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Most people who know me, know I have a hard time sitting still. Even at forty-eight years of age, I like to stay busy. I have slowed down a bit mainly because I have made myself stop and breathe over the last few years, but I thrive on action.
Since the middle of last year, I have experienced quite a bit of gradual, yet seemingly sudden life change. I knew we would be moving to another state. I knew I would be empty nesting and leaving both kids in college. I knew I would be job switching. And, I knew life as I had known it for the last twenty one years was going to be different. I thought I was prepared, mentally and emotionally, but the last three months has had me wondering if I was truly ready for the changes.
I knew I was not feeling myself. I was lethargic. Could sleep all day. Had to make myself run, and I have run for the last twenty seven years. Felt down for no reason. Slept poorly at night. Did not have the “get up and go” energy. Avoided the grocery store and shopping in general (big red flag). And, I just knew something was out of whack.
Depression? Sure. Who doesn’t feel these things from time to time? Situational depression? Probably. Look at all of the changes that hit me at once. Anyone in their right mind (no pun here) can see that I was experiencing almost every symptom of depression.
This was a hard pill to swallow. I’ve always known about depression, both personally and professionally. I mean, I KNOW what depression on every level looks like, from children to geriatrics. I can spot people with depression. So, I knew I had to evaluate some things.
First of all I had to get rid of the self-doubt, thinking I was truly depressed and never going to be myself again. This was paralyzing and getting me nowhere. After driving myself crazy for weeks thinking how to tackle this very uncomfortable and consistent aura, I started playing doctor. I really self-assessed everything. I sought out social groups. I recorded my bad sleep nights. I changed my sleep patterns and allowed myself to really sleep as much as I could. I thought about my diet. I know nutrition for the most part. It has been a practical and personal hobby of mine ever since I can remember. Still, I am not a t-totaler and I am not perfect with my diet. I eat sweets. I have a night-time wake up call to eat sugar every night. It’s when my body wants it. I love Oreos. I love chocolate. I eat sugar every day. I drink caffeine. And I don’t eat green ruffled-edged vegetables every day, twice a day.
I kept digging. I asked myself what I had I changed recently (the last three months). Had I consumed more white flour? Less protein? Less fats? Had I not taken a multi vitamin consistently enough? Had I skipped meals and not realized? Had I started a new food? Was I gluten intolerant and just now seeing symptoms? Was my iron low? Were my thyroid hormones off (I have had Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis for over fifteen years)? What about caffeine intake? Was I not consuming enough nutrient dense foods? Was I eating too much oatmeal (and I hate that stuff)? I am a good eater, always have been, but maybe I had lost touch with how important eating well is during stressful times.
Besides really paying attention to my body signals, I went to my PCP and asked for a complete blood work up. I do know my body, but there are so many conditions and symptoms that only a “real” doctor and a metabolic work-up can depict. The blood results came back normal. So there. I was able to narrow down reasons for why I had been feeling so fatigued and fuzzy-headed and unmotivated and depressed. My thyroid was fine. My vitamin levels were good. All of my systems registered perfectly. [In fifteen years of having my blood tested for thyroiditis and taking medication for it every day of my life, I have never had a blood test come back out of whack. I am one of the lucky ones.]
Back to the drawing board I go. What on earth could be making me this tired? I woke up tired. I went to bed tired. I was lethargic all-day-long. Days were passing me by, and I had no energy to partake. I felt jittery off and on. I was nervous internally and even naps could not settle this feeling. It felt like mono or pregnancy all over again, for months on end.
I did, however, have the motivation to research the endocrine system. It is so common and widely reported that people with Hypothyroidism get false blood results all the time. Maybe I was one of these people. I wanted to learn more.
I started reading more about the adrenal glands. Like, who knew these two little glands sitting one top of the kidneys had such an important role in your energy level? I started thinking of them like lymph nodes. We all know that lymph nodes collect waste (among other functions) and play an important role in our immune system. So maybe the adrenal glands served a similar purpose, in a slightly different way, within another bodily system?
This is what I found out about the adrenal glands and it is scary.
There is a condition called adrenal fatigue. One source I found states that over 80% of us will have this at some point in our lives and not know it. The adrenal glands are clumps of tissue that sit on top of the kidneys and produce hormones (adrenalin, cortisol, and according to my research, progesterone, estrogen and testosterone.) Each gland has its own responsibilities that varies with emotional stress and other environmental and body conditions, and they differ in what hormones they produce for what life situation (a funeral versus a wedding).
When under tremendous stress, the adrenals go nuts, and can become damaged. Although it is their primary purpose to get us through stressful situations, chronic and ongoing stress can freak out the glands, causing them to fatigue. The adrenaline that is produced, when not stabilized becomes very acidic and disruptive to other organs like the brain and heart.
[This would explain the anxiety and edgy feelings I was having. There was one night we were away from home in a hotel and I was so jittery and unsettled that finally at 4am, I went and slept in the car in the hotel parking lot.]
Adrenal fatigue is much more complicated than what I even currently understand. As I kept researching, I never convinced myself that I have adrenal fatigue, but I convinced myself that it sure sounded like it. I had weakness [Ask my husband. After running for twenty seven years, there was one day a few weeks ago that we were walking a five mile stretch and I had to sit down. I wanted to lie down.], lack of energy, not feeling rested after waking from sleep, “crashing” mid-morning, feeling exhausted at night but unable to fall to sleep (Tylenol PM every night), depression, insomnia, and a few more symptoms, as if this is not enough.
So then, I played doctor. Just for one week.
I looked at what had been a constant in my diet for the last six months. Something perhaps that I needed to eliminate. I looked at anything newly added to my diet. I had started eating real ice cream a few nights after dinner. I asked myself about alcohol consumption because I do like red wine. Nope, I had purposely stopped drinking wine because it was making me feel nervous and was disrupting my sleep. I really evaluated my habits. I joined some groups on Facebook to read about others’ experience. And, I woke up one Monday morning and headed to the grocery store…
For the next week, I drank no caffeine (THIS was my one CONSTANT.) Yes, I had a slight headache for three days. I drank the heck out of green tea. No sugar. I bought Omega-3 oil to mix with yogurt. I bought avocados, apples, celery, lemons, broccoli, kale, sweet potatoes, bananas, and things I had never eaten before. I bought fish, grass fed beef, and organic chicken. I did not buy anything white. No bread, no potatoes, no crackers, no cheese, no milk (hate it anyway), and nothing processed. I did add coconut milk and laid off of the almond week for just the one week. No nuts of any kind.
It was a crazy way to live for just one week and I will start reintroducing some foods. Everyone has their own way of “detoxing”, saving the adrenals, experimenting with new diets and new foods. This was mine.
Can I tell you? Can I just say…it worked! Anxiety gone. Depression continues to lift every second of every day. Sleep – incredible. Energy levels so much better. Naps? Not as many. And the “good news” list goes on.
If I had to put my finger on one culprit that may have mixed poorly with the stress of life changes, it would be caffeine, mainly coffee. I love my coffee. I only drink one big cup of fully- leaded each morning, and this is the first time I have ever stopped drinking it, in thirty years. Guess what? I survived. Is it fun? No! Do I hate green teas? Yes. I would have drank mud at the point I was at, just to feel like myself again.
I have since learned a great deal about coffee, its production process, and its effects on the central nervous system. Who doesn’t know that caffeine is a stimulant on the CNS? But I didn’t know it can heighten anxiety and depression. (http://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-11425/can-caffeine-worsen-depression-and-anxiety.html. As for how it effects the adrenal glands, coffee consumption almost tricks the glands because it stimulates them, making them think “stress” or “flight” at which point the adrenals start releasing adrenaline.
So, be your own doctor. We are all adults. We all know our bodies better than any physician. Read. Don’t be afraid to eliminate. You will survive. When I tell you I would have consumed mud if I knew I would feel more like myself, I mean it. Self-evaluate. Talk to your doctor. Try different things. It’s okay to wear the white coat, clean up your diet, and pay close attention to what you do to your body, just for one week. You might kind of like it.
I’m going to pour myself a cup of hot…..tea.
Lori M. Bender, MSW
Professional Life and Wellness Coach
Founder of Carolina Lifestyle Coaching
FB-Carolina Lifestyle Coaching