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MS, balance and dizziness – in a spin?

Barbara Stensland

Balance and dizziness are two symptoms that have been part of my MS life since the beginning.

The balance problems started innocuously enough: a slight sensation of walking on large marshmallows and not being able to feel my feet touching the ground. Weird, but not completely worrisome. I could be tired, a bit worn out. Getting older?

The dizziness was a whole different ball game. Rooms spun around me when I stood up. Coupled with imbalance, getting from A to B became a battle quest, one in which I employed every prop available – bannisters, random strangers, pillars and finally, a walking stick.

I’m not drunk…

I fell over, tumbled down stairs and started to feel my way with my hands around once-familiar spaces. I walked into walls and pretended nothing was wrong. Oops. There I go again.

It was only after I fell over quite spectacularly in a packed restaurant that I finally addressed the problem. The whispers from the six diners in front of whose table I had fallen over confirmed my worst fears:

"Is she … drunk?"

"Should we help her up?"

"Why don’t we call the manager?"

Feeling out of control

The game was up. I could no longer ignore these symptoms. Sure, I could deal with the fatigue, however much I loathed it with a passion. I just slept more, and deeper.

The cognitive issues were similarly dealt with – a blossoming of post-it note reminders around my house. I upgraded my online diary and loaded it full of alerts and prompts.

I was used to cancelling get-togethers and postponing friends and family ‘popping round’.

This time I felt…embarrassed. This wasn’t me. I’m capable, in control.

Perfectly imbalanced

Since that awful restaurant experience (I’ve never been back), I now pack a collapsible walking-stick wherever I go. It helps me to walk, but it also helps to fend off the comments. Now, people will ask me why I use it and I’m happy to explain about MS and all its symptoms.

Four years later, I’m still dizzy and unbalanced. I still trip, fall over and walk into walls. The difference is, I’ve absorbed it. It’s part of me, my character. In work, my colleagues are indifferent, although some still whoop loudly when I trip over a bit of dust. It’s normalised it. I’m known for being, ‘off-balance’.

And isn’t that the way it should be?