My elementary school would take us on field trips to the art museum at the high school. It truly was impressive. The building is historical, built in 1888 and it has a tower that looks like a Wizard’s tower. Inside the red brick building it’s like everything is made of polished stone or rich wood– I’m not very educated on interior designs…
There is a very narrow and steep staircase leading up to the portion of the museum that houses unfinished works, casts and molds. It was on these stairs that I learned about vertigo. I could not look up without feeling like I was falling down. I always remained close to the wall on these stairs. I have a fear of heights and that’s different from vertigo in that one you’re afraid of falling and the other you feel like you’re falling. Overtime, for those of us without severe cases of vertigo, you learn how to look across rather than up or down and viola, vertigo is gone from your life.
Like a lot of things I thought were “cured” because I learned to live with them, I discovered my vertigo returned after the stroke. It’s worse but not as bad as I’ve heard it can be. I discovered this early after my stroke though I originally thought it was due to my time in the hospital. For almost a month I sat in a bed or wheelchair in rehab. I went outside when family came but they always rolled me around and I never had a reason to leave the center of the courtyard. When I would look up at the sky and feel faint, everyone told me it was because of how new the brain injury was, it was the wind making me feel wobbly, or some other reason.
When we left rehab the first time, I stayed in a motel because I needed another embo before I could know whether or not I needed brain surgery. Our room was on the sixth floor. I had no issue taking the elevator in the hospital but I experienced motion sickness on the drive to the motel. Everyone convinced me the motion sickness was part pregnancy and part being outside where the grounds aren’t flat like hospital floors. The moment I was rolled out of the elevator, however, I knew this was more than pregnancy or a prolonged hospital stay. I couldn’t look at the railing, never mind gazing over or above it. Suddenly my vision zoomed in on the ground below us, decimating the 6 storey distance in seconds. I cried and begged to be rushed inside where I would wait out the week, barely leaving the room.
The surgeon told me this should fade over time but I didn’t believe him. When I did finally come home, our second floor apartment was separated from me by a 13 stair shark bite and two landings. I’m not ashamed to say I cried all the way up those stairs. I couldn’t look over the side but I couldn’t not hug the railing. It was pure torture. The final step was the worst because it meant letting go of the railing, it meant standing up straight just long enough to bring my strong leg up onto the landing. It was terrifying. Once I made it up, I went inside where I had a panic attack after seeing the spot where I had laid, dying with blood puddling in my brain with Skas trying desperately to keep the snot from oozing into my hair (such a sweet boy).
It wasn’t that I was afraid of heights because it was more than that. I couldn’t look at the railing that stopped you from walking out of my front door to a two-storey fall. My heart would speed up and I’d immediately start to sweat. I couldn’t sit in a chair and look up without feeling like I was falling backwards. We went to my first outpatient occupational and physical therapies. They are in the same office on the sixth floor and what made it worse was the elevator had a glass wall and the center of the entire building was void. This meant every single floor had a half-wall that separated you from your possible death. The only way I made it to therapy was by keeping my head down, hugging the wall and not talking. Even talking in these areas made me nauseous and feel like I was going to fall backwards. Anytime I did happen to look across the wide open center of the building or up I would shrink like the pressure of glancing was crushing my spine.
Like everything else that troubled me in life, I tried to learn my way around it. It seemed to work until we took our kids to the circus and my anxiety exploded in my face. The crowd, the noise and the height of the arena took away what little power I had over myself. I broke down right there at the circus, I must have fit right in.
Not long ago I posted that some disabilities are so invisible even I need to be reminded. Wouldn’t you know, it happened again? This time at JJ’s WIC office. They moved from a one story building to a 4 floor building. Apparently they aren’t done building the building. It looks done outside but when the floors are cardboard paths taped with blue painters tape, you figure there’s a few details they need to get to and that’s fine and I was fine, even after we see the office is on the fourth floor…until we hit the elevator. Inside you can’t tell if there’s walls because there are blue sheets, like those movers’ pads, covering the walls so tight you can’t move them to see behind them. Exiting the elevator was no better.
You’re in a stupidly long hall with white walls that feel like they’re closing in on you and at the end of the hall? A full size window wall, in case you needed that extra kick to your anxiety. We get into the office and what do I see? Nothing but the damned city as far out as me eye can see! THERE ARE NO SOLID WALLS. How did I not notice this from outside? I froze at the door, started sweating and bit back my need to cry; I put my head down and literally used Kasper like a guide to the desk. The lady asked me right away how I liked the new building. I told her the floor is nice and the lady entering behind me said it is wonderful! What a marvelous view! Who knew our city was so big?! Well, I fucking knew.
I then grumbled about how I couldn’t look up because I was kind of freaking out. The lady at the desk apologized while staring at my whitening knuckles gripping the edge of the counter. There was no way I was letting go of that counter, it was my lifeline. I would have floated away, dropping tears of panic as I went if I let go. The woman beside me had this condescending tone as she said, “Well, I like it and ya’ll should enjoy it.” I didn’t have to look at her to know she was waving her attitude with her head.
Kasper held my hand to his arm, told me calmly to look out over the city, and as I did I was reminded that I never got over having vertigo, I just stopped going places it would have an effect on me. I never got over my anxiety, I arrange my schedule around potential threats to my serenity. Here I am, 5 years after the most tragic event in my life and I think I’m still in denial over the effects it has on me.
One day I think I dwell too much and the next I think I live in denial.