Waiting for My Sea Legs: A Story of Vestibular Migraine

Waiting for My Sea Legs: A Story of Vestibular Migraine

I’m on a boat. I can feel the movements of the ship, rocking back and forth in the water. My legs, when I stand, work to compensate for the swaying, doing their best to keep me upright through the motions. My eyes striving for balance, try to focus on a single spot in the distance, but the horizon swings from one spot to another like a child on a seesaw. My stomach churns from the undulations.

I want to get off this ship and walk on steady ground. Settle my stomach. Establish focus.

Except I can’t, because I’m not on a boat. I’m at my desk. The same place I’ve sat for the past six days. And, like the six days before, the boat won’t stop rocking.

Vertigo at your desk

Whether we call it vestibular migraine or migraine-associated vertigo*, the feeling is the same. The room rocks. The computer sways. The words in front of me won’t stay still.

When I rise to refill my glass of water, I reach for the chair next to me—my great grandmother’s Victorian princess chair—and wrap my right hand around its embellished wooden frame. If I don’t, I will fall. Swaying ships don’t allow for unsupported movements.

Walking on swaying ground

When I walk down the hall to the bathroom, I drag my right shoulder against the side wall for balance. If I try to walk down the middle, I will tip, crashing into the wall to my right. It is easiest, I’ve found, to start pressed against the wall instead. Moving ships make unexpected turns.


When I pick up my affectionate, rambunctious son and hug him to me, I make sure it is at the foot of a couch or bed. If I fall, I fall backward, squeezing him tightly, and we giggle as we land. He thinks it is a game. Swaying ships don’t rock for our amusement.

At some point, the ship will dock, and I will disembark, surprised and delighted to find the ground stable beneath my feet. The horizon will return to its usual place—a clear line in the Texas sky. My eyes will once again be able to focus. My stomach will rest.

This always happens, eventually.

Finding support

For now, though, while the boat is at sea, every movement I make is in response to the movements of the ship. I ask: What can I hold? Where can I walk? What supports do I have? There is always something.

I move more slowly. Sit more often. Recruit help for driving and walking the dog. And I wait.

For, as sure as the vestibular symptoms intensified, they will also abate. It is the cyclical nature of this disease. I just have to wait for the boat to dock.

*Note: The ICHD-3 does not categorize vestibular migraine as its own diagnosis. It is categorized instead as one of several “episodic syndromes that may be associated with migraine.” For some patients, there may be some overlap with what the ICHD-3 refers to as “migraine with brainstem,” though this is not true for most.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Migraine.com team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

View Comments (16)
  • katjmarie
    1 year ago

    I agree with the comments; this is a wonderful description. It echoes my daily experience of feeling that non-stop rocking sensation, followed by inevitable nausea—which I call my “sea-sickness.”

    I’m new to this community, though I’ve had migraines since I was a child and VM the past 4 years, undiagnosed until a few months ago. Your post is not only accurate, it’s comforting. To go so long without being able to put a name to the face of VM has been scary, frustrating, and isolating. While I don’t wish my symptoms on anyone, it’s a relief to see I’m not alone—and that *someone* out there understands the sudden forward momentum of the head description!

    Thank you for sharing.

  • katjmarie
    1 year ago

    I agree with the comments; this is a wonderful description. It echoes my daily experience of feeling that non-stop rocking sensation, followed by inevitable nausea—which I call my “sea-sickness.”

    I’m new to this community, though I’ve had migraines since I was a child and VM the past 4 years, undiagnosed until a few months ago. Your post is not only accurate, it’s comforting. To go so long without being able to put a name to the face of VM has been scary, frustrating, and isolating. While I don’t wish my symptoms on anyone, it’s a relief to see I’m not alone—and that _someone_ out there understands the sudden forward momentum of the head description!

    Thank you for sharing.

  • Sarah Hackley author
    1 year ago

    Thank you for reading and commenting. Weird or unusual migraine symptoms can feel scary sometimes, and I find it is helpful to share personal experiences. I’m so glad you found comfort in the description. Warm wishes, Sarah

  • katdan1026
    1 year ago

    Very wonderful description of vertigo. When my worst episodes occur I feel like I’m being pulled down strongly by my head to one side and the world spins rapidly around me. I also have to do the holding onto the wall, chair, anything for balance. Nothing makes it better except time. You,are so strong to deal with this while raising a family. I wish you the best.

  • Sarah Hackley author
    1 year ago

    Thank you for your kind comment. I’m sorry you’re having to deal with this, too, though I must say I absolutely understand the “being pulled down strongly by my head to one side.” I’ve never phrased it like that, but it is so much like what I experience. It is always good to know we aren’t the only ones out there with the same symptoms. Thank you for sharing. I wish you many vertigo-free days in the future!

  • Glynne
    2 years ago

    Thank you Sarah for your wonderful description for what I get. It is so comforting to know others get it too, although I am very sorry that a young woman like you with a little boy has to suffer it. Mine started at 80 although I had ocular Migraine all my life, and I am now 82 and do use stick now owing to this,up to now have been a very active pensioner, but when the episodes happen I give in and stay in bed as at my age it seems more sensible and living on my own means no one relies on me now. I have overcome the bathroom problem with a commode! not something I ever thought I would need! But pride goes before a fall so they say, and its literally in this case.Good luck and love to you and your son.

  • Sarah Hackley author
    2 years ago

    Thank you so much for your kind words. I’m sorry you’re experiencing this as well, but I’m glad you’ve found some things to do that work for you until it passes. May you feel well today!

  • Mr FBP
    2 years ago

    An excellent picture of vertigo. I have vertigo and migraine, but they appear to be unrelated, I recently restarted beta blpockers, which has increased my dizzy spells to the point where I won’t drive more than five miles anywhere.

    Oddly I find that running/walking/cycling give me some relief – but that is down to the type of vertigo I have. I have to force my brain to concentrate more on balance, which it does in those activities, but doesn’t when I’m sitting at a desk or driving.

    My balance clinic gave me some exercises to do during the day that also force my brain to focus. The idea is that eventually my brain will learn to compensate unconciously for the vertigo. As my brain learnns, each execise then fails to make me dizzy, and I can drop it from my daily repertoire. This worked a year and a half ago, but the beta blockers have set me back, so I am returning to the exercises that I had dropped.

  • Mr FBP
    2 years ago

    Sarah. When not taking beta blockers my BP is the low end of healthy. I’ve never, for example, been turned down when donating blood due to BP or any other meausure. Having said that I’ve never attended to donate blood while on the beta blockers, as I usually don’t feel well enough to attend.

    I find even walking will help with the vertigo if I don’t feel up to running or cycling, anything that lkeeps me on my feet and focussed on an activity.

  • Sarah Hackley author
    2 years ago

    The beta blockers I was on for migraine prevention made my vertigo worse as well. Do you typically have low blood pressure? That seemed to be the cause behind my experiences. Also, I too get some relief when I’m running or exercising, though I can’t do that if the pain is too bad, as well as the vertigo. Thank you for your comments! I hope the balance exercises improve your symptoms.

  • Douglas
    2 years ago

    Your description is so much more vivid than when i have tried to explain the sensation to others. While grateful for the company, I am sorry that you have this symptom as well. My vertigo eventually got bad enough that my neurosurgeon insists that I keep a cane with me to minimize the likelihood of attempting to stop my downward momentum with by head, which is apparently sub-optimal. I definitely empathize with you.

  • Sarah Hackley author
    2 years ago

    Douglas,

    I’m sorry you have this too, but it’s always nice to know we’re not the only ones out there with a certain symptom. I’ve actually thought about a cane for when the cycles return and/or intensify, but I haven’t been able to get my vanity to agree yet. I’m glad you’re being safe. Stopping any downward momentum with your head is definitely sub-optimal. 😉 Thank you for sharing. – Sarah

  • Tamara
    2 years ago

    I get vertigo every so often and I congratulate you on being able to handle it like that. I also lean on the wall and grab door frames when walking around but it seems to be more do to the medications than the actual migraine.

    I still struggle so much with asking for help – there are many times I shouldn’t be driving but do anyways to get to appointments, drive to pick up meds and get to urgent care. I just can’t seem to get over the stigma of not being independent. So every story that shows others do I’m hoping is slowly cutting away that and soon I won’t feel like a useless burden for doing that. Thanks!

    I hope the seas are calm for you today.

  • Sarah Hackley author
    2 years ago

    Tamara,

    Thank you for reading and for commenting. Asking for trouble is difficult for me, too, but I try to remember that if we don’t ask for help, then we don’t give the people who love us a chance to love us as much as they’d like. Also, regardless of your condition, I can assure you that you have use, because you’re you. I’m sure the loved ones in your life would tell you the same. I hope you’re well today.

    Warm regards,

    Sarah

  • Maureen
    2 years ago

    What a beautiful, horrible picture, Sarah. Thank you for the word picture. I can imagine leaning on my hallway wall, all the way down just for stability! Sometimes I get a little bit of vertigo, so I can imagine the rolling and plunging.
    I wish you smooth sailing and calm seas!
    Maureen

  • Sarah Hackley author
    2 years ago

    Thanks for reading and commenting, Maureen. I appreciate the kind words.

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