“Somebody to Lean On,” column for June 17, 2014

When your world spins out of control, what exactly do you do? Me? I usually just try to hold on tight and wait and pray for it to stop. There are gifts that come with waiting and praying. I’ve seen plenty. So have you.

But if you’ve lived as long as I have, you probably know that holding on is a waste of time. It’s letting go, not clinging, that brings order to chaos, finds hope in despair and calms any storm.

Still, there are times when it seems the best you can do is sink your claws in like a cat about to get flea dipped.

This was one of those times.

I often fly for work or to visit family. Usually, it doesn’t bother me. But once in a while, flying makes me feel as if my head is stuck in the pressure cooker that my mother would use to turn green beans into gray mush.

Flying is not the problem. It’s the going up and coming down, the change in altitude and cabin pressure that treats eardrums like the balloons that get blown up and twisted into wiener dogs.

It’s especially hard on babies’ ears. That’s why you often hear them crying on flights, along with, well, people like me. I didn’t quite cry this time, but nearly.

It’s a quick flight, about an hour, from Las Vegas, where I live, to Monterey, California, where I planned to spend a week visiting my children and grandchildren. I did fine on takeoff, but ran into trouble when we started the descent. My ears began to pop, as they often do on flights, only the popping kept getting worse. Pretty soon it felt as if my head was under water. By the time we landed, I could barely hear.

Luckily, the feeling finally subsided and I had no problem hearing little people call me “Nana.”

Imagine my surprise the next morning when I rolled out of bed to start “nana duty” and found I couldn’t stand up.
Actually, I did manage to stand for a bit until the room began to reel like the boat in “The Perfect Storm” and flung me back down on the bed. I lay still as a corpse, clutching a pillow, waiting for the world to right itself and make the reeling stop. But the tiniest movement of my head sent it reeling again.

The good news, at least, was I knew what was wrong. The bad news was it wasn’t good.

Vertigo is a loss of balance often caused by an inner ear infection, or by having your eardrums twisted like balloons into wiener dogs. It spins your world like a merry-go-round free falling through space. (It can also make you throw up, but thankfully, I was spared that.)

The worst of it is the sense of helplessness. Some of us (and we know who we are) would sooner go to prison and spend the rest of our lives in an orange jumpsuit than have to ask, God forbid, for a little help.

This is true not just in vertigo, but at any point when balance is lost and life spins out of control.

Lying on my daughter’s guest bed, praying for the spinning to stop, I recalled other times in my life when I had felt much the same: As a child worrying about my mother. As a mother worrying about my child. As a wife afraid of losing my husband. As a widow afraid of moving on with my life.

In each of those instances and in countless others, I learned time and again a little secret: Balance and control are optical (or auditory or emotional or intellectual) illusions. None of us stands for long on our own. Sooner or later, we all need a little help. We just have to ask.

So I asked. And my daughter, bless her, took me to a clinic for medicine to make me feel better. My husband offered to drive a thousand miles to bring me home, so I wouldn’t need to fly until my ears were better. Even my grandbabes gave me a break so I could lie on the sofa watching them run in circles like curly-headed penguins on speed.

Life is funny, isn’t it?  Somedays you start out feeling helpless, and end up feeling loved.


  1. Dear Sharon : I read your column always and I learn a lot from of it :compassion ,love forgiveness ,family values
    I read your column with a wonderful topic called” the mystery of my father” I sobbed reading it, I wish I know my real father …
    The phrase I love was” I know my father loved me” I was crying ,and thinking how lucky you are
    My English grammar and spelling is not that good and for that I apologize(never learn at school I learn by myself ) when I came to this Country 50 years ago
    God bless you Sharon ,keep the great work you are doing it .
    Be good to yourself and thanks , Benetty .

  2. Dear Sharon I read your column always, I too suffer of vertigo ,the bad news will back again specially when we get older , the last time I ended at the hospital for three days ….
    The reason I am writing to you is about the writing about “the mystery of m father” I read that part with tears in my eyes , I really sobbed I touched my heart , I never really know my father…..but reading
    I know my father loved me “it was a powerful phrase I wish I know my real father indeed….your columns give me a sense of hope on all the topics you write I am letting you know because I would like you to know that you really touch people’s lives and for that we learn, thanks Sharon.

    I don’t write with good grammar or spelling and for that ,I am sorry (I learned English by myself ,never went to school to learn ) I will continue reading your column with such powerful messages indeed…
    God bless you ,keep the great work you been doing it !
    Thanks ,be well ….Maria

  3. Today I ordered your book .Cannot wait to receive and read it . Lot of love and so many blessings and best wishes for many more articles to be published on your website and also for your good health including your knees . Just keep moving never sit too long . It is good to sit on floor with cross legs like a baby sits and it relieves from pain instantly and knees get stronger and stronger every day . Just my experience ,you can try with consultation from yoga teacher or doctor. Stay always smiling and blessed ! Love from Shashi and all my friends with whom I share your column .

  4. Dottie Musten says

    Sharon, have loved your column for many years. Always get something positive from each of them. Vertigo is the pits. Glad you are feeling better. Before your picture appeared with your column I always visualized you as a short person with very dark hair. Funny, how images of someone that you have never seen, are most likely not like them at all.

    Hope you keep writing for a long, long time. You have a special place in my heart even though I have never met you.

  5. Oh, I sympathize! I’ve had a few episodes of vertigo and they are NOT pleasant. I hope the medicine helped. My doctor told me that Antivert doesn’t really make the vertigo go away; it just makes you feel so dopey that you don’t care. 🙂

  6. Sorry to hear about your illness. I hope you’re feeling better now. And being loved when feeling helpless is medicine that needs no prescription.

  7. kathleen says

    Sharon, go the the pharmacy and get “ear planes”. You screw them into your ears before takeoff in a plane and they will equalize the ear pressure. I never travel without them because of my allergies. My daughter had to fly home and the night before she got all plugged up. I gave her a set I had and when she arrived she said she had no problems with the flight. They are absolutely amazing and only cost $6-7. I get mine at Rite-Aide.

  8. Hope you are feeling good . hope your knees did not hurt sitting
    in the car . still you wrote so beautifully ! stay blessed ! Sharon
    I can not sleep without reading new column .

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