Vertigo: not just a U2 song

“How do I find my way back to my desk?!”

With that, vertigo had entered my life in 2005 while I was at work. The hallway seemed to be spinning. Or was it me? Had I finally lost my mind altogether?

A tilting floor wanted to meet my knees instead of my feet.

“Ground control to Major Tom? Can anyone save me?” Afraid of moving any further because I felt like I would fall on the ground nose first.

“Well hello there,” answered Major Tom, “I’m Vertigo, your newest symptom!”

Vertigo as in U2’s Vertigo had absolutely no business with MS-vertigo. Please don’t confuse it with the Hollywood-version of acrophobia, either, the latter being an extreme fear of heights.

I’ve never been afraid of heights, I love flying, I love hillwalking and the higher the mountain, the more I am in awe. I still want to do a parachute jump also, but considering my newest physical companion, I might have to get back to you on that one. What I had encountered that day in the office, however, was not a case of acrophobia, but medical vertigo.

When you experience dizziness triggered by heights, it is called ‘height vertigo’ while ‘vertigo’ itself is the sensation of movement while standing still. Like that, I had been feeling dizzy when cars were speeding past me, or while looking through the windows of a car, bus or train.

It also happened while looking at tall buildings or down the staircase (aren’t I just so damn easily excitable these days?), and I’d start swaying, or lose my balance completely when faced with those oppressors.

However, since the early days of having vertigo, I developed a way of correcting myself quickly and gracefully when I feel myself going off-centre.

At some point, I could pass for Sandra Bullock in Miss Congeniality stumbling and falling over.


That’s when Slapstick Billie was born. Why? People – you know what type of (sub)mammal we often identify ourselves with – would often give me funny looks when falling over or losing balance.

People being people, they will be judgmental and they might not always think the nicest things when they see you staggering at 10am on a weekday (“That early in the morning and drunk already?!”)

Luckily enough, there is good medication out there if you have bouts of vertigo; Serc being one of them. I’d take tablets when I lose my balance a couple of times a day or when I feel dizzy. I’m on the medication on and off according to my needs now and I leave the slapstick moments to Hollywood again.

Another good thing is that when you have vertigo it’s not always a direct result of having multiple sclerosis. You can feel it because of certain medication, having sinusitis, migraines, Ménière’s disease or other underlying causes. The most common reason for feeling vertigo is after excessive use of alcohol but yours truly (myself so) is a non-drinker. You can scrap that reason from my list of plausible causes, so.

For people who have ‘central vertigo’ unsteadiness (also like yours truly), sitting or lying down to clear the feeling may not always help. Often my bed would be spinning under me when I have a vertigo attack… so not nice! My own episodes never last longer than 15 minutes and it’s something that just comes and goes, but when it happens it’s usually with a bang because it’s always unexpected.

The notion of having looked up at a tall building or down the staircase usually escapes me because I tend to forget vertigo is part of my MS menu. It’s annoying yes, but at least, it doesn’t cause chronic pain.

Either way, vertigo is not a nice symptom to have, if symptoms can be nice, to begin with.

The first time I felt vertigo my MS nurse called me in to have it checked out in the hospital that day, and so I did. But when they told me I would have to stay in hospital for a few days to rest and have more tests, I refused to stay so I went home to sweat it out (I can be rather stubborn when the words ‘hospitalisation’ tumbles out of a doctor’s mouth because hospitals are not places where you can get healthy quickly).

After my initial bout of vertigo, I had another bad episode where things were spinning so fast while being out in town, I had to call a friend to tell me which way was which because I just could not coordinate my sensory input at that moment.

Since then, I make sure I always have Serc tablets in my handbag to help me out if or when I get caught up in dizziness, unsteadiness and when cars, trains or buses are running too fast for my senses. For those reasons, I have put my bicycle aside because my balance could end up costing dearly if speeding traffic would go faster than 10 miles an hour past me. Plus, after having a bicycle horror moment when I broke my coccyx (tailbone) while cycling, I would end up being a complete terror on the road. A one-mile-an-hour-terror, no less!

© Willeke Van Eeckhoutte and Ireland, Multiple Sclerosis & Me, 2011-2012. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Willeke Van Eeckhoutte and Ireland, Multiple Sclerosis & Me with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Your thoughts?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.