Friday, November 30, 2012

What I'm thankful for...

Thanksgiving at the trolls!

As an infant, I was weak and helpless; an arduous burden upon my parents.  One of them slunk into a bottle, never to be seen again; the other bravely walked away, to start life anew with her child.

Alone and broke, with only the clothes on her back, my mother trudged through my infancy and childhood with a forced smile upon her face.  Life was hard, but she made due the best she could, just like any other dedicated, loving, single parent.  She had a vibrant child on her hands; inquisitive, vigorous, yearning for knowledge.  Yet, something remained out of place.  

My 2nd grade teacher recommended me for “evaluation," she thought I wasn’t normal, something was wrong.  I met with a child psychologist and she concurred.  The child psych didn’t like my responses to some of her questions, such as “If you could change one thing what would you change?”  She believed the right answer was, “I wish I didn’t have to wear glasses.”  

I however, wanted black hair.  At the time, I was one of the few members of my family (Aunts, Uncles, Grandparents, Mom) that had lighter-colored hair.

“Nonsense!” my Aunt denied their claims truth.  They stood behind me.  They knew that nothing was wrong.  They were all wrong.

Things didn’t get any easier.  At the age of nine I got a hard lesson in the unfair.  A train with a faulty smoke stack spewed sparks, igniting dry brush along the tracks it traveled.  The house I lived in was reduced to ash; thankfully, nobody was present when the house burned.  I finished the third grade, but had to leave behind all my friends and start fresh.

The next couple of years, I began to transition from being a bright, vibrant, and energetic child to a dumb, dull, and dispirit teenager.  I was constantly tired.  I used to play soccer, but I became too exhausted to play.  I used to take Taekwondo, but I became too exhausted to participate.  I barely read anymore, because I was too exhausted to finish a single page.  

Food, television, and video games replaced physical activity and mental learning.  My grades began to fall and my waist size began to rise.

The next few years of school was filled with advice such as, “You need to get your priorities in order,” and, “You need to stop being so lazy.”  This unhelpful advice came from everyone around me: friends, family, teachers, guidance counselors.  I couldn’t remember homework, and I couldn’t remember to write down my homework in an assignment notebook.  People began to give up and lose hope; they’d grown to expect me to underachieve.  A kid who, before the age of 14, was able to tackle books such as Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park, Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six, and Pearl Buck’s The Good Earth with ease, stopped caring.  Obviously, it was his personal choice.

In High school, I failed 11th Grade English Lit— Twice.  I was lucky to have been born in a time when very few teachers refused to pass failing students.  If it wasn’t for a News Writing class, which the administration decided to count as an English credit, and a school system that didn’t want to deal with such a lazy, worthless child, I wouldn’t have graduated.

After High school, I worked a series of part-time jobs.  I could only manage to work a few hours per day.  I tried my hand at a full-time position in a big-box retail chain.  It wasn’t for me.  I got lucky and caught a three-hour-per-day job as a receptionist (which paid more than an entire week worth of work in retail).  It was an excellent fit, the shift was late afternoon.  I could sleep 10-15 hours per day, work 15 hours per week, and have some time left over to play video games!

This was my life, for years.

In 2008, things got worse.  Grogginess and headaches that had slowly developed over the last 20+ years were at their peak effect.  I felt ill upon waking every afternoon.  Falling asleep became difficult.  At the worst point, I began hallucinating, this happened most often when driving at night.  

Eventually, falling asleep became disturbing.  I identified with protagonists like the Narrator in Fight Club, concerned about whether I could die from insomnia.

Around mid-October, 2008, I was on the couch, zoned out in the wee hours of the morning, when a television commercial caught my attention.  “Do you frequently wake up in the middle of the night to urinate?  Are you fatigued all day long?  Is your blood sugar out of control?  Are you hungry all the time?”

“Of course, I’m diabetic, idiot!” I said.

“Do you wake up with headaches every day?  Is your snoring loud?”  The television continued.  I wondered if I was losing it at this point.  The television was playing its usual tricks.  After all, it wasn’t the first exhaustion-induced phantom-sound-hallucination I’d experienced.

“You may have a disease called Sleep Apnea; contact the Sleep Wellness institute right away!  We’re partnered with the Reggie White Foundation to diagnose those in need.”

I was hooked.  I went to the computer and began looking up everything I could on this new disease, Sleep Apnea.  I wanted to learn more, so I gathered all the information I could on the websites for the Reggie White Foundation, the Sleep Wellness Institute, and Web MD.

Two days later I was leaving my doctor’s office with a take-home pulse oximetry meter (a little data-collection device you clip to your finger while sleeping).  

A week after that, the lab returned the results.  They were awful, so awful my doctor decided to skip a sleep study and begin sleep therapy, immediately.

January of 2009 heralded the start of a new decade in my life.  A decade which was, much like my first, filled with promise and hope.  I can remember, in vivid detail, the first morning I woke up from a restful night of sleep.  Everything looked brighter, every scent was heightened, every part of my skin tingled with the joy of reawakening.

I enrolled in college for nursing.  I began to study writing and story.  I began to read fiction once again.  Most people take these things for granted.  Even a crappy book was amazing to me; before therapy, I couldn’t read anything without falling asleep.  A small box called a CPAP machine, which takes up less than a square-foot of space on my nightstand, had rekindled my dreams and desires to read and write.

If I hadn’t been diagnosed with sleep apnea, I doubt I'd be alive today, and every extra day with a good story, friends, family, and my mom, is a gift, for which I am thankful.


Debra Allen Erfert said...

Sleep depravation can come in several ways, but the results are the same. Mine came from having a baby who was allergic to milk, although I didn't know about it at the time. He'd cry like he had colic, and sleep came in short naps, not enough for me to sleep too. This lasted for five years, until a kindergarten music teacher noticed the same symptoms in my child that her daughter had had. Through experimentation, and my son's cooperation, we discovered his dairy allergy. That first night of continuous sleep was almost frightening. I kept thinking something was wrong with him. Without the dairy that acted like a stimulant, he slept, and I slept. A new day dawned, and life changed for the better.

I give thanks to that wonderful music teacher for caring enough to reach out to me. She saved us both.

J. A. Bennett said...

Wow, so glad you found out what was wrong. It's sad the way we judge others when they may be going through something so hard. On the flip side, I'm so glad these things are being researched and discovered to help those in need. I can only imagine your writing to be that much better for it! What a great reminder about what really matters in life!