I did a sleep study a couple months ago. I’ve had sleeping issues my entire life. My parents stopped giving me naps as a toddler because I would stay up until midnight. When the naps stopped, I still stayed up until midnight.
I won’t bore you with the complicated details of my sleep habits, but I’m tired almost all day. I nap a lot. I’ve had bloodwork done and thyroid levels checked, all to come back in normal ranges.
The funny thing about depression is that it makes you tired. But my depression has been fairly well controlled recently with therapy and medication.
So I got a referral to a sleep doctor in Bethesda.
Because this is D.C., I had to wait two months after my study to even see the specialist to review my results.
Because this is D.C., I had to wait two hours past my appointment time to finally see the doctor. I was feeling pretty zen that day, so I did some work on my tablet in the waiting room.
As with most doctors recently, I have the fear that I’m just going to be told to lose weight to fix all my problems. I always wait, ready to let them know this is a lifelong problem, not something precipitated by my sudden weight gain related to my binge eating disorder.
So, two hours past my appointment time, I finally was called into the specialist’s office. She had a nice demeanor, unlike the nurse who had taken my vitals beforehand. Little did I know that I would be weighed and blood pressured for this consultation. I sat there with my latte half empty, unsurprised that my pulse and blood pressure were high given my reaction to caffeine. I was sure this would be another mark against my weight. Great.
I had already watched the required pre-recorded video in the waiting room about parasomnia in adults, and tensed up when the specialist said that anti-depressants often create these problems. Ugh, I thought, this stuff was happening way before I started meds.
So I sat in front of the doctor, ready for her to tell me to get off meds and lose weight. My blood pressure was already high from the latte, and I felt it rising as I waited for her to speak.
“Do you want a York Peppermint Patty?”
She went over to a box and grabbed two, and she started eating hers immediately.
I declined, not because I was wary of being perceived as the fat kid who eats anything she’s given, but because I just wasn’t really hungry. Plus one to intuitive eating.
“Alright then, so tell me why you’re here.”
I told her my sleep history, starting as a toddler. I told her about my vivid dreams and sleep paralysis, my sleep talking and flailing, my binge eating, and how this time 3 years ago I was 180 lbs and on zero medications. Yet the sleep problems were constants.
She listened. I loved it. As she was typing she furrowed her brow, “Hmm….you’re making things complicated.”
The appointment lasted two hours. She wanted more details and I was happy to provide them. She said that my mental health was the most important thing and that, after years of work in the medical field, she finally realizes that there is much more at play than calories in and calories out when it comes to weight. We talked about hormones and how sleep and other conditions affect their levels.
We went through my sleep study results and she explained what each thing meant. She, a doctor in her 60s, was unafraid to tell me that there are things about sleep they still don’t understand.
I left with a better (albeit big picture level) understanding of sleep science and with the relief of knowing I told my story and she listened.
The lesson here is to take ownership of your health. Give them more information than they think they need, because that information may become valuable in your records.
There are two parts of making this work, of course, and a doctor set in her ways may not care about your history and look only at the data she has.
I made sure that my story was more than the numbers, and it paid off. When I left, she set me up with one of her staff members for a follow-up visit, then shook her head to herself. “You’re an interesting case, so I’m putting you with one of my staff who has a bit more experience. She may have to pull me back in to look at things as well.”
Working with doctors can be intimidating, especially if you find one who is set in his ways and unwilling to look past your size, disability, or other numbers. You have to advocate for yourself, even if that means finding a new doctor, because no one else is going to.