Skip to main content

The Hidden Illness of Sleep Apnea: What I Didn't Know

  • Author:
  • Updated date:
At the computer and exhausted, depressed, unable to stay awake. Six months later, I was diagnosed with severe sleep apnea.

At the computer and exhausted, depressed, unable to stay awake. Six months later, I was diagnosed with severe sleep apnea.

Sleep Apnea: The Hidden Illness

I don’t exactly remember when the symptoms began—it seems like an eternity ago. In reality, however, it was only about a year ago. That can be a very long time to live with exhaustion. I complained to my doctor for six months. He finally listened to me, or maybe he just became tired of my complaining; I'm not sure which. After being tested time and again, a diagnosis finally arrived. It had a name. I call it "the hidden illness," but its clinical name is sleep apnea. Doesn’t sound too serious, does it? I hope you'll stay with me here and keep on reading. Sleep apnea almost destroyed me.

What Is Obstructive Sleep Apnea?

Complete Exhaustion All The Time

I’m normally a bundle of energy with an upbeat attitude. It isn’t like me to tire quickly or run out of energy, let alone fall asleep during the day. However, this is exactly what happened.

At first, it wasn’t all that noticeable. I went through the day happily completing whatever was on the day’s calendar. I always managed to work in a walk. Mother Nature has generously displayed some of her finest work along my walking path. As I inhale the beauty that surrounds me, I savor the feeling of just being alive. And I hear my own voice echo, "thank you."

It was during one of these beautiful walks that I began to notice I couldn’t quite “go the distance.” My body began to tire rapidly, forcing me to turn back before I finished my walk. Each step required all the endurance I could muster.

The minute I returned home, I kicked off my walking shoes, collapsed on the sofa, and fell fast asleep. I slept for 3 hours. I was out like a light.

Sleeping Day and Night And No Solution In Site

This happened at least once a day for several weeks. I tried every vitamin on hand, plus a long list of "suggestions" given to me by well-meaning people.

Then I came down with what I thought was the flu. I was so exhausted I could barely put one foot in front of the other, and I slept all day and all night. I supported myself on trips to the bathroom by gripping the wall with my hands.

At the same time, I began to wonder why I had body aches, upset stomach, or respiratory problems. Besides, the flu only lasts a few days or in the worst case a few weeks. My symptoms were now lasting months.

I slept day and night, through one day and then another. I drank water constantly to avoid dehydration. I pushed myself to get out of bed. I have a strong mind and was sure I could visualize myself with the energy I needed to return to my bouncy self.

Depression May Be A Symptom of Sleep Apnea

As days turned into weeks without a sign of improvement I decided to see my PCP (primary care physician.) Unable to drive, I had to depend on someone to take me, wait for me, and drive me home.

I’m the type of person who is very independent, and I hate asking for help. Having to rely on others to get to appointments and do my shopping for me only added to my anxiety. I found myself crying every day, which is not like me at all. I don't know how I would have managed without the help of my son Randy. He was there for me day and night.

My doctor ran a series of blood tests that ruled out any physical problem. He told me he had no idea what was wrong with me. He did, however, believe me when I told him my symptoms were beginning to make me depressed. He had cared for me long enough to know that if I had a complaint, something was indeed wrong.

What's Wrong With Me? Time To See A Doctor

To shorten my story, I will fast forward 6 months. Still suffering from the same symptoms, I was sent to an array of specialists who ran multiple tests and found nothing.

I began to think I was crazy, depressed, or had some disease unknown to man. I was accused of being lazy, irritable, and depressed, and it was suggested that perhaps my symptoms were all a figment of my imagination. Even my closest friends began to doubt my sanity.

Scroll to Continue

Read More From Patientslounge

Well, of course, I was depressed. I had tried everything to heal myself from prayer to an all-organic, super-food diet. (All I really wanted was a big bowl of ice cream and to be left alone.)

I didn’t want to talk to anyone or see anyone. I didn’t much care how I looked or what I said. Okay, I was now officially depressed

What puzzled me the most was that from time to time I would have periods of energy. This energy didn’t last long, and it was always followed by a very long nap. I began to think it must be my brain. Yes, that’s it. I have a brain tumor. I quickly called the doctor.

Resmed Airsense 10 C Pap

My latest CPap Unit.  Smaller than original one and fully automatic.

My latest CPap Unit. Smaller than original one and fully automatic.

Finally, a Diagnosis

You may be asking yourself why the doctors didn’t consider sleep apnea in the first place. In their defense, I was also being treated with massive doses of vitamin D, taking Forteo injections daily for osteoporosis, starting on thyroid meds, and also addressing a few other minor problems.

Each doctor would begin by suggesting, “maybe it's this med or that med,” and I was slowly taken off each prescription, one at a time, for 6-8 weeks per medication.

One by one we tested each drug, but I still had the same symptoms.

By now I could barely function. Just as I had begun to give up all hope, my rheumatologist mentioned that I might have something called “sleep apnea.” I was immediately sent to a sleep specialist. He asked me to open my mouth, and he examined my throat. It seems that the soft palate was “falling,” causing me to stop breathing during sleep, and he diagnosed me with obstructive sleep apnea.

CPAP Mask - Pillows Style

CPAP masks are available in a variety of styles.  This type is called the "pillows." The 2 oval-shaped pillows fit into the nostrils.

CPAP masks are available in a variety of styles. This type is called the "pillows." The 2 oval-shaped pillows fit into the nostrils.

Sleep Study Determines How Often We Stop Breathing

My latest sleep study revealed low oxygen levels during sleep.

My latest sleep study revealed low oxygen levels during sleep.

I Stopped Breathing Over 30 Times

I was sent to a sleep center, wired up, put to bed, and monitored throughout the night. The results of the study indicated severe sleep apnea.

The studies showed that I stopped breathing over 30 times during the first 2 hours of sleep. The period between breaths could last for 20 seconds or more. My oxygen level also revealed a low intake during my sleep. This, alone, can cause problems with energy.

I failed to get into “REM” sleep at all, which is when the body rejuvenates, heals, and builds the immune system. My doctor pointed out that this is dangerous and can actually bring on a heart attack or a stroke.

I was elated to hear the news. Sound crazy? Think about it. I now had a diagnosis, which meant I could finally get treatment and regain my energy. I could have my life back!

My doctor completely understood my reaction and said I should make it very clear to my friends and family that my depression was a result of the disorder and not the other way around.

Oh, bless him!

CPAP Mask for Sleep Apnea

My CPAP mask (the "pillows" style). Oxygen flows through the hose and into the mask.

My CPAP mask (the "pillows" style). Oxygen flows through the hose and into the mask.

My Current Favorite CPAP Mask

The latest style in CPAP masks is called Dreamwear. I just started using this, and I find it to be more comfortable and quieter than other styles.

The latest style in CPAP masks is called Dreamwear. I just started using this, and I find it to be more comfortable and quieter than other styles.

In Conclusion

I have completed my first week of CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) therapy, and I am happy to report that my energy is returning. I am no longer depressed. My future looks bright, and I couldn't be more excited and positive. My energy increases with every new day.

But I want to add how important it is to not stop using your CPAP equipment. There may come a time when you feel so good you think you don't need to use it anymore. Take it from me...this is a big mistake. It won't be long before your symptoms return. Mine did and I was back to where I started. Always wear your mask at night.

Today, three years later, I've been upgraded with a new CPAP mask called "Dreamwear" (see photo). It's more comfortable, and I'm getting a better night's sleep. I mention this because it's important to continue visiting the doctor at least once a year. Research is being done regularly to come up with better alternatives for the CPAP mask. It's also imperative that a sleep study is done at least every two years.

So what have you learned from my story? How can you become educated and learn about the hidden illness of sleep apnea? Start by learning all you can about this disorder. Learn what the symptoms are.

See a doctor if you suspect you might have sleep apnea.

  • Trust yourself. You know your own body.
  • Don’t give your power away.
  • Take responsibility for finding a diagnosis.
  • Don’t listen to other people's opinions.
  • Be patient with yourself.
  • Honor your body.

Sweet Dreams

Note: Everyone is different and experiences different symptoms. For some, the symptoms are barely noticeable, and for others they are more pronounced. My story is an honest account of how sleep apnea affected me. It is not meant to bring anyone anxiety. Always visit your doctor if you are experiencing symptoms.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2012 Audrey Hunt

Comments

Audrey Hunt (author) from Pahrump NV on November 16, 2018:

Hi Lorna Lamon

Glad to see you and to know that my article was helpful. I also recently discovered that my oxygen drops to a very low rate - during sleep only. I now have oxygen with the c pap and what a difference!

Thanks.

Lorna Lamon on November 16, 2018:

Great article Audrey, and one I found very helpful as a few of my family members suffer with Sleep Apnea. You covered quite a few points I wasn't aware of. Thank you.

Audrey Hunt (author) from Pahrump NV on April 10, 2018:

Ronald E Franklin

I'm glad you found my article on Sleep Apnea helpful. This was my motivation for sharing my experience. And, yes, I'm sure there are many folks who live with these symptoms. I really want to spread awareness. Thanks so much for your great comments.

Ronald E Franklin from Mechanicsburg, PA on March 21, 2018:

Audrey, this is a great account of how CPAP can make a huge difference in sleep quality and health. I bet there are a lot of people who, like you, have all the symptoms of sleep apnea but have no idea what their problem is. Thanks for helping to spread the word!

Kelly on May 15, 2017:

I stopped breathing over 120 times an hour. I was diagnosed with Centralized Sleep Apnea. ;(

John Hansen from Australia (Gondwana Land) on March 02, 2014:

Yes Audrey it is scary yo think not just your breathing, but your heart can stop. My wife's nose piece also gets dislodged sometimes when she turns over and air escapes. Her machine also has a heater and humidifier, so she has the works. It helps her sleep a lot but she still gets very tired.

Audrey Hunt (author) from Pahrump NV on February 28, 2014:

Hi Jodah - Do you know that sleep apnea can cause the heart to stop? I've had this confirmed by several specialists. Very scary. My CPAP keeps me awake. Each time I want to turn over when I'm in bed, air escapes and wakes me up. One night last week, my daughter could hear the noise from the air escaping, came into my room and woke me up. She adjusted my 'headgear' and nose piece (I have the pillows) so that both she and I could sleep. I hope your wife is doing better. I sympathize with her. My insurance paid for my CPAP and I am grateful for that. Thanks, Jodah.

John Hansen from Australia (Gondwana Land) on December 06, 2013:

Hello Audrey,

Sorry it's taken me so long to find this hub. My wife had been tired and lethargic for a couple of years before being diagnosed as having sleep apnia and then fibromyalgia. She now has a CPAP machine and it makes a big difference, though she still gets tired during the day. She had been having frequent bad dreams before hand a result of her breathing stopping every few seconds during sleep. The bad dreams have mostly stopped. There seems to more and more people being diagnosed with this. the trouble is the machines are so expensive in Australia. We were paying $97 per month to hire one until we eventually were able to purchase one of our own. thank you for sharing your own experiences and informing others. great hub, voted up.

Audrey Hunt (author) from Pahrump NV on July 30, 2013:

Dear Cat - After hearing your story I'm very glad I went ahead and wrote about this. It's nothing to fool around with. Look into the "pillows" version of the CPAP which allows freedom for the nose and face. This is the type I use. Be sure to let me know of his decision. Blessings to you ~ Audrey

pstraubie48 - Thank you for sharing this information about your grandson. I haven't heard of the bipap machine. Is it for children? I 'm concerned about it going off and you're having to shake him.

Blessings to you dear friend and to your grandson. Thank you for my angels!

Patricia Scott from North Central Florida on July 30, 2013:

My grandson has sleep apnea and has for many years. He sleeps with a bipap machine which has helped us a lot. It goes off often and we shake him a bit to get the breathing back on target.

It is just something we have grown accustomed to doing. He has had many sleep studies over the years as well.

Angels are on the way to you ps

Catherine Tally from Los Angeles on July 12, 2013:

Hi Audrey,

My husband suffers, and I worry when he stops breathing and coughs. He hated the claustrophobic CPAP and sent it back . I can't say enough good things about this hub and have sent him a link to it with the hope that he will take another look at the risks and newer solutions. I will let you know what he thinks.

Many thanks for giving us new hope!

Cat :)

Audrey Hunt (author) from Pahrump NV on May 05, 2013:

I'm so glad you read this hub about sleep apnea. I certainly learned not to put all my trust into Doctors and to honor my own feelings. I knew something was seriously wrong all along. We know our own bodies better than anyone else, still for some reason we tend to give our power away.

I sure hope your wife is doing well now. There's nothing more frustrating than having terrible symptoms, especially when pain is involved, and not being able to find an answer.

I wrote the hub on sleep apnea for one purpose - to enlighten and help someone else. If only one person is spared the terrible time I went through, then I have achieved my purpose and can even thank God for those long months of suffering. Thank you so much for being here, voting up and for sharing. God Bless!

Kas from Bartlett, Tennessee on May 05, 2013:

Wow what an experience. I'm very thankful that you actually found relief and a doctor who knew what the heck he was doing. My wife has had some serious medical issues overseas and domestically that several doctors weren't sure how to treat properly. They just had theories that were all proving to be incorrect. It's caused her a tremendous amount of pain but The Lord got us thro