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Adrenal Fatigue - The Condition That Doesn't Exist (Until You Have It)

"Stress kills" is a phrase we hear shouted from the TV and internet, and sometimes from our own doctors. Generally, this refers to stress that causes extreme conditions like heart attacks and strokes. While it is true that stress leads to these health emergencies, it also leads to lesser-known (and often disregarded) health conditions that can become debilitating.

The Beginning

Looking back on my adult life, I can see symptoms of adrenal fatigue all the way back to when I was 19, when I was in college and planning my wedding. Up to that point, it was probably the most stressful time in my life. I wanted to get married, but I didn't care about the wedding. This might have been the beginning of  sacrificing myself and what I wanted to conform to what society expects. I don't even think my parents cared if I had a wedding or not. It was just what my friends were doing so it seemed like the thing to do. While I had experienced anxiety on and off during my childhood -- always during specific events, like school starting -- this was the first time I experienced on-going, long-term anxiety. I was so anxious all the time I could barely eat. I lost a bunch of weight and everyone said I looked fantastic. Too bad I had to be sick to conform to society's standard of beauty.

And So it Continued

After the stress of the wedding had passed, my husband and I settled into our new lives and the daily anxiety stopped. Over the next decade, I went through several high stress jobs, along with the regular stress that just comes with life, and anxiety came and went. It was never bad enough to feel I needed to seek help or try medication. But then I became a mom.

The First Big Adrenal Crisis

For the first year and a half after our adoption, we lived nearly every day in survival mode. It was so, so hard and while we had plenty of friends, we really didn't have anyone who understood our struggle. The daily challenges we faced by adopting an older child were much more intense than we had ever imaged. After that first year and a half, things seemed to calm down for our little family, but I fell apart. All that time of restless sleep, worrying, and stress meant I was running on adrenaline and my body was worn out. After a series of particularly stressful events, one of which included my grandmother passing away, I woke up one morning completely consumed with panic. I couldn't function and spent several days in the fetal position on my bed wondering what the hell had happened to me. This wasn't my first experience with panic attacks. I had one about six months prior which landed me in the ER of a rather uncaring doctor who, after discovering I had not had a stroke, told me to "go home and eat a sandwich." This time, though, it wasn't one panic attack. It was almost constant panic attacks for a month. I wasn't able to eat, and lost 15 pounds that month. I don't really remember much about that time. I did start seeing a therapist, though, and she really brought me through the worst of it. I continued having panic attacks for about 6 months after, although they lessened in frequency. It was during this time that I learned about adrenal fatigue from a friend. From the first beginning of my research I knew that this was what I had and that I was pretty much on my own to recover.

Thankfully, the techniques I learned in therapy saved my life.

One More Time

Four years after my first adrenal crisis I was feeling good. I no longer had any symptoms of adrenal fatigue, and hadn't for a few years. I felt so good, in fact, that I felt like it was time to start a new, project: starting a farmer's market. I loved the process of starting the market. Recruiting vendors, planning the market and events, and promoting the market via social media was fun! I still had time to work in my garden and write articles for clients (from 2009 to this point I worked freelance as a writer/blogger). Life was good. I was fulfilled.

Then the peopling started. I'm an extreme introvert, happiest when I spend all day alone while my husband and son are at school and work. I thrive with lots of private, quiet time, but as the market got closer to opening I did a lot of press, a lot of networking, and a lot of meeting with vendors to finalize plans. I reached a point that I was working 7 days a week. From the moment I woke up at 6:30 to the time I fell asleep, I thought about the market. I consumed caffeine all day to keep me going, and switched to a few alcoholic drinks at night to help me slow down. I completely lost the ability to relax. I was going downhill quickly. Once I realized my health was in trouble, it was really too late. I was on a speeding train of demands that I created and I could not figure out how to stop it.

Just like the time before my first adrenal crisis, I was struggling every day, then there was a series of stressful events. Again, I reached a point that I could not get out of bed, but this time it was more serious. It wasn't panic keeping me there, it was my whole body. The best way to describe it is the fatigue that comes with a terrible flu. It wasn't like I was tired. We all get tired after a long week. It was like my body was too heavy for me to move. Y'all, I was too tired to sit up. When people are bedridden with adrenal fatigue, they often say they feel like they are dying and it's completely true. When you are too tired to hold your head up, you know that the very life has been sucked out of you and it is terrifying. What's worse is that I had this terrible, debilitating fatigue, but I could barely sleep. I slept maybe 5 hours a night for several weeks. My body had no strength, but my nervous system was completely haywire. Any time someone in my house made a noise, I had a surge of adrenaline that would last a few hours. I had to wear my sleep mask in the morning because the sunlight coming through my blinds and curtains was too bright and caused adrenaline surges. A few other of my worst symptoms included:
  • Complete loss of appetite- I had to chew food and swallow with water to get it down. 
  • Blood sugar disregulation- At my worst I had to eat every hour
  • Blood pressure disregulation- My blood pressure would go from high to low, in spite of no physical activity
  •  Dizziness
  • Heavy feeling in arms and legs
  • Severe allergies- mostly head congestion and post nasal drip
  • Wrinkled fingertips
  •  Anxiety and depression
  •  Mood swings (I have never been an emotional or moody person)
  • Severe brain fog
  • Racing heart
  • Complete inability to handle any stress
  • Loss of muscle tone- most of this happened before the crisis, in spite of the fact that I was very active
  • Weight gain- I gained 30 pounds. (that is painful to admit!)
For the first two weeks I was sick, I was to weak to walk to the kitchen so my husband and son had to bring me food in bed. That was humbling! Eventually, I gained enough strength to walk to the kitchen to get my own food. I was also eventually able to see a doctor, who told me what I expected to hear: I am perfectly healthy! Well, isn't that a relief -- except I lack the strength to do even the most basic tasks. My past experience with adrenal fatigue prepared me for this information, so I wasn't surprised. I was, however, disappointed. I needed more help than a prescription for anxiety meds, but I was on my own. I would have loved to have seen a naturopath or chiropractor to help me navigate this illness, but since we lost my income suddenly, there simply weren't the funds available to pay out of pocket. I guess the good thing about having all that free time is that I had plenty of time to read, research, and learn what to do to help myself recover, although with the terrible brain fog I experienced, I struggled to remember what I had read. I wrote down the important stuff and managed to come up with a list of supplements to help rebuild my depleted body. During this time (and still today) I focused on general vitamins and minerals: b-complex, vitamin C, magnesium, good fats, and omega 3s. I also focused on calming my overworked nervous system. I learned meditation and mindfulness techniques, as well as practicing affirmations. I'll write more on these topics later.


Recovery

As of April 14, 2017, I am 9 1/2 months into recovery. My only remaining symptoms are anxiety and slightly wrinkled fingertips. I don't have fatigue anymore, but I do get tired much more quickly than I used to. I am building stamina now. I can do what I need to do every day. I can walk around the park with a friend, work from home, have meals with friends and family, and spend time doing light work in my garden. Every month I get a little stronger and more resilient, and my anxiety has lessened considerably. Back in October, I had terrible, debilitating anxiety from the time I woke up to the time I went to bed. Full disclosure: I did resort to taking anxiety medications, which I took regularly for 3 months, before weaning off completely for a month. I now only take medication as needed, which is a half doze up to twice a week. Hopefully, in the next few months, I won't need that anymore.

This terrible time in my life has served as a wake up call. I can no longer go through life just ignoring stress and trying to survive. I have had to learn to manage stress and retrain my thoughts to be more positive. I have had a major lifestyle change, which I will have to maintain in order to avoid this nightmare again in the future. I am committed to making the necessary changes to recover and be well, and this is what The Restoration Garden is all about. It is about learning to manage stress, promote health, and finding peace in the garden. If you are dealing with the symptoms of adrenal fatigue right now, please know that my prayers are with you and it will get better. I cannot emphasize enough how necessary it is that you believe that. Even if you don't believe it yet, create an affirmation to say to yourself every time you have doubts and fears. For example, when you find that thoughts like "I'm never going to get better" or "What if I feel like this forever?" creep in, have a set memorized affirmation to repeat over and over until the thought/fear passes. I love Louse Hay affirmations, like the one I posted above. Tell your body you love and care for it. Eventually, you will believe it!


2 comments:

  1. It's like someone has written the story of my life - except mine started in June 2013 with ups and downs and my final crush in August 2016. Also I didn't have an opportunity to do any testing, so I don't have any proof. As a consequence of this (or so I think), I got anxiety. Luckily, my MD help me in a similar way as yours. It was just to get through the worst first weeks.

    I'm much better now, finally knowing how to deal with AF - but this is sth I had to learn on my own through the past years. With all ups and downs. As you've written, my life is quiet now, but I have one. I wish I had known this could happen to me before. But I guess I had to learn it the hard way.

    Looking forward to reading your blog.
    Hugs!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you for your comment! It's always nice to know we aren't alone. :) Thanks for following along!

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