Vertigo and Tightropes

I had an intense bout of vertigo last night while making supper. It’s never happened like this before. I sat down to play a minute or two of Dragon Age: Inquisition while some pork browned for egg roll filling, and suddenly the room was spinning. Now, I’ve experienced something similar when standing up too quickly–a sudden drop in blood pressure will do that–but this time the room kept spinning.

And spinning.

And spinning.

Eventually the spinning slowed to sort of an oozey sway, like a ship rolling at sea. That was an improvement over the spinning, because at least I could sort of walk, albeit in a swaying, bouncing-off-the-walls kind of way.

It was terrifying.

There was the obligatory flurry of internet searches, attempting to determine if this was the kind of thing we needed to go to the emergency room for. As usual, there were a dozen relatively innocuous possible causes–hormone fluctuations, stress, ear infection–and a dozen life-threatening causes–internal bleeding, stroke, heart attack. When considered with some other uncharacteristic symptoms I’ve experienced this last week, it could just be stress, or it could be an ulcer bleeding severely enough to cause a drop in blood pressure.

Let me tell you, knowledge of the life-threatening causes does nothing to reduce the stress that could be the innocuous cause. As I sat on the couch, trying not to move my head too quickly, all I could think was, “We absolutely cannot afford this this month. I do not have time for this right now.”

Zack and I normally run a very lean, tight budget, which we are constantly optimizing for increased leanness. But this month it’s beyond tight. We’re in the limbo in between projects–waiting for contracts to be negotiated and signed, waiting for a client to FINALLY send us the money they’ve owed us since last summer, waiting for some inkling that we will make it through this part, too. This month I have to make it work on a third of our normal income. This month there is no room for error–no space for unexpected expenses, no room for exhaustion-and-ordering-pizza. I’ll be wiping out our emergency fund, again–the third time since last January. I guess this is the purpose of an emergency fund, but I find it so depressing. We never make it to the goals we set for it, because the emergencies come too often.

It’s temporary, I hope–we’re due to receive payment for the six-month-outstanding invoices by the end of February, and then the contract we signed last week will keep this venture afloat through April.

But last night, as I sat on the couch, trying to quell the dizziness, all I could think was that even going to the urgent care would wipe out the only non-essential money left in my budget for January–the cost of a haircut, allocated so I don’t have to give a talk on Wednesday with a shaggy, unkempt bob. Incidentally, the last haircut I got was in June, before I the last talk I gave.

I couldn’t even think about the money that would be required if it was something more serious than stress or an ear infection. Even the tests to determine the cause would be unaffordable now–let alone the actual cost of treatment. And this is a post-Obamacare world–we at least have health insurance! In a pre-Obamacare world, we wouldn’t, and I could just take my hypothetical internal bleeding off to a corner to die.

This is the tightrope we normally walk, on this path of questionable wisdom we have set out on. It’s just that lately, the tightrope is greased. There is a net–that’s the very nature of privilege, is it not?–but even falling into it would cost thousands of dollars (that we don’t have) and require giving up the life we’ve built here to return to a place whose climate, culture, and politics are hostile to life.

If my strange symptoms are stress related, it’s no fucking wonder. And if I am stressed by this–me, with all my currently-valued-by-the-market skills and resources–imagine how it must be for everyone without those boons. If my situation makes my head spin with terror, imagine how it must be for people who have to choose, every month, between the electric bill and the insurance premium, between food and a haircut for a professional event. After only one month of this with one to go, I’m almost ready to give up all of my grand plans and glorious ideals just to have a moment when I am not planning and replanning and optimizing and balancing and adjusting for all of the hundreds of ways in which everything can go terribly wrong. And I have it so incredibly good–I have reason to believe this is temporary, that we will make it through this, that this gamble will pay off. Imagine if there was no end in sight. For most people, there isn’t.

It’s days like these that I can’t believe I actually chose this path. Why would anyone choose this? What the hell was I thinking? Maybe Past Me had more vision than Present Me; more probably, Past Me just realized that in the US, this shit happens all the time whether you choose it or not. Past Me seems like she might have thought things out. Of course, Past Me was also less dizzy.

Last night, Zack and I opted to wait out the vertigo. Zack finished making dinner with remarkable skill and speed, especially given that he had never rolled or fried egg rolls before. I sat on the sofa, sipped water, and tried not to turn my head too quickly.

It’s better this morning, but still wrong, somehow, like my vision moves faster than my brain is able to process my movement. It’s disconcerting, but manageable. I will endure.


Vertigo and Tightropes

6 thoughts on “Vertigo and Tightropes

  1. Mary Matthews says:

    It sounds like you might have viral vertigo. It is basically a cold that affects your balance; basically, causes vertigo symptoms for about a week. I had ita couple of years ago and I went to emergency room. I got prescribed motion sickness pills (1 every 4 hours). Which I took until I was symptom free for 24 hours. It will get better!

  2. Glad it’s a bit better, and I hope it keeps moving in that direction. But this is why health care needs to be free. I moved from the US to the UK 9 years ago, and people here are shocked at the idea that health care should cost money. And rightly so. It changes everything, being able to see a doctor when you need to instead of when you can afford to.

  3. Amanda Brunt says:

    Hello Rachel, I’ve had problems with vertigo for several years now. And after several doctor’s visits (much more heavily covered here in France than in the US) and a few tests, it seems to be an inner ear problem aggravated by hormonal imbalance (and most certainly stress as well…). On my end, it’s very frustrating and difficult to live with but nothing life threatening whatsoever. (I hope that helps?)

    I especially remember a couple of times where I was really dizzy and my eyes keep shooting around faster than I could take everything in; I was with a nurse friend at the time and she told me it was quite caracteristic of an inner ear problem (basically the cristals in your inner ear just aren’t correctly in place and can cause vertigo and maybe nausea but no other symptoms or problems). My doctor prescribed me medicine which helps stabilize the inner ear and perhaps some of the over-the-counter motion sickness pills do exactly that? (Here’s to hoping you already have some in your bathroom cabinet…)

    In any case I hope you figure it out! I feel you. It is an extremely scary experience and I really do empathize. Best of luck.

    1. quietfire1 says:

      I am new to this site, but I just wanted to let you know that I am black, and I LOVED your piece on Racism.

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