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Jasmine Steele: I Don't Take Sleep Apnea Lightly Anymore

Updated: Jan 17

U.S. Air Force veteran and teacher

I was diagnosed with sleep apnea about seven years ago. But I've only been in recovery about eight months now. Like a lot of people, I didn’t really take sleep apnea seriously for a while, because the effects don’t seem tangible until you have brain damage. So I pushed it off, thinking, “Oh, come on, that can’t be a real thing. Whether they say I've got it or not, it can't really be that big of a deal.”

Well, time went by, and I got to the point where I was showing signs of dementia. I would just be doing regular operations through the day, and I would just be missing things, there would be gaps of time for me. Then one day I went to take something out of the cabinet and then all of a sudden I was just standing there with my arm in the air and I can't figure out why. Was I reaching up? Reaching down? Do I have a cup? Did I put a cup away? What am I doing? Wow. And then I was like, “Okay, this is not good. There's something really, really wrong happening here.”

So I went to all these doctors, and they looked everything over.

I was having other health issues going on. I had post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and I had an addiction, too. But I was going to the gym, I was eating right, I was trying to do absolutely everything I could to get my health in order, and it just wasn't cooperating with me. I wondered, “Why can’t I get healthy?” 


I finally went to an endocrinologist. I mentioned to him that the Veterans Administration had diagnosed me with sleep apnea years ago but that I've got severe claustrophobia, so the devices they were offering wouldn't have worked for me. They would have put me into a tailspin, because I'd already had depression and anxiety for so long. 

And he said, “Well, quite frankly, sleep apnea is your problem.” I was like, “What do you mean? It’s just sleep apnea.” And he said, “Yes, but sleep apnea affects literally every cell of your body.”


I was very fortunate that he recognized that I had mentioned sleep apnea and that he put it together, because he is the first physician I've seen that has pieced anything together. Most of them have been like, “Yeah, you have a thyroid dysfunction. Yeah, here's some pills. Yes, you have chronic depression. Here are more pills.”

Because it had been so long since the VA had tested me, he arranged a new test. Sure enough, I was off the charts. Never in a million years did I connect the dots—because, obviously, my brain wasn’t working right.


My husband had always said I snored a lot. From the time I was a kid, my family always said, “You just snore.” And as a child, I’d had to have a deviated septum repaired.

I guess my subconscious had been screaming for help, and I had become addicted to alcohol as one of my coping mechanisms. Once I started to heal a little, I discovered much of my life was shattered. My husband and I were fighting, blaming my addiction, my kids were going off the deep end, everything in my reality was dysfunctional. By this point, I weighed about 289 pounds. I'd always been very athletic. I'd always been very outgoing. I'd always been very “Let's get the job done.” I joined the military right out of high school because of that mentality. But there I was, sitting on the sofa, staring at a wall thinking, “I can't figure out why I can't move.”


Prior to completely losing my marbles, I ran my own interior design business. I did that because it allowed me time to rest. Because I would get so tired so quickly. But I could pick jobs up when I wanted to, and I would work through them at my own pace. My clients knew I had health issues. But it still frustrated people, because they’d think, “it’s been three months and the project still isn’t complete.”


And then my husband packed up and left. That finally hit whatever chord my brain needed to hit to say, “Okay. We have to fix this.” 


Once I started recovery from addiction, the BiPap machine was able to start healing the rest. since I've started healing 80% of the disorders that I was diagnosed with for over 30 years of my life, have healed. We know what was causing things now. 


The BiPap machine is still extremely uncomfortable for me. But now that I'm able to get out of that limbic brain, it's not as threatening to me. I can talk myself through the anxiety, whereas before the machine, there's no way. I remember doing the in-home sleep study, and I would rip the thing off of me and throw it as far away from me as I could, because I would be in a panic. When I started using it, I would do as long as I could, and then I would just take it off. I did that very slowly, progressing to where I could do two to four hours at night. Now I can do six to seven hours a night. It's still extremely uncomfortable and I still want to rip it off, but I can adjust myself and say, “Okay, this is far more valuable on you than off of you.”


I started looking to see why the VA flagged me for sleep apnea testing in the first place. Well, the VA has recognized obstructive sleep apnea as directly linked to PTSD. So anyone that has PTSD is automatically flagged and automatically tested. I remember through a few of my medical appointments, I'd say yeah, I've got terrible sleep, but I always thought that was associated directly to my PTSD.


I'm on a full-body recovery path now. There are so many issues that are interweaved. But I would say that, first and foremost, being able to use my logical reasoning brain has been by far the most healing property that I've had out of all of it. Being able to get my oxygen flowing again.


I don't take sleep apnea lightly anymore. I can't sit by idly and watch other people go through the struggles that I've gone through when I know that there are solutions. I’m in this state of mind now where I just want to reach out and help as many other people as I can, especially people with sleep apnea, because it's just not it's not something to take lightly.

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