Woman sitting on her couch in the dark looking on her phone she sees all of the event she missed out on.

Am I a Bad Friend?

My partner and I were driving in the car when I turned to him and asked, "Am I a bad friend?"

I began to share my thoughts about how living with narcolepsy can lead to canceled plans and the guilt that often follows.

Unexpected waves of sleepiness

One of the main symptoms of narcolepsy that I deal with is excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS). No matter how much I sleep the night before or whether or not I take my medication, inevitably I will be hit with a wave of exhaustion that I can’t fight.

Since I’ve been back in college, my social life has taken a back seat. I drive to and from my hometown every weekend (a 4-hour round trip) which takes quite a toll on my energy levels. Even if I made plans for Friday night to hang out with friends, there are many times that I end up canceling. After working from 6:30 to 9:30 AM, class from 10 to 11 AM, then driving 2 hours back home, I hardly have the energy to climb into bed.

Missing out on special events because of my narcolepsy

Earlier this spring I was invited to a wedding. On the day of the wedding, I was experiencing extreme EDS, and after attempting to nap and rest all morning, I was still fighting to get off the couch. I messaged my friend who was also attending that I wouldn’t be able to go. After the wedding, social media was flooding with pictures and videos of my friends dancing and having a great time. I started feeling sad and angry at myself because once again, my narcolepsy had ruined my plans and I missed out on all the fun.

Another problem I run into is the brain fog causing me to forget things. I’d like to think I’m good at keeping track of my daily events and tasks, but on a day that I feel overly sleepy, I tend to be more forgetful. My friend had virtually invited me to a concert she was performing in. I had it on the calendar and knew about it a while in advance, but the day of I was so tired I didn’t even think to check my calendar. I ended up missing the live stream and felt guilty for missing out on something a close friend wanted me to attend.

A hypothetical scenario about friendships

All of these struggles make me second-guess myself. I start questioning things like, "Am I a bad friend?" or "Am I being too hard on myself?" I have a motto that I’m sure you’ve heard before: "Actions speak louder than words." Are my actions of canceling plans last minute, neglecting to attend events I agreed to be at, and overall forgetfulness making me a hypocrite?

After talking through all of this with my partner, he gave me a hypothetical scenario and asked me a question: "Gabrielle, let’s say that you have a big birthday party coming up. You invite all your friends, including one who is going through chemotherapy treatments. On the day of your party, your friend texts you and says, 'Hey, I am really sorry, but I am having a rough day and I don’t think I’ll be able to make it.' How would you respond to them?"

Changing my perspective

I said, "Well of course I wouldn’t hold it against them. They’re going through chemotherapy, for God’s sake!" Without missing a beat he replied, "Then why are you holding these things against yourself when you also have rough days? What is the difference between a friend of yours going through chemo and you living with a chronic illness?"

Since that conversation, I have done my best to be more mindful of how I view myself. He is right; there is no point in me beating myself up because of my chronic illness. I have never had a friend get angry with me when I was having a rough day, so why should I get angry with myself?

Do you struggle with negative self-talk, anxiety, or guilt over the way narcolepsy has impacted your social life? You are not alone. Share with us in the comments below.

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