’re just out there flailing.” I think she did a great job!
I have a problem.
My problem is that I’m in limbo like my friend in the picture, Wile E. Coyote.
I have something wrong with one of my ears. I say something because the ENT doctor could only say “it” happens to a lot more people than what is realized and to try to find “a quality of life”.
My “it” is balance issues that started in 2000 and my having a chronic illness was finally confirmed by the ENT in 2005. What I have is basically an invisible chronic illness with no name. A “we know how you’re being affected, just not what is causing it“. I feel like Wile does in that picture. On firm ground one minute, in limbo waiting for gravity to take effect the next. I was healthy one minute, living in limbo the next without a specific diagnosis. No specific diagnosis, no possible cure, no plan of action that can help me get back on my feet and be a contributing member of society again.
The doctors would always ask me if I would get dizzy and I would say no. A big part of my problem over the years is that I rarely got dizzy. If I did, it didn’t last long and I would attribute it to something else such as getting up too quickly or having a head cold. I did have a few dizzy spells a number of years ago due to water in the ear and I don’t get anything like that. I NEVER FORGOT that feeling of the world spinning. And, I would add, my mother had Meniere’s and I saw how she reacted and dealt with it.
What it really felt like at the beginning was “the flu that wouldn’t go away”. Sounds like a bad horror flick, doesn’t it? On my bad days, that’s what it still feels like. I had high blood pressure for the first time in my life, light-headed, slept a lot, no energy, ached a bit, lost my appetite and had a bobbing feeling in my head. Different conditions and diseases were ruled out. The flu eventually went away and also ruled out were chronic fatigue syndrome, mononucleosis, peri-menopause, thyroid, my heart (in the beginning it would beat irregularly and at times fast), brain tumour (I would get a tingling sensation up the back right side of my head that would turn into a headache) and whatever else all those tubes of blood and other tests might confirm.
The best word to describe how I now feel is disequilibrium. Here’s a definition from the U.S. National Library of Medicine:
Disequilibrium is a sensation of impending fall or of the need to obtain external assistance for proper locomotion. It is sometimes described as a feeling of improper tilt of the floor, or as a sense of floating. This sensation can originate in the inner ear or other motion sensors, or in the central nervous system.
Now that I know that the problem starts with my ear, I believe keeping control of my head movements has reduced most of the symptoms. But they have only been exchanged with other symptoms and side effects. What I get is a woozy feeling, like I’m in a boat and bobbing up and down on small waves. I can be sitting still and it will feel like someone is shoving me to the right. I can stagger like I’m a bit drunk but be stone-cold sober. Changes in the weather affects me so much more. Before, it meant random sinus headaches. Now I start feeling off-kilter and want to stay in bed. Sometimes going for a walk will help me feel better, sometimes a walk only makes things worse. I will pace the hallways of my house just so I can have a “walk” and avoid being far from my bed in case I have to quickly lie down. I have a stationary bike that I use so that I can stay seated and not move my head. I take my cell phone with me on even the shortest of walks, just in case I have to call a cab to get home. On days when I want to, or have to do something, I’ll do it and have to lie down afterward so everything in my head can calm down. And, the rare times when I’m close to feeling “normal”, I sometimes overdo it and then I can easily pay for it for a week afterwards by needing to stay in bed.
After all these years, I the person, looking back objectively, can appreciate that in the beginning the doctors couldn’t tell what was going on with me. Everyone, including me, thought it was a really bad case of the flu. But, that idea lasted only so long. I understand that, even as the months progressed, my symptoms were still, general in nature.
However, I the patient, wish the questioning went beyond asking “light-headed or dizzy” and included asking about “balance”. I wish I didn’t live in a restricted-budget medical climate where a doctor is not able to order tests based on gut instincts and experience or not have someone else question some of the tests. That actually happened during one of my tests – a doctor questioned why my doctor ordered a test. I have never had a doctor do unnecessary tests.
I also wish that the family history of Meniere’s was taken more seriously. My mother had it and I would ask if I had it or if there was a genetic connection. I was always told no but it seems more than a coincidence that a close relative suffered from ear problems.
What I really wish is that I had a disease with a name. I could have a fighting chance at treatments or a cure. It would bring legitimacy to what I’ve been dealing with all these years. People deal with illnesses in different ways. I was only in my mid 30s when I first became sick. You’re supposed to bounce back, not stay sick. Some people understood. They were usually the older ones and had friends or family dealing with various illnesses. The younger they were, the more chances that I wasn’t believed.
Not being able to be as physically active means that my overall health and stamina has deteriorated. Heart disease and diabetes runs in the family. How has the loss of activity sped up the possible development of these diseases for me? How many years have been taken off my life? How will my final years be lived out? We never know how things will work out in the end, but we don’t want to rush things along.
As the saying goes, I truly am sick and tired of being sick and tired. And being in limbo means not much chance of going back to a normal life.
There are so many things that Maureen said that rings true, isn’t there? I wrote a post not too long ago about being happy about a diagnosis. Not that I had the disease, but that it now had a name. It is so very hard to have a disease that doesn’t have a name. As Maureen said, it would bring legitimacy to her suffering.
Thank you so much, Maureen, for talking about such a difficult subject, and speaking so honestly.