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!