Literally Unbalanced

Hypothetical question: Due to illness you are told that you need to do less and rest more, you can probably only manage 80% of what you did before the illness. Would you:

  • A. Cut down your work hours, and therefore your salary
  • B. Spend the weekend resting at the expense of family time
  • C. Make like an ostrich, stick your head in the sand and pretend you can still be Wonder Woman (until you collapse).

This is the question I’m currently battling with, and the reason I started writing as Unbalanced Woman. It’s become a sort of therapy – a way to get thoughts out of my head and make sense of them. A way to accept that I’m not Wonder Woman and stop (try to stop) feeling guilty about it.

(If you’re interested in what’s wrong with me you can read What’s wrong with the miserable bitch anyway? below – but I’m giving you the option to skip the moaning parts and get straight to the point)

Here’s the point… Illness or not, do lots of women battle with this conundrum? I know I did before I was poorly. I can name so many Wonder Women in my life who struggle to manage everything they want to do, think they have to do, feel they don’t have choices. Is this part of the female make up?

This is probably illustrating that I have so far been attempting Option C – refusing to admit that I am not Wonder Woman. Of course I covet her figure, her graceful running ability and her sparkly knickers. Who doesn’t? But Wonder Woman is also a Super Hero. She can sort out the world, do the right thing, make everything better, and of course with glossy hair and full make-up every minute of every day. She’s like a modern day Facebook thread. You’d never see her posting photos of her losing the battle with the bad guys because she’s got a phone in one hand, a child on her hip and wearing old, elasticated-waist pants because her lycra body suit is still in the wash.

Well this Wonder Woman is admitting defeat. I’ve tried. God I’ve really tried. But I’m knackered. I’m fucked. I’m crying. Is this the point where something has to give? But again…. what?

I still can’t shake the feeling that being poorly is an ‘excuse’. That I need to get over it. People talk about ‘invisible illness’ being so hard to explain to others, but actually it’s so hard to explain to myself. I have got into a habit of saying “Last year I got dizzy. I still get a bit tired some days” – soft, non-threatening words to gloss over a problem and move on.

My Neuro Physiotherapist (who knew they even exist?) is a wonderful lady with a heart of gold, a wicked sense of humour and some hard truths. Her tough love is just what I’ve needed. She says the only way I will face up to what’s really happening is if I start being honest about it. She has urged me to start to tell people that I’ve had, and I quote, “a horrendous brain dysfunction” and actually also makes me say “not had, but have” – present tense, because – and this is the hard bit – I’m not better. I’m significantly better than I was a year ago, but I’m not fully ‘recovered’. I might never be.

That shit is hard to say because it’s hard to accept. If I say it, it means I believe it. It means it’s true.

I’m trying it out, I’ve said it to a few people but it’s so dramatic and it turns into a longer, more invasive talk. Whilst I’m a confident person, this type of attention actually makes me squirm and I just want to go back to being a Wonder Woman impersonator, using my metalic wristbands to deflect any uncomfortable sympathy.

But again it makes me think… we all do it. All the time. A woman who feels like she should have cartoon-style match sticks holding her eye lids open will typically say “Yes, I’m fine. Just a bit tired. Anyway how are you, you look amazing!” and then order a triple shot coffee and anything with sugar in it.

Deflect. Cope. Crack on. (Crack up?)

Can I change? I think I have to. I’m told by everyone that my health comes first. Perhaps I need to listen. But why didn’t I listen before I became ill? Why don’t any of us?

I’m really trying to lift my head out of the sand. Perhaps I can do it bit by bit – be an ostrich but wearing sparkly knickers and shiny wristbands.

Now there’s a picture I like. Can someone draw that for me? I think that would help!

x

What’s wrong with the miserable bitch anyway?…..
I year ago I started feeling dizzy. Just for a few minutes here and there. I remember the first instance was in the shower and I had to hold the walls to finish getting washed. It was a really weird sensation.

As the days and weeks went on it happened more and more often so I went to the doctor. Assured that dizziness was almost always an ear infection or low blood pressure I continued putting up with it. But when I got worse and worse and it became clear that it was neither. A couple of MRI scans and visits to a Neuro Consultant, I was diagnosed with a ‘Vestibular Dysfunction’ which means that my brain had forgotten how to balance properly and had to work much harder to keep me upright.

It’s relatively new in terms of understanding it, which is why it’s hard to explain what’s wrong and when I need help. But I’ll try.

Where our brains normally scan our surroundings and ‘orientate’ to judge space and distance, my brain will respond to all movements by becoming disorientated – whether that is me moving, or things moving around me. So I could sit still, in an room where nothing else was moving and feel fine. But if I walk, go to a busy place or even watch ‘action’ on TV, my brain gets confused.

The same for ‘scanning’ with my eyes. So reading and shopping (looking around for things) can completely throw me. Even now.

In the past I have described my symptoms as like being permanently drunk. At my worst I would wake up feeling like I’d had about three glasses of wine – a bit floaty and not too confident in myself. I’d be able to walk, but not too quickly, and certainly not drive. As the day went on, it was like adding several shots of tequila – feeling like I should sit down and be looked after until someone could take me home and put me to bed. At worst, it’s like being in a washing machine or on the waltzers and even when lying down with my eyes shut, I can’t get off the ride.

Lots of people said that feeling permanently drunk must feel fantastic – cheap date etc, but it’s also like having a hangover at the same time. And sometimes I will look like I’ve been drinking – I’ll walk unsteadily, needing to hold on to things. I’ve heard of others becoming quite reclusive because they are scared to be in pubic in case they fall or people judge them for daytime drunken behaviour.

I considered wearing a T-shirt saying “I’m not a drunk, I’ve got a vestibular dysfunction”, but no one knows what that means anyway.

I’ve been very lucky to be referred to an expert Consultant and Neurological Physio who have helped me to retrain my brain, eyes and vestibular system to balance me again. I have great understanding of my triggers which means I can avoid certain activities and I know when I need to rest.

As I say, I’m not recovered, but I’m doing really well and I’m incredibly grateful for the progress I’ve made. I know there are many, many others who have not had the same support and have to cope with life on long term medication just to manage the nausea.

TV Voiceover… If you have been affected by any of the issues covered is this blog, you may find this website useful:
http://vestibular.org/understanding-vestibular-disorder

Binge Friend-ing

Just like drinking, these days I don’t see my friends as often as I used to, but when I do, I do it ‘properly’.

Like many women of a certain age, I felt like I grew up with Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte and Miranda. The Sex and the City ladies were a bit older than me and so watching them, I was guided into a lovely security that my own circle of friends would easily be able to stay close, meeting for dinner or drinks or even a posh breakfast at least once a week. Forever.

As the series and their lives progressed that never waivered. They welcomed their kids into the four-some’s social engagements, but that never distracted from the conversation about relationships, sex (once sensitively renamed ‘colouring’) and other intimate details of their glamorous existences. They even strolled down streets together afterwards, in their posh shoes, to complete any unfinished conversations. Such, I assumed, would be the reality of my long standing friendships with MY girls in my thirties and forties.

Let’s re-examine that… Getting my group of girls together in the same place, at the same time, ideally without children, is like trying to reunite the actual cast and crew of SATC.

There are text messages spanning about two weeks as we first try to find a Saturday night when everyone is free. When we’ve moved three months through our diaries we typically declare it a ridiculous state of affairs and try for a Friday (less ideal due to the number of Saturday morning clubs that require an early morning chauffeur).

Recently, we moved through Saturdays, Fridays and Thursdays, Sunday lunches and Saturday brunches, before finally landing on a Wednesday for a curry, in six weeks time.

I mean, to coin a regularly used phrase, for fucks sake. A frigging Wednesday! But that, it seems, is the life of Unbalanced Women who may work late, who have Unbalanced Men who work late or who have children who have clubs and commitments that turn us into their P.A., chauffeur and late night chef.

Of course I see some friends one at a time for a quick brew or even one of those coveted posh breakfasts (they’re actually my favourite). Even better than that is seeing friends who live far away, and you travel to get together for 24 hours or more. Now that is a full-on friendship binge.

In preparation for such an indulgent appointment I find myself making a mental agenda of things I need to ask them about. Who am I kidding? I sometimes write an actual agenda of topics. I never wear Carrie-style posh heels, but I do add a bit of lippy because it feels like a special ‘date’.

Time always flies as I try to tick off my agenda as we tangent off to a million topics eventually returning to the original thread after musing “…why are we talking about fridges anyway?”. And we’re usually both clock-watching to make sure we’re not getting dangerously close to missing our next allotted commitment, which we can of course still get to on time if the waiter brings the bill and the card machine RIGHT NOW.

But seeing my Girl Gang is important to me, and that’s why I Binge Friend when we eventually meet. I want to drink in as much as I can and soak up their stories and the wonderful flow of easy conversation, jokey insults and safe judgement of others.

And the added beauty of Binge Friending is that, just like binge drinking, there are usually lots more messages the morning after, to thank everyone for a lovely evening and to comment on our favourite memories and funny stories. But there’s never anyone saying ‘never again’. Unless of course that Clare was in charge of pouring the wine!

Precious moments on a ticking clock

“Make time for fun and silliness”. I must have read that about 20 times. Apparently a necessity if you aspire to be a successful parent, partner, team leader and probably circus clown.

So today that cliché rang in my ears when faced with a particular unbalanced-life experience.

Our morning routine requires precision timing. No matter how organised I try to be there are just so many activities to cram into a short space of time. And our differing personality types add to the challenge: I take some time to warm up in the morning, like an old car in winter, you need to let me tick over for a while before I can even leave first gear. My little boy however wakes up ready to run down the nearest motorway. No car required. As soon as he opens his eyes his brain must say, no actually sing, “It’s morning… Woohoo!”

Fun and silliness are always on his agenda. Of course they are. But my morning routine is ruled by the large ticking clock on our kitchen wall. If we don’t get to school on time the car park will be full. And if the car park is full I will have to park round the corner. And if I have to park round the corner it takes longer to walk back to it (in heels) so I won’t catch my ‘only-make-it-if-I-leg-it-down-the-platform’ train to work.

He was in full-on Woohoo-mode when we went downstairs to make breakfast, yabbering on about something or other. I knew I should be listening, but I needed to make breakfast and…. Tick Tock Tick Tock.

To get his attention, I picked him up sat him on the kitchen worktop. “I have a question for you…” Now this works. He’s at eye level and he loves to be asked a question. And he half knows that the question will be, ‘what shall we have for breakfast?’. It’s a regular morning question because another aspirational quote locked somewhere in my memory, is to offer children choices so they learn independent thinking. Blah blah blah.

But instead, my inner silliness crept in. “Do you looove me?” I sang to him. I’ve recently watched Dirty Dancing and it popped into my head. Big grin from the boy and my silliness took over.

“I can mash potato…” I proved it.
“Do the twist….” Hell yeah.
“Tell me baby…” He loved it.

The clock was silenced. I was Supermum. We danced together. He looked me right in the eye and did that beautiful giggle that kids do when they are truly happy. I felt amazing and we had a precious moment – one of those that makes your heart burst, where you know there is true love in the room. The cliché was right, I SHOULD make time for silliness.

Time. Make time. Tick Tock….. “Oh my god, look at the time!” And there it was, ruined.

“Quickly… Just eat it… Are you finished?… Well where did you leave it?… Come on!… They are not MY shoes, they are your responsibility… For goodness sake, just get in the car… Now!”

Next time I decide to make time for fun and silliness I will schedule it with precision timing.