If you are a frequent visitor to The Happy Nashes, you know that I have a tendency to... oh... shall we say ramble on about my various theories and ideas. Today is no exception. But in all fairness I have to warn you that the rambling today is a bit extreme. This is a really long post. Read on at your own personal risk...
For a long time you have had to put up with me complaining, at various times, about
-weight gain/difficulties with weight loss
-the stress of preemie birth and its lingering effects
-the stress of losing several friendships at once several years ago (and wondering why I can’t just forget about it)
Wah wah wah, you think to yourself. When will this woman stop her complaining about these six problems? In fact, if I look back at her blog entries, nearly all of them address at least one of these, if not two or three.
Dear readers, it’s all coming together! Come with me on a journey.
It’s August of 2007. I am completing the last phase of my Master’s thesis. Overall, it’s been a fun project. The job market, though, is looking awful. I can’t get a call back because when I drop off my applications, I am toting around a baby bump, which is about as attractive to a prospective employer as a face-and-neck tattoo.
I begin to think about student loans, and employment discrimination.
And it’s August, and the heat makes everything worse.
Arriving home, a note on my doorstep from an ex-friend of mine. Listing my failings and flaws as a person, as a friend, as a future mother, as a wife. My very best friend on the planet earth, listing out all the terrible things about me, some real and some made up. I am not sure which is which.
September. I take three jobs. One, a part time secretary position, filling in for the admin assistant who was out on maternity leave. Two, a babysitting position which I enjoyed but which drained my end-of-second-trimester energy. Three, an online tutoring position that was restrictive and not very well paid. I work as a secretary all morning, a babysitter all afternoon, and a tutor from 7-9 each night. We are not sure where we will live when the baby is born in December. One house deal did not go through; one house deal seems to be going through but my income keeps getting lower and lower. My belly gets bigger and bigger. I get phone calls from mutual friends of the note-writer and me, telling me I need to beg forgiveness for imagined wrongs I have allegedly committed. My husband is called names. Note-writer tells me I should be on mental health medication because I am not spending time with her, which she interprets to mean that I am withdrawing from the entire world, and that I am suffering from a “lack of internal resources,” a phrase I may remember forever. I think maybe she is suffering from a lack of my fist in her face, but it is unseemly for a six months pregnant woman to start a barroom fight.
I am getting the urge to nest and instead we are packing all of our things into boxes. It’s the opposite of nesting. I want to be padding softly through a nursery that smells like baby powder, humming to myself and folding little stacks of onesies. Instead I am taping books into boxes, pushing “ignore” on my phone when a soldier in the ex-friend army calls, and working 10 hours every day for less money than I used to make as a secretary before I went back to school.
There is mold growing on the bathroom ceiling again, and I am too big to climb the ladder to wipe it off with a bleach-soaked rag.
I am not even allowed to use bleach.
I do not want there to be mold on the ceiling of whatever place we are living in when the baby is born in December.
October. The baby is not born in December. I wake one morning to answer phones and schedule classes, and instead my water breaks and 11 hours later he is not in my arms but held up to me by my husband, held to me so that I can kiss his tiny cheek before he’s taken to the NICU. I am nowhere at all, maybe at the hospital, maybe on a grassy hill like the one Maria spins on in the opening scene of The Sound of Music.
A few people come to visit me in the hospital, and chat with strained cheeriness. A few people don’t come at all, because they can’t see the baby, so what would be the point? Five days later, we close on our house. I pack my things at the hospital into a plastic bag, feed Chris his morning bottle in the NICU and leave with Ben to the closing, my dirty maternity clothes still rolled up in that bag in the backseat. The trash in the car seems so strange and alien. A to do list from last week, completely irrelevant to my life now. A grocery receipt with prenatal vitamins on it. A fast food chicken sandwich box. A folder with photocopied journal articles from my thesis research. Who had these things? Who was this girl? The shoes on my feet don’t even feel like they’re mine.
I sign my name and we are homeowners now. We pack the kitchen at the old place and I go back to the hospital to feed Chris at 3, 6, 9, and 12, and then I drive home, to my new home, and in the dark and in my haste and with the new road construction I can’t find my neighborhood. I drive up and down the same stretch of road three times, laughing, not crying somehow, but laughing, and then finally I find my house. Inside: My husband, all the furniture set up. Fried chicken from my mother, who never fried chicken once in my memory before then. A strange smell to the carpet and walls. Someone else’s pictures on the walls. I do not know where my things are.
Chris comes home from the hospital a week later. An ex-friend calls to tell me how sad she is to pretend we aren’t friends, and how sorry she is that my son is in the hospital and not doing well. He is at home in my arms, I want to yell at her, and I delete the message. Four months later I unpack most of the boxes. Two months after that, Ben’s best friend dies in a violent accident. Grief, exhaustion, total loss of everything familiar, strain creeps in and takes root. At least I have stopped getting calls from the ex-friend army.
And there are smaller, less dramatic stresses as well. The back door floods every time it rains. The electric bill is $350 with no explanation. I can’t budge below 187 pounds, no matter what I do. I cry. I dread the night time.
Chris moves to his own crib at night and I begin to wake in a panic each night, sure that I have left him somewhere unattended, convinced beyond doubt that I forgot him in the living room floor; in the kitchen; on the changing table. I can’t go to sleep again until I get up and check for him, and find him, sleeping soundly in his crib. Most of the time I don’t wake him up but sometimes I do, by accident. I begin to live by whether or not I can hear his breathing in the monitor.
The world closes in. I begin to worry about strange things, bizarre things. I begin to obsess about the world ending in 2012, about an asteroid hitting the planet, about all the oil running out, about nuclear war. All of my worst fears come together into a conglomerate Horror Fantasy, in lurid color, in my dreams every night. I give in and buy jeans in size 15. I can’t seem to breastfeed properly.
And now, nearly four years later, so much has changed in my life. I have adapted to the circumstances much better than I ever thought I would have. We are finally unpacked. We have two beautiful children. Things are so much better. And yet I am still overweight, tired, worn out, too quickly thrown into a panic.
I think a case can be made that my experience in 2007-08 could be described as “chronic stress.” In fact, on the list of Major Life Stressors, I experienced... well, let’s say, an overwhelming number of them within a 12-month period, for a total score of 753 on a scale that categorizes scores of 149 and below as normal and scores of 300 and above as indicating a high susceptibility to stress-related illness.
Chronic stress, as it turns out, leads to adrenal fatigue, which is basically when your adrenal glands pull a “Boy Who Cried Wolf” act, and when you experience stress, instead of giving you a boost of energy to fight-or-fly, they say “Yeah right, I’m not falling for that again. Get your own energy.” And they sit back, arms crossed.
Here are some “Examples of lifestyle factors that may contribute to adrenal fatigue,” copied and pasted from this website:
-Lack of sleep
-Poor food choices (white flour, low fiber, sugar, few vegetables or fruit, lack of raw food, etc.)
-Using sweet or salty food and sweetened or caffeinated drinks as stimulants when tired
-Staying up late even though tired
-Constantly driving yourself
-Trying to be perfect
-Staying in double binds (no win situations)
-Too few of enjoyable and rejuvenating activities
I was doing all of these.
Here are some examples of life situations which can lead to adrenal fatigue, from the same website:
-Unrelieved pressure or frequent crises at work and/or home
-Severe emotional trauma (death of someone close, divorce, etc.)
-Major surgery with slow recovery
-Loss of stable job
-Sudden change in financial status
-Stressful life changes without the support of friends or family
Check. Check. Check checkcheckcheck.
Adrenal fatigue leads to, and then exacerbates, reactive hypoglycemia (which by my own observation, I seem to have, at least to some degree. Not trying to be a hypochondriac, but I have the symptoms and have suspected it for a long time. At-home tests like drinking orange juice on an empty stomach and then charting the results over a period of time seem to back this up.).
In reactive hypoglycemia, when glucose enters the bloodstream after a meal, the body overproduces insulin to try to get some glucose to the cells, especially if it is especially stressed or hungry. In a stress situation, energy would normally be delivered to the cells in the short term by adrenaline, which in some process I am sure I don’t fully understand would unlock glycogen in the liver for an emergency energy boost, but adrenaline is on strike because of the adrenal fatigue, so no glycogen energy is available.
So insulin production is pumped up to compensate. Blood sugar dips too low as too much insulin takes up all the glucose in the blood and then creates a deficit. I crave sugar. I eat sugar, which causes the body to overproduce insulin. (Or, I don’t eat sugar, which causes me to fall asleep from total lack of body functioning. So usually I eat sugar.) Insulin also triggers fat storage, so when there is a ton of insulin around, and an excess of sugar in the blood which I am eating trying to get some energy, that sugar is stored directly as fat, because it can’t all be used (because I cannot run marathons when I am so sleepy). So at the end of the day I am anxious, strung-out, exhausted, famished, and still overweight.
Attempts to do cardio to fix the overweight part just make me feel even worse, because exercise stimulates insulin production. The fact that I don’t eat extra before I exercise because I am trying to lose weight makes the hypoglycemic effect even worse. I develop a mild fear of hard exercise because of a few times at the gym where I almost couldn’t get to the car to drive myself home and ended up eating a whole Subway sandwich downstairs just to stop shaking before getting on the road. Fear of hitting an energy dip while out with kids keeps me from leaving home very often, and especially keeps me from attempting exercise with the kids (walks, playground, etc.).
The pieces begin to come together. I had thought for a long time I had a hypoglycemia-type problem, but I didn’t understand why I would have the problems now, as opposed to, say, five years ago. And the stress + adrenal fatigue explanation seems to make a lot of sense -- I never experienced weight or energy problems until late in my second trimester of pregnancy with Chris – right at the time that I began to experience prolonged, constant stress. And the effects of that stress have stayed with me in one way or another ever since.
And then -- oh, the irony -- in the perfect piece of terrible coincidence, the one chemical I turn to, to get me through the day – caffeine – inhibits the body from reuptake of adrenaline, which means that when I drink coffee and then experience stress of any kind, my body releases a bit of adrenaline and I am stuck in panic mode for hours until the coffee wears off and the adrenaline is finally allowed to leave my bloodstream, and then with a lack of blood sugar and my adrenals refusing to produce anything else (because they get worn out after a rush like that and refuse to work while they recover), and my insulin overproducing to get me some energy, I get really tired and have sugar cravings, so I have a cup of coffee and some chocolate, and then I panic and then pass out and wake up tired and hungry and still overweight...
It kind of all makes sense. And I can see that the key to untangling all of it is something like this:
1. Stop drinking caffeine, more or less immediately.
2. Reduce stress in every way possible. Learn to manage the rest.
3. Stop eating refined sugar, refined grains, and lovely starches like white potatoes. (Dear Potatoes, I will miss you so...)
4. Eat small, protein-filled, balanced meals pretty much constantly.
And now comes your part. If you have read this far, it means that you care enough about me to wade through thousands of words about topics that I have already written on pretty much ad nauseum. So now I am asking you some questions which I would love to know your answers to:
1. Does this theory sound crazy and/or too contrived?
2. Do I reeeeeally have to give up coffee (imagining tomorrow morning... not pretty...)?
If you have any additional thoughts about my failings and flaws as a person, as a friend, as a mother, or as a wife, I would respectfully request that you fashion them into overemotional handwritten notes and leave them on my doorstep for me to find.
Also, bring me snacks. Apparently I am going to need them.