LOVE LISTS AND QUICK FUN FACTS? THIS ARTICLE IS FOR YOU. IT’S ESPECIALLY WRITTEN FOR ANYONE OUT THERE WHO IS GENUINELY SUFFERING SILENTLY LIKE I DID.
For two years I thought I was going through a progressive nervous breakdown. I couldn’t understand why, but the signs were very clearly pointing at a deteriorating neurological condition which was showing no signs of abating. I was crying all the time, I couldn’t take any stress, I would fly off the handle at the drop of a hat… dark times. It didn’t help that an aunt was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s around the same time (you can imagine). While in the throes of that suffering, I had no idea that in actual fact I had a brain tumour which was causing severe physiological and psychological disorders/changes in me. It was as simple as that. I wasn’t going mad. I just had a condition that doctors couldn’t put a finger on. I wish I had an article like this as a reference point for my symptoms during that rough patch. Life would have been that bit less traumatic.
1. YOU HAVE LOST YOUR BALANCE
One major contributor to the feeling of ‘i’m losing it’ was the loss of my balance. Can you imagine going through the day feeling like you have just stepped off of a merry-go-round? It’s no fun. I can tell you now that if this ever happens to you at 40, or thereabouts, get a brain MRI. It’s not normal to lose your balance suddenly.
2. YOUR EARS FEEL BLOCKED ALL THE TIME
No amount of swallowing or chewing gums could rid me of the feeling that my ears somehow needed to get ‘unclogged’. This feeling was also constant. It exacerbated every time I felt overwhelmed - which was also very often. The simple explanation is that people suffering from Hydrocephalus - excessive fluid build-up in the brain - experience aural fullness, ringing in the ears and low frequency hearing loss… These symptoms are also indicative of Meniere’s Disease, which is what I was convinced I had after hours and hours of google study. Either way, investigate.
3. YOU FEEL DIZZY AND GET SEVERE HEADACHES N THE SUN
I hid this from my family for the longest time. In fact I doubt they will ever know the full extent of my suffering because of my embarrassment to admit what was going on with me. Blinding, incapacitating headaches became a thing. And the world spun in free-style every time I checked my hard-shoulder while driving. Again, I attributed living in Dubai and being out in the sun too long as likely causes… If this is happening to you, something is incredibly wrong.
4. YOU FEEL OVERWHELMED AND EMOTIONAL
Because I had gone through a mild bout of Post Natal Depression after my first born, feeling weepy was a familiar territory which didn’t raise many alarm bells. I was also at a period when I had recently quit a job (along with a business partnership), was struggling to find new employment and had just turned 40. I truly believed that the reason I felt so run down and unable to cope was because my life was well and truly miserable. Not true. One of the side effects of Hydrocephalus - and the excessive pressure it puts on the brain - is personality change. If something like this happens to you, do not blame yourself. Book an appointment with a doctor. With five doctors.
5. YOU HAVE BLADDER ISSUES!
I wet my pants all the time. On the bed. In the car. When I sneezed. It was crazy. I thought I had old women problems. Which of course made absolute sense since I had just turned 40! Wrong, wrong, wrong. Urinary incontinence - I found out later - is another very obvious symptom of something not being right in your brain. It also helped to remember that Jennifer Aniston is six years older than me and not least bit afflicted by ‘old women’ problems.
6. YOU ARE AFRAID OF HEIGHTS
For a lover of rides this should have been a clear giveaway that something has shifted in my mind and body. But since I spent so much time devoutly blaming myself and my past habits for everything that was happening to me, I couldn’t pick these obvious signs either. I would shiver and shake at extreme heights and really fast rides. Although I doubt many people with hydrocephalus - known or unknown - have ever rode Formula Rossa in Ferrari World, Abu Dhabi - I must tell you that my head felt like it was being crushed between two brick walls all throughout that ride. At a less dramatic level I had also stopped climbing the step ladders at home. If you haven’t ever suffered vertigo before, this is a very clear sign of a brain issue.
7. YOU CAN'T STAND SUDDEN LOUD NOISES
Not many kids would know what Mysophonia means. My kids do. My intolerance of sound and especially sudden noises had grown so extreme that I started studying this disorder and explaining to my kids (when I could manage it) what it implied. Which is to say I had to give them reasons why any and every sound they (children aged 8 and 12) made around the house made me react so adversely. I also researched tinnitus, ringing of the ears, hearing noises, constantly. Now I know that this is another common symptom - a direct effect of having flowing fluid suddenly obstructed in the brain that makes you feel like you are hearing noises… but at that time it was freaky.
8. YOU HAVE BECOME IMPATIENT AND SHORT-TEMPERED
This bit can hardly be surprising after you’ve read through the other points. I was a menace to my family. Totally broken. Totally unwell. Totally angry.I felt so unfixable. According to the medical fraternity vision problems, poor memory and difficulty concentrating are the other tell-tale signs to look out for in a brain condition of this kind. So when I look back and realise how hard I was working to ‘hide’ my - mistaken but persistently worsening - condition of ‘dementia’ and ‘old women problems’, it is understandable that I was in an agitated state almost all the time for a good 2 years.
If some of these symptoms ring a bell, don't ignore them. High Cortisol levels (excessive stress) cause a lot of issues for people in demanding jobs, but sometimes it could be something else, something that's possibly manageable/curable if caught in time. So listen to your body.
Note: I went to many doctors... from regular GPs, specialist neurosurgeons, recommended Opthalmologists to ENT specialists. None of them could detect what was really wrong with me. (You'll be surprised how often doctors fail to diagnose accurately). Until finally, on the dire insistence of my husband, I forced an ENT specialist to order an MRI of the brain. The reluctant doctor agreed to it under pressure but not before telling me many times that it could turn out to be a futile exercise. The report that came back clearly proved it was not. A hyperintense lesion (tumour) measuring 13.6x11.2mm was detected on an aqueduct causing obstruction of Cerebrospinal Fluid flow and proximal Hydrocephalus in the lateral and third ventricle of the brain. In other words: Bingo!
An Endoscopic Third Ventriculostomy (a slightly tricky brain surgery) was performed within a few days and I’m happy to report that what I thought was a psychological breakdown turned out to be only a physiological anomaly. Things are back to normal and I am very happy being alive and in complete control of my body and senses.
Mind, of course, is another matter altogether.
Symptoms of Hydrocephalus in young and middle-aged adults include:
- chronic headaches
- loss of coordination
- difficulty walking
- bladder problems
- vision problems
- poor memory
- difficulty concentrating
Hydrocephalus, also called Water on the Brain is a condition in which there is an abnormal buildup of CSF (cerebrospinal fluid) in the cavities (ventricles) of the brain. The buildup is often caused by an obstruction which prevents proper fluid drainage. The fluid buildup can raise intracranial pressure inside the skull which compresses surrounding brain tissue, possibly causing progressive enlargement of the head, convulsions, and brain damage. Hydrocephalus can be fatal if left untreated.
The damage to the brain can cause headaches, vomiting, blurred vision, cognitive problems and walking difficulties.*
The adult brain usually produces about one half liter (500cc) of CSF daily in spaces within the brain called ventricles. The CSF circulates out of the ventricles, bathes the brain and spinal cord, and is reabsorbed into the bloodstream. Hydrocephalus is derived from the Greek: “hydro” – water and “cephalus” – head. Hydrocephalus usually results either from: 1) an imbalance between CSF production and absorption; or 2) when there is a blockage within the ventricular system such as a tumor that prevents CSF circulation.**
*MEDICAL NEWS TODAY Hydrocephalus (Water On The Brain): Causes, Diagnosis, Treatments - Written by Christian Nordqvist
**Columbia University Medical Centre - columbianeurosurgery.org