I have a few amazing stories I could relate in my life, like riding with the cops in downtown Detroit, rafting the Grand Canyon, endless road trips, or the storm front blowing through South Dakota which I have remembered for twelve years as being the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen. But the most amazing experience I’ve had by far is the one I’m currently going through, so I’ll just mention that. I personally don’t care for stories that involve laying out one’s medical history, but it can’t be avoided if there’s to be any context to this.
Background: Around the time I turned 13, my sister started complaining that my snoring was waking her up constantly through the night. This was difficult to believe, as my sister slept in the next room, and we were separated not just by the wall, but by a closet filled with clothes and a dresser. I also remember this was the same time I started having a hard time falling asleep, and an even harder time waking up in the morning. It became normal for me to stay up reading until 2 or 3 am, and go to school after only 4 or 5 hours of sleep.
It should come as no great surprise that I was suffering from severe sleep apnea. I went undiagnosed for the next 18 years, through highschool, college, and several years in the workforce. During this time, I figured that my odd sleep habits were simply part of who I was and learned to work around them. Looking back, I realize I was essentially half asleep for this entire time. I had no energy, I was very sedentary, I avoided most anything that required physical exertion. I wasn’t particularly happy with this state of affairs, and several times got into some serious exercise classes in an effort to build up. It never worked. It was like my body refused to get stronger. It was always quite frustrating.
So at the age of 31, I finally went in for a sleep study. My doctor explained that I would have treatable sleep apnea if I experienced 10 episodes per hour. For those who don’t know about sleep apnea, it’s a condition where you stop breathing while you’re asleep. This occurs because the openingof the throat is shaped slightly wrong - enough in my case so that when I relax, my throat closes down completely and air can’t pass through. When this happens, after a few seconds of not breathing, I wake up, open my throat, start breathing again, and instantly fall back asleep. Since this takes 5 seconds or less, it doesn’t register in memory and I have no recollection the next morning. This is an apnea “episode”, and my doctor was explaining to me that for every hour I had slept for the previous eighteen years, I had woken up ten times.
I let that sink in. Then I asked him if I understood correctly. No, he said, I hadn’t understood - ten episodes meant I had *treatable * sleep apnea. He suspected that the real number was closer to *fifty * episodes per hour.
Then I had the sleep study done and got a definitive number. Over the course of the night I averaged 96 episodes per hour. In my entire adult lifetime, I had never had two minutes of uninterrupted sleep.
And now: The adventure I’m currently experiencing
I started sleeping with a CPAP device immediately, but I didn’t notice any results right away. I think that after all those years, it took my body a while to become adjusted to actually being rested. I did start falling asleep at a reasonable hour, and stopped falling asleep during the day, and that made it cool enough to get me to continue using the CPAP. But two years went by before I realized that everything had changed in a very, very fundamental way.
I started jogging. My body responded like a caged lion suddenly set free. I began building muscle and dropping weight at an amazing rate. Instead of being too exhausted to move after a workout, I find myself energized and roaring throughout the rest of the day. After a lifetime of going to extremes to avoid any kind of physical activity, I now find I’m a workout addict. I’ve dropped over a hundred pounds to date, and last November I ran a half marathon. What really amazed me was how *easy * it was. I actually sprinted the last six blocks, and wish I had pushed myself harder through the rest of the race. I’m going to run a marathon this year.
I can’t stand to go home and watch TV every night anymore, I have to be doing something. I started taking evening classes, Swing dance, boxing, anything that gets me out and active.
I’m smarter than I was. I can think quicker and deal with problems better. I find myself re-examining old puzzles that used to confound me, and now I find I can solve them easily.
I’m experiencing jet lag for the first time in my life. I used to be exempt from it - jet lag was a normal state of affairs for me. After my trip to Munich a couple months ago, I was zonked the next day and couldn’t understand why, until I realized what was happening.
The biggest change of all has been my personality. I used to be very passive and negative, now I find I’m very assertive and upbeat. I used to be easily intimidated and avoid confrontation at all costs, now I’m spending half an hour hitting the punching bag every night and don’t back down when challenged. I came to the realization that I simply am no longer the person I was a few years ago. I used to allow people to walk all over me, now I find I can’t stand that. I’ve discovered, to my great surprise, that I’m an Alpha male.
I used to be passionate about community theater, my favorite thing was to go up on stage and pretend to be someone else. Now I find the thought of it annoying - why would I want to be someone else? I have too much to experience on my own.
I used to cave in to fear. I would avoid anything that made me nervous. Now I’ve kicked fear out of my life. I seek out things that I’m afraid of and confront them. I’m still cautious, and take measured approaches to the risky things I try, but I don’t let my fears own me. I ride a motorcycle. I’m planning to climb Mt. Rainier next summer.
I’ve had several confrontations with family members who don’t understand why I refuse to honor the established pecking order. The dynamic has changed, and they don’t get it. I explained to one of my brothers “None of the old rules apply, and nothing will ever be the same again. You’re dealing with a different person now.” He was shocked, more by my tone than my words, I think. My family is having a real tough time with this.
I’m very lucky to have a close group of friends who have been encouraging and supportive. One of them told me “We all knew this was who you really were. We just couldn’t figure out how to bring it out.” I picked up another friend at the airport who I hadn’t seen in four years. He and I lived together for years, he’s as close to me as any person on this planet, yet when he got off the plane, he walked right by me, not recognizing me. He later said “When I finally spotted you, I thought you must have sent a younger brother or your nephew.”
There is simply no experience I’ve heard of that can describe what I’m going through. I feel like I’ve been granted super powers. I’ve found that nothing’s insurmountable for me anymore, if I put my mind to it.
I look at my old life with a mixture of pride and regret. I regret all the living I missed when I was half asleep, all the times I allowed others to walk over me, the fears that owned me, the bad habits I allowed to take over. At the same time, I’ve very proud of the things I did accomplish. It would have been very easy to flunk out of school, take some dead end job and be a loser the rest of my life, but I obviously have something driving me deep down inside. People who have what I have usually don’t accomplish much in life, but I’m a respected professional with a degree and a good reputation. I’ve also had some amazing experiences which I just didn’t have the energy to participate in, but I forced myself to anyway. I do find myself falling into old habits, and I need to consciously push myself out of them. It takes a certain amount of effort, but I’ve learned I like struggling.
I’m thinking of writing a fictional book about these experiences. The working title will be Upon Awakening. In the meantime, I’m enjoying this adventure beyond any I have ever known.
So that’s my amazing life. Sorry for the long post. You know how it is when you get into a groove.