Disclaimer: I did not drop out of school, technically I still attended but in all honesty It would have made no difference if I was there or not.
Living with narcolepsy can be challenging at times, but not knowing its narcolepsy that is the root of all your problems is even harder. My 13 year old self was clueless as to why in every lesson my body went into shut down mode. I kid you not within the first 15 minutes of any lesson I was asleep, and no matter how hard I tried to stay awake, it became inevitable.
My good friend Google had some great suggestions on how to stay awake; energy drinks, caffeine, pinching yourself, chew gum, constantly take notes, smelling salts etc etc. I can confirm none of the above were ever successful and here's why:
- Chewing gum at a strict catholic school is one way to end up in detention, that soon got boring because I fell asleep in that too.
- Energy drinks are pointless for a narcoleptic, you're just sleeping with an abnormally fast heart rate.
- Pinching yourself every lesson from 9am till 4pm is never going to end well. For starters its painful and with little to no success its really not worth the marks.
-Smelling salts, no explanation needed. NOT A FAN!!
- Excessive note taking, literally impossible as within minutes I've drawn a line down the page or started writing sentences that don't even make sense. Also there's always that one teacher that thinks you're not listening when you're taking notes and has to make a scene.
My school was known for being one of the best in the county, so I considered myself lucky that I was able to attend a school that thrived when it came to children who had additional needs and had facilities in place to accommodate for them. However it did feel like those facilities were only accessible to those with "real" disabilities. Now before you take my head off and tell me narcolepsy is real, what I mean by this is that they accommodated for already diagnosed disabilities, proven by doctors notes which at the time I didn't have. If I went to my teacher and said " I'm suffering from excessive sleepiness, I'm struggling to keep up with lessons", I would have been told what every teenager gets told when they're tired, to go to sleep earlier.
I dreaded going in to school, every day was the same:
- Fall asleep in the car on the way to school
- Go to assembly and fall asleep until we had to sing hymns
- Lessons that last 50minutes ( no point me even being there for the last 40 mins as I was never awake)
- Fall asleep on the train/bus home
- Nap before dinner
- Asleep and in bed by 8pm
5 years of this was mind numbing, I didn't feel present in anything I was doing, I was completely alone and the tiredness became my personality. Over the years I started to get desperate, it felt like nothing was working and my grades started to fluctuate. So I took matters into my own hands and developed some ways on how to stay awake at school. They are as follows:
You have two options with this one. 1. nap in the cubicle or 2. cold water bomb your face.
Easy to execute, no suspicion on what you're doing, gets you out of class.
Every minute or two you take a sip of water, and put the bottle back in your bag.
Simple but effective, you stay hydrated and the constant movement can stimulate wakefulness.
I personally have a child's bladder so anything after the 5th sip and I'm needing the loo. Unpractical!
Chatting to your partner
This is pretty straight forward, just chat the whole lesson.
You're able to stay up to date with school drama, easy to do, has the benefit of keeping you awake for more than 10 mins.
Not guaranteed as you could fall asleep talking, also one of the quickest way to get detentions. Warning that this one might annoy other students trying to concentrate.
HIGH sugar sweeties, for a sugar buzz.
Small so they're easy to sneak in and chew, a sugar rush can last up to 10 mins with a handfull of these.
Sugar rush = Sugar crash which is ten times worse, constant top up, also not recommended for the health concerns raised when consuming so much sugar (diabetes ).
Get your partner to nudge or pinch you when you start falling asleep.
Great ice breaker to build friendships, and you don't have to rely on yourself.
They may forget to check in on you so its ineffective.
My final grades wouldn't indicate that I struggled at school, without blowing my own trumpet too much... I smashed it! Well all the important ones I did, some of the not so core subjects I flunked. When it came to doing my GCSEs I had so much adrenaline and anxiety that I managed to stay awake. My previous mock exam results were concerning, I failed near enough all of them but there was no concern about the credibility of those results. Without that worry I found it harder to stay awake. I walked out of school with 5A's 4B's and 2C's , which for someone who wasn't awake for 85% of there lessons is pretty decent.
After I got diagnosed in late 2021, 4 years after I had left school, I questioned how well I would have done if I was able to receive additional support (I do not recommend going down that rabbit hole!). After spending way too much time considering this, my curiosity turned into mild anger. Additional support shouldn't be embarrassing to ask for, even more so it shouldn't be something that is hard to receive. Its a shame I didn't think I would have been taken seriously if I had told the truth and explained my symptoms. The stigma around teens with excessive sleepiness shouldn't stop someone from achieving their fullest potential and a educator should take every disability seriously with or without a diagnosis.