Balance & Hope: Sometimes We Need Help

beachrocks ( – public access)

After I started toppling over from lack of balance in 2013, after being diagnosed with Meniere’s Disease and losing all hearing in my left ear a few years later, after a cochlear implant in 2019, after losing the joy of music, conversation, and podcasts, something in me gave up.

I tried to talk myself into fighting back, but it was exhausting to listen to anything, especially speech, and frightening to not know when I might get vertigo and drop like a felled tree.

Vic & Elaine, 2001

Until 2011, I was a weight lifter and aerobic exerciser and taught strength training to people of all ages. I’d also practiced yoga, Pilates, and tai chi. In many ways, I was still fit and vital, but that first collapse or Drop Attack scared me.

Even after my husband and exercise partner died in 2008, I stayed fit, but as my balance faltered, I lost confidence. I still hiked twice a day and adopted a puppy knowing she would keep me and my older dog moving, but it wasn’t enough.

I felt depressed, a sinking exhaustion and hopelessness. It wasn’t only about age. It was about giving up. I still had strength and vitality somewhere, and fifteen years ago, I’d witnessed amazing physical renewal in older people when I taught strength training at a retirement community.

A few months ago, my son said, “Mom, we should talk about what happens when you can’t live alone in your house.”

Waking up from cochlear implant surgery, February 2019

Oh, that conversation! Now? “No!” something in me screamed. “Not yet!”

I had a routine doctor’s appointment scheduled a week later. All was well in blood work and other measurements.

“I want to see a physical therapist,” I told my doctor

“Why?” she asked.

“For balance,” I said.

“That’s a good idea, and I like the physical therapist you suggested.”

Dr. Amanda Smith-Socaris, PT, DPT, OCS

My first appointment with Amanda at Seneca Physical Therapy was only six weeks ago, but I’m accepting my body as it is rather than expecting it to be what it was 15 years ago. I practice every day, and it’s challenging, but I’m steadier and able to reduce vertigo medication.

Amanda gave me exercises I’d avoided like lunges. I disliked them because I was losing balance in subtle ways thirty years ago when my hearing problems began. Now I’m practicing a few lunge variations and balance exercises and developing good form. I needed a combination of movement and strength, and I needed guidance and support so I could practice on my own.

“Do you have any exercise equipment at home?” Amanda asked at our last appointment as she considered our next steps.

I laughed loud and long. “Amanda, I have a whole room dedicated to strength training. I have dumbbells, barbells, a power rack, a pulldown machine, a bench, and more. I have a strength training section on my website. It’s embarrassing to have all this equipment set up by my husband and me over twenty years ago and never use it.”

Amanda laughed with me—not at me. “Ah, so now I see why you have good form, but sometimes we need help. When I’m struggling, I can’t always help myself. You’re doing great,” she said.

It’s true. I am.


Before Vic died, I wrote many articles about physical health–and I won’t return to that focus, but needed to remember what could happen if I found the will to try again. My son’s suggestion woke me up. I know my situation is still tenuous, but it changes everything to feel dedicated to taking better care of my “balance wound.” At 75, I have to make the effort or go downhill fast. Do you have similar places in life where you’ve given up and then started over with renewed energy? How did it work for you?

For an article about what it does to the body to have Meniere’s Disease, see My Friend Meniere: Standing Up to Disability. To learn more about building health, go to the Health Section of my website. I’m sorry some links don’t work because the articles were first published at websites that are no longer active, but the full articles are all there.

  1. Dear Elaine,

    What a metamorphosis you’ve endured in recent years! Like your beloved Monarchs, I did wonder how they / you cope with hearing loss? Re butterflies, I’m told by listening with their wings. So I’m left wondering if your cochlear implant is somehow like a man-made butterfly wing in how it works. If so, then it’s confirmed, you’re definitely turning into Mama Monarch!

    During this Olympics season, I can help but think of how fit and strong your body must’ve been for many years, and how wonderful it is that you’ve been able to help so many people strengthen their bodies in life. Something you still do in a different way with your wise, intuitive and poetic pen for your words strengthen many a heart, body, mind, spirit and soul.

    Thank goodness for Amanda for helping you find new hope and balance. It’s great to hear that you’re steadier on your feet today and in only six short weeks. What treasure in one’s life! My own balance wound lies in the weakness of my left ankle. The thought of never hiking again makes me determined to fix this problem. So far I’ve progressed to not needing crutches!

    Oh, and I dipped into your health archives and met Libby Leonard and her veggies, Beth Howard and her pies! Wow! What a marvellous writer you are! Love and light, Deborah

    • My health issues have been rough, Deborah, but I’m still hopeful for this body. It’s healthy in so many ways. In some ways, Meniere’s has been harder than having Vic die because my body felt helpless and lost a sense of competence–even though I kept pushing through. I grieved for Vic, but didn’t lose my confidence. Slowly with lots of experimentation, my doctors and I found a medication that helped but I’m still a little daffy when the weather changes quickly which is often here. Still, I feel hopeful and more balanced and will continue working for that because I want to stay here, walk the trails, and raise butterflies. There are about 80 caterpillars, chrysalises, and eggs on my back porch at the moment. All thriving. (I get carried away, but each one is precious to me as I raise them and write about them.)

      Isn’t it interesting how the very thing we’re sure we can count on (physical strength, in my case) is the thing that fails. I’ll never have good balance or have the speed in walking I once had, but speed isn’t the point, is it? I know you understand the balance wound with your ankle. I tried so many things and loved many of them, especially Pilates, but I think Amanda has me on the right track with movement combined with balance. My legs are a little achy and very alive. I feel more embodied. A physical therapist can help you strengthen that ankle and I hope you ask around for recommendations and get a good one. I hope you aren’t in too much discomfort now.

      Libby Leonard died many years ago, but she was a big influence on me when I was young. A friend of mine who is a wise astrologer bought Libby’s land on Cayuga Lake and lives there now, so the crone lineage continues. Beth Howard is still baking and writing. When my North Carolina son visits, he requests a yogurt/cream cheese pie with a graham cracker crust, but I also make a great apple pie. My sons don’t love apple pie the way Vic did, so I haven’t made it for years, but the recipe is still in my head. Thanks for your kind words about my writing. Like everyone, I thrive on encouragement. Sending you love, healing, and sturdy ankle bones–strong like an oak.

      • Oh, that you love your home and land Elaine is abundantly clear and your desire to stay, walk trails and raise butterflies, so strong! How challenging it’s been in recent years, greatly in terms of loss. Yes, rough indeed, although it’s good to hear that you’re back in Mama Monarch mode and that your porch has once again turned into a magickal and transformative nursery.

        Yes, speed is of no interest to me, as sitting on the sofa or my garden chair with my left foot raised these past three weeks has once again taught me the simple joy of taking a step and how I miss being able to comfortably put one foot in front of the other. This time, the third time, I’m going to do everything possible to strengthen my ankle, like an oak, following healing.

        The crone lineage continues, I love that! And did wonder about Libby after I read about her, Beth too, so thank you for the updates. Mmm, I love, love, love hot apple pie with vanilla ice cream! Luckily for me my neighbour has a bountiful apple tree which bears tons of fruit each autumn so come September I’ll be taking my basket round for her to fill up again! Yippee!

        • I am in Mama Monarch mode full time. They’re beautiful to me at all stages and I’m attached to each one–all 90-100 of them–and keep checking on them to watch what they’re doing now. I’m writing about the process and plan to go back in the winter to pull the pieces together. It will be lovely to write about Monarchs in the winter. I’m taking lots of photos.

          Oh, your ankle and foot! I hope it hurts less and you’re able to put weight on it soon and then convince your doctor (they often need convincing) to send you to a physical therapist to work on strengthening that ankle, both ankles, your legs, the whole body. You’ll need it for a long time to come. All the stress you’ve lived through takes a toll on the bones. I’ll be steady like an oak and you’ll be strong like an oak–and we’ll encourage each other. How wonderful to have a bounty of autumn apples. I’ll imagine the pie you bake. Sending you the scent of apples baked with cinnamon.

          • Winter writing is the best! Woo Hoo! Many years late I know Mama Monarch but in my time of plenty I joined FB today so when the time comes I’ll upload a photo for you can see! Thanks for all the sound advice, duly noted.

          • I saw you on FB, Deborah. I find it a more active place than twitter with more real interactions, but we’ll see how it works for you.

  2. Ah yes, our bodies change – whether gradually or suddenly – with aging, illness, and other circumstances. And, it seems, we need the help of others even more to help us keep going. Or maybe we become ever more aware of our interdependence and inter-reliance, which has been there all along but not as evident. And, we are grateful!
    I, too, love my physical therapist, who is helping me get through various spinal injuries, some of which are related to multiple myeloma. I always feel happier after I see her – she inspires me with the knowledge that I can be better than what my fear dictates.
    Walking, breathing, looking out the window – I appreciate these simple pleasures, especially being able to resume walking, which is a joy. Your monarchs, dogs, flowers, bluebirds, swallows, sunsets, woods, and all the elements of Nature that you/we can contact, are incredibly healing!
    Wherever we go when we “can’t live” in our houses – let there be Nature! Or, maybe we actually stay put, albeit with even a little more help.
    Thank you, Elaine, for your stories of wonder and joy.

    • Thank you, Myra. You know the challenges more than I do. We have something that will never be fixed, but we can help ourselves in many ways. My surgeon at Strong told me I have lots of inner ear damage and I won’t have the balance I once had–but I should keep trying. I had a hard time getting past the part that I’ll never have the balance I once had. The important part now is to keep trying, but I’ve gotten there in fits and starts, knowing I needed something I could work on every day on my own at home.

      I’d never heard of Meniere’s Disease until I was diagnosed with it and it’s an outwardly invisible problem–unless I stagger like a drunk or try to talk to me in a place with background noise. Mostly I can manage with the help of medication and physical therapy is helping me manage better–and maybe at this point, it’s as much psychological as physical. I needed to accept the need to do more than I was doing. Just walking with my dogs an hour a day wasn’t giving me the balance I needed to climb a step ladder to fill the hummingbird feeder, climb on a chair to get things stored on the top shelves in the kitchen, or even walk on extra challenging trails. I feel on the right track physically and psychologically–and I hope Amanda likes what I’ve written about her. I see her every other week because much of what needs to happen is what I do on my own with her instruction, including detailed images. She checks my form when we’re together, watches me and corrects my movements, and so far makes things more challenging for the next few weeks. This is what I need and want. Love and strength to you.

  3. My emotions ebbed and flowed along with your writing. Even before I read your son’s call to reckon with age in the middle of the post, I knew this was the pivot that will help your journey turn for the better. And it did! You “found the will to try again!”

    I am amazed at your room of exercise equipment, and though I knew you were into health and wellness earlier, I didn’t know the extent of your involvement. Wow!

    Like you, I have had to adjust. My 5000-step goal on my Fitbit has become 2000, and the app sends me fireworks even with a lower achievement. I still do Pilates with a younger set every week, but I do modifications for my old body. I want to still stay “in the game.”

    Dr. Amanda is adorable, and she emanates energy and positive vibes just from looking at the picture. You are a victor, not a victim. Elaine. And I agree with Deborah: “What a marvelous writer you are!”

    • Teaching women’s nutrition and exercise was my career, Marian, but it was Vic who set up the exercise room. He kept physically fit until his last months. We depended on each other for encouragement and motivation. It was fun being fit together and making jokes about our muscles. I loved Pilates, but had to drive over 20 miles to do it and the office closed during the pandemic. I like what I’m doing now because I can practice at home, even if things close down again. ALL I needed was motivation–or the thought that I would have to move out of my home and live someplace where I couldn’t nurture Monarchs by the hundreds or see these incredible sunsets.

      Thanks for the encouragement about my health and my writing. I love what you’re doing, too, and hope you have Pilates exercises for home so you can practice at least twice a week. I can hardly wait to tell Amanda about writing this post. It’s not what I usually write these days, but I’m saving my Monarch writing for a larger project–if I can pull it off. I’m working on it every day. Meanwhile, if I don’t stay strong, I won’t be able to accomplish much of anything. The body needs more than ever.

      • Elaine, my Pilates instructor at the gym moved from Florida to Virginia. Because of that and also Covid restrictions, the whole class moved to ZOOM, where it has stayed for almost a year. I try to catch 2 of the 3 sessions each week, on the floor of my carpeted writing studio. What a blessing!

        • Terrific. My writing group is also on Zoom now, but I’m glad to see the physical therapist every other week, masked and sanitized. Covid is at low levels here for now.

  4. Yow, Elaine. I didn’t know that you used to be a gymmie. No wonder you’ve been in such good shape even through all the setbacks and complications life has thrown at you. For me, it’s come down to taking serious care of my body now that I’ve turned seventy. I gave up a lot of my sitting-down work (writing), made a commitment to hiking 5-6 days a week, and moved a trampoline into my tiny living room to turn my Netflix-watching into exercise. It’s important to keep strong and independent now as I see friends of my vintage losing control of their bodies and lives. I guess that’s what gave me new incentive to change my daily routines and be more active.
    Thanks for always being such a good inspiration for me. I may have to consider taking TWO hikes a day, as well. THAT makes neat sense to me. Cheers!

    • Robin, I started lifting weights with Vic when I was 50 and he was 54. I got more and more into it. I was already a nutritionist, but then became a licensed physical trainer. I loved doing that work and writing about it, but I put career aside when Vic was sick and when I was in deepest grief–and I needed to do something new then, like get my life together and write. I sit down too much, but I take the dogs for a walk before breakfast and then we go out again in the afternoon. I’m lucky to live in a place where I can walk out my back door and hit the trails–and the dogs stay with me off leash although I leash Disco when we return home because I don’t trust her not to go in the road if someone goes by on a bike or walking. Yes, we watch what happens without pushing back against age and infirmity, although it’s not always in our power. I want to do as much as I can as long as I can–and I’m on the right track. (Because of inner ear problems, hiking wasn’t enough for me and I do lots of it.) Stay strong!

  5. Thanks for sharing your story, Elaine. The fact that you didn’t give up is inspiring.

    I find my own body deteriorating at an alarming speed now that I am turning 80, but it’s a normal process–more aches and pains, less strength and stamina, etc. I am trying to do as much as I can with what I have, and also turning to physical therapy for help with specific problems.

    • Thanks for your comment, Lynne. The refusal to give up on my body has been the main issue for me, but I had to find the right approach which meant lots of experimenting. Some things were wonderful. I loved Pilates, but I couldn’t do it on my own. I’m fortunate I had a wonderful doctor (since retired) to help me experiment with medication in 2013 because Meniere’s Disease is always an experiment and what works for one patient doesn’t work for another. It’s a good time in our lives to get body helpers if we want to continue our work–and I know you want to paint and I want to write. Many things I tried were more passive such as massage or chiropractic, but the physical therapy exercises get me going every day and specifically activate muscles for balance. It’s also a psychological boost to be doing something helpful.

  6. Elaine,
    I should have also said how happy I am that the PT is helping you!
    And, you are helping those monarch butterflies! In the (little) city of Ithaca, many people are cultivating milkweed and leaving them stand wherever they sprout up, even in the middle of a grassy yard. But, so far this summer I’ve only seen ONE monarch waft through my backyard and sail away in search of another landing spot. Hopefully the monarchs will return in greater numbers…

    • Thank you, Myra. May we all get a little help as we stumble through life. The Monarchs are flourishing on my land and in the nursery. I think it’s a good year for them in our area–maybe because of the rain–but also because more people are cultivating milkweed. It’s early in the season and you may see more. They return to the land where their great-grandmother was released (how could that happen, but they do?) so the population should be growing at my place since I’ve been protecting them for 4 years. One year doesn’t make a trend, so I’ll see what happens next year. A female I raised from an egg eclosed this morning.I’m excited by each one.

  7. Your post is hugely encouraging to me thank you Elaine. I remember the times when I thought I was accident free and invincible because I was so healthy. Life has brought me up short on quite a few occasions and thus I learned a few valuable lessons, humility being one of them. Like also realising that the time left for me on this planet is not as long as I may have thought. And that a blade of grass may trip me up. My husband has a gym room downstairs which he says he will now start using – though he’s been saying that for a while. We used it in the early days of lockdown last year. Maybe I’ll join him this time round.
    I’ve had an awfully painful neck problem for the last several months … have an appt with physiotherapist tomorrow who has in the past done needling on me which has helped. Is this aging, is it a degenerated disc, will I go for surgery if it could help .. big questions for me to come face to face with this. And more of a realisation to stay as physically fit as possible.

    • I hope you get good news from the physiotherapist today and won’t need surgery. I tried many things, but my old style of strength training kept me strong but didn’t address the balance issue. The physical therapist tuned into that immediately and my need to move. My body saw the difference right away. I have the muscle strength needed, but my balance will never be the best because of Meniere’s Disease, but I can make it better. Even the hero has to face physical limitation. (I enjoyed studying Chiron from the perspective of facing our wounds.)

      You need to be strong to run around after a grandchild, so now’s the time. I’m so happy for you and still laughing about the video announcing your daughter-in-law’s pregnancy. May all be well with your family and with struggling South Africa and the struggling southern United States. Sending love and hope for a pain free future.

  8. Another heart-touching and hope-giving post by you, dear Elaine. You must excuse me for my belated comment. I have had turbulent weeks behind me: after coming back from holiday, I had to work (the not volunteering one, but only to get some money back!), and the following my birthday with all the trimmings! As I read your words, it reminds me of many experiences, which I have got through my 30 years working as a taxi driver and transporting my lovely elder dames, here and there. And listening to their complaints and pains. As you know, my dear wise friend, we will get older and accordingly losing the abilities we had once when we were young. And my passengers told me often about their children plans to send them to senior residences because they are living alone and it might be dangerous. They didn’t want it, and I understand it well. Everyone wants to live on their own feet and be independent. I can understand you as well too, and your amazing fight and engagements just to keep going. Your words teach me a lot as I look around myself. I feel my senses are not working as they use to. Your courage is my lecture.

    • There’s so much we can do for ourselves, Aladin–physically, psychologically, spiritually. It all requires will and discipline–and a good teacher helps so much. I love feeling better and hope I’ll improve more–how much, I don’t know. I think I need to keep this going the rest of my life until I simply can’t. Yes, we elder dames talk about our physical struggles and that’s part of life, too, but many can do more than they imagine. Give me 6 months or a year and we’ll see how much my balance improves then. Vic was an amazing example and a wonderful “training partner” because he had chemo one week and by the second week, he was back to strength training–and he kept walking and doing aerobic exercise even the day of chemo until the last month of his life. I don’t think it helped him live longer, but it gave him a positive sense that he was doing all he could for himself–and he could always take care of his own body until the last few days. He didn’t want to live as an invalid and didn’t.

      I try to post positive things, so it seemed honest to also share the struggles I have with my body. I’m taking care of 100 Monarchs in various stages of development, so I understand being behind. I haven’t read your blog either, but I will. I’m glad you had a great vacation in gorgeous Greece.

      • your words are full of hope, and it’s wonderful, dear Elaine. As you talk about Vic, it reminded me of Al, who in the time of Chemotherapy, was practicing sports and it helps him in his last year being in a very good mood, stunningly similar! I will look at you and your progress, my dear friend. Stay safe and well.

  9. From the PT:
    It is YOU Elaine who supplies the drive to improve. Thank you for letting me be on your team.

    • Thank you for help. I have a little too much drive, I think, and can’t wait to discuss that with you this week. I think I’m 50 and my body contradicts me.

  10. As others have written, Elaine, I am inspired by your post. I have come to the same conclusion you did, that I need to accept the need to do more than I have been doing. I have yet to start vestibular exercises back up again, but just moving my body more and walking a little further is helping to build my confidence.

    I love the title you chose for this post, and it’s wonderful how Amanda is providing you with help on both fronts. A dear friend of mine has a friend who was diagnosed recently with ALS, and this is one of the things she wrote about what she is learning: “I have to allow people to help me more often. Like a lot!!! I say yes and thank you and don’t apologize or explain. Just yes and thank you. I realize it is a gift to others to serve.”

    She ended her piece with this beautiful reflection: “So, like water, I am listening, softening, making corrections, listening again, adjusting course, opening, yielding, listening and then once again finding the easier way. I hope I am becoming more humble in the process having let life grind the sharp edges down so that I meet life more round. I know for sure I am happier and kinder, more allowing and available, more struck with the waves of grief and loss and thus more ground down once again. May this just continue until I take my last breath.”

    Sending wishes for even more balance and hope your way.
    love, anne

    • I’m glad for you, Anne. For me, so much is about accepting what Meniere’s Disease did to my strong body and accepting where I am. I’m filled with hope mixed with discipline. The balance exercises are challenging! I’m getting a little better and feel more grounded and steady in the exercises and as I hike. I’m relieved, since I only started a few months ago. I needed ongoing help, although it took many tries to find a good fit for me. Amanda is an enthusiastic and skilled force, both physically and psychologically. I love what you shared written by the woman diagnosed with ALS which is so, so difficult. How beautiful and hopeful to read her words. You, Deborah, and I will cheer each other on because we all need to be tender, loving, persistent, and patient with our wounded bodies. Love to you and may the air quality improve in your world.

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