I’ve been tired since 1999.
That was the year when I first went to the doctor to seek out help for fatigue. My mom took me, as I had been napping almost every day when I got home from school. I was also tired in school — movie days were my favorite, because I could rest without people noticing.
“It’s probably just normal teenage growth stuff,” the doctor said. “We’ll test for anemia and mono, though.”
That was the first of at least 25 different tests that I would have taken for anemia and mono over the next 15 years.
To be fair, I was anemic on and off. Somehow, though, upping my iron intake never really seemed to help me feel better.
The extreme fatigue continued when I moved out of my Mom’s house. I was 18, employed full-time, and going to school. So, I was sleeping on my lunch break every day. I couldn’t focus.
I was working at a child care center at this point in my life, and I vividly remember the most soothing part of my day: the song we sang before naptime.
When the moon is in the sky
To the sun we wave goodbye
Father Sun sleeps in the West
And his people go to rest
This song included hand motions — we raised our arms to make a round shape over our heads to represent the moon. We waved goodbye. But it was the last line of the song that I loved.
When Father Sun’s people went to rest, I got to lay my head to the side on my open palm for about 2 full seconds to mimic going to sleep. It felt absolutely amazing and relieving — until I had to open my eyes again and get the kids ready for a nap.
I remember — during this new doctor’s appointment — asking the doctor why I was so tired. I told her it had been going on a while.
“Oh, you’re probably just busy. Do you drink coffee?”
That was her solution. Oh, and of course, a test for mono and anemia. This time, both were negative.
This went on forever.
Each year I asked why I was so tired, and I got the same tests done. Results were always the same.
In my later twenties, I got put on anti-depressants. I was depressed, so the medication worked okay for that — but for my fatigue? Nope.
People had lots of suggestions for me. Lots.
“Maybe you’re sleeping too little.”
Actually, nine hours a night definitely did feel like too little. However, so did 15 hours a night, which was my record at one point.
“Maybe you need vitamins.”
This part was fun: I tried them all, and they weren’t cheap. But I was still tired.
I even saw a naturopath for a bit – she helped me identify some problems and it helped a lot, but at the end of the day, the same problems persisted.
In 2015, I got fed up.
I expressed my desperation to my doctor of seven years, who responded by giving me some more anti-depressants (Wellbutrin), on top of the anti-depressants I was already taking. It was interesting – on these I was still tired, but also anxious all the time.
After three weeks of taking the Wellbutrin, I had to quit. I was an anxious wreck and (surprise!) still tired.
At this point, I went back to the doctor and asked for some Ritalin. Why? Because I was desperate, and I just wanted to feel alert. This doctor had been seeing me for years – she knew I wasn’t drug seeking.
It was then, and only then, that she suggested a sleep study.
I was shocked. Why, after years of misery, hadn’t this been suggested sooner? It never even crossed my mind to ask. I didn’t think it was a thing that younger people did.
At this point, I had convinced myself I had narcolepsy. I had never fallen asleep suddenly, but the early signs of narcolepsy were daytime tiredness.
So to the sleep study I went.
It was one of the most agonizing nights and days of my life.
The night time sleep study was okay, but the doctor had also recommended a daytime study to test for narcolepsy — I had to take a nap every two hours for 10 minutes to monitor my sleep cycling.
After the study, I was incredibly anxious. I was less terrified of a sleep disorder than I was of not having one – all I wanted was an answer, and hopefully some sort of treatment.
When I went in for my follow up, a medical intern was there and told me that I had moderate sleep apnea.
I was in complete disbelief. Everything I had ever seen about sleep apnea had pointed to the fact that it is a disease that only occurs in overweight, older men. How could this be?
As it turns out, this is not true at all. Anyone can have sleep apnea – even kids.
Sleep apnea occurs when your airway somehow closes when you are asleep, and air can’t get in — resulting in your body getting woken up frequently. My test said that I woke up, on average, 29 TIMES AN HOUR — about every TWO minutes.
No wonder I was tired!
After my diagnosis, I met with a medical supply company representative who had me test a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine, which I would now sleep with every night.
When I saw the CPAP, I almost started crying.
A CPAP is a mask that goes over your face and blows air into your airway to keep it open. My first was that it was not cute. It was not fun. It looked miserable. I would now be ugly every night.
Gone were the days of cuddling my fiance to sleep. I was now a mechanical elephant at bedtime — and not even a cute one.
However, after about five minutes, I realized that I could not think that way. There are a lot of things in life with which I have to struggle. This machine could not be one of them. It was about to solve so many of my problems. I needed it.
After a couple of weeks of use and a lot of googling, I learned that a CPAP machine was worth its weight in gold.
My blood pressure went down. I started to get less puffy. My anxiety pretty much disappeared.
I decided to embrace my CPAP machine.
I also decided to Instagram it.
Because sleep apnea is not a disease that only happens to overweight, old men.
Plenty of women have sleep apnea, and if I would have known this, I may just have thought to ask my doctor about it earlier.
Because CPAPs don’t seem very fun. They don’t feel sexy. Lots of people who have them skip wearing them — despite their health benefits — because of these reasons.
I decided to start Instagramming my CPAP selfies because I want people with sleep apnea — specifically women — to know that they’re not alone. To know that if they’re feeling fatigued, there is no harm in asking for a sleep study to see if you may have a sleep disorder.
And to realize that, sometimes, the strangest things in life can be fun — and even sexy.
Stacy Erickson is an organized lifestyle enthusiast and owner of Home Key Organization, a professional organizing company based in Seattle, Washington. She enjoys hula hooping, thrift shopping, naps and fashion. She lives with her fiancé, Dave, and her two cats, Darby and Ramona. Read her blog, and follow her on Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.