Pretty neat, huh? I wasn't exactly sure how long I'd write here, really. I'm pretty excited to publish #50. In honor of that, I thought it would be cool to post something I've been mulling over for awhile. I’m often asked about this: what do I wish I had known before I married a man with narcolepsy? A few things come to mind...
Ten Things I Wish I Had Known Before I Married a Narcoleptic
- A “good” doctor is key. Narcolepsy isn’t like any other illness. It isn’t just about sleep. It’s also about mood, self-esteem, daily functioning – quality of life. I wish that I had known that any old sleep specialist won’t do. The doctor needs to care.
- Finding the right plan takes time. Several different medications are used to treat the symptoms of narcolepsy and cataplexy. Not all of these medications affect narcoleptics the same way. Not all narcoleptics even have the same symptoms. Not all treatments (sleep schedules, dietary restrictions, exercise programs, psychotherapy) work for every sufferer. You’ll have to put in time and research to find the right treatment for your situation. I wish that I had known that trial and error is just part of the process.
- Be careful not to let narcolepsy isolate you. Yes, it can be embarrassing to be with someone who always falls asleep in public. A narcoleptic’s occasional sluggish thoughts and speech can be awkward in a social setting. A cataplectic attack in front of others might be humiliating. Although it might be tempting to avoid these experiences altogether by separating yourself from the rest of the world, don’t. Narcolepsy can be isolating enough. Positive association with friends and family is key to maintaining normality. I wish that I had known just how important staying connected is to my family’s well-being.
- Not everyone will be supportive. There will be those who just won’t understand your loved one’s illness. There are those who won’t even believe it’s that big of a deal. There are those who will make impolite jokes, insensitive comments, and generally get on your nerves when it comes to their lack of sensitivity about narcolepsy. Although you may want to try explaining the gravity of your situation until you’re blue in the face, don’t waste your breath on those who don’t care. I wish that I had known that I’m not obligated to defend our choices about narcolepsy to anyone, especially those who are unsympathetic.
- There are worse things. It’s not cancer or AIDS or some other fatal malady. Yes, my husband struggles with his illness and it certainly affects our entire family. I don’t take it lightly and I wish that more people understood what a devastating disease it is. That said, it could be so much worse. I wish that I had known that "it could be worse" is a cliche that actually helps to keep things in perspective.
- People without narcolepsy need care too. Maybe even more so. Sometimes we get so focused on my husband’s medications, sleeping habits, appointments, and general health that I lose sight of my own needs. In order to better help my husband and take care of myself, I need to stick to the obvious: get plenty of rest, maintain a healthy diet, exercise regularly, and find time to relax. I wish that I had known that sometimes it’s better for my whole family if I put my health first.
- Hate the disease, not the person who has it. I've mentioned it before, but it's so true: I often view narcolepsy and my husband as two different people. This view goes a long way toward helping me to remember what's behind my husband's lethargy, disinterest, or forgetfulness. I wish that I had known that making the illness our mutual enemy draws my husband and I closer.
- Bad days are inevitable. We live in an imperfect world, so nothing will ever be perfect. With or without narcolepsy, no marriage or family is without problems. Narcolepsy will probably lead to some crummy days, but it doesn't have to mean anything more drastic than that. I wish that I had known that having a bad day isn't a sign of failure.
- Humor helps. Really, it does. Some of my husband's crazy sleep-speak is pretty hilarious. Every now and then, his cataplexy can even be funny. I wish that I had known that being able to laugh at narcolepsy is a healthy way of coping with a sometimes overwhelming disease.
- All you need is love. The Bible said it first and the Beatles sang about it. Just imagine if your love for the narcoleptic in your life was stronger than your impatience, your frustration, and your anger over this exasperating disease. I wish that I had known that with real effort, love really can surpass all of the negativity narcolepsy can generate.