I was doing an online yoga class at home when the mat came up to meet me. Literally, one minute I was in forward fold, head dangling, and the next I was feeling the mat smack me in the forehead. When I looked up from the floor, I thought the ceiling fan was on full-tilt. Nausea kicked in.
It was like the worst college bender I’d ever been on, only I hadn’t been drinking. What the heck was going on? Was I having a stroke?
The dizziness passed after an eternity. But, when I turned over, the whole thing started again. I hoped it was only a bad flu.
It wasn’t a stroke or the flu, but vertigo, which affects about 40 percent of adults in the U.S., according to the University of California San Francisco. The condition is defined as an “illusion of motion,” and has many causes, from migraines to inner ear infections. Even certain medications can cause it. If the condition persists or worsens, you need to see a doctor to make sure there isn’t some potentially fatal underlying cause, like a tumor.
In my case, the vertigo was caused by benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV), brought on when tiny calcium carbonate crystals break loose in your inner ear. It’s called “positional” vertigo because that’s what triggers it: certain changes in position. I learned that the hard way when I bent down to shave my legs in the shower and fell, nearly plunging through the glass door.
Some exercises can throw the crystals back into place and stop the vertigo; a particular favorite among physical therapists is the Epley maneuver, which involves moving the head in a series of precise positions. You can also tame the condition with OTC drugs like Bonine or meclizine.
About a year after the first vertigo attack, I had another. This time I was quicker to accept my limitations, like no speedy staircase descents. And, although vertigo is the opposite of fun, I also embraced the lessons it taught me about writing:
1. Being Quiet Helps You Think
I’m the sort of person who multitasks nonstop. With vertigo, sometimes all I can do is sit still in a dark room. While it should be obvious to writers that being quiet helps you think, I never fully realized the importance of doing this until it was enforced. During my last vertigo episode, the idea for a new novel came to me in a flood of images. I’m now 50 pages into it and going strong.
2. Moving Slowly Sharpens Your Writing
Lots of writers (including me) set stern word count deadlines. But the best books take time, sometimes lots of time, for you to revise scenes and even sentences. Slowing down can make your writing shine.
3. Being Afraid Never Solves Anything
The first time I had vertigo, I was terrified that I was having a stroke. Being scared never solved anything, though, so I saw my doctor, even though I was terrified she’d find something was horribly wrong with me. The same goes for writing. You will start out on your project with great enthusiasm, but at some point you’ll be afraid. Maybe you’re afraid the plot isn’t working, or you’re scared to publish because you hate the idea of negative reviews. Push through the fear. It takes courage and persistence and hope to live a healthy life, and the same is true of writing.
What about you? Have you gone through any life changes or health scares that have helped your writing?