BY: KASSANDRA THOMAS
(Gainesville, Ga.) – Living life on the edge of dream sounds like fun. For those who live with narcolepsy, however, life isn’t always a pleasant dream.
Dayle Lane is your average college student. She is a 21-year old junior organizational leadership major, active sorority member and waitress with hopes of becoming a missionary and motivational speaker. Lane maintains a 3.5 grade point average and has a steady boyfriend.
Unlike your average college student, she has narcolepsy.
As defined by the Narcolepsy Network, narcolepsy is “a chronic brain disorder that involves poor control of sleep-wake cycles. People with narcolepsy experience periods of extreme daytime sleepiness and sudden, irresistible bouts of sleep that can strike at any time.”
These bouts of sleep, or sleep attacks, send Lane straight into REM sleep and leave her paralyzed.
“It [sleepiness] can occur anytime or any place no matter how motivated I am. I could sleep for 24 hours straight and still be affected by a sleep attack,” explains Lane.
Like many other narcoleptics, Lane experiences hallucinations and cataplexy. Cataplexy is when a person has no reflex or voluntary muscle control, often triggered by emotion. For example knees buckle and even give way when experiencing a strong emotion like laughter, joy, surprise, anger or heads drop or jaws go slack from the same kind of stimuli.
“My boyfriend makes me laugh out loud… my knees buckle and I’m on the ground. I’m extremely stressed out about a test? Good night.”
In other words, being an average college student does not come easy for Lane.
Spur of the moment social outings are not an option. Caffeine and alcoholic beverages are not an option.
“Everything I do has to be thought out four steps in advance. I am constantly wondering, ‘What happens if I fall asleep?’, ‘Do I trust the people around me?’”
Trust is a big factor in Lane’s relationships, whether it be family, friends or boyfriends. She worries about being a burden to someone in her future.
“I can’t be on my medicine when I am pregnant. When I’m not on my medicine, I will be sick. So someone will have to stay with me constantly. I need someone who will understand that. As for now, I need someone who understands that his big date night plans might go wrong because I’m not feeling well.”
Lane’s general health is constantly at risk. She takes medicine daily to keep her sleep schedule on track: one to keep her awake and one to put her to sleep. Additionally, one of these medicines reduces her appetite, meaning she is relentlessly worrying about her weight.
While she does have an impressive GPA, Lane’s academic success does not come easy. Triggered by heightened emotions, her narcoleptic symptoms can attack her at any moment if she is stressed from school.
“I have to take tests by myself with a supervisor so I can get up and walk around if I start getting sleepy,” says Lane.
Taking a test in an empty room doesn’t sound so bad, right?
According to Lane, there is a bright side to the disorder, but it is probably not what you think.
“There aren’t any perks to the disease itself. The positives are what I do with it, like not letting it get me down and being a good role model. Everyone has their own set of unique challenges; it’s just how you deal with them.”
Looking at Dayle Lane, you would not think she had a chronic brain disorder. A glance into her daily life is an eye-opener that everyone faces obstacles that may be just beneath the surface.