It was about this time of year when I realized there might be something wrong with me. Pulling myself out of the haze of fatigue, it occurred to me that falling asleep with the lights on in front of the blaring TV at 8pm and waking up at 9am more tired than the night before was not normal. That the chronic, persistent insomnia that had plagued me for years was perhaps a symptom rather than a normal, modern-day irritation or the result of too many time zones in too few weeks. That my hair-trigger temper and complete inability to deal with the smallest setback without dissolving into tears of rage might not mean that I had turned into a whiny bitch, but rather that there was something going on that was preventing my body from being able to manage stress.
My suspicions were confirmed in the next few months as I learned about adrenal dysfunction in my nutritional therapy class, failed all the hands-on adrenal function tests we learned in our workshop weekend, and had some definitive bloodwork come back from my doctor. The good news: I knew what was going on. The bad news: it was going to be a long recovery, complicated by my “day job” which keeps me traveling and routinely in stressful situations—the worst sort of environment for healing adrenal dysfunction. Cue the montage of many months of supplements, relaxation apps, early bedtimes and days when I could barely get up off the couch. In between I did what I needed to do to keep my life running and hide how bad it was as best I could. It definitely got worse before it got better, and many times I thought I was out of the woods after a couple of good months only to get ambushed by a setback. It has been a very long, frustrating road.
Almost two years after my diagnosis I can say that I feel 75% recovered. It has taken longer than I wanted to get even this far, as I was never able to take the time to stay home, shut everything down and truly re-cooperate, given my career and my mortgage payment. The frustrating part is that I believe true recovery will require me to master three things that I pretty much suck at: 1) stress management, 2) saying no, and 3) making sure I am consistently avoiding people and things that take more energy than they give. I still have bad episodes every now and then that can last weeks or months. Three nights of insomnia in a row usually means I’m in for a rough patch, and I start praying it will be a short one. I leave for LA in a couple of days and I am already in high anxiety about it because a time change can trigger insomnia can trigger an episode. I’ll have to do the best I can.
I sometimes wonder if I’ll ever get back to my old self. I sometimes wonder if that would even be a good thing. At times it seems like my body went “Hi there, Ms. Crazy-Workaholic-High-Strung-Too-Much-Too-Intense-Delusional-Superwoman-Impostor? Yeah. We’re gonna make it so that it is nearly physically impossible for you to do that anymore. And we’re telling you straight up you’re never going to be able to do it again unless you want to get so sick you won’t be able to recover”. This is probably a good thing. I used to think nothing of working all week, boarding a red-eye Friday night, and heading straight home so I could shower, change and make an 8am call for an on-camera job all day Saturday. Once, I left a weekend meditation retreat Sunday evening, changed into work clothes, boarded a red-eye, picked up my vehicle at the airport parking lot the next morning and drove straight to the dealership to spend the day training a bunch of car salesmen and worked straight through the rest of that week. That was some stupid shit. You couldn’t pay me enough to do that today. Lesson learned, the hard way.
Any fatigue-disordered condition is a tricky thing. First of all, self-care takes energy, and energy is exactly what is lacking. For me, trickier was (and still is) the social aspect. When I was in the worst of it, it was simple, but not easy. I knew I had to stay home, rest, not wear myself out in the slightest. But it’s hard to tell people you can’t do something because “I’m tired”. Nobody understands “tired”. Aren’t we all tired? Suck it up, buttercup. You’re not that tired. Well yes, actually, I am. Luckily (I guess?) for me, I was diagnosed hypothyroid in my late 20’s, so I can generally recognize the kind of tired that needs a more attention than just an afternoon nap. When I feel well, I want to go out and do things, see people, enjoy my life. But I always have to be a little careful, because my reserve tank is still not reliable and I can easily run out of gas late at night on a lonely stretch of road, metaphorically speaking. Maybe I can stay out late with friends one night. The second night is questionable, but sometimes I can do it. And sometimes I regret it. And sometimes I pay for it for days or weeks. I feel bad when I leave the bar or the party at midnight, or 10, or when I don’t go out at all. I worry about what I am missing and if my friends think I don’t like them or that I’m not fun anymore. Dating feels complicated because what if I meet someone and I’m feeling good and then 6 weeks later I have an episode that takes me down. Who wants to date The Girl Who’s Sick? Not. Sexy. Sigh…………….
It could definitely be worse that it is. Many people who know me personally will be surprised to read this because they had no idea anything was wrong. I am quite functional for the most part, and I’ve learned to manage the rough patches pretty well as they (thankfully) get fewer and farther between. I have friends who are in worse shape than me who have been dealing with this longer. They have been some of my best teachers. Frequently I feel like I was living on credit, energetically speaking, for the 5-8 years before I got sick, and now I have to pay off that debt before I get to feel normal again. I make minimum payments regularly and extra payments whenever I can. I do hope someday to return to the woman I was before all this happened. And I hope that when I do, I will have acquired the wisdom to use my energy and vitality wisely, for my sake and the sake of those I love and can serve.