This was it.
This is why people in horror movies walk blindly into a room they know doesn’t seem normal. It feels like being a mosquito in a trance for the light it knows is going to zap them but they go towards it anyway. Every cell in my body was screaming like a movie-goer to turn back now but I couldn’t hear it. Well, I could but I had no control and did it anyway. I did thoroughly understood now where these grueling horror movie scenes came from. They are based on real life, probably mine next the way things were feeling. It was happening to me. A phenomenon I couldn’t explain nor stop from bringing me closer to the monster I knew to be lurking in the corner.
I was so tired.
The sort of tired that settles in for a long winter’s nap and doesn’t leave when you wake. I couldn’t shake the fog that swirled around me in a dust cloud so thick everything felt dewy and damp. This was my mind, trapped in that fog with no sun in the forecast. Trudge on I told myself and sighed as I got back into work. Just a couple more hours, I could make it. Then I would log off work and enjoy the silence for a couple minutes while my son went to his karate class. I knew I needed to get up and make dinner and would pray there would be a leftover of some sort that would suffice. Something easy because I just wanted to relax. It seemed still hours before I could escape to the shower and get ready for bed.
Perhaps it was just the winter months of darkness that crept on so early in the days, making it feel later than it was. The chill and dark making it feel like a lot of effort to move and go out. I looked forward to crawling under the quilt and electric blanket to read or watch TV until I fell asleep. I slept hard too; the kind of deep sleep that comes from being over-tired. How was this possible though as I didn’t really do anything all day that was out of the ordinary? There was no monster chasing me, no drama beyond the normal in my day, it was a regular Wednesday in fact.
Weekends were no different though. Thinking I could sleep in I would find myself awake at my normal week day time unable usually to get back to sleep. I would push through errands and chores feeling exhausted. Give me five minutes to sit down to read and my eyelids would get heavy. It felt like my normal routine of laundry, cleaning and catching up with friends was further and further behind being caught up and everything was a struggle. Rinse and repeat living and I could barely keep up with it all. My goodness what was I going to do if something really needed my attention and I felt like this?
I needed a jolt.
Something to perk me up and give me that boost so I could power through things like I used to. It was like I needed an emergency or some dramatic scene in the horror movie to make my heart pump normal. That wasn’t normal though and I knew it. We shouldn’t need that level of panic, stress and uncertainty so we can manage a normal day, right? Yet, my adrenaline tank had seemed to run dry these days and even if there were something lurking behind me with an ax I doubt I had enough in the tank to run far. This was something deeper than regular winter blues and a boring rinse and repeat routine.
This was my body saying something was wrong.
At times I scolded myself harshly for not pushing myself to exercise. No pain, no gain right? Surely, if I just went for a walk I would have more energy and this would stop these dull sluggish feelings and lack of energy. I would be critical of myself for not doing it. At one point, I put my sneakers next to my desk in the home office with full intention of putting them on and taking a short walk in my day. They sat next to my desk for two months. I felt however like I had been running a marathon all day even though my Fitbit barely showed any steps. I was being lazy I scolded myself in exasperation of yet another evening where I was dragging to finish out my day after doing seemingly nothing.
It wasn’t that I hadn’t done anything though.
I had just spent all day working, in meetings, making decisions and presentations, doing reports and really hard things in my job. I had also helped my son through his virtual school classes and homework that day. I had gotten up at 6AM to write this blog, work on my own homework and pay a couple bills so I had a little quiet time to focus on those things before everything else happened. It had been a busy day. I’ll do better tomorrow, I assured myself. Then I found myself saying I would start on Monday, when we should start anew on things like dieting and exercising. All my days were like this though and a do better tomorrow action seemed a misnomer. I felt like I had nothing to show for it at the end of the day by the way my body felt.
Maybe this is what old age feels like.
The desire to do more but lacking the stamina to actually do it. I had plenty to do and yet I started to feel like I was falling further and further behind on things I needed to do in my day much less actually having some energy leftover for fun. It all just felt like an uphill battle that I was winded by climbing and was now just looking for a tree to sit under. This started to really wear on my mental outlook as well. The pounds crept on my body and it seemed to match the weighed down feeling I was mentally experiencing as well. If this was aging I didn’t seem to be doing it gracefully. I sure didn’t feel like the free living rebel wearing pink dyed hair and hippie skirts that I thought I would be when I was older.
There was something obviously not working well. Even though I was taking good natural supplements, drinking water, trying to limit coffee and eating as well as I could manage something wasn’t working. Some days were better with my diet than others but I didn’t feel like I was ignoring the necessity of eating as best I could. Sleep was also more than adequate given that I would pass out from exhaustion as soon as possible each night. None of this answered the question of why then I was lacking energy to do more. The symptoms of this problem though were no longer able to be ignored and I couldn’t blame them on just one thing.
We so often overlook the simple answers thinking it couldn’t possibly be something that easy.
The truth was I had run so long on adrenaline induced by stress and caffeine my body was burned out. It was like waiting for the next bomb to drop so I could go into hyper mode of saving the day but until then I was the fat, worn out super hero eating frozen burritos and watching TV. My adrenaline system was exhausted and as a result everything in my body was tired from the enduring stress I had put it through over several years. Living in the non-stop stress of some normal and some not so normal circumstances had finally taken its toll. I had nothing left to function normally and felt I needed the medic paddles to jolt my heart into action when duty called.
This isn’t normal. Living on stress isn’t normal.
We can tell ourselves what normal is and get quite critical of ourselves for not upholding it. I was doing that. After all I was a warrior who had overcome a lot of problems and stress in my life, surely I could handle normal. If I couldn’t then what would happen the next time something big happened that I needed to act and respond on? My super hero outfit wasn’t going to fit me anymore either the way things had been going. I couldn’t even bend over to tie the sneakers still sitting next to my desk with a pair of clean socks waiting to be worn. I was like the worn out hero who had seen better days and no one could believe they had once been incredible.
We can put ourselves through extraordinary things in life and give it our all, overcoming challenges and defeating dragons but what then? What shape is our body and mind at that point? Our being so used to running in a fight mode of constant pumping adrenaline no longer works as well as it did like a fuse that has burned out. The trouble is when its our body it takes more than a good night’s rest and decent meal to recover when its gone on this long. I realized this was no longer working in my own body and a weekend of sleeping in and taking it easy wasn’t going be enough this time.
Stress recovery can be a long recovery.
I’ve come to see burnout as having both a physical and mental impact. It is a physical pain and soreness that leaves us feeling sluggish, slow and lacking strength and endurance. Our mind feels in a fog where focusing on detailed tasks or taking on new challenges seems daunting and overwhelming. I wasn’t remembering things either, like simple things I knew all the time now seemed like worthless things that slipped through my recall. The couch and TV to veg out seems a comforting thought where once we rarely slowed down. Now it becomes our favorite thing to do in seeking that distraction from how we are feeling inside and out.
The real work to overcoming this is in rebuilding our adrenaline system. The adrenal system is located in our lower backs above the kidneys. There our energy level, moods, appetite, positive or negative outlook, fight and flight all live. If this system is not functioning well, it creates that burnout feeling where constant exhaustion and depression overtake our other body and emotions. We can push through it physically and emotionally for a while but that only triggers more fight responses and higher adrenaline system depletion. Punishing ourselves over it is not the answer.
Much like any addictive behavior, the pattern of running on adrenaline in a fight or flight mode long term leaves us craving more and more. We need it to get anything done and pretty soon no amount satisfies that hunger and need. anymore. Our body and mind are in havoc and depleted. I believe the best approach is similar to the 12 step program where we have to admit we have a problem and forgive ourselves first. From there we can start the process of rebuilding health in our body, restoring our adrenals to function optimally again and reclaim our energy and mind clarity.
Like most withdrawals the effects seem like they will never end but they do if you stick with it. Detoxing your body from chemicals such as every day products and personal care items to pure natural ingredient is an excellent first step. Baby steps like that help a great deal because they start to rebuild our confidence that we can do it. Tacking the huge problem of stress is best done one step at a time. Having grace with yourself in the process of these changes and understanding what is happening inside your body is essential. I found using essential oils were also a great help in this process of healing not only physically but emotionally as well. Clary Sage, Holy Basil, and others helped me relax and accept this process on my own time scale. Once we have our adrenals functioning properly, things like losing weight, eating better, exercising, sleeping well, having energy and a host of other things become much easier too.
It is a journey to overcome adrenaline addiction that is a constant battle some days. Our world after all still runs on stress and caffeine. The good news is we don’t have to anymore and once recovered we are better positioned to protect ourselves against relapse.
If you are open to learning more, please contact me at dragonspitapothecary.com through the chat feature.