Straight-Up Good

Reason #1383509 why Xyrem is worth all the聽hassle:聽

Pre-Xyrem, I was taking 150mg of Nuvigil (armodofinil) and 40-60mg of Adderall a day, plus coffee, and I was still a zombie, sleeping all the time and low, low functioning. I might as well have been taking sugar pills for all the good those stimulants did — they certainly didn’t keep me awake!

I have been on Xyrem for a total of four months now, titrating up slooowly. About a month ago I got up to 3.5g twice a night, which is the lowest dose that works for me (I start feeling better during the day on this dose). I’ve stayed at 3.5g since then.

I now take 10mg of Adderall to wake up in the morning and that’s it. That’s it! I sleep for about 8 hours a night and take one 20-minute nap in the afternoon, if at all. I don’t even drink coffee anymore!

And here’s the kicker: I feel pretty decent聽throughout the day, and it’s my own energy, not fake-feeling stimulant energy. It feels so natural, it’s amazing. Soon I hope to go from “pretty decent” to straight-up “good”. 馃檪

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Happy Bird Day!

A week after arriving in Alcorc贸n, I turned twenty-two.

I still was settling in, so I didn’t have anybody to celebrate with, but it was still kind of cool to walk around town that day knowing that it was my birthday and that nobody had any idea.

Eventually, I decided that my birthday shouldn’t pass by completely unnoticed, so I went back to the pub with the nice waiters to grab a celebratory birthday coffee.

The Andalusian waitress, let’s聽call her Mari, was alternating between smoking a cigarette and working the patio. She greeted me with a friendly “Hola, guapa! Sit wherever you’d like!”聽Then, turning towards the bar, she yelled in her rapid, barely-comprehensible (to my ears) accent, “I need a caf茅 con leche for the girl! And don’t forget a glass of water!”聽

I smiled. The last time I was at the pub, I聽had gotten聽a glass of water with my coffee so that I could stealthily take my meds. I guess Mari had assumed that having a coffee and a water was just my thing, and even though I didn’t need the water this time, it was touching that she had remembered!

I wanted to say,聽“You remember me!”, but I hesitated. I knew all the words, I knew the grammar, but putting it all together… It wasn’t difficult, but I doubted myself! What if I had gotten it totally wrong? What if it didn’t make sense? Or, worst of all, what if I said it right, but my accent was so thick that she couldn’t understand?

So, instead of trying a new sentence, I just smiled and said “Thank you.”

A few minutes later, Mari brought the coffee to my table and I screwed up my courage and gestured for her to come closer. “What’s up?” she said, leaning in.

“Um,” I said, suddenly nervous about speaking. “Today’s my birthday.”

“Ay!” she yelled, excited, and kissed both my cheeks. “Congratulations! How old are you?”

“Uh, take a guess,” I said, not sure if I had phrased that right.聽

“You want me to guess?” she said. “Alright, um, twenty-three? No, that’s too old, isn’t it?”

“Twenty-two,” I said, grinning

“So young!” she said. “Jovencita! And you’re here in Spain all by yourself? Totally alone?” I nodded and she swore, using a phrase that I will not repeat here. “Brave girl.”

She went back over to the bar and, leaning inside, said something to聽the waiter working the bar — the nice waiter who gave me all that food on my first day — and they both returned to my table.聽

“Helen!” the waiter (let’s call him Ruben) said, hitting the ‘H’ way too hard. “It’s your birthday? Congratulations! Do you want a shot?” He mimed taking a drink, in case I hadn’t understood.

“Uh,” I said. I hoped that they didn’t think I had told them about my birthday just to get something for free, but I didn’t know how to express that. “Um… Yeah, sure! Thank you!”

Ruben returned a few minutes later, balancing聽three shot glasses, filled with creamy liquor, on a silver tray. Mari joined him, and they clinked their little shot glasses against mine. “Felicidades!”聽Mari said.

“No, congratulations,” Ruben said in English, correcting her. His accent was so thick that it sounded like聽he had never needed to speak English before this very moment.

Happy bird day to joo,” Mari told me in English, one-upping Ruben, and we all drank.聽

After I finished my coffee, I said goodbye to Mari and Ruben, returned to my newly-rented聽piso,聽and spent the rest of the night relaxing, thinking that maybe I had made myself some Spanish waiter friends.

Me llamo… Helen?

A few days after my arrival in Alcorc贸n, I went back to the restaurant聽with the nice waiters who had taken pity on me during聽my overwhelming first day here. I’d adjusted to life in Alcorc贸n, somewhat, and I was able to recognize that while I had originally thought that they worked at a ‘fancy restaurant’, in reality it was just a pub that had a patio, not upscale at all.

The red-haired waitress was taking orders聽outside, on the patio, and she remembered me. 鈥Hola, guapa!鈥 she called in her thick Andalusian accent. 鈥淪it down, wherever you鈥檇 like!鈥 She ran inside the bar and returned with the waiter who had brought me free food.

鈥淒o you have money聽this time?鈥 he asked good-naturedly. I pulled out my wallet, embarrassed, offering to pay him for the other day, but he waved me off. 鈥淣o, no, don鈥檛 worry about it. That was on us.鈥 The red-haired girl nodded and brought me a caf茅 con leche without my even having to ask for it.聽

I was so excited to see both of them that I felt a familiar heaviness at the back of my neck, rushing in waves down my spine and through my limbs. No, not now. You can鈥檛 have an attack in front of them. My face twitched from the effort it took to fight the cataplexy, and I wanted to get up and leave without finishing my coffee. I wanted to lock myself in my room where nobody could see me.

The free-food waiter came over to where I sat on the patio. 鈥淲hat鈥檚 your name?鈥 he asked me.

鈥淓laine,鈥 I said, trying to pronounce it with short Spanish vowels, El茅n, and trying to keep my voice steady. Don鈥檛 have cataplexy. Come on.

Helen,鈥 the waiter said, pronouncing the 鈥楬鈥 like a Castilian 鈥楯鈥 鈥 from the back of his throat, strong, as if he was trying to cough something up.

鈥淓laine,鈥 I said, trying to be more clear.

鈥淵es, Helen! In Spanish, though, you would be Elena.鈥

鈥淚 don鈥檛 feel much like an Elena,鈥 I told him. 鈥淚t doesn鈥檛 fit me.鈥

鈥淲e will call you Helen, then,鈥 he said, still hitting the 鈥楬鈥 much harder than an English speaker would have. 鈥淚t鈥檚 nice to meet you, Helen.鈥 And with that, he returned to the bar where the other waiters were standing. They all leaned towards him as he spoke, glancing at me, and I was sure that he was telling them what we had just talked about.

I couldn鈥檛 see right, the patio looked blurry and unreal. I needed to go have cataplexy. I stood up, walking quickly and guiltily past the waiters, like I was trying to hide that I was drunk or on drugs or something. Act normal. Act normal. Do I look normal? Can they tell something鈥檚 wrong?

I made it to the bar鈥檚 bathroom, fumbled with the lock, and collapsed onto the less-than-clean bathroom floor. Breathe in. Breathe out. Relax. I was learning how to handle cataplexy. The moment of complete surrender was beginning to come as a relief, the fact that I didn鈥檛 have to fight it anymore, that I could give in 鈥 surrendering聽felt good. And of course, when my eyes opened, I felt worlds better than I had coming into the bathroom.

When I stepped back onto the patio, the waiters greeted me with 鈥淗elen!鈥 I was聽right 鈥 he聽had told them my name, or what he thought was my name.

I didn鈥檛 know it at the time, but ‘Helen’ would quickly become my actual name here in Spain. I鈥檝e been here for nearly a month now, and every single person I鈥檝e introduced myself to has, without exception,聽misinterpreted 鈥楨laine鈥 as聽鈥楬elen鈥, adding a strong Spanish 鈥楬鈥 to the beginning of my name. I鈥檝e tried to correct them 鈥 鈥楨laine鈥 doesn鈥檛 even have an 鈥楬鈥 sound! 鈥but 鈥楬elen鈥 has stuck. It鈥檚 growing on me a bit, and the horrible strong 鈥楬鈥 is actually kind of endearing. So, if we meet in Spain, I guess you can call me Helen.

Rain, Dog Poop, Coffee: Arrival in Alcorc贸n

(NB: Since stepping off the plane, I have not had a single conversation in English. So just assume that all dialogue聽from here on out takes place in Spanish.)

The minute I arrived in Alcorc贸n, I had some problems.

I was staying with an Airbnb host, Juan, for a week, but聽once I arrived at his apartment complex, nobody was home!

This shouldn鈥檛 have come as a surprise, since I was two hours early, but I felt stumped. I had not anticipated this being a problem 鈥 I am never early for anything.

The guard at the apartment complex said sorry, he couldn’t let me in until Juan came, so I took my bags and started exploring Alcorc贸n. It was raining.聽

I ended up sitting on a bench in a nearby park 鈥 there’s lots of parks in Alcorc贸n. The parks are generally quite nice, but Alcorc贸n has a dog poop problem. There were poops everywhere. There were poops on the pathways in the park. It was a lot of poops.

I聽felt like an idiot, sitting outside in the rain,聽but there wasn’t anywhere else for me to go 鈥 all of the restaurants in the area looked somewhat fancy, and it was the siesta, too, so people were all dressed up and eating with friends at these nice restaurants in their nice work clothes (siesta means “long lunch break with pals” and not “nap” these days, turns out). I was by myself, still in my airplane clothes, and soaking wet, so it didn’t seem appropriate to聽seek shelter in聽a restaurant.聽

Instead, I sat on the park bench and tried not to cry. Everything was different, and I didn鈥檛 know what to do or where to go, and I felt like an idiot with all my luggage, and my pale skin and blonde hair screamed outsider, and I was certain I was going to do everything wrong. Why had I even come to Spain? Who does that? Nobody, because it’s a dumb idea.

After a while, I got depressed at the thought聽of spending two more hours in the rain with all my luggage and all the poops, so I decided I’d just go to a restaurant and accept that I looked like a wreck and that I’d stand out as behaving culturally inappropriately.

One of the restaurants in the area had a friendly-looking waiter about my age standing outside in the sheltered patio area, so I went up to him and asked, somewhat pathetically, “Do you sell coffee here? Could I please get a coffee and sit down?”聽

I must have looked terrible. I was soaking wet and tired from my flight, no makeup, all teary because I’d spent my first few hours in a foreign country in the rain, trying not to be overwhelmed. In short, not my best look.

But聽the waiter said of course I could sit down, and he got me a table聽on the covered patio, finally out of the rain!

He asked me how I鈥檇 like my coffee, and I didn鈥檛 know what to say 鈥 I hadn鈥檛 thought to brush up on my coffee lingo. 鈥淲ith milk?鈥 he prompted, and I quickly agreed. I like coffee, and I like milk, so that seemed like a good combination.

I soon learned that caf茅 con leche is the drink in Spain 鈥 half espresso, half milk.聽It took about one sip of caf茅 con leche before I was聽hopelessly addicted. It was perfect!

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The waiter checked up on me a few minutes later and said, “Feeling better already, huh?鈥, giving me a little pat on the back. This was the first of many times I would be touched affectionately by a complete stranger. 鈥淎re you studying here? On vacation?鈥

鈥淣o,鈥 I said. 鈥淚鈥檓鈥 I just鈥 um鈥︹

That was when I realized that I didn鈥檛 know how to say 鈥渢o move鈥 in Spanish, as in, 鈥淚 just moved here鈥.

鈥淚 live here now,鈥 I said lamely. 鈥淎s of two hours ago. The plane just landed.鈥

The waiter thought about this for a second and immediately went over to the bar area, where a peppy聽red-haired waitress was smoking, and told her everything I had just said. This became a theme 鈥 every time I talked to a waiter, whatever I said was immediately shared and analyzed among the rest of the staff.

鈥淎nd you only speak a little Spanish,鈥 the waiter said, coming back over to me. 鈥淲hat else do you speak?鈥

鈥淓nglish,鈥 I said.

鈥淥h,鈥 he said. 鈥淚 don鈥檛 know any English.鈥

Then he ran back over to the waitress and told her what I had just said, and they both watched me drink my coffee. This was quickly becoming annoying.

As I sat there, trying to breathe and relax, the waiter got聽me another coffee, and free food! First he brought out bread and cheese, then a Spanish omelette 鈥 tortilla 鈥 and then the most amazing meatballs I’ve ever had, covered in sauce and sitting on top of french fries.

I tried to tell the waiter that he was being too nice, and that I couldn’t eat all this food because I’d already had lunch, but he was very dismissive of that idea. “No, no, you can eat it, just eat it already, come on!鈥 he said every time I tried to protest.

When it was time for me to pay, the waiter only charged me a single Euro 鈥 enough to pay for the first coffee.

But guess what?

Ugh, this is so cringe-worthy, I don鈥檛 even want to write about it, but 鈥 I had forgotten to withdraw cash at the airport.

I told the waiter that I knew it was dumb, but could I use a card to pay and to give him a tip? He took my card, but came back a minute later and told me that they聽聽didn鈥檛 accept foreign cards, and not to worry about it 鈥 it was all on the house!

I offered to come back later with cash to pay and to tip him, but he insisted, and as I thanked him and the red-haired waitress, I started to cry a little bit, I was so grateful. I had almost certainly done everything wrong, but they had been generous and hospitable聽anyway.

This was my first real interaction with the Spanish people, and since then I鈥檝e only encountered more of the same 鈥 the astonishing聽kindness of strangers.