AnnieJoy - Good luck in your studies! It sounds like you have a workable plan.
To answer your question about accelerated achievement:
I earned an MA and a Ph.D. in environmental history with a 4.0 GPA in what my advisors called "record time." I worked my body to its limit every semester and gave it everything I had. I attended grad school as a mother to a toddler and had a new baby along the way.
Despite declining job opportunitites in my field, I got a job (not my dream job, but what can you do? ) and despite a lack of funding and support for research at my new institution, my perseverence (and lack of sleep) led to the publication of my dissertation into a book this last spring. I have earned teaching awards and excellent evaluations at both of my jobs (I have two of them). I think I did all of these things because I believed that I could. I did not know about the narcolepsy yet, so I never said to myself that I couldn't do certain things. I had parents who taught me to believe that anything is possible if you are willing to sacrifice for it.
While I completed these things, my family and I would often chalk up my exhaustion to "overachievement." Only recently have I been diagnosed with narcolepsy, though in hindsight I have had symptoms since I was a child.
One of my current physicians suggested that my achievements were "remarkable considering you have narcolepsy." While I don't necessarily agree with that, I do think that it is about knowing what you can do, and then setting yourself up for success. Anyone can do these things; you just have to be willing to make the choices and lifestyle changes necessary to do it.
Best of luck to all of you!
This kind of attitude/strategy is what drives me as well. The biggest difference between me and my healthy peers is that when they feel ill, unmotivated, bored, etc. they stop going -- I don't. Perseverance is definitely the key. When every single day you don't feel like doing just about anything you have to learn to uncouple how you feel from your ability to push on and complete tasks. I'm already decent at this and intend to become better at it. I've had people close to me tell me they're concerned about how much I push myself and that I go through so many medications and continue taking those that work even with the side effects. My response to them, and how I feel about it, is that I'm willing to risk my life to achieve what I want in life because if I can't at least approximate a normal healthy human being and lead a moderately successful life, what's the point in living anyway? I realize other people feel differently, but I'm an individual who is practically incapable of enjoying life without productivity and success.
As contradictory as it may seem, despite feeling terrible just about all day every day, I'm usually in a good mood. I do stress a bit over deadlines, not being productive enough, not having much of a social life, etc. but at the end of the day I feel pretty darn good about being successful in an area that's challenging to very healthy and intelligent individuals, let alone those with disabilities.
I might also like to do some teaching at some point, because I look around and see these young bright healthy kids with little to no aspirations or motivation. And I say kids but these are young adults in college who should be past their teenage apathy stage already. I'd like to help nudge these people towards unlocking their full potential if I can. I'm certainly getting tired of hearing freshmen/sophomores giving up on science because "I just can't understand this -- I'm not a science person." Words cannot express how much hearing that sets me on fire, haha.
But it's true, there's no reason narcolepsy should preclude success, you just have set your goals and see them through regardless of how you feel while you're working towards them. There is one small silver lining to feeling tired/exhausted from narcolepsy all the time: There's not that big of a difference in how drained you feel after a day full of mundane errands versus a day full of work others would consider "challenging." Doing pretty much anything, or nothing, leaves you tired and drained. Recognizing that makes the choice to be productive a bit easier to swallow.