Adrenal Fatigue and Me

The thing about any kind of fatigue is that it is exhausting, literally and figuratively for you and anyone else who has to live with you.  It just is, and you have to give yourself grace and ask those who love you to give you some grace also.  It’s so frustrating when what you really want to do and need to do appears so simple, yet you cannot bring yourself to do it because you know you will pay for it over the next couple of days.  And, heaven forbid that the thing you need to do be physically demanding, like rearranging your garage because all anyone has done for the last 6 months is throw garbage bags full of stuff to give to salvation army, along with the entertainment center you’ve had since college that you replaced last month, the canning supplies you used to make Christmas presents, and all of the Christmas boxes that were packed up last week to be taken to the attic.  I am obviously speaking from personal experience here, because that is exactly what the hubby and I did on Saturday.  He went to get us some Black Rock coffee and we got to work!  The upside is…well… coffee, but also our garage is looking much better than it did.  The downside is, I am exhausted and in pain today.  It would have been so much easier if we had just left it alone but no, I had a bee in my bonnet (my husbands words) about getting it cleaned up and as you all know when an extrovert has a mind to do something, by golly they are going to do it with or without your help!  Sorry babe!  My hubby is an introvert.  He has a LOT of grace for me, but he also has no problem with telling me to settle down, which is why we get along so well, and he gets the grande prize (prize availability subject to change on a moments notice…… 🙂

It is natural for me to feel guilty for not doing what I need to do, or for doing something only half way and not finishing, or for doing something WRONG.  I am a doer by nature.  I DO things, and when I do them it fills me with accomplishment and pride and that feeling fuels me to achieve more and more.  It could only be getting the laundry folded, which in a house of 5 people is in my opinion a huge accomplishment!  I have always been this way, until recently when I realized that by doing, I was making myself sick.  So about 3 years ago I started saying “No.”  GASP!!  I had never been able to say “no” to anything.  I always felt like I needed to help if I could, or if I could, say yes, and if I didn’t know how to help I could figure it out.  I love being with people, I love the way it feels when you have a good conversation, I love being with my kids and their friends, I love being outside, all of it.  So learning to say “no,” for me, was very difficult but necessary.  My body was saying no, so I needed to also.  Welcome to Adrenal Fatigue.  It is actually a thing, although not commonly diagnosed.

I must not have paid much attention in health class, because if I had I would have learned that the adrenals sit atop the kidneys, support kidney function and are the things that aid your body in responding to stress by releasing hormones.  One of the main functions of the Adrenal Cortex is Cortisol production.  The Adrenals have another part, but that is not the part that is broken in my case, so will go unmentioned here.  Cortisol is released in response to stress and a low blood sugar levels.  Cortisol increases blood sugar while suppressing the immune system, which helps you metabolize fat, carbohydrates and protein.  Cortisol has now become a 4-letter word.  Cortisol is responsible for how I feel on a daily basis….  we are not friends.

My Meyers Briggs test says I am an ENJF (Extrovert, Intuition, Feeling Judging) so I should have tons of energy, be high on life, be mentally acute and emotionally ready.  While that is most people’s perception of me on the outside, on the inside I have been through more heartache, more psychological events, and more physical pain, than one would imagine a person could go through in a short 35-year life.  Despite my circumstances, I am an “overcomer.” (Thank you Madesa!)  Don’t stop reading just yet, this is not a life story post so you can rest easy.  It is really  about how I came to understand my diagnosis of Adrenal Fatigue (AF).  In order to understand what has happened to me, I will share with you parts of the last ten years of my life that led up to this diagnosis.

My first pregnancy was the kick-off to AF.  I had intense daily migraines through the 1st trimester and realized that I was suddenly intolerant to gluten.  I discovered this by trial and error using the elimination diet method.  So, with the advice of my doctor, I cut that out of my diet completely, and the headaches minimized.  The birth was stressful on my body (such is birth :)), but I had pre-eclampsia, and my baby was born 2 weeks early because my blood pressure was sky high.  I saw a kinesiologist afterward who put me on adrenal supplements.  I felt the best I had felt in a long time but the supplements were short lived, as eventually after a year of feeling great, we couldn’t afford to keep up with the regiment and I stopped taking them.

Enter baby number 2.  When our second son was born I felt great through the whole birth, it was nothing like the 1st, since I was on a gluten free diet I had no issues of any kind and I was feeling ecstatic that things were going so well.  The baby was born and I still felt great, until I stopped sleeping.  Even when the baby was sleeping I couldn’t sleep and I developed the baby blues (clinical diagnosis: post-partum depression).  I had never felt despair at that level and I was uncomfortable in my own skin.  I saw a psychologist for a long time, who put me on medication.  This was a difficult decision for me, because I did not want to be on medication, but I knew deep down that I had to if I was going to get better.  So I did, I took it for 9 months and saw my psychologist every 2 weeks until I was back to my old self.

Surprise! Baby number 3 was on his way and I just prayed and prayed that it would be uneventful (I mean physically uneventful).  Unfortunately that was not the case.  I gained more weight in that pregnancy than in the previous two, and with that came the sounding alarm from my body.  After the birth, my body began to shut down.  I had no energy, and all I could do was take care of the baby, go to work and come home.  I was so exhausted all the time, I was eating crappy food, I was sleeping like crap, and everything was just crappy.  I wish there was a better word, but there just isn’t: crap, crap crappy!!  My husband ended up taking up a lot of the slack around the house and with the kids.  We worked as a team, but I still felt like CRAP!  I had reached the end of my slivering rope.  I was sleep deprived, agitated, stressed to the max, and catching every illness there ever was, and with three kids, that is a lot of illness.  I was sick probably once to twice a month with something.  It was hard on everyone.

The symptoms of AF that I was presented with on a regular daily basis were, flu-like pain in my legs, arms and chest on the front part of my body, extreme fatigue, dizziness upon standing or getting up too fast, and sharp muscle pain from shoulder blade that would spider up into the base of my head and wrap around my ear.  I went to the doctor because I was in so much pain that I had had enough.  She diagnosed me with Fibromyalgia (which is essentially is a diagnosis of “unexplained all over pain) Yeah – I need a better answer than that!  She wrote me a prescription for a medicine and told me to research it.  When I did, I found 20-25 common side effects. WHAAAAAAT?  I was so discouraged.  I did not want to take something that would give me, what I considered, more stress on my body than I was currently going through!  So I decided I would seek a naturopath and go from there.  I am so glad I did!!  If I hadn’t gotten a second opinion, I may never have known that my body was not producing Cortisol like it should.  The test I took for Cortisol levels was a urine test, recorded over a 24 hour period.  It was then sent to a lab for analysis.  The results were staggering.  They have this chart where there is a bottom line which is straight, and a top line right above it, that is shaped like a mountain with one peak.  The idea is that your Cortisol be in between the 2 lines, and follow the natural curve of the top line.  Where was my line?  BELOW THE STRAIGHT BOTTOM LINE, just sitting there, as straight as can be under that bottom line.  I was shocked, and relieved!  I had an answer in AF.  I felt encouraged by this horrible news that this was the beginning of change.  My doctor explained the treatment plan, as well as that often times AF can cause other symptoms, like fibromyalgia pain.

After a year of AF treatment using natural supplements, and getting 3 month status checks on my Cortisol level via blood samples, I am still below where I need to be on the Cortisol scale.  So now, with the help of my doctor, I am taking Hydrocortisone in small doses in addition to my supplements.  At this point, I am still fatigued on a daily basis and still experience pain, but not as intensely and not as often.  Now I have what they refer to as Fibro-flares, for example if I eat too much sugar or caffeine, or if I haven’t slept well or over-exerted myself – like with the garage overhaul. OOPS!  I also have a non-narcotic prescription to take during a flare that calms down the pain-receptors from pain point to the brain.  In my stubborn way, I only take them if I have had enough and the pain intensifies for long periods. Ha! Take that fibro-flare! I think I am so smart when I’m stubborn.  (No seriously take the stupid pill already and quit your whining! :))  So as you can see, it is a daily battle for me but I have hope that it will continue to get better, but it takes me being in constant communication with my doctor as well as being super honest with myself about how I feel.  Having AF has been a real struggle for this ENJF personality, but if you know me well, you know that little glimpses of that person come back into focus sometimes, on a good day when everything lines up as it should.  If you are reading this and identify with anything I have said, please do yourself a favor and stop, breathe, allow yourself some grace, advocate for yourself, and pursue medical direction.  You are your best advocate for yourself and your family.

Grateful for Healing

The Christmas season makes me feel nostalgic.  I think the lights and the music and the cold and the sugary treats put me into sensory overload, and all of those memories of Christmases past come flooding back to me.  I can’t help but look back and feel such joy for this time of year as my mind replays a snap shot movie reel, in bursts of color and sound of the happiness and wonder of the season.  However, as the reel keeps playing, faster and louder, fear creeps in and this all too familiar feeling of anxiety and loneliness, and uncertainty envelopes me in a cloud as I remember the not so great things that have happened to me as well.  Don’t worry, these feelings are fleeting and quickly replaced by the amazing power of God’s healing and relentless love for me and my family.  Let me share a little bit about why I have come to be able to quickly press down these overwhelmingly bad feelings and replace them with the peace of God.

My husband Matt and I were driving to pick out a Christmas tree this year with our three sons singing and being loud in the back seat.  We were laughing as we went through the drive-through of a local Starbucks to order coffee (because one needs heavy amounts of caffeine when dealing with 3 amazingly  awesome rowdy boys, and when you have to pick out an 8 ft. tree).  I had asked Matt if he remembered how we got our tree last year, and he literally could not remember, as he chuckled to himself.  “I was a little out of it.” He said. That he was, indeed.  I explained to him about the amazing people who helped make Christmas happen for us last year: a co-worker who happened to own a tree farm brought me a tree (on the top of his car) to work and graciously attached it to the roof of mine with rope at no charge, and a neighbor whom I had called on and asked if he could help me get the tree off of my car and into the stand (and while he was at it, can he please get the ornaments down from the attic), and the myriad of others who helped bring meals, do laundry, in the snow no less, and provided childcare for us so I could go to work.

The day after Thanksgiving 2013,  Matt had suffered a severe concussion due to a zip-line accident while we were visiting Matt’s family in Idaho.  Our middle son Isaac was with him when it happened, and by the grace of God, Isaac suffered only mild bruising from the accident because Matt broke his fall.  Isaac would later say he saw an Angel protecting all of us that day.  I would definitely agree with him on that, as I felt the peace of God surround me as soon as I heard the awful thud of Matt’s body on packed snow.  I immediately ran to him and felt clarity, like I had tunnel vision and focused on making him breathe, talking to him and praying for God to rescue him.  He began to breathe on his own and life came back into his eyes right before the paramedics got there, and once they did I stepped back and reality came back into view.  As they strapped him in to take him to the nearby emergency room I kicked myself into high gear scrambling to make sure the kids were secure with Matt’s parents while I hurriedly went after him in the car.

Three hours passed and Matt was still asking me the same questions over and over, and me answering with the same mustered sincerity every time, “You had an accident and broke your face.” “Yes, Isaac is alright.”  “I know it hurts, you will have medicine soon.”  In those hours, the doctors did scans of Matt’s spine, head, neck and face.  Miraculously only the bones in his face were broken: the sinus, cheekbone and just above where the jaw hinges.  I realized there would be a long road ahead of us, but I also realized in that moment what a miracle God had given to us.  Matt was not paralyzed!  He would live!  We can do this!  I was thanking God for protecting him and our son.

In the days and weeks to come, we would have signs and miracles that God would provide:  there was the generous pilot who picked us up in Boise and flew us home in a private jet while our friend drove our car so Matt could travel with ease; there were the inner-workings of other friends coordinating meals and childcare upon our return, some stocking our fridge with generous food donations, and others just loving on my kids with gifts; there was a maxillofacial surgeon (who happened to be the father-in-law of my boss) who would perform Matt’s surgery (how cool is that??); and the generous donation from our church family to have someone come fix our furnace when it wasn’t working properly; and all the others I mentioned above and probably countless others whom I am leaving out.  The bottom line is, God provided all of these things for us, and to say anything other than that would be a huge misrepresentation of the love of our Heavenly Father.

Recovery is a funny thing. Recovery by definition is a return to a normal state of health, mind, or strength; or the action or process of regaining possession or control of something stolen or lost.  When you are in recovery, you may or may not immediately see the process the body is going through until you can look back upon it from a new vantage point.  I have had the privilege of watching Matt’s recovery process from the point of brokenness to the point of healing.  Healing by definition, is the action of alleviating; to correct or put right; repair.  Out of physical brokenness I have seen the repair happen over the last year with my own eyes.  I will be honest, it was hard.  Our marriage suffered for a time, our kids suffered at different times, and we walked through some really really dark days, but eventually the darkness dissipated as we allowed the light to creep in and make us new people again.  It would have been so easy to give up, to wallow in our despair and suffer by clinging to the brokenness when things were just too hard to go on.  But Matt and I made a choice to choose God, to choose each other, and put God first and our spouse’s needs before our own.  This is how we survived.

When we were laughing in the car with our hot coffees in hand and the kids acting all crazy in the backseat, I was hit with such overwhelming gratefulness for what we had come through, as the flashes of memories in my movie reel started to slow.  Our lives are not perfect, by any means.  We are after all a work in progress.  I am a work in progress.  But I am forever grateful for healing.