The Lights Are On, But No One Is Home… Automatic Behavior

Just when you would think that life couldn’t be weirder for those of us with narcolepsy, I jump out in front of you with a “TADA! But Wait! There is so much more!” Blog Post. (~*Jazz Hands*~ clearly implied here.)

***Automatic Behavior, yet another fascinating symptom of narcolepsy, is the spontaneous production of often purposeless verbal or motor behavior without conscious self-control or self-censorship. This is not unique to narcolepsy however, this symptom occurs in a number of neurological and psychiatric disorders, such as other sleep disorders, psychomotor epilepsy (in complex partial seizures and Jacksonian seizures), catatonic schizophrenia, psychogenic fugue (I had to look this up! Dissociative disorder in which a person forgets who they are and leaves home to creates a new life; during the fugue there is no memory of the former life; after recovering there is no memory for events during the dissociative state. Think “Nurse Betty.”) Automatic behavior is also called automatism and can also be exhibited whilst in the REM state. For example: a person can hold a conversation, sit up and even open their eyes. Those acts are considered sub-conscious as most of the time the events cannot be recalled later.

Allllllrighty then. Enough with the Psych 101 jibberish. Let me tell you how it works from my perspective. My perspective is unique in the fact that where most people do not recall AB (Automatic Behavior) I am guessing I remember it about 20% of the time, albeit those memories are fuzzy, and some just flat out wrong, but they are there all the same. Perhaps they are memories of only starting into AB? Who really knows? When I get to listing examples, in most instances, I am talking about something that someone else told me I did though. Those at least, were witnessed. LOL. But first I am going to tell you what it feels like, because, that kind of memory, of an emotion of consciousness, can’t be askewed so easily.

When I go into AB, the ones I remember, It’s like watching a tennis match in slow motion. There is a battle for my conscious state happening, Mind versus Body, and there is never any real clear winner. I can feel this struggle in my head. I can see what is happening, and I think, “No, this isn’t right…” but there is no stopping what is happening to me. I am a spectator of my own life at this point. I struggle to regain control of it, but I am pushed to the side, while Mind and Body debate.

Mind says, “This is Booooring, I am going to sleep.” Body, Responds, “Oh no you don’t, we have to keep doing this thing we are doing. It is expected of us.” To which Mind replies, “Um… Yeah… Hey, knock yourself out. I’m outta here…” Body tries to protest, but it is too late. Mind is gone, Leaving Body totally ::facepalm:: Epic Fail.

I can feel my eyes rolling around in my head. I can see, mostly, the looks on other people’s faces, stepping away slowly, wondering what kind of drugs I am on. I know what I am doing is wrong, whatever that is, but I keep doing it anyway. And I rarely understand the words coming out of my own mouth. By now I am completely confused, I just don’t know what to do, or not do, or anything. There are no decisions, there are no cautionary measures, My body is completely on its own now. If I am not brought out of this situation by this point, by someone waking me or bringing me out of it, I lose consciousness of it shortly after this. What takes place after that who knows.

I will share with you my two favorite AB stories to tell. Not favorite because they are incredibly awesome or anything, but because they are the least embarrassing, and excellent examples of what Automatic Behavior can look like. Trust me there are many, many more stories just like these. But if I share them all, I won’t have anything left for the book I am probably never going to write!

Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh – pre Dx

I worked as a page at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh while I was in college. I was there all of a month maybe. AB reared its ugly head while I was shelving books. I can remember seeing the librarian at the end of the aisle with this really weird look on her face, I think she spoke, but I am not sure. I think I answered, but I am not sure. And then as if time blinked, she was suddenly standing right next to me with her hand on my shoulder. Touching me, was all it took to wake me up. It usually is. She was looking into my face very worried, and asked if I was alright. I had no idea what she was talking about. She watched me for about 10 minutes after a patron pointed out I seemed to be having a seizure. I was shelving the same book over and over again. Put it up on the shelf, take it back down put it on the cart, rinse and repeat. Finally, I had moved onto just putting books on the shelf totally randomly, some up side down or back wards even. Dewey Decimal be damned. I don’t remember doing any of that, I just remember being confused, and not able to communicate. I did this so often it made me nervous and I quit my job. You know, better to quit than be fired right? I quit a lot of jobs like that.

Ames Dept Store – post Dx

I worked as a cashier at Ames in Ontario Ohio right before it closed. One night I had a customer get all upset with me because I rang the same item, over and over and over again. I think it was a shirt. They just stood there and watched me do it. He very politely yet sternly said, “Um excuse me, Is there a problem with the register?” And since I was only just teetering on AB at this point, as in I actually remember doing this, I came out of it when he spoke to me. I apologized, told him I was just testing something or some nonsense like that, and continued checking out his items. Then he gave me his credit card to run, (this is before customers could do it themselves) and I swiped it, then apparently I started punching in random numbers and ended up charging his card a kajillion dollars. By now he was totally ticked off, as you can imagine and yelled at me “I suppose you are just testing my credit card too?” Again that brought me out of it, but also scared the crap out of me sending me into full blown cataplexy. I knocked my head on the counter as I dropped to the floor. Some one called my manager and she came over as I was getting up. She asked me what was wrong and the customer replied “You have a staff full of drug addicts is what is wrong! I am a cop, I know them when I see them!” I felt really bad, because I was confused and didn’t remember. She knew of the situation though and sent me to get ice for my head and told me to take a half hour in the break room. Happily, after I left, I hear she chewed that guy out while she credited all his money back and rang him up properly. I guess I made quite the scene. Um… yay.

Even in conversation, including on the phone and yes, even texting, Twitter and Facebook, if I am not making sense, you are not talking to the real me. You are only talking to Body, who is confused, and trying desperately to compensate for Mind, who is on a union break. You might want to try back later.

So there is Automatic Behavior for ya. It’s pretty impressive actually the things we are able to do while our minds take little vacations. But it is also extremely dangerous. Imagine if I had been driving, or cooking, or even walking down the street. Who is to say I would for sure look both ways. You can never be too sure. I know I’m not.

*** Here are the sites I got this information from. And as true to my sleepy self, I can’t recall MLA style at the moment and it will likely take a couple hours or so for me to look it up and figure it out. This will have to do.


5 thoughts on “The Lights Are On, But No One Is Home… Automatic Behavior

  1. Jess says:

    Very well written! I’ve really never had anyone witness my AB that I can think of. And I almost always remember it, but just like you describe, I feel myself fighting to keep control of my brain. It definitely happens far less now that I work at home. I guess because I can just go take a break or a nap when I feel it coming on.

  2. marcianna says:

    Alot of my episodes have been witnessed. (To my horror!) It is so very annoying! I envy you so much right now!

  3. Anonymous says:

    This happened to me as a cashier before in a couple of instances before I knew of my N. I remember wanting to watch the store security tapes to see where the time had went/what I had been doing and when I finally fell asleep standing up and crashed face-first into the cash register. Alas I was too embarrassed and worried about being fired. Fun times~ ps love the jazz hands keep it up :)!

  4. liz says:

    jazz hands! know how you feel =)

  5. marcianna says:

    Yeah, ya know, somedays require “Jazz Hands” in order to make a point…

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