“F**k, I don’t feel so good. I really need to sit or lie down. Like, RIGHT NOW. But I don’t want to appear like I haven’t been listening, like I don’t care, like I don’t appreciate the gravity of the situation, or like my needs are more important than theirs.”
This is what goes through my head every time I find myself in a situation where I need to have a meaningful conversation whilst standing up. Ya know, when I should be listening properly, processing what the other person is saying, and giving well-considered responses. In other words – being ‘present.’
Problem is, it’s REALLY hard to focus when my brain is being starved of oxygen, my heart is racing in an attempt to ‘fix things’, my blood pressure is sinking faster than the Titanic and I’m feeling increasingly lightheaded, clammy, and nauseous.
I’ve had Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS) for six years. As such, it has been over six years since I was last fully ‘present’ during a conversation whilst standing still.
POTS feels a bit like an allergic reaction to gravity. When our bodies are upright, gravity naturally forces our blood downwards. In healthy people, the autonomic nervous system (ANS) kicks in and makes our blood vessels contract to pump the blood back up to our brain and organs, providing them with much-needed oxygen to function. However, the ANS is all outta whack in POTS. This dysfunction causes our bodies to really struggle with pumping the blood back up, which leads to blood pooling in our legs and feet, as our hearts beat way too fast to try (and fail) to increase the blood flow – eventually leaving our brains no choice but to gradually shut us down in the name of survival, unless we lie down quick smart.
Before my body shuts down, there’s usually additional warning signs that I need to lie down: brain fog, poor concentration, memory loss, pounding headache, tinnitus, and I become overwhelmed by sensory overload. Some of these symptoms are always there, varying in severity – but all become amplified the longer I stand still.
Yet, most people don’t realise when I’m struggling to stand up – because contrary to how I feel … I look okay. Or at least, I do until I can’t take it anymore and end up having to sit or lie down before I fall down.
Today is POTS Awareness Day. So, this is me … standing up for NOT standing up.