Oregon neuroscientist Matt Frerking is an extraordinary case of a person suffering from a rare sleep disorder. His narcolepsy with cataplexy prevents him from experiencing intensely positive feelings like joy or love without literally becoming paralyzed. Yet he continues to go about his daily life as a successful researcher and family man. He even drives to work.
Frerking was profiled on ABC’s television newsmagazine “Nightline” on Tuesday. His story will continue Thursday evening in the ABC primetime special “Secrets of Your Mind: Why We Do What We Do.”
The Sleep Education Blog reported earlier this summer that narcolepsy with cataplexy affects only .02 percent of adults in the world. Strong emotions such as surprise, anger or love trigger a sudden loss in muscle tone. Sufferers of the disorder may slump forward or even fall to the ground. They remain lucid throughout the attack, trapped in their bodies.
There is no cure, but Frerkin has adapted his lifestyle to avoid the attacks by suppressing his emotions and avoiding any environmental influences that may trigger strong emotions. A sizable cocktail of prescription medications also helps reduce and delay the attacks.
Frerkin has learned to pull himself out of cataplexy by neutralizing his emotions. He copes with the attacks by dreaming up complicated solutions to complex work problems while his body is paralyzed.
In the “Nightline” interview he regains control by thinking of “Snare Complexes,” whatever that means.
“Secrets of Your Mind: Why We Do What We Do” airs Thursday, August 19 at 8:00 p.m. est. on ABC.