Why Does Lady Narcolepsy Affect Me So?
January 27, 2009 6:12 PM   Subscribe

Why does my business colleague have such a strange physical effect on me? And how can I change this?

For the past year, I've had weekly 30-minute teleconferences with "Ann." We discuss professional matters and engage in light personal chitchat. About two months ago, I began to grow sleepy mid-conversation, but didn't think much about this. Maybe I was tired, maybe bored. But over the last few weeks, this has become a much more severe problem.

Now, within about five minutes of beginning the conversation, it is as though I've been administered a general anesthetic. I start drifting off deeply, stifling yawns, losing fragments of the conversation, and fighting to keep my eyes open. By conversation's end, I have to nap -- deeply. And I don't recover for about an hour afterwards.

There are universal jokes about people "putting us to sleep," I know. But I've never had such an extreme reaction like this.

About Ann: She is personable, smart, ambitious, though very stubborn. She's sometimes a difficult conversation partner because she repeatedly interrupts and talks over me when I'm trying to express my views. She also can be close-minded -- for example, when I'll suggest a possible solution to a problem, she will ignore or dismiss it with little consideration. Her voice is not unusual: high but not shrill, and strong.

Many people are like Ann, yet I don't fall into a semi-coma when I speak with them. This only happens when I deal with Ann. Why is this happening? And might you have any suggestions so that I can remain conscious when I speak to her each week?
posted by terranova to Human Relations (18 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I've been told by psychologists that falling asleep has to do with escaping thoughts you don't want to deal with. Next few times it happens ask yourself what you were thinking about right before you fell asleep.
posted by Ironmouth at 6:18 PM on January 27, 2009

Sounds like a Pavlovian response. The first one or two times it may have been something else that made you tired (Are your teleconferences in mid-afternoon? Do you sit in a darkened room?), but now you've associated it with Ann.
posted by rocket88 at 6:29 PM on January 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

She's sometimes a difficult conversation partner because she repeatedly interrupts and talks over me when I'm trying to express my views. She also can be close-minded -- for example, when I'll suggest a possible solution to a problem, she will ignore or dismiss it with little consideration. Her voice is not unusual: high but not shrill, and strong.

This part is telling. Psychologically you're thinking "why bother contributing to this discussion, she doesn't listen" so physiologically you're stuck in a situtation where, effectively, nothing is happening, you are completely unengaged, and your body's preferred response is to just cycle itself down.
posted by turgid dahlia at 6:34 PM on January 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

I have no idea why it's happening, but I suggest taking detailed notes during the teleconference. That is how I keep engaged and awake during long conferences.
posted by nightwood at 6:50 PM on January 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

This happens to me in certain lectures. I recover immediately after standing up and moving around. Have you tried pacing or doing something other than sitting at a desk?
posted by schyler523 at 7:12 PM on January 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

Is there enough fresh air flowing around the room? Think through the environment too. I find it very hard to stay awake in stuffy, heated rooms, regardless of who is talking.
posted by lottie at 7:22 PM on January 27, 2009

Is it possible to make--and stick to-- a "bullet points" agenda for the call? Might be a good way to keep yourself on track and get it over with. If not, task yourself with writing it up in outline form as you go.

Having coffee or an energy drink before you start ought to help too.
posted by aquafortis at 7:23 PM on January 27, 2009

Does this conference always occur at the same time of day? Is it early morning or after lunch?
posted by 517 at 7:25 PM on January 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

When I was first learning to meditate, I fell asleep uncontrollably like you describe. I understood it the way Ironmouth explained it: it felt like my mind was creating a fog instead of dealing with what was coming up. The teachers said uncontrollable sleeping only happened to some people, and that the best way to work through it was to keep meditating and have patience. So, maybe instead of going to sleep after you get off the phone with her, you spend that hour just listening to your breathing and trying to meditate? Or go to a yoga class if you work near a gym? I hate to be the one to say "meditate," but yeah, that's my not-all-that-practical suggestion. Maybe it's practical for you, since you can nap where you work.

Alternately, you could sit on your foot. Until your foot goes numb, the shooting pain will keep you awake.
posted by salvia at 7:30 PM on January 27, 2009

I used to have this same response to emotionally charged arguments - until I learned to simply experience the emotion without getting stuck on it, I would literally shut down. I suspect there's some aspect of this in your response. Perhaps it's worth observing what you're feeling more carefully? Don't judge the experience -- just notice them. "Oh, I'm annoyed. Hello annoyance. Goodbye, annoyance."
posted by ellF at 7:36 PM on January 27, 2009

When people talk over me I just completely zone out. I can't help it, my attention span isn't great to begin with so I can only pay attention if the other person is actually conveying information instead of just droning on.

That or she's hypnotizing you and you don't realize.
posted by fshgrl at 7:39 PM on January 27, 2009

Three points to add:
* The teleconferences have taken place at various times of day -- mornings, afternoons, and early evenings.
* Some time ago, Ann mentioned that two colleagues had suggested she improve her interpersonal communications techniques. She asked for my input. I gently mentioned that when she gets emotional about a subject, she sometimes talked over her conversation partners. Since then, she's somewhat improved. But she still launches into occasionally lengthy monologues.
* Ann is a bit "stuck" in her personal life. She speaks about the same unresolved issues every week during chitchat. I find myself feeling very sorry for her, but also frustrated: I can't help her (e.g., find a love partner, secure new work) but I can hear in her voice that she's angry and anxious about these things. Unconsciously, I sometimes feel she may be expecting too much from me as a listener.

These are scenarios I have encountered with other people, but it's only Ann who provokes uncontrollable slumber.
posted by terranova at 8:08 PM on January 27, 2009

Hmm, in Nonviolent Communication, the author talks about being in a boring conversation and admitting how he was feeling. The story starts on p 122. Try this link, or search for "another way to bring a conversation to life." Maybe you could say, "Hearing about these problems is making me feel very tired, could we discuss something else?" or "I can hear how angry and worried you are and wish I could help. But I really feel powerless and even a bit overwhelmed. I worry that you're wanting me to do something about this. Is that what you're hoping?" Less directly, maybe you should change the topic of conversation to your own problems sometimes? That'd give her a chance to be a listener and helper to you. Or would you want to cut the chit-chat out of the meeting agenda? Could you be all business for awhile?
posted by salvia at 8:39 PM on January 27, 2009

Also, what changed over the last few weeks? You've been doing this a year, so what's different now?
posted by salvia at 8:40 PM on January 27, 2009

I wonder if you're holding the phone a certain way, tilting your shoulders, putting pressure on a certain part of your back, or just sitting in a certain way while talking to her that is triggering the sleepiness. Could you possibly be cutting off circulation somewhere?
posted by spiderskull at 9:04 PM on January 27, 2009

Is Ann a bore?
posted by dancestoblue at 9:27 PM on January 27, 2009

You could preface the conversation with the idea that you have a scheduled appointment immediately after so it must progress at a quick pace.

Or you could have a coffee/tea while it's happening... it's easier and quieter to swallow a liquid (rather than a food) so Ann won't likely know you're drinking it...

Or you could find a way to occupy your hands and a little bit of your mind to perk you up. I play FreeCell during boring lectures and it still leaves me with enough mental "space" to pick up on the important bits. I also sometimes crochet during boring phone calls.

Also n'thing walking around/standing/stretching whenever possible. Invest in a wireless headset.
posted by cranberrymonger at 9:28 PM on January 27, 2009

I would avoid the "chit-chat" portion - say you're busy or running behind or just be blunt and say, "we should get down to business..." Maybe her having all the control over the pacing and subject matter is making you feel trapped. Try taking more ownership of the conferences and use them efficiently. I'd resent being someone's confidant when we were merely coworkers.
posted by MiffyCLB at 4:58 PM on January 28, 2009

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