Adrenal Fatigue: My Uphill Battle to Recovery (Day 1)

Duckies

Once upon a time, it used to be taboo for people to talk openly about their finances. Before the days of the internet, the best you could probably do was to try and guess how much you thought a person was worth.

Oh, my neighbor must be a millionaire! Look at that flashy car he drives and that HUGE house that he lives in!

As we learned from The Millionaire Next Door, looks can be deceiving… When it comes to health, I don’t think it’s all that much different from where finances used to be… once upon a time.

Untold Mysteries

Today, we live in the information age. With a simple click of a mouse, you can perform a search and get back a million hits… with many of them surprisingly relevant, regardless of what it is you are searching for…

However, when it comes to the topic of health, even in the year 2015, I’m still finding this subject to be almost entirely taboo… In my day-to-day life (even amongst family and friends), I’ve never revealed the true nature of my health struggles…

To be honest, if it were not for the widespread early FI movement that has taken place these last few years, I probably wouldn’t be comfortable enough to divulge as much personal information as I am about to. Health has always been one of the most private topics for people to discuss… and sadly, it almost feels like society conditions us to feel ashamed to admit that we have a problem.

But as we all know (especially those seeking early FI!), life is entirely too short! Bad things happen, sadly, and life does not go on forever. So, regardless of how great you feel right now, it’s inevitable that one day in the future, you’ll wake up, and you won’t feel so splendid anymore… Your health too will eventually start to decline.

My Reality

For awhile now, I’ve been battling a horrible disease known as Adrenal Fatigue… Actually, wait, let me take a step back and clarify…

According to “modern medicine”, my disease isn’t even real and simply a byproduct of my wild imagination.

From Science Based Medicine:

“Adrenal fatigue” is not a real medical condition. There are no scientific facts to support the theory that long-term mental, emotional, or physical stress drains the adrenal glands and causes many common symptoms.

Adrenal fatigue shouldn’t be confused with adrenal insufficiency, a legitimate medical condition that can be diagnosed with laboratory tests and has a defined symptomatology. Addison’s disease causes primary adrenal insufficiency and usually has an autoimmune cause, with symptoms appearing when most of the adrenal cortex has been destroyed. Secondary adrenal insufficiency is cause by pituitary disorder that gives insufficient hormonal stimulation to the adrenals. Some liken adrenal fatigue to a milder form of adrenal insufficiency — but there’s no underlying pathology that has been associated with adrenal fatigue. That’s actually a common method of disease invention: take a real disease and claim that it exists in a subclinical form, though of course it lacks a single unambiguous sign or symptom. We are supposed to believe that it’s still a serious problem even though it is, by definition, so mild that it is undiagnosable by any physician.”

Not surprisingly, I’ve been tested for Addison’s Disease (low cortisol output) by my primary care physician, along with Cushing’s Syndrome (excessive cortisol output), which falls on the other end of the adrenal insufficiency spectrum.

Results have always come back negative… to my dismay and disappointment… Yet somehow, just the results of these two measly tests are enough to convince these brilliantly educated doctors that I should be given a clean bill of health! And I’m not discriminating here… I’ve been tested at multiple facilities by many different doctors, but they all come to the same exact conclusion!

Oh, if only life were that simple! Unfortunately, as you’re well aware, we live in a REAL world where not everything is simply black and white. As always, there are a million shades of gray!!!

As great as modern medicine is, it still hasn’t advanced passed a very primitive stage of diagnosing diseases… Worse, in many cases (like my own), conventional blood tests are set up to only screen for the most serious of health diseases.

Ok, so I don’t have Addison’s Disease, and I don’t have Cushing’s Syndrome… but that doesn’t imply that I’m 100% healthy and good to go either!

Just like with your car’s fuel gauge, you can’t simply define an upper limit and lower limit and call it a day! No, the car is not only either full of gas and running optimally, or empty and stalled on the highway somewhere… The decline in available fuel drops off gradually… because we live in an analog world! You can start to see the meter dip, until it falls so far south that the emergency light goes on. For anyone who’s ever experienced that sensation, I’m sure you felt both extremely nervous and stressed when that happened! Why? Because you knew that the car could stop at any moment, and you might not make it to your final destination point!

But even without the fuel gauge, you would start to notice a degradation in the vehicle’s performance. Acceleration isn’t as strong… The car feels a tad slower and more sluggish than usual… It’s like you could almost predict that the final demise was near…

The Body Never Lies

The body never lies… I’ve been living in mine for over 30 years, so you could say I’m better versed with it than anyone else on the planet. So, when the body starts to complain, you ought to listen!

In general, I can be pretty stubborn, which is why I’m even in the predicament that I’m currently in. When I first started feeling the early signs of Adrenal Fatigue, I simply shrugged it off. I refused to believe that my body was actually burning out, so I kept on trying to fire on all cylinders.

This meant working long hours, taking on extracurricular actives (such as blogging), and just trying to live a full, complete life.

When things didn’t get better, I still persisted and kept going full throttle… Looking back, I put the blame squarely on my own shoulders, but I must admit that it was rather conflicting to hear professional doctors telling me the following:

  • “It’s all in your head.”
  • “All your test results look normal.”
  • “You’re perfectly healthy… Trust me.”

In fact, an endocrinologist (specialist) just got back to me and again assured me that I’m “perfectly healthy” and have no problems at all:

I am pleased to inform you that your labs have returned solidly normal and rule out adrenal insufficiency- your adrenal gland is functioning perfectly normally.
CORTISOL 11.0 —> your baseline cortisol level is solidly normal (a value greater than 8 Is considered normal).
ACTH 35 —> this hormone originates from your pituitary gland. If your adrenal gland was not functioning adequately, this level would be very high. Your ACTH level is normal and, in the setting of a normal baseline cortisol level, indicates that your adrenal gland is functioning normally.
ALDOSTERONE 9 —> your mineralocorticoid production (aldosterone) is normal.
RENIN A D 2.18 —> this hormone originates from the kidneys and, if your adrenal gland was not functioning adequately to produce mineralocortocid (aldosterone), this level would be elevated. This normal level in the context of a normal aldosterone level, confirms that your adrenal gland is functioning normally.
CORTISOL 1H DOSE ACTH 23.0 —> this solidly normal value confirms that not only is your adrenal gland functioning normally at baseline, it is very responsive to ACTH stimulation indicating that your adrenal glands are functioning/responding normally. A value greater than 16 is considered normal.
These lab tests are normal.

So, I kept pressing on… But things didn’t get any better! As a matter of fact, I kept getting worse. Each month, or year, I would add on new symptoms that weren’t previously there…

It’s a sad laundry list, but someone with severe Adrenal Fatigue (running desperately low on precious fuel!), might experience the many symptoms that I struggle with everyday:

  • Chronic fatigue that cannot be restored with proper sleep… even 12+ hours.
  • Feeling sluggish and low energy almost all the time.
  • Brain fog.
  • Short-term memory degradation and loss.
  • Chronic pain (fibromyalgia) that never seems to go away… in multiple locations.
  • Headaches.
  • Blurry vision.
  • Food sensitivity (highly allergic to foods that didn’t used to cause any problems).
  • Hives and itch due to heightened food sensitivity.
  • Feeling of chronic inflammation within the body. Localized pain in most pressure points.
  • Extreme aversion to cold weather… cold hands and feet.
  • Heart palpitations.

The list goes on and on… And I experience all of them… bundled together. Depression is another common symptom, but I don’t think I have that (thanks to my wonderful family, friends, and the early FI community!). 🙂

Sure, I could get tested for each individual symptom, but I know well enough that the root cause is linked to Adrenal Fatigue… burnout… which is causing the body to malfunction in many ways.

My true wake-up call occurred while I was vacationing in Miami. On the last night before departure home to the Bay Area, I experienced my first panic attack. I had extreme anxiety, and felt more depleted than ever before. I tried going to bed that night, but could not calm down my nerves… I was literally gasping for air… afraid that I might end up in the emergency room… or worse.

I had to take a cold shower to shock the system and get me out of the anxiety state… But it was that night that I knew that I could no longer keep up this charade.

Who was I kidding? I knew perfectly well that I was unwell! Forget what the doctors said… The body never lies! I knew I had to make a drastic change… and soon. I have way too much to live for!

Research

Since modern medicine can’t help someone in my situation, I’ve had to resort to other means to learn more. Self-medication is dangerous, I believe, because I’m not well educated enough to be experimenting on myself…

Unfortunately, desperate times call for desperate measures…

I found the following from Dr. Lam, a renowned expert in Adrenal Fatigue, and the following helped me grasp where I’m at in my battle to recover from this most debilitating disease:

Stage 3: Adrenal Exhaustion. Adrenal Exhaustion refers to Stage 3 of Adrenal Fatigue. As adrenal function is weakened further, the body’s need for adrenal hormones remains unabated if stress is not reduced. The adrenals are no longer able to keep up with the ever-increasing demand for cortisol production needed to overcome the stress and they become exhausted. Cortisol output starts to decline and this usually happens gradually. If the stressors are severe, an adrenal crash may occur, to be followed by a longer than usual recovery. The body enters into the stage where the primary goal is conservation of energy to ensure survival. Systematically, the body goes into a slow-down mode and starts to break down muscle tissue to produce energy. This catabolic stage results in the breakdown of muscles and protein wasting. Chronic fatigue is common and exercise tolerance is reduced. Concurrently, chronic fibromyalgia appears. Toxic metabolites begin to accumulate throughout the body, leading to brain fog and insomnia. Depression becomes severe and constant. As this stage progresses, metabolic, immunological and neurological single organ systems dysfunction characteristic of Stage 2 becomes chronic (Phase A). It then spreads to involve multiple organs (Phase B). This is evidenced by multiple endocrine axis dysfunctions, including the ovarian-adrenal-thyroid axis imbalance in females and adrenal-thyroid axis imbalance in males. 

If not attended to, the body is further weakened and enters into a state of disequilibrium with loss of homeostasis (Phase C). As the body tries to repair itself with the limited tools it has, there are wild, exaggerated and paradoxical autonomic-driven reactions. These are characterized by adrenaline rushes, labile blood pressure, and hypoglycemic episodes after meals and anxiety attacks. A state of near adrenal failure (Phase D) eventually occurs as the body’s pool of hormones reaches a level too low to prime the adrenals. Without sufficient levels of hormones, the body goes into a full-blown shut down mode to stop as much of the non-essential functions as possible to conserve energy in order to survive. Libido is suppressed, digestion slows down and metabolic rate declines to conserve body weight. Those afflicted find themselves bed-ridden most of the time, and have energy that will last for only a short time.

What separates Stage 3 from earlier stages, clinically, is that the patient often cannot function smoothly throughout the day, no matter how hard he tries. The adrenal function is constantly hovering around the adrenal symptoms threshold level and the smallest stressor will often trigger an adrenal crash. Not only is recovery time taking longer but the body never fully returns to the pre-crash baseline energy level. Something is wrong and the body’s cry for help becomes louder. The productive hours of the day will progressively decrease and it is not unusual for those at this stage to have only a few hours of productive time a day, while the rest of the time is spent in bed resting.

Stage 4: Failure. Eventually, the adrenals will become totally exhausted. Patients at this stage will have a high chance of cardiovascular collapse and death. When Adrenal Fatigue has advanced to this stage, the line between it and Addison’s disease, also called adrenal insufficiency, can be blurred. While the etiology of the two conditions may be different, the ultimate clinical presentations can be quite similar as they both represent a continuum of decompensation in adrenal function. At this stage, severe advanced adrenal crisis manifestation can be very similar and akin to an Addisonian crisis or acute adrenal insufficiency which, is a recognized medical condition. Symptoms of this include sudden, penetrating pain in the lower back, abdomen or legs, severe vomiting and diarrhea, dehydration, low blood pressure and loss of consciousness. Addisonian crisis is rare and in most cases, the symptoms are severe enough that patients often seek medical treatment before a crisis occurs. However, in about 25 percent of patients, the symptoms first appear during an Addisonian crisis. If left untreated, the Addisonian crisis can be fatal.

Although adrenal dysfunction and its various stages were recognized as distinct clinical syndromes since the turn of the 20th century, most conventionally trained physicians are still unfamiliar with this condition because it is difficult to diagnose through traditional blood tests. Most patients are sent home with anti-depressants after a short trial of hormonal replacement but this will usually fail.”

Again, by no means am I a medical expert, so I won’t pretend to have a full grasp of all the concepts… All I know is that the symptoms I do exhibit seem to resonate the most with Adrenal Fatigue.

Through my own research and digging, I’ve come across message boards and forums with other people who are suffering from similar, if not the very same disease.

And the message that I’ve gotten rings loud and clear — To beat this disease, you will have to alter your lifestyle drastically and eliminate all toxins (primarily stress).

A person with Adrenal Fatigue is all messed up… literally. The body’s hormones are out of balance, and the body thinks it’s in “fight or flight” mode all the time… You get so used to operating under stress that the body simply doesn’t know how to relax anymore!

To recover from this takes a lot of time. There are no quick fixes, or magic pills you can take…

My Recovery Plan

To get well and fully recover, I’m going to have to be smart and rely on logic, common sense, and intuition. Here are the things I will do to ensure I get better:

  • Eliminate work. No more 9-5!
  • Eliminate toxic (unhappy) people.
  • Only eat whole foods.
  • No dairy.
  • No wheat.
  • No processed foods, sugars, additives.
  • No caffeine, alcohol, drugs, stimulants, etc.
  • Meditation everyday (Qi Gong, Tai Chi, Yoga).
  • Light jogging until I can handle more strenuous exercise.
  • Sleep by 10 PM every night. Rise by 6 AM every morning.
  • Plenty of fresh air and being outdoors.
  • Lots of naps throughout the day.
  • Massages and acupuncture.
  • Surround myself with positive (happy) people.

I’m taking a very holistic, and natural approach to healing. In addition to all the above, I am seeing a highly skilled Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) doctor to oversee my nutritional and supplement plan. The doctor prescribes herbal medicine for me to drink, and it has already done wonders for my rehabilitation.

TCM’s approach is to heal the body from the inside-out. This means taking herbs that will flush out all the heat, wind, toxins, and debris that has been accumulated inside the body from many years of wear, tear, stress, and poor lifestyle choices. Basically, eliminate all inflammation in the body, which is usually a primarily cause of most diseases. After going through the initial cleanse, as long as you follow the plan and eat right, you will start to notice a vast change in the body.

I’ve been cleansing for a few weeks now, and my skin complexion has never been better. My face is no longer red, or dark purple due to excess toxins in my body. Further, I’ve eliminated most of the wind in my body, so I no longer feel as itchy as I did a few month’s back.

Progress is slow, but I’ll take it… The chronic fatigue is still a problem, but that’s probably going to be the most challenging to solve. I anticipate that taking a lot more time as the body tries to repair itself and rebalance its hormone levels.

Fight On!

Beating Adrenal Fatigue is not going to be easy… I’m fighting a disease that conventional doctors don’t even believe is real (oh boy)! I really feel like recovering from this disease will be the biggest fight of my life.

I’ve been working in high-tech for over 7 years, and this is Year 4 of my journey to early FI. Although I have made tremendous progress as it pertains to wealth building, it did not come without a price, or sacrifice.

Right now, I’m shifting focus and dedicating all my efforts into rebuilding my health. I will fight this disease with everything I’ve got… just like how I’ve fought so hard for financial freedom.

If anything, this entire experience has certainly humbled me… Having gone through the battles that I have, it’s impossible for me to wake up each morning and not appreciate everything that I’ve got. Far from feeling sorry for myself, I feel more blessed and thankful to be here than ever before… 🙂 This struggle is just a bump in the road that I must overcome to learn how good it is to be alive.

And that always brings me back to this most important point — life is too short! So, we shouldn’t waste it bickering over nonsense and fighting over the stupidest things that don’t matter!

Be grateful.

Have compassion.

Don’t be close-minded.

Stop judging people beforehand without having a firm grasp on their situation and what it is that they’re going through…

It’s funny, a close friend recently told me:

“You know, I had no idea there was even anything wrong with you… You look perfectly fine on the outside… I can’t believe you’ve been struggling with the things that you say you are…”

It’s not always so obvious! So, don’t judge a book by its cover.

“Be kind; everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

Fight On!

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24 Comment authors
Jose QuijadaWillowSteven hvivianneEarly FI Is Saving My Life Recent comment authors
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Will @firstqfinance
Guest

I’m sorry to hear about this. But I love how you went from revealing your condition right into your action plan for how to kick its a**! Inspiring!

Financial Samurai
Guest

Yikes, sorry to hear about this mate. I guess there is a lot of downside to reaching early FI that people must be aware of.

Do you think if you kept your lower stress, but lower paying job in Oct 2014 this stuff would have happened? I’m thinking of amount up to three consulting clients soon, and I wonder how much I can handle on top of my online media company.

How will you decide when to get back to work, and what do you plan to do beyond your passive income to live?

Hang in there!

Sam

Billy
Guest
Billy

Thank you for explaining in details. Now I’m more confused. But hey, early FI = FIV (Forever in Vacation), then you will never be in panic attack, cause there’s no last day of the vacation…

Arizona Trader (@ArizonaTrader)
Guest

Sorry to hear about your condition, bud. I’ve got a similar issue. Medical tests show I should be fine, but the body feels what the body feels. So, they tried to label it as psychological bs. So, I went to see a psychologist, she said it’s not psychological. Now, I’m back where I started. I’ve got an action plan, similar to yours, because I don’t know how long I can keep going. I think your action plan is spot on. The irony is how much more expensive eating healthier is versus eating the processed crap. Hang in there and hope… Read more »

Mark Smith
Guest
Mark Smith

Hey man, please have your thyroid checked – and by a doctor who is willing to look beyond TSH (Thyroid Stimulating Hormone) results.

This website is a bit over the top but the information presented is rooted in a lot of truth and will give you the talking points needed when you talk to a doc:

http://www.stopthethyroidmadness.com/

Many years ago I had a lot of the same symptoms as you do now and Armour Thyroid (medication) really came to the rescue for me. Reach out to your personal network and get a recommendation for a doc that knows about thyroid.

Best wishes.

Andrew@LivingRichCheaply
Guest

Sorry to hear about your condition and thank you for sharing as I’m sure many readers were wondering what was going on. I’m glad you have a plan of action which you always do. While modern/western medicine has their benefits, sometimes I feel like they are lacking in many instances where they tend to treat the symptoms rather than the root cause. I was going to suggest checking out a naturopathic doctor or acupuncturist while reading but you’re already one step ahead. Hope your health improves.

Mary
Guest
Mary

Definitely start taking some yoga lessons. It’ll help relax and calm you down. I liked Core Power Yoga. If you have a chain near you, look for a groupon and try it out. Once you’re gotten into basic Yoga, try Hot Yoga. It’s great. It’s been almost two years since I’ve done yoga. I would do yoga classes everyday if I didn’t have three boys waiting for me at home.

Good luck on getting better!

Tawcan
Guest

Sorry to hear about your condition. Love your holistic and natural approach to fighting this condition. Hope to hear that you’re feeling better very soon.

Midwestern Landlord
Guest
Midwestern Landlord

FI Fighter,
Considering the biggest stressor for most is the daily grind working for the “man”, I would say that you are well on your way to feeling better. Good for you that you put yourself in a position to be able to do this.

Paul
Guest
Paul

Sorry to hear about the above.
I think most your symptoms point to depression, anxiety, stress which are all inter-connected.
Interestingly your panic attack was the last night of your holiday, your sub-conscious mind was terrified of returning back to work; something you really don’t enjoy and makes you feel almost trapped, but you do it as you are motivated by FI.
I have more info on the above, PM me if you want to discuss further.

Scotch
Guest
Scotch

I’m glad to hear you’ve made a turn for the best. The great news is that your most important responsibility now is to breathe. Enjoy it, remember to do it often! When we get to the point of burnout, it’s because we’ve chosen to neglect our own existence in favor of something external to us. That leaves us with a lot of unresolved thoughts and emotions that accumulate and weaken our bodies. Recovery requires courage to start toward a point of peaceful acceptance of our state. It sounds like you have arrived, and healing has begun. Joy! If this kind… Read more »

Leigh
Guest

I skimmed through most of this because what I did fully read resonated far too much with me. I had a bit of a panic attack when I came back to work from a vacation a few years ago and promptly started switching teams. Unfortunately, that team also turned out to be terrible, but for different reasons, so now I’m trying a new job. I’m hopeful this one will work out better, but if it doesn’t, I have a backup plan and some runway. I wish you could find a job that is both interesting and not migraine inducing. I’m… Read more »

No Nonsense Landlord
Guest

The 9-5 thing is never good for your health. Unfortunately, it is necessary sometimes to ‘tough it out’ and get through the grind to make life better and easier.

Young
Guest

Stress related anxiety can kill you, no doubt about it. I couldn’t breathe once before when I was thinking about something very dreadful. I closed my eyes and prayed that was akin to meditation for other people. I asked god for his help, at the same time, promised god how I would fix the situation I was in. It was perfect combination, asking for help from god + future plan as to how to fixing the problem. It didn’t only calm me down but also made me a happy person right away, of cause I could breathe most of all.… Read more »

Joe Carnation
Guest
Joe Carnation

The symptoms you describe are very similar to Lyme Disease. Living on the west coast this probably isn’t a big risk but if you’ve spent any time visiting the Northeast or Midwest, especially outdoor activities, it might be worth getting checked for that.

Rat Race Quitter
Guest

“Fight on” is right, buddy.

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[…] a big fan of blogs in general, and one journey I’ve been following is the one of FIFighter. He’s a Bay Area blogger as well who has accumulated five rental properties and maybe one […]

MoneyMitten
Guest
MoneyMitten

I’m so sorry you’re experiencing health issues. I have experienced similar symptoms through the years. Keep trying to find a cause.

Look into hypothyroidism, Lyme disease, Vitamin D deficiency

theFIREstarter
Guest

Hey FI, just catching up on some of my fav blogs so sorry for the late comment on this one… Really sorry to hear this and hope you are well on your way to recovery by now! To me it just sounds like pure overworking and exhaustion! Anyway whatever it is, at least the way to get better is a relatively simple one, rest, recouperation, and eating well, giving your body what it needs. You recovery plan sounds solid, and possibly something that everyone should consider even if they don’t have any symptoms, it sounds like how to live a… Read more »

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[…] used to be one of them. When I elected to disclose to readers my recent battle with Adrenal Fatigue, that opened up a whole new door for critics and speculators to walk […]

vivianne
Guest

If you’re interested in taking a slow stress life for a little bit, you can go to a Buddhist Monastery – Deer Park in San Diego. Life there is very slow. It’s like $30-$50 lodge and foods, very cheap. you can hike the mountain.

Food is very good, and it’s all vegetarian. People there are very nice and happy. I found my mind become clearer at the end of my stay. Right now there should be a winter retreat going on. Work will be there went you get back.

Wish you get better.

Steven h
Guest
Steven h

Hey man, I hope you’re doing better. If you’re not well yet, 0plesse read James wilsons book on adrenal fatigue and stop the thyroid madness. They r my guide books for adrenal fatigue

Willow
Guest
Willow

Hi there…I see this blog is a few years old…I am suffering these symptoms chronically…how are you now? What things helped the most in your recovery?

Jose Quijada
Guest

Hey man how has your recovery been as I am experiencing this now and I am 28 years old. Would love to hear your feedback thanks.

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