Elaine and the Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad First Day

Yesterday I had my first day of work as an auxiliar de conversación at the Spanish secondary school I was assigned to. I was so excited to finally start working, to get to know the kids and the teachers and experience the Spanish public school system. What an incredible experience, right?

The night before, I made sure to set myself up for first-day success — I skipped my last two doses of stimulants to ensure that I could go to sleep on time, put a glass of water and my morning stimulants on my bedside table, laid out my clothes and makeup, and packed my bag so it would be ready for me to grab as I headed out the door. I set six alarms and switched on the timer to my super-bright, blue-light lamp, which I also keep on my nightstand. Then I dragged the nightstand as close to my bed as physically possible so that I would wake with the light from this freaking lamp right in my face, impossible to ignore.

What I’m trying to say is that it was so important to me to be on time for my first day of classes, and I did everything right.

Unfortunately, narcolepsy doesn’t care about your plans because it is a stupid spiteful disease.

The morning of my first day, I slept through the light of my blue-light lamp and all six of my alarms. The alarm clock app on my phone shows that I turned off each one of the alarms as they rang, but I don’t remember that at all.

I woke up five minutes after I was supposed to have left — it’s a twenty minute walk from my piso to the school.

I desperately needed a shower, I needed a lot of makeup to conceal the blotchy red scars on my face, I needed to eat something, I needed my meds.

I took my meds, I put on my makeup while lying in bed (maybe this is ridiculously lazy, I don’t know. It’s hard to be vain and too exhausted to sit upright at the same time). I skipped the shower and breakfast — non-essentials, it turns out. 

In the end, I was half an hour late for my first class. To put it another way, I missed a full half of the class period. I cried a little bit, angry tears, on the way to school. How hard is it to wake up when the damn alarm goes off?Everyone else in the world does it. Why are you too weak to handle this simple life skill? What is wrong with you? 

When I finally reached the classroom, I stood outside the door for a few minutes, unsure if it was even worth making a disruption this late in the period, anxiously pulling on the fine little hairs that grew at the nape of my neck in an effort to concentrate. What was I going to tell my teacher? I certainly couldn’t tell her the truth, that I had overslept. I couldn’t bring up narcolepsy, because no matter how I framed the matter, it would sound like an excuse, and my coworkers would think that I was unreliable. 

I heard an old friend yelling my name, and I knew it wasn’t real, he wasn’t here, but I turned around and scanned the empty hall, just in case. Finally, I unlocked the classroom door (everything in Spain has a lock) and stepped inside.

The teacher looked surprised to see me. “Did you have problems getting here?” she asked, and I lied and said yes, sorry, and she told me coolly that she had nothing planned for me this period, and could I please just meet her in the staff room after class for our planning period.

I said of course and apologized for disrupting the class and went to the teacher’s bathroom and locked myself in a stall and cried until the bell rang. Then I pulled out my little compact and covered up the dark bruised circles under my eyes — my crying had washed away the layers of concealer I had applied while still in bed.

The rest of the day went by fairly uneventfully. I had two coffees and two more doses of stimulants, but within three hours of arriving at school I needed to sneak off to the bathroom to take a nap, resting my head on the hard claw-shaped thing that holds the toilet paper in Spain. When the end-of-class bell woke me, up, there was a yellow banded snake in the dirt by my feet, and I thought it might bite me, but then I blinked and there was no snake and no dirt, just the immaculate white tiles of the bathroom floor.

FullSizeRender (7)I took a selfie in the bathroom after waking up so that we could share this moment together. How sweet!

It’s not good to hate yourself, but it’s also pathetic to be twenty-two years old and late for your first real job because you overslept. Sleeping in is caused by a lack of willpower, not by a medical problem. It’s generally indicative of a major character flaw, of being irresponsible, rude, uncommitted, lazy, self-indulgent, all of the above. Right? I mean, it’s sleeping. Everybody does it every day. The solution is to just wake up.

But I swear, I wanted to wake up on time. I did everything I could, and that wasn’t enough. It doesn’t make sense — how can I be incapable of something so simple and so essential to independent living? How can I be young and smart and pretty and competent by all the usual measures, and yet maybe I can’t wake myself up. And maybe there are days when I have to choose between taking a shower and eating because I’m too tired to do both. And maybe sometimes I can’t walk from my bedroom to the bathroom and back without needing to lie down on the floor for a minute to rest.

I got home that night and cried for hours. I don’t know if I’ve ever cried so much in one day before. Life in Spain is wonderful, but life with narcolepsy is very, very hard, and it’s harder than you think it is. It’s hard to be just out of college and to realize that a twenty-hour work week as an assistant teacher is so easy it’s a joke your friends, but it’s exhausting to you. 

It’s nearly unbearable to feel like you’re wasting your young years and squandering your time in foreign country. Hopefully tomorrow goes better.

19 thoughts on “Elaine and the Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad First Day

  1. Poppy says:

    STOP BEATING YOURSELF UP! You have condition that you can’t control. That day is over. Wipe the slate clean, tomorrow is a new day.


  2. I agree with Poppy….although I know that is easier said than done. We all have things happen to us….on my first day I was with my boss and he slammed the car door on my fingers. I had to pretend it didn’t matter and told him we shouldn’t be late for our meeting although I thought I would pass out from the pain. One thing I can say is……don’t worry…..despite all your difficulties (and you may have some with teachers and administration) the students will love you flaws and all <3<3<3

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Poppy says:

    You didn’t over sleep Elaine! You had a narcolepsy event and the brain took over and you had no recourse but to sleep. If you had partied all night, was on Facebook until the sun came up or even watching Soanish tv until 4 in the morning then you were at fault for oversleeping. Ease up on my granddaughter or there will be trouble. Wish I could give you a hug right now!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Clem from France says:

    Like everyone else said, you were not at fault here.
    Being a 22 year-old narcoleptic myself, I know how you feel, and I know how difficult it is. I just started teaching this September, and boy does it take its toll on me.
    Have you talked about it with the school you work at ? You shouldn’t have to take a nap in the bathroom !
    Don’t be ashamed of what your body/brain needs. You’d be surprised how nice and understanding people can be when you explain it to them. I take naps in the staff room…well, other non-narcoleptic teachers also fall asleeo there so there’s no difference whatsoever between them and me (I just need longer ones) ! Haha.

    Good luck with your job. Living abroad is so thrilling, I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I did going to England for 9 months. Things can be awesome even with narcolepsy/cataplexy. (I’m pretty sure you know that already.) 😉

    (Oh and just so I don’t look like a complete freak…I found your blog by reading your post on Julie Flygare’s blog and loved it !)

    Liked by 2 people

    • Clem, thank you for the advice!! I know it’s only a matter of time before I’ll have to tell the school, I’m just trying to think of a good way to bring it up. Living abroad is terrific, though, I am loving life here in Spain! If you ever find yourself in Madrid, let me know and we can meet up! It would be awesome to spend some time with another 22 year old narcoleptic 😉


      • Clem from France says:

        No problem !
        As narcoleptics it’s important to share as many tips as we can together. Especially in moments as important as the beginning of your career.
        My advice : don’t wait too long and just state the facts. Also explain that you know how to handle things, that you feel when a nap is about to be necessary, that you know/feel when a cataplectic episode arrives (I know I kinda do, but I’m sure if it’s the same for everyone).
        I think being in front of a classroom or more generally with students as the “”person of authority”” plays a magic trick on my brain because all the sleepiness comes after I’m done with the lesson, out of sight from the students.
        I hope it does the same to you. 🙂

        As for the invite to Madrid, I return the offer to you (my Spanish is so bad…). If you ever feel like coming to France (especially to Lyon), you’d be most welcome ! I could definitely use some time with another narcoleptic. 😉

        Liked by 1 person

      • Solid advice! I told one teacher today and he was totally cool with it. I think there is awareness of narcolepsy in Europe compared to America, at least in Spain!

        And I agree, the pressure of being in front of the class totally keeps me going! My only worry is having cataplexy and freaking people out, but like you said, I can tell when I’m in ‘cataplexy mode’, like when it’s possible for me to have an attack vs when it won’t happen. And yeah, after school gets out… I’m so wiped, I need to just chill for the rest of the day! 🙂

        Don’t worry, my Spanish is pretty bad too, we’ll just look like fools together 🙂 And I would love to visit Lyon! My French sucks though, I sound so stupid. We’d have to speak English, you’ve been warned! 🙂


      • Clem from France says:

        It’s really nice the tecaher didn’t seem to be bothered at all by your narcolepsy. I find it really cute, because they are usually quite curious about it, but not in an annoying way. 🙂

        I don’t mind speaking English, I’m an English teacher !
        Come and visit ! Spring and summer are the best seasons to come here : it’s already way too cold now…
        But let me know if you plan on coming ! I can be your tour guide ! 😉

        Liked by 1 person

      • Haha I should have known you’re an English teacher, your English is perfect!

        It’s already getting cold here in Madrid too… I thought Spain was the land of sunshine and deserts or something! But I think overall Madrid is warmer than France, so if you need to get away from the cold, just let me know! 🙂 I will definitely come visit during the spring/summer!


      • Clem from France says:

        I might consider coming during my holidays in February…
        Don’t know yet, it’ll depend on how much money I have, and if I’m not going back to the lovely English town where I spent my year as an assistant. 😉


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