a woman is asleep in the grocery store leaning on her cart and dreaming about her dog and her shopping list

Shopping With Narcolepsy Is Friggin' Hard

Last updated: July 2021

A typical Tuesday morning might find me in the aisles of my local grocery store. Tiredness is etched underneath my eyes.

If I have my service dog with me, she is walking nicely next to me. Her sleek German Shepherd coat is wrapped in a vest, with large red words stating, “Service Dog In Training, Do NOT Touch!”

I need my service dog to stay focused on me

I flinch when people stop to stare, waiting for strange outreaching hands to enter her space. If this happens, my service dog will become excited and switch from “working” mode to “playing” mode. If this were to happen in every store we visit, she would eventually learn to not focus on me.

People don’t often understand that affection is rewarding to dogs, like giving them a treat for doing a trick. If a service dog gets free rewards without doing their tasks or behaving properly, eventually, they learn that they don’t have to do either. This is dangerous for their handler, who depends on them for medical reasons.

Keeping myself safe

In my case, if Kida were to get distracted, she might miss a sleep attack alert. I might drive when it is unsafe for me to do so and perhaps fall asleep behind the wheel uncontrollably.

When I am in public, I depend on alerts from my service dog to keep me safe. I have gotten into the habit of leaving my service dog at home for grocery trips. The combination of pushing a cart, plus keeping the public from interacting with my service dog, plus remembering everything I need from the store is enough to drive anyone mad.

Falling asleep in the checkout line

After I have collected my items from the store, it is time for checkout. I often fall asleep in line while standing in checkout. I might prop my elbows up on the cart, wincing at the germs I expect I’m touching.

I close my eyes and watch films of colors, shapes, and stories behind my lids. The black behind my lids is never dark; I don’t often experience microsleep without dreaming.

Then the fog lifts

If I overstay my welcome in dreamland, people around me might clear their throats and check their watches. As a person with a hearing impairment, this will often do me no good. I pry open my lids once they are lighter, their heaviness still weighing down into my throat.

Microsleep provides a surprising amount of energy once it passes. Maybe once the fog of the sleep attack lifts, the consciousness that is left is that much more appreciated.

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Getting home safely

It is this spike in energy after a sleep attack that I utilize to drive myself home safely. If I have my service dog with me, the ride is less stressful, knowing that she can alert to me if she needs to. If I have to stop the car and nap due to a sleep attack, I feel safe knowing that I have a strong German Shepherd dog in the backseat.

Shopping with narcolepsy is difficult, but certain strategies help me to cope with my symptoms. Do you have any experience shopping with narcolepsy? Please share with us in the comments below!

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