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A Day in the Life of an Adrenal Insufficient Person

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Since my adrenal insufficiency diagnosis was added to my existing connective tissue disease, my whole life has been turned upside down.

This new diagnosis I will add, has been far more difficult to manage than I could have ever imagined and if I thought my auto immune disease was hard enough, then I was very much mistaken.

Suggestions from well-intended people that I have “adrenal fatigue” and how supplements will cure me because it cured their aunty/uncle/mother etc, are in abundance, as are assumptions like “Are you pregnant?” when people see the look of pain on my face when I smell food at certain times of the day.

So with all this in mind, I thought I should write “a day in my life” — the symptoms I get and how I get through it. I will warn you though, this is a full on whinge alert because we all need to do that occasionally I am sure.

5 a.m. – Let’s start the day!

I don’t need an alarm to wake me up because my friend “dizzy” does it for me. I wake up dizzy, like really dizzy, feeling very nauseous and my heart racing. Trust me it is not pleasant.

I stare accusingly at my bottle of prednisolone. I say “accusingly” because as some of you may know, I hate the medication, but I love it because my body and I require it for survival. So dirty looks aimed at the pred bottle are the closest I can get to an act of rebellion.

Leaning over to the bedside cabinet I take my steroids and feel lightheaded while wishing I could lie in bed until my old mate “dizzy” has gone away and left me alone.

Swallowing my precious five milligrams of prednisolone, I remain in bed and close my eyes and wait for the steroids to work. Then and only then will I be able to get out of bed, because if I try too soon, I will fall on the floor.

At work:

When I first wake up, I cannot eat as it takes a while for the nausea to subside, so a glass of water is all I can manage. That is just the way it is and instead of fighting it, I go with it as it is easier.

By the time I leave for work I am feeling so much better. I count my blessings as I drive the coastal route to work where I can admire the ocean, the parrots and the stunning journey I am lucky enough to take.

Sometimes I put music on and sing without a care as to who sees me in the traffic lights.  My energy levels are almost normal, I feel “almost normal” and it feels pretty good as well.

I arrive at work at 8:30 a.m. and only then can I manage some breakfast, trying before that time is futile so I have my cereal with a banana and a hot drink at my desk.


Mid-mornings have me craving salt big time. I dream about salt. Nothing else matters except for salt, and although I try and fight it, I find myself gravitating downstairs to the kitchen to buy a bag of chips (crisps) so I can satisfy my salt craving and it always surprises me as to how much better I feel once I have had some. Salt makes the world go round, well my world anyway.

Lunchtimes stink – literally.

Lunchtimes mean I need to shut my door, as the various cooking smells of whatever lunch is being heated up is guaranteed to infiltrate my nostrils in a culinary assault, hit the back of my throat and cause me to gag to the point of dry retching.

I never imagined the smell of curry or steamed vegetables for instance, could smell quite so pungent.  I never realized the smell of pot noodles or cuppa soups could be so overpowering. Who would have thought cucumber could smell so strong?  Since when did I have the nose and sniffing capability of a beagle?

So what does a person like me do when the smell of food is often the enemy and my stomach doesn’t work properly because when I do eat, I often get tummy cramps afterwards because the food appears to just “sit there” and give me cramps?

I shall tell you what I do. I have cold soup because cold soup has lots of salt, so I get what I want out of it and it is better than nothing. I have discovered cold beef or chicken soup serves its purpose when everything else fails.

I usually bring yogurts in to work and some fruit which is always good and failing that, I have a mug of Milo (cold of course so I don’t have to smell it).

As the day goes on…

As the day goes on, I get more tired and find that my five milligrams of prednisolone will deplete faster on some days than it will on others.  If I am busy/stressed then the running around or whatever I am doing will see me “crash” by around 4 p.m. and with the “crash” comes a few symptoms not that noticeable to others, but are to myself or those closest to me.

My speech becomes slower, concentration is harder and I suffer brain fog. I start to ache more in my joints and have to keep stretching and moving. The need to fall asleep is pretty intense and I have to watch myself that I don’t nod off at inappropriate moments. Sometimes it feels like I have been slipped a sedative as I fight the desire to sleep and wrap myself up in a blanket because I feel the cold.

At home:

Once I am home, I am tired and completely drained and depleted of energy. My two dogs  are twitching and wriggling with excitement pleading for me to either walk them or play ball with them in the garden. Some days I can do neither because my body is refusing to cooperate with my need (and that of my dogs’) for exercise.

I need to get showered and changed out of my work clothes, but everything must be done in stages because this is exhaustion on a whole new level. Starting with sitting on the bed, I persuade myself that a two minute lie-down before my shower wouldn’t hurt, surely?

Ten minutes later I wake up and realize I am still in my work clothes. Now the cat is sitting on my chest using it as a pin cushion while he makes a bed on me, because he thinks that I am there for the night. My suit is covered in cat fur, and I need to clean it –but it can wait until the morning.

I manage to shower and change and then go to the living room where my pets are asking for their tea. The sofa is teasing me and I so badly want to lie on it. Every single thing I do is an effort and every task seems mammoth.

My evening on the edge:

Another “gift” my adrenal insufficiency gives me is very bad anxiety that simply cannot be rationalized. I get irritable and snappy, but most of all this kind of anxiety is so strange I cannot explain it or make sense of it — but I am most definitely on the edge.

Anxiety like my mate “dizzy,” is a regular “friend” because it seems to arrive like clockwork along with the fast heartbeat that makes its presence known at around 6:30 p.m. every single evening when my steroid dose runs out and my cortisol production runs low.

“Your heart is racing,” my husband said when he was hugging me on the sofa one night.

Racing? Yes, that kind of sums it up, but for want of a better description I would say “working harder than normal” probably suits it better.

Because that is exactly what it feels like, my heart feels like it is working pretty darned hard and more to the point, I am aware of it. It’s not scary, but it makes you tired and is made worse when something makes you jump. Being easily startled seems part of the package of this whole adrenal issue.

It has put a whole new meaning to the phrase “jump out of my skin,” which is why I have stopped watching films like “Wolf Creek” — and that is a crying shame as I have a thing for John Jarrett the leading actor.

Wired for sound:

“Can you turn the TV down?” I say almost every evening to my poor, long-struggling husband who ends up watching one of his favorite movies with the sound down so quietly he can barely hear it. Except I can hear it; I can hear every whisper from the actors to the point that they may as well shout.

As the evening goes on my sensitivity increases. Everything is loud. Tt is loud when it shouldn’t be loud and when it is meant to be loud, then it is pure torture and I have come to relish and seek out peace and quiet in the form of no TV and the sound of silence and even then, that can be loud.

Forever is a long time:

Having been advised that my adrenal insufficiency is more than likely permanent, I now have to get my head around the word “forever” or should it be “for now,” as we don’t know what is around the corner in the form of a cure?

For now though, I eagerly await my next appointment and a change of steroids that will hopefully make a big difference to my life.

I await the return of some energy and the loss of brain fog and slow speech. I await the return of my appetite and the loss of my friends “dizzy” and “anxiety.” But most of all, I await the return of the old me, the person that has a good life to lead, a husband and good friends to live it with.

Because I know she is in there somewhere. She has to be, and when I find her I shall kick her butt for staying away for so long.

Follow this journey on The Pigaloo Diaries

The Mighty is asking the following: What’s the hardest thing you deal with as someone with a chronic illness, and how do you face this? What advice and words of support would you offer someone facing the same thing? Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Originally published: July 8, 2016
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