My Journey with Adrenal Fatigue part 1

my journey with adrenal fatigue

I feel the need to preface this post with a disclaimer:  I’m not a doctor.  This post is a journal of my personal experience and not meant to diagnose or treat any medical condition.

I have to go back a little bit to begin the story. I first had symptoms of adrenal distress when I was in high school.  I was fiercely competitive with my grades and music and was in an unhealthy dating relationship.  The stress interfered with my sleep and I had a lot of anxiety.  I remember carrying every book I owned to every class I had, because I was afraid I would forget something and be unprepared.  My bus arrived at 6:30am and I often didn’t come home until 5pm later because of after-school clubs.  Many times I ran home to grab food and go right back to perform in the show or pep band for a basketball game.  In spite of the anxiety I remember my High School years as some of the best of my life and had a wonderful core group of friends in my music classes that attended my church and youth group.

Looking back, I was probably mal-nourished.  I was a chubby child and between my 7th and 8th grade years of school I worked hard to lose 30 pounds.  At home, I worked out and ate a lot of whole grains, fruit and vegetables but not much fat or protein.  At school I ate peanut butter bars, Cheetos, ice cream cones and biscuits and gravy.  None of this was my mother’s fault.  She provided healthy balanced foods for me.  I made the choice to do other things.  I didn’t notice a problem with nourishment until I started having one baby after another.  The pregnancies quickly sapped the reserves I had.

As a young bride I had a lot of anxiety and some OCD symptoms.  While I know now that there’s no shame in seeking help from a Christian therapist at the time I couldn’t consider it.  I turned exclusively to the Lord for help.  I remember lying in bed as my husband worked late and fighting the urge to check the stove, check the doors and listen for intruders.  I started repeating Psalm 27, “ The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? the Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?”   Eventually the OCD urges stopped as I learned to trust.

Ever since I was a teenager I’ve suffered from low blood pressure, low blood sugar and dizzy/black out spells. It runs in the family, so we didn’t think much of it.

Crash #1: My first real adrenal attack came when I was pregnant with my 3rd child.  I developed an allergy to saliva and sweat (even my own) which made exercise or breastfeeding a painful rashy experience.  I still did both.  During that pregnancy I had little energy, and caring for 2 toddlers in addition to the pregnancy was overwhelming.  I gained 60 pounds and fought depression.  I had 3 babies aged 3 and under and lived far away from my mother.  At the time, I had no idea that my adrenal system needed nourishment, and none of the many doctors I saw thought of it either. Their solutions were steroid creams and to stop having children.  I felt like my struggles were my fault and showed a lack of strength of character.  I went on to have 3 more babies :).

Crash #2: When my 5th child was still a baby, my husband lost his job.  The stress of those many months was huge, but the task of survival kept my body going. Not long after he found work, I was in a minor car accident. The air bag deployed and injured my spine, but the children were ok.  That huge flood of adrenaline during the accident following a long stressful period, wreaked havoc on my adrenal glands.  My blood pressure was 80/50 on a good day and I could hardly walk around or function. I started gaining a pound every few days even though I hadn’t changed my way of eating.  There were days I went to bed not certain that I would be alive by morning.  I went to several doctors seeking help.  They told me to be happy that I didn’t have high blood pressure and probably wrote hypochondriac on my chart. I finally found a doctor that also had a degree in nutrition. He did a complete nutrition blood panel and the results said I was fat but starving to death.  He put me on a high protein, low carb diet (of powdered food packets) with tons of vitamin and mineral supplements.  I got better and lost weight, but it was a hard program to stick to.  I eventually quit going and replaced his expensive powdered food packs with real food, this time making sure I had plenty of protein at every meal. In hindsight two of the things he prescribed were very helpful to nourishing the adrenals:  salt tablets and methylated B vitamins.  Though at the time I was still clueless that adrenal fatigue was a thing.

Crash #3: Two years ago, I was working at home and received word that one of my students committed suicide.  Just a few days before 2 of my children were diagnosed with medical learning disabilities that required thousands of dollars in therapy that insurance wouldn’t cover, and we discovered a major structural flaw in our home that would cost $24,000 to correct.  Any one of those things would have taken me out but all three together was a disaster.  My immune system was virtually non-existent.  It started with a recurrent bladder infection that I was prescribed stronger and stronger antibioics for over the course of a few months.  Then I became ill with all 3 types of flu–at the same time.  I lost 10 lbs.  Even though I was so ill, I celebrated that I finally reached my goal weight.  {That strikes me as emotionally unhealthy now that I look back on it.}  The weight loss wasn’t to last.  My body, convinced that I was dying, started putting on weight very quickly.  Within a few months I had gained 30 lbs!

Alarmed, I went to my doctor.  I had been studying about the adrenals at that time and asked for a cortisol level blood test.  He took the test, but told me to stop eating carbs and to be thankful I didn’t have high blood pressure.  Here’s the thing, I had been eating a high protein, low carb diet full of fresh fruits and vegetables since my 2nd adrenal crash.  I wasn’t gaining weight because of carbs and yet no medical person would take me seriously.   My blood test came back with crazy high cortisol levels, more than twice what they should have been for that time of day.  He gave me a referral to an endocrinologist who told me they could squeeze me in, in 5 months.  I said, I’m sorry but I might be dead by then and hung up.

The week of the blood test, I was teaching Bible School music.  It was enough stress that I was making a lot of extra cortisol.  As soon as the week was over, it was like my body suddenly stopped producing much at all.  My blood pressure was so low that I couldn’t walk without holding on to things. Even lying down I could feel myself blacking out at times.  It was hard for me to lift my own arms.  I was scared.  I was so tired that I didn’t care if I lived.

I spent hours online researching adrenal fatigue and looking for any medical person who might help.  My mom and her friend threatened to kidnap me and head to the Mayo clinic.  From what I had read on the official Mayo Clinic website they would treat me as clinically depressed and did not recognize adrenal fatigue as a thing.  I begged for more time to find a solution close to home.

There is lots of advice online for treating adrenal fatigue at home and most of it had conflicting advice in another area.  The one thing that became clear to me was, left untreated, it was life threatening and once bed bound it is too dangerous to self treat.  They also warned that once the disease had gotten this severe it could take 3 years to recover completely.  As I searched for a doctor to guide me through recovery I discovered  Functional Medicine.  These are MDs or DOs who have gone on to get additional training to look for the root cause of disease and not just treat symptoms.  This group of doctors has ample training in adrenal fatigue and could diagnose or rule it out.  I held my breath, daring to hope there was such a doctor in my area.

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4 thoughts on “My Journey with Adrenal Fatigue part 1

  1. Rachel says:

    I am so sorry you have had to go through this. My story is eerily similar to yours except I also have hashimotoes hypothyroidism. I would urge you to make sure you don’t have it (most doctors will not test for it and think a tsh of 4.5 is fine but anything over 2.5 is not!) it is a journey towards healing and I sympathize with what you have experienced.

    • Angela says:

      Hi Rachel! Thank you for taking the time to write. I’m sorry you are dealing with this too. I have been concerned about Hashimotos too, but so far we don’t think that is a factor. My doctor things my low thyroid is because of the low adrenals and will correct itself when the adrenals do. I’m hoping so. I have mild symptoms of it: larger arms but no stretchmarks there, weight in the trunk and thin legs…but it’s mild enough that we are hoping it’s not Hashi’s.

  2. Tabitha says:

    When they do your next labs, make sure he checks for thyroid antibodies. One is called TPO on labs and I can’t remember what the other is called. I’m hoping this rules out Hashimoto’s for you. (My TPO was elevated and I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s. ) My TSH has been “normal” for the last ten years so I always got the pat on the head with “you have IBS and X number of children, poor crazy lady”.

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