16 January 2012

TILT!! Life in a Pinball Machine

Of the Meniere's sufferers I know, I am unique.  Before my vestibular system was ravaged by Meniere's, I already had problems.  As a child, I was diagnosed with "Sensory Integration Disorder" and "Developmental Dyspraxia".  Both of these affect how the brain understands and reacts to where the body is in space.  For me, it is like living in a pinball machine.  I bounce off of objects and into objects all the time. It all has to do with my sensory systems being faulty. It only got worse with Meniere's.

For those that are not familiar with two of the systems for processing this, here is a quick rundown.
      The Vestibular system controls your balance and some of your spacial perceptions.  This system    is in the inner ear and is a system of fluid and tiny hairs that detect movement and send messages to the brain.
      The Proprioceptive system tells your body where you are in space, how much pressure to put on objects, how much pressure objects are putting on you, how to react to sounds, how to react to all of the senses put together. (its a little more complex than that, but that is a start for a basic understanding)

These systems are not as well known as our "five senses" but they play an important part in how our bodies react to the world around us.  Those with Meniere's have serious issues with the Vestibular system.  It plays havoc with balance and causes episodes of vertigo where your body thinks you are spinning, but really you are standing still.  This can go on for hours at a time. As a general rule, the proprioceptive system is not affected for those with Meniere's.  Most people take for granted that their bodies work out the complex figures required to get from point A to point B with out injury or accident.  Those with sensory issues (people on the Autism Spectrum are a good example), do not have this system in working order. Children have a tougher time than adults because their bodies and minds are still growing and it takes time for their brains to get used to how to react to the false information these systems send. Adults have a slight advantage because they have stopped growing and their bodies can "get used to" some of the data and make adjustments a little better.

I am one of those "lucky" few that have sensory issues.  Just as in those diagnosed with Autism, my body reacts "inappropriately" to stimuli around me.  What may cause great pain in some, I may not feel, where walking on uneven surfaces may be easy for most, its a challenge for me.  I startle easily, things "feel weird" to me, and I have odd habits that seem almost OCD to some, but it soothes the sensory issues.  This was ALL before Meniere's spun into my life.

Because I had 33 years of adjustments and getting to know my body, my sensory disorders didn't seem as bad once I reached adulthood.  I still ran into things and still was awkward and clumsy, but my body had figured out what signals to trust most of the time and what signals to reject.  My "pinball machine" life was not so bad.  I still have bruises from running into things, and am still clumsy.  Then my vestibular system was damaged by Meniere's.  Suddenly, my body did not have good signals to rely on.  I became as clumsy as I was as a child overnight, coupled with the fact that I had no balance to speak of.  I was no longer the size of a child, I am an adult.  In being an adult I run into things at adult speeds.  I get adult sized bruises and injuries. Though I have never been graceful, I am quite the "bull in the china shop" now.  I try so hard to be careful, but when your brain doesn't function quite right, there isn't much you can do. 

So my life is like being inside a pinball machine.  I bounce off of things, I run into walls, I fall a lot, and I knock things over.  That is a normal day.  Its worse now because of Meniere's and the vestibular issues, and it will take time for my brain to adjust to the new incorrect signals it gets.  In the meantime, I find bruises from things I don't remember running into, and I knock things over as I run into them. 

Too bad no one is keeping score, I'd be in the hall of fame by now.... just sayin'.

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