In November and December of 2013, I took a two month break from blogging. This was no novel-on-the-beach, sand-in-your-crevices, how-many-mojitos-have-I-had-so-far-today? hiatus, however. It was, without going into too excruciating of detail, the most challenging and stressful 56 days of my life.
I slept between 3.5 and 4 hours each night – and not on purpose, but because my adrenal glands were in a state of panic – I stared at a computer monitor for 19 other hours of the day (leaving one for food and travel) – I copy edited a 330 page book (check it out here!) and wrote from scratch a 150 page thesis – I let go of my weekly weight lifting and sprint exercises, and I said “screw it, I am going to eat anything I need to get through this time.” Fortunately – “anything I need” for someone like me means some oat cereal or organic dark chocolate bars from time to time – so my health wasn’t seriously imperiled from that direction.
But from the stress…
Which came on the back of two years of stress slowly ratcheting up to this climax..
I don’t know how to express to you the state of genuine brokenness I felt.
While I have been blogging (and excitedly so) about my recent fertility, libido, and body fat gains, there are serious things wrong with me now, too.
I suffer heart palpitations. I am extraordinarily sensitive to electrolyte imbalance, and I can feel my heart thumping hard in my chest at least 50 percent of my life (not a good feeling – especially when you are trying to sleep). I am unquestionably horribly cortisol resistant and in stage six hundred of adrenal fatigue. I remain incapable of sleeping in more than four hour chunks. I often wake in the middle of the night sweating, hot and nauseated. I am exhausted or exhausted and wired all of the time. My weight continues to creep up despite my best efforts to stop it. My cravings are all over the map. I am lightyears more emotionally fragile than I have ever been in my entire life, feeling anxious and crying and raging at the drop of a hat.
The sleep is the worst.* The absolute worst. In the last thirteen months, I have slept seven nights through more than 6 hours. I know that if I can just sleep more and regularly, I can restore my dopamine and serotonin levels.
But I have not succeeded. And try as I might to heal, almost nothing I try makes any dent.
This stress, I know, has also turned me into a rabid sugar addict. Which I suspect is related to at least some of my problems.
Blood sugar dysregulation is implicated in middle-of-the-night waking, hot flashes coupled with nausea, uncontrollable food intake and adrenal panic.
Sure – I was healthy and content to eat a higher carbohydrate for much of the last year or so. It didn’t seem to make me gain weight or suffer any negative symptoms – not even blood sugar swings. But so little sleep and so much stress depletes the body of so many important nutrients. Magnesium is one of them, perhaps the most crucial. It also sucks dopamine and serotonin levels through the basement.
So now, in the wake of my stressful period, I desperately need these neurotransmitters. I am hooked on sugar as a result. Eating sugar is one of the only things I can do to keep myself feeling calm and sane. I know that sounds counter-intuitive – but when you have so much trouble sleeping and eliminating stress like I have (and these things are not easy to recover from) – you take what you can get.
Nonetheless it is time for me to face the music.
I’m stuck on the cortisol-sugar-serotonin cycle. Getting off of it won’t be easy. I’ve tried already in the recent weeks, in my new-found freedom and with some free time. I end up being so tired and craving sugar and, wanting to be good to myself, let myself have it. If my body needs the serotonin, why deny it?
But I suspect getting off of it in the long run will help. Right? Right. So I am doing it.
I’ll do anything to sleep better. Low carbing hasn’t worked in my recent efforts, but perhaps what I need is time, and a serious commitment.
Fortunately I have a brilliant friend who is one of the world’s experts in sugar detox – Diane Sanfilippo – and I am going to let her be my guide.
I have never, not once in my entire life, ever put my health in the hands of an “expert” who proscribes a “program.”
Until today. I don’t want to turn this blog post into a sales pitch for Diane’s books. But I will tell you this: she is right about everything.
I trust Diane. She’s right. My high and low blood sugar leads to a cortisol response, which elevates insulin levels, which in turn drastically alters blood sugar levels… ad nauseum.
And I have to admit – being so stressed and feeling so down and in need of help some of the time these days, I need hand-holding and I need reassurances. Diane is giving these things to me in spades.
I have already experienced – or am experiencing – the early days she tells me to expect when she lays out what’s coming for detoxers emotionally and physically throughout the course of her program. “Day 2: Will this get easier?” and “Day 3: Am I going to make it through this?” These days I have.
Then in my recent efforts came my own version of Day 4: “Oh, right, my health is hopeless, this isn’t going to help, why not eight mangoes for dinner?”
So this time – I mean it. I am looking forward to the Day 4 Diane promises: “Three days down, eighteen to go!”
The thing about health and especially about adrenal and hormone and thyroid systems is that they take time. So I am going to trust my body, trust this knowledge, and do whatever I can to step down this long, winding road of recovery from the most extraordinary stress I have ever experienced.
I share all of this with you today because I need you to know that health gurus struggle, too. Sometimes I am the pinnacle of health, and so often I know that I have “made it” – but then, you know – life happens. It just does. You roll with the punches, put your head down, push, and move forward.
I have the option to continue to spiral inward on my adrenal issues, but I know deep down that I have to do everything possible to heal. It’s not easy. I am so tired of trying. Some days its just so hard to keep going on anything, with food a simple tool to keep me awake and functioning. I also know that coming off of sugar isn’t going to fix everything. There’s a lot else going on. Nutrient deficiencies. Circadian disruption. Perhaps a need for certain adrenal salves.
This is going to take a long, long time.
Health is a journey with bumps in the road. We walk it, because we must.
August 2014 edit: Diane has come out with a kickass program, replete with guides and recipes and yoga instructions and science, all in a beautiful package I love, which you can read about here. The 21 Day Sugar Detox book and cookbook are both available on Amazon.
… also, by the way, if you google image search ‘sugar addiction’ in the first 150 search results there are two photos of males. The rest are females or graphics. What does this say about our culture? About women? I’ll have to do some research, but if you have any ideas.. 🙂