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How I found my own version of meditation after a ‘dizzy spell’

So what is it that you do to relax? the Doctor said casually, as I’m watching a black gyrating disk with fluorescent spots in the dark. It turns out, I had not found my relaxing ‘thing’ yet.

A little over a year ago, I took 3 weeks off work on sick leave. I had been diagnosed with vestibular migraines (which I didn’t even know existed). It turns out they are like migraines but just for kicks you also get dizzy… really dizzy… and if you are ‘lucky’ you also get vertigo and fall off your chair. Funny to behold, not so funny when you are the one falling.

The dizziness was constant as if I had just stepped off a boat. It got so bad that I couldn’t get on public transport and when I tried, I had to get off after a few stops to be sick. People must have thought I got on the bottle early that day.

Since medication made me feel even worse, I was sent to vestibular physiotherapy. The point of the sessions was to retrain my brain to stop being dizzy and were a weird mixture of physical exercises that I also had to replicate at home with some psychotherapy conversation. Apparently, the conversations aided in making the exercises more difficult and helped replicate the “real world”. Hence, the Doctor’s question of what do you do to relax?

That’s right the whole point of the sessions was to make me as dizzy as possible and to eventually get used to it.

How I felt during physiotherapy

I have tried to explain what happened in those sessions to friends before, however, when I mention a black gyrating disk with fluorescent spots, hopping on one foot, recalling vegetables and me ending up in tears… I can see that it is one of those things where ‘you just had to be there’.

As part of the sessions, I was asked to find my migraine triggers. Apparently, cheese, wine, chocolate and caffeine (yes, all the good things in life) are big ones. Strangely I found that the supermarket was not a good place for me. I remember standing in front of shelves full of toothpaste and nearly falling over. I had to put my basket down, close my eyes and tell myself it would be ok, through breathing exercises.

I was also told I needed to learn to de-stress and that maybe I should try yoga or meditation. Depending on with whom I consulted, suggestions also included going to church, going for gentle walks or getting a massage, you know something easy and relaxing.

So of course, you can imagine what I did.

Following all the sensible advice and suggestions, I decided to try HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training). Admittedly, I only got to HIIT after trying all the other classes at the gym.

I figured that if I was going to fall on account of my dizziness, I might as well do something were falling was a real possibility (box jumps, anyone?).

Otherwise, how silly would I have looked falling over while attempting the warrior pose? And I checked, doing shavasana for the entire hour, apparently doesn’t really count as yoga.

HIIT classes were, as the name rightly indicates, intense, but I loved them. For those 45 minutes, I could think of nothing else.

My mind was absolutely focused on the exercise, figuring out how to work the machine or doing the repetitions, all while gasping for air and waiting for the buzzer to ring so I could breathe.

It was a very exhausting form of meditation and having given meditation a try some years before, this was the closest I ever got to having a clear mind and being truly in the moment.

I had tried Zumba and the gym, but evidently, neither was sufficiently hard because my mind still wandered going through an endless to-do list.

And the strangest thing was that for those 45 minutes, I didn’t feel dizzy. I was jumping, running, attempting (and failing) to use the monkey bars and I felt, aside from the lack of oxygen, amazing. However, after the class ended and I got changed, the dizziness crept slowly back in on my walk home.

After my three weeks of sick leave, it took another 4 months for me to feel “normal” again. My trigger turned out to be mainly stress (thankfully not chocolate) and weirdly big supermarkets still mess me up.

I still do HIIT almost every day. When a week has been particularly stressful and I haven’t been on top of my exercises I can feel my body starting to move as if I was at sea, like a wave. If it is really bad, I get blurred vision and can’t see anything. I imagine my body saying, “right, she is not listening, turn off the viewing function too!

At which point, I really have no choice but to lie down and wait it out. This in itself used to stress me even further, but now I know that it is not permanent and that after having a lie down it will get better.

I never thought I would be the type of person that found exercising relaxing or akin to meditation. I remembered telling the Doctor at the rehabilitation therapy about HIIT and far from telling me to “take it easy” she was completely for it. She said, “go jump and run, try everything that can make you dizzy, that’s how your brain learned to listen to your body for cues on balance when you were a child, so you need to train it again”.

Our minds really do play tricks on us. My dizziness apparently stemmed from my brain refusing to listen to my ears to tell it that I was not falling.

It turns out that the body sometimes is wiser than the mind, but in order to listen to it, we first need to quieten our minds. This is why meditation is so great.

But not all meditation has to be in the shape of sitting down quietly with your eyes closed. If you think meditation is not for you, maybe you just haven’t found “your own meditation”. Maybe it’s yoga, cycling or baking or maybe give HIIT a try… just saying.

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