A Black man lying in bed awake, smiling softly at his dog, who wags his tail beside the bed.

My Experience With Pets and Sleep Paralysis

I got my first pet, an adorable puppy, when I was 27 years old.

At the time, I had not yet been diagnosed with narcolepsy, so I had no idea just how much her presence would play a fundamental role in my life — and her absence even more.

The story of how I got my dog

My friend Hannah told me about a friend of hers that was looking for a home for the last puppy in the litter, and to this day, I have no idea what made me do it... but I immediately replied with, “I want her!” At the time, I was in a very serious 5-year relationship, so even before I went to pick her up, my boyfriend and I had already decided we were going to name her "Honey."

Imagine my surprise when I went to pick her up and, since the family were initially going to keep her, they mentioned that they had already named “Mel" but insisted that I was free to change it.

I didn’t change it, because that was the moment I knew that this beautiful puppy was meant for me.

Why? Well, for context, I was living in Angola at the time, which is a Portuguese-speaking country in Southwestern Africa. “Mel” is the Portuguese word for “Honey.”

Having to give up my dog increased my narcolepsy symptoms

About 6 months after getting Mel, I was diagnosed with narcolepsy type 1, and 6 months after that, I also had to deal with the end of my relationship. It was just me and Mel now. She helped me get through some of the toughest moments during this time.

However, as I began a new job that increasingly demanded more and more of my time, the guilt of leaving Mel alone for 10 to 12 hours a day forced me to make a very tough decision — I had to give her up. Luckily, she didn’t go far and remained in the family with my sister and 5-year-old niece.

It was soon after I gave her away that some symptoms of narcolepsy I had only ever experienced a handful of times started to become a daily occurrence.

A terrifying episode of sleep paralysis

The most memorable and truly frightening experience I had around that time happened only 2 weeks after Mel left. I went to sleep that night and it was a night like any other. I’m not sure how long I slept for, but I don’t believe it was long at all before I “woke up” in a frozen state, unable to move.

I could hear soft giggles coming from somewhere outside my bedroom. It sounded like a kid’s laughter, but not the good kind. It sent a chill down my spine and I became even more aware of my vulnerable position.

Sleep paralysis is a very difficult thing to describe, because even though my eyes were shut, I can remember seeing 3 small children standing by my door and staring at me with the most malicious look in their eyes. I cannot describe how terrifying this experience was.

Mel made me feel protected, even from my narcolepsy symptoms

It took me a while to understand why I was suddenly having so many of these episodes, and how having Mel had, in many ways, kept me "protected."

Although narcolepsy has a defined set of symptoms, they affect us all in different ways. I only discovered that sleep paralysis and hallucinations are some of my most prominent symptoms when I no longer had Mel.

I eventually began to understand the following:

Mel's alerts to movement made me feel protected

Mel was the type of dog that would bark if anyone even passed by the front door, so if I thought I heard or saw something during the night, she was who I looked to for corroboration. If she was silent or sleeping then I knew everything was fine.

She would wake me up when I was having a nightmare

She always slept in her little bed next to me on the floor, but if I was having a particularly horrible nightmare or was in distress, she would jump on my bed and start sniffing her way up to my head and wake me up.

She could tell when I was upset

She would always be able to tell if I was feeling particularly down or upset, and just her simple way of grabbing her small ball and basically forcing me to play with her also helped me avoid many cataplexy attacks. Even simply seeing her cute face appearing to try and comfort me cheered me up almost instantly.

Having a pet can be a benefit your health

At the end of the day, having any pet can have a truly beneficial impact on your life and even your symptoms.

I would love to know who else has had an experience with narcolepsy and pets, good or bad.

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