Thursday, July 19

Narcolepsy and the Roly-Poly

Narcolepsy turns my husband into a roly-poly.

You know what a roly-poly is, right? We have tons of them in our garden. They meander along, perfectly content until you touch them. Then they immediately curl up, hiding themselves away until the perceived danger has passed and they can get back to their roly-poly business.

For my husband, cataplexy - narcolepsy's evil twin - is the worst during times of emotional stress. If you aren't sure what that means, think of the most stressful moments of your day - good stress or bad - and imagine collapsing into a skin puddle every time you react. Whether it's laughter, anger, or tears, you lose muscle tone and slide gently to the floor... hopefully. Most of the time, my husband ends up falling in an ungainly heap that looks fairly painful. It's worse than fainting because the sufferer is still awake! My husband can hear everything when he suffers a cataplectic attack - he just can't do anything about it. So maybe it would be more accurate to say that cataplexy turns my husband into a roly-poly.

Understandably, he is usually very reluctant to get emotional. While any emotion can make my husband get physically weak, the higher the emotional strain, the weaker he gets. But he isn't completely impassive. He’s just a lot more reserved than I think he would be without the constant fear of (literally) falling on his face. This emotional reluctance means that my husband avoids confrontations of any kind like the plague. Confrontations of any kind, including possibly difficult discussions with his wife, me. Now my definition of difficult and his version of difficult are vastly different. I don't think it's always that hard to review our budget or talk about our goals. My husband however, finds those conversations awfully tough. Sometimes he finds them impossible. That's when he becomes a roly-poly and hides until the danger - our difficult conversation - has passed.

Roly-polys hide by curling into a ball. My husband hides by sleeping.

I used to resent my husband's seeming indifference and avoidance of the more tedious aspects of marriage and general grown-up stuff. After his diagnosis, though, I am working to understand that he wants to have those harder conversations... but a lot of times he just can't do it. And the more impatient I act toward him at those times, the guiltier he feels about his inability to participate. The guiltier he feels, the more tired he becomes...

It's amazing to see the change in him, actually. He starts out like a normal person, listening, aware, wide-eyed. But as our conversation continues, his eyes droop dramatically, his face begins to go slack, and within five minutes, he is quite obviously very, very sleepy. He may try to hold out for a little longer, insisting that we continue, but not only is his obvious exhaustion a huge distraction, the conversation becomes more and more one sided. His responses take forever, and then sometimes they don't even make sense. His mood changes (would you be happy talking about your bills while you were falling asleep?) as does mine (frustration, mostly), and just a few minutes after the conversation begins, it's over. When he wakes, my husband is always both apologetic and embarrassed, but I'm quick to apologize too. My impatience isn't directed toward him. It's directed at this exasperating disease.

As I mentioned in a previous post, until we find a better solution, I’ll do my best to keep a firm grasp of the reigns... without making my husband feel guilty for needing me to.

1 comment:

  1. You've described well the difficulty (for both parties), of having needed conversations about stressful areas in life. And when is talking about money not stressful? OR in-laws? Scheduling? Parenting?

    I think the partner without N would not be able to avoid resentment, and the partner with it would feel guilty, even though they can't help it. Rigorous work on both parties' outlook would be necessary. This is a common outcome in caregiving situations, which living with a PWN shares some similarities to, but is not the same either.

    I have been wanting to read the book "Psychosocial Aspects of Narcolepsy", because it discusses in depth the way N effects day to day life, impacts relationships, and even shapes personality.

    Thank you for a great post.