An explanation of often misunderstood symptoms of Meniere's Disease
Most people have never even heard of this condition, so they tend to cock their head to the side when I mention it. And mention it I must. Because on any given day--for me usually moreso in the Fall to Winter time frame--someone may wonder why I can't formulate a coherent thought, or why I must ask him or her to talk in almost a whisper, or why I'm walking in a crooked line, or worse yet, bumping into things or falling. Any normal person who's not in the know would likely conclude I was drinking on the job.
Well, sorry to disappoint the office grapevine. For something like 5-7 people in 1000, these are symptoms of a progressive disease that attack the inner ear mechanism. Dizziness, severe vertigo, loss of hearing and sensitivity to noise (yeah, I know that the two symptoms together seem like an oxymoron), tinnitus (constant, relentless ringing and roaring in the ear) wreak havoc on sufferers. I'm one of them.
Being misdiagnosed for years (I remember my first attack in 1990 in hindsight, not knowing what it was at the time) is not the worst of it. There is no cure, only a sure progression of the attacks until the inner ear is completely destroyed, which of course results in total, irreparable hearing loss.
So I've lived with it for seventeen years, the last three of which have become practically intolerable, particularly and unfortunately around the holidays. Parties are about the last place I can be, although I'm a very social person. It's literally torture to be in that kind of setting, and it kills a part of me not always being able to partake. Concerts? yeah, right. Not during an attack, anyway. Restaurant? Depends on the "sensitivity" factor for the day, since a clanging plate or a dropped spoon can literally send me through the roof. Imagine your head's a speaker and you put a microphone to your ear...you know that feedback sound? Yeah, it's like that...but on top of the jet engine roar and ringing that never goes away. To put things even further into perspective, during one attack last year that permanently stole too many decibels of my hearing, the internal feedback from the sound of my own voice in my head was literally unbearable. So not only does this fiend steal my hearing over time, at times I must also become mute to defy its cruel, insidious wrath.
To keep my sanity and the right outlook for the future, I try to remind myself of why I'm lucky: For me, it only affects one ear (yay!), it doesn't cause any pain (unless I were to sustain an injury during a fall), it's not fatal, and I have a wonderful, supportive family and work environment. The most disconcerting part for me personally, though, is the "stupid" factor. You see, fighting to constantly erase background clutter of the constant ringing and the hypersensitivity to external noises plays mind games with me, literally, because my brain is receiving and interpreting false signals that another can't possibly perceive or understand, unless he or she has the condition or is close to someone who does. I'm very tired after a day on the battlefield, as maybe you can now imagine.
So if you see me sashaying down the hallway, looking as if I've hit the holiday cheer a little early, please WHISPER words of encouragement versus drawing the wrong conclusion. And when I can't complete a coherent thought, please pick up one of my books and know that inside this confused-looking person, there is a smart, articulate, clever individual who CAN not only put coherent thoughts together, but who can craft an entire novel in which every single detail has a purpose and hangs together with all others that preceded it. And surprise endings, well, that's what I do best.
So, with that said, maybe there's a surprise ending for Meniere's sufferers that our doctors just haven't come up with yet. We can hope. And if you ever come across another person who suffers from this affliction, tell her that you understand, that you know about it. The look on that person's face will indeed convey a sense of indescribable instant relief simply in knowing that someone else understands and knows that she is not crazy.