Putting shame to bed: My deep dark secret


I have a secret. 

I have sleep apnea and I have worked very hard, until now, to keep it secret. 

When I was diagnosed I was 35, size 14-16, going to university full time and I had a 3 year old and a 6 year old. The specialists said testing me was a precaution and they would be very surprised if it came back positive as they assumed my health complaints and extreme fatigue was just a reflection of my life at the time. (My doctor referred to the specialist after I causally mentioned that my husband said I snored.)

The diagnosis of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) has required me to use CPAP treatment every night. This is a machine with a nose mask that creates a pressure in your airway to keep it open while you sleep. After my first month of treatment, I felt significantly better.  No more headaches until noon, more alertness (I had been like a sleepy zombie for years), no more cranky mommy moments (well not as many) and many other health issues, like not having dreams and going to the washroom 4 times a night, were cured.   
But having OSA is the bane of my existence. I hate it with a passion. For eight years I have not gone a night without my machine. This meant making excuses for why I didn’t want to share hotel rooms with co-workers, avoiding weekends away with girlfriends, and not being able to camp where we liked but only near electrical outlets. 

These may seem like minor issues, but the reality was that I knew it was correlated with higher incidence of stroke and heart disease and that weight was an exacerbating factor. Having tried to lose weight and overcome emotional eating endless times, I blamed myself for having OSA. I also feared people thinking I was lazy. OSA compounded the plethora of body issues that so often come with being overweight.     

When I started researching Paleo and low carb, getting rid of the apnea was and still is my main motivator. To be cured would be my biggest dream come true.  I believed that I have OSA due to the structure of my jaw, my allergies, my sinus issues and because of my body fat distribution. So I wasn’t’ sure if losing weight (32 pounds in the last year and a half) would be enough.  I also wasn’t sure because I remember being told I snored when I was a size six.

During my research I learned that eating carbs exacerbates OSA, not as a result of fat from eating carbs, but as a result of lowing blood glucose. OSA Improvements can be observed immediately as a result of lowering carbs and therefore reducing inflammation. I have also read many studies that associate apnea with insulin resistance which made me wonder if my apnea in part, contributed to weight gain.    

Other research showed a correlation between diary allergies and apnea. Coincidently, I went off dairy 4 months ago. Doing that together with reducing my carbs this month, improved my sinus issues immensely.  
When I was first diagnosed the air pressure on my titrating CPAP ranged from 5 to 12, in the last three months I reduced the pressure to a range of 4 to 6, just to see what would happen. The machine data says I am not worse off and I feel fine. Next week I will get a sleep test to assess whether I still have apnea when I am not being treated. 

In the meantime I continue to eat very low carb, dairy free and try to lose weight in hopes that one  or all of them  will cure me. Fingers crossed. In this process, I have gained another cure, a different gift, relief of the OSA shame and self-blame. 

"Sticking to a Paleo diet (i.e eating only those foods which our hunter-gatherer ancestors would have eaten millions of years ago) or a diet consisting of only fruits, raw vegetables and meats and totally devoid of refined sugars, dairy products and grains has also been known to help people suffering from sleep apnea."

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  1. You are such an inspiration, Lisa. Thank you for sharing this story. I am so sorry that the diagnosis of OSA has been such a source of shame for you. As you mentioned, treatment has brought you so many strengths in your daily life. I'm really happy that you were finally diagnosed and that you're feeling better.

    Darian, my husband, has OSA as well. He is so relieved to have the treatment and to be feeling better. He bought a battery two summers ago so that he could go camping. It's only good for two nights, but it gave him the option to sleep outside, which we, as a family, love to do.

    1. Thank you for your kindness Katy. It helps to know I am not the only one. I do see the diagnosis and treatment as a huge blessing.
      Dave bought a battery for me as well, so we can can camp for a night or two in the more remote spots. But I hope someday we do something like hike to MacKinnon's Brook and camp there.
      I should add that I think that having permanent teeth pulled as a child also contributed to my poor jaw structure. I have TMJ as well and that is strongly associated with apnea. http://www.facefocused.com/tmjtment.html

      I wish Darian the best and hope he continues to feel MUCH better!

  2. You could have therapy to get over your hang ups. I have absolutely no problem sharing hotel rooms now that I don't keep everyone awake. Think of the message you are sending your kids: "People with disabilities should be ashamed of them selves".

    Losing weight is not always a solution, I was 112 lbs when it first started. It was a combination of pregnancy hormones and small throat.

    And about the teeth, realize they were pulled because of the small structure of your mouth and it is this structure that causes the OSA and not the pulling of the teeth that didn't fit in.

  3. Hi "Anonymous"

    My shame was a result of the doctors telling me that I wouldn't have OSA if I wasn't fat. My therapy WAS ending the belief that OSA was all under my control.

    I agree there are slender people with OSA. As I said, I snored when I was a six.

    Yes, jaw structure can cause OSA - additionally I believe in the research suggesting that removing certain teeth before development is finished can affect the growth of the jaw and therefore the mouth structure.



  4. Hi Lisa, I so feel you. I am much older than you, 56 but just recently been given the same diagnosis. I also had several teeth pulled because of small mouth when I was young, and my dr. says this is why I have it. But prior to this I was told by the respiratory therapists that it was my weight, 14- 16, now down to 14 with tremendous effort, and my age. They said that they could tell people who had sleep apnea when they walked into a room full of people. I have since been told this was extremely unprofessional, and that it was completely untrue. I actually was told I snored like a man when I was 12 and 85 pounds. I also love to camp with my family, and dreaded this as the end of my camping days. If I am stuck with the diagnosis, I too am trying to lose weight, I will try to get the battery, I guess 2 days is pretty good when you consider not camping at all. I love the outdoors!! I have gone through tremendous changes with this whole thing, but the people on cpap talk have helped me out a great deal. All the love and luck in the world to you. Reneeee.

    1. Renee
      Thank you for your feedback. Congratulations on your efforts to improve your health, you won't regret it. I highly recommend going of dairy, in addition to your weight loss efforts, just for a couple weeks to see if it makes a difference for you.
      Cpap talk and talk about sleep forums were a live saver for me, a great resource.
      best of luck.