Living with sleep apnea

When I was 13, my mom took me to my first Alateen meeting. For those who don’t know, Alateen is a 12 step program, similar to AA, for children and teens affected by someone else’s drinking. I didn’t live with my alcoholic and so how I was affected was different from some others. But it didn’t matter because at the core of it, we were all going through the same thing and it bonded us.

In Alateen, I learned that I was powerless over my father’s alcoholism . . . and I learned how to make changes within myself instead. Lately, I find myself needing to relearn those lessons because for the first time in my life, it’s actually starting to feel like I live with an alcoholic.

No, my boyfriend doesn’t drink. My boyfriend has severe sleep apnea. But quite often, the results are the same.

A typical day involves him falling asleep while we talk at least a half a dozen times, me walking in on him asleep at the computer at least twice, him forgetting full conversations we had just a week earlier, and me not being able to sleep through his earthquake-like snoring.

Yesterday, at a performance at my daughter’s school, he nodded off and snored so loud everyone in the row in front of us turned around. It was embarrassing.

He loses track of days and has virtually no concept of time. He can’t remember if something happened yesterday or three days ago.

I *know* it’s not easy for him. I *know* he did not choose to have sleep apnea. But that doesn’t change the fact that it still affects me.

I want to help him. I want him to get better. But I can’t help him until he’s ready to help himself, and right now, he’s just not. I understand that the CPAP is uncomfortable . . . but when it comes to deciding on discomfort or death, I’m pretty certain I’d choose discomfort.

And my sister-in-law gave him a new mask on Christmas . . . one that is supposed to be more comfortable . . . But he hasn’t even tried it yet.

I am terrified, completely out-of-my-mind terrified that I’m going to wake up one morning to find him dead.  It’s a legitimate fear. He stops breathing when he sleeps. A lot. I read a couple of months ago that men over 40 with sleep apnea are 75% more likely to die . . . of any cause.

He essentially sleeps for 12 hours a day, but the lack of quality causes him to be practically narcoleptic. It also causes depression, which adds another whole set of issues.

Most days, I act as if it doesn’t bother me. I either completely ignore the giant elephant in my living room . . . or I dress it up in silly hats and make jokes about it.

And then one day, maybe once a week or once a month, I snap. I realize I’m talking to myself because he fell asleep and I yell. I want to punch a wall because I’m tired, but I can’t sleep when he snores (and I’m not talking about a little light snoring . . . I’m talking, you can hear him through every closed door in the house . . . I’m talking, he shakes so hard I feel like I’m on one of those vibrating beds from a cheap motel). I get frustrated because once again, he neglects to fulfill a promise because he forgot that we even talked about it.

And all the yelling in the world doesn’t make a damn bit of difference. Sympathizing doesn’t make a damn bit of difference. Offering to help doesn’t make a damn bit of difference.

I’ve forgotten how to accept that I’m powerless. It was somehow easier when there was a bottle to blame.

***I don’t typically write about other people because I don’t think it’s my place to broadcast their issues to the world. My boyfriend knows about this post, read it before I published it, and is okay with me sharing all of this.***


18 responses to this post.

  1. *hugs*
    I can sympathize. My father has had the worst case of Sleep Apnea I’ve ever seen, until of course I met your boyfriend. I worry about him. I watched him sleep and almost fall off my couch on Christmas.
    You’re in a very hard position. I wish there was something I could say to make it easier for you.


  2. Your last line is powerful, Dayle. We are powerless over so many things. With D’s degenerative condition, I keep thinking it would be easier if his behavior were a problem, I could do something about that, but this brain atrophy we are up against cannot be disciplined, manipulated or medicated to cessation. And you are right–even when it is someone’s behavior (or choice to seek help, use the help at hand, or whatever), we are powerless. We can’t control others–nor do we want to really. I’ll be praying for y’all.


  3. Posted by Anne Katherine on January 21, 2012 at 7:18 pm

    I feel for you, Dayle. So true – “I can’t help him until he’s ready to help himself” – and yet so hard to accept when we love someone and worry about them.
    Does going to the gym help at all? I hope he reads this and realizes how much you love and care for him.
    It is so hard to feel powerless…and yet we all are on so many levels. Thank you, once again, for a very honest post. And many hugs!


    • Thank you, Anne!

      The gym hasn’t really helped yet, but we’ve only been going for a couple of weeks. I have watched him fall asleep on the weight machines though :/


  4. “I’ve forgotten how to accept that I’m powerless. It was somehow easier when there was a bottle to blame.” Wow, what a powerful line. It digs to the deep, real root of the problem, which is “How do I get mad enough at something so I can make it go away?” And you said it … YOU can’t. I’ve never lived with someone with sleep apnea and thankfully my husband’s mild snoring disappeared, but it only disappeared when he started losing weight. I hope the new gym membership will help him become healthier in many different aspects. I know you can’t make him take care of himself, but it’s promising that he read this post and still approved of you posting. He sounds like a really great guy, and HEY KES, we want you around for a LONG time!!!


    • Thank you, Jen!

      He *knows* it’s a problem. He *knows* what he has to do. He just needs to make that leap to actually making it happen. … Losing weight will definitely help, so I’m really hoping the gym will get that moving!


  5. oh Dayle this is so heartfelt…I feel for you! Almost everyone on my dad’s side of the family has it and their family members have all said how hard it is to deal with. We actually think my husband has it too…but the doctor says he doesn’t hold his breath long enough! What??? So while it may not be text book apnea he still goes through a lot of what you mentioned on a smaller scale. I love how you wrote about how you handle that big ole elephant! Your such a clever writer! Will be thinking of you!


    • Thank you, Lisa!

      That’s so weird that the doc said he doesn’t hold his breath long enough . . . have you thought about getting a second opinion?

      I’m sooooo happy you liked the elephant line! I was practically in tears writing this . . . but I laughed when I wrote that 🙂


  6. Thank you for sharing some candid glimpses into your life! We are all in this together and your words, in more ways than one, prove that 🙂


  7. My husband just got a sleep mask about 4 to 5 months ago and he loves it, which I am thankful for because his was really bad, too. He sounded like a freight train when he snored! I can relate to the worry because I went through the same, but I guess I got lucky he uses his.
    I think the fact that one of his aunts died at 28 in her sleep from it MAY have had some effect on him also wearing it….I hope your man learns to come up with a way of making the mask work…I think if he could maybe agree to wearing it for at least 4 hours a night for a few days even, he would notice the difference in how he makes him feel and want to keep it up. Kes, my message for you is to wear it so you can be around for Dayle and Abby!


    • I keep telling him stories about people who have died from sleep apnea, but I think he still has that “it can’t happen to me” mentality . . . I don’t know how to break through that.

      I’ve read him these messages and he smiles and says, “I know, I know,” and then goes to sleep in the computer chair (no mask) again. ::Sigh:: We shall see. Hopefully something will get through to him.

      I’m so happy to hear that your husband wears his mask!


  8. Wow! I had no idea that the symptoms of sleep apnea could be so serious and that it could possibly even lead to death! I so admire you for your patience and understanding, Dayle. And thanks as always for opening my eyes about the topic. I always learn something new here. =)


    • Thank you so much, Sam!

      I’m happy to teach you something! I always learn something new from your blog as well 🙂 . . . I really need to figure out a way to schedule in time to catch up on blogs . . . I miss reading!!!


  9. […] have a really loud daughter, a boyfriend who snores (very loudly . . . through closed doors loudly), and a pretty small house, so I don’t really get […]


  10. […] – Read all about it here. Different people have told me different things. I know I at least snore lightly. My boyfriend acts […]


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