Finding balance

Source: Jason Dunn

I’ve been reading the DOD’s new Mild Traumatic Brain Injury Pocket Guide, and really appreciating it.

It talks about definitions of mTBI and common symptoms, and it talks about different approaches to take to treat them. What a breath of fresh air — which is probably not the sort of thing that often gets said about the U.S. Department of Defense.

Included in the topics are:

  • Management of Concussion/Mild TBI
  • Management of Headaches
  • Management of Other Symptoms
  • Management of Dizziness and Disequilibrium
  • Management of Fatigue and Sleep Symptoms
  • Management of Vision, Hearing and Olfactory Symptoms
  • Management of Irritability
  • Management of Appetite Changes and Nausea
  • Cognitive Rehabilitation for Mild TBI Consensus Conference: Summary of Clinical Recommendations
  • Driving Following TBI Conference: Summary of Clinical Recommendations

It’s really great to see these pieces of information collected in one place, in a pocket-size format (although on my computer, I look at it full-screen, so it’s not in pocket form for me right now).

I’m particularly interested in reading what they have to say about dizziness and disequilibrium, because that’s been such a big issue for me for so long. Being dizzy has wreaked havoc with my health and mental state more than I can say — I used to have such a hard time staying upright, I’d flip out over every little thing, and I couldn’t talk to anyone, first thing in the morning, while I was trying to get ready for work. I had to focus so intently on what was in front of me, and not falling over, that if anyone spoke to me while I was getting dressed or making my breakfast, I would lose it.

Seriously, I was a friggin’ bear to deal with, first thing in the morning. For years. I feel  sorry for all the folks who have had to deal with me, when my vertigo was at its worst.

Being dizzy and losing my balance didn’t help, back in 2004, when I was standing at the top of some stairs and my spouse called for me to come get something. I had no business standing at the top of those stairs in stocking feet, but I was… and in the space of a minute, I was lying at the bottom of those stairs in a foggy daze, not quite sure how I got there, but remembering quite clearly the BAM-BAM-BAM of my head on the steps as I went down.

Shit.

Anyway, enough dwelling on the past. I’m getting back to balance, I must remind myself.

It never actually occurred to me that it was abnormal to be so dizzy all the time, till I started talking to folks about my recurring intense vertigo a few years back. I had told one of my past doctors about being super-dizzy when it was particularly bad, some time back. They just put me on meclizine, which did absolutely nothing for me at all. It didn’t even take care of the nausea.

Looking at the Pocket Guide, I see that pharmacologic treatment has not been shown to be effective in chronic dizziness after mild TBI. A ha! There it is — a possible explanation for why meclizine works for friends of mine who have vertigo, but it does nothing other than make me even more numb and whacked than I already am.

Of course, at the time I was seeing that doctor (I have since moved on – they were a bit too pill-happy for my likes), I didn’t know about my mTBI issues, so I was just another medical mystery that they shrugged their shoulders over and sent away with some comment about how I’d just have to wait it out.

Interestingly, I’ve never been examined specifically for dizziness and disequilibrium. With me, it tends to come and go — it’s worse when I’m tired or I’m fighting off a cold or I eat something with dairy ingredients in it. And of course, I’m often just peachy keen in the dizziness department when I go see my doctor.

So, I’m kind of on my own in this. But reading further, it looks like I’ve been doing the right things for this. They recommend:

  • Perform neck stretches — I do this, especially in the shower in the morning, when I can get really hot water on my neck and shoulders. That makes stretching easier. I also stretch before going to bed, which helps me relax and get to sleep.

  • Modify activity and change positions slowly — I’ve had to do this by default. I learned the hard way a bunch of times… moving too quickly and changing positions quickly when I’m dizzy is a recipe for extensive bruising, not to mention panic.  Both are less than optimal.

  • Change sleep position — I started sleeping on my back a lot more,  a few years back, and it seems to help. But there’s nothing like just rolling over and going to sleep.
  • Perform vestibular rehabilitation exercises — I do my morning workouts, and I’ve been adding more balance work to the mix. I have been doing this crazy-hard move (sometimes holding onto something while I do it) — I stand on one foot, and raise the other leg up, with my knee bent. Then I bend over and touch my left hand to my right toe, and vice versa with my right hand and my left toe. Not only does it really work my legs, but it’s also incredibly difficult for me to do. I’ve gotten to the point where I can do it without hanging onto something, but it’s still hard. I may be fooling myself, but I seem to be able to tell a difference in my balance, since I started doing this.

I’d like to add to this:

  • Keep yourself from getting sick and congested (my ears really do a number on my balance, when I’m congested)
  • Avoid dairy (or other foods you may be alergic to). When I cut out dairy, it cut my balance issues by 2/3. No kidding.

I still have issues, now and then, but they’re not constant, so I notice them immediately and I do modify my behavior. I avoid standing at the tops of stairs for too long. I also pay extra attention when I’m going down stairs or doing other balancing type activities. I also don’t go running around out-of-doors, climbing on rocks and jetties like I used to. (What a loss that is — I used to love to climb and jump and hop from rock to rock, but my better sense has prevailed in that — somehow, not getting hurt again is worth the cost.)

Yeah, taking steps to avoid problems has become a more regular part of my life over the past couple of years. Maybe I have a better appreciation of the risks I run. That’s certainly true. And I’ve also gotten in the habit of doing things that will help prevent future injuries, not just avoid them. Like working out. And working on my strength and flexibility.

Balance for me seems to be as much about muscle strength, coordination, and mindfulness as what’s going on in my wiring/inner ear. The stronger I get, thanks to my workouts, the more balanced I feel. I’ve notice myself becoming more coordinated than I was before. I’m sure it’s a combination of things, not just my brain/wiring. But I have been noticing an improvement.

Of course, there’s always the occasional flare-up — sometimes out of nowhere, for no reason that I can tell. But as long as I keep an eye out and I pay attention, I have a chance of staying upright — and doing things that will keep me that way… or at the very least, keep me from falling over.
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Author: brokenbrilliant

I am a long-term multiple (mild) Traumatic Brain Injury (mTBI or TBI) survivor who experienced assaults, falls, car accidents, sports-related injuries in the 1960s, '70s, '80s, and '90s. My last mild TBI was in 2004, but it was definitely the worst of the lot. I never received medical treatment for my injuries, some of which were sports injuries (and you have to get back in the game!), but I have been living very successfully with cognitive/behavioral (social, emotional, functional) symptoms and complications since I was a young kid. I’ve done it so well, in fact, that virtually nobody knows that I sustained those injuries… and the folks who do know, haven’t fully realized just how it’s impacted my life. It has impacted my life, however. In serious and debilitating ways. I’m coming out from behind the shields I’ve put up, in hopes of successfully addressing my own (invisible) challenges and helping others to see that sustaining a TBI is not the end of the world, and they can, in fact, live happy, fulfilled, productive lives in spite of it all.

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