Title quote – Peter McWilliams
For a number of years now, I’ve struggled with the effects of Sleep Apnoea. It happened fast. I used to be a sponge for knowledge and performed well academically, but the year my sleep apnoea started suddenly reading a paper, or sitting down to do school work felt like wading through mud. I wanted to accomplish the same things as before, I wanted to put the effort in but the majority of the time I could barely muster the effort to get out of bed. I tried asking my Mum to force me, to sit with me and be my slave driver until I got some work done, but unfortunately it simply doesn’t work that way.
It was a year or so later that my Mum suggested that it might be sleep apnoea as she’d noticed I had suddenly started snoring very badly. Combined with my other symptoms I became convinced that it must be this. However, it wasn’t until three years of Doctor’s appointments and pushing later that I managed to get someone to take me seriously. First it was weak nasal lining, then it was Hay Fever, and every time I was prescribed another round of anti-histamines or nasal steroids I voiced my concerns and fought my own corner. I started to question the validity of what I was saying, of course the Doctor knew better than I did, of course they wouldn’t waste my time. But still, nothing was helping me.
By this point I was over halfway through University and every single piece of coursework was a huge challenge just to produce average work. After trying and failing to produce the level of work that I wanted to I was on the verge of giving up, it was easier just to sleep all day and let the feeling of defeat overwhelm me than take the step to do something productive. It was then, after my third course of nasal steroids that someone referred me to the sleep clinic. They tested me with a home sleep study and found a high number of instances where I stopped breathing during a night of bad sleep. I could feel a tiny bit of the weight on my shoulders being lifted, someone believed me! My concentration was still shot and I was struggling with all of the same things, but somehow it was more bearable knowing someone out there was trying to help me.
It was the better part of another year, and a couple more sleep studies, before I was given my CPAP machine. But I was excited to start the journey back to who I had once been, even if only partially. However, the thing no one tells you is that the lazy habits you develop because of your lack of motivation and concentration are the hardest things to snap out of. Here was this thing that would definitely help me after a month of continuous use but I kept putting it off, or making up excuses not to use it. Lets just say it was a blessing in disguise that my relationship at the time was ending, I didn’t need more reason to avoid the machine. And perhaps that was part of it too, the condition that I had believed I had for so long had finally been validated and now I was realising that it may never go away. I may rely on this thing to make me feel normal for the rest of my life. It was a hard thought to process, especially inamongst the emotional turmoil of finishing university, leaving everyone in the world I knew and moving three hundred miles North to start again in a whole new place. I just didn’t deal with it, instead I put it out of sight and dealt with the guilt of not using it.
Finally, I felt a little more settled and because of my lax attempts at using the CPAP they threatened to take it away from me. Suddenly something in my head clicked and I realised how stupid I was being. I didn’t want to feel this way anymore, I didn’t want the things that were easy for other people to constantly be a challenge for me. So I fought for it, I put in the effort to use my CPAP every night and it helped. More than I can say. Suddenly I’m full of energy that I don’t know what to do with, I go for a long walk during the day and I can feel like going for another by the time evening arrives! I don’t actually know what to do with all of the energy that I have now, but I know I’ll figure it out and I know it’s so much better than how I felt before.
However, the only issue I’ve faced is because I spent so long settling all of my hopes of this being the thing that would ‘fix me’, it’s only now that I realise it’s not a cure all. I never really expected it to fix everything but I think I attributed a lot more of my feelings of sadness and defeat to the Sleep Apnoea than were really caused by it. There’s no doubt that the condition made those feelings become amplified and omnipresent, but even now that I feel a lot better, those feelings are still there. That’s something that I have to deal with, but at least now I have the energy and motivation to do it.
I’m so pleased with the way I’ve been treated by the NHS since I was diagnosed and they are very forthcoming with the facts, but I would have liked to have read an account like this that made me realise how much effort it would be to actually begin helping myself. I just hope that someone else needs this too.