In praise of writing, and an insight into adrenal fatigue

Hello, my name is Trudie. You might remember me from such places as... this very blog, which I
have somewhat abandoned of late. Please read on as I attempt to redeem myself with this shiny new blog post.
When I started three years ago, I made a commitment to post three times a week. I was at war with myself, struggling with my sense of self and feeling isolated by what I perceived as the oppressive blanket of being an outsider (I was just starting to wake up to my spiritual calling). The angels advised me to ‘write my way out of it’.
And it helped. As the words flowed before me on the screen, a sort of alchemy occurred: I began to make sense of my emotions and could see the path ahead with a smidgen more clarity. My black spots diminished. Suddenly I had a sense of purpose; my life had meaning. Responses from others who 'got it' buoyed me; I began to feel less alone - still freakish (well, the best people are!), but more accepting of that.

Then, without my intending it, my blog morphed into a business site as my angel card business started to gain traction. With the demands of social media and a YouTube channel, launched one year ago, my commitment to the blog waned.

These days I am barely managing one non-social-media-driven post a month. Those I do post are more functional than personal, and while that’s probably OK for the majority of people who click through to my site looking for information on my spiritual services, it’s kind of not OK for me. Because without a written portal for my thoughts, I’ve noticed I’m more likely to ruminate and get stuck in unhelpful thought patterns. Writing truly is cathartic. Science confirms it – research from Pennsylvania State University in the US found that keeping a ‘thought journal’ every day improved emotional balance.

So on that note, here’s an update on what’s been going on in my world of late.

This year I’ve been really struggling with low energy. Not just the ‘wow it’s been a big week’ sort of fatigue, but the ‘urge to sleep all weekend but still wouldn’t feel refreshed’ type. It’s not like any sort of fatigue I have ever known – and that’s coming from someone who has had insomnia much of her adult life. I did not notice that what I was enveloped in was not a normal sort of exhaustion. After a mild cold cleared quickly but left me feeling even more flat, I decided enough was enough and I sought out a naturopath.

What came up in tests was not low immunity, as I’d suspected, but abnormally low levels of the stress-hormone cortisol. The result: adrenal fatigue. Which was laughable since in my work as a health writer I’ve covered that very topic more than once in the past, interviewing the likes of holistic nutritionist Dr Libby Weaver, but failed to notice the symptoms in myself.

Adrenal fatigue is what happens when you operate at breakneck speed for too long. Essentially,
your body, interpreting the pressure you’re under as a dangerous situation, goes into fight or flight mode, releasing adrenaline to help you survive. This is designed to be a short-term response, to get you away from the perceived danger, but in today’s high-pressure environment, this has become a long-term state. Because our stress never dissipates, so the adrenaline keeps getting pumped out. Too much adrenaline in the body raises blood pressure and causes inflammation, so the body releases cortisol to bring these down. Because the body is unable to sustain prolonged high-cortisol release, the adrenal glands crash. You will feel, as I have for most of this year, like you are dragging your body around, day after day, and never able to regain your energy. Other effects others have reported include: constantly getting illnesses, sudden unexplained weight gain you can’t shift, low sex drive and constant irritability.

As well as dosing me up on myriad herbs and potions, my naturopath has instructed me to make some much-needed lifestyle changes. I’m banned from looking at my phone or tablet after 9pm (the blue light from these screens raises cortisol output). I must wake up between 6am and 7pm (sleeping in is a bad idea), and must be in bed by 9.30pm. I can only exercise in the mornings, at low or moderate intensity. I must reduce my sugar intake (something I have been using as a crutch to get me through the afternoons, as I don’t drink caffeine). When I’m working from home, I’m encouraged to take a short afternoon nap.

Not surprisingly to those who know me well, it’s the evening phone restriction that’s been the hardest change to implement, but it’s forced me to address my phone dependency. I spend too much time on social media, and that’s been partly contributing to my inability to switch off at the end of the evening. And so I’m trying to relax my tendency to keep checking into the online world on a regular basis; I am now questioning my compulsion to respond to every single message. These are the things that prevent me feeling fully present in my off-line (actual) life, and contribute to my difficulty relaxing in weekends and holidays.

It’s been a few weeks since I started implementing these changes – some days I do better than others – and I’m already starting to feel better. It’s a long road ahead to fully heal my energy – there is no quick fix for adrenal fatigue – and I need to be patient with the process. However if I don’t spend the time now restoring my health, I’ll crash again in the future, and then I can’t do what my soul came here to do. My body is, after all, a home for my soul. I’ll keep you posted on my progress.

How do you get back up when life kicks you down? Start with your words

Angel hugging own knees looking despondentIt’s hard to pick just one standout quote from Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist, an exquisite book I have come back to again and again throughout my adult life, but this one would certainly be among my favourites: “The secret to life is to fall down seven times and get up eight times.”
In less poetic terms: “I get knocked down, but I get up again.” (Thanks for that, Chumbawamba.*)
Picking yourself up again after failure, humiliation and heartbreak is achingly difficult, but very necessary if you want to move forward in your life. What Paulo Coelho is describing so lyrically is resilience.
So that’s the ‘why’; this is the ‘how’. The words you use are extremely powerful when it comes to getting back up when you are down. I know this because science.

There’s a well-known study in which Japanese researcher Dr Masaru Emoto took two identical jars of cooked rice and wrote “thank you” on one, and on the other “you fool”. He had school children say the labels out loud to the jars every day as they walked past. After 30 days the jar that had received positive affirmation was healthy while the one that was abused had become mouldy and rotten. The conclusion: words have the power to affect us on a cellular level, so it’s important to choose positive ones. In the interests of balance, I should probably point out here that the scientific community have been fairly critical of Dr Emoto’s research techniques. Still, the finding is an intriguing one.
Improving my self-esteem has been a real focus for me this year, but what I’m realising lately is that it’s actually self-compassion which is more beneficial to my confidence levels and life successes than self-esteem. And just like Dr Emoto I’m fascinated by the power of words – specifically, how the language I use in speaking to myself (both internally and externally) could play a key role in making me a better me.  
The difference between self-esteem and self-compassion, explains respected US self-compassion researcher Dr Kristin Neff, is that the former often involves us comparing ourselves to other people. Which no one does, obviously… except me and, you know, every woman ever. (And potentially a lot of men too.)
Woman kissing out love hearts
Comparison might briefly boost your self-esteem if you conclude that you’re better than other people in some way... but when you feel like everyone else is doing life better than you, your self-esteem is going to suffer – badly. (Guilty as charged.) Self-compassion, on the other hand, doesn’t hinge on you feeling special or different – all it depends on is you treating yourself like a human being who deserves love and care.
Here’s what happens: when you criticise yourself, cortisol (the stress hormone) is released in your body. The resulting stress lowers your mood and motivation. So basically, criticism is being absorbed by your cells**. Yikes! But if, instead of criticising yourself, you can pick yourself up in times of darkness and reassure yourself that the failure you’ve suffered doesn’t diminish your value as a human being, you’ll be better able to get back up and try again, says Dr Neff.

In other (my own), words, kicking your own arse only works if you do it with kindness.
Perhaps this could go some way to explaining why so many women struggle to lose weight in the long term. If you slip up with your exercise and diet plan, then start beating yourself up and call yourself fat, you’re unlikely to get back on track with your weight-loss journey the next day.
I don’t know what you guys take from these findings, but for me, it’s made being nice to myself a far greater priority. It’s looking very much to me like being my own best friend is the secret to getting back up again when life kicks me down. This is a friendship worth making time for.

*Here’s a Chumbawamba throwback, because I know you want it. (Lets just overlook the fact that the song’s about drinking, ’kay?)

**Did you know we have more than 50 billion cells in our body? Whoa! I learned this at a recent seminar by wellness guru Dr Libby Weaver.