Keep your head up


No matter how hard the world tries to make you look down, the view is better with your head up.

– I don’t do inspirational, but this was a little too relevant to ignore.

An old student had a brief post on his new blog yesterday about the virtues of “lifting your head up.” He was writing in the context of people spending all their time looking down at their phones instead of up at the world around them, and that world, he notes, can and should be a source of serious creativity in life.

No doubt.

Oddly, though, it set me thinking about some of the realities of my Ataxia. I say oddly, because the usual way of things is that the literal gives rise to the metaphorical and philosophical. Here the reverse was true.

Spinocerebellar Ataxia attacks the brain’s balance centers (among other things). So anything that requires me to be vertical – walking, even standing – can be a challenge. In circumstances like this, it’s natural that you spend a lot of time looking down. It’s instinct – if I’m walking, keeping a close eye on the ground intuitively seems the best way to stay upright.

I discovered a year or two ago, though, that the opposite is true. When I look at the ground I stagger and stumble a good bit. But if I keep my eyes up and fix them on a head-high point in the direction I’m moving, I actually stagger and stumble a lot less. I imagine an observer might fail to notice there was anything wrong with me at all.

No idea why. This strikes me as counter-intuitive, but it’s reality nonetheless.

The thing is, even though I know keeping my head up works, I have to consciously think about it all the time. As soon as I stop focusing the eyes are right back on the ground. And instead of walking straighter and having a nicer view of the world (the ground in front of your feet is rarely more interesting than sky, trees, people – whatever is happening at eye-level) I’m sucked back down into a well of disability and pathology.

The disease not only robs me of physical function, it entices me to ignore the aesthetics that make surviving worthwhile.

There’s a lesson in here. Maybe two or three.

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