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Living With PTSD and Narcolepsy

Last updated: May 2022

I was recently diagnosed with PTSD. Though I’ve been diagnosed and treated for other mental illnesses, such as depression, I overlooked a few of my PTSD symptoms at their onset. I was confused due to some of the similarities PTSD and my narcolepsy condition share. There are a few similarities between narcolepsy and PTSD, as well as a few key differences.

Like a movie reel that I cannot stop

For example, narcolepsy and PTSD both result in vivid dreams. What I didn’t realize was that my narcolepsy dreams were often featuring the traumatic event itself, like a movie reel that I could watch but not stop. These happen when I’m asleep or awake, or somewhere in between (like I often am with narcolepsy).

It turns out that this is a common PTSD symptom called flashbacks.

Memory, anxiety, and emotional triggers

Narcolepsy often causes confusion or forgetfulness. My PTSD can also cause a similar symptom, where I feel confused and disjointed from the world around me. Both conditions impact my memory in different ways.

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Other PTSD symptoms are more subtle and differ from my narcolepsy symptoms. These symptoms include panic attacks and periods of intense anger that can be triggered by certain stimuli. Sometimes trauma talk therapy can even trigger these feelings.

Talk therapy helped me work through my fears

I’ve been in talk therapy for years. I’ve found it helpful in many different ways. For example, when I was faced with applying for disability for type 1 narcolepsy and my mental illnesses all by myself, I was frozen. I had no idea where to start.

During this time, talk therapy helped me work through my fears surrounding the situation, become more empowered, and taught me how to work in tiny steps towards a bigger, even monumental, goal.

My narcolepsy and mental illness can worsen each other

Even now, my mental illnesses and my narcolepsy can feed off of each other. When my depression is worsened, my narcolepsy is too. And vice versa.

When it comes to my new PTSD diagnosis, I’ve found that therapy can cause me to feel extremely drained for even days afterwards. In the days following an intense trauma therapy session, my narcolepsy symptoms are worsened. In other words, working through my trauma and its aftermath in my body and mind can trigger an increase in my narcolepsy symptoms.

Both conditions can be treated, but narcolepsy is permanent

According to the Mayo Clinic, PTSD symptoms can be divided into four main categories: intrusive memories, avoidance, negative changes in thinking and mood, and changes in physical and emotional reactions.1

Whereas type 1 narcolepsy is a permanent neurological condition, PTSD can be treated and improve. I don’t plan to have PTSD forever, so learning to work around my condition has been difficult, but I know that it will improve with time.

On the other hand, narcolepsy is difficult for different reasons, and I’ve tried all the treatments available for it in the U.S. thus far and still find my disease to be severe enough to impact my daily life and my lifestyle as a whole. Narcolepsy symptoms can be treated and lessened, but the disease itself is permanent.

How does your mental health affect your narcolepsy symptoms?

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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