Our Balance Keeps Us Learning

A closer look at the magical vestibular system

Antonia Malchik
6 min readMay 22, 2022
Person walking — balancing — on a rope hanging over a canyon, with a cliff face in the background.
Photo: Loic Leray / Unsplash

Some years ago, I headed out for an early morning downhill ski, and one run later ended up with nausea and a headache that lasted for 24 hours.

It was one of those not-infrequent days when the mountain was covered in fog so thick that visibility was near zero. I got off the lift, skied a few feet in the gray winter light, and was hit with a familiar feeling: I had no clue where the snow ended and the fog began. My head spun and I looked around frantically for someone in bright-covered clothing so I could follow them down the mountain without falling over.

I made it down feeling dizzy and weird but figured it would pass. I love skiing and had stupidly subjected myself to the vertigo effects of our foggy mountain many times before. It always passed eventually.

This time it took more than a day, and that very week I reread a personal essay by travel and science writer Rachel Dickinson about her harrowing experience with long-term vertigo. Her vertigo came on suddenly, with no explanation, and refused to leave despite extensive and varied treatment. A year after the initial attack, she wrote that:

“Most of the time I look like I am walking straight but my head tells me something different. The self-consciousness of



Antonia Malchik

Antonia Malchik is the author of A Walking Life: Reclaiming Our Health and Our Freedom One Step at a Time; walking, tech, community, and embodiment.