Mikelle Rogers began to notice it during her sophomore year at Stansbury High School.
The busy 4.0 student, varsity cross country runner, AP pupil, seminary counsel member and show choir pianist kept falling asleep — everywhere.
“It was just a battle with the clock during school,” she said. “I couldn’t wait until class was over so I could stand up.”
So Rogers, daughter of Adam and Kristen Rogers, who graduated from Stansbury High this year as salutatorian, came up with some interesting strategies.
“I would get some water. I would chop my leg. I would eat food. I would pretend to blow my nose. Anything to stay awake,” she said. “I mean, AP classes are not boring, but I just could not stay awake. I just figured it was being an athlete and everything.”
And after her sophomore year, the symptoms seemed to be getting worse.
“I would go home after school and just fall asleep,” she said. “I would take two or three naps after school in addition to sleeping tons at night. Sometimes, I would get home and not be able to remember how I got there.”
Her mom and dad also tried a variety of things to help their daughter. They went through depression, stress and other medical diagnoses.
Finally, they went to Primary Children’s Hospital for a sleep study.
“Apparently, I fell asleep within one minute of laying down and went into Rapid Eye Movement sleep very quickly, which means it intrudes into your overall sleep pattern,” Rogers said.
In August of 2016, she received a diagnosis of narcolepsy, which is a neurological disorder that affects the control of sleep and wakefulness. After her diagnosis, it all added up.
“Really, it was such a relief to have a name for what I was going through,” she said. “I felt like then we had something to work with and find out about.”
Rogers was also diagnosed with cataplexy, a syndrome common in narcolepsy patients.
“It means that when I feel strong emotions, for me usually laughter, it makes me unable to control my muscles,” she said. “When I laugh, sometimes I just go boneless and fall to the ground. Sometimes I can battle it, but I am so thankful to my family, who now know that when I laugh to come over and give me a hug or something to take care of me, so I don’t fall over.”
Once she had a name for her ailment, Rogers and her family started looking for ways to manage it. As part of her treatment, Rogers takes medication and is strict about her daily schedule.
“I go to bed at 10 p.m. and get up at 7 a.m.,” she said. “I take four naps a day of about 15 minutes. I am careful and really notice when I don’t get to bed on time and get that sleep. Then, I feel better and it’s best if I stay on schedule, because then my body knows when I am supposed to sleep and when I am supposed to be awake.”
She gives an analogy of someone being awake for 48 hours.
“That is how I feel all the time, but I just try to work through it,” Rogers said.
Rogers next realized that she might have some opportunities with her diagnosis. She looked online and found an organization called the Project Sleep’s Jack & Julie Narcolepsy Scholarship. It is given to students exemplifying courage and hope while living with narcolepsy. It is worth $1,000 toward her college education.
“I even met one of the winners from last year and when they opened the application process in January, I was busy with school, but decided to give it a try,” she said.
In addition to being judged on academics and extracurricular activities, applicants had to write a letter to themselves. In the letter, they were to include what they would have told their earlier self after their diagnosis.
“I told myself that this is something that can be overcome,” Rogers said. “My mom taught me that I can do hard things. This is something that will be with me for the rest of my life. It is frustrating at times, but that everyone has their challenges. Because of the examples of others, and with support of my family, you just must keep going. Everyone has a challenge. Take yours and hopefully make things better.”
Rogers also said her diagnosis has made her more empathetic toward others with disabilities, especially invisible ones.
“I now respect them more for the actions they take,” she said. “I fall asleep in public all the time. I hope they are understanding of me and I want to be understanding of them.”
A few weeks ago, Rogers was notified by Project Sleep that she was awarded the scholarship. She now is enrolled for Fall Semester at Brigham Young University with a four-year, full-tuition academic scholarship. She plans to study applied math and has been given a chance to work in a women’s freshmen mentoring program in her major.
Rogers said she is definite about making arrangements to take her naps at school.
Another recent opportunity that came her way, was participating in the Miss Tooele City Pageant.
“There were 12 of us girls and we got together and practiced the production number and really came to know each other,” Rogers said. “For my talent, I played the piano, and for evening wear, I wore a green gown — my favorite color. I did new things I have never done before and met amazing people.”
She said being in the pageant taught her some good life lessons.
“I learned more about myself in the pageant,” Rogers said. “I am still the same Mikelle. I still love math, I still love green, I still love playing the piano. And by the way, I have narcolepsy.”