Messages From a Spinning World

I went to bed on Wednesday, January 4 feeling perfectly fine and normal. On Thursday, January 5, my alarm went off at 5 a.m., as usual. I got out of bed just as I typically would. Then, I promptly found myself on the floor with the world spinning wildly and nauseatingly.

I sat there, stunned, wondering what had just happened and suddenly feeling really sick.

I tried to get up, but went back down, the world still turning and flashing in a highly disorienting way.

After several minutes, I was able to get up, but things were definitely not right. The violent motions made me nauseous, and I wondered if I had a virus. Although I vomited, the most prominent symptom was the dizziness.

I had my husband take me to the doctor and learned that my right ear was bulging badly with fluid, and there was also fluid on my left ear. The nurse practitioner surmised that the fluid build-up was causing my dizziness, but also told me that there might be calcium crystals (called otoconia) in my inner ear, behind the fluid in my middle ear. She offered several possible treatments, and I chose nasal spray over oral Prednisone. I also tried the home Epley Maneuver, but felt terrible after doing it, so I have not yet tried it again.

Eleven days after its sudden onset, my vertigo is much better, but, disappointingly, not gone. I am planning to schedule an appointment with an otolaryngologist (Ear, Nose, Throat—ENT) doctor to check on the status of my ears and to find out if there is anything I can or should be doing to expedite my full recovery.

Here is my theory about what happened.

I had an ear infection in my right ear in November that arose immediately after an extremely stressful event at work, during which I literally felt my body being attacked on the inside. It sounds crazy, but it is true, and I developed the ear infection, a terrible canker sore in my throat and a stress rash that flares up with stressful events, because of the onslaught of stress hormones. I was treated with Augmentin for the ear infection, and it healed. The NP who saw me for the vertigo believes that the fluid was residual from the infection, although there is no current infection. I think there probably are some otoconia involved, although I don’t know that for sure.

On the evening of January 4, I attended my first session at Orange Theory Fitness. I was interested in adding OTF as a supplement to my off-season training. While I still exercise every day during the winter, and I ride when I can, I miss my bike, and I wanted something to spice things up. So, although, exercise wasn’t unusual, the motions in OTF—a combination of rapid rowing on a rowing machine; fast-paced weight training, in a wide range of positions; and power walking at steep inclines on the treadmill—were different than what I have been doing. My off-season training generally includes cycling on days off work, when weather permits; the indoor spinning bike; circuit training, but with fewer dramatic changes of position; Foundation Training; yoga and walking. I believe that I had an underlying problem, residual from the ear infection, and the many quick and dramatic position changes probably caused the pressure from the fluid to move otoconia into undesirable locations in my inner ear, and I awoke the next morning, after the crystals settled while I was lying down, with vertigo.

I don’t know that any of this is true, but this is my theory.

I do want to say that there is absolutely nothing wrong with Orange Theory Fitness. It is a sound and effective way to exercise. I was greeted when I walked in the door, with, “Hey, you’re my advisor!” by the coach for my class, who is one of our Exercise Science students. The owner has been super nice and very understanding of my need to cancel my plans to join as a seasonal member. (I can’t even think about the movement of a rowing machine or lying down on a weight bench right now.) There is no reason that most healthy people should not be able to work out at OTF safely and uneventfully. I think I just happened to have an unknown underlying situation that was waiting to be stirred up by certain movements that I had not been doing in my daily life.

Anyway, hopefully, I will learn more and be able to rid myself of this strange, uncomfortable and annoying problem when I see the ENT.

In the meantime, I have been able to draw some interesting analogies to life because I like to try to learn from every situation.

A signature of this vertigo is that certain positions create problems, while I can feel reasonably “normal” when I avoid them. Once I got past the acute onset and figured out where I had to be careful, I recognized that lying down or moving my head to one side or the other while lying down creates the most trouble. Sitting up from lying down or rolling to one side can also create fairly dramatic vertigo. Bending down, moving my head forward, looking up to a high shelf, tilting my head to the left or right or looking down while moving can also cause problems. So, I have learned to be deliberate in my movements.

I can liken this sense of being off balance physically and the unsettling sensations that result to being out of balance in my life, emotional vertigo. If I notice what activities cause me to feel bad, and which ones feel right, I can make conscious decisions about how I spend my time and energy. I can take notice and regularly assess what causes problems and decide to make adjustments to bring my daily activities into better alignment with my strengths, talents, passions and values. Like this physical vertigo, emotional vertigo may not have a quick fix, and it may take trying a variety of remedies. It may require consulting professionals and doing research on my own. I was already in the process of examining my life and looking at what feels right and what does not and setting into motion some changes to bring my life into better, healthier alignment. They won’t happen quickly, but, just as the vertigo has forced me to pay close attention to how I move my body in space, I choose to recognize the signs—some manifesting physically—of a life out of balance and out of alignment with what matters to me. Once I identify the problems, I can make deliberate, conscious movements toward the solutions.