“Listen to your body. If you don’t like a pose, get out of it. Inhale acceptance of who you are and where you are today…” Each yoga class my instructor starts with this mantra. Each class I struggle to accept the fact that I still can’t hold a pose, or that I feel dizzy when we do balance exercises. But I’m finally listening to my body. This has taken years. And a lot of wear and tear to the skin, bones, muscles and vital organs and fluids that make me who I am. In my twenties my doctor in France told me that I was “just one of those people who let everything go to their stomach.” They sent me off with brewer’s yeast and told me not to eat raw fruit. My acupuncturist told me that I was eating all the wrong combinations of foods, and that that was why I was “so tall.” I was confused by his French-Vietnamese expression and thought maybe he meant I was “big” by French standards. The French can be brutally honest. American medicine seems to ignore the essential sometimes, however. We will only treat you if your symptoms fit a pretty dire prognosis, i.e. out of the normal range.
This is why I thought that recent tests ordered by my functional medicine doctor were fine. I had no yellow highlighting on my results; everything seemed hunky-dory. After a month on a natural thyroid pill, Westhroid, my TSH levels were finally much lower and where they should be. But I’ve felt awful. Drugged. Unable to get through a day without going back to sleep. When I sleep all morning, I feel guilty and unproductive, thus my stress levels go up. My doctor decided to test my cortisol levels and DHEA to see if I might be suffering from something called “adrenal fatigue” which often accompanies Hashimoto’s. And apparently my tests aren’t normal. Both my cortisol in the morning and my DHEA were very low in the functional range, indicating that I am in the last stages of adrenal fatigue. I need to listen. Adrenal fatigue is a result of hypothyroidism, but also accumulated stress. Two divorces, the early death of my father, constant financial worries have compounded and driven me to the ground. I’m not invincible and now my body has my full attention.
I’ve been steadfast on my autoimmune elimination diet. Still no sugar and no grains, as my stomach feels much better with these choices. Nuts and some spices have been successfully added back in. I’m giving up on eggless/grainless pancakes as they have been a hot mess (literally) every attempt. We bought a quarter of a grass-fed cow from an Amish farmer. Not cheap, but much cheaper than buying it piece by piece from the local Co-Op. We are excited about squeezing 150 pounds of organic meat into our deep freezer this week. I got a little sad driving by the farm a few weeks ago as there was a lone cow outside. I started wondering if she had a name. And if she was ours. But she’s had a much better life in an Iowa pasture than a lot of animals, and we will be honored to have her help me on my journey towards better eating.
Besides the dietary choices I am already making, the ways of treating adrenal fatigue are simple, yet not easy to always find time for in my busy days: relaxation techniques like yoga, laughter, meditation, skin-to-skin contact with a loved one (the Brewmaster and Ballet Boy and I all had a good laugh over this yesterday), and sleep. LOTS of sleep. Going to bed between 8 and 10 at night and getting minimum 8 hours of sleep. Musicians work at night! This is not easy. I’ve been getting up with Ballet Boy before school because otherwise I don’t see him with his hectic dance schedule. We all decided that I can set my alarm at 7 a.m. and still see him a bit before he goes. My Fitbit shows that I am now getting about 8.5 hours a night by just crashing before the rest of the family at night when I can. I am feeling slightly better.
Endurance sports are not recommended for adrenal fatigue. Gentle jogging is. Lucky for me I’m still in running rehab and not going faster than 5.5 mph. I’ll just keep it that way and not sign up for any long races any time soon. This has been a crazy year, yet a very fun one. With the Brewmaster at my side, I really do feel less stressed as he helps with daily chores and driving Ballet Boy to and fro. I got to perform on stage with Yo-Yo Ma last week with the Quad Cities symphony, and he let the entire cello section try his Stradivarius during our break. Mr. Ma is a delightful, generous human being and that was an unforgettable experience.
The motto “Keep Calm and Carry On” is no longer a joke. I need to relax. This summer will be dedicated to healing, tending my garden, playing cello and some easy runs, swims and bike rides. No race plans until my body says it is okay. My brain is not okay with that, but hopefully it will begin to forgive and accept where I am today and all the beautiful, happy life events that I can enjoy.