Narcolepsy Product Guide

Narcolepsy, chronic illness, and mental illness suck.  Below are some of the things that make my life easier, better, and more comfortable.  These are great for narcolepsy/cataplexy and maybe good for other chronic illnesses, too?  Comment below with your favorite products that we need to know about to live a more full life while battling our demons.  Unfortunately I don’t receive kickbacks from any of these companies so I won’t have financial freedom when they change your life, but maybe one day when my blog is YUGE…

Let’s start with the basics

Rice Socks

Raise your hand if your eyes start burning shortly after you wake up.  And then for the rest of the day.  Mmhmm.  And your grad student friends look at you kinda weird when you ask them how they keep working on data when their eyes are bleeding and they’re kinda like “ummm…huh?”

So I definitely don’t know how to solve this problem, though I’m hoping that it goes away like everything else as I continue to increase my Xyrem.  In the meantime, let me tell you what the Eye Clinic told me when I was complaining of declining vision and they couldn’t find anything wrong with me: a warm compress.  Again – it doesn’t solve the problem, but absolutely brings me some relief.

Fill an old, soft, odd sock with a few cups of white rice.  Preferably a sock that isn’t too hole-y.  (If you are reading this and you have narcolepsy, I am assuming that you don’t have your shit together enough to have gotten rid of your old socks.  I dare you to tell me I’m wrong or, if you’re odd socks are gone, that you had anything to do with it.)  Microwave that sucker for 30 seconds (put a cup of water in the microwave for moisture) and than go take your nap with that on your eyes.

Note: the standard tricks for relieving eye fatigue DO NOT WORK FOR ME.  Remember that if you have narcolepsy you are sleep deprived which is totally different from having fatigued eyes.  For years I’ve tried to do the “look away from the screen, etc” and I get so frustrated and feel like a shitty student/human because I still need to sleep and I still feel like a demon with daggers is standing on the inside of my skull trying to push my eyes out of my head.  If anything, stopping to look away from the screen makes going back to doing work more difficult because I’m tuned in to the pain.  Know that if this is you, you’re not doing anything wrong.  You’re just doing everything sleep deprived.  I’m sending you a sock filled with rice-y love.

Water bottles

I have morning hands.  I get them in the morning regardless of what I’m feeling and then throughout the day. #cataplexy

The Camelbak Eddy is my answer to this.  It is a socially acceptable, adult, sippy cup that I can put on the table and drink from without my hands ever getting involved.  I used to buy cute water bottles that had screw caps and I would drop them and spill everywhere and it was a mess.  Over the years I gravitated towards more assistance but never understood why.  It’s because freakin’ morning hands!  One thing you can do is attach a carabiner to the hook on the lid and secure it to your bag, or to your jeans, or to wherever makes sense so that your hands can be involved as little as possible.  Downside of this bottle is that the bitevalve can get DISGUSTING.  I recommend buying extra bite valves on Amazon with your purchase because you know you’re not going to follow up on that for months. You’ll just drink from a disgusting water bottle. And that’s fine.  I’m not going to judge you and you won’t judge me.  Cool.

The downside of the Camelback Eddy is that it’s heavy and you have to carry it around even after you’ve finished drinking.  I was recently introduced to the Platypus water bottle bladders and holy smokes they’re amazing!  You can get a 1 liter bag, fill it up, stuff it in your purse, and lose weight as you drink.  It’s perfect.  I have not had one explode in my purse after using it for 3 months.

I use my Camelback around the house, and anywhere that I can set it down on a surface.  I use the Platypus when I’m adventuring around a city and don’t want  a ton of weight in my purse but need a ton of water.

Phone Cases

Which brings us to the LifeProof case!  I don’t actually have one of these right now but as I write about morning hands, and as I recently dropped my phone and broke the screen, it’s seeming like a good idea.  PLUS, it makes the Platypus water bladder a less risky gamble.  Boom. Done.

Sleep Game

Part of narcolepsy is having dreams and nightmares so vivid that they become memories.  Because of this, nighttime sleep never felt safe for me so I have a super tricked out bed game that makes sleeping a safer space.  These are my talisman so that I don’t have to fight off the demons on my own.  Yes I made my own dreamcatcher and if your nightmares become too much you can rock it Flava Flav style.  I’m pretty sure I read somewhere that this trend is IN this summer.  There’s a 90% chance that was a hallucination.

For travel:

Ear plugs

Is anyone else here super sensitive to noises?  Like you become full of irrational rage?  I know that this is an actual disorder and I’m not sure that I have that but I THINK – but am not sure – that my rage might be correlated with my level of sleep deprivation.  I take ear plugs, headphones, and charged electronics on all flights and to all public places so that I do not have to listen to the sounds of people eating, snoring, swallowing, and living.  It’s hella frustrating when this person is my husband because I love spending time with him and it’s not his fault he needed a drink of water.  And even worse when this person is myself.  True story: I had to stop eating leftover birthday cake last week because the sound of myself chewing and the fork on the plate almost made me start crying.  #sleepdeprivation

Inflatable airplane pillow/neck brace

Flying triggers cataplexy for me.  You don’t read that on WebMD *rolls eyes because the internet about narcolepsy kinda stinks* and I definitely thought it was something that everyone experienced until I read Chica Siesta’s blog post and realized that it was freakin’ cataplexy! (You guys when my neurologist explained cataplexy to me in our first appointment I was 100% sure I didn’t have it.  Not until weeks later and lots of talking to people did I realize that it wasn’t normal to a) have morning hands and b) lose all muscle control and collapse into a heap on the floor at random times, all while maintaining consciousness.)

I read Elaine’s post while we were planning our honeymoon to New Zealand, immediately recognized my symptoms, and declared to my husband that I needed a neck brace for our trip.  After working hard to not look at me like I was crazy, he found this inflatable airplane pillow/neck brace on Amazon that exactly fit the bill.  Yes he searches for things on the internet for me because I can’t read.  See “burning eyes&rice sock” above.

Travel Naps

Raise your hand if you hate sitting in chairs.  Cool, me too.  It’s exhausting.  I like to be as close to the floor at all times in the event of a cataplexy attack.  We have these super fancy pants pocket size chairs from REI and I can’t use them.  Speaking of which we need to return mine.  Chairs are the worst.  So when we were packing for NZ I was like “no I don’t want to take a chair.  I want a picnic blanket that’s waterproof and easy to fold up so that I can sleep when you want to go on a run.”  Cue D going to Amazon and finding the COSY MEADOW which is EXACTLY a picnic blanket that’s waterproof and easy to fold up so that I can sleep when he wants to go on a run!  (Thank you, Darrell.)  This was the MVP of our trip and continues to be one of my most favorite discoveries post-diagnosis.  I willfully ignore the fact that some people are awake enough to use this to go to music festivals, as advertised.  Because you know where I used it?  On the beach in Abel Tasman park at 10am in the morning 6 minutes after we got off a water taxi to go on a legendary hike.  Have I said “FUCK NARCOLEPSY” during this post yet? Because FUCK NARCOLEPSY.

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For style:

Nickel & Suede leather earrings: I wore these earrings on an overnight flight to New Zealand like it was nothing. Yes I have other earrings but these are like the pajama’s of earrings.  You’ll look like a million bucks.  A sleepy a million bucks.  But you get the idea.

Red lipstick: You absolutely do not have to wear makeup, lipstick, or anything else to be beautiful and awake.  For me, red lipstick has become a ritual that tells my brain “we’re doing life today, suck it up.”  Of course that does not work because I have a neurological disease and my brain will do whatever it wants, but I find comfort in routine.  I also find that fewer people say “you look sick”, “did you sleep last night?”, and other ridiculous things that distract me from whatever meaningful thing I’m trying to do.  So I’ve come to the conclusion that it makes me look less sleepy and more alive.  I should say that it took a long time and buying all of the colors of cheap wet ‘n wild lipsticks before I found my red!  Now I wear Liya’s Red and I love it.  Thank you, Stasia, for teaching me the power of a good red!

 

Do any of these things fit into your life?  What am I missing (aside from a doctor who gets you and meds that don’t have horrible side effects)?  Please please please share your favorite products in the comments below!

Xoxo,

The #narcolepsyprincess

Cleaning Out My Office

This is something I posted on Instagram (@curioussparkledirt) one week ago and I want to share it here.

Today my amazing husband helped me clean out my grad school office. And then dealt with me afterwards. Nothing makes a person grumpy quite like returning to the shrine of their undiagnosed neurological disease.

You might be sick if…you sneak a rug, pillow, and blankets into your office on a weekend night under cover of darkness so you can sleep underneath your desk for 3-4 hours/day before going home to sleep more, all after sleeping 10+ hours/night. Oh the shame I’ve carried…

Will I go back to finish my dissertation? No idea. But I’m grateful to have the diagnosis and to have Xyrem, so that when I’m fully treated in a year I’ll have a choice. Because there was a time when I loved my field and loved my research. And I’m done letting narcolepsy make my decisions.

A blog post to come when I’m done stewing. A week? A month? A year? No one knows. But what I do know? It’s okay to not be okay. About this one thing. Because everything else right now is fuckin fantastic.

Love,
The #narcolepsyprincess

The Misty Bear and Nimbus Lifestyle Hostel for People Who Have Morning Hands and Other People Who Have Weird Things Too

Happy Sleepy Saturday.  Today I have an exciting announcement!

The community you’ve been dreaming about is finally here.

I’m thrilled to announce that Misty Bear, Nimbus and I are expanding our lifestyle hostel!

  • Are you jealous of your cat?
  • Do you wish you could sleep whenever and wherever you want without feeling shame and guilt?
  • Do you want to NOT have to keep reminding yourself that sleepiness is NOT laziness?
  • Do you want those gold stars you deserve for getting into the shower? For feeding yourself? For answering the phone and managing your doctor appointments? #boringselfcare
  • Do you collapse spontaneously or lose muscle control with little warning?
  • Do you see things that no one else sees? Or experience your bed falling when everyone around you tells you that didn’t happen?
  • Also we have animals.

If you answered yes to one or more of these questions then The Misty Bear and Nimbus Lifestyle Hostel for People Who Have Morning Hands and Other People Who Have Weird Things Too could be right FOR YOU!


Here at the MB&NLH4PWHMH&OPWHWT2 we live according to our bothersome medication schedules, high-maintenance self-care routines, and wonky circadian rhythms in the guilt- and shame-free environment we’ve always craved.  The MB&NLH4PWHMH&OPWHWT2 is a safe, judgment-free zone, for all those managing diagnosed and undiagnosed chronic illness, sleep disorders, and mental illness.


Simply post photos of your self care routine using #MB&NLH4PWHMH&OPWHWT2 to win a free night stay!  All entries must be submitted to Misty Bear and Nimbus by this coming Saturday, June 10 to be considered.

What people are saying about us:

“It exceeded at least 7 out of 10 of my expectations.” -Anon

“People here are SO like me.  It’s kind of disruptive.” -Anon

“Everyone pays their dues.  Sometimes that’s not enough.” -Anon

“There are a lot of people here like me.  So if you’re not like me we could really use a hand.” -Anon

Diabetes isn’t a choice, and neither is mental illness.

Bartleby. A gift from my best friend in college. Maybe she knew I needed nice things to snuggle with before I did.

Many of our nation’s people in uniform experience mental health challenges in the form of PTSD, depression, and traumatic brain injury, among other things.  I initially planned to research and write a post for Memorial Day about mental health in the armed services, but when I discovered that one of the biggest barriers to treatment among this population is stigma, I decided to write about something in my wheelhouse: stigma in my own mental health journey.  And further, the way that my understanding and experience of stigma changed when my mental health record was wiped clean in exchange for a neurological disease.

A Brief History

I was diagnosed with and medicated for ADHD when I was 8 years old.  I added depression, OCD, and generalized anxiety to my psychiatric resume in high school and have consistently taken a variety of antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications since.  I received accommodations for extra time on tests starting in high school and was ashamed that I needed these because I couldn’t focus or stay awake even in the most average, people-do-these-things-all-the-damned-time, situations.  I was perceived to be “lazy” by my high school teachers and to have an “unfair advantage” by nosy parents who found out about my accommodations when I was late to track practice because I was finishing a test.

I kept quiet about my “crazy” because people say stupid things and words can be hurtful.  I wanted to advocate for people like me but was too ashamed to come out about my struggles for fear that I would be admonished as I was in high school, by perceived enemies and allies alike.  I created a cocoon of isolation to protect myself from stigma.

Scratch That: A Neurological Diagnosis

It’s February 2017.  My husband and I sat in my new neurologist’s office following my sleep study while the neurologist explained that my results showed I was “flagrantly narcoleptic”.  I cried with relief and disbelief.  This was my Diagnosis Day.

I asked 1000 questions, shocked that there was a single word for all of my symptoms.  I knew that depression didn’t explain my collapsing episodes but previous practitioners convinced me that whatever couldn’t be assigned a diagnosis code – and even some of the things that could – must be something I was choosing to do to myself.

Before leaving the appointment my medical chart changed forever. I got a clean bill of mental health in exchange for a neurological disease as my neurologist struck a line through “depression”, “anxiety”, and “ADHD” and wrote “narcolepsy with cataplexy”.  We would revisit those diagnoses later, but until proven otherwise, he explained, those were all misdiagnoses for narcolepsy.

I felt like the weight of the world was taken off my shoulders that day.  I felt the relief of finally being SEEN by the medical profession for the first time in my life. And, wait for it, the relief at not having a mental illness. Yes. I would rather have a neurological disease than a mental illness, even though the symptoms can manifest in similar ways.  Our society viewed me as “crazy” before my narcolepsy diagnosis, and “sick” after the diagnosis.  Why?

How My Experience Changed

Imagine walking around with a troll.  A big, ugly, smelly, disgusting troll a la HP and the Sorceror’s Stone. When viewed through the lens of mental health, I was treated as though I was holding hands with the troll and that I could be healthy if only I chose to let him go. In neurology? The troll is chained to my ankle.  My entire life I was treated as though I was doing this to myself. {THAT’S THE STIGMA OF MENTAL ILLNESS.}  But the truth is that anyone suffering from mental illness, chronic illness, physical illness, etc is CHAINED TO THE GODDAMNED TROLL.

Nobody tells a person with a neurological condition “you shouldn’t be allowed extra time on that test”.  Nobody tells a person with a brain tumor that their anxiety isn’t real and that they should substitute kale and essential oils for their medication.  Nobody tells a person with muscular dystrophy that they are lazy for not getting out of the house.  And nobody tells a person with diabetes that they should exist in the world without their insulin.

I want to live in a world where we treat patients with brain illness the same way that we treat a person with diabetes: with trust and respect about their story.

Stigma is dangerous.  Stigma is isolating.  Stigma keeps people from getting the help that they need and deserve, and from having a community while they figure things out.  The next time someone tells you about their struggles, try to see past what society taught you, and all of us, so that you can see the PERSON in front of you.

Via @active_minds on Instagram.

Check out my dear friend Rachael and her work with first responders here.  Thank you, Rachael, for sharing some notes when I was planning for this post to go in a different direction!