Today, I am about twice that age. And I crashed again. I know this happened because with the death of my father three years ago, I have been going yet again through an impossible grief, aggravated by the fact that while losing my father, I lost whatever was left of my childhood family. It felt like the ground was taken away from under my feet forever. OK, it had always been kind of bumpy, but at least it was my ground. And ground offers possibility. My reaction to this impossible grief was to shut it out, think of something else, and go on. Continue, do what you love, use your power and your brain to do impossible stuff! Ha! Sure, I can do that. I took up studies, and on top of the usual daily stuff, I supported refugees (no ground under their feet, I know!), advocated for oppressed minorities. I gave, and gave, especially to causes that don’t give much in return (my second nature, ARGH). And whenever there was nothing left, I gave some more. Adrenaline, that cheap and rewarding drug. And hey, I was doing what I love, right?
So I had been feeling weird and old for a couple of months before I crashed. I saw doctors and told them about my nervous fatigue, pointing at the dark circles under my eyes, but no ringing of bells. Until a week before my breakdown, a dentist (!) told me there might be something wrong with my thyroid and adrenals, and I started to do some research.
Thank goodness for the Internet! I found plenty scientific resources, as well as precious stories from people who have been through an adrenal burnout. All kinds of symptoms pop up: low blood pressure, head aches, dizziness, bad digestion, nervous exhaustion, bad sleep, hormonal imbalance, short term memory problems, bad thyroid function, dehydration, inability to focus… and of course an overall impossibility to cope with stress. When every little thing becomes a chore. Or a reason to burst into tears. I was having them all. So what did I do? First of all, I started taking food supplements and vitamins. And I adapted my diet and sleeping pattern, as well as my free time (clever and witty books! relaxing pretty films!)…
Adrenals are the little glands above the kidneys that produce stress and other hormones. When they are put under too much strain for too long (months, or years), they get ‘burned’. This burning up (I actually had a sensation of inner burning for months) from too much cortisol and adrenaline causes their burnout: the hormonal stress control is out of order. So this is not the same dynamic as a depression, even though at a certain stage one may feel down, or like me during the pre-crash months: angry and cynical (I always hated cynicism!) And nervous. And anxious, with the feeling there is something physically wrong with me.
The big crash came, and my body said: “Stop! Take time to cry!” and so I did. No more guilt, no more energy to deal with stress, anger or resentment, not mine, nor anybody else’s. Time to recover from the years of havoc wreaked upon my system, and then later on, to reconsider my dealing with grief and my addiction to… stress. It is that simple. Grief can not be covered up by fun and interesting activities, even if they make us look strong. It needs to be dealt with. And hey, adrenal burnout may take a couple of months to heal. Time for me to think about… ME. Huh?! Yes. Me. Are you shocked yet?
In the meanwhile, if you have any tips for feelgood movies and clever chick books, I am all ears.
PS: having a burnout also means I am a fighter, a survivor, a giver. I give, even when I have nothing left. A friend said that perfectionists and fighters-for-a-better-world are very much prone to having burnouts. See, it’s not a sign of weakness or incompetence. Forget about shame (making matters worse) and don’t take antidepressants, as a time like this can be so rich with self discovery. Go explore your feelings, write a journal, find out what caused you to run away so hard into work (or fun, or in being a do-gooder – ARGH!), and find out what you really love. Get to love your life as it is. At last! (That’s me talking to me!) 🙂
PPS: My story is mine, and each story is different. And hey, I’m grateful for knowing so much more about it this time. Did I mention how much I look forward to some real ME-time?