After the first month of my disturbing symptoms and in response to my husband’s pleas to see a professional, I went to a women’s wellness clinic 2 1/2 hours away that specialized in hormone balancing. A blood test revealed that my progesterone was at rock bottom and I had a quick education on the myriad of symptoms that go with low progesterone. I also found out that the birth control pills I was on the prior 4 months had actually replaced my natural progesterone with a synthetic form called progestin. Progestin’s only purpose is to regulate a woman’s cycle. It took the place of my natural progesterone and all of the protective and helpful things that progesterone did for my body were gone.
Later, a saliva test revealed that my cortisol levels were extremely high. The doctor had me continue the tryptophan and GABA and progesterone she had prescribed. She also gave me a prescription for Xanax in case the panic attacks got overwhelming. My first inclination was that I didn’t need it, but I had been swallowing my pride a lot lately and decided to do it one more time just to have something in my back pocket in an emergency. Another opportunity for me to rethink my judgment of those in distress. Then, I was sent on my way. I went back 1 or 2 more times before finding a local practitioner to continue my treatment.
My adrenaline-induced panic attacks continued through my daughter’s 2nd birthday in October and the holidays. Then, shortly after the holidays, the racing feeling that I was continually fighting just stopped. It was replaced with a deep fatigue that, at first, was a restful peace. I started sleeping through the night…and the day. Before, I had to rest because of a weird combination of “wired but tired” (it’s a feeling that only those with adrenal fatigue can fully comprehend), and I was up and down depending on which one was more dominant at the time. Now I was always tired. The ceasing of the constant revving that sat in my chest was a huge relief, but what it meant was that, except for a spurt here and there, my body was almost depleted of cortisol. And the deep fatigue that it brings can barely be described in words.
The only thing I can use to compare the fatigue to is the flu my family recently experienced (probably the swine flu). As I laid on the couch with a fever and the kind of fatigue where you can’t move a muscle and don’t even want to get up to get a drink of water, I had a flashback of how I used to feel. Minus the fever, but including some of the aches, slight nausea, “brain dead” thinking and dizziness, the comparison is pretty close. Except for me it never went away.
Month after month, my body was “resting”, regenerating, trying to build itself back up again. The problem was that in an ideal world I would sleep all day and eat perfectly. My world involved two very active young children and a life that couldn’t just stop because of me. I did my best to rest as much as possible, but the rest of the time I was using the little bit of energy that the rest gave me. I was back to forcing myself to function, without the coffee. But I did discover that green tea was “good for me” and the small amount of caffeine it had I used as much as possible to get me through my days. My husband still helped as much as possible, but he had to make money to pay for all my supplements and other expenses.
About 6 months prior to all of this, my husband had quit his job of 13 years as an engineer/project manager at a mill to start a new career in land development. He had set up an office in our home to build his new business. Now if there is one thing I never had to worry about during this time it was my husband’s ability to keep us financially stable. His is gifted in that area and has never let us down.
Unfortunately, even though the timing was good for me to have him close, it was not good for building a brand new business. Somehow, however, he kept us afloat. And, aside from hiring a nanny to watch the kids, the only option was for him to do it. With me in bed and on the verge of panic much of the time, he had to be on stand-by 24/7. For that I can never thank him enough. It wasn’t the way he had planned starting his new career, but he did what he had to do.
I continued to cook our meals to the best of my ability and he watched kids when I needed help, working in his down time. As I read more books and talked with Ellen, I finally decided that adrenal fatigue was what I was dealing with. The book “Adrenal Fatigue, the 21st Century Stress Syndrome” was my 2nd Bible.
I went through that book with a fine-toothed comb, trying to do everything right to get myself well. The nutritional info was very helpful to me even though I have fine-tuned quite a bit since then. One major thing I realized through the book was how much my diet affects the process of adrenal fatigue. Essentially, the condition is brought on by an overload of stress to your body-internal and/or external. One of the many stressors I had been experiencing was my diet. Prior to having kids, I had always been careful about what I ate (at least what I thought was a healthy, low fat diet). I tried at first and finally gave in to the pre-packaged easy way out. It really was easier and everyone else looked okay doing it.
Unfortunately, that was only one straw on the camel’s back. The more I thought back to my lifestyle and thought patterns and the stresses that had been out of my control, including my own weak adrenal system (a hereditary thing), it was only a matter of time before something like this happened. The human body is resilient to a point, but every body had its limits. And I had found mine.
As far back as I can remember, I got stressed easily but kept it internalized – the worst combination. I think my otherwise healthy lifestyle kept me out of the woods most of my life. I loved the outdoors and grew up as a tomboy riding horses, helping my dad cut firewood, avoiding the indoor domestic duties as much as possible. I also always had exercise to fall back on as a way to wind down. Another thing I loved was playing the piano – my parents used to laugh at me growing up as I pounded the piano for hours to get rid of the stress from life. Time to myself was always another major need I had to regenerate and relax.
I have always been independent, and very self-sufficient. My husband, being of the same mindset, took it in stride as we went through our new marriage. All of my coping mechanisms worked for me until I had a baby. My world got turned upside down. Not only was I recovering from a C-section and the emotional regrets and physical healing that went along with that (I always planned on a natural delivery), but the sudden responsibility of a newborn added quite a bit of emotional stress, as it does to many.
The bigger problem was that all of my stress-relievers were taken away in one fell swoop. Exercise became more trouble than it was worth, alone time was non-existent and the piano playing only happened briefly in between nursing, diaper changes, sleeping and cooking or cleaning. Eventually I found a routine that sort of worked for me until the second child was born.
The elation that came with my successful VBAC (Vaginal Birth After Cesarean) delivery was quickly thwarted with real life. The same issues came up again, but compounded this time. My second child slept very little, had the loudest scream I’ve ever heard and between the two I never found that balance again. At 6 months old she also had RSV, which was the beginning of a viral asthma that occurs with every cold. The first year of her life I was in a total daze.
When the baby was born my oldest daughter started experiencing some extreme behaviors in reaction to the baby. She became more and more difficult to control and would have extreme tantrums with no warning, which confused and disturbed us as parents. We had a feeling these tantrums were more than just power struggles but couldn’t put our finger on what was wrong. Even as we gained more insight, this would continue to be an ongoing source of stress in my life.
To complicate things more, when my youngest was about 1 ½, I was in a car accident in which I hit black ice on the freeway and totaled the little pickup I was driving. Literally, because of the grace of God and guardian angels, no other cars were involved and I came out of it with little more than a huge knot on my forehead and some achy muscles. This traumatized me more than I knew. I thought I was going to die but had nothing physical to show for it.
About 3 months after the accident was when my husband quit his job, which for many would be a negative stress. However, this was actually a positive change for me because it meant a husband who was not on call and leaving in the middle of the night. He set his own hours and his whole demeanor was more relaxed because of this change. Still, there was the unknown of how we would make it financially, but we had money saved and the future looked good in that respect.
A couple of months later, against my better judgment, I went on birth control pills. I had been on them before having children without any problems, but never liked the idea of messing with my hormones like that. The next 4 months were a hormonal nightmare. As I tried to act normal while my insides were freaking out, I could definitely feel the internal stress rising. The doctor didn’t want me to make any changes to the birth control until I had tried it for 4 months. If I had listened to my gut, it would have said “to heck with the doctor, something is not right”. But, I didn’t listen because I had trained myself to push through no matter how I felt if I thought it was what I was supposed to do.
That same summer, everything was coming to a head with my oldest daughter’s emotional issues (by then she was 4 years old). We were at the end of our ropes with her and ready to figure out what was really going on. When we finally made the appointment with a professional at the end of the summer, we had a month’s wait – way too long for parents who had already waited too long…
A month before my body gave out on Labor Day Weekend, we had planned a family vacation to visit relatives who live on Lake Michigan (we live in Oregon). I tried hard to make the vacation a positive experience, but unfortunately everything that could go wrong, went wrong. It started with a major meltdown from my 4-year-old in the airport before we even got on the airplane. When we arrived in Michigan is was the hottest and most humid weather they had experienced all summer and we just happened to be staying in a rental cabin with no A/C. Our relatives’ house didn’t have it either. And the water in the bay was like warm bath water. The local café and iced coffee became my only respite on that trip. Because of the heat, I don’t think any of us ever slept more than 2 hours a night the whole week we were there. On the plane ride back I felt like the walking dead. I remember thinking, “How long can the human body function in this state?”
Apparently not long. About 1-2 weeks later we went camping with family and didn’t sleep for those 2 nights because of our screaming children in the middle of the night. The next weekend was Labor Day Weekend.