A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Publication
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Tuesday, September 05, 2017
By Carol Svec

My new book, Balance: A Dizzying Journey Through the Science of Our Most Delicate Sense, officially went on sale this week. All those pre-orders are now being turned into official orders. Check your local independent bookshop, chain store, online retailer, or library!

Before today, I had intended to fill this blog space with all the interesting things that happen when a book release is planned, but it has been awhile since I had a chance to write. In early June, I had a brain injury that temporarily left me unable to speak, write, read, and even remember what day of the week it was. Ironically, my balance was affected. I couldn’t walk without holding onto a person, a wall, or—when I finally gave in—a walker.

In my book, I talk about how nerve signals from our eyes, vestibular system, and general body sense (proprioception) are sent to the brain, where they are decoded and translated into balance cues. I learned first-hand what happens when the processing goes haywire.

As much research as I put into writing the book, I never truly understood how bizarre a lack of balance feels. Why wouldn’t my body stay upright? Why do floors suddenly seem to slant? I kept falling to the right, no matter how I tried to compensate. When you are used to easy mobility, a sudden lack of balance feels like some nasty bully keeps pushing at you over and over and over.

When my balance returned, it came back in stages. After six weeks, I was able to abandon the walker, provided I walked carefully with full concentration. At that point, I could walk straight, but turning a corner was treacherous. At eight weeks, I could turn corners, but I lost balance if I bent over (most noticeably, when I was playing ball with puppy Roxie). Now, about 12 weeks out, my only difficulty is navigating steep stairs.

This brain injury was, and remains, a daily challenge. But if I have to find a silver lining, it is that I now have a more intimate knowledge of what lack of balance feels like from an emotional point of view. It feels like a betrayal, like my legs and body mutinied, openly disobeyed my brain’s commands. And my brain wasn’t doing its usual good job of translating nerve signals and coordinating my limbs to keep me from falling over. It’s frustrating and confusing. It is also exhausting. I never realized how much energy it takes to walk in a straight line.

The biggest lesson for me was this: Never take balance for granted. We all teeter along a balance precipice. One tiny injury or misstep can push us over the edge. Fortunately, our bodies are often able to heal or adapt—balance regained.

So this is the unpublished final story, the bit I couldn’t possibly know without the experience. It doesn’t change anything written in the book, but it’s an important coda to the finished work. I send my sincere best wishes to anyone fighting a balance problem. I know your pain.

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