Finding Balance – Literally

We always hear about finding balance – between work and home, family and career, mind and body, heart and head.

My struggle for balance is more literal. My struggle for balance is about not finding myself on the floor with new bruises on my tush.

A number of factors influence my struggle for balance. Various parts of my body are in quiet or open rebellion.

I often joke that I have rocks in my head, but really they are in my ears. Otoliths (literally, “ear rocks”) are tiny calcium crystals that live in the inner ear and bump up against the little hair cells that send information to the brain about gravity and balance – which way the head and body are moving.

Unfortunately, if the little bits of calcium start rattling around loose in the “vestibular organs” (balance centers) of the ear, the brain senses movement when there isn’t any. The result: dizziness, vertigo, loss of balance. Technically, this is called Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV).

Practically, what it means is that moving my head in certain directions – such as tilting my head backward, especially with my eyes closed – makes me wobbly and prone to falling. This makes showering and shampooing tricky, even without the slippery surfaces, water, and suds.

(An extreme version of this, particularly when there is a sinus or ear infection, is called “labyrinthitis,” which I have also experienced. It’s unpleasantly like being drunk. The room spins. Then you crawl to the toilet and throw up. Repeatedly. The usual treatment is antihistamines such as Antivert or Benadryl.)

Then there are my back and my toes. The two are not as far apart as you might think. What connects them are nerves. And my nerves are frayed.

That’s not just figurative. I have bulging disks between the vertebrae in my back. A number of years ago, some of the bone in my lower back deteriorated and the combination caused a pinched nerve. I had pain in my back, of course, but also in various areas of my legs that were served by that particular nerve. An operation relieved the pain, but there was some residual damage to the nerve.

Now I have no feeling in the three smallest toes on my left foot. You’d be surprised at how much those baby toes have to do with balance. I was. The nerves have healed all they’re going to, so this is it.

How do I achieve balance?

Sometimes I walk with a cane. I try to avoid uneven ground, which pretty much means anything that isn’t paved or as flat as a golf green. I stand with my feet farther apart than most people. I don’t stand on my toes, largely because I can’t, or stand on one foot or with my eyes closed. I would absolutely fail any drunk-driving test that involves those skills.

Indoors, I do something that I’ve learned is called “wall-walking” (which is different than climbing the walls, something I do quite well figuratively). In my own home, where I don’t usually use my cane, I try to keep a light, finger-tip touch on the wall, a door, a bookshelf, or anything else handy. I don’t lean my weight on it. It simply gives me a solid, unmoving point of reference. It’s sort of like when tightrope walkers use a long pole to help keep their balance, or when a gentleman extends a hand to help a lady step down from her carriage. (Depending on whether you’re at the circus or in a romance novel.)

So. I know what you’re thinking. You think I am a decrepit old lady and should just get over it.

But what if I told you I am only 25?

In truth, I am not 25. I am at the age when one begins to worry about aging.

But I was 25 when I started getting labyrinthitis. And even younger the first time I damaged my lower back.

The point is, mobility and balance issues are not limited to the elderly. Back operations and pinched nerves can happen at any age – for example, after a car accident. Some neurological conditions strike young adults.

Finding balance can be hard at any age.


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