I’ve been alluding to something in my posts and comments and I thought I’d go into more detail here since there’s been some interest. But before I do, I must credit Diana Rodgers of Radiance Nutrition for the title. While I’m sure it’s not hers, she used it at PaleoFX to great effect and it’s stuck with me ever since.
I think I might be having some adrenal fatigue (or insufficiency). Before I go into too much detail, let me send you to Robb Wolf’s blog to see what guest blogger Diane Sanfilippo (of Balanced Bites) has to say about it (here). This is far more succinct and informational than anything I could manage.
Adrenal fatigue or insufficiency is not a medical diagnosis and as such, has caused a bit of controversy in my household with my Emergency Medicine-trained husband. I’m not thrilled about it either, as I’ve always been skeptical of what I’ve considered boutique diagnoses that people love to have. But it was just a few short years ago I thought gluten intolerance was a sham, so…you know…what the hell do I know? On top of that, when I zoom out and think about how destructive this last century has been on human health and well-being, there are a myriad of ways this could be manifesting in people. Far be it for me to deny anyone the opportunity to feel better, even if it is from the placebo effect.
The first symptom started around the time my daughter weaned herself, sometime in the fall of 2010. I suddenly noticed, after a super smooth infancy, that I wasn’t coping as well with the everyday stress of having a little one. I wasn’t as resilient and my coping skills were fraying. Edie has been the easiest, most docile little creature in all of humanity, so it never made sense to me that sometimes my reactions weren’t matching the situation. Everything would be fine until suddenly it wasn’t.
When this began, it was pre-Paleo. We made dietary changes in January of 2011, and it was instantly miraculous, not just for my weight, but for my mind as well. My anxiety reduced significantly, by a range of 80-95%. I felt calmer, clearer, and more focused—all those amazing hyperboles we hear about the Paleo diet, all true. But.
My little mood problem never went away. I call it a mood problem, because it’s important to make some distinctions here. I am certain this is not depression. I experienced depression as a teenager and this is not it. This does not inform my worldview or permeate every situation. It doesn’t define me. It isn’t emotional in nature, meaning I’m not more prone to crying or being upset in any other part of my life.
What it is: a sudden and unpredictable spike of anger in response to repeated stress. While these episodes are few and far between, they were becoming enough of a pattern for me to feel like I was in crisis mode. For a year-and-a-half, I just assumed I was broken somewhere and I’d have to wrestle with myself to fix it. And when I failed, I berated myself and wondered what was wrong with me. Hmm…that sounds familiar…
Just as with my weight that wouldn’t come off with exercise and “healthy” SAD-style eating, I began to wonder if this wasn’t something more organic.
Then I think PaleoFX just about sunk me. Ironic, no? But Daylight Savings was that week, along with a super-early flight to Austin, the two-hour time difference, and early shuttles to get to the conference venue and the combo felt like a brick wall. I got home and it became clear that something just wasn’t quite right with me. Luckily, I also learned a few great tips from the conference I could use in my recovery.
But unstable moods alone do not adrenal fatigue make. In October of last year, I began having some serious fatigue and brain fog. This happened to coincide with beginning some professional writing and projects. As a result, I started drinking coffee again for that little extra boost of inspiration, motivation, and focus. We have some childcare coverage for Edie, but not a ton, so in order to meet deadlines, I was often up way past bedtime. I began to get grumpy toward my husband on a more regular basis.
What else has been going on?
- Sugar cravings. I’ve never been a binge eater nor have I ever had an eating disorder. So you’ll understand my surprise when, after a morning with nothing but coffee, I was tempted to buy a bag of those raw vegan macaroons at the store. And then proceeded to eat nearly the whole bag during a 5 minute drive home. Yowza. What the hell was that about?!
- Fatigue. One of my favorite side effects of going Paleo was that I never needed the afternoon nap anymore. Well, I’m back to napping. Luckily, my daughter still naps in the afternoon, so sometimes Mommy does too. For a while when I was in the thick of it, it was more of a daily necessity. Now I’m down to 2-3 a week. I call that progress.
- Tired yet wired. As Robb Wolf calls it. I felt better in the early evenings, especially if I’d napped, but then 9-10pm would roll around and I could’ve already checked all my favorite online sites 5 times in the last twenty minutes, but it suddenly became imperative to look again. Or I’d start to think about menial tasks around the house. Even though I was exhausted and in dire need of a good night’s rest, my brain wouldn’t let sleep seem attractive. I also had a bad habit of playing games on the iPad in bed because they made me very sleepy very quick, but the light may have been messing with my brain and quality of sleep in other ways.
- Dizzy. More frequent and more severe than before. I stood up from a deep squat the other day and nearly passed out.
So what am I doing to help?
- I started supplementing magnesium by taking Natural Calm at night before bed. As the name suggests it’s supposed to help with calm stuff. I find that I sleep better with it, because the two times I’ve forgotten, my sleep has definitely suffered.
- I’ve stopped drinking my morning latte and returned to chai in the morning. I’ve started using Tulsi brand which has some holy basil in it, an herb recommended for adrenal issues. I also occasionally drink their rose flavor herbal tea in the afternoon.
- I eat a breakfast with protein and fat every morning. I definitely feel better with a few eggs in me before I run out the door.
- No more iPad in bed and my track record for getting to bed at a decent hour, while far from perfect, is better.
- I’ve been avoiding strenuous exercise. I miss it, but I’m afraid of a set-back. My progress is still too fresh to start testing it. For now it’s walks and hikes with an occasional play session of balancing, climbing, and jumping.
Some other things I’ve been thinking of implementing:
- Licorice root. Couldn’t find it locally in supplement form, might try looking for some teas.
- Meditation and yoga. I was a faithful yogi for about 8 years until last fall when it became too much of a mental struggle on the mat for me to comfortably continue. I’m thinking of returning soon to see how it goes. I also have a dusty meditation cushion floating around somewhere that I should try sitting on for a while and see what happens.
- Getting to bed earlier. Says she who’s typing this at 10:37pm…
- Stop procrastinating. I need to get things done in the morning and stop putting things off for later because I can’t guarantee I’ll have the energy to be vertical later or even remember to do it.
One of the biggest problems is that the stressors we have in our daily lives are totally Neolithic. Which isn’t to say our ancestors had none, they most certainly did. But not in the same systematic, chronic way we do now. We mistake deadlines at work with a lion attack and it ain’t doing us any favors.
On top of that, our culture rewards the relentless. People glorify their 80-hour work weeks. They huff and puff about all the family activities they have going on. They spend vacations constantly in motion, flitting from one attraction to the next. Work hard, play hard—right? I’ve never been a fan of that life, and now, my hermit tendencies are even worse. But who else is going to take care of me? And if I falter, who will take care of my family? This isn’t easy and there are no honors for doing what it takes to put yourself back together.
And I shake my head because I have a truly blessed life (great family life, financial security, live in a great community) with far fewer stressors than many. How the rest of the world copes is beyond me. No wonder we’re all crazy.