The Hidden Illness of Sleep Apnea—What You May Not Know
Sleep Apnea: The Hidden Illness
I don’t exactly remember when the symptoms began—it seems like an eternity ago. In reality, however, it was only about a year ago. That can be a very long time to live with exhaustion. I complained to my doctor for six months. He finally listened to me, or maybe he just became tired of my complaining; I'm not sure which. After being tested time and again, a diagnosis finally arrived. It had a name. I call it "the hidden illness," but its clinical name is sleep apnea. Doesn’t sound too serious, does it? I hope you'll stay with me here and keep on reading. Sleep apnea almost destroyed me.
I’m normally a bundle of energy with an upbeat attitude. It isn’t like me to tire quickly or run out of energy, let alone fall asleep during the day. However, this is exactly what happened.
At first it wasn’t all that noticeable. I went through the day happily completing whatever was on the day’s calendar. I always managed to work in a walk. Mother Nature has generously displayed some of her finest work along my walking path. As I inhale the beauty that surrounds me, I savor the feeling of just being alive. And I hear my own voice echo, "thank you."
It was during one of these beautiful walks that I began to notice I couldn’t quite “go the distance.” My body began to tire rapidly, forcing me to turn back before I finished my walk. Each step required all the endurance I could muster.
The minute I returned home, I kicked off my walking shoes, collapsed on the sofa, and fell fast asleep. I slept for 3 hours. I was out like a light.
Sleeping Day and Night
This happened every day for weeks. I tried every vitamin plus a long list of "suggestions" given to me by well-meaning people.
Then I came down with what I thought was the flu. I was so exhausted I could barely put one foot in front of the other, and I slept all day and all night. I supported myself on trips to the bathroom by gripping the wall with my hands.
At the same time, I began to wonder why I had no body aches, upset stomach, or respiratory problems. Besides, the flu only lasts a few days or at the worst case a few weeks. My symptoms were now lasting months.
I slept day and night, through one day and then another. I drank water constantly to avoid dehydration. I pushed myself to get out of bed. I have a strong mind and was sure I could visualize myself with the energy I needed to return to my bouncy self.
Sleep Apnea Can Cause Exhaustion
Depression Is a Symptom of Sleep Apnea
As days turned into weeks with no improvement I decided to see my PCP (primary care physician.) Unable to drive, I had to depend on someone to take me, wait for me, and drive me home.
I’m the type of person who is very independent, and I hate asking for help. Having to rely on others to get to appointments and do my shopping for me only added to my anxiety. I found myself crying everyday, which is not like me at all. I don't know how I would have managed without the help of my son Randy. He was there for me day and night.
My doctor ran a series of blood tests that ruled out any physical problem. He told me he had no idea what was wrong with me. He did, however, believe me when I told him my symptoms were beginning to make me depressed. He had cared for me long enough to know that if I had a complaint, something was indeed wrong.
What's Wrong With Me?
To shorten my story, I will fast forward 6 months. Still suffering with the same symptoms, I was sent to an array of specialists who ran tests and found nothing.
I began to think I was crazy, depressed, or had some disease unknown to man. I was accused of being lazy, irritable, and depressed, and it was suggested that perhaps my symptoms were all a figment of my imagination. Even my closest friends began to doubt my sanity.
Well, of course I was depressed. I had tried everything to heal myself from prayer to an all-organic, super-food diet. (All I really wanted was a big bowl of ice cream and to be left alone.)
I didn’t want to talk to anyone or see anyone. I didn’t much care how I looked or what I said. Okay, I was now officially depressed
What puzzled me the most was that from time to time I would have periods of energy. This energy didn’t last long, and it was always followed by a very long nap. I began to think it must be my brain. Yes, that’s it. I have a brain tumor. I quickly called the doctor.
Finally, a Diagnosis
You may be asking yourself why the doctors didn’t consider sleep apnea in the first place. In their defense, I was also being treated with massive doses of vitamin D, taking Forteo injections daily for osteoporosis, starting on thyroid meds, and also addressing a few other minor problems.
Each doctor would begin by suggesting, “maybe it's this med or that med,” and I was slowly taken off each prescription, one at a time, for 6-8 weeks per medication.
One by one we tested each drug, but I still had the same symptoms.
By now I could barely function. Just as I had begun to give up all hope, my rheumatologist mentioned that I might have something called “sleep apnea.” I was immediately sent to a sleep specialist. He asked me to open my mouth, and he examined my throat. It seems that the soft palate was “falling,” causing me to stop breathing during sleep, and he diagnosed me with sleep apnea.
CPAP Mask - Pillows Style
Do you fall asleep during the day after a "Good Night's Sleep?"
I Stopped Breathing Over 30 Times
I was sent to a sleep center, wired up, put to bed, and monitored throughout the night. The results of the study indicated severe sleep apnea.
The studies showed that I stopped breathing over 30 times during the first 2 hours of sleep. The period between breaths could last for 20 seconds or more.
I failed to get into “REM” sleep at all, which is when the body rejuvenates, heals, and builds the immune system. My doctor pointed out that this is dangerous and can actually bring on a heart attack or a stroke.
I was elated to hear the news. Sound crazy? Think about it. I now had a diagnosis, which meant I could finally get treatment and regain my energy. I could have my life back!
My doctor completely understood my reaction and said I should make it very clear to my friends and family that my depression was a result of the disorder, and not the other way around.
Oh, bless him!
CPAP Mask for Sleep Apnea
My Current Favorite CPAP Mask
I have completed my first week of CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) therapy, and I am happy to report that my energy is returning. I am no longer depressed. My future looks bright, and I couldn't be more excited and positive. My energy increases with every new day.
Today, three years later, I've been upgraded with a new CPAP mask called "Dreamwear" (see photo). It's more comfortable, and I'm getting a better night's sleep. I mention this because it's important to continue visiting the doctor at least once a year. Research is being done regularly to come up with better alternatives for the CPAP mask. It's also imperative that a sleep study be done at least every two years.
So what have you learned from my story? How can you become educated and learn about the hidden illness of sleep apnea? Start by learning all you can about this disorder. Learn what the symptoms are.
See a doctor if you suspect you might have sleep apnea.
- Trust yourself. You know your own body.
- Don’t give your power away.
- Take responsibility for finding a diagnosis.
- Don’t listen to other people's opinions.
- Be patient with yourself.
- Honor your body.
Note: Everyone is different and experiences different symptoms. For some, the symptoms are barely noticeable, and for others they are more pronounced. My story is an honest account of how sleep apnea affected me. It is not meant to bring anyone anxiety. Always visit your doctor if you are experiencing symptoms.