Hello, Adrenal Fatigue
This is a subject that hits really close to home for me. I've been struggling with adrenal fatigue and anxiety for the past year and a half. In no WAY am I an expert, but have finally become brave enough to share a little about my journey in hopes that someone else may be able to learn how to heal as well.
To start, let's go back a year and a half ago. I know this is about to get lengthy, but I've had so many reach out to me about this, and the only way to understand it allllll is to give you the whole shebang. It's the only way I can accurately describe exactly how I figured out what adrenal fatigue even was and then how to begin getting better.
Soooooo......... A year and a half ago I was basically one giant stress ball. I had too many things taking up my time and way more stress and things on my plate than ANY person could handle. I was working a full-time job, running my photography business, being a mom, had issues at home with my marriage, and was trying to be a competitive CrossFit athlete, which meant I was training for an average of 4-6 hours PER DAY combined at the gym before and after work and on the weekends. I had zero time to breathe, take care of my family, OR take care of myself. To top it all off, the job that I spent most of my days at was overbearing. I don't want to go into a lot of detail here, but just know that the place I spent the majority of my day at was an extremely hard place for me to be. I dreaded going to work every single day, but was still putting 110% into everything I was doing there. So, my job was not a good situation all day, I'd rush to the gym to get my training in, and then I was having a very rough time at home when I'd finally get there. I vividly remember saying to Jared multiple times "I hate going to work, and then I hate coming home! There is no place that I can go where I feel peace." (This is me being 100% transparent with you. I know that a lot of choices I made were not ideal, I am aware that I was not focusing my time and energy on things that are actually the most important to me, and that because of those choices, I'm dealing with a lot of consequences NOW because of things I was pushing myself to do back then. I don't think anyone's marriage is perfect, but I singlehandedly almost ruined my own. 100% truth)
Now mind you, this was not just a one month ordeal. I had been feeling this for MONTHS. I woke up every day and would tell myself out loud "You can do this. It's going to be a great day" in front of the mirror. When negative things would happen throughout my work day, I'd say it again out loud. "Today is a good day! I'm not letting this get to me because it WILL be a good day." In my mind, my state of happiness or stress level was all a mental thing that I just needed to "push through" or "overcome". You've heard it a million times, happiness is being happy with where you are in life, and that if you aren't happy, then you need to change your mindset. After I finished work, I would go to the gym to escape my day, stay there for hours, and then rush home around 8 pm. Once I'd get home, I'd hurry and eat dinner, get kids bathed, tidy up the house a little-all while BARELY hanging on by a thread- and then I'd take the boys in to get ready for bed. I can't even tell you how many times I fell asleep on their floor while I was helping them get their pajamas on. Not while they were putting them on themselves...while I WAS HELPING THEM PUT THEM ON! I was the definition of exhausted. I couldn't function to do my normal daily activities anymore.
I also had extreme anxiety throughout most of my day. I was constantly anxious, worrying about how much I had to get done and that I never enough time to do it all. The worst part of it all was that I had NO IDEA what anxiety was or that I was feeling it!! I ignored small signs like having a hard time breathing, feeling pressure on my chest, being tired all the time. Then, more serious symptoms started creeping in. I started losing my voice. The majority of my job was spent on the phone with insurance companies, patients, or the hospital, and it was a huge struggle for me to be able to talk because my throat was SO hoarse. I had so many of my friends ask me if I was sick because my voice sounded so terrible. I would get SO embarrassed when people would ask me, and and my quick response was to just tell them I thought I had allergies because I wasn't "sick", I was just having a hard time talking. Other symptoms I noticed were growing facial hair, having hot flashes during the night that would wake me up in a puddle of sweat, out of control acne on my face and neck, all of a sudden getting LOTS of wrinkles, and my eyes were very sunken in. I had no sex drive and my periods were completely irregular. I'd go three months without a period, and then have one that lasted 3-6 weeks. Let's just leave it at "I did not feel good." At all.
I got laid off from my job in October 2017. I remember waking up the next day feeling the most peace I've ever felt--well besides finally getting to empty my bladder after giving birth- that was the most amazing feeling I've ever felt ;). Deep down, I knew that things were going to only get harder for a while, financially and emotionally, but I could finally BREATHE knowing I didn't have to get up and go to a place that was tearing me apart inside every single day. It took me until December to find another job. We were without my income for those crucial months before Christmas, which only made things a bit more stressful for us. Even though my body should have started to heal on it's own without all of that pressure and stress from my job, I still felt exhausted and worn down.
I did get a new job, though. I started working at Cache Valley Women's Center as a medical coder in December 2017. Part of my job is to read through patient charts and make sure that everything is documented and coded correctly before sending a bill to the insurance company. I started reading through chart notes that were describing signs and symptoms that other women were being treated for, and it started to click that these were ALL symptoms that I was having. Women were being seen for things that I just figured were just "normal" for me. Women were being seen and treated for just ONE of the symptoms I was experiencing, and I had a LOT of these symptoms. I scheduled a visit with the midwife and hormone specialist in our office, D'Anne Moon. We did blood work to test my Thyroid and salivary testing for hormones and cortisol. Everything came back optimal for my thyroid, but my hormone panel was not only bad, it was scary. My levels of estradiol, progesterone, testosterone, and DHEA were all so low they weren't even registering on the low end of the charts. My cortisol was completely flat-lined. In a 24 hour period, I never had a peak where it was even above the red line on the charts--- which basically means I NEVER HAD ENERGY because my body was no longer producing any cortisol at all to help my body deal with stress. To sum it all up, my body had been so completely over worked and over stimulated that it didn't know how to deal with ANY sort of stress, big or small, or know how to produce any of it's normal hormones anymore.
So what exactly is Adrenal Fatigue? Your adrenal glands are found on the top of your kidneys. They are responsible for releasing the hormone cortisol into the blood stream. Cortisol is commonly called the "stress hormone", but it regulates many things in the body including blood sugar levels, immune responses, anti-inflammatory reactions, blood pressure levels, and central nervous system activation. Cortisol typically peaks in the morning after you've been sleeping all night. You should feel awake and energized for the day. Your cortisol level should slowly decrease throughout the day. If something stressful happens, your cortisol level spikes, which is also known as your "fight or flight" reaction. Adrenal fatigue happens when you've kept your adrenal glands pumping and working too hard for too long. Just like the heart, these glands will eventually give out and quit pumping. While Adrenal Fatigue is not yet considered a medical diagnosis, many naturopaths and horomone specialists use it to categorize and treat a group of symptoms that manifest when the adrenal glands function below the necessary level.
As far as treatment options went, we opted to start out with some basic supplements and go from there. D'Anne has worked very closely with Spence's Pharmacy to find a good line of supplements with quality ingredients. She started having me taking Magnesium Chelate, a daily probiotic, Optivite (a multivitamin), and Adreboost every day. I can tell you that I could feel a difference. In no way did I feel anywhere close to 100%, but i did notice it helped with some of my issues, specifically digestion issues and stress response. There were also a LOT of lifestyle modifications that we discussed. Things that she recommended included learning to say NO, removing caffiene from my diet, eating whole foods in a colorful diet- focusing on micro-nutrients vs macronutrients, not restricting my food intake (dieting), not letting my heart rate over 120 bpm when I was exercising, making sure I'm getting enough sleep, etc. If you know me, you know that over half of this list is life-altering for me. Caffeine is a staple in my diet, I workout long and hard every day with very few rest days, and restricting my caloric intake has been a normal for me for many years. To put it simply, these lifestyle changes have been a very slow process for me. I'm working on them every single day, and I'm trying to give myself grace, which is not something that I've done in the past.
Examples of some of MY personal lifestyle modifications include: being okay with not working or pushing myself 100% of the time- in a work setting, gym setting, AND at home, setting limits with myself on how many photography clients I allow myself to take, I quit dieting or counting macros and focusing on eating a wide variety of vegetables and fruit, being okay with gaining some weight monetarily and/or not being obsessed with being 10% body fat all the time, limiting my gym time to either morning OR afternoon, not pushing myself to my limits in my workouts, and switching to more yoga or bodybuilding type workouts vs. CrossFit wods. If I notice that I'm feeling overwhelmed, tired, or ran down, I allow myself to rest or skip a day at the gym entirely, take a nap, cancel any plans that I have for a few nights, or just find something relaxing to do at home like binge on some of my favorite tv episodes. One of the biggest things that has helped me is to ASK FOR HELP. Not only that, but accepting help when people offer it. It's actually a pretty hard thing to do, accepting help, but people enjoy helping people they love. Let them help you. Let them in. Let them love you.
Now, let's get real. One of my biggest struggles through this entire process, especially once my body started to regulate and my hormone levels began to increase, is the lingering anxiety and panic attacks that I still deal with on sometimes a daily basis. I would love to just skip this part entirely, but I feel guilty even just thinking about leaving this out. Anyone who has suffered from anxiety knows exactly how gut-wrenching this can be. It literally will stop me in my tracks some days. I won't be able to concentrate on anything that I'm trying to do and my mind just races in circles. I know it's been described this way by so many people, but it literally feels like an elephant is sitting on my chest and I feel like it's hard to breathe. I had a follow-up visit with D'Anne where she recommended I start taking some medication to get the anxiety under control. If you know me, you know that I am NOT a medicine person at all. I rarely take ibuprofen, let alone take a daily medication for anxiety. I know this is such a personal decision, but I knew I needed more help. I had been trying for months to get better, and some days I felt great, but a lot of days I didn't. I have been taking an anti-depressant medication that is geared towards anxiety every day now for the past 2 months. I'm gonna be honest, I feel better, guys. I am able to smile more, laugh more, and just enjoy things that I haven't been able to for so long. I definitely don't plan on being on this medication long-term. Our plan is to take the medication for at least 6 months and then go from there, possibly tapering down to stop taking it. I'm very hopeful that once the winter is over and I've been on this for a little bit, that I will feel so much better and be able to start living life the way it's meant to be lived.
I want to be a happy mom, a playful mom, a fun mom, a mom who is present for her kids after she gets off work. I want to be a good wife, a loving wife, a supportive wife, a wife who dates her husband and falls in love all over again. I want to be a lot of things. I want to be the best photographer I can be. I want to be an amazing CrossFit coach. I want to be a dependable and caring friend. Most of all, though, I just want to be HEALTHY.
I guess the reason I'm even sharing this is because #1- I want you all to know that sometimes the "healthiest looking" people on the outside are the unhealthiest on the inside. #2- know that you are not alone. If you are feeling any of these symptoms, please ask for help. I'm more than happy to share my experience or answer any questions. I've found that just talking about it with someone and feeling validated that someone can understand how I'm feeling has been SUPER helpful to me. #3- I just want to feel understood. I'm sure most people want to feel understood, but I also think this world is overly-critical, so feeling validated and understood feels extra hard for me. I want you to know that I am nowhere near perfect, nor do I think I am. I'm aware that I've made some mistakes in my life. I'm aware that I'm not the perfect mom, sister, friend, wife, or person. I'm full of flaws, but I'm also a human. I just ask for compassion. Which leads me to #3- pleeeeease always be looking out for the person next to you. You NEVER know what is going on in someone's life, so let's just all be kinder + a lot more patient to those around you, even if they just cut you off on main street! ;) I love you all, and you deserve to be healthy + happy, too.