Join Carrie today as she shares her personal journey with unexplained fatigue and depression, leading to a surprising discovery of obstructive sleep apnea.

  • The surprising connection between unexplained fatigue and obstructive sleep apnea.
  • Key symptoms of sleep apnea to watch out for, beyond just snoring.
  • How home sleep studies have made diagnosis more accessible and convenient.
  • The crucial link between physical health and mental well-being.
  • Simple steps you can take to improve your health and quality of life

Tune in for more:

Transcript:

Welcome to Hope for Anxiety and OCD episode 116. I am your host, Carrie Bock, a licensed professional counselor in Tennessee, and I’m happy to be with you here today. I wanted to tell you another personal story of mine. I know some people probably that have heard some of my past stories are wondering, how in the world can this person go through so many things?

The answer is, I don’t know. I was hesitant even to record this episode because I thought some people are going to find this a little bit unbelievable. However, I’m here. I’m still standing. Everything’s good.

Have you ever been tired and no doctor can give you any kind of medical explanation for it? Some of you know what I’m talking about. Maybe you’ve had all the blood work tested. They’ve checked for anemia, thyroid malfunction, vitamin deficits, nothing. Nothing comes up. Everything is fine. Your doctor says it’s fine, but inside, you’re like something doesn’t feel fine. I’m tired all the time.

This was a part of my story before I became pregnant. I was a little sluggish, but you know, nothing major. I talked to my OBGYN and said, “Hey, could you just run the blood work again? Because I feel tired.”

She did. It was fine. Of course, when you get pregnant, then you have a reason to be tired, and pregnancy came along with absolutely horrible restless leg syndrome. If you’ve never had restless leg syndrome, It’s hard to describe, but your legs are not calm and they just feel this need to move. It can keep you up because it’s so uncomfortable. Restless leg syndrome; hey, it’s something that can happen during pregnancy. Of course, as with pregnancy, there are very few options that you have in terms of what medication you can take, and so the restless leg syndrome medication they determined would have risks that I didn’t want, so I ended up not taking that.

I can’t sleep, still tired, and then I had a baby. Of course, I was tired. I had every excuse to be tired. Who wouldn’t be? Now, looking back on it, being outside of the situation, I was more than just tired. I was a walking, working zombie mom. I was functional. I was doing the things I needed to do, yet I would crash on the couch after dinner because I was unable to engage with my daughter.

I remember just like laying there and feeling like I could go to sleep right now if there wasn’t so much happening around me. Last fall, I knew that there was something more wrong. My daughter was sleeping through the night, but I never woke up rested. I laid down and on a Sunday afternoon. I thought, well, I’m just going to get this quick cat nap after church and fell asleep for two hours. This was after I had already gotten a full night’s sleep the night before. I shouldn’t have needed a two-hour nap, and I knew that wasn’t normal. I was continuing to have daytime fatigue. I woke up with headaches. I felt depressed. I honestly chalked some of that up to losing both of my parents in a six month time span.

Some of you may remember on a previous episode, where I was talking about my grief and loss journey, just telling you how exhausting it was. That grief process was, well, I didn’t know that more than depression and grief were going on there. What was the secret cause to my exhaustion? Obstructive sleep apnea.

Maybe you’ve heard of sleep apnea, but don’t really know that much about it, and I wanted to share my story to help someone else who may be struggling with depression, anxiety, unexplainable fatigue. Sleep apnea is when the muscles in the neck relax at night, causing the airway to collapse, causing someone to stop breathing for a short period of time.

This can actually happen many times in a single hour of sleep. Imagine multiplying that by the number of hours that you sleep at night, meaning that you could potentially stop sleeping. 30, 50 times in a night, easily. The symptoms of sleep apnea are daytime sleepiness, fatigue, snoring. I didn’t realize that snoring meant that somehow your airway was constricted. I thought it was just a thing that some people did. Both of my parents snored. I had been told that I snored, but I never thought it was a big deal because no one had ever said, hey, I think you stop breathing when you’re sleeping. It was just like, hey, you snore.

Observed episodes of stopped breathing. Sometimes that may happen if you have somebody that you’re sleeping with at night, like a spouse.

Waking up during the night, gasping, choking with a rapid heartbeat or in a panic. This is an important symptom for some of you who are struggling with anxiety. You may not know that waking up in a panic might be a symptom of sleep apnea.

Morning headaches. When you lose oxygen to the brain, your head hurts.

Trouble focusing, even on tasks that should be routine or pretty simple.

Depression, high blood pressure. I never had high blood pressure until I was pregnant with my daughter. It ended up with preeclampsia. I had some after my daughter that, you know, it didn’t go away right away.

Blood pressure fluctuations can happen with sleep apnea. Sometimes it can come up low and that actually happened to me shortly before my diagnosis. My blood pressure was actually a little bit low. That’s something to watch out for. Oftentimes, we don’t know that we have high blood pressure unless we’re getting it checked.

Restless leg syndrome or jerking movements during sleep. If your legs or arms just seem to be jerking a lot, that’s your body trying to wake you up.

Prior to my diagnosis, I didn’t know that being over 40 is a risk factor. I just turned 40 this past year. The treatment for sleep apnea is CPAP therapy, which is where a machine blows air into your airway to keep it open, keep it from collapsing.

Unfortunately, sleep apnea often goes undiagnosed. Shortly before I had my sleep study done, a client I hadn’t seen in a while came back to see me and she mentioned something about waking up in a panic attack. I had told her that was a symptom of sleep apnea. Previously, similar story, she tried to tell medical professionals, doctors, how tired she was and said, “This isn’t normal that I’m this tired.”

No one recommended a sleep study, but after talking with me, she pursued one, got on CPAP therapy, and had come back and let me know that she was feeling so much better after engaging in that therapy. Many years ago, in order to get a sleep study, you would have had to go into a lab. Sometimes that still happens on rare occasions if for some reason a home sleep study doesn’t show anything.

Now there’s all this technology that they have to be able for you to take a device home and have your sleep study done at home in the comfort of your own home. That’s where most of us sleep comfortably and more naturally. I wore a ring device on my finger that measured heart rate fluctuations and it was comfortable. It was really easy to use. My results were given to me, which I wasn’t surprised at all by this point that I was diagnosed with a moderate obstructive sleep apnea. They said that usually the home test is a little bit lower threshold than in person. So, it probably could have been in the severe category.

I was set up with a CPAP machine. Now, you may have heard all kinds of horrors about CPAP therapy, but I really didn’t have too much trouble adjusting. Once again, technology has advanced. They’ve created all different kinds of CPAP machines and masks, slowly making them more and more comfortable, getting you fitted the right way so that it’s easier to get adjusted to.

I Immediately notice that even with four hours on the CPAP because in the beginning it felt like I could wear it about half the night and then I just needed to take it off. Four hours being on the CPAP was better than eight hours without it in terms of feeling more refreshed in the morning and feeling more rested. That kept me using it night after night. That kept me coming back because I just felt so good.

One thing I want you to know. that I realized now through this process: God created our bodies so incredibly resilient to adapt to situations that realistically we should not be able to adapt to. I learned that my body adapted to running on fumes. Being tired had become so normal that I didn’t even realize how good I could feel until after the fact. Some of you are sitting here wondering, can I feel better? The answer is yes. Yes, you can feel better, but your body has gotten so used to living and being stuck in anxiety and depression that you don’t even know what’s on the other side because you’re just stuck and you’ve adapted to it.

I absolutely love my CPAP machine. If I travel, it goes with me. I do not leave home without it if I’m going to be sleeping somewhere else. I thank God for it, every boarding. I feel so rested. I have so much more energy to play with my daughter. I have energy now to exercise. My brain is not foggy. I can focus on work.

I’m not a zombie mom anymore. Shortly after I started CPAP therapy, I was able to get off antidepressants because I had energy again to do the things that I wanted to do. I wasn’t feeling that huge weight anymore of just sluggishness. So often we assume that mental health problems are always based in our mind alone, and you have to understand that our physical health and our mental health are so intertwined.

Sometimes there is a genuine medical route that is causing your mental health symptoms, or it could be exacerbating those symptoms. Maybe you have a propensity already towards anxiety and depression, but lack of oxygen to your brain due to sleep apnea is just exacerbating that problem so much more. If you have any of these things, symptoms that I listed before and they just seem chronic. They’re not going away. They’re not getting better. All your blood work looks fabulous, but you know something’s wrong. Please get tested. Don’t let the CPAP horror stories deter you. Untreated sleep apnea puts you at greater risk of having a heart attack or stroke. So please, get tested [to] at least rule it in or out if you suspect that you may have sleep apnea at all.

One of the reasons I’m doing this episode is because it’s not on a lot of people’s radar, and I’ve even had more clients come to see me with similar symptoms that I’ve really recommended like, “Hey, you really may want to get a sleep study if for nothing else, at least rule it out and then you’ll know. You will know one way or the other.”

For those of you who don’t know, I have a counseling practice in Tennessee. So, if you are looking for counseling for trauma, anxiety, OCD, I am open for business, in person in Smyrna, Tennessee and online across the state of Tennessee. I also provide consultations for individuals who are out of state, helping them get connected with resources that they might need, whether that’s therapist resources, self help materials.

I have an online course for helping Christians develop mindfulness skills. What mindfulness does is it’s amazing for anxiety and OCD. It allows us to be able to be in the present moment with intentionality, developing self awareness, developing acceptance over our situation, allowing us to let go of control, give that control over to God. He has it already anyway. 

Thank you so much for listening to the show today and you can always reach us anytime online at www.hopeforanxietyandocd.com.

Hope for Anxiety and OCD is a production of By the Well Counseling. Our show is hosted by me, Carrie Bock, a licensed professional counselor in Tennessee.

Opinions given by our guests are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of myself or By the Well Counseling. Our original music is by Brandon Maingrum. Until next time, may you be comforted by God’s great love for you.