I chose to watch the True Life episode that documented two young people with Narcolepsy and Cataplexy. In the episode, the two were diagnosed with Narcolepsy four months prior to the airing of the show, and is now starting to exhibit symptoms of Cataplexy. Narcolepsy is a chronic brain disorder that involves poor control of sleep-wake cycles. People with narcolepsy have extreme sleepiness at random times of the day that are uncontrollable and can occur at any time. Cataplexy is associated with Narcolepsy, and is a sudden episode of muscle weakness that is usually triggered by emotions like laughing, and crying.
The girl who was recently diagnosed with Narcolepsy initially had the restitution narrative, because she was recently diagnosed with the disorder and she saw it as a temporary state. This can be attributed to the fact that she was just recently diagnosed with the disorder and the effects of it have not completely been taken in by her. After she went to the doctor and it was confirmed that her condition would only get worse a make certain things more difficult in her life, her narrative changed to the chaos narrative. This narrative means that she sees the illness as a permanent state that will inevitably get worse, with no redeeming virtues.
The culture and stigma shown in this episode was actually somewhat shocking to me. To see that one of the girl’s boyfriends said that she had to work harder to get control of her disorder was really disheartening. There is a belief, at least for this disorder, that it can be controlled and conquered. That belief is misleading because, according to the episode, there is no cure to the disorder and it is hard to even manage. It shows that the stigma of Narcolepsy and Cataplexy about its severity and there is even a belief that it can be cured, even though it cannot at the moment. The medical professionals also seemed to be harsh toward one of the girls and there was even a sense of unsympathetic behavior from the doctor toward the girl’s disorder.
Sick roles were very important for both girls that were documented in this episode. The girl that was diagnosed with Narcolepsy 4 months ago used it to get a hold on what she needed to do to become stable with her disorder, whether it be receiving medication or pursuing an alternative method of treatment. The girl who has had the disorder for a long period of time used her sick role to balance the ill effects of over medicating and the potentially positive effects of being medicated. In general, the sick roles were very important for the girls in the show because it led to them to the realization that the illness is not their fault, and that they should try to get well by professional means (medications, and other alternate forms).
Illness narratives are a way for a person affected by an illness to make sense of his or her experiences. It is important for the individual with the disease/disorder to understand what they have been through and create positive ways of dealing with the ailment. Illness narratives also positively affect the families because it gives them a way to work towards helping the patients with their disorders.
MTV. “True Life: I Have Narcolespy”. Director Carlos Puga. MTV video, 41:12. October 18, 2011. http://www.mtv.com/shows/truelife/ (accessed July 23, 2014)
Karim, Taz. “4.1 Experiencing Illness” Class lecture, Medical Anthropology from Michigan State University, East Lansing, July 21, 2014.
Karim, Taz. “4.2 Illness Narratives” Class lecture, Medical Anthropology from Michigan State University, East Lansing, July 21, 2014.