Narcolepsy Forced Me to Address My Mental Health
Trigger warning: This article discusses depression and past suicide ideation. If you or a loved one are experiencing suicidal thoughts, there are resources available for support including the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) and online chat.
I have been living with depression and anxiety for as long as I can remember. Old journals written by my 8-year-old self reveal everything from suicide ideation to frequent panic attacks. I had no idea that what I experienced on a daily basis was not my fault. I lived in constant fear, weighed down by depressive thoughts.
Instead of getting help at a young age, I was pulled from school in 5th grade and didn’t return in-person until my college years. The coping mechanisms that I learned to function with my mental health were avoidant at best, and self-destructive at worst.
Maintaining control as a coping mechanism
Before my narcolepsy onset in my college years, I prided myself on being able to control everything in my own personal life as well as the lives of those closest to me. Maintaining this control was how I coped with my untreated anxiety and depression symptoms.
All of the limiting thoughts and actions that I took to cope were so insidious to me and everyone around me. Every time I did something nice for a friend, I felt secure that one day they would reciprocate. Stumbling through life, I was mistaking relationships for contracts.
I felt that I could guarantee love and acceptance from others through my own actions. I extended unconditional love to other people before ever offering it to myself. It has taken over a year of therapy for me to realize what I had been doing my entire life.
Narcolepsy symptoms and my invisible struggle
The onset of my narcolepsy symptoms in 2017 ripped the Band-Aid from my festering mental wounds. Before narcolepsy, I always had to be the best at everything I did. I graduated with honors from my university and summa cum laude. I was working multiple jobs. I had a relatively vibrant social life. I kept myself numb by keeping myself busy.
When my narcolepsy symptoms onset, I suddenly became unable to care for myself adequately. I was too disabled to stay awake during class, jobs, and extracurriculars. I felt like I was treading invisible mud. No one around me could understand why such change had occurred in me. No one could really even see my struggle.
The facade of perfection was crumbling
For a while, I tried to keep controlling things like I did before my condition onset. Friends started becoming resentful of me and my symptoms. When I messed up planning events because of severe brain fog, they rolled their eyes at my explanations.
Their apathy was nothing compared to my self-hatred. I would berate myself internally when my condition made me less than perfect. The facade of perfection that I’d been hiding my mental health problems behind was crumbling before my eyes.
Letting go of what I can't control
Over time, I have learned to focus on my own journey and let go of things that I cannot control. Learning to deal with my own problems meant that I no longer had to hold on to the problems of others. All of those years of repressing my mental health issues have taken their toll, however.
I still struggle to identify my feelings to this day. Attending therapy sessions can be difficult with my condition due to my frequent sleep attacks. However, little by little it has taught me how to identify my emotions in a nonjudgmental way. I am able to experience life with less dissociation. The colors are vibrant, more clear. But the pain is more poignant. It is a beautiful thing, really.
How has narcolepsy affected your mental health? Where do you find support? Our community is a place where you can connect with others who understand. Tell us about your journey in the comments below.
Do you feel that your doctor understands narcolepsy?