We've all had days when we shambled into work like the world's least-threatening zombie after a bad night's sleep, and we don't tend to think of it as a big deal. Have some coffee and suck it up, right? Well, depending on your job, that kind of attitude can put a lot of people at risk. Being sleepy choke-slams your cognitive functioning, to the point where hospitals have been able to reduce the number of medical errors by over one-third merely by forcing their doctors to sleep more. But for someone who has narcolepsy, no amount of sleep is ever enough. Every day is a constant battle not to leave a sponge in someone.
"Double-check this patient, would you? If you do find a sponge, give it here. I could use a pillow."
Just kidding -- without treatment, they would never make it through medical school. "I had several cognitive tests, and they found I had a severe problem with executive functioning, which is the ability to plan things and follow them through, and I failed out of school," Kevin says. "I had a lot of problems being at school two hours away from my doctor. That was the reason for treating the narcolepsy -- so I could go to school." Heather adds, "The big thing is that it's very difficult to think clearly. I think people underestimate how hard it is to function mentally, and it does make things like school very difficult."
Even with treatment, there's only so much that can be done.
"I still have a problem with oversleeping and missing work," Kevin continues. "I have been much better about it, but I did recently get talked to about being late to work." Once you've managed the legitimately herculean task of getting to work, the real struggle begins. "I always try to keep a cup of coffee or some nicotine gum," Kevin continues. "I've never had an issue where it's like 'I'm going to fall asleep right now.' I can deal with that by getting a cup of coffee. It's just really unpleasant."
Even more so when that lady from accounting makes the pot. Ugh.
If you have the kind of job where falling asleep isn't going to turn you or anyone else into a stain on the freeway (and you have a very understanding boss), sometimes you gotta give in to temptation. "I used to go park my car near a park where I felt safe with lots of moms around, and I would sleep in my car between clients," Heather says. "When I was in school, I was a library aide, and I would sleep behind the library desk, and someone would ring a bell and I would pop up like Grover on Sesame Street. I've always found ways to cope with it."
Oh, and before you ask: No, rampant cocaine addiction is not doctor-recommended.
Manna has a newfound appreciation for what little sleep she gets, but that won't stop her from complaining about it on Twitter.
For more insider perspectives, check out 5 Ridiculous Myths You Probably Believe About Schizophrenia and 4 Things You Learn Having A Disease Doctors Can't Diagnose.
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