A few years back, I thought I was losing my mind. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me. I went from someone who could put in a full day of work and occasionally a second job when needed, keep up a social life and squeeze in time for personal development and exercise. I could and did run on all pistons. In fact, I had been living that way pretty much since the age 10.
My mom has MS and that was how old I was when she went into a wheelchair. I had four siblings and basically became my mom’s arms and legs. But that didn’t stop me from playing with friends, and by high school, doing all the housework, playing three seasons of sports, having friends and part-time jobs. Sleep was for the weak.
This continued into University and Grad school where it was now normal to have two or three jobs while being a full-time student and partying like, well, at the time, like “it was 1999.” Don’t judge. When I graduated there the was “real work” to do and somehow one full-time job was not enough, as in it was not enough to pay for my life, so I waitressed in the evenings, and yes, still did a lot to care for my mom and cleaned their house whenever I visited. And I when I say clean, I mean clean – hands and knees and floorboards clean, because that’s the stuff no one did for her.
After years like this, I took a teaching gig in South Korea. Let’s be honest, I needed a break. While there I met my now partner and after four years of marriage our first son came along. I noticed something in me slowing down after his arrival but a new baby don’t care about yo issues, and life ramped up again. After that there was a new house, then a second son, then needing to get back into the workforce.
By that time, I began to really notice something was off. My energy was screwed up, as in it was gone. I was tired all the time. I was always on the go, pushing myself to be a mom, to be a teacher, a wife, a friend, a daughter, sister, you name it and I pushed myself to show up for it.
But then I would get weird pains, sinus infections, and the worst part for me - I developed this irritability that morphed into straight up anger. This of course, made me feel bad, so guilt and shame became good friends, then the anxiety crept in, which I never really had before, and I worried about everything I was doing. On top of that, my mind started to be less sharp. Everyone joked about it being “mommy brain” and that my mind would come back, only it didn’t. I would wake up not feeling rested and like I couldn’t recover. I entered a period of sleep deprivation which was super weird for as I had always been a great sleeper, and that really started to screw with my perception.
This is about the time I wondered how much longer I could go on like this, but the kids needed this and that, and I needed to work to pay the bills, and then I wanted friends to party with so I could still feel young and crazy, like I had always been. But I was tense, all the time and couldn’t calm down. I was yelling. Weird shit would happen like getting really dizzy when I stood up, I would bump into corners that I saw and even tried to avoid hitting, I was grinding my teeth at night, and all the bones in my body felt off kilter, which had been going on since the first birth. If I woke up in the middle of the night, say after 3, forget it – I was up for the rest of the night. The afternoons were so hard, and from like 3-4 I wished for a nap, or a drink, or something to jolt me back to life. And I ate chocolate as if my life depended on it.
None of these things felt like “me”, or at least no version I wanted to be. And the tenseness, irritability and anger were the worst part. I was not enjoying myself and I couldn’t figure out why. But I had to because this was shitty.
After many doctors, I finally went to a naturopath. She had a name for it right away, which was adrenal fatigue.
A Bit of Science:
The adrenals are part of the endocrine system of the body which deals with hormones and emotions. The adrenals sit on top of the kidneys and handle stress by releasing cortisol into the blood stream. This is the “fight or flight” hormone I’m sure you’ve heard of. It increases blood sugar levels, regulates blood pressure, and puts all the energy into the brain and body where it is needed most so you can run like hell if you need. It’s like a jolt producer (flight and fight) and shock absorber all in one (freeze).
Here’s the thing though – it’s not an endless supply. After a while, these little glands get tired and they have to pull in the help of the kidneys, which filter the blood, remove waste and balance the water in the body. Only, if it keeps going, they get tired too and then systems all over the body start to malfunction.
Stages of adrenal fatigue:
While you can carry on for years in a constant stress state, as I did, thinking all is good – it is not. Slowly and subtlety, the body is getting taxed beyond its abilities. It sends warning shots, like headaches, messed up sleep, and even colds or other immune issues. It sends up SOS signals with digestive issues and mood swings, but if you’re like I was – you’re not paying attention to any of it.
I wasn’t taught how to read the signals of my body beyond knowing my menstrual cycle, and I was too busy living my life in fast mode to pay attention to a random headache, a little bit more anxiety than usual, or an off night of sleep here and there. Which meant, I passed stage one like a car racer trying to beat her best time from the lap before; I couldn’t go fast enough. Life is fast and I need to keep up.
I blew right past phase one and into phase two, burnout, – which is when I started to feel like I was losing it. Truth be told – I was. My adrenals and kidneys, which energetically are responsible for stress (adrenals) and dread, horror, and terror (kidneys) were so exhausted they had to pull in the thyroid (depression, overwhelm, and worthlessness), the gall bladder (rage, irritability, frustration and resentment) and all sorts of other organs whose job it WASN’T, so they couldn’t keep up with the demands either and my internal system was heading towards full meltdown mode. It literally was giving me, “NO! Hard Pass. We cannot, will not go any further like this. Fix this now, or so help us you’re gonna get really sick.”
No more ignoring, no more pretending this was sustainable, no more treating my body like it was the energizer bunny only it never needed recharging. I was in phase two and my body was pissed.
Recovering from adrenal fatigue requires a mindset and lifestyle change.
How to support adrenal fatigue:
If you are hoping there is a magic pill for adrenal fatigue – there is not. There are supplements, like adaptogens that help, but no pill. Once you hit burnout, you cannot simply carry on – not if you want to stay healthy and live a long, happy life.
Recovering from adrenal fatigue requires a mindset and lifestyle change. That’s the truth. The way I was living before was abusive to my body, plain and simple. I did not take care. I did not see the need – I took my body for granted and had been since I was 10 years old. That was pretty much 30 years of living in a stress state, pushing past my emotions, my stress, anxiety, the needs of my body, heart and soul to show up and do what others expected of me, and I learned to expect of myself.
If someone would have said, “look, put yourself on a sleep schedule, cut back on the caffeine, exercise in moderation and keep your blood sugars steady and you’ll be fine,” they would have only been half right. Those things do help, but it will only get you so far.
More than just the physical:
I did all those things but as I dove into learning about balancing my energy levels, I learned that emotional, mental and soulful bodies exist within my physical body and I also needed to care for them in order to achieve any kind of balance. As I focused on healing my body, all sorts of emotions and beliefs came up. With energy work, I learned emotions are stored in the organs and create energetic weight. Having never acknowledged them before, I had over 40 years worth of stored, stuck and stagnant energy. While shifting my physical habits, I also learned to clear emotions and upgrade mental programming as well, so that I could truly release the stress buildup happening inside and heal my body.
The best way to heal from adrenal fatigue, I have learned, is to relax. Relaxation techniques were not skills I was raised with. Relaxation was not honored, in fact, the opposite. Relaxation was seen as lazy, selfish, and a waste of time.
It took me almost putting myself in the hospital to realize this is faulty thinking. My system, from the age of ten was calibrated to a high level of stress and it was certainly a case of ‘set it and forget it’. After years like this, my body was asking, then begging, and finally demanding to revisit and revise this high level setting. It could not keep up.
And then I needed to ask myself – what was more important? Forcing my body beyond its limits to show up in my life a “certain” way for others or listen to what my body needs and learn the skills required to take care of it, to love it, nurture it and support it, so it will continue to work for me, thrive and sustain me well into my golden years.
I was making an enemy of my body, attempting to make it my employee, my bitch, forcing it to act against its desires, and in the process, falling out of alignment, suffering, and wasting precious time and energy.
In the years since, I have acquired many skills and techniques to care for my body, work with my body in living partnership, and love it above all else. And I am not selfish or lazy – in fact, the opposite.
Each cell in your body is listening, all the time. It performs its functions but also listens – is it honored, is it needed? If it feels the answer is no – then the physical body falters and with it, the mental, emotional, and spiritual bodies falter, as well. Work on one “body”, means you are working on all the “bodies”. Releasing old emotions, upgrading faulty programming, changing physical habits, connecting to your soul all create more space, allowing all levels of you to relax and recharge.
One of the most valuable lessons is how important it is to love and care for myself – my physical body, yes, but also my mental, emotional, and soul bodies, as well so that they can love and care for me.
Pushing past my limits over and over again, going too hard, and being relentless in “needing” to keep going were all violations of my boundaries. Violations I felt I needed to do because really I was stuck in a victim state of not being able to say no. Since I was a little, I couldn’t say no – my mom needed help, I was the help, that was how it was. And that pattern simply continued and then really amped up again when I had my own children.
I ruined my bodies even then without realizing it. Imagine a ten-year-old attempting to pick a full-grown woman up off the floor, whose legs didn’t work because she fell trying to reach something she couldn’t. Or carrying the emotional burden of watching a beloved parent crumble on a daily because she couldn’t accept what was happening. Or the mental toll of trying to find ways to “help,” to make it easier, to solve an insolvable problem.
Years of putting others before yourself takes a toll. And it’s not okay to say, “but hey, look at all the good I’m doing for…(whoever) even though I ignore my own needs and wants”.
Your own sovereignty and right to choose:
I’ve come to believe, there is a tipping point that happens in your life about the time of late 30s or 40s, which many might call a ‘midlife crisis’ and I prefer to term a chance for awakening – on one side is health and happiness and on the other sickness, stress and suffering. Experiencing adrenal fatigue woke me up to this choice. To continue to carry all the old programming without any updates or clearings will tip you toward suffering, while undergoing the necessary upgrades will set you up for health going forward.
I could go on with the thinking that goes something like: “I’m the strong one, this is how everyone knows, me, this is what they expect of me.” This programming was given to me at a young age and for a long time I thought it was my job, my duty, my identity to carry its mantle forward and forever. This also came with a lot of struggle, suffering, physical issues and feeling like I needed to earn love.
But the choice, and it seemed like a hard at one at first, came down to whether or not the effort I was putting out, the work I put into my life would benefit everyone else but me, or for now and forever more, would I choose me first, care for me first and see what was left for everyone else.
Or I could realize that I’m expecting of my body what everyone is expecting of me, and all I really want is to feel safe and secure in my body, to be loved just as I am. This was the programming I really wanted, but currently, I was doing to my body what I was allowing others to do to me. And to make it worse, I was telling a story of this is how it is, this is who I am.
New flash - this was not how it is, nor who I am.
I wasn’t afraid of hard work – my life taught me that. But the choice, and it seemed like a hard at one at first, came down to whether or not the effort I was putting out, the work I put into my life would benefit everyone else but me, or for now and forever more, would I choose me first, care for me first and see what was left for everyone else.
It’s funny now to see how backward my thinking was – killing myself for others because I thought it would be weak or lazy not to do it that way. And now, setting boundaries, saying no, creating non-negotiable time to relax and recharge gives me so much more energy than I ever had before to serve others in a way that feels great.
I am still serving and doing as much as I can, but the difference is I am always listening to my body now – designing my efforts around what it needs, loving it, supporting it and nurturing it with love and respect. My brain is once again sharp, my sleep back on track, mostly, and my anger diminished.
I have also learned that the damage I did to my adrenals and nervous system is not a one off fix. It's a lifestyle shift. I need to take care everyday and monitor when I am going too hard, as I still have a tendency to do, but in small doses I am teaching and reminding myself to keep a pace that works for me. Each day I am a new person, and I am enjoying serving her needs first, and finding there is not only plenty left to serve others, but also the quality of that service is better than its ever been mainly because 'm not an exhausted angry person anymore. lol
About the Author:
Christine is an energy healer and spiritual teacher. When you are ready to update your programming and release old, stuck energy, book a free discovery call. You deserve to feel your best!
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