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Still Missing Yoga

After years and years of spending my life on a mat, it’s been more than three years since I’ve done an actual yoga class. I have my injuries — and an obscure condition called vestibular migraine — to thank for that.

About three years ago I suffered a nasty, horrible concussion. I got chronic daily migraines from that assault. About seven months after that injury, my chronic daily migraines morphed into chronic daily vestibular migraines. Confused yet? Keep reading.

Our vestibular system is pretty complicated, with our eyes, ears and proprioceptors — little sensors throughout our body — telling our brain which way is up. Literally. The ear has little otolith organs that contain fluid and calcium crystals sitting in what my doctor described as “goopy gel.” Sometimes, for reasons unknown, the crystals get dislodged from the gel and move into the semicircular canal. The brain gets conflicting signals as those crystals, which telegraph position, move all over the place instead of being where they belong. The condition is called benign paroxysmal positional vertigo or BPPV. The end result: vertigo.

I wouldn’t wish vertigo on my worst enemy if I had one. You feel like you are spinning really fast. Your eyes actually see the movement. It’s horrific. And when you lie down or move your head and the crystals move, the vertigo starts up again or intensifies. Anyway, back in March 2015 I was starting to have better days. I remember the night like it was yesterday. I went into my daughter’s room to lie down with her. As soon as my head hit the pillow, the world spun FAST. I spent an uncomfortable and sleepless night, terrified to lie down and feel that horrible feeling again. The next morning I called my vestibular therapist. She had me come in to see her. After putting on goggles that put me in the dark but let her see my eyes moving, she diagnosed me with BPPV and performed the Epley maneuver, manually moving my head to put the crystals back where they belonged. I felt woozy for a few days because, as my vestibular therapist explained, vertigo is noxious for the unconcussed brain. Mine was already working at a deficit so vertigo set me back quite a bit.

That should have been the end of the story, but it wasn’t. My doctors think my vestibular migraines were triggered by those loose crystals in my inner ear. My still-concussed brain couldn’t handle BPPV. What does that mean? For about two years I felt like my world was rocking and moving 24/7. Plus, I had horrific pain, nausea, vomiting, depression, anxiety. Weight starting falling off of me. I spent all my time lying in bed, wishing I would feel better. When I did get out of bed it was to go to doctors and vestibular therapy. Chiropractors. Neurologists. Neuro-opthamologists. Neuro-otolaryngologists. Cardiologists. Audiologists.. Endocrinologists.

I suffered while I made the rounds listing to doctors who said my symptoms were anxiety. Or the concussions. Or hormones. Or — this is rich — it was all in my head. I could barely walk when the condition hit me especially hard, but it was all in my head. Finally, I went to a doctor at the Headache Institute in New York City. As soon as I walked in — holding the walls to keep from falling down — he diagnosed me. He suffers with the same condition. He started me on a preventative med that same day.

So what does this have to do with yoga? I am still afraid to put my head upside down. I am also afraid to roll over in bed or tilt my head parallel to the floor. These things often made the vestibular migraines worse because my system became very, very sensitive to movement. Hence, I no longer do my once-daily yoga practice. This makes me very, very sad.

This, I know, is all in my head. When the migraines were at their worst, moving my head made me feel horrific. My brain trained my body to sleep on my back. I do not toss or turn. I lie down and wake up in the same place. I sleep like a stone. I also avoid too much head movement. I no longer look under beds or under things. I make my kids do it for me. I don’t look up if it means my head will be tilted too far backwards. And forget snuggling with anyone while lying on my side.

This seems to be the last frontier for me — this and going on a boat. I am so afraid of doing anything that will bring back the crushing, horrific feelings. These days I can have multiple days in a row where my symptoms will be minimal. But every so often I wake up and BAM, the dizzy feeling is back. It reminds me how bad it was and how much I don’t want to go back to that place of horror.

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