My journey towards healing adrenal fatigue

adrenal fatigueAre you dragging and can’t get your day started without coffee?  If so, this post isn’t going to be theoretical for you!

There’s now a lot of talk about adrenal fatigue in the alternative health community, but when I began learning about over seven years ago, it was something neither I nor anyone I knew had ever heard of.  (In the mainstream medical world this flies under their radar and they say it doesn’t exist since they only recognize the most extreme form of adrenal fatigue, Addisons disease.)

I was somewhat familiar with adrenals before then, since eleven years ago I visited a naturopath for a suspicious growth on my neck.  He checked a number of things as part of the overall intake and told me, ‘your adrenals are shot’.  I asked what the consequences of that were, and whatever he said wasn’t so compelling – I was much more worried about the swelling that brought me there.  (I later healed this on my own by going sugar and wheat free – the disappearance of the swelling was a side effect and not something I intended – and it wasn’t until I researched candida at a later point that I understood an overgrowth of yeast had caused this symptom.)

Adrenal fatigue is when your adrenal glands are overstressed and can no longer keep up with the needs of your body. That malfunction causes a snowball of symptoms that become increasingly severe if left untreated.  (For a more detailed description of adrenal fatigue and the accompanying symptoms, read here – I really strongly recommend you read this since a huge percentage of people are suffering from some degree of adrenal fatigue.)

Do you think knowing about this made me take any action to heal my adrenals?  Nope. Too busy to slow down, rest and nurture myself, and that’s basically how you heal adrenal fatigue.  I did pass the information on to friends who I saw had symptoms, though.

There are many symptoms but for me the first and most obvious was my difficulty losing weight despite an excellent diet.   After my seventh child I was able to get close to my ideal weight before becoming pregnant when he was eight months old.  After my eighth was born, it became very, very hard to lose weight.  I don’t like to use the word impossible but it’s often felt like that.  And the flip side is it’s extremely easy to gain weight.

Despite my adrenals being very depleted, I was able to continue to function surprisingly well, which I credit to eating a very nourishing diet.   Time went by and I began to have some more obvious signs of adrenal fatigue, though I didn’t recognize them as such for quite some time – most notable of these was bronchial stress in the winter.

When we decided to move overseas almost three years ago, we began a prolonged period of intense stresses.  Last year after two of our kids almost died within two weeks, I began crashing emotionally and physically.  I was extremely depleted and exhausted, I had no motivation or desire to do anything, a total feeling of apathy, I didn’t want to get up in the morning.  An energy healer told me my adrenals were in bad shape.  I was like, ‘Yeah, I know.’  Do you think I made it a priority then?  Nope.  I knew I should and tried to take some vitamins but my husband was in the US for several months with our oldest daughter and I was trying to hold my family together.

Then in October I was hit by a car.  At this point it was clear to  me that my adrenals were really struggling, it wasn’t intellectual knowledge anymore.  I started taking vitamins more but I couldn’t seem to muster the energy necessary to really do what I needed to do.  This is a catch 22 of adrenal fatigue – I was exhausted and totally drained and needed enthusiasm to jumpstart a self-care program, but enthusiasm was the last thing I felt.

A short time before I was burned at the end of March, I had determined that I needed to make healing my adrenals a priority.  Adrenal fatigue only gets worse and I didn’t want any more wake up calls to take care of myself.  And then I was burned and spent nine days in the hospital.  I had several lessons from that experience and one was that I need to take care of myself in as loving and nurturing a manner as I take care of my children.

To simplify a big topic, healing your adrenals basically entails removing the stresses from your body while strengthening the adrenals so that you can heal.  I asked my husband to bring my vitamins to the hospital for me and spent most of my time in the hospital resting and meditating.  It was just what I needed.  The real challenge was to maintain a self-care regimen after returning home from the hospital, with all the demands of daily life.

I’ve been making this a priority and almost three months after my burn accident, I’m happy to share that I’ve been making progress in this area.  Self-care isn’t something I’m good at so all of the things below have taken a lot of conscious effort to do, and it’s been a process and continues to be a process.

Here are some of the steps I’m taking.

- nutritional supplementation

- amino acid supplementation

- nutritious and regular meals

- lots of fluids

- minimal sugar and flour (mostly Shabbos)

- added salt

- positive thoughts

- gentle exercise

- earlier bedtime

Each of these target different aspects of adrenal fatigue.  I have a busy life and it’s not easy to stop and make myself a priority, but this is exactly what I’m trying to do.  So far it’s been three months and I keep getting better at self-care but none of it is automatic or effortless yet.  Every aspect that I listed above deserves a detailed blog post (I’ll try to elaborate on some of these in the future); when I list these points it looks easy and effortless but each of these things have required me to really exert myself and change longstanding habits.

It took years of putting myself last to run myself down, so it’s not a quick fix situation.  Just like it took a long time for me to see the symptoms of adrenal fatigue, it’s going to take time to see visible signs of reversal.  I’m feeling better and have some encouraging signs that things are beginning to heal, and I continue to remind myself that I need to continue to do the right things and eventually I’ll fully restore my adrenal function.

Back to my comment in the beginning about coffee – when a person is too tired to do what they need to do without a pick-me up (eg use of a stimulant like coffee), this is a sign that your adrenals may be struggling.  Trouble getting started in the morning is a sign of adrenal fatigue.

I’m not a coffee drinker but for years I’ve noticed I’m more energetic in the late evenings than the mornings.  I often chastised myself for not getting to sleep earlier, for being so undisciplined.  Little did I know that my cortisol levels were reversed and that was the biochemical reason for my late nights.  Cortisol levels should be high in the morning and low late at night, to reflect the natural cycle.  Someone with adrenal fatigue will have the opposite cortisol levels, which is why I felt energetic at night and was dragging in the mornings.  It wasn’t laziness or lack of discipline and when I finally understood this it helped to me let go of the self-shame and blame I had around this issue.

We live in a time of fast paced living with lots of expectations of ourselves.  Our bodies weren’t created to deal with the kind of lifestyles most of us live.  Pregnancies and raising children are some big stresses on the body (I would guess most mothers of a large family are suffering from adrenal fatigue); work and interpersonal stresses can also create a big strain on the adrenals.  Understanding what your adrenals do, what stresses them and how to heal adrenal fatigue is a big piece for many in restoring health.

Avivah

(This post is part of Real Food Wednesdays and Hearth and Soul.)

6 thoughts on “My journey towards healing adrenal fatigue

  1. Very good post, Avivah. Many women are unaware that this is basic science. This article might be helpful for some: http://www.drlam.com/articles/adrenalexhaustion.asp. My adrenals were exhausted for a long time. I was recovering through diet, then got whacked by a number of stressors including job loss. I now follow the Wahls paleo regimen and find that my biggest challenge is managing relationships with people who affect my cortisol levels. This in itself can be stressful. I would also point out that many in the kosher community find paleo, GAPS, whatever you want to call it, to be extremely alien. A countercultural diet can really affect your ability to commune on Shabbat and holidays, which is also stressful.

    1. Thanks for sharing the link, Iris. How are you doing adrenally at this point? Your point about people being a huge stressor is so true, we have to let go of the toxic relationships and limit interactions with those we have to be in contact with, which is much easier said than done.

      I found doing GAPS to be manageable though I didn’t try to do this 100% for our entire family. My husband really stuck with it, the rest of us had what I would call a solid nourishing way of eating. Shabbos is the biggest challenge if you’re having guests.

  2. Wow! Thanks for sharing! There is so much information in that link!! I look forward to reading more about your specific approach. Continued good heath!

    1. I’m glad the link was helpful, R! It’s a big topic. I hope to share some more on this topic in the next couple of weeks. Thanks for your good wishes!

    1. The hives have a big emotional component, as does every skin rash – a sign of physical and emotional toxins that the body is trying to get rid of. (((Hugs.)))

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