I was planning to go out tonight, but it’s very hot and my friend S. called and we ended up talking for so long, I lost any desire to get into the car and drive into town.
He’s trying to find another newspaper job in Boston, near his girlfriend’s family. He doesn’t care at all about Pittsburgh.
“How could you?” I said. I reminded him how hard it is to have any sort of life when you’re working shift work. “God, you can’t plan anything – everyone you know is home asleep,” I said. “You’re in a strange town and you don’t have time to get to know it.”
I think that’s the reason newsrooms tend to be such a hotbed of affairs; more than most people, you only see the people you work with. You don’t even get to talk much with anyone else.
I hated working the copy desk. Sure, it sounds relatively reasonable, working until midnight; I mean, a lot of 9-to-5 people don’t go to bed until then. But your brain gets revved up and it’s hard to slow it down once you’re home. I was often wide awake until 3 or 4 a.m and when I’d wake up about 11, it was already time to start getting ready for work.
It felt like swimming through Jello. I was never quite awake and that wasn’t good. Shift work did such strange things to my circadian rhythms; for years after, even a sliver of light in my bedroom made it impossible to sleep.
I may have mentioned this before: I have narcolepsy. Not the extreme kind, where people fall asleep at the wheel of a car, but hypersomnia, which is a state of perpetual sleepiness. I nap a lot but I never feel good when I wake up – only slightly less sleepy.
In order to get to the bottom of this, I once spent a night in a sleep lab with electrodes Krazy-Glued to my scalp; my doctor wondered if sleep apnea would account for my perpetual fogginess. The following day, I stayed in the lab for my Sleep Latency Test. This sounded like a lead-pipe cinch; after all, I’d been trying to stay awake most of my life. From sleeping at my desk in grade school, to crawling under newspaper paste-up tables to catch a quick nap, my life was one long quest for that thing other people told me was normal: waking up refreshed.
Four times that day, the sleep techs came in, drew the curtains and told me to try to sleep for fifteen minutes. I tried, God knows; I tossed, I turned. I could not believe it – for once, I couldn’t sleep to save my life.
A few weeks later, I met with the neurologist to discuss the results. “I already know,” I said as I entered his office. “There’s nothing wrong with me, take two aspirin.” All that aggravation, for nothing.
“Actually, no,” he said. “You have a form of narcolepsy.”
I stared at him. “You’re kidding.”
“It’s actually rather interesting,” he said, pointing to the tracings. “You never seem to get completely out of REM sleep.”
“But I didn’t fall asleep once,” I said.
He said no, I fell asleep during every single attempt. “Look,” he said, showing me the paper record. “Twelve minutes this time, eight minutes this time…”
I was astounded. “How can that be?” I said. “How can I be wide awake and asleep at the same time? I mean, I did not fall asleep once.”
He said it was part of the syndrome, and wrote me a prescription for Provigil, which is very, very expensive. (I had drug coverage at the time.) It wasn’t bad; I felt awake without being buzzed. But it didn’t help at all with the ADD, which was supposed to be the point.
Oh well. It’s not as if I can afford it, anyway. And after my experience with Adderall withdrawal, I’d rather limit myself to the basics – caffeine.