Adrenal Fatigue/Insufficiency/Exhaustion – Is It A Thing?

About six years ago I was fat, exhausted, and grouchy. And not just, “I need a good weekend of sleep.” But dead tired. And couldn’t stand being in my own skin. I had stepped down from a big job I killed myself to get into, and didn’t know what was wrong with me or why I felt the way I did.

Rewind three years from that day, and I’d been given a huge opportunity – to lead a company-wide system conversion. I was young, naive, and eager to climb the corporate ladder. I took on any project my boss offered. And despite his warning that “this one’s different than the others” I was so excited to have this big opportunity others seemed jealous of. I didn’t know what I was getting into. And I was already halfway into my full time MBA program.

I can handle anything, right?

It started out innocently enough – a little traveling, working 5-10 extra hours a week. By the end of my MBA, I’d spent over a year working 60-100 hours a week, and there was no break in sight. I replaced my MBA study/school hours with drinking, and kept working, not sleeping, and not eating well. At the time, I thought if my body could handle it and keep bouncing back and performing, then I wasn’t doing “too much.” I was over-loading on processed foods. And drinking more caffeine than most people can handle. I never felt awake, but when something stressful came along (multiple times a day), I’d get myself worked up, and my body would produce adrenaline so I could focus and put out good work.

I started thriving on that excited surge of drama-induced adrenaline. And I was using it all the time. Until at some point, even when something was a big deal and I thought I WANTED to help. I could no longer go into “fight” mode. And I quite literally felt the only solution was flight. Flight from the problems, the stress, etc. I avoided phone calls. I dreaded meetings. I had a shitty attitude toward everything. Finally, I started looking for a different job. I wanted to fly away from the whole thing. A chance job-change situation gave me the opportunity to “fly” out of my high stress job into a relatively less-stressful job. I took it. But was totally checked out. I worked 40 hours a week. And had the worst attitude a person could ever have. I was annoyed before people started talking. I would get tense when someone would walk in the vicinity of my desk. If my phone would ring, dread would fill my body. I was super-defensive. I always thought someone was trying to dump a problem on me.

I hated going to work, but had to go. I was too exhausted and too negative to look for or land another job. I was stuck. And I hated who I was, where I was, how I felt, and what my life was. I was tired. All the time. My head was filled with fog. And overflowing with negativity.

On one hand, I logically knew I was lucky to be where I was. I had a good paying job. And a fairly flexible schedule. But I could no undo my negative attitude. I couldn’t FEEL grateful. Or even happy. And because of personal decisions I’d made, I had to stop going out partying all the time. I knew it was a good choice for me health-wise. But it was also isolating.

I started out with an alcohol (which was also mostly a social) fast. Then started moving into healthier food choices. I tried to workout, but I felt incessantly tired. My muscles would fatigue almost instantly as I started the warmup of a workout. I found myself sitting on my workout room floor, crying out of frustration and exhaustion. And I’d either lay in front of the TV, napping all afternoon, or I’d crawl into bed, also napping on and off.

I could only sleep during the day. That wasn’t unlike my partying lifestyle. Stay out all night, sleep all weekend. So at first when I couldn’t fall asleep at night, I figured it was because normally I’d be out with friends during that time (even during th week). I spent a lot of time researching sleep cycles. I put blackout curtains in my bedroom. Removed all electronics. Tried white noise/nature noises. It didn’t help. I laid there helplessly, unable to sleep. The only energy of the day came at night. Why spend it in bed? I started spending nights reading ,watching TV, doing projects around the house. I’d crawl in bed around 1-2 AM. If i was lucky, I’d fall asleep in an hour or two, and in the four or so hours I’d be asleep, I’d wake up at least fifteen times.

Since I couldn’t lose weight and my triglycerides were out of control, I got OBSESSED with food. I went paleo. Then somehow developed brand new food allergies. And I was getting charley horses 2-5 times a night. So I tried a Whole 30. Then went full on AIP paleo (which is super-restrictive). I even restricted beyond AIP. I never lost a single pounds, but spiraled into full blown orthorexia. Not only was I hyper-sensitive about everything I ate, I was judgmental and annoyed by the “crap” everyone else ate. ESPECIALLY thin people. I got into weight lifting, but beyond that, couldn’t do any cardio workouts because they exhausted me. Every year, I’d gain another 10-15 pounds. I felt terrible. And felt like with all the extra weight, I looked horrible. And I also felt like in two or three years, I looked ten to fifteen years older. The diet wasn’t helping, and even when I starved myself (down to 1200 calories at over 200lbs), I never lost weight. And after three or four weeks of starving, I’d give up and GAIN weight.

I stumbled into Advanced Allergy Therapeutics by the suggestion of a friend, and it was kind of the turning point for me. I went every single week, sometimes multiple times a week, for several months. I only stopped going because their service wasn’t very good. But the treatments were a turning point for me. I figured out I was allergic to magnesium. And other vitamins and minerals. A treatment allowed me to finally supplement magnesium and it made a difference. My body stopped doing most of the weird stuff it was doing. And the two new food allergies I had recently “found” were at least not crazy-sensitive anymore. VICTORY!

I built on that. I stopped being obsessive about food, which meant I gained a little weight. But instead of being obsessed with food, and trying to figure out how to exercise more, I laid off. I started to work on my sleep patterns. I forced myself into bed at 9PM. And I’d lay there in misery. I’d allow myself to read if I’d just get in bed. Or I’d take a hot bath and drink hot tea to help wind down. Slowly, I’d fall asleep sooner. I’d still wake up. But slowly it was less and less often. In a year’s time, I was sleeping 6-8 hours a night (improvement!) and waking up 3-5 times (improvement!). My attitude was still not great, but kept improving the more rest I got.

I started supplementing, and decided I was taking care of ME. I was listening to my body, not to everyone else. And slowly I improved. I started getting into yoga. And through yoga, meditation. I found such a huge improvement from meditation. In fact, I started to feel an addiction to the moments of relaxation, not unlike the addiction I felt to the moments of adrenaline surges. I’d feel short spurts of peace. And I loved it. I thrived on it.

I finally decided I wanted to learn more about peace and happiness. And I wanted to get over that shitty attitude hump. I knew I was letting situations and others’ attitudes impact me. I bought the book May Cause Miracles, and that was the final piece of the puzzle I think I was missing. I really do think there’s healing to pull from the universe. I used to be very religious, but lost that connection (I was a Catholic) when i saw how screwed up the system was (in my opinion). I didn’t stop believing in a bigger picture, or something bigger than me. But I was cynical about organized religion. Meditation allowed me to regain that connection and to find some serenity. And the book allowed me to see a lot of my drama was self-made reaction to others. Driven a lot by my insecurities. I saw so many little things I was scared of or insecure about, and didn’t see the connection from one to the other. I didn’t see that my dislike for a co-worker was really my insecurity about my relationship with my boss (not sexual, I want to be clear). I felt like she was brainwashing him and making me seem like I wasn’t doing MY job. But the reality was she was a time suck for the boss. And he knew the quality of my work. And my insecurity was just another thing he had to deal with. I never learned to like that woman (before she thankfully quit), but did learn to not let the way she was acting (ALSO driven by HER insecurities) bother me any more. It was easier to be the bigger person and realize her mess was HER mess.

I’ve also done some work with essential oils, which I know are a huge rage now, but I don’t work with any of the MLMs. I found other resources, and use the oils mostly in meditation or to fall asleep. After a period of time using them to relax, your body smells them and starts to relax instinctively.

In fact, I realized through meditation, oils, and self-awareness that my body was in a constant state of low-level anxiety. This slight tightness in my throat/upper chest that was so regular, I didn’t even feel it. I wasn’t even aware of it. But now? I feel it when the anxiety sets in, and because of meditation and the awareness of fear and insecurity, I can almost immediately see the source and use breathing techniques to let it go.

Am I 100%? No. I still have almost no cardio endurance. And I still can’t lose weight. But I’m not gaining weight. And my attitude is so much better. I see the negativity in others. I see how they want to bring others down. How they want to stew in self-pity. How they want to feel bad for themselves. How they want to see the worst and complain about it. In short, I see myself. I see me. I see how I used to be. A shadow of my former self. But now, I can see that’s THEIR mess. I don’t try to fix them. But I also don’t spend time near them. I don’t fall into their pit. And also don’t encourage it or try to help. When people feel like that, they don’t want to improve. And when I try to fix them, it doesn’t help them and only drags me down.

In fact, I joined an “adrenal fatigue support group” on Facebook. I’ve never been in such a negative group of people in my life. Everyone argues about everything, but almost no one is improving. When i ask for success stories or feedback on improvement, I’m told everyone who’s “fixed” leaves. At first I thought, “Nah, there are just no successes.” But now I feel like people who are in that state are so negative, that when someone has a breakthrough, they DO want to get out. They don’t want to be around the excuses or the arguing. And especially around the people who claim to be experts but are in so deep suffering, there’s no way they know everything. No one knows everything. I never thought my issues were tied to cortisol, other than the cortisol released so much it made me gain weight. Rather, I felt like mine was all adrenaline-related. And I never felt like anything inside of me was broken. Rather that I’d used up all my resources, and my body wasn’t in a healthy state to create more.

And realizing there were things outside of physical me (the energy of the universe, the peace of the universe, MY attitude) that could help was important. It was also important to know that putting food or supplements into me wasn’t as important as simple relaxation – sleep and meditation. Taking care of me – avoiding stressful or negative situations, not over-doing social stuff, not stressing about nothing at work or in my personal life, not trying to control everything, not trying to know everything or never asking for help. And one thing I’ve realized is personal touch and connection is really important. But with the right people.

I can never go back to “that other way.” And while it advanced my career somewhat, I also have to realize the terrible attitude that came out of it also likewise stalled my career. I’d probably be just as well off having worked normal hours at a normal job. I’m a hard worker, and I’m motivated, a great problem solver, and dedicated. I’d never suggest anyone live that life. “Work hard, play hard” isn’t healthy.

I don’t know it all, and will probably continue to learn more. Right now my process is – sleep is number one priority. If I’m tired, I sleep. If I’m sick, I sleep. If I don’t have the energy for something, I rest. If negative people try to suck me in, don’t allow them. If I’m being negative, defensive or angry, find the root and fix the root. Meditation is important. At least five minutes every single day. Be more compassionate, more patient, more kind. Both with myself and with others. Keep working hard, but don’t over-extend. Don’t take on social engagements I’m not interested in. But seek out connections with those who are positive, funny and encouraging. Avoid friends who are too negative or cynical. And again, sleep and meditation.

Respect that life is bigger than me.

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