Student learns to juggle disability, college life


Pauline Kennedy | Collegian When Megan Reynolds, junior in theater, began her freshman year at K-State she was just another freshman. She juggled the crazy new schedule college students eventually become accustomed to, along with meeting new people and learning to deal with an unstructured environment. But Reynolds did not get used to life on campus like most students; instead, she fell into a depression. Reynolds was diagnosed with narcolepsy the summer before her senior year of high school and had been dealing with the symptoms since sixth or seventh grade, yet she still blamed herself for the trouble she was having in school. In the craziness of her freshman year, she said she stopped taking the medication she needed to help her maintain proper sleep. She began sleeping through her classes. If she made it to class, she said she would be like a zombie. Reynolds fell behind, missed many assignments and found herself finishing her freshman year with a 1.58 grade point average. “I hated from when I left hanging out with my friends to when I actually fell asleep,” she said. “I’d be alone in the room with my thoughts. I’d just be there and I would brood and not be able to escape the problems I knew I was having.” Narcolepsy, a neurological disorder, affects the sleep regulating portion of the brain, making it impossible to get proper rest and to stay on a normal sleep schedule. People who have narcolepsy may experience excessive daytime sleepiness and uncharacteristic REM sleep, meaning they begin the dream phase of their sleep almost immediately. Many individuals with narcolepsy may also experience cataplexy, or loss of muscle control. Other symptoms are also hallucinations, sleep paralysis, restless nights and automatic behavior, in which people continue to carry out actions, seeming to be awake, but are not aware of what they are doing and will have no memory of the action when waking. Reynolds described her symptom as mainly an extreme case of excessive daytime sleepiness. She said she would choose sleep over anything else – even the things she loves doing most. “I don’t think people understand how tired you are,” she said. Reynolds said narcolepsy is not apparent at first glance, so generally, no stigma is attached to it. However, she said it can be frustrating that people think it doesn’t have the same magnitude as other disabilities. “Sometimes people treat it like it doesn’t exist,” she said. Reynolds said her disability adds a separate category to her day, on top of classes and homework. She said she sometimes sleeps through her scheduled homework time, and has even slept for 24 hours straight. “Going to bed and not knowing when your going to wake up is terrifying,” she said. Reynolds said sometimes she will be in such a deep sleep that she wakes up with her hand turning colors. The tingling feeling of it falling asleep was not enough to wake her. She also said she has had more dangerous incidents, like when she fell asleep while drying her hair, only waking because of the smell of the fumes from the dryer. At the beginning of her freshman year, Reynolds registered with Disabilities Support Services (DSS), an on-campus service that helps disabled students keep in contact with teachers and stay on task. She said while she knew she could ask them for help, she felt like she was just getting in the way. “I felt bad about saying something,” she said. “I should be able to do this on my own.” She said one day she could not hold in what she was feeling and finally spilled all the problems she was facing to her friends. They immediately sprang into action, making Reynolds contact teachers and find out how to make up missing assignments. They even helped her complete them. Reynolds credits her friends for helping get her out of the vicious cycle of missing classes and assignments. “They sat there, kept me awake and watched me do what I needed to do,” she said. Reynolds said she would write her papers, and then her friends would peer edit them, fixing the misspelled words and flipped out-of-order phrases that were a result of her extreme exhaustion. She would go to sleep and her friends would wake her up in the morning. They had her assignments stapled and put in a folder for her to take to class. “She was my friend and I saw she needed help,” said Heather Hyde, junior in geology. “I know she would have done the same for me.” MJ Barker, graduate student in education and Reynolds’ roommate, said Reynolds is learning to work around the barriers that she faces, and said she is doing so very well. Since her freshman year, Reynolds has learned how to use the DSS to her advantage. They help her work with her teachers and create a schedule to keep herself organized. She is also back on track with the medications she needs, helping her attend classes more regularly. Reynolds has raised her grade point average a full point. She said she expects it to be above a 3.0 after this semester. Reynolds said she uses the struggles of her first years to help push her to do better. “I use it as a motivator and say this is where I’ve been, this is how bad it can get,” she said. “And even though you’ve been there, you can fix it.” Although Reynolds said she misses out on some typical experiences like driving, getting a semester job and pulling all-nighters, she still keeps an upbeat attitude and positive outlook on life. Barker described Reynolds as a huge extrovert, talkative and always friendly. Hyde said Reynolds is a very happy person, who is always fun and energetic. Reynolds hopes to one day work at a theatre, both behind the scenes and on stage. Her advice to students, who have a disability or health condition, is to ask for help. She said it is important to get registered with the DSS, to communicate with people and let them know what is going on. DSS stresses to students that the problems they are having are not their fault. For now Reynolds is enjoying her junior year. She recently learned to play the guitar and has started writing her own songs. She is scheduled to perform two of her songs at the Lunch Time Lounge on Friday in the student union. All performers for the event are registered with the DSS as part of the K-State for All! Disability Awareness Events.