Cursed With Cataplexy
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Health and Wellness

Cursed With Cataplexy

A chronic condition with no remorse for your hectic life

Cursed With Cataplexy
Jim Jackson

Before you spend your time reading this, I want to let you know that this is not going to be an easy read. There is no happy ending or objective moral that I am trying to teach. It does not follow the theme of my past articles where I write about a grandiose moment or a person who had an impact on me. This is an article about struggle. A struggle that plagues my life with terror and ambiguity. If you're still planning on reading, buckle up and get strapped in. This isn't an easy one. Let's get started.

New Years brings about a spirit of rejuvenation and excitement. It is a new start and a new chance for many people, and most try to take advantage of this opportunity. Gyms will be filled, people will promise to change their diets and lifestyles, and others will recommit to a hobby they used to practice and enjoy. Wherever you go, there are others smiling and taking in the holiday spirit.

January of 2015 was the opposite for me. It is etched vividly in my mind as the time where I was broken. I had just come out of a bout with depression and extreme panic attacks for a period of time and was on a high emotionally, physically, and mentally. Returning to school after winter break was no big deal; it's something you get used to after spending your life in the education system. Meeting up with friends was grand and inspired me to finish my senior year off with good grades and keep my connections strong between my peers. Everything was smooth sailing; I thought I was going to cruise towards graduation. That was the goal.

I came home after school and was walking up my stairs. About three steps from the top, I felt it. My ship sank. It went from smooth waters to being overturned by a storm. In the same way as the ship, my body was wrecked. My legs gave out and I collapsed on the floor, just barely hobbling those last few steps. I laid on my back gasping for air. There was no way I was this out of shape after the holiday season, right? I tried to convince myself that maybe I just twisted something or bent the wrong way. Alright, enough lying on the ground, it's time to get up.

Except I couldn't. My body was paralyzed. I could not move my legs. Now, I'm not one to freak out at surprising moments so I took the time to think about my day and stare at the paint on the ceiling. In that moment of thought, I realized I could move again. In as fast as it came, the paralysis left my body. I told my mother about it but didn't consider it much. That was a mistake.

I went through this process daily, going up the stairs, collapsing, recollecting while I couldn't move, and then going on about my day. Figured it was time to ask the doctor about what was going on, and he thought that my depression had come back. Now, if you've had depression or know someone who has had it, that's probably the worst thing you want to hear. For some reason though, I was repulsed by his prognosis. I knew what it was like to be depressed and I knew that this was not the same illness affecting my body.

See, the thing with cataplexy is that it's so unknown that no one I talked to had heard of it before. Even the spellcheck here is telling me that cataplexy isn't a word. Anyway, I went and got a second opinion from another doctor and he asked me if I felt depressed, to which I replied no. Then he told me that I was not depressed. Pretty simple solution to that prognosis. He told me that my condition was something similar to cataplexy but since I did not show signs of narcolepsy, it was an abnormal situation. Nevertheless, he scheduled me with a neurologist.

That appointment was in May. I was still in January of my senior year when I heard that from him. I went through four months of this daily muscle fatigue that struck my body randomly throughout the day. I went through four months of unknown disease preventing me from doing anything active. I went through four months of hospital visits because what if my situation was something worse? What if my situation was my body slowly decaying from something else?

I met up with my neurologist and he said the prognosis was likely. I would be sent for an MRI on my neck to test if there was something wrong there. That would take until mid June, after my graduation. Let me tell you right now; I do not recollect anything about my graduation. For many, it was because of the excitement in the situation. For me, I was unable to enjoy the moment because I was constantly worried that I would "faint," not be able to walk, and cause a commotion. My emotions were so high-strung that I was shaking for hours afterwards. At least now I would be able to relax during the summer.

The appointment came by and the results turned out clear. My neck had nothing wrong with it. Alright, onto the next test. A sleep study was scheduled for me in late August, about a month before school started. All those months of suffering, being plagued with this sickness that labeled me as disabled and weak, they all led to this moment.

At first, I was relieved because I had been waiting so long for results and was tired of the unknown. Then I quivered in fear because the reality hit me. This test would define my life. If the results came back positive, then I do have the condition combination of cataplexy and narcolepsy. I would have to live the rest of my life with these conditions but would receive aid through medication and reconciliation of my mental health. If the results came back negative, then I dreaded what was to come next. There were no other ideas listed by my neurologist or doctor, and they checked the other alternative in the test prior.

Thankfully, my sleeping patterns and track of REM sleep matched those of someone who would have narcolepsy. Therefore, my muscle fatigue could be contributed to cataplexy, as narcolepsy is a requirement for the former to exist. I was prescribed medication for the condition that ravished my body for so long with no explanation.

There is no happy ending to this story. I live my life by taking a pill daily and even then, that is sometimes not enough. Cataplexy is "a medical condition in which strong emotion or laughter causes a person to suffer sudden physical collapse though remaining conscious." I'd describe it as going too hard in the gym after not working out. It is that feeling when you try to use those same muscles later. Nothing happens, nothing works. You send the signal with your brain but that limb is not going to move. Couple that with the narcolepsy that further developed, and you get a sleep deprived, body-collapsing college student.

Honestly, I don't know the reason I wrote this. Maybe someone has a similar situation and this could help lead to their diagnosis. Maybe you're a new friend I made recently or someone I lost contact with and you're learning this for the first time. I don't want pity from my friends, but I do ask for grace in those situations where I am unable to, well, function.

Maybe that's the point of this story. Have compassion for others and be understanding; you can never fully know what someone is going through. Yeah, I like the sound of that.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.

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