Chris Higgins on This American Life


It's shameless self-promotion time! I've been working on a story for my favorite radio show, This American Life, for the past few months. That story airs on tonight's TAL episode ("Held Hostage," Friday, June 4) on WBEZ in Chicago, and then on public radio stations around the country -- check your local listings. A free MP3 and podcast will also be available starting Sunday, for those outside the US or without a radio. I'm very pleased to be on the show, and working with the TAL team has been just what you would expect: awesome and kind of surreal. When you talk on the phone with people whose voices and names you recognize from 15 years of radio shows -- it's like going through the looking glass.

So What's the Story?

Imagine if, every time you became very happy or sentimental -- like every time you laughed, or held your spouse's hand -- you suffered a temporary paralysis lasting seconds, minutes, or even hours? That's the case for Matt, and more than a million others who suffer from narcolepsy with cataplexy. Narcolepsy is something many people have heard of -- it involves "inappropriate daytime sleepiness" and falling asleep at inopportune times. Cataplexy is a related condition that causes patients to lose motor control when an emotional trigger occurs. (The most common trigger is strong positive emotions.) By "lose motor control," I mean -- for people with severe cases like Matt's -- total collapse, although he's still awake inside a body he can't control.

Tonight's story is part of the TAL episode "Held Hostage," and it's about how Matt's disease has affected his life, and how he manages to cope with it. Matt's wife Trish also makes an appearance, and it's narrated by yours truly.