Two nights ago I asked Marlo if they wanted to watch a movie after dinner, and without missing a beat they said, “There was that one movie you and Leta were watching a few months ago, the one that made Leta look like she was being beaten up.”
I don’t think I need to reiterate the sanctity of my family unit, and such an answer from Marlo should demonstrate that the usual programming in our home is as wholesome as the braid on a polygamous sister wife.
“I am going to need a little more detail than that,” I told them.
“It was the one with the band, or something.”
And that was all they had to say. I knew immediately which movie they were talking about, the most important film of the last decade. I first saw it on a plane in 2014 on the way home from Boston, and I was so affected by the plot and the performances that the woman sitting in front of me got up, whipped around, and peered at me over her seat. I was so afraid that she was going to flick a warm gummy bear at my forehead.
Instead, her eyes got feral and she blurted, “You are watching Whiplash, aren’t you.”
Later in the flight a man sitting on the other side of the aisle two rows in front of me started wincing and gasping in pain in response to what he was watching. I tapped the arm of the woman sitting in front of me and moved close enough to say, “Looks like someone else on the plane got roped in.”
I normally do not watch anything more than once, and I have now seen this movie five times. It’s one of the lowest grossing movies that has ever been nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture, and J.K. Simmons received 47 awards for his supporting performance.
Fun facts — the J. K. in J. K. Simmons stands for Jonathan Kimble, and the prophet of the Mormon Church during my entire childhood was named Spencer W. Kimball, and he was no one to fuck with. Furthermore, the lead actor Miles Teller plays Goose in the newest Top Gun movie Maverick. This role was played by Anthony Edwards in the original, an actor who happens to be born on July 19th. He’s a fellow cancer who most likely takes his astrological sign to mean HE FEELS ALL OF THE FEELINGS.
Since I have been featuring music to accompany these recents posts, I find it fitting that these next few songs played as I was driving home from the dermatologist last week. This first one was a song I discovered with my ex-husband during the months following my postpartum depression. PJ Harvey is my favorite female artist, hands down.
PJ Harvey – “You Come Through”
My affection for this film lies in what I would consider to be a mirror depiction of my experience in the Honors Chorale in high school. My chorus director was a man named Ed Riddick who was almost abusive in his tutelage, and everyone in Chorale would often have to stay after school for three to four hours because a single tenor couldn’t get a sequence of notes right in one song. I loved participating in Chorale because we traveled the country to compete in various tournaments and even sung at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC where we won top honors. And even then Mr. Riddick found something wrong with the performance.
I was stunned at how thoroughly this movie manages to portray this dynamic and have cautioned anyone who watches it that they may come away sporting a few bruises.
I find it ironic that Marlo would want to watch this movie with me not even two weeks after I had solved a crippling case of vertigo that had been terrorizing me since January. At the end of December I suffered an injury to my left knee while trying to get out of the car on a drive back from Los Angeles. I slipped on some ice just outside of Cedar City, and then a month later I was in the backseat of the same car when the driver slammed on his brakes unexpectedly. My head snapped back in such a violent way that I felt as if I had just stumbled off one of those god awful spinning teacup rides at Disneyland.
This next song was introduced to me by my friend Shandon Fowler, one of my best friends from my dot com days in Los Angeles.
Prinze George – “Wingspan”
Coincidentally, I happened to be tapering off of a benzodiazepine at the time, one that I had been taking for almost 13 years as prescribed to me by my psychiatrist. A different doctor told me to take myself off of this drug without alerting me to the fact that tapering off of a “benzo” is dangerous when attempted without the help of a professional. I stopped taking this drug over the course of two weeks and the withdrawal sent my entire body into a tailspin. I got hit in the head with the Bible of Withdrawal Symptoms:
• lack of coordination
• inability to concentrate
• dull aches and pains
• hypersensitivity to touch
• blurred vision
• sensory overload
• problems speaking
• heart palpitations
• brittle nails
• restless leg syndrome
• abdominal bloating – otherwise known as benzo belly
• unpleasant and obsessive thoughts
• resurfacing of traumatic memories
• inability to understand conversations
That first withdrawal symptom is key here because I blamed my vertigo entirely on benzo withdrawal. It lingered like almost every account of withdrawal said it would. I was desperate to understand what was happening to me and found the Ashton Manual, the official guidebook on prescription benzodiazepine withdrawal, written by a British pharmacologist named Heather Ashton. She recommends a tapering schedule that lasts anywhere from six months to two years.
This may seem corollary to the issue, but in 2015 I dated a brunette named Michelle Ashton, a woman who spent her weekends jumping out of airplanes. How appropriate that benzo withdrawal seems almost as risky.
After a stern conversation with my doctor, I put myself back on my full dose of medication to try and taper safely. My vertigo initially lasted two months and then abated for three weeks only to roar back and knock me sideways from out of nowhere. Yet again I thought withdrawal was the culprit, and I returned to my full dose. After another three weeks of excruciating vertigo I visited multiple doctors — including an ENT — to determine if something else might be the worsening my dizziness. I thought it could have something to do with my chronic TMJ and the resulting headaches, tightness on the right side of my neck, and a case of tinnitus that suddenly pierced my right ear a little over a year ago.
The Google Encyclopedia of Diagnoses told me I would be growing a third arm within weeks.
Fast forward five months. I have met as many people affected by debilitating vertigo as I have researched possible reasons for said vertigo, all of which turned out to be dead ends in my quest for an answer. It’s difficult to communicate what it is like to live life as if permanently stranded on the deck of a ship that is being hammered by constant storms. Every surface seemed to undulate underneath and around me, none of it helped by the way the right side of my body was compensating for the injury to my left knee.
The song that follows was introduced to me by a Matt I dated in 2013 — I say “Matt” because he was one of many, many Matts I dated over the course of my life. This duo is made up of openly gay twin sisters who are both married, and this song is one I could not seem to keep off of repeat that year.
Tegan and Sarah – “Now I’m All Messed Up”
Throughout sobriety I have kept meticulous notes in handwritten journals, and earlier last month I took a deep dive into these personal notes to see if I could find a clue that I had somehow overlooked. I have been trying to strengthen my hip flexor muscles at the gym recently, and because of this I noticed that I had made a small note about a yoga class I had taken toward the end of April in which I reported some soreness after sitting in an upright pigeon foot grab for a few beats too many.
If you’re like, “Lemme get this straight—” I will finish that thought for you.
Yes, you have read all of that correctly. I had my ears tested, my eyes examined while I was thrown about in what I can only describe as a space capsule circa 1969, was diagnosed with Persistent Postural Perceptual Dizziness and told to take an SSRI to cope with the resulting sadness, endured several rounds of physical therapy designed to address imbalances between the hemispheres of my body, and completed hours of eye exercises one doctor had me look up on YouTube. None of it helped, and in the end I realized I was dealing with the aftermath of a yoga pose I had been eager to master.
It was that simple.
This final song was introduced to me by one of my ex-husband’s best friends, Jon Deal, before we got divorced. I have remained a huge fan of this singer/songwriter whose real name is Ernest Weatherly Greene Jr. ever since.
Washed Out – Eyes Be Closed
I don’t smoke, but I lit several imaginary cigarettes when I found that note about that yoga pose. Two weeks of super slow and methodical squats at the gym cured what I had come to refer to as The Vertigo in my journals.
If you happen to be suffering from the same ailment, there are plenty of possible explanations a doctor can offer you. Just know that not a single one ever thought to ask me about my hip flexor muscles. If you’re engaging in yoga stretches like I often do, it might not hurt to ask a physical therapist to suggest a method of healing similar to my own.
Please note that the third arm you’re growing will come in handy when hailing a cab.