Well Being

Living With BPPV (Positional Vertigo) and The Challenges That Go With It

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About 14 years ago I was walking back to my desk at work when a sudden and very strange feeling came over me. It was like the world was moving around me and I couldn’t find solid ground. It wasn’t like the dizziness you get from spinning around or after going on a crazy ride at a fair. It literally felt like the floor was on the ceiling and I had no concept of which way was up.

A very immediate trip to the doctor resulted in a diagnosis of BPPV (Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo). I was told I had an inner ear issue and protein-like particles were throwing off my equilibrium. I was also told there was no way to predict if or when it would go away but that I wouldn’t die from it and there was nothing they could do medically to help me. And then I was sent home.

As a 23-year-old active woman, I was terrified beyond belief because the moving ceiling thing also made me puke non-stop. It was so bad I couldn’t work, or basically do anything. So there I was confined to my bed, hoping that this was not my new reality. And then I did what every curious person would do. I started to research online. I figured there had to be more information that would help me figure this thing out. Unfortunately, all the internet did was make me paranoid. I thought I was misdiagnosed and my reality was even worse than I had feared.

Thankfully the debilitating vertigo did go away after about a week and I went back to work and to the sports I loved. But the episodes came back randomly and without warning. The next time it lasted for only a few days. After that it came back for a day or so and would recur periodically a couple of times in a week.

Unfortunately, I could never anticipate an “episode” and sometimes it happened at the most inopportune times. My favorite example was a job interview. The very senior, hard-core woman who I was interviewing with invited me to take a seat on the sofa in her office and well that was it! It was like the walls were moving around me. Now I dare you to try to speak coherently, look someone in the eye and not appear as though you are high on some prescription meds while the earth literally feels like it has gone off course. It’s impossible. So I did the only thing I could do and shared the fact that I had this health issue (not exactly great material for getting hired) with the scary woman. Well to my surprise she leaned in with the most compassionate look on her face and said, “I have it too. Isn’t it the most inconvenient and terrifying thing!”

The good news is that I got the job (we were now kindred spirits) and the other good news is that (touch wood) after 14 years the episodes are shorter and less frequent. But the bad news is that there are many people walking around like me (many much worse) with very little that can be done.

There are some head manipulations that are believed to work but I went to the top specialists to have it done with little success. (Admittedly I was a skeptic from the beginning, but all he did was cup my head in his hands and twisted my neck from side to side.) There are also some crazy exercises that involve falling from a seated position on the side of your bed and then getting up and doing the same thing on the other side. (An attempt at this only won me a few bruises.)

With all that modern medicine can do, it still baffles my mind that these little pebbles are rolling around in my head and there isn’t a damn thing that can be done about it. So the next time someone tells you they have vertigo remember there isn’t a little pill that can cure them. But it might just help them land a job!

(Photo: Jakopo AKA Braco)