How I reclaimed my health
The hardest thing about recovering from AF was realising the things I’d been doing do protect myself, were the very things causing me harm. If I was to ever get better, I had to let go of many harmful ideas, beliefs and habits, but letting them go meant I no longer had answers. I had to learn a new way to approach life.
While Dr G helped me find lots of useful information about AF, everything came together when I stumbled across a book by James L. Wilson – ‘Adrenal Fatigue: The 21st Century Stress Syndrome’. I highly recommend it as a guide to get you through; as it covers everything you need to know about AF – what it is, why it’s commonly misdiagnosed (or not diagnosed at all), who suffers from it, what the signs and symptoms are and how you can recover. Most importantly, the book makes you realise you’re not alone and gives your suffering credence you may not have found elsewhere. It taught me how to help myself and where to find support, which is the best place to start!
Instead of learning effective coping mechanisms throughout life, I’d depended on repression and obsession to see me through. When my body finally gave out, it forced me to open my eyes and take a look at the way I was living. When I finally allowed myself to let go of everything I’d been struggling to hold onto, an amazing thing happened… I began to heal. At first I didn’t like what I saw and throughout the healing process I lost many of the things I’d been so afraid to lose. However, I stopped seeing their absence as a loss when I realised how much they’d been hurting me and was able to set them free with a sense of relief. On the flip side, there were many things that weren’t so easy to let go of and that made healing from AF a bitter sweet journey.
Back to Sleep…
As mentioned in Part 1 of this blog, my recovery started with sleep! I was so exhausted, sleep became inescapable. At the time I didn’t realise how important it was. However, as I allowed myself to rest, I could see how much rest I’d been depriving myself of. Not just in extreme circumstances – where noisy downstairs neighbours kept me awake until 3am – but from the way I’d experienced sleep my whole life. FOMO, monkey mind and anxiety had caused me to suffer from insomnia for as long as I could remember. I’d gotten so used to feeling tired and pushing through, I’d come to think feeling exhausted all the time was normal.
When I finally gave in to my fatigue, I could actually feel the healing nature of sleep. I began to understand that when I deprived myself of it, I was depriving my body of the chance to perform important restorative processes. When we sleep; our muscles relax, our blood pressure drops, our nervous system rests, blood flow increases to the tissues and promotes restoration, and hormones for growth and development are released. Alternatively, when we don’t get enough sleep; our immunity is lowered leaving us open to infections, our healing processes slow down and inadequate supplies of cortisol and other hormones are released. The adrenal system is said to benefit greatly from sleep between 10pm-12 midnight and then again from 7-9 in the morning. Getting one or the other of those important rest periods in every day became my Golden Rule.
I was no longer prepared to mess with my sleep, or my hormones, and although adjustments to my sleeping patterns came with some challenges, it was ultimately quite enjoyable. I learned to say NO, (a great lesson for anyone) and I arranged clients around my schedule instead always suiting theirs. Early starts followed by late finishes became a thing of the past and my social life was replaced by feathery quilts and soft pillows. My health became more important than anything else, and while cutting back on work (and income) was tough, I had everything I needed and that was enough.
Nutrition was important too…
For many years I’d suffered from food intolerances, weight issues and digestive problems – all major indicators that something was wrong. I often preferred to eat nothing at all, than to feel the way I felt – which was puffy, heavy, bloated and blocked up. Eventually I’d get hungry though, and I’d end up binging on something high in fat or sugar – a common mistake for people with AF, who are desperate for a fast source of energy. Foods high in fat or sugar give you the boost you need in the short term, but leave you feeling more tired and open you up to other health problems. The cycle I was in, of not eating enough, eating too much and eating unhealthy foods, was creating more stress in my body. The stress was creating inflammation, the inflammation was creating discomfort and the discomfort was perpetuating the cycle. I had to break it.
Despite everything I thought I knew about nutrition, I was clueless when it came to AF. So I found someone who wasn’t – a nutritionist, experienced in treating AF. She devised an eating plan that suited my tastes, and also incorporated the fundamental features of a diet healing to the adrenals. The plan included; eating lots of coloured vegetables, not eating fruit in the mornings, reducing fruit and sugar intake, combining proteins with starches at every meal, eating a small snack in the afternoon to get me through the slumps, eating a portion of protein and carbohydrates right before bed (to stop low insulin levels from waking me up during the night) and salting my food. People with AF often have salt cravings, due to low levels of a steroid hormone called Aldosterone, which acts in much the same way cortisol does. Under prolonged periods of stress, the adrenals don’t produce enough to meet the body’s demands. This lack results in low blood pressure, dizziness, dehydration, loss of electrolytes and salt cravings. Therefore, salt intake (of the pink Himalayan rock variety) is encouraged (and helped explain why I’d been sneaking to the fridge in the middle of the night to gorge on spoonful’s of vegemite. Totally gross, but somehow my body knew what it needed).
It felt good to be nourishing myself properly again and when my body started to feel better, my anxieties and fears in relation to food began to relax. My digestion improved and I lost some of the weight I’d gained. I was getting somewhere, but there was still a long way to go.
Seeing a counsellor helped me realise…
‘All that glitters is not gold’.
It seems crazy, but we don’t always know what’s causing us pain, and sometimes the things we love the most are the things causing us the most harm. Whether you have AF or not, it makes sense to know yourself well enough to determine what’s hurting you, to be able to admit when your suffering more than you can bear and to let go before you’re torn apart. Pain is not a sign of weakness, it’s a sign that something’s wrong and when you begin to feel it you always have these choices – to change your perception of what’s happening, to change the circumstances surrounding you or to remove yourself from the situation. When it comes to AF being able to identify stressors, and remove them from your life is imperative to your recovery.
By the time I finally sought help from a counsellor, everything in my life was a source of stress. Even the way I had fun (drinking, smoking, staying out late and generally being naughty)! When asked – ‘when was the last time you truly felt good?’ – I couldn’t answer, because I couldn’t remember. My whole life, I’d not spoken up when things were hurting me. I’d forced myself to stay in situations that were draining me, ignored illnesses, neglected my passions and stayed in relationships with controlling people who deceived me. I thought I could handle it. I thought I was supposed to. I believed that being strong meant withstanding anything life threw at me. So over and over again, I got battered by the same, or a similar set of circumstances, until I couldn’t take anymore.
Seeing a counsellor taught me that it was OK to tell people when they were hurting me. Before then, I’d had a hard time determining whether someone had done wrong by me, or whether I was being too sensitive, so I carried all the weight on my shoulders. She helped me understand that it didn’t matter who was at fault, what mattered was the way I felt. If I didn’t feel good, I had the right to stand up for myself and I always had choices available that could turn the situation around. It was an empowering realisation, and something I’d always known. However, I didn’t know how to put it into practice, or maybe I was too scared to. Because when you come to ‘understand’ how you must protect yourself from others, it means you have to start being careful about who you spend your time with and what kind of treatment you’re willing to accept from them. It means you’re no longer willing to accept anything less than love and respect, and you have to make that clear to them. If you’re not getting what you need, it’s time to walk – no matter how hard it is. If the relationship (or situation) is hurting you, it may be the only answer.
I began to feel better when I spent more time with people who genuinely loved and respected me. It seems obvious, but many of us get confused about what this actually means. If you’re willing to be completely honest with yourself, you always know the truth, but you have to listen.
Finding complimentary therapies took time and experimentation …
When it came to choosing therapies to assist my healing, it was very important to find treatments I believed in. I wasn’t used to nurturing myself, so I tried anything and everything – naturopathy, Chinese herbs, massage, colonics, reflexology, reiki, kinesiology, acupuncture, yoga therapy, and more – until I found what worked for me. Although I found some benefit in everything I tried, some produced better results than others.
I saw a Naturopath on a regular basis, because taking the magical concoctions, direct from mother-nature, relieved my symptoms in a way that nothing else had. I credit my Naturopath with restoring regularity to my cycle, relieving PMS and soothing my anxiety. For years I had a lot of anxiety attached to missing my period, not only because it caused physical discomfort, but I’d also been warned that its prolonged absence could lead to difficulties in falling pregnant and possibly cancer of the womb. Yet no treatment or prevention plan was ever offered to me. With my naturopath, I found compassion, consistency and I got the results I’d been desperately seeking, for three long years.
After experimenting with many beautiful massage techniques, I came to love the ones on my stomach the most. They gently released tension from my organs, soothed my nervous system and cleared pathways for healing energy to sweep through my whole body. Since your stomach is such a sensitive and vulnerable part of your body, it’s important to look after it. It contains more nerve endings than your brain and the release you feel after a massage can be immense. All massage works well, because it gives you permission to let go and provides soothing human contact. My massage therapist used her precise powers of intuition to apply various energy healing techniques that she felt were right for me. I always left feeling like a revived woman.
From time to time, I also saw a Chinese Herbalist who gave me acupuncture using a method based on restoring balance to the 5 elements within our bodies (fire, wood, metal, water and earth). The treatments always felt very grounding, and by focusing on my spleen meridian, I experienced ease from worrying and my perpetual water retention, disappeared. I’d waited a long time to experience that relief, and thankfully it’s lasted!
There’s so much more to talk about when it comes to AF and the avenues for healing. The process can be a long one and the experience will be unique to everyone. We all experience stress differently, and our bodies have different capabilities of coping. The best advice I can give to anyone suffering from AF is to find help from people who specialise in treating it; people who recognise it as a syndrome and know how to help you recover. There’s a lot more awareness of it now, which cuts out so much guess work and confusion about what’s happening to you. Lifestyle changes and establishing healthier thought patterns were essential to my healing, and they will be to yours too. But you don’t have to do it alone, there’s lots of support for you and when you get to the other side you’ll have a new sense of love and respect for yourself.