Flygirl Takes On Flying Trapeze Despite Cataplexy


“Right hand on bar, toes over edge, left hand on bar… Left hand… Julie?”

I am 23 feet above ground, on a small platform with the friendly trapeze man, Chad, pulling my harness/corset backward as I lean forward over the edge. Below – a net and a few miniature smiling faces.

I’m supposed to let go of the sturdy railing and grab onto the trapeze bar. And then I’m supposed to jump.

Grabbing Trapeze Bar

Let me back up a few hours to that morning when I almost dropped my coffee into my lap.  My arms gave out during a funny scene in my book as I was about to sip hot coffee (this is cataplexy, a symptom of narcolepsy). A few drops splattered onto my hands. I fumbled and caught the mug – saving myself from total disaster.

It’s unusual that I have cataplexy so early in the day, my nighttime medication usually helps so much, but I hadn’t slept well the night before. Experiencing this episode didn’t bode well for Trapeze School.

The hour before Trapeze School, I took extra medication for my cataplexy, something I only do in “emergency” situations.  This medication wipes out my cataplexy completely but leaves me nauseated. I took a slightly bigger dose than usual.

I’m not sure if it was the medicine or nerves that made me want to throw up entering the large trapeze tent in Southeast Washington DC.

Thankfully, my friend Rachel was cheery as always. Rachel is not afraid of heights – which helped set the positive tone for the experience.

We started with body balancing – working together into intimidating poses supporting each other. I panicked on the inside. It’s one thing if my body gives out on me – but now I was also putting Rachel at risk…

In an effort to appear cool, calm and collected – I decided to try anyway. Rachel and I were both amazed by our ability to get into the body balancing positions!

Body Balancing
Body Balancing
Spinning silks
Next, we tried silks – which was fun, relaxing and not scary. 

Lastly, it was our turn to climb the rickety ladder to attempt flying trapeze. I’d watched others – some people freaked out, screaming in shock as they swung back and forth and appearing white as a ghost afterwards. Others appeared as natural as monkeys swinging with ease.

Climbing the ladder, I tried not to look down. The higher I climbed, the more lightheaded I became. When I reached the platform – my knees shook – not with cataplexy but with uncontrollable nerves.

Standing on the platform, everything began moving in slow motion.

Right hand on bar,” Chad instructed. I heard him but I couldn’t string his words together well. I repeated, “Riiiight hand?” I wasn’t sure which hand this was. He pointed it out to me.

“Palm up, Julie.” 

I looked around aimlessly and placed my palm down.



When I finally reached the final instructions –  I lifted my left hand off the railing slightly but it automatically clamped back down onto the railing with magnetic force.  My knees shook, my eyes bug-wide.

“It’s only going to get worse the longer you wait,” Chad said.

Oh god. Not worse! I moved my left arm quickly. And I jumped…. Well, Chad softly pushed me over the edge, but I didn’t fight it.

What did it feel like swinging across the tent high in the air? It felt windy – it felt out of control yet in control at the same time. I smiled widely. I wanted to yell out, “Take that, cataplexy! I’m flying!!”

I got to try a second time, which was slightly better than the first but I didn’t accomplish the “trick” of putting my feet over the bar and letting my arms go. Maybe another time.

For now, I accomplished something I never thought I’d do. Thank you Rachel and Trapeze School of New York – Washington DC for providing a safe and positive environment for this adventure!


  1. Life on Pause on April 2, 2012 at 7:55 pm

    You are an absolute inspiration of mine. Trapeze and Cataplexy….doesn't that just sound like a big fat NO? But you did it. It's possible. It can be done. Maybe I can do it too?

  2. pha on April 3, 2012 at 9:34 am

    you are so adorable!!!

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