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.
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.