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

All I (n)ever wanted

It’s 10 years this week since I met the man who is now my husband. Taking a walk down memory lane, I’ve realised that meeting that ginger fecker was the event that set me off on the road to my unbalanced life, and actually put me into counselling.

Prior to our meeting I was single and career driven. I’d just sold my flat in Edinburgh and moved to a grown up house with a garden and a drive. I was proud of myself – of my independence, and that I didn’t need a bloody man. My friends were getting married and having children and disappearing off the planet to a world I neither understood nor cared for. Who in the hell wanted that traditional, boring happily ever after. I wanted my independence, adventure and definitely no kids.

Then… I took a trip ‘home’ to Manchester to go bridesmaids’ dress shopping with a couple of friends (there was an actual wedding, we’re not weird). We went back to her house and I donned my new underwear bought to go with the dress. Walking into the kitchen I announced, “Look at my tits in this!”, only to be greeted by the crooked smile of an unexpected ginger bloke.

Time will tell that this meeting was apparently set up, though clearly not the discussion about my tits.

I know it’s ridiculous, but I just knew. I knew that night that something significant was happening. I won’t say love at first sight, because it certainly wasn’t love that first struck me, it was embarrassment. And a desire to shift attention away from my fun bags. Even if they were beautifully presented in my new well-structured scaffolding – fate occasionally does play us a nice card.

Suddenly we had a summer of love mapped out, travelling up and down the M6 and being each other’s Plus 1 at a ridiculous amount of weddings.

And even more suddenly (it seemed) my whole outlook on life changed. I don’t know if it was the excitement of a long distance relationship, the constant drip of ‘happiness’ from those weddings or just the fact that he was ginger, but now I wanted to be like Cinderella. I wanted that happily ever after. With him. I wanted his Ginger Babies.

That was the real beginning. As soon as I said that out loud, whilst drunk at yet another wedding, it started. We were looking for a house, I was resigning from my job and saying goodbye to my career-woman life in Scotland.

Writing it down now, and with the benefit of Captain Hindsight, I can see how significant that was. But at the time I couldn’t understand why I was so emotionally drained and feeling sad. I was soooo happy. I had found a man who was worth changing everything for. I’d managed to transfer my job to work from Manchester and I was back living in my old stomping ground near my family and friends who I’d always stayed close to. What the hell was wrong with me. Why did I keep crying?

I know now that I was mourning my old ‘attitude’. It wasn’t the physical things that were changing that bothered me, but my mental approach to life – the whole self-sufficient ‘I don’t belong to anyone’ confidence that I’d built up over the previous decade.

The idea of marriage and changing my name had always felt so old fashioned and ridiculous. But now I wanted it. I wanted to be his family.

The idea of having kids and being with them all the fricking time, except maybe a monthly, ‘yes I’ll come, but I’ll have to leave by ten-thirty, and I’ll probably drive’ night out, had horrified me. But now I wanted it. I was ready to move on from my old existence, to give it all up.

I felt that I had betrayed… Me.

(Bizarrely, at the very moment I wrote that sentence, Simply Red just came on the radio singing “I’d give it all up for you”. That’s really freaked me out!)

And so off to the doctors I trotted and he referred me to a wonderful woman called Susan who helped me to understand it all.

Understand it.
Embrace it.
Live it.

Of course I didn’t change completely and become a 1950’s wife, cleaning house while whistling a Disney tune. Although I do sometimes wish that the birds from my garden would fly in and help me tie bows around my curtains – and I don’t even have curtains!

I’m still me. I’m still fiesty. I’m still fiercely independent in my views. But with room beside me for my new family. They define part of me, but not the whole me. I’m proud to be a wife and a mother – labels that previously made me shudder. Now I wear them with pride alongside my many other labels assigned to me.

So looking back on the last 10 years, a lot has changed. They say everyone hates change, but it’s usually physical change. I managed to make a mental one and I’m a bit proud of myself. If I hadn’t I wouldn’t have the life I do now. Yes, it’s unbalanced. Yes it’s tiring. But I couldn’t imagine what life would be otherwise – if I didn’t meet that unexpected ginger man with the crooked smile, or had my beautiful ginger boy with…. well there’s a million things that are wonderful about him.

Having All-I-Never-Wanted is the happiest I’ve ever been.

Thank you for the last 10 year darling. You rocked my world – and you still do.
(sick buckets allowed).

Xxx

(I have cried all the way through writing this!)

Confessions of an Unbalanced Woman

Today I experienced sheer horror, and it was my own doing. I heard myself saying to a friend, “Want to pop round for a quick coffee?” and as she said yes, I pictured my house. The state of it.

I knew, in that moment, that I would have to apologise. For dirty breakfast dishes that haven’t quite made it to the sink; for laundry decorating every radiator and for the bathroom. God forbid she would want to use the bathroom as it is left after my family use it in quick succession in the rush to school and work.

“Yes, that would be great.” she said, “But can you give me half an hour first? I just need to pop to the post office.” I wanted to kiss her.

The relief. I would have time to destroy all evidence of my disgusting normality. And instead greet her with my Fake Reality – the perfect level of tidy, that shows I’m naturally clean but not obsessive. It’s a fine art.

Do we all do this? Do we all have those little things that we can’t even reveal to our close friends? I think we might. So I’m sharing a few of my Fake Reality secrets…

1. My towels don’t match and co-ordinate with my bathroom tiles. Of course I have a set that do, and they are brought out fresh and smelling of Spring Meadow fabric softener when we have guests. But the rest of the time, it’s every man for himself. Grab any towel you can find that’s not been taken to the swimming baths, left on the shower floor or covered in toothpaste by a small child.

2. And that posh ESPA hand wash goes back in the cupboard when you leave, to be replaced by a normal Tesco one. Sorry.

3. I always have flowers on my table. That’s one of my things. But before they reach a vase or the table they will have spent around two days in a pint glass of water near the sink, still suffocating in their supermarket wrapper.

4. There are cupboards and drawers (within touching distance of any surprise guest) that are filled to bursting point, and I don’t know what with. Most probably items that were hastily hidden when someone else popped round, and then long forgotten. If I ever clean out a drawer I’m so pleased with myself that I expect someone to give me a certificate of excellence for my genuine (temporary) tidiness.

5. That storage box in the corner is propping a skirting board that came away from the wall about five months ago. Of course I should go to the garage, get out a hammer and panel pins from our great assortment of DIY nonsense. Of course I could fix it in about three minutes. But, well the box was there already… or in the same room at least. And you’d never know if I didn’t tell you…