Faulty Lines

At first, it was a patter-patter. Then a trembling. Finally, a full-out shake-n-shatter. Like many East Coasters, Tuesday’s earthquake shook me from my seat. I was in a coffee shop in Northern Virginia. Some people ran outdoors. Others dropped under tables. 

I can’t say how long it lasted, but for the last few violent seconds – I thought it may all be over. My most steady grounding – the earth – was steady no more.

Californians, laugh all you want at my dramatic description! This was my first quake and a fairly big one.

Afterwards, my fingertips tingled and my back felt twisted. I tried to re-concentrate on work, but something had shifted – I was floating like a buoy in choppy waters.  About six hours later, I finally washed ashore, returning to solid ground. Or was it solid? I couldn’t be sure.
My appetite for others’ earthquake stories is insatiable. While collecting stories, a powerful analogy came to mind.
People always ask me what cataplexy feels like. As the author of a memoir about narcolepsy, I relish in trying to convey the surreal sensation of being conscious inside a paralyzed body. 
Tuesday’s earthquake felt a lot like cataplexy. Not necessarily in the physical shaking, but in the sudden loss of certainty.
During an episode of cataplexy, my eyes flutter, my jaw drops, my arms and legs jerk and spasm on their own volition. Sometimes, the paralysis is complete and my body falls to the ground – despite me “telling” it not to!
Cataplexy is actually the pathological equivalent of the muscle paralysis everyone experiences during dream sleep (to stop us from acting out our dreams). However, I experience dreamer’s paralysis, inappropriately, while wide-awake. Why? Faulty lines under the surface. 
So what does cataplexy have to do with the earthquake? In both experiences, there’s a quick erosion of trust.  Your sense of grounding shifts out of your control.  All that you know to be solid turns to dust.  The consequences are unsure – will I hurt myself? And then, the world returns to normal.
Yoga teaches me that there are no certainties. Life is always shifting. The earthquake and cataplexy are bold reminders of this, shaking me awake to the moment. 
Now that I know what it feels like to lose grounding, I can truly cherish the simple steadier times. I will breathe deeply and smile.  For better or worse, we’re all dancing on fault lines.


  1. Scott on August 26, 2011 at 11:51 am

    Wow, I found this post very moving. I have narcolepsy without cataplexy, and have wondered what the experience of cataplexy feels like. This is a very elegant explanation, and something about using the earthquake as a metaphor is touching and sublime. Thank you.

  2. Anonymous on August 31, 2011 at 6:58 pm

    Julie, I had no idea you get "the shakes" like me. My doctor thinks I'm a candidate for falling without the medicine. Got bumped to a higher dose after a recent knee dip. I can't imagine what it must feel like to fall. I'm hoping things don't progress since there really isn't much else that can be done at this point. I've stopped driving on days that my medicine doesn't work like clockwork. You are very courageous for putting your narcolepsy/cataplexy out there with your full name, Julie. Posting here is much more scary than emails. I keep referring people to your blog. The last post about the flu was eye opening for me and my family.

  3. REM Runner on September 1, 2011 at 12:54 pm


    I'm so glad that my recent posts have helped inform you and your family. I'm sorry to hear that your cataplexy episodes are worsening. This isn't easy, as there is currently no "cure all."

    Thank you for your kind words regarding my willingness to speak publicly about narcolepsy (using my full name). I chose to give up my privacy to utilize my professional training and personal passion to give narcolepsy a voice. People may discriminate against me because of this. In the long run, I believe that truthful information will outshine uninformed misconceptions.

    Sending smiles and wakefulness your way,
    Julie (a.k.a. the "REM Runner")

  4. Mechele Mason on March 18, 2014 at 1:20 pm

    Julie you are such an inspiration to all of us suffering, with Cataplexy, I have never felt an earthquake, or I thought that, until u explained it the way u did. WOW I guess I feel them a lot. lol I love following you, You say the words that I don’t know how to say. I appreciate that so much. You are my strength I needed 20yrs ago, when I didn’t know what was going on in my head. thx

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