Narcolepsy: My University Experience
Last updated: May 2023
Most people will never understand the difficulties of living with narcolepsy. For many people, studying is already a hard enough task, but for those of us with narcolepsy, it can be exceptionally challenging.
Looking back, I wonder how I managed
In hindsight, I wonder how I ever managed to successfully complete my university bachelor's degree in history.
For the first 28 years of my life, I didn’t know I had narcolepsy. I went through all of the natural steps of attending school, 2 years of college, and 3 years of university as is the standard in the United Kingdom. As a born writer, I naturally navigated toward subjects like English literature and history, but in the end, my passion for history won, so that was what I decided to major in.
Looking back now, I wonder how on earth I managed to not only complete 3 intense years of university but even surpass my own expectations.
Getting the 'full' university experience
University had always been a dream of mine. I envisioned a life of freedom, adventure, and most of all, parties!
Throughout my university years, I can’t deny that I was a less-than-perfect student. I even intentionally chose a university in a different city so that I could have the opportunity to live on campus and live the "full" experience of university life.
In some ways, I believe I did make the best of these years. On the other hand, I know now that luck was definitely on my side for a lot of it.
Experiencing narcolepsy symptoms during classes
Unlike most people I know, excessive daytime sleepiness was one of the last symptoms to surface for me. My narcolepsy symptoms started at 15 years old, but I didn’t develop EDS until I was 21, exactly around the time I started university.
It started with me falling asleep during my classes. My friend would nudge me on the arm in an effort to wake me up as I laid my head on the table. I didn’t think anything of it; after all, it was only natural to be tired when you’d partied late into the previous night, right?
Heading into my second year, I decided to start sitting in the first row of every class. It would be more difficult to fall asleep when you’re sitting right in front of the lecturer, surely?
Unfortunately, the only thing that happened was that instead of being awakened by my friend’s soft nudge, I was now awakened by a loud thud as the lecturer dropped a heavy book beside my sleeping head. Any notes I managed to take were completely useless; they were nothing but illegible scribbles.
A supportive classmate made all the difference
When I mentioned before that luck was on my side, I was not lying, but my luck had a name: Hayley.
She was my saving grace. She would share her notes with me after class; call me to make sure I’d finished my essays; and force me to study with her in the library when I was too tired to get out of bed. I truly believe that without her I would have failed university, and my life would likely have gone on a very different path.
Almost 7 years later, I shared my diagnosis on Facebook, and Hayley was one of the first to comment. She was, as always, incredibly supportive, and I was finally able to thank her for everything she had done for me.
It’s in these instances I look back and am so grateful for all the people that supported me throughout the years of living with undiagnosed narcolepsy. It reminds me that simple acts can make such a difference in someone else’s life. That’s what drives me to continue sharing my story, because we never know when it could change someone else's.
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