My 4 year old son asked me to help him find a ball so we could play together. I went into his bedroom and, miraculously, found it almost immediately in the tumble of toys that littered the floor, under his bed and on top of his bed. However, instead of then following him outside to play it was as if I was sucked into an obsessive cleaning vortex. I lost all willpower, despite my son’s desperate attempts to bring me back from the edge, and I could not stop myself from tidying and sorting his room.
As I watched myself from a disconnected vantage point, knowing it was not serving either me or him to do this but unable to stop, I realised that I had been in this space for a few days. And that helped me climb out of the vortex.
For about 10 days I went into a dip that I only came out of at some point last week (with the above incident happening on about day 3). When I say dip I was dizzy, exhausted and also wired, unable to rest fully when I tried and my anxiety was through the roof. This is usually accompanied by a need to do and feel in control through achievement.
Fortunately, I have an awareness of my patterns and when I see that I am in that space (such as needing to clean obsessively before having no energy for anything) I make sure that I do all the things opposite to what my default response is. This then helps me to avoid further depleting myself and completely crashing. In my previous, stress-ridden, more unconscious life (before about 3 years ago!) I would have continued my default exhaustion-overwhelm-anxiety-doing (then repeat) pattern until I crashed properly. Then I would not have surfaced for a month or three.
It was very useful to go into a dip for many reasons and I want to share those with you now:
- Being in a dip provides an opportunity to learn more about yourself and to practice your tools
My first reaction was frustration, confusion and then fear. Why am I dipping? Why now when I’ve been doing so well for so long? What’s wrong with me? Seriously, how could this be happening? Blah, blah, blah monkey mind madness. The fear was “Am I crashing?” “Could this be something seriously wrong?” “Will I ever feel normal again?” (the dizziness was so debilitating). I know that if you’ve experienced Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome or have chronic fatigue that you’ve likely had these fears and I’ll address the fear cycle in point #3.
When I saw myself go into the cycle I consciously chose to step back, find stillness in the midst of what wanted to become overwhelm and then find my centre again. This helped me to 1) change my story (see point #3) and 2) put my tools in place.
The tools I put in place:
- I pulled out my to do list and looked at what really needed to be done and what I could let go of for now (asking “does this really have to be done now and does it really have to be done by me?”).
- I reached out for support from my husband and ensured I placed strict boundaries around my usual rest time and added more to that.
- I spent time sitting with, acknowledging and inviting the overwhelm and anxiety and they soon passed.
- I tuned into my inner child and figured out what she really needed and made sure I met those needs and I was generally very gentle with myself.
- The worst of the dip was over in 7 days and what really helped was when I realised -through tuning in to my body – that the bio-identical hormones I had been taking (apparently I am experiencing peri-menopause!) had pushed me from being progesterone-deficient to progesterone dominant. Within a few days of stopping them I felt so much better.
Knowing the trigger helped me make a change
- Gaining clarity about triggers can be very empowering
If you become conscious of your triggers that increase overwhelm and fatigue it helps you 1) find a reason for why you have taken a dip (and this can calm the anxious brain where an answer (any answer that resonates really!) feels like a plug for the leak) and, 2) to know what to manage to feel better and to prevent further dips/crashes.
You can gain awareness of triggers through hindsight and you can gain awareness through tuning in to your intuition and realising what feels out of alignment for you.
So, as is often the case with dips, a lot happened at the same time for me and I want to share these to help spread light on things that can tax the nervous system and create imbalance in those prone to burnout:
- There were a number of incidences of violence against women and children in South Africa and one brutal rape and murder took place at a post office that was my local post office for 16 years. If you’re in South Africa you know the backlash and anger that ensued from women (and men) around the country. For those outside of the country just to fill you in – it was tangible. No matter how much one tried to ignore social media it was like a fog that seeped through our collective souls because it was highlighting a collective wound and fear. This was especially the case if you are an empath as so many people with chronic exhaustion are.
- I had started taken an antioxidant which boosted mitochrondrial health. I usually feel into how many to take but for some weird reason did not and also, unlike me, started with the maximum dose. Many people who have had adrenal depletion are super-sensitive to supplements and that’s definitely true for me. (Also, just for the record – as we become more conscious and tuned-in to our bodies many people will become more sensitive in general). Within days I was waking at night with adrenaline surging through my body which was largely due to the astaxanthin. I decided to stop that immediately!
- I had taken some time off to focus on my book and spent 3 days working from 8am to 6pm. Then on the 3rd night in this place I was staying I was kept awake by the neighbour either having a phone conversation or talking with an imaginary friend in a very loud and enthusiastic way from 10pm to 2:30am so I did not get much sleep. Usually one night of minimal sleep would not be a problem but it can be the straw that breaks the camels back.
- This was followed by two extremely hot days. One of the days was 39 degrees Centigrade (on the back of 17 degrees) and if your body is already a bit low in reserves it really taxes reserves to manage that kind of heat
- Finally, I had begun my next course of bio-identical progesterone.
I suspect the last one was the major contributing factor as it made such a difference stopping them but I am also fairly sure all those other factors contributed too and it can be really useful to know that. I managed some (e.g. my feelings related to the emotional climate) and some I couldn’t do anything about but I also really got out of the dip through changing my story.
- Changing the story about what it means is so important to healing
Heightened stress and anxiety leads to adrenal/HPA axis imbalance. This results in an imbalance in cortisol and adrenaline which contributes to further anxiety and panic. What then tends to happen is that everything that is experienced as ‘bad’ sparks huge anxiety and this further depletes the adrenals and exacerbates the cycle.
Furthermore, if you have crashed before there is a tendency to associate anything that is in any way related to a crash with panic. This can be unconscious or conscious and you can be triggered by feeling dizzy when you have not been or tired when you do not understand why you should be so tired etc.
Our brains automatically need to find a reason why things have happened and this can help quell the anxiety but often we can’t find reasons and are flooded with fear which further feeds the adrenal imbalance and fear cycle. This is accompanied by an obsessive need to make sense of everything that is experienced and to label it as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ with ‘bad’ symptoms resulting in further fear (and through all of this there is lots of wiredness, agitation, doing and needing to be in control to help beat the overwhelm into submission).
But it doesn't have to be like that: Your cells take their cue from your nervous system which is influenced by your perception of the external and internal environment. So, use this to your advantage and explore the story you’re telling yourself. If you interpret your experience in a way that feels more safe your body will not respond with a fight/flight response and fear cycle.
I have already shared the story in my ebook that when I first saw the gift in my experience with my adrenal fatigue it shifted my healing in a big way. I still hold the belief that physical changes are often due to energetic shifts that are part of growth and transformation. I remember reading an integrative doctor’s fascinating views on how childhood illnesses are a vital part of development. The physical symptoms are part of a release and shift and should not be suppressed or resisted as this just makes it worse and fuels anxiety.
Having come out of the other end of my dip and having held a space for the story that “I am undergoing a shift of some sort and this is all happening now for a reason” I can tell you in hindsight that I was given the opportunity to put together all of these thoughts as I’ve shared with you and I truly believe that I was releasing some very old terror and fear that I’ve been holding. Not only am I feeling more energetic and centered now but I feel a sense of calm I have not felt for a long time.
In the past I would have given in to the anxiety, overwhelm and ‘this is bad’ story and then experienced further anxiety, worsened the situation and crashed properly. Instead I have come out feeling I have been given a gift. I hope that you can take something from my shared experience too.
You get to create the meaning of everything that happens. Often, we never even know why but you can choose how to experience and understand even your physical symptoms. Illness, fatigue, other symptoms do not have to mean something terrible. For those prone to anxiety and catastrophising this can be very empowering.
So next time you hit a dip become conscious that you are there and remember that your old stories do not have to be your present day stories. Change the story and look for the gift. I’m fairly sure you’ll be out of that dip in no time.