Food and Narcolepsy

Julie Flygare is my #womancrushwednesday! Check out her episode on the @arinuplifted podcast where she talks all about…NARCOLEPSY…here!

(Photo via @remrunner.)

Trigger warning: eating disorders. With a heaping side of bitterness.

It took me a while to process this interview because it’s heavy on the food and exercise talk. You see, food and I have a thing. And Julie does a great job countering the idea that food and exercise could play any role in reversing narcolepsy. *standing ovation*

Narcolepsy is a neurological disease caused by a lack of cells in the brain that release the neuropeptide orexin/hypocretin. These cells are suspected to ether be missing from birth or to be killed in an autoimmune process.

While I was having symptoms as early as 8 years old, I wasn’t diagnosed until 20 years later. My whole life I thought that I had a behavioral disorder; I thought that I was lacking willpower and motivation, that I was “floppy” because I had no self control, and that my eyes were burning because I had the “declining vision of an 80 year old” (actual comment from an eye doctor). I spent years trying to manage my mysterious symptoms through diet and exercise before my diagnosis. Despite already being in peak physical condition as a college athlete, I thought that I could – and SHOULD – do more. After all, I was being tested up one side and down the other and everything came back negative. Therefore, I was perfectly healthy and was bringing this all on myself.

It won’t take a genius to figure out where this is going. Headlong into an eating disorder. Yes. I eliminated all foods that I could link to my symptoms, until I was eating chicken, avocado, and frozen broccoli for three meals a day, every day. Being in social situations became impossible and I was still sleeping under my desk at grad school.

Only after fighting back from a rampant eating disorder can I say that at the height of my autoimmune paleo protocol neuroses and physical strength was I still experiencing daily symptoms of cataplexy and excessive sleepiness. Like most humans, I feel better when I’m eating real food than when I’m eating crap for every meal. But no amount of gluten-free, dairy-free, nut-free, nightshade-free nonsense is going to cure my neurological disorder. Going back to my #wcw, it was so incredibly healing to listen to someone I admire and respect say those words. Thank you, Julie!

I absolutely agree that restrictive diets can be beneficial for many people. For me it was mentally and physically unhealthy and I’m grateful to be out the other side of that dark time.

Where have you slept?

Where is the strangest place that you’ve ever slept? Was it on purpose? / What was your motivation?

Neurotypicals: your responses are welcomed!

On the floor with a puppy at Thanksgiving. Probably the most “normal” weird place I’ve slept.
On a beach in New Zealand at 9am in the morning after 9 hours of sleep before starting an epic hike.
In the Frankfurt airport before taking the train to Cologne.
On a morning car ride. Yes we absolutely keep pillows and blankets in the car so I can sleep in the car when we drive, and so that I have a safe and comfortable place to nap if we’re in a social situation and I need to dip out for a moment.

There’s a photo somewhere of me sleeping on a bus my first year in college. It was late at night, we were coming back from a co-ed school and I was stone cold sober.  But these are only the places that are documented.  In parks, in class, on SO MANY DIRTY FLOORS and on so many modes of public transportation. And of course under my desk in grad school.

As I think about the weirdest places I’ve napped I realize that I have no perspective on the issue. What counts as “weird” when you’ve slept…everywhere? And when you look at the world through the lens of someone trying to find the most comfortable and socially appropriate horizontal surface in any situation? #narcolepsyprincess

Xyrem Vol. 2

There are so many narcolepsy blogs and vlogs where people track their Xyrem experience and I’m starting to understand why they all start out with such vim and vigor and trail off after a few months: it’s because the person is waking up and living life! Instead of sleeping all day and blogging/vlogging in between, we’re awake and alive with a few naps here and there.

This drug has completely changed my life. I’ve done more in the past 3 months than I’ve done in the past 5 years.¬† And now that Xyrem is working and I have hours on end of wakefulness, I’m neglecting curioussparkledirt ūüė≥ to RUN THE FASHION BRAND I STARTED 2 MONTHS AGO?! How is that even a thing?! I ACTUALLY launched a fashion brand – – two weeks ago, after coming up with the idea for wire-framed headscarves two weeks into Xyrem treatment. This is where I have to stop thinking and keep doing because the sadness of 20 years of misdiagnosis is enough to drown me.¬† Being awake is NOT overrated.


How has Xyrem helped me?

I have fewer dreams and hallucinations, and fewer intrusive REM cycles during the day. This is big for me because my dreams, nightmares, and hallucinations are horribly disruptive and emotionally exhausting/debilitating/scarring. I still dream but they slip away when I wake up, rather than lodging themselves in my memory as experiences.

I transition more easily between tasks because I’m not doing the thing that is just the easiest to do deliriously tired. ¬†I can reflect, critically analyze, and switch to the highest impact task when necessary. ¬†And if I can’t make it all the way through that chain, I’ll nap after I realize what I need to do and before I make the switch. ¬†This is helpful for EVERYTHING.

Where is there room for improvement?

Things aren’t 100%. ¬†I sleep 1-3 times per day for an hour or more, I still have hella cataplexy attacks, and I still can’t read for more than a few minutes without my eyes burning. ¬†Cataplexy isn’t supposed to start getting better until I’m at about 3grams x 2 so I’m not worried about that.

I think that a lot of dissatisfaction comes from an understanding of where I will be after a year or two on Xyrem and being frustrated that I’m not already there yet #chronicillnessfirstworldproblems. ¬†Because the truth is that my worst day on Xyrem is still 74 times better than my best day jacked up on stimulants. ¬†I’m just realizing how sick I was.

And having a diagnosis?

IS FREAKING AMAZING! ¬†But some friends and family have asked me if I’ve gotten worse in the past couple of months and here’s what I think is going on: I LOOK worse because the diagnosis empowered me to set boundaries. I take naps when I need them whereas before my diagnosis I would just zombie through life on stimulants without naps and then crash for a week.¬†¬†I looked more functional because I was going through the motions of life, even though nobody knew that I was just a shell. ¬†Now instead of forcing myself to stay awake by binge eating or binge watching Netflix, I recognize those behaviors as signs of exhaustion and take a nap. ¬†This is a big part of learning to listen to and trust my body.

Last night on Xyrem

Last night I increased my Xyrem dose to 2.5g x 2 from 2.25g x 2.

7pm Done with food for the night.

10pm¬†2.5 grams of Xyrem down the hatch. Let me just say that 2.5g is where the taste went from “ugh this is salty ocean water” to “holy shit I am actually drinking a dissolved block of salt”. It’s INTENSE, but it doesn’t really matter. If I had to let a raccoon poop in my mouth twice a night to get my Xyrem I would still do it. Being awake is that good.

11pm¬†I was on my phone for an hour or so and started feeling high much more quickly than previous doses. I got a small headache around 11 and then let myself go to sleep. ¬†Real talk: my sleep hygiene has gotten a lot worse since starting Xyrem because I rely on it to put me to sleep. ¬†You don’t have to do that and good sleep hygiene won’t hurt.

1:30am Wake up naturally, go to bathroom, get back in bed, take second dose.

4:45am Wake up with the sunrise, FEELING awake and alert, and then look at clock and realize that it’s 4:45. I’ve never seen 4:45 as an awake person in my whole life.

4:45-6:45am On Shopify working on It wasn’t that drugged wakefulness where you kind of engage with your phone and then wake up an hour later drooling and your phone dropped out of your hands because you fell back asleep. I was AWAKE. I had no idea what to do with myself. This is different from 2.25×2 so we’ll see if it lasts and how it changes over the next week.

6:45-9:45am Ate breakfast, made some scarves, and did a sleep&sparkle photo shoot.  I started feeling sleepy around 9:45 so I took 125mg of Nuvigil and slept til 11:30.

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.


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!


The #narcolepsyprincess