I’ve never been a morning person, but this is different.
Every morning I wake up feeling like I barely slept. My body is seized up in pain as if I have arthritis. My brain is excessively fuzzy and non-functioning until at least one cup of coffee. Every. single. morning.
I realized early last fall that something was wrong. Whatever I was experiencing, it wasn’t normal. At first I was most cognizant of the symptoms of depression and chronic fatigue, but that was just the beginning. I felt freakishly (for me) unmotivated, apathetic, and listless in my daily tasks. I felt a constant fog in my brain that I couldn’t shake. My monthly cycle was acting crazy and irregular. I had the most insane salt cravings. And did I mention tired? Always, always exhausted.
When people would ask how I was doing I couldn’t answer “fine”, but I couldn’t put my finger on why, exactly. I had used the “I’m just tired” response way too many times and soon realized that I didn’t believe it anymore.
I wasn’t just tired. I was… something else.
I don’t remember the exact article, but I was reading about adrenal fatigue a few months later, and a lightbulb went off in my head.
I started googling like crazy and devouring everything I could get my hands on related to adrenal and thyroid health.
I took the quiz in the first book I read (Adrenal Fatigue: The 21st Century Stress Syndrome by James L. Wilson). The scoring went like so:
under 40 = slight AF (adrenal fatigue) or none at all
45-88 = mild AF
89-132 = moderate AF
132+ = consider yourself to be suffering from severe adrenal fatigue.
I scored a 201.
Then I took the quiz in The Adrenal Reset Diet by Dr. Alan Christianson, and this was the result I wrote in my copy of the book:
And finally, I took the quiz in the Adrenal Fatigue Solution by Fawne Hanson and Dr. Eric Wood (my favorite of the Adrenal Fatigue books I’ve read so far). This quiz was 16 questions, and scoring tiers were:
0-3 for mild or none
4-8 to warrant further investigation of symptoms
9+ highly likely that you are suffering from AF, signs of major dysfunction
I checked off every single question on the quiz for a total score of 16. Over these last few months of reading about AF, my symptoms have worsened.
A few months ago I was standing in a church service after a hectic morning and suddenly my vision went blurry. I saw stars and felt like I was on the drop of a roller coaster ride. I felt as if the floor was falling out from under me. It was only for a second and my vision returned. I was still standing, but decided to sit down before it happened again.
This has happened a few times over the last year or so (the first time it ever happened I argued with my husband over whether a small earthquake had just occurred until I finally realized that it was just me…), but I had always just attributed it to a blood pressure that tended to be on the low end, or maybe just a dip in blood sugar, and needing to eat something.
Lo and behold, what do I see when reading about adrenal fatigue? Feelings of greying or blacking out is a noted symptom.
So what are the main symptoms?
Adrenal fatigue is a complex dysfunction of the HPA axis (hypothalamus, pituitary, and adrenals) in the body, which is very closely tied to the HPT axis (hypothalamus, pituitary, and thyroid). These systems have far-reaching effects throughout the body. As such, the symptoms are highly varied in terms of how they present in the body overall. You’ll see what I mean in the list below.
Symptoms of adrenal fatigue are not limited to the ones listed. I simply tried to list out the main ones that I’ve seen repeated in all of the books and articles that I’ve read. I experience almost all of these.
22 Potential Signs of Adrenal Fatigue
Here are some of the biggest signs that you should investigate further:
(Please remember that I’m not a health care provider, just an adrenal fatigue sufferer with a passion for sharing my story and encouraging you to research the issue further if anything here resonates.)
- Weight gain, especially around the middle, aka the “spare tire” (I went from a size 2 to a size 8 in pants.)
- Increasing food intolerances, sensitivities, or allergies
- Decreased ability to handle stress, decreased cognitive ability (brain fog), mood swings and irritability
- Decreased sex drive (hormone imbalance is a central issue in adrenal fatigue)
- Lightheadedness when rising from a seated position too quickly, low blood pressure
- Feelings of greying or blacking out
- Always tired, not fully refreshed by sleep (including chronic fatigue)
- Feeling of weakness in muscles, unexplained sore muscles (including fibromyalgia)
- A white line that appears for a minute or longer upon scratching the skin
- Unexplained headaches
- More frequent colds, and it takes a long time to fully shake the symptoms
- Decreased tolerance for the cold, frequent feeling of being cold in the hands and feet
- Symptoms of depression, including listlessness or despair
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Unexplained nausea or vomiting
- Unexplained difficulty getting going in the morning & needing caffeine to function
- Major afternoon slump (dip in cortisol)
- If not in bed by 10:30, having a burst of energy that can last until 1:00 or 2:00am
- I suffer from any of the following: asthma, fibromyalgia, allergies, rheumatoid arthritis, chronic fatigue syndrome
- Swelling under the eyes when waking that lasts for a few hours
- Heavy periods that stop flowing after the first few days, only to start up again a day or two later, along with increased symptoms of PMS
- Strong cravings, especially for salty foods, fatty foods, and sugar
Like I said, there are additional symptoms to the ones I listed. You can read about them in their entirety by reading the books I listed above.
I have been taking the last several months to read through the resources I have and formulate a plan. I have not had any testing done because it’s not financially possible right now to go to a naturopath or integrative doctor (my ideal). Unfortunately, conventional medicine hasn’t quite come up to speed on adrenal fatigue.
My plan going forward involves some major lifestyle changes (I’ll be writing more about that soon – some big decisions have been made that have been very difficult to wrestle through), as well as some major dietary changes. I will also be implementing some specific vitamin, mineral, and herbal supplements into my daily routine to support my body in its healing.
Oh, and sleep.
Getting to bed early on a very regular, nightly basis will be absolutely crucial for my recovery. This is MAJORLY hard for me. I hate it. I’m a night owl to the core, but I can see a huge difference when I follow through and get to bed by 10:30 (okay, maybe 11:00… baby steps, people!)
SLEEP UPDATE 2/2016:
I kicked my stay-up-too-late habit to the curb (you can read about that here), and created a FREE 21-day Go-to-Bed Challenge, with daily emails to help you create a new habit of going to bed on time and getting the rest you deserve! It has been completely life-changing for me.
Sign up for the free email series here: 21-Day Go-to-Bed Challenge.
One last thing: you may have noticed that I’ve been publishing less around here. That has been hard for me (I have way, WAY more ideas than energy to implement). But I’m in the process of bringing on some new, talented contributing writers to share some of their natural living + real food wisdom with you, which will be especially helpful to me as I focus on getting healthy again.
Adrenal fatigue is pervasive in our stressed/overworked culture, especially in moms of young kids that are beginning to feel like their exhaustion goes beyond just not sleeping through the night. Perhaps you recognize some of yourself in this list of symptoms?
Do you have adrenal fatigue? Have you read about it before?
Update (June 8, 2015): My favorite book on adrenal fatigue is this one, by Fawne Hanson & Dr. Eric Wood. Get your copy here. It’s excellently researched and written, thorough, and super helpful!
I finally went to an ob/gyn that ran a lot of tests and diagnosed my AF. I put it off…attributing it all to stress due to the death of my husband, raising 3 boys on my own, insomnia, etc. She says my cortisol is so, so low that my body has been taxed beyond what it can keep up with. I’ve gotten some supplements and I’m working on the sleep thing. That’s the hardest for me. I can’t seem to stay asleep. Looking forward to reading your action plan.
Wow! I am so glad I came across your article! My eyes became huge as I read your experience that you had in Church, feeling as if the floor was falling out from under you with a “blackout” feeling. No words could have described that better! I also have experienced that same exact feeling in the same place (Church 🙂 I too thought I was going crazy and have had some many tests done, only to reveal “nothing” is wrong with me. Thank you Lord for herbologists! I am taking many great supplements and herbs, changed diet, and seeing great results!
However, I am still on medical leave for work and hoping my body makes a speedy recovery, to keep my job. If you don’t mind me asking you, how long did it take you to heal your adrenal fatigue? Or should I put it, “How long did it take you before you felt close to normal again?” 🙂
We are all in the boat together and I am so thankful for the internet to be able to hear other people’s stories and to feel connected together with AF.
Thank you, thank you for this post!!!
I have almost every single symptom you have described. I went to my Gyn 2 weeks ago and she said she had just went to a conference about this. We will be doing some testing but even without the tests this sounds like what I have. I will be doing a lot of research to get better. Thanks for posting!
this is so me… and has been since I was in my teens and gotten progressively worse. I’m 40 now and there are days I’m on and off bedridden all day.
And you know when your brain is so cloudy you can’t process the words so you just sort of skim because you’re so desperate for a magic solution… and you’ve given up on doctors because for 15 years they come up with CFS, fibromyalgia, low blood pressure, brittle hypoglycemia, some sort of unexplained bladder urgency, autoimmune disease… we don’t know what… and have no answers and no help and you just steadily decline.
yeah. that’s me. I can’t even take it all in. I just need help. I’m desperate.
Okay- this is sad. I was researching adrenal fatigue because my symptoms are out of control – and I read the comment above thinking – wow. this is me! Then I looked at the name and realized this is my own comment from four years ago. So four years and many doctors later – and I’ve had no help.
I highly encourage you to see a doctor. I had all the symptoms you list and read much about AF thinking that was what I had. My symptoms were so bad I ended up in the ER thinking I was having a heart attack. My sodium count had dropped so low (mimicking angina) that the ER doctor accused me of taking diuretics to lose weight. I told him I wasn’t but, he didn’t believe me and after 4 days of IV I was released to see a kidney specialist who, by the way, accused me of the same thing. He referred me to a endocrinologist who noticed the dark spots on my hands and arms (they were small) and she said she thought I had adrenal insufficiency but sent me for testing to be sure. She was right, I have Addison’s Disease or Adrenal Insufficiency. This is treatable with medication, but in certain cases can be fatal without treatment. It really is a dangerous thing to self diagnose as many symptoms of Addison’s and AF are the same. I am 11 years out with Addison’s and doing fine. If at all possible, see a doctor.
Thanks for sharing your experience, Celie. I have seen several (western-trained) doctors, actually, and they’ve all dismissed my symptoms. The response has been “those things are just related to stress, being a mom of young kids, etc. Maybe just start getting some more exercise.” It wasn’t until I saw a naturopathic doctor that I was able to find someone who actually listened, and gave advice to get my healing started. I’m glad you found answers for your own situation, and I’m grateful that we have western medicine for certain situations, but it wasn’t helpful in my case, unfortunately.
This is so me. The only difference is my age. I am 56 but feel worse than so many woman that are much older. i am sitting here now reading your post and thinking that all the symptoms are familiar. I have felt this way for years. I was always a early morning person until I started feeling this way. I had test run ten years ago and was diagnosed with fibromyalgia.
Thank-you so much for sharing this information, I was diagnosed with chronic fatigue as a teenager and then with depression in my twenties, then coeliac disease in my late thirties, and despite making dietary changes and taking supplements as well as being treated for depression and anemia, I still struggle with everyday life. When my monthly cycle suddenly changed about a year ago, I started trying to find answers, doctors have not been helpful so far, I had read about a connection between Coeliac disease and Adrenal fatigue, but upon reading your list as few bells started ringing. I am definitely going to look into this, and like yourself unfortunately struggle with the cost of seeing the necessary Naturopaths etc. I have also recently found out that other members of my family have tested positive to having the MTHFR gene mutation which apparently is hereditary and can have many of the symptoms similar to Adrenal fatigue. Testing for this is also expensive, but soming I’m endeavouring to pursue. My family also have tested positive to having Pyrrole disorder, which I am also looking into being tested for. I really appreciate you sharing this information, I wish you all the best and hope you start to feel better soon.
I’m so glad that the info was helpful for you, and I’m really hoping that 2016 brings you much improvement in your health! Best of luck with continuing the journey – it can be a hard road to figure it all out and then make a plan.
This is a great post and describes me to a T. I just thought that I was getting old (which doesn’t makes sense since I am only 33) or was losing motivation or suffering from depression or not sleeping enough or eating well enough but this makes complete sense. I have been seeing a naturopath doc for fertility and while she didn’t say that she thought I was suffering from Adrenal Fatigue, she did say that she wanted my adrenal glands functioning optimally in preparation for pregnancy so she recommended a supplement called Adaptocrine. I am currently out of it but was taking it for about two months and I have to say it made me feel better. I recommend anyone consult a naturopath prior to taking this supplement. To all suffering these symptoms, hang in there and I look forward to additional posts with recommendations for addressing this.
Interesting! Thanks for the heads up about that supplement… I’m off to look it up. 🙂
I found this just scrolling through Pinterest and it grabbed me… I am looking forward to reading more about your journey and definitely taking the quizzes. Thank you Beth
Jill [email protected]
I am suffering from adrenal fatigue now, just as I did about 15 years ago. 15 years ago I didn’t know what was wrong with me for years, and I was not familiar with anything natural. I’m so thankful that I know what to do now! I’m soon going to make my own tincture of adrenal-healing herbs! It’s very tough to function at times with AF, so I hope you feel much better soon!
I was diagnosed with adrenal fatigue by my naturopath late last year. The deciding factor wa taking my blood pressure standing up, then laying down, then standing up again. Wildly different! I take a supplement that includes, among other things, ashwaganda extract. I’ve gotten lazy taking it, but didn’t realize the crummy way I’ve felt lately could be related!! Thanks for this. 🙂
Thank you for the article! This is me to perfection since having baby #6 and I’m unable to do anything like I used to. I feel like I’m never rested, can’t basically function without coffee! Now I know what to research. I can’t afford a dr. So I’ll just try suppliment and c if there’s an improvement.
So sorry you’re dealing with adrenal issues too! I couldn’t believe how bad mine were until I had them tested a couple of years ago.
Thankfully, over about 6 months I was able to see some great progress!
Thank you so much. I’ve been going through this for years and it’s just getting worse. ItIt’s so difficult to get even basic things done. Thank you.
I heard of adrenal fatigue AFTER treating it….My friend got me trying some essential oils, and so I decided to try an essential oil mix for what I thought was a gut cleanse- after 2 days I felt a little good for the first time in years. I then looked up more about the oil mix on a site I was referred to called everythingessential.me . (The product was called “zendocrine” made by DoTerra). The site said ” see adrenal fatigue”- and actually cried as I read it….hit the nail on the head. Anyway, doterra changed the formula. The new mix may work too, but the old one that I used, I’m told was made of equal parts clove, geranium, grapefruit, and rosemary oils. Try it and see.. I hope it works as well for you as it did for me! I used it morning and night for two weeks. *avoid rosemary if you’re pregnant and do use high quality ingestible oils (like DoTerra or young living brand). Best hopes for you and yours!
Did you take it in a capsule? Or did you rub it on points on your body? I’m very interested in knowing!
This is me totally, but every time I talk to my doc he has blood taken and then……nothing, every time. I know something is very wrong. I don’t know what to do now. Thanks so much for this post, it has answered some questions I was suspicious of.
Girl, I have been dealing with the same things. Being tested by my doc as we speak for adrenal issues. Crazy how much your thyroid controls or can’t control correctly for those like me that no longer have a thyroid. Hang in there. I will be following!
You hang in there, too!
What are ways to combat adrenal fatigue?
I’ll be writing a post on that soon!