A 17-year-old British teenager with an uncommon brain disorder is speaking out to raise awareness about her health condition, the Daily Mail reports.
Billie Hodgson, of Sheffield, suffers from cataplexy — a condition characterized by sudden and uncontrollable muscle weakness or paralysis whenever the affected person experiences a strong emotion, such as excitement or laughter. According to the Mail, the teenager, who hadn’t regularly experienced symptoms during her early school years, was diagnosed last March. She reportedly fainted for the first time when she was 14.
“I remember once walking through school with a friend and we were laughing, then I just fell to my knees,” she said. “Everyone thought I’d tripped but I knew something wasn’t right. At first we didn’t think it was that serious and the doctor told me everyone shakes when they laugh.”
Upon being diagnosed, Hodgson said she felt mixed emotions.
“I was relieved that I finally knew what it was and could then start treatment, but at the same time scared because I didn’t know how much it would affect my life,” she told the outlet. “It’s also a lifelong illness which meant it was quite a big thing to accept.”
Hodgson’s condition, which is a result of narcolepsy and affects approximately 22,500 Britons, has forced her to keep her distance from her friends, who regularly joke around.
“I’m a bubbly person so to go from that to feeling like I can’t laugh is really strange,” she admitted. “I feel like I can’t be me.”
“When I’m with them, I tend not to be as involved in funny situations to avoid cataplexy and especially in front of those who are not as familiar with it,” she added. “We joke about it like friends do because it’s a funny thing in itself, and I have to make light of it.”
Because of her narcolepsy, the 17-year-old reportedly gets tired easily and usually goes to sleep at 7 p.m. Throughout the night, she often finds herself tossing and turning in her bed and waking up for periods that can last up to two hours, the Mail reports. As a result, Hodgson said she naps in the afternoon to catch up on lost sleep.
The teenager said her cataplexy has also affected her dreams of being a midwife.
“It’s stopping me from doing what I really want to do and now I don’t know what to apply for at university,” she said. “I’m anxious about going out, and I’m not allowed to drive.”
Though there is no known cure for her condition, Hodgson said she just wants people to be aware that it exists.
“I want to show cataplexy isn’t like what people stereotypically think,” she said. “It can have a major impact on someone’s life.”
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