My Journey Through Health and Healing: Adrenal Fatigue

This week brings us to the last post in the five part overview of my own recent health journey. I appreciate everyone that has followed along and hope that that the telling of my story has offered some guidance and hope to those going through similar things and perhaps some insight for anyone on the outside looking in. Over the next few weeks I look forward to delving deeper into some of the topics that were touched on and much more.

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While I felt much improved after my candida diagnosis and subsequent treatment, things still weren’t great. By the time I went home to Michigan again for Thanksgiving I was seemingly relapsing with more symptoms. Christmas was worse. Once the downhill slide started, as with everything else I had dealt with, it seemed to progress very quickly. For a couple of months I couldn’t do much of anything. Walking through the grocery store was exhausting. I once again needed help looking after my animals. Trips to the barn were brief. I could not get my body out of bed in the morning and everything was overstimulating. The anxiety I was again experiencing was palpable. Night sweats became common, a sure sign that my hormones were out of whack.  After another consultation and test with my naturopath, we confirmed I was suffering from adrenal fatigue.

I think it’s important to briefly explain what adrenal fatigue actually is. Your adrenal glands sit right above your kidneys and they control a variety of hormones. One of the hormones indicative of adrenal function is cortisol. When your body perceives danger (real or “imaginary”) your cortisol levels rise and your body goes into fight or flight mode. Once the danger has passed, your cortisol levels return to normal. If your body is under a constant perceived threat (which could be anything from major relationship problems to the death of a loved one to physical stressors) your cortisol levels are kept at a constantly high level and the adrenal’s ability to regulate other hormones starts to suffer which can set off a chain reaction.

In the morning, your cortisol levels for the day are supposed to be at their highest. That’s what wakes you up and gets you out of bed every morning. From there, cortisol will slowly taper off until nighttime hits and melatonin (your sleep hormone) begins to rise. For someone with adrenal fatigue, that pattern can be seriously skewed. My own cortisol level was not only at its lowest for the day in the morning, it was below the normal range completely. From there, my cortisol spiked around noon, dropped significantly again by late afternoon and then once again started to rise in the evening. I was, literally, riding a wave. My DHEA levels, another hormone produced by the adrenals, was also extremely low.

As with everything else since finding my naturopath, I choose to go the more holistic route with treatment which was basically a combination of supplements and mindfulness practices. I began making a concentrated effort to get to bed by 10pm (I’ll admit, it’s still a struggle), my living and work situation allowed me to sleep in past the point most would be able to which gave my body some of the extra rest it needed, I continued to eat as clean as possible in an effort to reduce the effort my body was required to put forth to digest, and, perhaps the biggest of all was my mental shift, allowing myself to just be. I was so tired of being tired and unwell.

For someone who hates to draw attention and make a big deal out of anything that has to do with oneself, I constantly felt like my body was forcing me to do nothing but that – out of pure necessity. In retrospect, I realize that others did not view me anything like the inconvenience I was sometimes sure I was, but that doesn’t make it any less stressful in the moment. I know that many can relate. You have to make a concentrated effort not to let your mind become your own worst enemy. Your family and friends love you, they want to see you well again and often feel just as helpless themselves. We all need to give ourselves a little break now and then.

Around April of 2018, I started a stronger supplement called HPA Axis Daytime Maintenance, which made a huge difference in my energy levels throughout the day. I started venturing out, doing more things little by little and realized that I could, in moderation. As I improved, the night sweats did as well until they disappeared completely. The palpitations now come only as a warning when I’ve done too much – pushed too hard – instead of as a daily occurrence. I had had so many plans before I started to feel unwell at the end of 2016 and doing things again started to seem possible. I got the urge to travel and moved forward with arrangements, prepared to apply the brakes as soon as my body began showing signs of overload. The timing seemed right to start that blog I had been thinking about for so long, to share my journey thus far and everything I’ve learned with others. To start a conversation, maybe plant an idea or two.

And here I am. For six weeks this summer I enjoyed island life in Canada on Prince Edward Island off the coast of New Brunswick (reference the Anne of Green Gables books for those familiar). I’m so much better in so many ways but my body continues to remind me not to get lackadaisical, there’s still plenty of room for improvement. In a continued effort to heal my gut, I recently took a food sensitivity test to try and more easily identify the foods that could be causing an inflammatory response in my body. My next focus will be to take out those foods for a period of time and then slowly reintroduce them. I’ll also be retesting soon to see where my levels are with my adrenals. For now, I’m enjoying my ventures into new territory and the elusive, ever changing quest to find – and keep – the balance.

Next week: Learning to Love the Process 

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