Like any great superhero, my origin story is dramatic/unexpected/full of surprises.
I grew up in Duncanville, a Dallas suburb with a younger sister and two dogs named Oreo and Taffy. I was known for being a great student in school and was especially fascinated by psychology and biology. In High School, My extracurricular activities included Academic Decathlon, Choir and my friends collectively called The Group comprised of many of my Nerdy Chic Decathletes.
I lived in the Dorms at Texas Woman’s University in Fall 2000 and Spring 2001, many times I would involuntarily doze during Anatomy and Physiology and my friend Crystal kidded she always had to wake me up in class, despite me being very interested and active in class. In April of 2001, I moved out of my dormitory and into a small apartment off-campus with Kenneth.
I felt terrified at the very thought of going to sleep, I felt afraid to close my eyes. In addition, around that same time, I started to have trouble staying awake my college classes, and philosophy ended up in my experimental psychology notes. I took a small voice recorder to class, perplexed.
There was one time that I was at the grocery store with my then-husband at the time and we were having a discussion that made me laugh and as I felt this, my body crumbled to the ground. I was on the ground for 2 minutes, and every second of that I felt scared and wanted to move to get up. When I could move again, I got up to see other people in the store looking at us. One person looked at my ex-husband with a look thinking maybe he’d drop-kicked me to the ground somehow. I tried to explain but it was a tense and uncomfortable experience. My relationship became very strained due to all that was going on.
As these strange incidents got worse, I searched the internet far and wide to explain my odd symptoms, and discovered I was suffering from extremely long episodes every night of sleep paralysis with hypnagogic hallucinations. I then read about another symptom, cataplexy, and had a surreal moment of absolute certainty that this was causing me to go limp at laughter. My Grandma Rita told Mom She read about Narcolepsy and thought it could be the cause of all my perplexing symptoms. Of course, I was skeptical because public stereotypes and lack of awareness of real narcolepsy never leave comical naps. However, once I looked up Narcolepsy in my encyclopedia, I couldn’t deny, I have narcolepsy with cataplexy.
I scheduled an appointment with a neurologist, who agreed it looked like Narcolepsy. Unfortunately, my Mom’s health insurance excluded all sleep disorders. No diagnosis, no sleep study, no treatment, as I waited to be switched onto my Dad’s health insurance. I struggled to finish the semester and survive Christmas in 2001. Finally, February 2, 2002, I completed a two-part sleep study: PSLT and MSLT. I had collapsing cataplexy twice between the MSLT naps.
I hadn't had very much sleep, and as a person with narcolepsy such can affect the severity of our symptoms. My family and I always have a great time visiting and talking to each other, and like them, I have a very active creative sense of humor at the core of my being and personality. My Sister, my Dad, and my Brother-in-Law are hilarious and make you laugh so heartily, quickly it can get dangerous for myself via cataplexy. One tiny re-quote from funny films, memories often floored me into cataplexy for many moments at a time. I had created a funny comeback to our playful debate, but couldn't voice but a pathetic peep, TASED by Narcolepsy's Cataplexy triggered by finding my own comebacks hilarious.
My Dad didn't believe that cataplexy leaves me conscious or lucid for several to many aspects of sleep. Like millions of others uneducated that cataplexy as a common symptom of Narcolepsy, Dad Dearest was incorrect.... tons. Of course when I became a soft formless paralyzed form of muscular and connective tissue mush, Dad assumed I was experiencing a traditional sleep attack, he thought it impossible for me to behalf awake and able to willfully move.
Mom- "Don't make her laugh!" Omg how many times do I have to tell you."
Dad- "I didn't do it!" "It's part of the narcolepsy she passes out when she laughs. Catasomthing?"
Sister- "Mom you make it worse over panicking -Rachel hears everything and finds it funny."
Grandma- "So she passes out asleep while laughing?"
Dad- "I think so. Rachel says she is aware during this state, I don't know..."
Then Dad Said, "Rachel, if you can really hear us, the secret word is Pomegranate."
The speculations and panic ensues for 20 more minutes until this Cataplexy attack released me from its chains. I stood up slowly, smiling and laughing in my head, holding onto Mom, took 3 steps towards Dad ...
Me- "Dad, the secret word is Fworbidwen Frwuit" (slurring my speech as I instantly recollapsed in Cataplexy). No one questions me now-- be careful - in cataplexy and sleep paralysis I can hear everything you say!
After diagnosis, it took a few years to find a way of managing my narcolepsy. It was trial and error with medications, taking naps, educating loved ones, learning to practice self-care, doing my own research, and getting involved in the narcolepsy community via Social Media. Does anyone here remember MySpace? I shared a great group on MySpace called “Open your Eyes to Narcolepsy” from 2004-2007.
I am also living with additional health conditions, including fibromyalgia, RA, diabetes, Hepatocellular Adenomas, CNS neuropathy. As you might imagine, this makes things complicated when it comes to treatments and managing my health, as there are various considerations and issues involved.
My symptoms of narcolepsy have improved somewhat from what they were when I was diagnosed, but I still experience symptoms daily. Due to the severity of my cataplexy, I have not been able to drive since 2003.
June 2005 Kenneth and I married. 2006 we purchased a house in The Colony, TX only to lose it to foreclosure, as well as filing for Bankruptcy. Kenneth lost his job, our health insurance. He left me two weeks prior to eviction from our apartment in April 2009. Thankfully, my Mom and Dad scraped me up off the ground, taking care of me at one of my lowest points. In the Summer of 2010, I became violently ill with a huge Hepatic Adenoma, rare blood-filled liver tumor caused by years of hormonal birth control to treat endometriosis. The threat of the tumor rupturing, causing hemorrhage and likely death was very high. My surgeon Dr. Jeyarajah saved my life performing a very risky liver resection.
When I tell people that I have narcolepsy, often they first react like it is no big deal, UNTIL they first-hand experience full-body cataplexy from humble giggles. Then they all were frantic with fear. Most people don’t seem to know much about narcolepsy at hospitals which is especially challenging. Needless to say, I am so grateful to be alive, and I know how strong I can be especially when pushed to the brink; I am resilient and a survivor Thanks to my parents, my friends, and my Faith.
I am truly blessed with a super support network of my online, real life, and familial relationships. My parents and Kerry are my co advocates, and in 2014 during my second liver resection recovery day 4 with absolutely no medication to treat my severe narcolepsy symptoms, I was deep into Status Cataplecticus triggered by my then 4mo old daughter's Savannah’s surprise visit. My parents spent the whole day ensuring, fighting to have me finally unafraid to sleep that night. Our now 5yr old Savannah loves to dance and sing to music, perform karaoke with me. At night she has to give us Mama and Dada hugs before going to bed. It is really cute.