Hypersomnia Foundation

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SHARE YOUR JOURNEY

Your Story Matters

Everyone has a story to tell that will resonate, educate or motivate.

Coming to terms with having a rare, chronic condition can feel like a long and sometimes lonely process. Knowing others have walked a similar road as you, however, can help lessen the burden. Understanding another’s’ experiences, coping strategies, and challenges or successes can help people who are currently struggling.

A feature of the Hypersomnia Foundation’s SomnusNooze is the “Share Your Journey” segment—told from the perspective of a person with hypersomnia, a supporter, or healthcare professional. Will you share your struggles, triumphs, diagnostic journey, or coping strategies?

Sharing your journey is like extending a hand of support.

Did you find the words that made a doctor finally listen? Have you developed specific coping techniques that help at work, school or for social events? Do you recall how you felt when you realized that you are not alone in your struggles with the symptoms of hypersomnia; as a patient, supporter or healthcare professional? Possibly you identified a new career or hobby that maximize your potential.

footsteps 
Sharing a specific story or personal experience about living with hypersomnia can be extremely powerful and healing, not only for the storyteller but also for readers. Your journey may be the key to someone dealing with hypersomnia, or a family member or friend, to say, “That could be me!” “I’m not just lazy!” “He’s/She’s telling my story!” “He/She gets exactly what I’m feeling!” or “I finally understand what my child is going through.”

Please share your journey by submitting approximately 500 words, or a series of stories/experiences, and if you are inclined, a picture (not necessary but it does tell 1,000 words) through: 

http://www.hypersomniafoundation.org/understanding-hypersomnia/share-your-journey/

 

If you would like to submit a video to tell your story/experience please contact us at:

 info@hypersomniafoundation.org

 

Posted in: Hypersomnia, idiopathic hypersomna, Journey, Share the Journey Stories, SomnusNooze

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Share Your Journey | Hospital, Surgery, and Hypersomnia

MY PERSONAL JOURNEY: Hospital, Surgery, and Hypersomnia

I want to shHospital and IH Journeyare my story because a recent experience has had a profound impact on me.  I am still processing it, and I think it is something anyone with hypersomnia needs to think about.  I never had.  I have had idiopathic hypersomnia (IH) since I was 15 and was finally diagnosed 11 years ago.  Since then I have been doing well on medication, although I still have ups and downs. But I can function. Last fall, I experienced severe abdominal pain, and spent 12 days in the hospital, diagnosed with diverticulitis, sepsis, and pneumonia. I was very sick.  I had emergency surgery and needed a colostomy.  

During my stay in the hospital I was not medicated for the sleep disorder, nor was I given other usual medications.  Imagine the impact of being very sick plus having sleep drunkenness, and being in and out of various states of awareness. The hospital stay became a traumatic event for me.  There were times I felt trapped inside my body, unable to communicate.  I felt terror and fear because I felt very unsafe.  I experienced severe anxiety because I was trying so hard to follow instructions, and understand what was going on.  Nurses were giving me instructions that I was unable to follow.  My friends were concerned because they did not think I understood the instructions for going home.  I was overwhelmed learning to care for the colostomy.  I was given new medications, which caused insomnia and scrambled my body’s circadian rhythm.  Then to help me sleep, they gave me Ambien, which left me unable to wake up for an entire day.  When I came home, I had severe insomnia for months, and my sleep/wake cycle was severely disturbed.  I was terrified of having the takedown operation.  It took me months to process what had happened.  

By the time I saw the colon surgeon for the takedown procedure, I had figured out what had happened.  I was able to inform her very clearly of my diagnosis of idiopathic hypersomnia, and how I function when I am not medicated.  I told all my friends about my sleep disorder.  Things went much better for the second surgery.  I was back on my medication the day after surgery.  The problem I am having this time is that I have realized that I am hypersensitive to opioid painkillers. One side effect is insomnia, so I am struggling to get back on an even keel.  But overall the experience was much better.

Doctors in the hospital do not understand hypersomnia, nor do they understand the impact of the treatments they are providing on a person with hypersomnia.  And who plans to spend 12 days in the hospital for an emergency visit that is out of their control?  

I have no idea of where to go with this, but sharing my story with other people who understand hypersomnia seems like a good place to start.  

Karen B – MN, USA

Posted in: Hypersomnia, idiopathic hypersomna, Journey, Share the Journey Stories, SomnusNooze

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Communicating With Your New Doctor About Your (or Your Child’s) Rare Disorder

Note: In this article, the word “you” will be used to mean both you and your child.

You will need different kinds of doctors to help you with your rare disease. Specialists will know the most about your disease and which specific treatments are best. Many times, several specialists will be needed to help with specific parts of your disease. Doctors who treat people with rare diseases often know other specialists around the country or world and can help you find someone near your new home who is specialist in your disease. However, they are not usually the doctors who will help manage all the various parts of your care.

When you move, one of the most important new people will be your primary care doctor. This doctor will form your medical home, a compassionate, accessible, cooperative, family-centered place where you can develop a relationship and get help to coordinate your care. Most often, it will be up to the individual to find a new primary care doctor. How can you find a primary care doctor to help care for you when you have a rare disease?

It is important to know what you should consider when looking for a new primary care doctor. A good medical home works best when the doctor, their staff and you, the patient, form a team. You should feel comfortable with the doctor; be able to ask questions; have a sense the person is willing to work with you and your specialist(s), is willing to manage complex issues and coordinate care, and is open to learning about you and your rare disease. You also must be willing to be part of the team and communicate clearly and honestly with your new primary care doctor about your condition. Mutual respect will be key to building a successful relationship with your new primary care doctor. It may take several visits before you feel comfortable and develop a relationship. Sometimes you may need to see more than one primary care doctor until you find one that is best for you.

Someone with a rare disease may be a challenge for the primary care doctor. They may never have seen a person with your specific disease. You can help by providing some information about not only yourself, but also your disease. This may be a review article or reference about your disease or a website dedicated to your disease. Keep in mind that most primary care physicians have busy clinic days and are limited in the amount of time they are able to devote to each patient. It may be unrealistic to expect the primary care doctor will ever achieve the degree of in-depth knowledge about a rare disorder and the most recent research on it that you will have. The goal is not for your primary care doctor to become an expert on your specific disease (that is why you have a specialist), but to understand the problems related to the disease and be able to coordinate care with your specialist(s).

Prior to your first appointment, make copies of important documents to take with you. Consider making a binder or electronic file of important information and your own summary. Ask your previous specialist for a summary letter describing your disease, your specific problems, and your current treatments. This is very valuable for the busy primary care doctor who may not have the time to go through extensive records. These will be helpful not only for your new primary care doctor, but also any new specialists you see. You should also get a copy of your medical records from your specialists, hospitals where you were admitted, and your previous primary care doctor. A few key records you should get are the following:

  1. A copy of the specialist note when you first received your diagnosis, and the note from the most recent visit with your specialist.
  2. Copies of any tests that helped make the diagnosis—blood tests or tests on other body fluids (urine, spinal fluid, tissues remove for biopsies or operations), imaging (regular x-rays, CT scans, MRI scans, echocardiography, etc.), special diagnostic tests (lung function, sleep studies, psychological tests, etc.). If you have the actual image tests on a disc, that would be very helpful. You have rights to all your records (paper and images on disc) from all of your providers (including any hospital). Many providers do charge for copies. It is particularly helpful to get these before you move, as sometimes they can be hard to obtain later.
  3. If you have had tests after your diagnosis as a regular follow up of your disease, you should get copies of those as well.
  4. If you have had an operation or been admitted to the hospital, a copy of the Discharge Summary is essential. If possible, the Operative Notes for your surgeries are also useful.
  5. For children, a copy of the growth chart or a list of the weight, length, and head circumference over time.
  6. For children and adults, the immunization record.
  7. A list of current medications and the dose, any previous medications that were discontinued because they were not effective or caused side effects, and any allergies. Include experimental treatments, vitamins, supplements, herbal therapies, physical/occupational therapy, chiropractor—essentially anything you use to make your disease better.

The primary care doctor may not need to see all of these. You can refer to them during visits as needed.
Remember that your medical home with your new primary care doctor will be key to coordinating all other aspects of your health care. It may take time to find the right physician and home and to build an open and honest relationship. However, a good medical home, with you as the focus of the team, will help coordinate services and provide comprehensive care and ensure that you stay healthy.

Bonita Fung, MD, and Kim McBride, MD, Bexley, OH

Posted in: Journey, Share the Journey Stories, SomnusNooze

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Wing Chun and Hypersomnia

Earlier this year, I experienced a minor miracle. After a full day of traveling and running errands, I was completely drained. The next day was a big event, and anxiety was eating at me. Would I wake up in time, would I have enough energy to be sociable, or would sleep take the reins yet again? I was faced with the option to go to sleep right then and wake up even earlier than I had planned or to get some stuff out of the way before sleep and get up as late as possible for the full day ahead. I knew that in a couple of moments my body would take any choice out of the equation, but I was still sitting upright out of sheer stubbornness and determination.

I did not have the energy to do much more than stand at that moment, but I had so much to do before I could let myself succumb to sleep. Taking another step seemed out of the question, but I could move my arms, so I started an exercise that had become a part of my daily routine. My hands followed a series of movements that comprise the beginning stages of learning Wing Chun Kung Fu, affectionately called the form, and it was not draining me like every other movement seemed to do, so I kept going.

Halfway through, my eyes opened in shock. It felt like I was waking up—not some metaphor or random realization—but actually waking up. By the time I finished, I wing_chun_single_chi_gerkwas in shock because I found that I had energy that was so distant just five minutes earlier. And for the next hour, I was able to do everything I had to in preparation for the next day. When I was done, I, not my body, was the one to make the decision to go to sleep.

The implications of what I had just experienced had my mind racing. As long as I had enough energy to stand up and start the form, I could build the energy to do more. There are still times when standing is a big ask, but I was never able to wake myself up before.

In the past, whenever my doctors would suggest exercise to help combat my tiredness, I would be so puzzled. How could I possibly think of doing anything high energy when I barely have enough energy to walk down the steps to feed myself, when I have to budget every movement in order to get anything done. The mere idea of exercise just seemed like a waste of the little precious energy that I had. But at the same time, I missed the feeling of being active like I had been in the years before hypersomnia hit me.

This past February, I reached a point where I got fed up with not feeling in control of my body. Sleep has taken so many hours from my life, and I never got a say in the matter. More than that, it didn’t let me make the most of the short time that I was awake because it was always there to pull me back under if I didn’t fight. I yearned for something, anything, to make me feel like I was in control again. I had no clue what to try—anything with cardio was out of the question.

Then I found the perfect fit by accident, or fate if you believe in that kind of thing. The movie Ip Man popped up on my “watch it again” list on Netflix, and I had just enough energy to watch a movie with subtitles. With all that had been going through my head recently, I watched this martial arts flick in a whole new light. Where before I saw a great movie with amazing action scenes, I now looked more closely at the man who was being portrayed at the center of it all. Throughout the movie, Ip Man was very tranquil and thoughtful, even in the midst of the fighting scenes, which ran counter to my interpretation of martial arts. A thought crept into my head: if he can do this while he is calm, maybe I can learn it while I am tired.

The end credits rolled, and I wrote down the style of martial arts that Ip Man practiced and taught. Wing Chun. There had to be something about the style that fostered such a temperament, one that so matched mine (albeit out of necessity at times). I immediately began to look for places in my area that taught Wing Chun… after I watched more Ip Man movies. When I visited the Wing Chun school, my suspicions were confirmed. It is a discipline that in its nature could make me feel more in control of my body, and I would be able to learn and practice it with as much or as little intensity as my energy level permitted.

When I started, I had no idea that it would translate to fueling me with energy so directly and so powerfully. My experience just two months in is a testament to how much Wing Chun is going to affect my life. As long as I have the energy to stand up and start the form, I will have the energy to do what I need to do and what I want to do. It is as if I have been walking through life thirsty in my own personal drought, rationing my energy because I had so precious little, and suddenly I have found the tools to tap into a rich well I didn’t know was beneath my feet. All because of Wing Chun!

It is my selfish hope that reading this will help you find the tools to tap into the same well of energy that I have. But no matter what, I wish you wakefulness.

Olivia Robbins, Maplewood, New Jersey

Posted in: idiopathic hypersomna, Journey

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The Blight on My Daughter’s Life

I gave birth to my daughter at 7:28 pm after 33 hours of labor. I was worn out, so I relinquished my baby to the care of the nurses within a couple hours to get some sleep. I didn’t see Cait again till 6:00 am. And, for the first year and a half of her life, if I put her down at 7:00 pm I knew I wouldn’t hear from her again till 8:00 the next morning. In retrospect, I wonder if it was an omen of what was to come.

Cait settled into normal sleep-wake patterns as a toddler. Toward the end of grade school, though, I remember that, if I took us out to dinner, she would invariably complain of being tired. I kept having to tell her not to lay her head on the table in restaurants.HPIM0292.JPG

Through her adolescence, I learned the hard way that it was best not to say anything to her early in the morning. “Not a morning person” was the understatement of the decade.

Cait completed her first bachelor’s degree on schedule and stayed on to get another BA and earn a teacher’s certificate, having settled on a career path late. It was during that program that the wheels came off. She lost motivation. Her sunny disposition disappeared. She earned the BA but couldn’t complete the certificate. After about 5 months living with a friend and making no headway with a job hunt, she moved in with her step-dad and me.

She landed a job. I thought she’d gotten her feet under her. But then she just tanked—spent all her time in bed except for when she had to work. It looked like depression to me. She found a counselor. Eventually she agreed to take antidepressants. Her mood lifted, but the fatigue didn’t go away. Her doctor checked her B-12 and her thyroid and screened for Lyme disease. She was sent for a sleep study and diagnosed with mild sleep apnea. She invested in a CPAP machine and used it faithfully. It didn’t help. She kept going back to the sleep study site asking why, and they would ask, “Do you meditate? Do you exercise? How much protein are you eating?”

Five months later, she thought she might have had a mini seizure. She was referred to a neurologist who happened to be a sleep specialist. The pre-appointment questionnaire drilled down on questions about sleep, and Cait answered them fervently. On her first visit, this doctor quickly resolved the question she came with and then said, “But I think you have another problem and it isn’t sleep apnea.” It was another month before a sleep study with MSLT confirmed it, but, when we did the Internet search that night, we knew he was right. Idiopathic Hypersomnia.

I hate this blight on my daughter’s life. I’m her alarm clock. I pack her lunch daily and make sure she has a good dinner every night. She doesn’t have energy for anything except her job. What kind of life is this? She’s planning now to move back to Illinois where she has a cadre of friends and a beloved church community within a 15-minute drive radius. I want her to have a life of her own, but I wonder, “Can she pull this off? Will she have the support she needs?” How I hate this blight on my daughter’s life!!

Ellen Swinford

Germantown, MD

Posted in: Awareness, idiopathic hypersomna, Journey, Share the Journey Stories

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Idiopathic Hypersomnia – A Turtle Going Uphill Through Molasses in January

Share the Journey Stories

Words escape me. I am a reader, a writer, and a highly educated woman with multiple degrees. Eloquence is high on my list of valued traits. Communication is one of my strengths, and something I’ve always been commended for. And yet, words escape me. I stutter, I stumble, I am tongue-tied. It’s like trying to grab water in your fist.

That is part of what it feels like to have brain fog, a symptom of multiple chronic illnesses, including my idiopathic hypersomnia. You can’t find the words you are looking for, even everyday words. But I am not stupid. I do not have a low vocabulary. I have a Bachelor of Arts in English; communicating in a clear and concise manner was something I was trained to do. But words escape me. Not just once in a while. All the time.

Brain fog is just one aspect of IH. It isn’t even the biggest aspect, nor the most important. However, it matters because how can you convey what it is like to have constant all-consuming fatigue if words escape you?

I would say that my fatigue is a “maelstrom,” or a “torrent” within and surrounding me, but the connotations of such descriptions bring up thoughts of fast and wild disasters. Fatigue is much more subtle and slow. It is not the quick death of a bullet to the brain. Fatigue is more like walking through thick, high mud. Like swimming through honey. Like drowning in an ocean. Like being in a bog, surrounded by impenetrable fog. Like a turtle going uphill through molasses in January. It is all of these things simultaneously. It is wearing a lead straitjacket while trying to escape drying cement. It is slow, and it eats you alive from the inside. It is the thick, heavy, slow, drained, helpless, hopeless feeling.

Imagine dealing with all of that, day in and day out. Now experience all of that while trying to be a competent part of society. Subtract caffeine. Add heart palpitations and a minimum nightly requirement of eleven hours of sleep. The hardest part of your day is waking up. The second hardest is getting out of bed. The third is staying awake. An eternal struggle. Stay awake. Be productive. Accomplish your tasks.

Imagine doing all your normal tasks (and they have to be done well and in a timely manner) when you haven’t slept in three days. Now imagine doing that every day. Can you? I can. Because that is what I do every day, because idiopathic hypersomnia means that I need a minimum of eleven hours of sleep in order to feel like I haven’t slept in two or three days. I cannot remember what it is like to feel refreshed, rejuvenated, and awake. It’s been years. I would, without hesitation, amputate an arm or a leg if that was the cure. Think about that.

Take all of that and tell me that fatigue isn’t debilitating. I dare you.

But you know what? No matter how many people read this, there are still going to be those that think fatigue isn’t debilitating. But life keeps going. So, just like that turtle, I will keep going, even if it is always uphill through molasses in January.

Caitlin Swinford
Germantown, MD

Posted in: Awareness, BeyondSleepy, Hypersomnia, idiopathic hypersomna, Journey, Share the Journey Stories, Social Media, SomnusNooze

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