Friday, March 07, 2008

adrenal fatigue

You may never have heard of this condition, but according to a book I just read (Adrenal Fatigue--the 21st Century Stress Syndrome by Dr. James Wilson), up to 80% of American adults experience it to some degree.

I just found out I'm one of them.

I've suspected that my adrenal glands weren't happy campers for some time. I think I suffered from a mild form of post-traumatic stress syndrome after our accident. Bouts of insomnia have afflicted me over the past 15 years which I've described to Greg as "my adrenal glands are stuck on full throttle."

The condition would usually resolve in a week or so, however, so I continued staggering onward through my stress-filled life, fueled by caffeine and chocolate.

And I was able to stay afloat. Until the night of Danielle's wedding.

I have no doubt that the Lord gave me a double portion of His supernatural peace during the weeks and days preceding the wedding. Even the day of the big event, I felt myself walking on air, completely free of stress. I can still feel the extreme joy and peace that surrounded me the day of the wedding.

That night was a different story! My adrenal glands apparently went on strike. As soon as my head hit the pillow (we'd had a mini-family reunion at our house after the wedding, so it was probably around midnight when we finally got to bed), my heart began beating wildly--and then the panic attacks rolled in. I tossed and turned all that night, adrenaline surging and waves of panic and anxiety crashing down on me. I finally fell into an exhausted sleep sometime after 6 a.m.

I haven't had a good night's sleep since. (It probably didn't help matters that four days after the wedding Scout got really sick and almost died . . .) After battling insomia for 3 weeks, I asked my doctor and asked to have my adrenal function checked. The results confirmed what I'd long suspected: my adrenals are shot!

The adrenal test measures the amount of cortisol your body produces throughout the day. In the beginning stages of adrenal fatigue, the adrenal glands are working overtime, over-producing the stress-relieving cortisol to counteract the pressures of life. In more advanced stages, like mine, the worn-out adrenal glands don't make enough cortisol to keep up with the body's demands.

(Except in my case, where I seem to produce too much cortisol at night--which leads to the insomnia and night-time panic attacks. So I take day-time supplements to build up my adrenals and boost cortisol levels, and then cortisol-diminishing capsules at night).

The underlying cause of adrenal fatigue is stress--usually prolonged periods of intense stress that just gradually burn out those plucky little glands over the years. (In case your wondering, you have two, small pyramid-shaped adrenal glands. Each one sits atop your kidneys). The first step toward healing and restoring your adrenals is to remove stressors from your life. And get 9 hours of sleep a night!

Which is kind of a Catch-22 for me, since the biggest stress in my life right now is lack of sleep! But I am working on eliminating unnecessary stresses from my life--and I've slept the past two nights without having to take a sleeping pill. So, I'm hopeful that my adrenals are on the mend and my energy and exuberance for life will soon return.

If you suspect your adrenal glands might need a little TLC, read the book I mentioned. There's also a lot of good info on the InterNet. Check out:

"He gives His beloved sleep . . ." Psalm 127:2