Last Wednesday I completed only three small items on my to-do list. At noon, I suddenly felt like 100 pound weights were attached to each arm and I was exhausted. I lay on the sofa for the rest of the day, growing increasingly frustrated at my body for not cooperating. “What a wasted day!” I complained to myself repeatedly.
Realizing that something was wrong (duh), I called my doctor. She explained that what was happening was caused by a shortage of cortisol in my system. My my adrenal gland had having gone on vacation while I took prednisone to keep my airways open. Now we are trying to call my adrenal gland back from vacation so I can make my own cortisol again in the necessary quantities. What I was experiencing was to be expected. She explained how to keep my system stable and gave a roadmap for diagnosis and treatment.
Understanding why my body was misbehaving didn’t reduce my frustration, however. Instead, it increased as reality settled in and I realized this exhaustion would happen every day for weeks.
I was not only frustrated at my body for not doing what I wanted it to do. Now I was frustrated and angry at myself for not being able to take my own advice and accept that my life had suddenly changed again. “Walk your talk, Barbara. Adapt to change.” No matter how many times I said it, it didn’t seem to help. Talk about doing a double whammy on myself!
Gritting my teeth in anger, I took deep, cleansing breaths and replayed some of what I supposedly know:
- I have the ability to decide how I will respond to whatever is happening.
- I can choose to be angry and frustrated or I can lean into accepting a temporary loss of energy as part diagnosing and treating a new health issue.
- I can rage against my new limitations or I can choose to be thoughtful and disciplined in how I use the hours each morning when I have energy.
- I can creatively bring beauty, goodness and depth even to the hours I need to rest.
By nightfall I realized my day hadn’t been wasted, after all. It gave my endocrinologist important data for ascertaining how well or poorly my adrenal gland is recovering from the prolonged prednisone use that had kept my airways open. That day’s experience reminded me how dangerous adrenal insufficiency can be and that taking time to address this issue is important. It affirmed the wisdom of my seeking an endocrinologist’s help, and the importance both of listening to my body and of being my own advocate. Oddly, that day gave me hope that with determination, creativity and grace I can choose to respond well to this new challenge.
My non-wasted day reminded me that sometimes the most important item on our to-do list is doing that which is necessary to care for our health.
***Background Note: Corticosteroids such as prednisone have become essential in treating a range of illnesses and conditions. They save lives. They also have to be managed carefully under medical supervision. In addition to healing and sustaining life, they can cause weight gain, skin discoloration, irritability, and dangerous mood swings. Long term use can also cause cataracts, bone density loss, and diabetes. Withdrawing from them too quickly can cause permanent tendon damage and life-threatening adrenal insufficiency. Do not consider them a panacea. Corticosteroids are both friend and foe.