I Have Narcolepsy

This episode documents two young women suffering from both narcolepsy and cataplexy. Narcolepsy affects sleeping patterns and causes excessive daytime sleeping, while cataplexy results in sudden loss of muscle control. Their narratives shift between two models moving from a chaos narrative to a quest narrative.

Julie’s chaos narrative begins as having recently been diagnosed with this chronic condition and hesitates toward taking medications fearing the adverse effects will be as incapacitating as the condition itself.  Contrarily, Katie has been suffering for nearly a decade and is taking excessive amounts of adderall to remain awake during the day. Characteristic of the chaos narrative, both women “attempt to take control of their situation but there efforts are futile.” Additionally, their chaos narratives are “witnessed by close friends and family that share in their pain and frustrations.” Julie is struggling with her mother’s decision for medications despite risk to her heart, while Katie’s boyfriend is discontent with her overmedicating and is pushing her to stop taking the drugs. As there is no cure that exists, both women view their illness “as a permanent state that will only get worse with no hope of returning to a normal life” distinctive of the chaos narrative. This makes it challenging for them to even perform simple, everyday tasks. Julie is rarely in the drivers seat and Katie struggles with keeping a job. Katie models the chaos narrative when she discusses her dissatisfaction with her boyfriend and her feelings after she ceases taking her medications.  (Lecture 4.2)

After eliminating medications yielded unfavorable consequences, Katie’s narrative switches from chaos to quest. Katie realized by continuing as she had been and excessively medicating she wouldn’t lead a long life because of the side effects to the drugs thus “accepting her illness as part of her new identity making her stronger in other social roles.” Katie and her boyfriend cut down her previous dosage by more than half, she functions better at work and her relationship with her boyfriend becomes stronger. Julie discovers alternate therapies such as chiropractic medicine, in addition to medications, make her more alert and have fewer cataplexy attacks. Julie becomes more comfortable with her condition and opens up to her friends. This is when we see her chaos narrative switch to a quest narrative. Accepting her condition “allows her to reflect on what’s most important.” Julie joins school government and is striving to achieve her goal of becoming an anesthesiologist. (Lecture 4.2)

One stigma in this narrative is presented when the boyfriend says Katie needs to try harder. There is a social stigma that people with narcolepsy and cataplexy are able to control their sleeping habits and behaviors more but choose not to. Additionally, there is a stigma on the amount of medications necessary to balance the symptoms caused by the disease.

Julie had a negative experience with a medical professional when no empathy was showed towards her when she spoke of her adverse feelings to taking drugs that may be harmful to her health.

Katie and Julie both acknowledge their health is abnormal, submitted to the care of a professional, medical doctor for medications or chiropractors for additional therapy, and were excused from regular responsibilities including driving or working. Katie was even supervised when she showered by her boyfriend. These are all behavioral examples of the rights and responsibilities exhibited by both women as a result of them suffering from an illness. (Lecture 4.1)

Illness narratives are satisfying and inspiring and their usefulness to patients includes making sense of their suffering and adjusting to new medical and social identities. The family feels less isolated and others managing their own suffering have a model that can show them how to work actively with their illness experience in ways that improve their lives. (Lecture 4.2)


Lecture 4.1 Experiencing Illness. Week 4: Experimental Approach.” ANP 204 course website. http://anthropology.msu.edu/anp204-us14/week-4-lecture-1

Lecture 4.2 Illness Narratives. Week 4: Experimental Approach. ANP 204 course website.http://anthropology.msu.edu/anp204-us14/week-4-lecture-2/

MTV. “True Life: I Have Narcolespy”. Director Carlos Puga. MTV video, 41:12. October 18, 2011. http://www.mtv.com/shows/truelife/

This Post Has 1 Comment

  1. Cherie Griffey says:

    With this episode of true life focusing on narcolepsy and cataplexy I decided to choose another illness that is quite similar to narcolepsy. Narcolepsy is a chronic brain disorder that involves poor control of sleep-wake cycles. Unfortunately with narcolepsy your sleeping pattern is thrown off and you have extreme daytime sleepiness and you usually have “sleep attacks”. Narcolepsy also involves for you to loose muscle control due to strong emotions which is cataplexy.
    The illness I decided to go with is idiopathic hypersomnia which is sleeping too much without a clear cause. Idiopathic hypersomnia is also known as hypersomnia. With hypersomnia you can take naps that do not relieve drowsiness, you have a difficult time waking up from your sleep leaving you to feel confused or disoriented. More symptoms would be feeling the need to sleep during the day at any given time or you have increased sleep which would be 14 to 18 hours per day. Hypersomnia and narcolepsy are similar because they are both sleep disorders. I am not sure what could influence this experience other than taking medicine for it because it seems like a pretty difficult illness to deal with. There is no cure without medicine when it comes to dealing with these illnesses.

    “Idiopathic Hypersomnia: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia.” U.S National Library of Medicine. U.S. National Library of Medicine, n.d. Web. 27 July 2014.

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