What if she said there was nothing wrong with me? (My Sleep Apnoea Story)

In March 2018, in a small and unassuming room in the basement of an old Georgian style building in north inner city Dublin, I was waiting, I was extremely tired and, to be honest, I was crying.

While the alpha male side of me was trying not to draw the attention of the clinical secretary and assistant who were seated only a few feet away from me, I was still finding it difficult to keep my composure. Over the years I’ve been to thousands of appointments, medical and otherwise and virtually none of them had made me feel like this. My entire body was shaking with nerves, the palms of my hands were sweating and my heart was racing.

For anyone familiar with the education system in Ireland, I was more nervous now that I was for my Irish Language Oral in my Leaving Certificate exams at age 18, and that’s saying something!

The person I was about to meet was someone I had never met before yet somehow I knew that she was likely going to be hugely influential helping to turn around my health and subsequently my entire life. However, there was one thing that I simply could not get out of my head. What would happen if she didn’t believe what I was about to tell her, and in particular, what would I do with myself if she said there was NOTHING WRONG WITH ME? Because if she did, I was all out of options.

At 41 years of age and with my wife and two young children to support, I was at one of the lowest points of my life, my physical fitness was terrible, my mental health wasn’t much better, and my career was, well, in the toilet and had been so for a considerable period of time.

If this lady didn’t believe that I had, at the very least, some form of mild sleep disorder, then I was truly staring into the abyss. If I didn’t have something formally wrong with my sleep, then 3-5 years of attempts to find out what was wrong with me, led by local doctor, would have come to nothing. The answer to what was causing me to have such a terrible physical and mental existence on a daily basis would still be beyond me, and I didn’t think I would have had the energy to carry on with trying to figure out why I didn’t have the energy to do, nor the mental capacity to desire to do, the most basic of tasks on a daily basis.

Knowing what I know now about my sleep, almost one year later, it was genuinely farcical of me to think that I may not have had a clinical problem with my sleep, considering how bad it turned out to be, but at the time, while I knew I had a huge issue with my sleep, for some mad reason, I had convinced myself I did not / could not have had Sleep Apnoea. Go figure.

I was never a high achiever in most things academic or in sport, etc but there is one topic I know I am a bone fide subject matter expert on, and that is what it is like to try to live and progress a normal life in parallel with being extremely physically and mentally exhausted as a result of a chronic lack of sleep.

Sleep” for me was always something that was negative. I always avoided going to sleep for as long as possible, which likely had a lot to do with what I was like when I “woke up” in the morning. You see, my “waking up” was much less like what most people would consider it to be, and was more akin to coming out of some form of coma (and I use that word deliberately).

For me, I didn’t actually wake up in the morning. Rather, at some point in the morning, I would become aware that I was no longer asleep yet I was essentially unable to physically move any part of my body, including my head on the pillow, and mentally, saying I was tired was just completely incorrect. I was a zombie. I was barely able to think, let alone make execute and form of constructive decisions.

Unless there was something of life and death importance to be done (which there was on many occasions, such as taking my wife to the labour ward at 3am in the morning when our first child was born), then I just was out for the count. My head felt like it weighed three times it’s usual weight, I could barely open my eyes, any form of morning light was very painful (insert Gremlins joke here) and when I did manage to drag myself out of the bed, I would literally stagger around while I tried to wake myself up. Only then, could I even begin to wake up enough to then become a proper pain in the ass. I hated who I was in the morning but I could not control it. I was forever confused as to how I could go to bed sometimes for 8-10 hours, and WAKE UP MORE TIRED THAN WHEN I WENT TO SLEEP.