This interview was conducted in March 2014.
For the last decade I have felt tired. No matter what time of the day, or what day of the week, if you asked me how I felt, my answer would be ‘tired’. It wasn’t just the tiredness, either. I suffered from a constant tension headache. I would close my eyes, massage my temples and apply pressure to my eyelids to try and dull the pain. It bought a small amount of relief but it would always be short lived.
I started looking at life through a heavy cloud of pessimism, which at times turned into depression. For me, everything in life was a chore and something to be avoided if I could help it. The older I got, the worse I felt.
My worst period
I held down a job, relationships and a social life, but I did it all with an eternal feeling of discomfort, unhappiness and confusion. I didn’t know what was wrong with me, so I said nothing. I was suffering in exhausted silence.
When I think back on my worst period – which lasted for two years – I can only compare the experience to physically and mentally wading through treacle. Conversations were so exhausting that I slept in the afternoon. I had nightmares every night and I woke up feeling like I’d been dug out of the ground. Unsurprisingly, I reduced my hours at work. I just wanted to be left alone.
The path to diagnosis
If I’m honest, I was barely hanging on to my job. My relationship was crumbling because my partner was struggling to deal with my symptoms. I was depressed and stressed and desperate.
Eventually, my doctor began the lengthy process of trying to identify what was wrong with me. We looked at anti-depressants and we talked about a psychologist. But while I was waiting for my appointment, I’d seen a leaflet about sleep apnea. After identifying with all of the symptoms, I mentioned it to my GP.
"Does your partner notice you stopping breathing or choking in your sleep?" he asked me. I answered the negative and he ruled out sleep apnea.
Eventually, after many months without relief, I returned to the idea and requested a sleep apnea test referral. The checklist had exactly described my symptoms and I’d realised my partner is a deeper sleeper than me. There was a chance she could have no idea what I do in my sleep.
Within days I had an appointment with an independent specialist who explained how to use the home test equipment. Three days later, he informed me that I have severe sleep apnea. According to my results, I stopped breathing on average 34 times per hour for up to 58 seconds per time.
"After the initial shock I experienced an overwhelming sense of relief. The more educated I became about sleep apnea, the more reassured and positive I felt."
A life-changing moment
After the initial shock I experienced an overwhelming sense of relief. The more educated I became about sleep apnea, the more reassured and positive I felt. My life was starting to make sense again.
I rented a ResMed S9 AutoSet CPAP machine from my specialist immediately and started a trial. After a month of positive results I purchased my own machine.
I’ve now been on CPAP treatment for about four and half months. My nightmares have completely stopped and I wake up feeling refreshed. My headaches have gone and my self-esteem has soared. Suddenly I want to be around people again. My relationship has flourished and I can work normally.
It’s hard to find the words to accurately describe how much better I feel. But I’d forgotten what it’s like to feel normal, and I’d given up dreaming that I could feel this good again. This diagnosis has changed my life – I feel like I’m living again.