The eternal paradox of being able to sleep at any moment… without ever truly relaxing. This is the reality of living with anxiety and narcolepsy.
As a person with narcolepsy, you have probably had people tell you that they are jealous of the fact you get to take naps all the time. Whether a joke or a straight up misinformed comment, this feeds into people’s ideas of naps as a luxury; a habit of those with extra time to spend devoted to relaxation. However, recently I have found more and more that I can’t relax like the average person.
It’s an obvious but important thing to note. When you are in danger of falling asleep any time you are relaxed, you start to run into a bit of a problem: how do I live in a constant state of being either directly stimulated or asleep?
When I say asleep, I don’t just mean what most people would consider “asleep”, but all of those states between waking and sleep that only narcoleptics get to experience on a regular basis.
For most people, relaxing after work means cuddling up on the couch while watching TV. However when you are a person who finds it difficult to stay awake while sitting in a comfortable seat in dimmed light, it’s hardly surprising that this might not be your ideal option.
Similarly, the offer of watching a movie on the weekend isn’t one that I often take people up on. It’s not that I never see movies, but it does take something special to convince me that it is worth the risk that I’ll waste my time by sleeping through the most important parts! I also want to spend my time with friends or family actually awake, without a screen constantly threatening to put me to sleep.
As you may know, people with narcolepsy don’t get enough restful sleep. This leaves our bodies and brains without enough of the crucial process of regeneration that other people receive each night. This also leaves our brains with an increased occurrence of mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety.
Anxiety might not be something you would typically associate with a sleepy person, certainly far off from the hyperactive, highly charged stereotype that some people have of the condition. Despite this, it’s actually very common throughout the narcoleptic community, and something I have issues with myself from time to time.
Being sleepy and anxious can be a terrible combination, leaving you feeling agitated and jittery without the energy to funnel that restlessness into a productive activity. It can also have the inverse effect of making your poor night time sleep even worse, and causing dream-related symptoms such as hallucinations and sleep paralysis to take on a more worrying tone.
Unfortunately narcoleptics also have a lot of things to worry about, with increased chance of obesity, unemployment, divorce and many other things that come together to make even the most sane person feel like their life actually is falling apart.
One big issue for those with both anxiety and narcolepsy is that the stimulant medications many PWN rely on can exacerbate anxiety symptoms, while common anxiety medications can cause further drowsiness. It can be tough, and take some compromise, to find an optimal balance. (Please talk to your doctor if you are worried about the side effects of your meds on your mental health! Keep in mind that anxiety is not just in the mind, it can have physical symptoms such as tightness in the chest, difficulty breathing and a racing heartbeat.)
Whether or not you experience clinical anxiety, truly relaxing without falling sleep can be difficult as a PWN. Without the ability to relax, it is easy to feel as if your whole life is spent either under stress (with work, kids or whatever else keeps you busy) or asleep. Not much of a life.
Despite all of the odds stacked against us, it’s not a lost cause. Through a lot of trial and error I have discovered some activities that will keep my brain awake enough while allowing it to zone out into that relaxed state of mind. I’ve realised that making time to do these things is essential to keeping my mental health on track!
I’ll be following this post up with another describing some of my ideas for relaxing (but not too relaxing!) activities, so stay tuned! I would also love to hear from anyone with suggestions of things that work for you 🙂