Why we’re tired, and what can we do about it?

In last week’s post, I discussed Adrenal Fatigue, which is a big contributor to my not getting as much writing done as I’d like. Hmm… that sounds an awful lot like an excuse, but that’s part of the parcel, too–when we’re tired, it’s hard to be motivated and make good choices. Physical and mental fatigue leads to decision fatigue–do I watch another episode of Fixer Upper, or do I write? Too often when I’m tired, it’s the former.

First, I should probably back up and expand a little on what Adrenal Fatigue is not. Oh, and just a reminder, I’m not a health professional, and this is not health advice, just me sharing my experience.

Adrenal Fatigue is not Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. The main symptom of both is fatigue, but CFS is a different condition altogether. It’s much more severe, and has other symptoms. The cause is not understood, and it’s not curable. Adrenal fatigue is primarily caused by stress, illness or injury, exposure to toxins, other hormonal imbalance, or (probably in most cases) a combination of these. It can be treated, which I’ll discuss below.

Adrenal Fatigue is also not Addison’s Disease (what one commenter noted as adrenal insufficiency). They’re similar, because both are a condition of low cortisol. But Addison’s is much more severe, where the body makes almost no cortisol or other adrenal hormones. It can be a life-threatening condition requiring medication for the rest of one’s life. Addison’s typically is the result of damage to the adrenal glands due to injury, infection, or disease.

Adrenal Fatigue is diagnosed by testing the levels of free cortisol in the body over a period of 24 hours. Testing over time is important, because the amount of cortisol in our bodies fluctuates throughout the day, typically rising in the morning, spiking, then tapering off throughout the rest of the day.

I noted in last week’s post, most traditional doctors won’t diagnose adrenal fatigue. It’s no longer taught in medical school, and I imagine much of that is because there is so much other information that must be taught. Also, the treatments for it do not include any highly-profitable offerings from big pharma, so none of these companies push for it to be taught, as they do for other conditions. And finally, there’s no insurance code to classify it under. As a result, many doctors believe it doesn’t exist.

But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t. Until recent decades, many doctors considered PMS to be “all in our heads.” People with CFS or Fibromyalgia were often dismissed as hypochondriacs. But today these conditions are all widely recognized.

For me, the proof was in the numbers. I’d invite anyone who thinks adrenal fatigue isn’t real to take a look at my cortisol chart:

The black lines show the high and low of what’s considered normal range. The red line is my cortisol. The photo is hard to see, but my cortisol is hovering right around the low end of the range – below it on waking, in fact. A physiological reason why I’m soooooo not a morning person! Only at night does my cortisol go toward the high range–which could explain my insomnia, another symptom of adrenal fatigue. I don’t think it takes a medical degree to look at this graph and conclude that it’s not right.

So what to do about adrenal fatigue? The first thing is to reduce stress wherever possible. I’m fortunate in that my job isn’t stressful, nor is anything in my home life. That’s not to say I don’t have stress, but I now try to be conscious about when I’m bringing it on to myself, like pushing too hard with my writing late at night. Now I try to be kind to myself and not push when it’s just not happening. Unfortunately, this results in less output, but that’s a tradeoff I have to make.

Vitamins and supplements are important, too. For me, these include a good multivitamin, additional B, C, and D vitamins, a probiotic, fish oil, and a couple of different adrenal support supplements. I also take magnesium at night. If I miss a day on any of them, no big deal, but if I run out of something and miss more than a couple days, I notice my energy levels being even lower than they are now. Fish oil is a big help for the brain fog, and I definitely notice if I run out of it.

There are also a few things to avoid. Certain medications will certainly contribute to fatigue–that’s pretty much a no-brainer. Sometimes, substitutes can be found, sometimes it’s just something we have to deal with. In my case, the medication I take for migraines does have an effect. I’ve tried a number of alternatives, but they all either didn’t work, or had such bad side-effects I’d rather have the headaches. Alcohol also doesn’t play nicely with adrenal fatigue. While I haven’t given that up entirely, I never have more than one beer in an evening, because it’s just not worth how wiped out I feel later and the next day. I only partake once or twice a week at most.

Some of the books I read also recommended cutting out, or drastically reducing caffeine. While I haven’t cut that out completely–not going to happen, with my headaches–I only use a little in the morning, and never past mid-afternoon.

The books generally recommend exercise, which I can certainly agree with to a point, the point being that I’m too tired to do any major exercise. But I try to at least get a walk in daily–preferably outside with my dogs, or on the treadmill with a good book if it’s too cold/crappy outside. And the exercise does help.

A quick Amazon search will result in several books claiming to have the cure for adrenal fatigue. Most of these focus on diet, and they’re all similar–an extremely restrictive elimination diet that removes all processed foods, sugars, and often gluten and dairy. The intent is to remove sources of inflammation, similar to the Whole 30 diet. I haven’t tried this yet, as the prep and cooking is extremely labor-intensive and time-consuming. Have these authors forgotten that hello? I’m tired! Also, I work a full-time job. It might be doable with Once A Month Meals, but even then, the cooking day would be exhausting.

And once again, this is getting really long (sigh). I wanted to share some of the books I’ve read and my thoughts on them, but that will have to wait until next week. At least I’m not running out of blog ideas. 😀

What I’ve Been Reading: Desiree, by Maria McKenzie. This historical romance set in the deep South prior to the Civil War was an unusual one in that the heroine is a slave, and the hero her owner. Desiree herself  is unusual too in that she takes after her white father, with fair hair, light skin, and blue eyes–enough that she can “pass” for white if in a place where no one knows her. The hero inherits her along with his uncle’s plantation, and is instantly smitten with her. But it takes her a while to trust in and fall for him, and reading of her slow progression from distrust to true caring is a wonderful journey. The characters and their romance are believable and well-drawn, as well as the characters’ flaws and their struggles against society. I’ve read and enjoyed most of McKenzie’s other books, and this one is highly recommended!

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What I’ve Been Writing: In short, not much. I wrote two days this week, for a total of less than 1,000 words. Sigh. I guess it’s better than nothing. So this week, I want to finish that scene, and begin the next.

What about you–any thoughts on what I wrote above about adrenal fatigue? Have you read anything good lately? And how are you doing on whatever goals you might have, whether writing-related or not? Please share–I’d love to hear from you!

Jennette Marie Powell writes stories about ordinary people in ordinary places, who do extraordinary things and learn that those ordinary places are anything but. In her Saturn Society novels, unwilling time travelers do what they must to make things right... and change more than they expect. You can find her books at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, Kobo, iTunes, and more.

12 Responses to \

  1. I’ve suffered from adrenal fatigue a couple of different times in my life, although no one knew about it back then. In both instances, I was lucky. The first time, I saw a naturopath who fixed me up, but it took a couple of years. The second time, I left the stress behind and started working from home. It still took a couple of years or more to get healthy again.

    Sending you hugs!

  2. Sheila, thanks so much for sharing your experience! Naturopaths/functional medicine practitioners are much more open to treating adrenal fatigue than traditional doctors. It does take a while, and I’m currently trying to get more work-from-home time in my job, which will help.

  3. Sounds like you’re taking care of yourself pretty well, Jennette. Educating yourself and others is a big step, but you’ve taken lots of little steps, too. I hope those help sooner rather than later.

  4. I was going to suggest taking extra vitamin D, but it seems you’re already doing that. Maybe once you’ve moved things will turn around for you. Although I’ll miss you! 🙂

  5. I wasn’t familiar with the symptoms of adrenal fatigue, but wow. They sound similar to what I experience off and on, but I think mine is often triggered by a mood disorder. They ran a slew of tests a few years back and couldn’t find any cause. I often wonder if mine was just stress taking its toll. Since I’ve gone from having multiple jobs to focusing on writing, my health has improved. I still have struggles, but they often feel more manageable.

    Desiree sounds like a great read. I’ll look into it. Thanks for the recommendation!

  6. Well, it sounds like you know how to help the situation. I wish there was some magic pill you could take to make it all go away, even though I’m not a fan of taking pills. Exercise and diet are so important for everyone. But, it is a vicious cycle. It’s hard to exercise when you’re exhausted. And sometimes it’s hard to eat right when you don’t feel like fixing something healthy. It’s easier to just grab a burger and fries. I’m guilty of this all the time. Then I feel guilty for being lazy.

    Hang in there. Rest as much as possible. Keep on keeping on.

    Patricia Rickrode
    w/a Jansen Schmidt

  7. In the aftermath of my husband’s illness and death, I’ve fallen in love with both Fixer-Upper and Property Brothers. Not only do I find the renovations inspirational, and like the family stories in each episode, but I also LOVE the way the cast are with kids. As a radically unschooling, partnership parent who can’t think of the last time either one of my kids did anything I’d consider remotely worthy of punishment, I truly appreciate sweetness to children.

    I also find them inspirational, as I work toward decluttering and repurposing our home. My husband wasn’t the tidy or organized type, and there could be a lot of overwhelm and frustration – but those shows help.

    I think not pushing yourself too far if you’re not at your best is wise, and will help you feel better, sooner. You’re doing your research, and taking care of yourself. Sometimes writing doesn’t come first. I’ve found it a lot harder to find my way to the words since Jim died, and in need of more sleep and more rest – and more physical stuff, which cleaning and organizing satisfies.

  8. Thanks, Lynnette!

    Stacy, when I first started having a lot of fatigue in 2014, my doctor tested me for Vitamin D deficiency – and I was very deficient. But even after getting that back up, I was still tired. But yep, I do take a lot of D!

    Denise, I think this affects most people at least short term at some time or other. But the symptoms are also found in a lot of other conditions, which is why it’s so hard to diagnose. I hope you enjoy Desiree!

    Patricia, so true! With you on the guilt, LOL. Sending good thoughts to you to feel better too!

    Shan, I love those shows – and the Gaines’ kids are so adorable! You are definitely right about pushing oneself – in my case, if I do, it makes things worse. You’re doing remarkably well to do what you are with what you’ve had to bear – be sure to keep taking care of yourself, and {{hugs}}.

  9. What an excellent explanation about adrenal fatigue. Thanks for covering all of these conditions. You’re dealing with a legitimate medical condition, so no one can call it an excuse. It’s a regular struggle in your life, I’m sure, and you’re doing your best to balance it all and accomplish your dreams, too. Gotta listen to your body and rest when you need it. Good for you taking daily walks. I’m sure your dog loves you for it. I’d say 1,000 words is making good progress toward finishing your book. You’ve got a lot of irons in the fire. I think you’re kicking butt, Jennette. Hang in there!

  10. My fiancee had cancer of the adrenal gland, which led to adostronoma (sp?). In short, one adrenal gland is trying to do the work of two. They sit on your kidneys (of which she also only has one, but that’s doable). So she has to get adrenaline shots once a month along with another medication to manage her nutrient and hormone levels. So this is what I deal with on a daily basis. She hasn’t let it stop her, though.

  11. Oh wow, Tom! I would think that would definitely make one tired. I had not heard of that condition. Great that your fiancee is able to manage it so well!

  12. Thanks for the information on adrenal fatigue. Very interesting. I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia in 2003, and even then I had people (some doctors, too!) telling me that it wasn’t real. So I totally relate to that, and the fatigue part.

    Hugs. My feeling is that when you’re battling a chronic illness, any progress forward is better than none.

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