A mum suffering from a brain disorder avoids eye contact with anyone she finds attractive so that she doesn’t lose control of her body.
Kirsty Brown, 32, from Northwich, Cheshire, suffers from cataplexy which means any strong emotion can trigger sudden muscle paralysis.
The condition is most commonly associated with sleep disorder, narcolepsy, and can also be triggered by anger, laughter, fear and loud noises.
The mum-of-two is forced to keep her head down in public to avoid hurting herself when her knees buckle.
Kirsty said: ‘It’s so embarrassing. I was out shopping once and I saw someone that looked alright, and my legs just went and I had to cling onto my cousin for support.
‘If I see someone attractive, my legs just go so I try not to put myself in situations where that could happen, or I try to keep my eyes down for my own safety.’
On average, the stay-at-home mum has five cataplexy attacks per day but on a bad day, she can have up to 50 meaning she can’t leave the house.
She said: ‘Considering it’s a sleep disorder, we don’t sleep much and when we do it isn’t a deep sleep so if I’m really tired, I have more attacks than usual.
‘I can have an attack at the top of a flight of stairs if they’re steep because I don’t like heights.
‘I’m trying to move to a new house that doesn’t have stairs or where I can have a stairlift.’
Any strong emotion can trigger a collapse for Kirsty, and it’s hard to avoid some.
‘Anger and laughter trigger it and me and my sisters are either arguing or making each other laugh because they’re the funniest people I know,’ she says.
‘I think they know what they’re doing sometimes, if they know I won’t hurt myself then they’ll make me laugh. Even if I just find myself funny, I can have an attack.
‘It’s any strong emotion or loud noises like beeping cars or shouting.
‘I haven’t had an attraction that strong recently that it would trigger an attack which on one hand is brilliant but also a bit sad because I’d like to feel that attracted to someone.’
For Kirsty, the attacks represent a good de-escalation technique, but can result in harm for her.
She says: ‘There’s been times when I’ve been arguing, and I’ve collapsed which does put an end to the argument.
‘I’m due to have physio on my back because I hurt it when I had an attack.’
Kirsty was born with the narcolepsy gene, but it was brought on early by a head injury when she was nine.
She said: ‘Me and some friends were throwing stones into a tree to get conkers and one hit me on the head.
‘I would have suffered with cataplexy eventually because of the gene anyway.
‘It has been a struggle because I brought my kids up on my own and it’s hard to find a job when you need to explain that you could collapse at any point.
‘When I have an attack, I don’t feel anything go through my body, it’s like a short circuit from the brain to the muscle is interrupted and I just lose control over my legs, but the top half of my body does feel strong.’
What is cataplexy?
According to Narcolepsy UK: ‘Cataplexy is the term given to sudden muscular weakness triggered by strong emotions such as laughter, anger and surprise.
‘The loss of muscle tone that occurs may range from a just-perceptible weakening of the facial muscles through weakness at the knees, to total collapse on the floor.
‘Speech may be slurred, and eyesight impaired (double vision, inability to focus) but hearing and awareness remain undisturbed.’
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