Vertigo is dizziness at heights, right? Honestly, I wish it was that simple. My name is Jade, and it turns out I've had Visual Vertigo my entire life, and haven't had a clu until it came to bite me on the backside in my about 12 months ago. Last May, I was deep in the lead up to my book being launched globally with lots of work going on, speaking engagements plus juggling with my yoga business, business coaching work. I was pretty stressed, under a lot of pressure. One night, I rolled over in bed and my world started spinning. And it's been at it off and on since then. (Technically, now it's a bit more like being launched from a standing start on a rollercoaster, but that's semantics. It's a bit like Rita Queen of Speed at Alton Towers.) Roll back to being a kid in the 90s; it was a running joke that you don't put me in the back of a car unless you wanted me to be sick all over it, every trip to a theme park led to me having a banging sicky headache by lunchtime. I used to dread long car trips where I couldn't see out of the window. Motion sickness is my middle name - even into adulthood in my pre yoga career as a PR head honcho driving cars on racetracks for product training was totally fine, but no chance if I was the passenger. One notorious occasion springs to mind on a December ferry trip back from Ireland where I spent 4.5 hours meditating on a chair leg to stop myself from redecorating the Stena Plus Lounge *shudders*...
If you've worked with me since March, you'll know I'm deep in the worst bout I've ever had. I was teaching one Friday morning, dared to fold forwards and come up to standing - and that was it, CRASH BANG WALLOP, the Vertigo is back. It's been pretty off and on since, some days I'm good, others not so much, I'm very tired a lot of the time because everything takes up SO much more energy. Medication makes things worse, so I've literally been left with nothing that helps me manage. Now I'm not sharing any of this for sympathy, poor me vibes. No no no.... I want to share some of the things I've learned coping with such a debilitating condition. Most of which are from the world of yoga philosophy:
Svadhyaya (Self Study)
Essentially, dealing with a condition like this is an exercise in self reflection - There's a series of questions I ask myself at the start of the day: How am I feeling today?
This is the first port of call because if I'm tired I'm more likely to have an episode so I know I need to rest more during the day - I'm very fortunate I have a really flexible workload, great students and clients and business structure, so I can move things around to accommodate.
I might also need to change how I move when I teach, demoing less, moving my head less, letting my class know I might be taking different options myself and offering them different choices - which I think is a great thing to show. After all, yoga asana is an individual, introspective practice. If I'm feeling good, I might choose to do work that is sometimes a bit more triggering, like working on some of my client's websites, design work, my own marketing like newsletters instead. (Scrolling is particularly triggering) What have I got coming up this week? Do I need to rest so I've got energy for something that I know is taxing later in the week - that could be things like going to a busy environment like a restaurant, a supermarket or out in town. With Visual Vertigo things like that are really exhausting because my brain is trying to make sense of two slightly different images and it can be super overwhelming.
Basically, it's always coming back to how am I doing today and planning based on that.
Actively doing triggering activities I find hard, whilst practicing Ahimsa (non violence) towards myself.
One of the biggest, most important things is that I keep moving, and doing triggering activities. There's a law of movement that applies to our bodies, no matter the injury, body part or system called Davies' Law - it's essentially, use it, or lose it. There's such a misconception that if we're hurt we have to stop doing everything - and it is honestly, the worst thing we can do often. Yoga is absolutely brilliant for boosting our Vestibular system (the system that looks after balance) so it is the total number 1 activity I should be doing as someone with a vestibular disorder like vertigo. Handy, eh? I still practice as I would pre-Vertigo. The alterations I make are basically moving my head around less and less up and down from things like standing forward fold to standing on a bad day. I still flow creatively, teach creative, playful classes. One of my other passions is Climbing - I boulder (climbing without ropes, up to 5m) and Top Rope (climbing in a harness attached to a rope from the top of the wall, around 10m). Activities where I can challenge my system by falling and triggering the dizziness in a safe way are really good for the same reasons, I'm in control and doing the activity and often I know if I'm going to get too dizzy doing something! The slightly amusing bit is I'm totally fine
climbing up a 10m wall... but on a bad
day when Josh (my husband and climbing partner) lowers me down from the top it feels like I'm literally careering and dropping towards the floor - which has caused me to scream in the middle of the gym (embarrassing when there's like 50 other people seeing you scream when in reality you're moving like my pal on the right)
Needless to say, my consultant initially wasn't too happy about it - my argument was literally everything makes me dizzy sometimes. So am I going to spend the rest of my life sat on my ass not living, being miserable? Obviously not. He didn't really know what to say 🤷♀️😂.
I honestly find Western medicine so old fashioned, sometimes and many doctors not up to date with the latest research - stopping people doing things is way more detrimental to their overall wellbeing than allowing them to continue with a small risk - my vertigo specialist ultimately poo-pooed what the initial consultant said and actively said "you must carry on". Instead, I'm doing what I can, and being kind and understanding towards myself. When you have a condition or an injury it's so easy to get wrapped up in what you can't do, getting frustrated that things are different now. It's a process of grief and letting go of what was. It's far healthier for your mind to treat yourself as you would treat someone else if they were in your shoes. You'd be kind, compassionate and encourage them to do what they can. So, that's exactly what I do.
Ultimately, it's all about presence in the moment - which is one of the key things yoga as a practice is looking to teach us. Taking each day as it comes, seeing what's what today and going from there.