It always surprises me just how many people don’t know what narcolepsy is. When I explain that it’s a chronic sleep disorder that causes overwhelming sleepiness during the day, the most common response I receive is something along the lines of “oh my gosh, that is so me!” It takes every ounce of my strength to stop from shouting that my disorder is not just relatable content, and that being narcoleptic is so much more than just having the urge to take a nap every so often. Narcolepsy is a lifelong disorder that affects around 1 in 2000 people in the United States, and most people go through the majority of their lives being undiagnosed.
I actually didn’t find out about my narcolepsy until the summer before I came to UCF. I remember that summer as one of the most difficult times in my life. Whenever I had any free time outside of work or rehearsal, all I could get myself to do was sleep. Even if I wanted to do something more creative with my spare time, my body told me that sleep was the only thing worth my time. Feeling exhausted every minute of every day was, well, exhausting.
To figure out what was going on with my brain, I had to participate in a sleep study — doctors monitored me for 24 hours to measure any abnormalities in my sleep cycles. It was at the sleep clinic that I was formally diagnosed with narcolepsy. The average person enters REM (rapid eye movement) sleep in approximately 60-90 minutes. I reached this stage of the sleep cycle in under ten minutes, which is common among people with the disorder. My family didn’t want to accept my diagnosis at first, but we have grown to realize that being diagnosed has actually helped me. I was able to find medication to help me maintain the busy schedule that I love to have, without overworking myself.
Since my diagnosis, I’ve learned how to manage my life better around my illness and take care of myself. I drink a ton of water (and yes, this really helps) to help wake up my entire body. I take more online classes so I have some control over my schedule and can modify it for what my brain needs each day. I take lots of little naps on big days when I have a lot of classes. I do my best to talk to my teachers and let them know about my condition instead of pretending it doesn’t exist. I don’t attempt to stay up studying until four in the morning for exams. I can’t treat my body the same way everyone else does, and that’s okay! I’ve learned to accept that this is a part of me, and that doesn’t make me any less of a person. The best thing I can do as someone with narcolepsy is to educate others about what it actually means.