So those of you that know me in real life or those of you that have followed my other post, The Repairvite Diet... Crazy or Miracle? (hey guys!!), know that for about the last three years, I've had a whole myriad of weird symptoms and a VERY frustrating journey from doctor to doctor trying to figure out what was going on. After going to my PCP multiple times, two gastroenterologists, an endocrinologist, my OB/GYN and a cardiologist, I was at my wit's end when I finally went to a naturopathic doctor. He was able to immediately confirm all the symptoms I was having with bloodwork and saliva tests and we started on a course of treatment. But after about nine months, I stopped going because of finances as well as my mother being diagnosed with cancer. While I was seeing him, doing the restricted diet and taking supplements, I did start to see an improvement in my symptoms... I started sleeping better, my skin cleared up and I didn't feel quite as tired all the time (although I still didn't have a "normal" amount of energy and I still suffered from GI issues). But when I stopped everything and a whole year went by, the symptoms slowly started to return to where I had been in the beginning. So a couple months ago, I decided I would go back to the naturopath and start treatment again, but after one visit and a $$$ reminder at how much it was going to cost, I hesitated. Not just because of the money, but because I had been doing a lot of research myself and realized that although I trusted the naturopath and he had been the most right-on with all of my symptoms, he was taking the approach of treating each one of my issues individually, when I knew that all of them collectively were being caused by my Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (which he was aware of ), so if you fix the adrenals, you fix the rest. Thus, I buckled down and focused on taking control of my own recovery and healing my adrenals once and for all, so I can start feeling like me again.
So what exactly does that mean? Well that's why I'm writing this post. 1) To help all the other people out there that are suffering from the same mysterious condition and finding dead ends everywhere they turn and 2) To help people around me (and around others with AFS) understand what exactly is going on.
One of THE MOST FRUSTRATING PARTS of this whole thing is that people assume that I am fine or that I am exaggerating/making things up/creating my own issues because I "look fine" from the outside. And when you try to explain it to someone, they either just look at you strangely or ask "is there a pill you can take for that?" I cannot even tell you how many people (including my OB/GYN) have asked me that question. You see, most traditional doctors don't even know what it is because there is no blood test for it and no magic prescription for it. So they don't even learn about it in medical school. It's part of the whole, "if it doesn't fit into the pattern of X, Y or Z, you must be crazy" mindset that traditional medicine tends to have. Where even though our body is an entire network of systems working together, they don't study your body as a whole. They don't consider how your GI tract could be causing your migraines or your blood sugar imbalance could be causing your insomnia. Nope. Throw a pill at it or go see the doctor down the hall that deals with that other part of the body. That's how it works. But I digress...
For those of you suffering from similar symptoms (read my Repairvite post for more detail) that are in the dark, I highly recommend you read the book, Adrenal Fatigue: The 21st Century Stress Syndrome by Dr. James Wilson. If you're anything like me, you'll probably think he has been secretly spying on you and wrote the book all about your life. In it, he describes someone with AFS as looking perfect on the outside, while their body is falling apart on the inside. BINGO.
I said I'd tell you what it means, so here you go...
Your adrenal glands sit on top of your kidneys and are responsible for the "fight or flight" response in the body. Basically, if you are running from a bear, riding a roller coaster or standing on the edge of a cliff, your adrenal glands tell your body what to do in that "emergency" situation... they shoot off adrenaline, increase your breathing and heart rate, slow down your digestion and a whole host of other things that you're not even aware most of the time that your body is doing. That's the great thing about the human body... it does all this stuff automatically without us having to do a thing. So when we're in times of emergency or stress, it initiates all of these reactions and logically, turns them all off again and returns the body to a state of normal/calm, when the danger passes. That is a layman's explanation of it, but you get the gist.
Now, when you have adrenal fatigue syndrome, your adrenal glands have begun to function improperly. Although it is usually from a series of repeated stressors or one significant trauma, it can also be caused by a number of other things like a severe respiratory infection, surgery, dental work, prescription drugs, poor diet, poor sleeping habits, etc. Basically, your adrenals have to work so hard to fight off these "stresses," that they eventually reach the point of depletion and can no longer keep up. Again, this is a basic explanation but if you want all the science behind it, read the book. :)
So, I already had an idea that this was what was going on with me because I knew my adrenals had been basically blown to smithereens being in an abusive, high-stress relationship for just under 4 years. Not to mention the deaths of both my father and my mother immediately after. But when I took the time to fill out the questionnaire in Dr. Wilson's book, I realized I truly was "the perfect storm" when it came to a series of stressors on my adrenals. Here is what happened to me in the course of just 4 years:
-Abusive relationship -Death of my father -Death of my mother -Poor diet with sugar, caffeine and alcohol -Worked a 2nd/3rd shift job with irregular sleep schedule -Worked a job with an extremely high stress level -Had major dental work for several months -Had a surgical procedure -Had several severe respiratory infections, flus and GI infections -Was on multiple prescription medications
It's amazing I have any adrenal glands at all, really. So basically, each time my body tried it's very hardest to recover from the stressor and return to a state of normalcy. But each time, it became more difficult. This is why I noticed a decline in my health gradually over time, not overnight. It's also why it seemed like all different parts of my body were having problems, not just one. Because your adrenal glands have a cascading effect... when they malfunction, so do all the parts of your body that they send signals to... your GI tract for digestion, your liver for blood sugar control, your hormones, your heart, your skin, and on and on it goes...
I first noticed the symptoms coming on in 2011, but again, because all the doctors I went to failed me, it went undiagnosed and was left to get much worse. In late 2012/early 2013, when the naturopath finally identified that I had adrenal fatigue and I started taking supplements and changed my diet, I started to get better. But when I stopped everything in late 2013 and did nothing for a whole year, I noticed my symptoms becoming worse again. At the time, I was working as a dog walker during the day and I noticed that I was slowly getting to the point where I couldn't even make it through my 3-4 hour schedule anymore. By the time I'd get to the last house, I'd barely have the energy to walk the dogs. Taking a shower was exhausting me again and I was having trouble sleeping again. I did more research, I found another book, Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome: Reclaim Your Energy and Vitality With Clinically Proven Natural Programs and it again, sounded like it was written about me. I knew for sure it was my adrenals taking a down-turn again and I had to get serious about taking back my own health. If no one else was going to do it, I had to.
BUT... there was to be one more speed bump. And it was a doozy.
Right about this time, I was due for my annual well woman exam. So being the responsible person that I am, of course I went to get it. I always was good about getting my regular exams but after both your parents pass away as a result of not going to the doctor, you tend to stay on top of things. But the pap smear came back with abnormal cells. This didn't surprise me actually. With my body in such a state of internal "chaos," it's not doing its job of fighting off foreign cells like it should. But they being traditional doctors, wanted to use traditional methods, and told me I needed an endometrial biopsy and a colposcopy. If you don't know what those are, let's just say they are reaching up in there and putting things in places they weren't meant to be. They warned me that it'd be "uncomfortable" and I knew I'd probably have a vasovagal reaction (it's a real fun thing where your body completely flips out on you for like 10-15 minutes... you lose all color, break into a cold sweat all over your body, feel like you're going to throw up and pass out and basically just want to jump out of your skin) because I had one before after I had a colposcopy. But I didn't factor in the adrenal fatigue syndrome.
Since I was already in such a weakened state, that last stressor was the one that broke the camel's back. Right after the biopsy (which came back negative by the way), everything got worse. Now I was too tired to even get through a regular, uneventful day. I started getting heart palpitations that would get worse whenever I would go from laying down to sitting up, sitting up to standing or just bending over to pet the dog. My hypoglycemia went through the roof and now if I didn't eat every 2 1/2 - 3 hours, I'd have a vasovagal reaction almost instantly. I officially had crossed over into advanced AFS.
So that's where I'm at now. Just to give you an idea, here are things that my body now considers too stressful:
-Taking a shower -Drying my hair or doing anything with my arms up like putting my hair in a ponytail, curling it, etc. -Bending over to pet the dog, hook up their leash, pick up laundry, etc. -Carrying anything in from my car to the house -Walking up stairs
I also HAVE to eat every 2 1/2 - 3 hours to keep my blood sugar level. I take about 10-15 pills (supplements) with each meal, drink salt in my water (to help with my blood pressure) and do neuromuscular exercises that help to undo some of my body's natural reflexes that have now become overused (like the paralysis reflex that tells your body to stiffen up when stressed).
It's like living inside a television set that is always on 24/7. My body (and mind) are always on-guard, all day, every day, trying to fend off stressors that aren't even there. Which is where the FATIGUE comes in. The reason you feel so tired all the time with AFS is because your body is literally working itself to death. It's like trying to drive in a car with your foot mashed on the brake pedal AND the gas pedal at the same time.
So for those of you that know me, when I say I'm too tired to go somewhere with you or to do something, it's because I literally, physically CAN'T. I don't remember if I've already told the spoon analogy on my blog before or not. So if I have, I apologize. But my naturopath's assistant told me a story her friend used to explain how it felt to live everyday with lupus (another invisible condition):
She was sitting in a diner with her friend who asked her about what it was like to live everyday with lupus. So she told her friend to gather up the spoons from the surrounding table and hold them in her hands. After she did, she told her to start naming the things she had to do in a day and hand her one spoon for each thing. So her friend started "I get up and get ready for work" (one spoon), "I make breakfast" (one spoon)... And she stopped her. "No, you have to use a spoon for EACH thing... one for brushing your teeth, one for brushing your hair..." And so they continued. When her friend realized she only had 2 spoons left before it was even dinnertime, she began to understand. And began to cry.
No, I don't have lupus but the reason my naturopath's asst told me that story is because it's the same way to describe AFS, a syndrome you cannot see. If I take a shower, I most likely don't have the energy to go anywhere after it. If I have the energy to go somewhere, I most likely don't have the energy required to get ready. If I get down to feeling like I have 2 spoons left and I still have to feed the dogs, make dinner, do some work and take a shower... what gets done and what doesn't? These are my daily decisions right now.
SO. If this sounds like you... know this, you're not alone!! And you're not crazy!! And if you know me or someone with adrenal fatigue, I can only hope maybe you understand it a little more. It's okay though if you don't. I know it's hard to understand and that's part of the journey... knowing that most people won't understand what it feels like to be inside your body.
But the good thing is, you CAN recover. Don't sit back and wait for someone else to help you. Don't get discouraged when other people (even your doctors) don't understand. Talk to the people that do understand, take the steps you need to for your own recovery... cut out negativity/stress from your life, slow down and take naps as often as you need to, take your supplements, eat regularly, eat a diet rich in fats and protein, cut out sugar, caffeine and alcohol, do gentle exercise when you can, rest and be patient.
You will feel normal again. No... better than normal. And so will I.
See ya then. ;)