The Stigma of Dizziness

Kelley NunnMy Migraine Blog

Crazy Because I'm Dizzy - The Stigma of Vestibular Migraine

The Stigma of Being Dizzy

Crazy Because I'm Dizzy - The Stigma of Vestibular Migraine

If you’ve got dizziness, and especially if you’re a woman, you’ve probably run into people who don’t believe your symptoms are real. These people– doctors, family members, friends, co-workers– can be so quick to judge and determine that this debilitating, life-altering symptom is “all in your head,” just a figment of your imagination.

I know I ran into this countless times before I reached the vestibular migraine diagnosis! I had doctors write me off as a hypochondriac or an anxiety-ridden young female, and refuse to believe that the dizziness, fatigue, etc. that I was experiencing was real.

Of course, some of these doctors were just ignorant in assuming that any symptom a young woman experiences is anxiety-based. But then, there were some doctors who took me seriously at first and ran a bunch of tests, but when the tests all came back normal, they went to the next logical conclusion– the symptoms aren’t really happening.

Unfortunately, this is an extremely common experience for people with vestibular disorders and invisible illnesses in general! Because people can’t physically see the effects of our illness– dizziness, pain, brain fog, fatigue– they don’t believe they’re actually happening.

The worst part is, the more people tell you these real, torturous sensations you’re experiencing are fake, the more stressed out you become, which then can make your symptoms even worse.

If you think about it, the process of invalidation and the resulting stress worsening your symptoms makes complete sense: You’re experiencing debilitating symptoms that are preventing you from walking, driving, working, socializing. Naturally, you go to see a medical professional expecting a simple process of testing, diagnosis, and treatment. But the seemingly impossible happens– all your tests come back normal, and you’re told that everything you’re experiencing is all in your head. What an incredibly invalidating, scary, and stressful situation to be in. It’s a vicious cycle that gets worse and worse until you finally find doctors who listen, are able to diagnose the problem, and begin proper treatment.

“I’m not dizzy because I’m crazy, I’m crazy because I’m dizzy.”

Now for the point of this ramble: where would you expect the above quotation, “I’m not dizzy because I’m crazy, I’m crazy because I’m dizzy,” to come from? If I had to guess, I’d probably think someone with a vestibular disorder. Right? Nope!

This quotation came directly off a PowerPoint slide presented to a class full of medical students who were learning about otolaryngology and vestibular disorders, and was sent to me by my good friend who’s currently in medical school. That wasn’t a mis-type; this quotation comes from a doctor.

And that’s how prevalent this stigma is– how common it is for vestibular migraineurs to be thrown in the hypochondriac pile for their legitimate illness– that med school professors are teaching their students NOT to mislabel these patients as crazy.

It’s just two slides in the context of years of medical school, but from my perspective, it’s a start in the right direction. The more the word gets out about vestibular migraine– the more doctors and people in general are aware of this debilitating and life-altering condition, the more unnecessary suffering can be avoided.

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Raising awareness starts with you.

Let the world know that vestibular migraine is a real, debilitating, and serious medical condition by spreading the word! Tell your friends, family, co-workers, or anyone that’ll listen that:

  1. Vestibular migraine is a real, serious, life-altering, and debilitating neurological disease.
  2. Migraine affects an estimated 12% of the general population, which adds up to 318 million people in the U.S. alone.
  3. 1/3 of these migraineurs have a vestibular component to their migraines– that adds up to 13 million people.
  4. And even more shockingly, 50% of these vestibular migraineurs– an estimated 6 million people– are currently undiagnosed or untreated. 

If you’d like to learn more about how you can raise awareness about vestibular migraine during Migraine Awareness Month this June, check out my awareness challenge post by clicking the button below.

Take the Vestibular Migraine Awareness Challenge!