I have been dealing with the life-altering effects of a medical condition known as Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome for over three years now. This has been the most trying experience of my life, but one that I wouldn’t change for the world. Still, I am beyond happy to say that at this point in time, I am 95% recovered and really able to reflect on the journey.
What I learned over these four years is invaluable and definitely worth sharing.
Since I’m on the other side of this mountain, I’ll be able to interject a bit of lightheartedness in an otherwise gloomy experience. In fact, hope you find these experiences useful for your own life, whether or not you have been diagnosed with AFS.
Extreme stress does terrible things to an otherwise healthy body, so nurturing your adrenals is important no matter what, especially the way we live in this day and age.
First, I’ll start off with the things that started to shake the foundation to my health. Although talking about health can sometimes be embarrassing, I’ll try to be as transparent as possible. It might gross you out, but it’s worth talking about.
Back in late 2011, I started experiencing random, sporadic, and unexplained symptoms. To give you an idea of hellish life that was unfolding, these are the things that would come and go daily:
- fatigue, despite a full night’s sleep
- memory loss
- inability to recall information
- brain fog
- depression/low mood
- weight gain
- inability to lose weight, even with proper diet/exercise
- missed menstrual cycles (9 in a row at one point)
- extreme PMS symptoms
- menstrual cramps that would send me to the hospital
- digestive problems (bloating, gas, extremely slow digestion)
- low appetite
- loss of taste for food I normally loved
- hot flashes
- difficulty falling asleep and/or staying asleep
- numb body parts
- tingly hands and feet
- fainting and/or “dizzy” spells (blackouts, hearing loss, vision loss, tunnel vision, sideways vision)
- low blood pressure
- feeling lightheaded when standing
- loss of motivation for doing things I loved
- salty/sweet cravings
- lack of or extremely low attention/focus
- difficulty getting out of bed in the morning
- apathy – general inability to feel/express emotions
Wowza, lots of symptoms, right? Let me paint you a picture before I go any farther. Picture a 105 pound, healthy 20-year-old. She bikes to and from class every day, walks everywhere, and works out at least 4-5 times a week, not including 2 days a week of dance practice.
If you hadn’t gathered by the last sentence, she is the epitome of a type-A personality. She’s also an overachiever with a 4.18 college GPA, two part-time jobs, and rarely moments of down time. Her diet is fairly healthy, seldom including fast food, sugary drinks/treats, or fried junk. She is adamant about getting 8 hours of sleep a night (at least.) This young adult has a balanced social life, is active on campus in college, and generally feels happy and content in life, although it is a jam-packed (maybe too full) life.
Well, that was me. Then everything started to change. My body started to fall apart at the seams.
The first thing I noticed
Initially, I saw that my clothes weren’t fitting quite the same. This led me to jump on a scale to monitor my weight for the first time in my entire life. My weight started creeping up about a pound a week, with no change in diet or exercise. In just a few months I weighed 123 pounds, and it was all I could do to maintain that size by religiously tracking exercise and food consumption with the app Lose It.
Then, the ole noodle
The next major symptom was brain fog (accompanied by memory loss). It would just feel like I couldn’t comprehend a train of thoughts or follow through with a conversation. I’d either forget what I was talking about completely or suddenly have no idea what was going on.
Not only that, but there were times I’d be sitting in class, get instructions from a professor, and then forget what he said almost instantly. This was frustrating, sure, but without knowing why this was happening, I felt like I was losing my damn mind! (Which of course is what everyone else thought, too.)
Hakuna Matata…Well, I was trying.
Next came the depression, mood swings, low mood, sleep issues, and anxiety. It was around this time that I was actually starting to go batty, not understanding what the hell was going on. (Keep in mind that I wouldn’t know what was wrong with me for another 9 months.) And so began the wild goose hunt that represents the medical journey portion of this story.
The Doctors and Tests
This nine-month “witch hunt” was a really fuzzy time, and therefore has sort of blurred together as I look back, so you’ll have to excuse the brevity or lack of chronology.
In the time it would have taken to cook an entire human being in my belly, I saw an Endocrinologist, Cardiologist, Rheumatologist, Neurologist, Gastroenterologist, nutritionist, and various general practitioners.
The First Specialist
I remember vividly sitting in the Endocrinologist’s office, trying to articulate my symptoms (and probably failing miserably) because I had really no clue what was relevant or not. Like I said, half the time I was convinced my mind was lost.
The doctor (and shadowing doctor in training) sat across from me, silently judging my assortment of symptoms. To my aggravation, the two symptoms that stuck out most were my not having a period for 6 months (at that time) and the fact that I was wearing an ASU t-shirt.
You know what that clearly means, right? Pregnant. Never mind the fact that I was clear about not being sexually active. Obviously, I was lying, according to these doctors. I had waited over two months to be seen by this doctor, and she orders a pregnancy test. To say I was livid is a gross understatement.
The Best Move Thus Far: Be Holistic
Fortunately, a friend of mine recommended a Holistic doctor, which I then saw for the remainder of this journey. Doctor H. ordered every blood test you could possibly think of, and sent me to the other specialists (mentioned above) for even more tests and exams.
We’re talking tens of thousands of dollars in testing and appointments that led nowhere. For all intents and purposes, I was a perfectly healthy 20-year-old on paper in every single way….except I wasn’t.
Frustration level 98%.
I’ll stop here for now. In my next post, I’ll talk about the lifestyle changes that were made to combat Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome.