In the United States, there are about eight million adults who suffer with balance problems. Nearly one third of older adults have difficulty with their balance or with walking. This can be due to inner ear infection, nerve problems in the legs or feet, Parkinson’s disease, or other conditions.
One of those other causes is diabetes. When it is uncontrolled, diabetes can affect your balance, often from a loss of sensation due to nerve damage in the bottoms of the feet.
Migraine headaches are another reason balance may be compromised. If you’ve ever had migraines, you probably know they are often accompanied by motion sickness, vision issues, and balance problems. Dizziness occurs when you are unable to correctly process what you’re seeing.
If you are having problems with your balance, you may be sent for a hearing test. While most of us are aware that an inner ear infection can affect balance, what isn’t as commonly known is that the nerve that sends balance signals also sends hearing signals. Thus, if you have a problem that affects your balance, it can also affect your hearing.
Although we often don’t usually consider poor balance that big a deal, it can indicate other things going on within us, and if we fall, it can lead to serious injury or long-term difficulties.
Whatever the underlying cause of your loss of balance is, don’t brush it off and ignore it. Balance problems can indicate other things going on with your health. Fortunately, most of them can be successfully treated.
Too often we seem to go through life letting things happen to us. We are reactors to circumstances instead of choosing our own actions. For instance, it’s easy to take on the role of victim and simply sit passively while things happen that we don’t want to happen. We tell ourselves, “This is the way it always is and there is nothing I can do to change it.” But that’s not true! We can make different choices and take another course of action that may change the outcome of what is happening.
Sometimes we get caught in what I call the haze of ordinary. It simply means that we aren’t paying attention to what’s going on in our lives and when something we don’t like happens, we just lament how bad life is and we sit there suffering. How foolish can we be! We are capable of making changes in our lives, in the ways we think about things and in what we do in response to challenges. We sometimes just need a bit of a bump to bring us back into a mindful way of thinking.
By mindfulness, I mean paying attention to what’s going on and being open to trying new things to change the situation. This means living in the present moment and stopping ourselves when we get on the pity wagon before we take off and ride it for hours or days. Yes, bad things happen in life. That doesn’t mean I have to focus on them and wail about them forever. I can also realize that good things happen in life too. If I focus on my blessings rather than my problems, it makes the problems shrink in size.
Stress makes mindfulness more difficult. If we’re stressed, we focus on what’s stressing us out rather than on the good things going on around us. I work on reducing my stress levels and think of it not as a selfish thing to be doing, but a necessary way of improving my life and the lives of those around me. Let’s face it, if I’m out of sorts, then the people around me will know about it and, in most cases, pay for it too!
I have to stop sometimes and look at what’s really happening to me at that moment. I’m not in danger. I’m not particularly uncomfortable. The sun, if it’s not shining now, will shine again in a day or two. The problems I’m experiencing, although they may seem insurmountable, will fade away and others will replace them. But good things will keep happening too and I don’t want to miss any of them. Remaining mindful helps me live in the moment and feel hopeful about life.
One thing I have realized in coping with PTSD is that the people who don’t have it have no idea how difficult it can be to live with. My anger seemed to lurk just below the surface, and it seemed like almost anything could set it off. It didn’t matter that I didn’t want things to be that way – it was my reality. I worked constantly, trying to suppress my anger. It took a long time to realize that I am reacting. That’s important.
In most instances, I couldn’t have told you why I was angry. I know now that anger isn’t a primary emotion; it’s a secondary response. In my case, anger most often followed on the heels of my being afraid or extremely frustrated. That means that to prevent my anger, I had to allow myself to experience the primary emotion and react to that rather than becoming angry. It’s a more honest way of living and I like the sound of it, but actually facing my emotions is not as easy as it sounds. My anger is part of my defense system, and I have used it most of my life to hide from what’s really bothering me.
So, how do I control my anger at this wise old age? I try to make a sincere effort to see behind what’s making me angry. Am I yelling at the guy in the passing lane because he’s an idiot who drives like he got his license out of a Cracker Jack box, or, am I afraid he’s going to slide into me because he’s going too fast on the ice? Are his wheels really slipping, or is it my car that’s slipping on the ice? If all I need to do is slow down more so that I’m not so afraid, then the anger never surfaces.
The other thing I’ve learned about anger is that it feeds off itself. By that I mean that if you allow yourself to get angry, it builds and can easily get out of control. If I stop the anger before it takes hold and realize I’m not really angry, but what I’m really experiencing is fear, then the anger never surfaces. I can then evaluate whether my fear is legitimate or not and either acknowledge I’m just being a ‘fraidy cat, or I can get out of Dodge before I get hurt. Either way, anger never becomes a factor.
I’m better now at controlling my anger than I was five years ago; much better. That’s encouraging because I think that in another five years, I might even be further along. That means I’m making headway, and that makes it worth the effort!
As a veteran, you may want to return to work at some point, but aren’t sure how your talents as a serviceman or woman transfer to civilian work. Whatever your job in the military, those skills are comparable to jobs you may do as a civilian. It’s just a matter of looking at how they fit into other work.
You may find yourself rather uncertain of how much work you can do, or how long you can work before you’re too exhausted or in too much pain to continue. These are things you can explore through the VA’s Community Based Work Assessment program. You may receive Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (VR&E) services to help with job training, employment accommodations, resume development, and job seeking skills coaching. Other services may be provided to assist Veterans in starting their own businesses or independent living services for those who are severely disabled and unable to work in traditional employment.
Most of us want to work, at least part of the time. If you’re thinking of returning to the workforce, consider using the VA’s Community Based Work Assessment program to discover where your talents are strongest. For more information, go to: www.benefits.va.gov/vocrehab/.