Sunday 25 June 2017

Cataplexy sufferer Jody Kelly (19) collapses each time she laughs or experiences a strong emotion

19 year old Jodie suffers from Cataplexy and Narcolepsy
19 year old Jodie suffers from Cataplexy and Narcolepsy
Dublin teenager Jodie suffers from Cataplexy and Narcolepsy
Patricia Murphy

Patricia Murphy

An Irish teenager avoids laughing due to a rare neurological condition which causes her to collapse each time she experiences a strong emotion.

Jodie Kelly (19) suffers from Cataplexy, a condition which causes her to lose control of her muscles and fall to the floor up to ten times each day.

The Dublin teenager has learned to control her Cataplexy episodes by getting herself to the ground at the first sign of weakness which helps her prevent injury.

“When I feel weakness I don’t fall straight to the floor. I can control it now.

“I try to get to the floor first or my friends and my family help me get to the ground as I don’t want to hurt myself,” she said speaking to John Murray on RTE Radio One.

Jodie also suffers from narcolepsy, a chronic sleep disorder in which the brain struggles to regulate sleep patterns. Cataplexy is a side effect of this disorder.

Dublin teenager Jodie suffers from Cataplexy and Narcolepsy
Dublin teenager Jodie suffers from Cataplexy and Narcolepsy

The teenager’s symptoms first began when she was 12 or 13 and her disorder was particularly difficult to cope with during secondary school.

“The worst time for me was when I was in second or third year. To cope, I’d sometimes go home before lunch and take the afternoon off because I was tired and study in the evening. On Wednesdays I used to have religion and head home early to nap so that I could study in the evening.”

Read more: Learning to live with the nightmares of narcolepsy

The DIT Business student revealed that her disorder means she sometimes falls asleep in class and feels fatigue after coping with a Cataplexy episode which she calls ‘her things’.

“When I feel one of my things coming on I just stop and take a break and rest.

“I close my eyes to get rid of it. It takes so much energy to stay standing and to cope with them that I often feel tired afterwards," she said.

“My sleep would be very broken up. During the day I can go without a nap but then I would need to go to bed early in the evening which disrupts my sleep at night.”

The teenager revealed that she avoids funny television programmes such as BBC’s Graham Norton Show because laughter brings on muscle weakness and could cause her to collapse.

19 year old Jodie suffers from Cataplexy and Narcolepsy
19 year old Jodie suffers from Cataplexy and Narcolepsy

“It doesn’t have to be laughter, other strong emotions like anger bring them on.

Read more: Sufferers 'who got narcolepsy from flu jab' want long-term State aid

“I find Graham Norton really funny. His show is on late at night after my tablets have worn off and his show could bring them on,” she said.

Jody revealed another symptom of narcolepsy is that she has extremely vivid dreams which she says can be both enjoyable or often quite scary.

“I have really really vivid dreams. They’re really really good.

“A lot of people with narcolepsy can control their dreams. When you have nightmares though they are really really bad.

“When I’ve had a bad dream I don’t like to talk about them. I had a dream last week that we had a war against Northern Ireland. It didn't make sense but to me it was really scary and realistic.

“Also I sometimes don’t know if my dreams are real or not.”

Jody is a member of Sound, an organisation which provides support to Irish people coping with narcolepsy.

“At the beginning there wasn’t many people with narcolepsy. But then with the swine flu injection set off narcolepsy in a lot of people.

“They set up a group called Sound and we meet up a few times a year. There are a few other teenagers and they know what you’re going through which is a big help,” she said.

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