Moments before I presented my first seminar as a postdoc to my lab group, my eyelids grew heavy and my sense of alertness dissolved into a dreamlike state. It was a sleep attack—a result of narcolepsy, which I was diagnosed with 2 years earlier. I apologized for my incessant yawning and continued with my talk despite an overwhelming urge to sleep. It’s one of many moments when my narcolepsy made my career difficult. But ever since I learned of a renowned scientist who has narcolepsy, I’ve known I can succeed in science, too.
I’ve fought the urge to sleep for much of my life. At a young age, I fell asleep in bizarre places—on the front lawn, in a pile of stuffed animals—and in school I was frequently reprimanded for yawning. Fearing others would think I was lazy, I got in the habit of working harder on my schoolwork than everyone else. As an undergraduate, I relied on energy drinks to keep me awake through long hours studying. But when exams were over, I’d stay in bed for days to recuperate.