It started in 2010 when I smoked pot for the first time since college. It was cheap, gristly weed I'd had in my freezer for nearly six years, but four hours after taking one hit I was still so dizzy I couldn't stand up without holding on to the furniture. The next day I was still dizzy, and the next, and the next, but it tapered off gradually until about a month later I was mostly fine.
Over the following year I got married, started teaching seventh and eighth grade, and began work on a novel. Every week or so the disequilibrium sneaked up on me. The feeling was one of disorientation as much as dizziness, with some cloudy vision, light nausea and the sensation of being overwhelmed by my surroundings. During one eighth-grade English class, when I turned around to write on the blackboard, I stumbled and couldn't stabilize myself. I fell in front of my students and was too disoriented to stand. My students stared at me slumped on the floor until I mustered enough focus to climb up to a chair and did my best to laugh it off.
I was only 29, but my father had had a benign brain tumor around the same age, so I had a brain scan. My brain appeared to be fine. A neurologist recommended I see an ear, nose and throat specialist. A technician flooded my ear canal with water to see if my acoustic nerve reacted properly. The doctor suspected either benign positional vertigo (dizziness caused by a small piece of bonelike calcium stuck in the inner ear) or Ménière's disease (which leads to dizziness from pressure).
Unfortunately, the test showed my inner ear was most likely fine. But just as the marijuana had triggered the dizziness the year before, the test itself catalyzed the dizziness now. In spite of the negative results, doctors still believed I had an inner ear problem. They prescribed exercises to unblock crystals, and salt pills and then prednisone to fight Ménière's disease.
All this took months, and I continued to be dizzy, all day, every day. It felt as though I woke up every morning having already drunk a dozen beers — some days, depending on how active and stressful my day was, it felt like much more. Most days ended with me in tears. Teaching was nearly impossible; I was unable to write because of blurry vision, and my wife became a caretaker more than a partner; I became addicted to message boards for dizziness, vertigo, benign positional vertigo and Ménière's disease. Anonymous posters described how their medications didn't work and their doctors couldn't cure them. They couldn't keep their jobs; their friends didn't understand them; and their spouses left or tried to be supportive, but eventually both suffered.
Finally, my doctor recommended a new neurologist who performed some simple tests and casually gave me a diagnosis of vestibular migraines, a condition that didn't exist in medical journals 20 years ago.