It’s National Balance Week this week, a week started by VeDA (Vestibular Disorders Association) to raise awareness of the issues those of us who have balance problems contend with. It covers a range of disorders from Meniere’s disease, vertigo and people like me who have bilateral vestibular failure.
It’s often a difficult concept to understand when someone says they have no balance. With me it means my ears do nothing towards my balance, so I only have my leg muscles and vision to help me stay upright. My brain also doesn’t compensate for head movements, so as I walk my field of vision wobbles, even sat still things are rarely still. This also means it’s difficult to recognise people or read signs when I’m walking as I can’t focus on a moving object. A couple of years ago I made a short video of life through my eyes, it’s on Youtube if you want to watch, only a couple of minutes long.
Having been like this for about 15 years, I’ve learnt to cope and I know my limitations, I’m best in a well lit, level environment, if I lose my visual cues from being in the dark (or bright sunlight even) or if the ground is uneven or soft, I’m a lot more likely to fall – I’m pretty good at falling, touch wood so far I’ve not hurt myself!
I find it easier if I have a third point of contact when I’m walking round anywhere that’s uneven, going down steps I always use the hand rail, round the garden I have strategically placed metal poles which I call my wobble sticks, just something to hold onto when I’m in the middle of a flower bed…
If I’m walking on the fells I always use two walking poles and my walking friend is well tuned in to what will cause me issues, we have quite a good routine now, if it’s a tricky accent she goes behind just to make sure I don’t topple backwards, if it’s a tricky descent she goes in front, not to stop my fall but because I find it easier with just a short distance to concentrate on. Sometimes just having a steep drop next to the path is enough to give me collywobbles, even if the path it’self is OK, it’s that thought of what if I wobble now!
The last couple of years has been a steep learning curve as I discovered the effects on the rest of my body of my coping mechanisms. If you’re more likely to fall over if you move your head, you avoid moving your head, if your vision bounces as you walk, you try and walk more smoothly, which is from the hips, not the abdominal muscles. Unfortunately this resulted in my neck losing it’s movement range, my whole spine stiffening up and my pelvis becoming tilted as my leg muscles tightened in all the wrong places…which then affected my knees! Lots of physio and pilates from Sue at Flexible Healing here in Otley and Wesley at the Valley Clinic in Ilkley and I’m moving much better, with just the side effect of falling down more! My physio looked somewhat shocked when I said I must be moving better as I’m falling over more 🙂
Lack of balance is another one of those invisible disabilities, there’s nothing to alert others that you have issues. So if you see me walking in a wobbly line at 11o’clock in the morning, I’m unlikely to be tipsy, so I really don’t appreciate someone shouting at me ‘can’t you walk in a straight line’ as has happened a couple of times recently. One day someone is going to catch me on a bad day and I might just lose it!
There’s much worse things to have go wrong than balance, it’s manageable…and it doesn’t stop me sewing! This week is just about raising awareness about the problems the go with having a balance problem.