September 26, 2023

Vulnerable in an Unbalanced World

I dislike flying, even though I’ve taken many flights to Europe, Asia, and around the United States. In the last ten years, distorted sound and imbalance from Meniere’s Disease with increasing hearing loss in the ear with a hearing aid make airplanes a challenge. Jet engines and sound echoing off hard surfaces roar in my head like a science fiction movie. Garbled announcements make me worry I’m missing something essential like a gate change.

Cochlear Implant & Hearing Aid

“Just take your hearing stuff out and read the signs,” my son Anthony suggests.

But sometimes the signs don’t match the schedule. They change the gate without changing the signs.” The howling fans and muffled speaker systems make me feel ungrounded and lost.

“I know,” I say to my sons. “I wasn’t always this anxious, but telling fear to go away is useless. Anxiety is already a Meniere’s Disease symptom, plus I’m lowering medication because of side effects so I’m more anxious than ever,”

“Chill, Mom. Take the hearing aids out and fly to North Carolina. You’ll get help from years of mediation practice.”

“Maybe, and I can ask for a wheelchair.” My gut clenches. My jaw tightens

Anthony & David

A wheelchair? Me? I walk miles every day in nature.

“Why do you resist a wheelchair?” my friend asks.

“Pride.” There I said it. “I don’t want to face how confused and unbalanced I am by sound filtered through a hearing aid and cochlear implant in a place with awful acoustics. No! I don’t want to be this fragile.”

Pride is silly considering I won’t see anyone I know and no one cares. Except me. I care.

I was fit and strong until 2013 when Meniere’s knocked me to the ground. I’m ten years older, too, but I judge myself harshly. I’m embarrassed by my embarrassment.

Elaine & Marion, 2003

My teacher Marion Woodman used a wheelchair. Did I think less of her? Of course not. I thought she was smart to get the help she needed. Why am I being dumb? False pride is not my friend.

Writing the truth helps me see pride and accept the need for a wheelchair, but when I book my flight, I learn my incoming and outgoing flights are close together in the same terminal at JFK Airport. It’s a straightforward walk, and I won’t need a wheelchair this time.

I’ll do what both my sons recommend and remove my cochlear implant and hearing aid. This trip, I can stand on my own two feet, but it won’t always be that way.

“I’ll pick you up right at the gate,” my North Carolina son David says. Anthony volunteered to drive me to and from the airport here.

It helps to write about my vulnerability and clarify my shame. Marion was surrendered to the aging process, or so it seemed, but she struggled more than I knew. I’d rather stay connected to the earth, but next time I fly, I’ll say yes to a wheelchair without the drama.


How do you manage traveling or driving on ten lane highways busy with traffic. I used to get in my car and drive ten or eleven hours to North Carolina, but those days are over. What’s over for you that used to feel easy?

For other posts about spending time with David in North Carolina, see Honeybees and Humans: Our Sweet Interdependence. You might also enjoy Brotherly Bonds.


  1. October 7, 2023 at 9:19 pm

    Jan Maltzan


    I’ve been high up on the north coast of California for a week helping a friend and her husband move back to the valley city after 30 years of living in conversations with the eagles, ravens, wind, crashing waves, fog, ocean breezes and wild coastal winds. Leaving their beloved space because it is the prudent and safe move to make, health concerns that will not allow being ignored, hour and half drives to doctors down a long twisting, turning, beyond beautiful breathtaking out on the cliff edge road. Aging demands acknowledgement so that we can continue to age. I am finding that the mid to late 70’s is a transition time (that deserves a formal name) that we are all learning to navigate – new learning! The challenge of new learning that requires respect, acceptance with whatever grace, faith and courage we can assemble, to keep our-selves company while we move along the path. But with that said I must say that I’ve traveled all my life and loved to fly – I don’t have auditory/vision/mobility problems – and I do not love to fly anymore. It is not a pleasant experience. What we are offered now would have made me a tad bit crazed even at 20! I have often thought as I watched people being whisked away in a wheelchair as I struggled to walk-run to my connecting flight with only 20 minutes to catch my connection that next time, “I’m going ask for one!”

    1. October 8, 2023 at 5:32 pm

      Elaine Mansfield


      Thanks for your comment (and gentle advice), Jan. I thought I’d leave my rural home by now, but four years ago my younger son bought land and a home three miles from me and we’re mutually supportive. I have a community of close friends within ten miles, and we’re coming to each other’s rescue these days, plus the small local hospital where my doctor has her office is just 12 miles away. I agree with your time frame as I’m 78. Even though I take vigorous hikes a few times a day, I don’t have the resilience I had a few years back. I’ve also traveled a lot and taken great trips, but can’t say I’ve ever loved flying. I like my feet planted on the earth, plus flying is much harder than it used to be. After nudges from a few friends, I arranged a wheelchair with the airlines. I add your voice to the choir. If all goes smoothly, I’ll look back and say I didn’t need it, but if they announce a gate change or a late flight, I won’t hear the announcement. It’s too stessful to try to take this trip without using available airline services to help with my handicap. Your friends are fortunate to have you at their side.

  2. September 27, 2023 at 6:41 pm



    Dear Elaine,

    What a gift writing this post is to yourself as well as your readers. Living with a chronic illness for the past six years that causes significant fatigue and dizziness has, of course, been physically challenging for me. But what has stunned me is what a huge challenge it has been to my ego; how deep has been it’s need to see myself, and have others see me, as strong and resilient. This illness has taken me to my knees, and the hidden gift, as you know, is that this brings me closer to the earth and a place of true humility. The journey from humiliation to humility is an arduous one, but I am finding my was slowly. And it is my true north.

    A dear friend of mine who is 78 and has had a life of marathons and excellent health up until a couple of years ago just made a vow to always avail herself of wheelchairs at airports, which has allowed me to give myself complete permission to do so if I ever find myself able to fly again. Recently she has even made it sound a little bit fun.

    The one thing I am finding about asking for help is that not only does it gets easier the more I do it, but also it deepens the most important relationships.

    Sending love, gratitude, and deep admiration , Anne

    1. September 28, 2023 at 11:37 am

      Elaine Mansfield


      Thank you, Anne. You speak from hard experience. I’m surprised by the resistance from my ego in facing Meniere’s Disease symptoms which are variable from day to day. This constant change is one of the markers of Meniere’s Disease: it’s an inconstant companion. I love your phrase: “the journey from humiliation to humility.” I don’t need help on a daily level (so far), but I’m glad my sons are in my camp. I try not to lean heavily on them because they have their own lives and needs, but they would not say no to my need. I also have a community of friends here and many of us are going through our unique aging issues. Sending you gratitude and appreciation.

  3. September 27, 2023 at 11:39 am



    I’m withdrawn from THAT world. If I can’t drive it, I won’t go.The world has changed in ways I don’t want to accept. I could, and maybe will if forced to, but now I’ve decided not to participate. Meditation helps me do my stuff the analog way.

    1. September 27, 2023 at 1:18 pm

      Elaine Mansfield


      I understand, Amelia. I agree the world has changed in unacceptable ways, but I rarely have to deal with the hardest stuff. My sons are being incredibly helpful with this trip, including at home dog care and rides to the airport. Without their support, I wouldn’t take this trip. Having a deep conversation is difficult on phones or Zoom with my hearing as it is. I do much better in person with natural acoustics and lip reading. It feels like my turn to visit my son who lives at a distance since he drives here two or three times a year. We’re adjusting to the new challenges of life. Be well.

  4. September 27, 2023 at 10:37 am



    I love that you are sharing your process on this. And now–if they do change the gates–because flying is crazy these days–you’ll be comfortable asking for a ride to the new gate!

    1. September 27, 2023 at 1:06 pm

      Elaine Mansfield


      It’s time for me to face my resistance to asking for help, so I went for it. And I will ask for help if I need it. Sending you love.

  5. September 27, 2023 at 5:20 am

    Aladin Fazel


    What a deep look into an important subject: ageing! As I was working every day (as you might know, I’m already retired but still have to work now and then because of the low income!) I had many elderly customers, maybe because I was a good listener. Anyway, they always reminisce about their younger years when they could run around and perform various tasks without physical limitations and do this and that without flinching. But it is just the nature of life, isn’t it, my dear Elaine? I am sure you are wise enough to capture this. Your words have provided me with insight into how to prepare for such a situation in the future. Thank you for being an excellent teacher. Please take care of yourself.

    1. September 27, 2023 at 1:03 pm

      Elaine Mansfield


      If I were in your world, I’d tell you about the many trips Vic and I took in the past. I imagine you’d be a patient listener. And, yes, this is the nature of life and the process of aging. I wrote about things that are universal and make me uncomfortable, but I’m also grateful to watch my sons become accomplished men. I have a community of friends I’ve known since the 1960s and 1970s and, since we’re similar ages, there is more illness and dying. Many of us have a background in Jung and in philosophy and meditation, but the ego still shows up to resist the unavoidable. You take care of yourself, too.

  6. September 26, 2023 at 9:52 pm



    Sit back in the wheelchair and relax? Easy for me to say, but maybe you’ll actually enjoy the ride. I used a wheelchair after ankle surgery six years ago, because managing crutches seemed to be well out of my skillset, as I learned when I crumbled to the pavement trying to get out of my car. I just couldn’t balance on those tiny rubber tips. Recovery from that injury put me in a state of amazement and wonder, after I was able to walk again.

    I apologize if this message doesn’t appear to recognize the struggle that you have described so exquisitely – not my intent! Rather, anything you can do to protect a sense of calm during a journey is so very important, as David and Anthony recognized.

    Hoping you have a smooth trip and enjoy your time with family greatly! And, probably you’ll get to do all the walking in nature at either end of the confusing and noisy airport, which is as far from nature as it gets. Keeping your equilibrium (in every sense of the word) is the goal. (Or is this me, speaking as a Libra?)

    Lots of love,

    1. September 27, 2023 at 12:54 pm

      Elaine Mansfield


      That’s the right idea, Myra, but it turns out my flights arrive and leave in the same terminal. Walking will be easy, but I’ve worked through the psychological resistance and shame about ordering a wheelchair so will do that if/when I fly again. When I first got Meniere’s Disease ten years ago, I fell over like a tree cut near the roots. Bang! I felt mentally clear, but had zero balance. Thankfully that doesn’t happen with the same ferocity as it did in the beginning. I love your state of amazement and wonder. No apologies needed, dear friend. I know you understand struggling with the body and with life and aren’t minimizing my situation. Yes to a calm smooth trip and equilibrium as we travel. David and I will do plenty of hiking and cooking. May all be well in your life.

  7. September 26, 2023 at 8:59 pm

    Marian Beaman


    Your frankness is refreshing, Elaine. False pride gets us nowhere; showing vulnerability does.

    My birthdate in the family tree in my first book recorded the year 1941. I seldom admit that I’m now 82, although it’s easy to do the math. Like you, I have a chronic disorder: macular degeneration. Tomorrow I’m seeing a specialist for back pain. My primary doctor identified it as sacroiliac, but there’ll probably be an MRI scan to verify and who knows what else. I’ve had the pain for years, but I’m admitting it now because it is too intense to ignore any longer.

    I do drive on interstates that circle my city, but only to places I know–and always in the right or middle lanes–never the left. Recently, I have taken a Smart Driver Course, goaded by the sky-high premium rates. Fortunately, I’ve not had an accident, but cost increases with age. (Taking the course reduced the rate a teeny bit.)

    I’m so grateful that I’m ambulatory. Walking with my Fitbit helps with that. Pilates aids balance although I can’t match all the poses the 50-year-olds do, and so use modifications. Daily I write in my gratitude book. My blessings surely outweigh the burdens.

    You’ll do fine on the flight. And you’ll have help going to and coming back. (By the way, your sons are handsome hunks; they look like bodyguards–ha!)

    1. September 27, 2023 at 12:44 pm

      Elaine Mansfield


      You’re doing all the right things, Marian. I was born in 1945 in a world trying to recover from World War II. My dad returned from four years overseas right after I was botn. Because I live in the country, everything other than my local son’s house is at least half an hour away. I drive on the NY Thruway to see friends or to go to my ENT doctor, but I avoid rush hour traffic and do less driving than I did a few years ago. I can’t imagine the drives I used to take to North Carolina. I have the vitality, but my hearing makes it a challenge to navigate when I don’t know roads well or traffic is intense like on Rt. 95. It’s hard to describe Meniere’s Disease, but it’s disorienting and makes me avoid many of the things I used to do. Fortunately hiking is still a pleasure.

      I hope your MRI scan gives you information with no need for invasive treatment. I feel relaxed about my November flight now, but it was important for me to grapple with my reluctance to use a wheelchair even though it turns out I won’t need one. You motivate me to spend a little more time with the balance exercises I do most days. Exercise is our friend. (My sons are both fit and they’re expert gardeners. I’m grateful for both of them and know they would do anything to help me.)

      1. September 27, 2023 at 2:53 pm

        Marian Beaman



  8. September 26, 2023 at 11:13 am

    Deborah Gregory


    Dear Elaine.

    Thank you so much for writing about this important subject, it really touched a nerve, as years ago I remember living my life by a script I once called, You Must Be Strong. I was fiercely independent then, foolishly so … I wouldn’t or couldn’t bear to show others any vulnerability. Sure, things got done and I kept my emotions in check and nobody seemed none the wiser on the outside, yet inside I was constantly exhausted and stressed due to overwork and refusing help, when it was needed … all because I didn’t want people to think I was weak. Deep sigh!

    On the motorways where traffic flows into multiple lanes, as the passenger, I close my eyes because it’s always Lin who’s drives in these places. I drive, and can just about cope with three lanes of traffic … seven lanes would terrify me! Hmm, one thing I do miss, as I approach the big six-oh, is being able to go for really long bike ride, like cycling for hours and hours on end. These days after two hours, I start flagging and look for the nearest train station to get a faster ride home!

    Thank you for sharing yet another of your thoughtful and reflective posts. You’ve really got me thinking now. I say, listen to your wise and loving sons, they know best! And as for the wisdom and love that Marion so freely and willingly gave you, us, the world, she confirms to me that the very best teachers always, always, teach by example.

    Love and light,


    1. September 26, 2023 at 6:04 pm

      Elaine Mansfield


      Thank you, Deborah. I felt compelled to tell more truth about myself. Sometimes I seem to have it all together in the world of butterflies and the forest. Part of what’s happening is facing that I’m 78 and life doesn’t go the way it did when I was younger. I saw my mother-in-law and mother go through this life stage, distracting themselves with television shows, but my hearing doesn’t allow audio distraction–no podcasts or newscasts or audio books. I don’t enjoy reading captions and would rather read a book. I loved Pema Chodron Audio books after Vic died and also enjoyed listening to novels. Those joys vanished now, although I fell in love with Pema Chodron and the love didn’t vanish. I’m grateful I love to hike with Disco and tomorrow we’ll have hiking company–her brother and the sweet woman who owns him. Since we hike together most weeks, she knows my auditory situation.

      I’m often alone, not because friends don’t want to get together. My body insists on quiet and introversion, so pushing against that by making a plane reservation stirred the cauldron. I’ll be fine during the experience, but I watch my friends travel and remember when that was a big part of my life, with Vic and without him. I don’t feel sad about this loss all the time, but sometimes grief erupts. It did and I decided to share a little more about my life and psyche. I’m not sure if that makes people come closer or run away, but this is who I am. (Vic loved motorcycles, by the way, but I was happier driving the highways in our VW bug.

      Love to you and Lin. Be safe out there.

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