We all know someone who makes no noise when they laugh, weird right?
Cataplexy is the sudden onset of muscle weakness due to strong emotions. In simple English it's going jelly when you experience feelings of joy, laughter, sadness or sometimes anger. So when it comes to having a weird laugh, narcoleptics own that S**t!
Jimmy Carr was once interviewed about life with his narcoleptic mum. During the interview he spoke mainly about her cataplexy symptoms. It was the MOST relatable video I have watched when doing the usual late night Facebook scrolls. So much so I must have watched the same interview 10 times! Not by choice...I kept dropping my phone laughing so much and triggering my own cataplexy attacks. The best part was when he mentioned attempting to make his mum laugh as being a sport, fortunately for me my old college friends thought the same. It became fun for them to make me laugh and watch me fall in the most awkward places. Their favorite being the college stair cases, and they had no preference whether it was up or down the stairs, it was the tumbling that really mattered. My problem is like my friends I also find myself funny. My bodies response to emotions is hilarious, so hilarious that I end up making the cataplexy worse for myself.
Cataplexy is very unpredictable, one moment it's just slurred speech the next it's a full body attack and you're flopping to the floor. My main two triggers are laughter, like full belly laughs and excitement, which is usually over food. Before I started to experience cataplexy I would laugh all the time, and now I find myself repeating "dead puppies" over in my head whilst holding my breath just to stay standing. This doesn't always work, in fact it nearly never works!
The majority of the time I just end up with buckling knees and slurred speech, which is easy to hide from others, but then there's the odd time when it doesn't stop there. If someone or something has really made me laugh my whole body goes limb and I'm laying on the floor. This is a dangerous position to be in, for starters you can't hide it and recovery from it can be a long process. It's also when I'm laying on the floor that again I make my cataplexy worse, it's self inflicted by this point as I start laughing not only at the initial trigger but at myself for being so floppy. I know I won't be able to sit up until I have fully calmed myself down, so again I refer back to the "dead puppies" tactic.
One of my favorite cataplexy moments is quite a simple one but one of my main inspirations into starting a blog. It was my last day at one of my previous jobs, and I had bought everyone some chocolates. My work colleagues knew about my diagnosis but if I'm honest I think their understanding of narcolepsy was very limited despite my best efforts to explain it. It just so happens that my last day was one of our busiest so there wasn't much chance to sneak off and have a chocolate. When I finally got the chance I must have got so excited that I ended up having a cataplexy attack in front of my manager. For context these weren't just any chocolates, they were Ferrero Rocher!!
Anyways, I remember running up the stairs, picking up a chocolate and collapsing up against the wall cause my knees had given up on me.
My manager asked if I was okay, but
by this point I would have had very poor speech so I just nodded and said that I needed a moment. I ended up explaining a bit more about how narcoleptics with cataplexy can't handle strong emotions, and that a strong emotion for me is excitement towards foods. I'll never forget her telling me I should write about it, and that what I was experiencing was indeed so comical that she thought others including herself would enjoy reading about it. I guess I never thought others would find the humor in it like I did. I knew that I was able to make light of it because I understood it but I had never considered sharing the humor.
I recently got a new job, and quite controversially I didn't disclose my condition to anyone except the director who's literally never there. Why? It shouldn't make a difference right? Well it's hard not to get judged by someone when you tell them you have a disability, without realising or meaning any offence people naturally judge you and your ability to work. This does also mean that they are not aware that strong emotions like laughter cause me to collapse. Looking back at it now it may have helped to give them the heads up about my cataplexy symptoms, I wouldn't have to tell them anything about being narcoleptic just about the fact laughing makes me weak.
It didn't take long for me to find out that my supervisor does stand up at a London comedy club, not only that, he naturally has a very blunt personality which combined with a dry sense of humor is my kryptonite. It's not for everyone, some think he's being rude and I wish I was part of that "some". Within my first week I had walked away multiple times mid conversation, ran out the back and allowed myself to collapse in peace. I wouldn't be surprised if their initial thoughts on me were bad, walking away mid conversation isn't going to give the best impression. At first it worked just fine, but it was never going to be practical and so a month into my new job I have collapsed at best 5 times in a single day. I'll let you take a guess who out of all my colleagues has now clicked that I cant stand or talk if I'm made to really chuckle. I'll give you a hint, its not Karen on reception. It's become a sport and "dead puppies" is just not cutting it anymore!!