Adrenal Fatigue

I have severe adrenal fatigue.

Phew.

It’s almost a relief.

After 18 months of feeling emotionally, physically, mentally strung out, frazzled, unable to functional normally and feeling like an elastic band stretched to breaking point; seeing doctor after doctor after doctor, telling them that there is something wrong and having blood tests followed by more blood tests, liver tests and liver scans, I finally have an answer.

Severe Adrenal Fatigue.

How do I know?

 IMG_7100

Well I had blood tests about 2 weeks post comp and despite everything else being perfectly normal, my oestrogen and progesterone levels were both flatlined. No change from when I had them tested in May immediately pre comp. Another blood test, 7 weeks post comp also showed no change. Both hormones below detectable levels, which is unusual, and they’ve been flatlined for at least 7 months that we know of.

Oestrogen level is a marker for Adrenal fatigue.

Symptoms of low oestrogen levels include:

  • Sleep disturbances (yes)

  • Mood swings (yes)

  • Depression (yes)

  • Problems with mental clarity (hell yes!)

  • Lack of sex drive (not had one of those for about 4 years!)

  • Night sweats (sometimes)

Hmm…

Lets take a look at progesterone.

Primary functions

  • Normalise blood sugar levels (light bulbs!)

  • Boost thyroid function

  • Help use fat for energy

  • Anti inflammatory effects

  • Reduces swelling and inflammation (!!!)

Symptoms of low progesterone levels include:

  • Sugar cravings (YES!!)

  • Allergy symptoms (yes)

  • Brittle nails (yes)

  • Cracked heels

  • Decreased sex drive (see above)

  • Menstrual cramps (yes)

  • Depression or anxiety (yes)

  • Fatigue (BIG TIME)

  • Foggy thinking (Constantly!)

  • Mood swings (yes)

  • Weight gain especially around the middle (yes)

Hmm…

Lets take a look at Adrenal fatigue symptoms:

  • Morning fatigue (yes)

  • Afternoon “low” (yes – except morning and afternoon low is the same thing!)

  • Burst of energy at 6 p.m (yes lasts until about 8:30, by 9 I crash again)

  • Feeling generally unwell

  • Extreme tiredness (yes, its like I exist in wet concrete, everything requires an enormous effort)

  • Low energy (completely!)

  • Decreased sex drive (see above)

  • Muscle weakness (Yes, primarily my brain. Didn’t I say my lifts were about 30% down in some cases)

  • Mild Depression (yes)

  • Anxiety (yes)

  • Increased PMS or menopausal symptoms (yes)

  • Craving sugary or salty foods (YES!)

  • Feeling rundown (yes)

  • Feeling overwhelmed, unable to cope (yes)

  • Decreased ability to handle stress (yes)

  • Lightheadedness when getting up from a sitting or laying down position (or when lifting weights!)

  • Have trouble getting up in the morning, even when going to bed at a reasonable hour (yes)

O.M G.

 1195445403831271262liftarn_Lightbulb_2.svg.hi

So many light bulbs going off right now. It completely explains everything I’ve been complaining about in my previous blogs to do with diet!

It explains the out of character cravings and binge behaviour, the mood swings, the exhaustion. It explains why I get irrationally angry at little things like my bike lock being sticky or dropping my keys or not being able to find a matching sock in the morning (and why I don’t have the energy to sort them when I’ve done the washing!). It explains why I can’t be bothered to cook dinner because it’s just too hard. It explains why most of my new fat gain has accumulated on my waist. It explains why I can’t get my head into training mode properly, and why I have been known to just stop in the middle of a set of static lunges, put the kettle bells on the floor and cry. It explains why I sit for hours in front of the computer at work reading the same sentence over and over again and trying to figure out what the words mean, it explains why if I sit on the floor to play with my cat I fall asleep in less than a minute, it explains why in May before I went away on holiday I was feeling so emotionally strung out from the never ending exhaustion that I’d burst into tears for no reason at all often while cycling to the gym…

It explains EVERYTHING.

Now I’m going to state here that it is not CAUSED by the bodybuilding or comp prep. Yes they may be contributory factors given that I put everything into it – I’m so utterly focused, driven and unbend-able, I switch into a whole other world of intensity that does take a lot out of me – ironically enough, I have stated in previous blogs that during comp prep I run on adrenaline!

Doh!

But I say again, that it is not what has caused Adrenal fatigue.

Why do I say this?

Well, I’ve been blogging about the crushing fatigue for nearly 18 months i.e last year when I was so injured I couldn’t do ANY physical activity.

In early 2011 I was diagnosed with depression. Bodybuilding didn’t exist in my world at that point, but I probably still hadn’t recovered from the hell I put myself through training for Kilimanajro just a few months earlier. In fact, if anything it could have been my Kili training that initiated it. This is how I trained for Kili:

3hours a day: run 5k to gym with approx 8k backpack, add 10k to backpack get on stepper do 200 floors as fast as pos, every 20th floor do 10 box step ups each leg, 20 mins rowing, 13min spin hiit, then 38 floors x 4 with 10kg jacket at lunchtime, run home with 8kg backpack. No wonder I find bodybuilding so much easier.

 MtKilimanjaro

When I was doing biosignature modulation (2010/2011) after losing 25kg and climbing Mt Kilimanjaro the issues we constantly tried to fix were poor sleep (crash out about 9pm, wake up wired about 2am…sound familiar?) and belly fat (cortisol..the stress hormone!)

In fact when I look back over the last 4 years at everything I’ve been through and done it really is not surprising that my body has finally given up.

This is how you get Adrenal Fatigue:

  • ended 10yr relationship

  • 9 months training for Mt Kilimanjaro

  • Do Kili training whilst on low calories – approx 1500-1700cals/day.

  • Beat yourself up for not training 5 hours a day like for the Bhutan trek.

  • Climbed Kili – got on plane with onset of bronchitis, 2 panic attacks on summit climb, acute bronchitis by time got home

  • Lost 25 kg training for Mt Kilimanjaro climb

  • Change jobs 6 x…3 times the job ended in November which resulted in severe financial distress and additional pressure to ensure I got new work in time for Christmas so I could get through the christmas period. I’m developing an intense dislike for November.

  • Moved house 3 x (about to move again!)

  • 4 house floods in less than 12 months

  • Protracted 6 month long tax audit

  • Sold my apartment in Sydney

  • Health scare (I christened my ‘perfectly normal’ lymph node lump, ‘Lance’ as in Armstrong – sick sense of humour!)

  • Changed/removed my entire social circle after an incident revealed true feelings and lack of support some of these ‘friends’ I’d known for over 10 years

  • Depression for 6 months (caused by the previous 5 items all going on at the same time in the space of 2 months)

  • Started bodybuilding

  • Double Shoulder surgery

  • Tried to continue training immediately following surgery (hill sprints 5 days after surgery with 1 arm in a sling?? Doh!)

  • Tore both ham tendons

  • Tore both tendons in both elbows, left arm 3 x.

  • Spent 3 months (+ a lot of money!) trying every treatment known – acupuncture, dry needling, laser, cortisone injections, blood injections, physio, massage, laser. Both elbows still not fixed 18months later.

  • Both hips out of line – gross bursitis (cartilage inflammation)

  • Spent 9 months doing rehab for injuries

  • Written 6 blogs – all of >200,000 words, 3 ongoing at the same time

  • Became a bodybuilding photographer – show shooting is fast paced and intense, processing up to 1500 photos in less than a week is full on and takes a lot of concentration

  • Created a magazine – sourcing articles, sourcing interviews, running competition, organising events, managing staff, being support, writing articles – it’s a full time job in addition to my full time job

  • Ongoing diet experiments on myself – Lindy Olsens rules, Australian dietary guidelines (lo protein, high carb), comp diet 2 x, reverse diet 2 x, high carb high cal

  • Last 18 months solidly have been working 70+hours/wk, only 2 weeks off

  • 2 seasons of competing, this time round doing back to back competitions on 2 weekends consecutively.

Every single one of those events in their own right is stressful in some manner, but often there’s 2,3…6 of them happening all at the same time. In short, I have pushed myself too hard for too long, the only constant in my life has been change, and now my body is saying enough. Its no wonder my elbows will not heal – my body is working overtime just to keep me upright, let alone have anything left for extras like knitting tendons!

IMG_0483 IMG_0477 IMG_0465 IMG_0330

Adrenal fatigue is not something to be taken lightly (good article here), it can take anywhere between 6 months to 2 years or even more to recover and I’m only just starting to realise that I’m not bulletproof or how long this might take.

I have to unlearn being me, I can’t continue to charge at everything like a bull at a gate…for example last weekend I went house hunting (yeah more change!). Now there was one place in south Melbourne, one in Richmond, and one in north Melbourne. Usually I just hop on my bike for the lazy 5km from South Melbourne to Richmond, another lazy 5 km Richmond to North Melbourne, stop at vic market to get meat, lazy 2 km back to Southbank. Easy. Job done.

But when I thought about it, that is exactly why I’m in this state

So I hired a car.

It still made me so exhausted that I slept Saturday afternoon and most of Sunday. 4 days later I’m still wiped out as I also haven’t been sleeping (another problem with AF is staying asleep at night).

I had a massage on Thursday and its only 2 flights of stairs, but these stairs always leave me tired out and breathless. Considering I was doing 7000 stairs/day training for Kilimanjaro, this mere 50 have turned into monsters.

I took the lift.

I’m getting the tram from Flinders St to Vic Market to get to work, I go on escalators instead of stairs when I can. I have to stop and think through every situation to see if there is any way I can expend less energy.

I have to tell myself that it’s not being lazy…its smart conservation of a limited resource (energy)

Yes, I know not training at all would probably be a very good idea right now.

But its only 11 sleeps till I head off on my beach holiday and there will be plenty of relaxing there.

So how do you ‘unget’ Adrenal Fatigue?

I don’t know.

The key to getting better is to reduce the stressors that are draining my adrenals and rebuilding them by making lifestyle changes – diet, nutrition, sleep and stress being the 4 pillars of recovery.

How am I going to do that?

As usual I do have a plan, but me NOT being the usual me, for once I’m going to take this lying down.

Ta-da!

Lying down (lots) is the plan!

It’s brilliant.

I’m going to simplify my life. Cut back. Let things go, prioritise stuff that cannot be avoided and above all, rest.

  • I’m going to put the magazine on hold – I’m working 5 days a week, I just don’t have the spare time or energy to continue doing another 20-25 hours on top of that.

  • I’m going to only run one blog – my blog (www.sarah-taylor.com)

  • I’m not going to do all the crazy diet experiments I had in mind or blog them

  • I was going to study photography and nutrition next year, but that can go on hold.

  • I’m going to have at least one day a week when I do nothing except sleep or whatever non physical, non thinking relaxing activity I feel like – e.g read, write, eat, veg on the sofa watching movies, sitting on a beach, in a café, playing with my cat – whatever.

  • The doc has got me back on the oestrogen pills so at least my moods have stabilized somewhat.

  • Cut back training to only 4 sessions/week

  • We may have to shorten time between rest breaks or have more mini breaks, but we’ll see

  • Be more selective of which competitions I go to and photograph.

  • Learn to say ‘No’

Diet is a key part in recovery. Caffeine and sugar are public enemies number 1 & 2 and it turns out that my style diet is the perfect diet for adrenal fatigue – good quality protein, lots of good fat, lots of fresh veggies and lo carb – anything that minimises blood sugar spikes. There’s a really good article here about diet, and I’m actually already doing everything right, and strangely enough, now that I have something to ‘aim’ for again (getting healthy), it’s totally straightened me up!

Now I know that there is a reason behind the cravings, I know how to deal with it and in the last 3 weeks I have not had a single binge, I have only had sweet stuff after dinner once, or twice (85% cocoa chocolate only, no honey). I haven’t had tea, coffee or pre workout for 4 weeks. I’m only having (savoury) carbs immediately PWO and mid morning snack and I’m probably back up to about 90% sticking to really clean eating.

I do miss my morning cup of tea though – its just not British without it!

I have reduced my stress a bit, I’m 4 weeks into my new work contract and today my project manager strongly hinted that I’d be kept on till 2015!!! Take that November 2014, you lose.

Holiday will help the stress, but I move house immediately I get back so the next few weekends are going to be busy packing.

Sleep is my perennial problem. I totally crash by 9pm, then wake up wired at 2 am before snatching another half hour or so before getting up at 5:30…feeling like death. I’m really not sure how to sort that one out, as its something I’ve always had a problem with.

So my day to day coping strategies are:

  • Eat well!!

  • Eat frequently

  • always have a protein/fat brekky

  • always have lots fresh veg, no caffeine, no sugar

  • be as productive as possible when I have some energy – tackle more involved tasks

  • do simple tasks in crash phase

  • Learn where the couches are at work and if possible sneak out for a nap 🙂

  • Lunchtime get outside if sunny and sit in university courtyard or on lawn by state library and have a snooze.

  • Drink lots of water with a pinch of Celtic sea salt

  • Drink lots herbal tea

  • Extra vit c supplements, adrenals love vit c. Guess what vit c is also required for….healing wounds.

  • Get to bed by 8:30 – 9pm

  • Turn the computer off at 8:00 latest, if pos do not do any work at all at night.

  • Read if have a book available (get books to read maybe?)

  • Mediate more

  • weekends – sleep in if I can

  • weekends – take nanna nap whenever I feel like it, better still don’t get out of bed if can possibly avoid it! 

  • weekends – do as little as possible, get all admin/food shopping done sat morning

  • If I don’t feel like cooking, don’t cook. Go out somewhere – as long as the 2 rules are applied (always have protein, always have veg/salad) then I’ll be ok.

It’s been an emotional few months this post comp, in fact it’s been an emotional few years but I finally feel like I’m getting somewhere. I now know that metabolically I’m not in a good state, and it’s going to take a while to heal, but it is fixable. I have to unlearn my usual habit of charging at everything full tilt, but I guess having fought myself to a standstill, slow is the only mode I’m capable of right now.

I will do everything right and let it happen as it happens…

well I’m going to try anyway.

I’m not going to anything drastic like quit bodybuilding and go sit in a cave on a mountaintop for months to contemplate the universe. But I am going to have to be very aware of everything I do and think it through before acting.

I’m going to have to learn to nuture myself.

Wow.

I may have to cut back my training further, I may have to increase rest frequency, I don’t know what’s going to happen yet. It will unfold as it will and I need to be open to all possibilities.

There will still be a little bit of the usual me in this process – my natural curiosity is wide awake right now because this journey is going to be a learning process all the way through, and I’m sure I’ll find all aspects of it – good and bad – completely fascinating. So maybe next years studies are not on hold…maybe the study is not meant to be photography or nutrition…

its me!

11 sleeps to go until my holiday…

and if I don’t speak to you beforehand, have a very happy Christmas and New Year and I’ll see you on the other side – fat, relaxed and sporting a very nice tan.

🙂

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