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Brooke Siler

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System Failure: Adrenal Fatigue

Posted: 06/06/2012 4:03 pm

When there's a message to be delivered, life whispers, then thumps, then knocks your house down! My proverbial house came crashing down one year ago while preparing to present at a professional conference. I awoke at 4:30 a.m. on the morning of my event and proceeded to endure the most excruciatingly painful and terrifying four hours of my life. A panic attack overtook me like a thief in the night, catching me completely off guard and without defense to bolster myself. It had been 12 years since I'd last felt the fear of an attack, and I had certainly never had one as monstrous as this one. It was as if it had hidden in the shadows of my negative reserve for 12 years waiting for an opportunity like this to arrive: professional obligation, social presentation and physical depletion... the perfect storm.

Since my heart surgery at the end of 2009, and most likely for a good time preceding that, I have slowly and surreptitiously slipped from a state of optimal health into one of survival. Having allowed life's stressors to wind their tentacle arms through the network of my life, I became increasingly unable (unwilling?) to see stress' punishing effects on my body. As sugar became the staple of my diet, and work replaced working out, I slipped further and further into stress' hypnotic trance. Running myself ragged day and night, starved for sustenance and reaching "uncontrollably" for more and more of the poison keeping me paralyzed. All this compounded by the guilt and shame surrounding my choices.

Years ago, during another stressful period, my wonderful holistic chiropractor, Dr. Lou Granirer, immediately recognized the hallmarks of stress in my body. He recommended eliminating soy and sugar and put me on a steady course of liquid Rehmannia -- an herb used to "replenish vital force." While it definitely helped ease some symptoms, the root cause of my stress would be ongoing and would lead me to the adrenal shutdown that eventually occurred.

I had made it through my panic attack by the skin of my teeth and the sheer resolve of my professional integrity that said, "You just have to!" I made it through and only a very few that I confided in ever even knew. I took my shame and fear home with me and immediately sought help but told myself the problem was in my cluttered mind and could be fixed with beta-blockers and a less-hectic work schedule. What I failed to recognize was how the momentum of this stress had leaked from the confines of my mind into my body, or vice versa, the chicken and egg conundrum, and continued to pervade my daily function. Less and less motivated, more and more tired, I was convinced I just needed to slow down and find "more of myself" in the quiet moments. But like the flywheel of a spin bike, no amount of sleep or rest could stop the effects of momentum on my organs. And while I had suspected my adrenals were struggling, I was caught in the clutches of a fatigue so pervasive that I could not see my way out and lacked the energy to even try. Seven, eight and 10 hours of sleep a night and I awoke to the same thought each and every day "How will I ever make it through today?"

The most benign emotional encounters left me scrambling to climb back under the covers to, literally, "recover." Every obstacle, large or small, felt insurmountable. And I still "handled" them all. As I had made it through my hellish hotel panic, I also made it through dozens of other challenges that might face a business owning, mother, and wife. And again, only a select few were privy to my pain. I kept thinking, "I just need to get my diet and exercise back on track." My belly had begun to swell most unnaturally for me, and the extra padding on my arms and thighs was not nearly as intolerable as the quality of the fat, with its dimples and divots. And while my kids love the "fuller" version of their mom, the real challenge came not in accepting this new body (although it would be a lie to say that I have), but in feeling so completely out of touch with my physical self. This self was what I had relied upon as a force of nature since my teens when I became aware of my strength. This body that saw me through an elective open-heart surgery and the birth of two 9.7-pound babies I was not medically advised to have. And here, through steady doses of stress and unwise dietary choices, lack of fitness routine, and the guilt that accompanied these things I had brought this incredible machine to its knees.

I've heard it said that "we change when the pain of remaining the same becomes greater than the pain it takes to change." This thesis I have proved time and again in my own life and watched it being proven in the lives of others. I had finally made it to the point of insufferable pain and reached out to my dear friend Maggie, who is no stranger to surmounting health crisises, and finally admitting "I don't know what to do." Before I had finished describing my second symptom she, with rapid-fire reflex, had me scheduled to be in the office of Dr. Frank Lipman -- an integrative M.D. -- at nine the next morning.

Within one week, the correct amalgamation of adrenal supplementation (including Rehmannia again), minerals and proteins had flipped my energy switch back on. Waking up refreshed is a joy that I now relish. Feeling my energy return I realize just how fully I had depleted my system. I recently returned to teach at the very conference where panic struck a year ago. I proceeded with caution, but my bolstered body scoffed at the idea of another attack and I felt invigorated and confident.

Adrenal fatigue is often cloaked in a veil of "busy-ness," and so fatigue is to be an "expected" consequence, but where are the edges of that veil? And how do we lift them to see clearly? When we shut down our adrenals, our ability to handle stress is severely impaired. Everything is a little bit (or a lotta bit) harder, less desirable, and more emotional. The symptoms are relatively consistent, and I've found a quiz that may help you identify the presence and severity of adrenal fatigue in your own life: http://www.adrenalfatigue.org/take-the-adrenal-fatigue-quiz. (NOTE: I do not know, recommend, nor have any association with Dr. Wilson or his products.)

For me there is more work to be done, stress' residue to be rinsed from my body, however I am able to say with acuity that feeling exhausted 24/7 is NOT normal... for ANYONE. We are so able to "push through," to "handle" and to "make it work" that it can be hard to recognize the destructive momentum building internally until it "knocks your house down." But more revealing than the result is the inability (or unwillingness) to recognize and/or address our own needs.

If one person benefits from reading this and says, "Maybe I shouldn't feel this way," or "Maybe I don't have to be this overwrought," and seeks the help they need, then I am relieved. And, as I look back on why so much time has passed since I last posted I am able to see that my inability to focus, motivate, and drive myself is an obvious side effect of where I have been. For now, I'll leave you with these questions:

Can you identify the sources of exhaustion in your life? How will you strive to change these? What is the cost of NOT changing them? Who will you choose to help you? How will YOU help you?

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