I’m very excited to write this post about adrenal fatigue! Well, excited and exhausted at the same time – ha! That’s pretty typical for adrenal insufficiency, at least for me. Do you think you might have adrenal fatigue? Now that you’ve found me, you’ve probably already read something about it to have this suspicion. Let’s start by me giving you the Mayo Clinic definition, which I feel is pretty accurate:
“Adrenal fatigue is a term applied to a collection of nonspecific symptoms, such as body aches, fatigue, nervousness, sleep disturbances and digestive problems. The term often shows up in popular health books and on alternative medicine websites, but it isn’t an accepted medical diagnosis.”
It isn’t an accepted medical diagnosis. And that’s exactly what I’m writing this article about my journey – my struggle – with adrenal fatigue. I’m hoping that by telling you my story, you might find some comfort, or maybe some answers, to whatever you’ve been dealing with.
I have to start by telling you that I am NOT a doctor. I have no medical training. I don’t pretend to have any, and I don’t want anyone to treat my word as gospel. However – I am a person that is very in tune with her body. I know when something’s wrong, and my nature is to find the answers so that I can feel healthy. I like being active and I like the way I feel when my mind and body are healthy. As a woman, I’m constantly working on both of these things. I feel like it’s part of the program – part of being female – and part of aging. I just turned 40 this year and I don’t want to spend my 40s feeling like crap. Isn’t “not feeling like crap” what everyone wants for themselves?
So to tell you my story, I’m going to rewind. Because when it comes to adrenal exhaustion, I PUT MYSELF IN THIS PREDICAMENT. I’m not sure of the exact day it started, but I did it. The downhill spiral began over 10 years ago, when I decided to go back to school for my MBA at night while working full time (50+ hours per week). I did this from 2005 – 2008, then got a divorce in 2008. I wasn’t burned out in 2008 necessarily, at least that I felt, but I think one of my problems is that I discounted the toll that school and the divorce took on me. I’d always been a high functioning person my whole life . . . someone who enjoyed working and doing side jobs, or starting hobbies, or basically filling my life 24/7 with things that I loved to do. It’s a great quality to have, but it can lead a person to do foolish things.
I moved into my own apartment in 2008 and started my blog Mod Podge Rocks. So again – I was working full-time and doing something on the side. Blogging as a hobby became another full-time job. And then it started to take off. In 2011 I got a book deal, and I also switched jobs that year. If I think back – and it’s definitely easier to think about adrenal fatigue in hindsight – this was a rough time for me. I started a new, demanding job, I had to write a book, and I still had to maintain my blog. I remember crying during one of the photo shoots for my book, and I don’t cry. I was exhausted. That was the start.
If I think back to that time, that’s when the binge eating started. Not only that, I was trying several different anxiety medications to find one that worked. I have anxiety as do many women in my family. I don’t think that if I cured my adrenal insufficiency that it would completely eliminate my anxiety, but I think my eating issues at the time exacerbated the problem. I didn’t gain a lot of weight – probably 15 pounds – but I wasn’t eating healthy by any stretch. The anxiety medication switches were making me nutty. I also wasn’t sure if I wanted to stay in Atlanta or stay with my boyfriend.
So then things got even crazier.
I decided to go back to Washington state to see if I wanted to try the northwest again. I quit my job and decided to live off my blog (I only had one at the time still) until I found something. The problem is that I stayed with my parents. I love my parents, but they completely stressed me out. I wasn’t convinced at the time that I wanted to blog full time, so I was looking for jobs too. Health-wise I felt completely exhausted and bloated – and was still about 15 pounds overweight. I’d have weird cravings of sweets and salts, and would indulge them when I needed to. I still exercised, but it was hard. NO motivation. In three months I knew the northwest wasn’t going to work out, and I wanted to move back to Atlanta and try to work things out with my boyfriend. I came back and put a beloved dog to sleep, then moved into an apartment. Then the worst thing happened in August of 2012.
My boyfriend and I were shopping at IKEA and, long story short, he accidentally rammed a furniture cart into the back of my foot and caused some damage. I waited for it to heal, which it never did, so for 1.5 years I did do anything. Then I started treating it. I wore a boot for nine months that didn’t do much except throw my hips and back out constantly. I received several shots in my foot that did nothing. I was depressed. I couldn’t exercise – even take a walk. My eating was still crap. Since I couldn’t exercise, I threw myself into work. And I threw myself into coffee to keep me running 24/7 so I could do the work.
Finally in October 2015 I got foot surgery, and it was (and still is) a long recovery. Not being active was wearing on me. My business was wearing on me. My bad food choices were wearing on me. I was getting to the point where relationships were taxing and everything was exhausting. And I was only 38 years old. At the time I figured I must have adrenal fatigue or some adrenal insufficiency. I guess I found it online – I don’t really remember. I bought this book. But I didn’t really know how to process the information. Or how to find out if I had it.
Looking back, I feel embarrassed writing these words. But here’s the thing about adrenal fatigue: it sneaks up on you. The reason for my embarrassment is because I feel like I should have known and that I should’ve done something sooner. But honestly, for many people, you don’t know you have it until it’s too late and you’re already in the throes. You’re exhausted but you think “I just need more sleep” or “I just need to eat better” or “I just need one less cup of coffee per day.” My life problems weren’t that bad – yet I wasn’t functioning. I didn’t want to see any friends or go out in public. Daily care of myself like washing hair and brushing teeth was a struggle, as was working (even answering email!). I felt ridiculous. But everything was out of my hands at that point, and I didn’t realize it.
Sometime in the summer of 2016, I purchased a copy of the book “What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Premenopause: Balance Your Hormones and Your Life From Thirty to Fifty.” Yes – did I mention my periods had gotten awful? Horrible. I was bleeding quite heavily, the period during my ovulation was miserable, and the hot flashes were through the roof. I was waking up with night sweats, drenched shirts – feeling like I hadn’t slept. The book actually talked about taking bio-identical hormones and taking tests. I knew I had to take my medical care into my own hands.
Well, to a certain extent. Let me be clear. I had gone to my doctor and gotten the standard issue blood testing. I explained my symptoms to my doctor and she tested my blood levels. Nothing was wrong according to the test but I knew there was something wrong with me. My gynecologist even mentioned bio-identical hormones but said she wasn’t trained in this area. If you are wondering about adrenal fatigue symptoms, these are common and what I experienced. There’s a more exhaustive list here and here.
My Adrenal Fatigue Symptoms
- Sleep fog – extreme difficulty getting up in the morning
- Inability to handle stress
- Constant fatigue – no matter how much sleep
- Foggy thinking
- Food cravings
- Depression and anxiety
- Overuse of stimulants (caffeine for me)
- Joint pain
- Low sex drive
- Low blood sugar (frequent crashes)
- Weight gain
The Premenopause book by Dr. Lee and a little research online got me to finally take a saliva test on my own. I didn’t want to go through my doctor. I figured that although insurance might pay, I didn’t even know what was wrong with me. I was still completely confused, to be honest. Did I have hormone issues – adrenal issues – both?? Something else completely? I did a little research on saliva tests and found out that one of the reasons they are more accurate that the blood tests is because they test hormone and chemical levels throughout the day. NOT just when you fast and go to the doc at 8am, which is what I did. I purchased this saliva test and decided my next steps would be based on the results.
I was on vacation in the Pacific Northwest when I got the results, and I couldn’t open the file fast enough. AND I WAS THRILLED. Not because I wanted to be ill, but because I finally had answers!! A screenshot of part of my test is above. Let me sum up the results for you:
- Low progesterone – estrogen dominance
- High DHEA
- Flat cortisol
The interpretations are on the report: ” . . . cortisol pattern and reported symptoms are consistent with established (Phase 3) HPA axis (adrenal gland) dysfunction.”
You can read more about HPA axis here. But in layman’s terms, the hypothalamus, pituitary gland, and adrenal glands work together (H-P-A axis). And when you have adrenal exhaustion like I do, your whole system goes out of whack. You start spiraling downhill if you don’t treat it, and then you end up like me. I’m in stage three of adrenal fatigue (some have four stages; I’m in the fourth/final one there): this is called “Burnout” or “Exhaustion.”
But once you realize you have it – what about adrenal fatigue treatment? What do you do?
I’m going to be honest: this is the hardest part. You’re already exhausted, and now you have to treat it. And it’s not a recognized medical diagnosis, remember? So who do you turn to? My gynecologist had given me names of some naturopaths, but a few had horrible ratings online and the one that didn’t was out on maternity leave for three months pretty much starting the day I called. Once I knew I had adrenal insufficiency, I couldn’t wait. I started doing some research online and found some videos, which lead me to Just In Health Wellness Clinic. I found out he did consultations over the phone, so I sent him my test results and made an appointment in early February. There are two things that suck about adrenal fatigue treatment:
- it’s hard to find a good doctor in a lot of areas (I’m sure especially in small towns)
- treatment costs money because standard insurance doesn’t pay (my insurance doesn’t pay so it was all cash out of pocket)
But as I said in the beginning of this article, I didn’t want to be 40 and feel like crap. I was willing to make a payment plan or do whatever I had to do to get treatment. My health has been bad for so long (the exhaustion getting worse daily) I felt I didn’t really have a choice. My relationships were starting to be affected – my work – and my happiness. I was going to have nothing left and be sitting in bed all day. Some days, that’s how bad it was.
What I’m Doing Now
Dr. Justin really helped me, but I won’t say it’s easy. Here’s my “prescription”:
- no caffeine or alcohol
- bio-identical hormones and supplements three times a day – addressing the progesterone and adrenal support I need
- a strict-ish diet that resembles the paleo diet and the bulletproof diet
- follow the protocol for 6-9 months
Dr. Justin’s healthy meal tips are here. For some, it might be a huge life change, especially if you don’t like vegetables. I’ll be honest . . . I’ve struggled. I love vegetables but I hate cooking. Most of the time I’m good, but I have lazy days. I don’t eat fast food, but sometimes I don’t eat as many veggies as I should. I’m working on it! What I find interesting about my new eating plan is the amount of fat. I’ve always shied away from it, but it’s good. So I have my big jar of coconut oil. And my new attitude! If you’re wondering if the caffeine and alcohol are hard to avoid – yes. Not the alcohol, but the coffee. I truly love coffee. But in the last month, I’ve only had it twice. In the next 30 days, I’m going for zero cups. I can do it! You can be certain I’ll be updating you throughout the process in future blog posts.
Do You Have Adrenal Fatigue?
If you suspect you might have adrenal exhaustion, here’s what you should do.
- Read. I’m a big researcher. You need to read the sites and resources below.
- Test. Get a saliva test. Ask your doctor for one. If you can’t get one, do it yourself. You can wait until you do step 3 if you like, but I preferred to know if I would even have to do step 3 first.
- Get Help. Search Google for “bioidentical hormone doctors” and “adrenal fatigue” doctors in your area. If you can’t find one, get a free consultation with Just In Health.
- Don’t Give Up. This sounds dramatic, but seriously – don’t. You’re tired, but the fight is worth it, because your health is worth it.
- Remember You Aren’t Alone. I think we’re going to hear a lot more about adrenal insufficiency as time goes on. And I have it. So you definitely have support 😀
Resources (I’ll keep adding as I find them)
Adrenal Fatigue Articles
- Fundamentals of Adrenal Fatigue
- Signs You Might Have Adrenal Fatigue
- The Real Deal on Adrenal Fatigue
- Three Steps to Heal Adrenal Fatigue
Adrenal Fatigue Books
- Adrenal Fatigue: The 21st Century Stress Syndrome
- The Adrenal Reset Diet: Strategically Cycle Carbs and Proteins to Lose Weight, Balance Hormones, and Move from Stressed to Thriving
- Adrenal Fatigue: Overcome Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome, Boost Energy Levels, and Reduce Stress
I’d love to know your adrenal fatigue story, resources, what you’ve done for yourself, and anything else in the comments! Talk to me!