The Next Step

I recently earned my barbering diploma. I will officially get my certificate in September or October.

Last year, I decided to go back to school to learn a new skill. I enrolled at a college to train to become a barber. Before last year, the last time I was in school was in 2003 when I went to university and studied music production and development.

This last year has been extremely challenging. I have spent hours forcing my body to stay awake when it wanted to be asleep. Fighting cataplexy, excessive sleepiness, and brain fog — just trying to be alert. So, as you can imagine, I was happy to make it to the end of the course.

Am I ready for another fight?

Now the course has finished, another can of worms filled with new challenges has opened. Is there a barber willing to mentor me and take me under their wing? Will I find someone who understands and will be empathetic towards the fact that I have narcolepsy?

Getting to college and staying awake, pushing through the course when I felt like giving up, proving that I could do it, and proving everyone who doubted me wrong has taken over my life, but I did it. I learnt that people could be understanding of my narcolepsy. That I could adapt my experience by pausing and taking naps to get me through the long days. But I had to fight for it. Am I ready for another fight?

Challenges in barbering with narcolepsy

I'm ready to take all the skills that I've learned in college and transfer them into real life, into the real world, and that's scary. No one likes rejection, and in a situation like this, you have to have thick skin, because you have to go around to people and ask them to trust you.

So what are the challenges for a barber who has narcolepsy?

Staying awake long enough to do the work

If you try to stay awake longer than your body allows, it can be dangerous for you and for others because you're using scissors, razors, and clippers. It will be important for an employer to understand that I will need to have regular breaks.

Dealing with unpredictable sleep patterns

Narcolepsy often causes excessive daytime sleepiness, sudden sleep attacks, and irregular sleep patterns. These symptoms can make it challenging to maintain a consistent work schedule. I feel anxious when I feel I have proven myself capable. This can make my symptoms worse.

Falling asleep during important meetings or tasks

The fear of embarrassment or being perceived as lazy can add additional stress during the transition.

Coping with fatigue and reduced productivity

I live in a constant state of exhaustion even after obtaining sufficient sleep. This affects my concentration, memory, and overall productivity in the workplace. The transition to the work environment will expose me to a higher workload and increased stress, amplifying my symptoms.

Managing sleep attacks and cataplexy

We have all had them — sudden sleep attacks, where we fall asleep at inappropriate times. This is not going to be good if this happens with clippers in my hand. The fear of experiencing these symptoms at work can lead to anxiety and self-consciousness that never feels good.

Seeking accommodations and support

One crucial aspect of a successful transition will be ensuring that I can get access to appropriate accommodations and support within the barber shop. This includes flexible work hours, the ability to take short breaks, or even the option of a designated nap space. Luckily, I was afforded all this at college. That's why I was able to finish the course.

Ideally, I want to be supported and understood by coworkers and supervisors, as it will significantly alleviate anxiety and stress.

I'm ready to move forward

So that's where I am at the moment; proud of my achievement, proud that I fought for myself, and just a tad nervous about having to pick up the fight once again, but ready to move forward.

Have you had any challenges transferring your skills from college or university into the workplace? How did you overcome these challenges?

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