Shaky legs: When my own body betrayed me

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I’d experienced shaky moments before. These encounters typically meant my legs would shake, and perhaps I’d become lightheaded. My vision and hearing might be affected, too. I recorded a moment like this in fifth grade and then an experience in eighth grade when I was walking to another room and then finding myself on the floor the next moment. No one could explain these episodes.

It happened several more times in college. Regardless of whether I actually blacked out or my vision only blurred, I considered them equally as blackouts.

From my journal, January 2002: I don’t understand these blackouts. Each one is different, but they usually consist of a lack of control over my body, especially my legs. My legs shake and I am forced to hold onto the closest thing I can or try to lower myself to the ground to keep myself from falling. Sometimes my vision will fade and I can’t see anything but a haze. Other times maybe my hearing is affected and it’s like someone’s decreased the volume on the radio. Maybe I’ll get hot and my forehead will sweat. It’s a weird and irregular occurrence. It’s always unexpected and no telling how long it will last.

After this particular episode, I went to the health center on campus. They questioned my blood sugar, but tests came back normal. So they ruled out that I was hypoglycemic. They suggested I make a more conscious effort to slow the transition from sitting to standing.

Strangely these symptoms only manifested in my dorm room, usually after standing up after working at my desk. Not as I was leaving class after sitting for a long time. Not in the cafeteria.

I spent more time this semester making trips home for doctor appointments. I saw a neurologist, but he couldn’t determine anything specific. He ordered a sleep deprived EEG. Just like after wearing the heart monitor in eighth grade, we didn’t get answers from this. It remained a mystery.

Other instances

There was another significant episode that happened the summer before my junior year of college. I had been out running and headed for a shower right after. In the shower, my legs began shaking. I couldn’t hold on to the wall and the shower rod wasn’t sturdy enough so I fell onto the floor. A few bruises but thankfully nothing more serious happened.

An uncle who was a doctor came to see me after. He suggested that perhaps I was overheated and dehydrated, so he recommended that I give my body more time to cool down after exercising before taking a shower. And to obviously drink more fluids before and after exercising. I wasn’t paying attention to fluids at the time, so that was good advice.

But it still didn’t explain why I kept having these problems.

They continued to creep up and occur at random. I could go months or a year without having a problem and then suddenly my legs were shaky again. It was unpredictable.

Last year

But about this time last year it happened again and far more serious. I had just woken up and was heading to the bathroom when I began shaking. This time is was my arms and legs, all four extremities. There was no chance of steadying myself. It certainly felt like a long time, perhaps it only lasted about a minute, but finally it was completely out of my control and I fell. I fell hard, collapsing on my legs. I’m 6’1, so there was a lot of me to hit the floor, especially on my legs. My legs felt like they had both shattered. I had never felt such pain. I couldn’t stand up. I tried, but I knew my right leg wouldn’t hold.

I texted a friend I was planning to meet and told her what happened. I didn’t trust my voice just yet. At her suggestion I called 911 and they sent an ambulance and EMT to get me out of my second floor apartment. I had to scoot across the floor to unlock my front door. I barely made it there, unlocked it (thank goodness for long arms) and scooted a few feet away from the door before EMT arrived.

That fall managed to cause a closed fracture of the shaft of my right fibula (a spiral fracture at my ankle). At the ER, the doctors recorded my medication and saw that the combination could cause tremors and what was considered Serotonin Syndrome. Essentially my body was reacting to an overdose of serotonin. At the time I was taking a combination of antidepressants (specifically SSRIs, Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors), which certainly increased my serotonin levels.

This was the first time that medication was questioned as a factor for these episodes. I had recently begun taking antidepressants again before falling and fracturing my ankle. Before the episode in college when I fell in the shower, I had recently restarted a combination of medicine.

I quit those medications last year and haven’t had a repeat. But there’s still a question of why my body responded in this way.

I know my nervous system is prone to over-reacting, since certain sounds, smells and physical contact can result in my body being on hyper alert. But the shaking doesn’t add up.

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