In part 1 and part 2 of my previous posts, I talked about how I finally got a name for the symptoms I was experiencing: adrenal exhaustion (aka adrenal fatigue). Despite all my best efforts at eating well, I still managed to succumb to it. How was that possible?
First, I’m going to break down what it’s like to have an advanced case of adrenal fatigue. I imagine there are more than a few of you out there who can relate. Second, I’ll tell you a little about how I finally managed to treat it.
For the years that I experienced adrenal exhaustion, I thought I was going out of my mind! I couldn’t carry on a conversation with anyone. I couldn’t respond to emails without having what felt like a month to think about the response. I couldn’t make decisions—period.
Here’s a clear example.
A few years back, filled with the creative itch, I went to an arts and crafts store to pick up some paints and brushes (I was inspired by an experience during a recent road trip where I had enjoyed painting at my sister’s house in Missoula, MT). Jeff, Dave and I had just come from a business lunch together and I asked if we could make a stop before heading home. It should have been an easy errand. But with a brain burdened with adrenal exhaustion, even the simplest things can present the biggest challenges.
Once I arrived at the craft store, I stood in the paint aisle and just about had a mental breakdown.
Actually, maybe I did. There were what seemed to be a million options to choose from in the paint aisle and all I wanted was a damn brush and a small set of acrylic paints. But I could not get my brain wrapped around the fact that there were so many options. Comparing, contrasting, and making a decision: my brain just couldn’t handle it. I was beyond overwhelmed, so I just walked out of the store and back to the car.
Ten minutes later, Jeff and Dave came out of the store and were laughing at me because I couldn’t make a decision. It seemed so silly, so insignificant. But the struggle was beyond real.
These were the types of situations that I found myself living in all the time.
When I finally got the diagnosis of adrenal exhaustion, I was happy. Happy to know I wasn’t going insane. Happy to know there WAS something wrong that wasn’t all in my head. Happy to have a name for the problems I was experiencing. But what could I do to fix it?
Adrenal Exhaustion. It sounded exactly like how I was feeling: exhausted. Exhausted with life in every aspect.
My brain wasn’t working. For me, grasping new concepts was like explaining how to solve quadratic equations to a 5-year-old. I couldn’t focus, was extremely forgetful, and was unable to comprehend new things. One time, when I was in the kitchen cooking, I had to ask Jeff a question, so I yelled into the living room and asked him. Five minutes later, I asked the same question because I didn’t recall getting an answer. And five minutes after that, I asked again.
My basic 5-year-old understanding of my faulty brain was that adrenal exhaustion was brought on by stress, which made it hard to think. It could have been stress that started when I was a kid and just happened to express itself now. It could have been brought on by the kitchen remodel. It could have been the dust brought up by the construction. It could have been anything.
But now that I knew the cause, I had to take action.
I needed to relieve immediate stress as much as possible.
One of the first things Jeff and I did was remove most of my responsibilities with our business SPYR and hand them off to Jeff and Dave. But even with fewer responsibilities at SPYR, I was still stressed about writing blog posts and sharing recipes on Paleo Porn. So, after having published three recipes a week for quite a long time, I removed that self-imposed deadline, too.
Once we published the second edition of Pigskin Paleo, we decided to turn our attention to updating Los Paleo. We talked to my friend Ana, Spencer’s girlfriend, and discussed partnering up with her on a project to create a new paleo cookbook focused on authentic Mexican recipes. She was excited to move forward on the project, so we did. Since Spencer was helping me with my adrenal fatigue, and he’d already helped Ana heal her PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome), Ana knew we could only take things at a pace that would coincide with my healing. That meant things went much slower than I would have liked with the book. But it was helpful that she understood, and the project was off to a great start.
That said, we’ve set and adjusted many deadlines throughout the lifetime of creating it. With our go-with-the-flow work pace, we plan to launch the new book, Paleo MX, this year. So stay tuned!
I absolutely love @daileymethod! ? Are you familiar with this barre and cycle studio? They have a huge focus on alignment and are great for any age and any ability level. Look for a studio in your area, there are locations worldwide. I'm about to head into Yoga Sculpt right now. What activity are you doing today? ???? #Paleo #fitness #training #daileymethod #livingadaileylife #barre #yoga #cycle #meditation #paleoporn
In the fall of 2015 I felt the need to start working out again. But I didn’t have enough energy to consistently do any of the activities I previously found joy in, including HIIT, heavy lifting, kettlebells, or boxing. So I joined The Dailey Method and started doing barre.
Early on in his recommendations, Spencer had said that I should take up a regular meditation practice. After finding minimal success with Headspace and the Calm app, I just could not get into a routine until I started doing Restorative Yin-Yoga at The Dailey Method.
I had been skeptical of essential oils for quite some time, but I took the plunge and purchased my first oils from doTERRA. I started using oils called Balance and Cheer, hoping the words on the bottle would actually provide those things for me. Frankincense became my go-to oil for everything.
I've been learning more and more about essential oils for quite some time & thanks to @allheather I'm jumping in with some samples so I can finally give it a go. I used Fankincense this morning after using the @Headspace app to meditate, trying to reduce anxiety and stress. #mindfulness #meditation #health #wellness #paleo #primal #PaleoPorn
Spencer told me to start taking calming baths at night, but even that became a stressful event. It didn’t matter how easy something sounded, I always managed to find a way to not understand it and screw it up. It took me three or four tries to successfully take a relaxing bath, which is why I wrote an article on Paleo Porn about How to Take an Adult Bath.
If that wasn’t enough, intimacy was a joke. My sex drive was nonexistent.
I found that I was always holding my shoulders in a stressed position—they were perpetually fixed all the way up to my ears. I started scheduling monthly massages to help me relax.
I researched infrared sauna and found the closest one to my house at Itasca Health and Chiropractic. Jeff and I purchased a 10-visit package and we would spend 45 minutes at a time in the Sunlighten Infrared Sauna on the Detoxification setting.
In January of 2016 I took up knitting. It felt good learning something new. The problem was, I came home and forgot how to do it. When I tried to imitate what I thought I had learned, I wound up with a few holes. So when I went back to the knitting group, they had to unravel all my progress and I had to start over. Starting over was not fun and that new hobby started and stopped very quickly.
I started drinking tea before bed. More specifically, I started drinking Tulsi tea, which is made from an herb called holy basil and is said to have relaxing properties. It most definitely helps induce a sense of calm, which helped me quite often including before going to sleep.
I started feeling numbness in my hands and feet when I would wake up in the morning and I started having panic attacks at night right before going to bed. But the tea helped to relieve the immediate symptoms, and so did soothing music, like listening to Aloe Blacc or searching Calm on Spotify.
I eliminated all caffeine. For me, that meant no kombucha and no coffee. But since I was supposed to increase my fermented food and drink, I opted for a caffeine-free fermented beverage called water kefir and started making it myself.
Jeff and I had picked up a new hobby of playing board games with our friends while all these health issues were going on. I truly believe it helped me engage my mind and push through the brain fog. Some board games were more intense than others, and some took a while for me to understand, but it’s something I really enjoyed. Everyone we played with knew that I had some health issues going on, so I didn’t feel as self conscious asking a million questions during the explanations or while playing.
Eventually, I took something called the MRT (mediated release test). This blood test provided a list of reactive, moderately reactive, and non reactive foods for my body. I shared about the list of foods I was avoiding on the Paleo Porn Instagram. Diet wise, I continued on a 100% paleo diet throughout the entirety of all of this. But after taking the MRT, I removed reactive foods from my diet for at least three months.
In March of 2016 Jeff and I were invited to Mark Sisson’s Primal Kitchen launch party at his house in Malibu, CA. While we were there, we got to talking to Elle Russ about everything I was going through. Elle was getting ready to launch her new book, The Paleo Thyroid Solution, and she happened to be pretty well versed in everything I was telling her. Surprisingly, she recommended a functional MD who had worked with one of the success stories in her book, and the doctor just happened to have an office in Chicago. I was blown away. Here we were in California getting a recommendation for a doctor in Chicago, whose office was 20 minutes away from my house!
When I got home I took Elle’s recommendations and made an appointment through Private MD Labs to test my Vitamin D, ferritin, homocysteine and Hba1c levels. When I got the test results back I forwarded them to Elle and discussed them with Spencer. Three weeks later on April 11, 2016, I walked into my first appointment with Dr. Carlos Reynes, the functional MD that Elle had recommended, armed with all the test results and a timeline of what I had been going through.
I walked into Dr. Reynes’ office and immediately spotted the doTERRA pamphlet on his desk—in my mind that was one tick in the right direction. Upon first talking to him he not only knew what paleo was, he had just had a cup of Bulletproof coffee that very morning. He even promoted The Dailey Method because of their focus on alignment. I knew I was in the right place!
Dr. Reynes recommended a specific supplement regimen for me, including doTERRA’s Zendocrine. I went to see him monthly for checkups where he would make adjustments to my supplements and other recommendations for lifestyle and diet. During one specific month I was banned from doing any exercise whatsoever and during that month I hit it hard on the meditation classes at The Dailey Method.
Around this time our documentary was making its theatrical release, so we traveled to both NYC and Los Angeles to attend each sold out showing. While we were in LA, I experimented with cold therapy for the first time by visiting Cryohealthcare.
But, most importantly, during that spring I had a big idea for a project.
Now let me stop right here for a second, because that sentence is pretty important.
Up to this point I hadn’t had any ideas (or any stellar ones, at least). Creativity just wasn’t flowing, it was practically non existent. I had no urge to do anything but the bare minimum to live day to day. Laundry. Dishes. Shower. Eat. Repeat. (And sometimes I would remove the shower part.) So having an idea to do something I was truly excited about was a big damn deal.
My idea was to convert our shed into a meditation space, art studio, and work station.
At the time, Jeff and I weren’t using our shed to house anything that couldn’t be sold, donated, or moved to the garage.
So I talked to Jeff’s dad, asked for his help, and he offered his tools and services wherever I needed them. Within a couple months I had finished what I affectionately called That’s What She Shed (TWSS). I was and am extremely proud of that project because I had completed something from start to finish. There wasn’t much in recent history that I had to show for my efforts, so it was a huge accomplishment, which I decided to share on Paleo Porn: That’s What She Shed – My Art and Meditation Studio.
During the summer I signed up for a painting class at the Elmhurst Art Museum and learned how to use oil paints. After that class ended I was excited to use TWSS for even more art projects.
In June I sold my car and started using my bicycle as my main form of transportation. We now had one car between the two of us, but I was exploring the city on two wheels and really enjoying all facets of using my bike.
In the beginning of August, Ana and I took a girls’ trip to San Francisco where I got my first tattoo (something I wanted to do for a long time, except I was never able to decide on what I wanted). We went skydiving over Monterey Bay, camped in Redwood National Forest, took a glassblowing class, ate some amazing food, and took a drive through Napa. I came home from that week with tons more ideas! It felt like my brain was breaking free; exploding in the best possible way.
Later that month, the day before my birthday on August 19th, I had a doctor’s appointment. I had previously taken another cortisol test and the results were in.
My adrenals were back to normal levels, as opposed to where they were at the beginning of my journey (in the literal skull and crossbones section of the test results).
Working with Dr. Reynes had been extremely successful. In only a handful of months I was healed. My brain function felt less sluggish, I was able to carry on a conversation again, I was able to have thoughts and opinions, and I could even multi-task (or at least do more than one thing in a day)! It was a pretty fantastic day hearing that I didn’t have to be back to see him for a year.
I immediately had the urge to move forward on all the ideas I had been having recently, but I really needed to take it slow otherwise I would wind up overwhelming myself all over again.
I have continued many of the stress relieving activities that helped me heal. In addition to the continued massages, playing board games, and the occasional infrared sauna visit, I also experimented with float tanks and spent a full week doing daily cryotherapy. I’ve learned that my body needs starches like potatoes and white rice. I drink a cup of bone broth each day. I go to sleep around 10pm and sleep at least eight hours a night. And I’m on a supplement plan that Dr. Reynes recommended that includes vitamin C, a probiotic, omega 3 krill oil, vitamin D, and a multivitamin.
I bike to The Dailey Method (when it’s not freezing) and now have a regular schedule of classes I attend.
Community is a necessity, whether that’s spending time with people playing board games, enrolling in art classes, playing in a football or kickball league, or even participating in a book club.
But, most importantly, I make meditation a priority. I cannot stress (pardon the pun) this enough.
I was even able to start publishing a recipe here and there again. I launched the 1:1 Cooking Coaching service on Paleo Porn. I made plans to travel and visit my sister over the holidays. And after 34 years of biting my nails, once I healed my adrenal fatigue, I stopped! Out of all of this, that’s one freaking miracle right there.
I’m by no means done or “out of the water” completely just yet. My weight hasn’t gone down much and I’m still having occasional panic attacks, but at least I’m not living with suicidal thoughts or severe depression everyday.
I have my brain back and I feel like me again, and that’s a good start.
So here’s the thing. I just described a whole host of stuff I tried in my quest to heal my adrenal fatigue. Some things worked, some less so.
But there was one thing that was the biggest factor in my healing. I’ll talk about it in more detail next time and I’ll share an exciting new passion project I’m working on to make it accessible to everyone who’d like to try it!