Motion Sickness: A Love Story

For her birthday, our eldest daughter wanted jigsaw puzzles. We put out the word to friends and families. We are working our way through them now, spending quality family time at the dining-room table for hours on end. “Isn’t this great, kids?” I said the other day. “Huh?” they asked. “Isn’t this great?” I repeated, a little louder. “What?” “ISN’T THIS GREAT!?!” I yelled. See, the problem is that, although my lovely wife Jen and I are focusing on the puzzle, my kids are doing it while also using headphones and watching “Parks and Recreation” on their iPads, or anime on their laptops, or YouTube videos on my laptop. I love having to scream out loud to be heard in a silent house.

But the puzzles: Our daughter received 10 or 15, including a few really cool ones: a 3-dimensional “crystal” one in the shape of a swan and a “3D Extreme” 500-piece puzzle, which is not actually 3D but made of different layers so that it looks as if the images are popping out at the viewer and swimming around (literally swimming because it’s an underwater scene). The image is a painting by Christian Riese Lassen, “one of the world’s most popular and talented artists,” according to the back of the box. (Who am I to argue? Besides, his website mentions that he has been featured on “20/20,” CNN, ESPN, “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous,” and “Baywatch,” and he skis, surfs, snowboards, writes poetry, and studies Judo and Tae Kwan Do. Plus, he’s easy on the eyes!)


Hard on the eyes.



Easy on the eyes.

I had to recuse myself from the room when this puzzle was out because of the fact that I get motion-sick easily. So easily. If I try to walk and text, look out. Also, I’m really slow at jigsaw puzzling; my most effective method (besides stealing one piece and waiting until everyone does all the work and starts looking around and saying, “We lost a piece,” and then swooping in and putting the last piece in and yelling, “Ha ha! Gotcha again!”) is to hold up a puzzle piece to the image on the box and then try to match it up on the puzzle. This only works if Jen or the kids have done most of the puzzle already. So, that and the motion sickness kept me out of the dining room for a week.

I don’t remember having motion sickness when I was younger, although I certainly wasn’t the first kid in line at roller coasters. My friends would be like, “Come on, Dudley, let’s ride this rickety old wooden coaster!” And I’d be all like, “Oh, sorry, I’m not taller than the ‘You Must Be This Tall to Ride’ sign for this one.” (Sad excuse. Also true.)

As an adult, I recall the first time I got hit really hard with motion sickness: Jen and I took a trip to Sequoia National Park, and on the way up into the park, we had to take this steep, winding road for 45 minutes; I had this feeling in my gut like, “This is not good.” On the way down, Jen was flying; the speed limit at times would get up to 40 mph, but sometimes it would slow down to 10 or even 5 mph because of the curves. There are tons of “Slower Traffic Pull Over” signs and turnouts every half-mile or so. “Slow down, Jen!” I yelled. “I think I’m going to be sick! And look, that speed limit sign just said 10 mph!” “I’m doing fine,” she said. “Besides, that’s just a recommended sign for people who can’t handle the speed; those of us who are comfortable driving faster can go faster.” “Oh,” I said, “and I suppose the state of California is the only state in the nation where speed-limit signs are just recommendations for slower drivers!” (I was not in a good place.) I held it together until we reached a restaurant outside the park entrance, but I was so miserable that I had my head in my hands on the table and felt as if I wanted to be in a dark room with no noise. I wasn’t even able to enjoy my locally raised grass-fed bison burger.

I love mountains; I just hate traveling up and down them. Part of the problem is living in the Midwest, where a large speed bump in front of Walmart is considered “being at altitude.”

For the next few years, I was only struck by motion sickness while on vacations, so I assumed that it was related to the travel (by plane or car) rather than my habits while on vacation. I faithfully took my Dramamine before airplane rides and boat trips and kept my fingers crossed. That didn’t always work. On a 1-hour ferry ride from Long Beach, CA, to Catalina Island, we were told to watch an instructive video playing on ceiling monitors; I tried to simultaneously watch the video and keep my eyes on the horizon. Didn’t work. People of Avalon on Catalina Island: your city is gorgeous, and I apologize for vomiting on its streets.

I tried the Scopolamine patch behind my ear for a trip to Australia. I was miserable most of the time I had a patch on; turns out a very small percentage of the population actually gets dizzier from the patch than from their motion sickness. Lucky me. We went up to Port Douglas, Queensland, to go snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef. The ship we were on visited three separate areas of the reef, and by the third site, can you guess where I was? Back on the boat, staring out at the horizon. (Interesting fact about the Great Barrier Reef: its horizon looks exactly the same as the horizon near Catalina Island.)

At Disney World, I had a blast avoiding all the fun rides. That is, until we reached Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and my young nephew challenged me to ride the Tower of Terror and the Aerosmith Ride back-to-back. “This is awesome!” he screamed on the first ride. “Mommy, make it stop!” I yelled. On the second ride, he hooted at the 0- to 60-mph start of the ride; I tried to yell, “Mommy, make it stop!” but my lips were flapping up against my nose and chin. I pushed my youngest child and her cousin out of the rented double stroller and made Jen push me back to the hotel shuttle.

The good news, I guess, is that my motion sickness is not vertigo (I had one bout of vertigo a few years ago, and it was as bad as people say it is), and it’s not really migraines, although I do have some of the symptoms of migraines. More good news: I figured out how to manage it, besides the obvious of never going anywhere and staying off of speed bumps. I started to get motion sickness while not traveling, so I pinpointed what the triggers were: neck and shoulder stiffness (such as when I do a lot of yard work or driving), poor nutrition (e.g., the food on every vacation I have ever taken), and not drinking enough.

So, here’s how I keep motion sickness at bay: Dramamine for air travel, healthy eating habits and proper hydration, and neck and shoulder massages when I start to feel upper-body soreness. (Sometimes I even fake neck pain to get a free rub from Jen: “Oh, my neck hurts; I think I feel motion sickness coming on! Help!” etc.) And on vacations, I go in with the assumption that I’ll be battling motion sickness, and every day that I don’t is a gift and a miracle.

Christian Riese Lassen’s awesome homepage¬†