Is It Just Me? – Staying Steady

Just last week, I found a warning note in my mailbox alerting me that there have been a number of break-ins on my street. Both day and night, brash thieves have invaded homes where they steal belongings and frighten the occupants. One of the houses is three doors from where I live.

Fear is a great immediate motivator. My husband and I allowed all the lights on the exterior of our home to burn out and stay out over the summer months. Now, with the time change, the darkness could provide an extra blanket for the intruders. I wanted to strip off their cover and try to reclaim my sense of power, so I decided to buy the brightest bulbs available, drag out our twelve-foot ladder and change as many lights as I could, thereby keeping the monsters at bay.

There was a sticker on top of the ladder that made me feel a bit light-headed. It read: “Caution: Do not sit or stand on the top two steps; you may lose your balance.”

But, trying to do something to protect my family by simply shedding light on a potential break and entry, I felt that I was actually trying to regain my balance.

As I gingerly climbed down the steps for the final time, a thought blazed in my brain, as strong one of the hundred watt light bulbs I recently installed.

I realized that lately, a lot of people I know have been diagnosed with vertigo, their senses of balance suddenly fragmented without warning or rationale. In the past two years, two women in my family have suffered from this disturbing ailment along with my close friend’s dad, and a couple of other male and female acquaintances. Vertigo can be caused by infection, a brain lesion, a migraine, or can just present for no reason. While there are medicines and exercises to manage the discomforts of the affliction, there is no tried and true lifetime cure. Vertigo is usually promised to “go away” in four months, but it can show up again any time like loud Aunt Bertha with a suitcase on your doorstep.

Mentally, we are living lives that prey upon our equilibrium, rendered wobbly by all the different stressors pulling us down. We try to balance credit card bills, juggle family with work and steady moods that are constantly being tested by crazy-brained teenagers (most often, our own), bad drivers and hardhearted strangers. While doing all this, we are challenged to live greener, eat healthier, buy smarter and give up anything that is remotely fun in exchange for piety and a boring, but long life. No wonder people are falling down. No wonder they are unable to rise up.

As a child in the sixties, I could stand straddling the middle of a teeter-totter for hours. I loved tip-toeing across balance beams and going on fast backwards-facing rides at the amusement parks. During the warmer months, I rolled my body swiftly down steep hills with my friends, standing up dizzy and exhilarated when I reached the bottom. On the swings, I twisted myself up in the chain-link and then released it to spin round and round; unstoppable, the world whooshing by like flashes of light in an 8mm movie. I had healthy, appropriate fears when it came to risk-taking, but my sense of balance never felt threatened.

Until I had my first child.

When Charlie was nine months old, he pointed to the “grown-up” swings at the park, so I got on, held him, and we moved back and forth with him on my lap and one of us almost tossed our peas; it wasn’t my son. When Charlie was two, my husband and I took him to his first fair. I happily scrambled up a merry-go-round horse with him so his dad could take pictures. Three minutes later, my face resembled that of the wicked witch of the west: green and clenched.

By the time my son, Harrison, joined us four and a half years later, I couldn’t even watch a merry-go-round without feeling queasy. To this day, I cannot observe my children on a ride without feeling like I am going to hurl.

I work out regularly, but several of the cardio machines disturb my equilibrium and sometimes in my boxing class, I lose my balance, especially when I am preoccupied – which is almost always.

Becoming a grown-up and a mother with adult responsibilities coincided with my balance troubles. I suspect that my sub-conscious mind, the one I sometimes call she-who-dwells- darkly- within, is responsible for compromising my stability. I worry about everything. Often, I am so fixated on a particular concern that I ignore my body’s immediate needs. Matters such as nourishment and watching where I am stepping take a back seat to anxiety – with no seatbelts on.

Acknowledging this truth, it makes sense that so many people suffer from vertigo, these days. Sometimes, laying down and not moving feels like the only escape from our distorted worlds. But, maybe we need to rub our inner eye to bring it back into focus.

My youngest son and his friends, the still one-digit-aged children, live comfortably in their immediate worlds. Harrison can happily hang upside down from a monkey bar even if he knows we will momentarily be going to the doctor’s office for his annual flu shot. He is focused on the now. He pitches himself into activities with the force of a speeding baseball, rarely losing his balance because he is always present in his whole mind, both physical and mental. I will be sad when he begins to deliberate too much on the outside world’s expectations.

While it is unrealistic to strive to live as children, there are aspects of their behaviour worthy of emulating. Little ones’ feet remain planted firmly on the ground even when they are soaring because they are alive in the present tense and not merely tense in the present.

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