Saturday, August 21

How to Have a Conversation With a Narcoleptic

Image courtesy of Boykung/

It sounds like the opening to a really good joke, doesn't it?

If you don't already know this, a person with narcolepsy is often tired and sleepy. But that's not all. They often suffer from problems with concentration, short-term memory loss, irritability, and mental confusion. Imagine having all of that going on and try to hold a normal conversation.

It ain't easy.

With my husband, I've learned to repeat things. A lot. It's not that he isn't listening or didn't hear me. It's just that it didn't quite register. Imagine his mind is a sleepy, distracted person trying desperately to play ping-pong. If I fire the ball at him, he definitely won't hit it, but if I lob it gently over and over, eventually he'll reach out at just the right moment and voila! He gets it.

Then there are the other times.

Other conversations are just the opposite. By nature, I'm a fast talker. No, I'm not a swindler - I just speak really quickly. Over the years I've learned to slow down and let people get in a word every now and then, but I never have a problem spitting something out. Every now and then though, my narcoleptic husband out-talks me. Excited and eager to share his thoughts, he impatiently trips over his own words in a rush to get them all out there. It's like verbal ping-pong, it's so fun talking to him in that mode. Back and forth we bounce ideas off of one another, laugh at impromptu jokes, and frequently apologize saying, "I'm sorry, go ahead," when one of us gets too excited and interrupts the other.

It's weird, but that's narcolepsy.

Of course I prefer the times when my husband is more articulate and engaged in the conversation. I fight impatience when he has to speak slowly, when there are lengthy pauses while he fights to remember what he was saying, dead silences as he contemplates an answer to my easy question. At those times, I know he's just a prisoner. Narcolepsy is holding his brain hostage once again.

I still haven't figured out the cost of the ransom.

So for those who genuinely want to know how to talk to their friend, co-worker, or loved one with narcolepsy, the answer is simple: be patient. If they stumble, forget, or ask you to repeat, just be patient and wait for them to hit the ball. They may speak slowly this time 'round, but the next time, you may just need to get your paddle ready.

*For a very insightful view of how a person with narcolepsy sometimes feels trying to converse with people, read this blog post from Confessions of a Narcoleptic.

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