Keep your eyes open
    Photo courtesy of author
    Photo by Priscilla Liu, Illustration by Sarah Lowe / North by Northwestern.

    There’s a spider crawling up my arm. It vanishes just seconds later, before I can touch it. But now a puppy is running laps around the classroom. The rest of my Spanish discussion has no problem ignoring him, but I’m hopelessly distracted. Man, I hate dogs.

    It dawns on me (as it always eventually does) that no one else can see these things. At this point it sounds like I’m either crazy or I’m starring in a mediocre horror film.

    I’m neither of those things; I’m narcoleptic. The response I hear most when I explain my condition is something along the lines of, “Oh, that’s so cool!” That’s what I get for going to a school where we seem to have more psych majors than free condoms.

    I don’t get seizures like unluckier narcoleptics do, but I do take daily involuntary short naps—we’re talking a couple of minutes a pop, here—that tend to be followed by hallucinations. Narcolepsy can be fascinating but hilarious, even when it brings me inconvenience and embarrassment.

    I know what I might be thinking if someone else were recounting these stories to me: This girl’s “narcoleptic” in the same way some people casually claim ownership of terms like OCD and ADHD without having symptoms of those conditions. Either that, or she’s on some hard drugs.

    But never fear. Last November I went through nearly 24 straight hours of testing with an unbelievable number of colorful wires attached to my head, neck, nose, chest and legs. My inability to stay awake—in class, in front of the television, in Norris, you name it—is bona fide.

    “Your test results were mostly normal,” a nurse told me over the phone after the sleep study, “except for the fact that your brain wakes up once per minute during the night and you took five naps during the day after getting seven hours of sleep the night before.”

    “Mostly normal?” I’m still not sure what she meant.

    To combat my brain’s absurdity, I take a pill every night that’s supposed to give me a good night’s sleep and then keep me awake through the next day. Sometimes it works, but oftentimes it does not.

    Friends and classmates have been amused by my condition, and that’s genuinely OK with me. I had a class where I’m positive people placed bets on how many minutes it would take me to fall asleep. When I hang out with close friends, it’s not uncommon for someone to punch me awake. It’s fine to laugh about it because I do, too.

    What at first seems like a classic case of an overworked college student isn’t, and I’m not alone in this deception. All of us harbor these little-known facts— something that affects us deeply and profoundly on a daily basis. Narcolepsy happens to be one of mine.

    Even as a senior, when I’ve had many of the same friends for years, there’s often something crucial going on in their lives that I’m missing. Never assume you know all there is to know about someone else: a classmate, a friend, even a significant other.

    When people reveal these aspects about themselves, or when circumstances force you to see them, be understanding, but also don’t be afraid to try and find an upside or a quirk.

    I consider myself lucky that my disorder amuses me and that I have friends who remind me why it’s so amusing from time to time. As a pessimist, I’m well aware that it’s not easy to get to that point. It wasn’t for me and you shouldn’t expect it to be for a friend of yours, either.

    Everyone’s struggling with something—be it mental, physical, spiritual, whatever—but everyone also likes to laugh. My hallucinations may paint me as off my rocker, but I know there are worse things in life than waking up thinking my skin is blue or that I’m Facebook friends with a Mexican nun from the 1600s.


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