6 January 2016

Getting Answers! By Kellie Gibson

Getting Answers!

I feel like I am starting 2016 just how I had hoped I would start 2014 and 2015 - with some answers!

In previous blogs I have talked about how things really fell apart for me at the end of 2013 and since then I have really struggled to find the answers as to why my health and love of running have continued to decline. Getting some answers from recent tests has been pivotal in my journey and means that even though there is so much work to be done, I can finally start a fresh year with a vision and plan and most of all a sense that I can find myself and my health again. As part of moving forward I feel the need to look back and figure out just how I got to this point so that I don’t fall back into this trap again. I am also starting to see how common these issues are especially with the pace of todays world, I have been able to connect with so many others with similar issues and I think its is really important to create awareness.

So how did I get to this point?  How did I go from being fit and healthy with an abundance of energy to someone who could barely get out of bed and function? Was it all about the running? No… the amount of running I was doing certainly didn’t help but it was a number of factors that contributed to where I found myself and my state of health. Looking back, 2013 was a very big year for me, it was the year I really started to get into running, I loved it and it was such an outlet! In the same year I was in a very stressful work environment, I was in a situation where I felt bullied in the workplace which ripped away at my self confidence and my emotional health. Being in this position was hard, good jobs were hard to come by locally and I needed the job because like everyone else I had a mortgage, kids and so many other financial commitments… so I set a lot of my feelings aside and basically shoved the issue in the corner because if I acknowledged it enough it became more of a reality which I felt made things harder (I now realise that refusing to acknowledge these things doesn’t make them go away, it makes them worse, you can put anything in the corner but the reality is that its still there for another day). I worked long days and finished at 7pm 3 nights a week which made me feel guilty that I was missing valuable time with my family, all to be somewhere I didn’t even want to be. I would come home and the kids would be already bathed, fed and ready for bed and my dinner was cooked and on the table, even though the hard work was all done I really missed being a part of all those simple things with my family and it was putting so much pressure on Wes who had to do everything after also being at work all day. Every day I showed up to work, sucked it up and just did what I had to because I felt there was no other choice. Running was one of the big ways I dealt with the situation and I always felt good after going out for a run and pushing myself hard, I was running out my frustration which I now realise was not a sustainable way to deal with the situation, I was probably running too many of my runs too hard as a coping mechanism.

I had so many commitments in 2013 on top of all of this and keeping busy was the perfect distraction at the time, I was running 6 days a week, playing summer comp hockey, playing touch football, we got a new puppy who was a lot of work at the time, I was attending so many races (too many!) trying to be the best mum I could be to my two boys and so much more, I was just trying to pack way too much in!  I can clearly remember being so rushed so much of the time and trying to fit so many commitments into such a small space of time, I literally remember the feeling of adrenaline pumping through my blood and the rush it gave me, it felt so good at the time, I felt like I was achieving so much and it made me feel on top of the world… until I was literally stopped in my tracks as my body simply could not sustain this. I now realise just how dangerous all of this was to my health… our stress hormones aren’t meant to be switched ON all of the time!  I always had trouble falling asleep back then and I used to put it down to the fact that I was finishing work at 7pm which was later than I was used to and that I needed more time to wind down after work, I now see it was a vital clue that my cortisol was high at the time from my stress hormones being switched on too much.  My perception of what stress was back then is very different to how I view it now, I had no idea that our bodies cannot differentiate between different kinds of stress, I didn’t realise that all of this rushing was such a stress on my body, I didn’t even realise that running is a stress to our body (how could something that feels so good be stressful to our bodies?!). If you go for a run and recover adequately it can be a positive thing and adaptations are made, if we recover adequately our bodies actually convert cortisol to cortisone which has profound benefits but if cortisol and stress hormones are always high and never catch a break it can have dire effects on health.  My biggest problem is that I didn’t see most of the stress in my life as stress, that’s just how life was, one big rush but I never perceived it as stressful, it just became my normal. Failing to acknowledge just how much my work situation was affecting me emotionally also caught up with me and took its toll, it didn’t go away just because I didn’t acknowledge it, I now realise it was still a major stress whether I saw it that way or not. And that is exactly how I believe my road to Adrenal fatigue started. It starts with cortisol being too high and the body cannot keep up with the demands so in the next stage it falls low and results in an unrelenting fatigue which is unrivaled by sleep. The onset of Adrenal Fatigue usually involves a range of physical and emotional factors and I was ticking both or those boxes! Back then I never acknowledged that running could be placing such a burden on me, I always had one rest day a week to make sure I was recovering adequately, I was averaging 70km weeks which didn’t seem like much compared to what some others were doing, I had never ran further than Marathon distance, even though I was training for an Ultra Marathon I never quite got there, it just didn’t make sense to me that what I was doing could be too much. The thing is that each person is so individual and what one person can handle is so different to another.  My load may have been much less compared to many of those around me but it is not just about the numbers… combining all of the above factors and a poor stress response on top of the running was enough to push me over the edge. Failing to acknowledge all of this and get the answers I needed for so long bought me unstuck further and further as I kept trying to battle on.  Looking back I also felt a certain pressure that I was unaware of at the time. I entered the sport performing reasonably well from the get go and was constantly being told by well meaning people that I had so much potential. This definitely played on my mind and bought more stress to my running as I felt a need to perform to a certain level all of the time and to constantly improve and run PB’s, narrowly missing a couple of podiums and in one race missing a win where I had led for 33km of a 34km race only to be overtaken in the last km made me want it more and more. I don’t even know how I got so caught up in this, performance was definitely not why I started to run in the first place. As I became unwell and my performances fell away more and more this was an extra factor that really played on my mind. I don’t even care about any of that anymore all I want is to run free and happy again, just to participate and to run with a smile on my face like I used to.

By the end of 2013 I was no longer in the same job and set my sights on starting up my own business, I went back to Graphic Design which is what I truly love doing. While this was very exciting to start up my own business, the prospect of not being paid a set amount every week and having to build clientele was daunting and stressful at times while I got myself up and running, the type of stress changed but the cycle continued... My business is now going really well but with my declining health over the last two years and the guilt of having to slow down everything because my body literally couldn’t take it anymore has really kept that stress cycle going especially when there were no concrete answers as to why I felt the way I did (and it wasn’t through a lack of trying, I had countless Doctors visits and spent the best part of 2 years using what energy I had trying to find the answers… I am sure my Doctor thought I was a hypochondriac!). I kept pushing on and hoping it would pass because as the Doctors kept telling me I was fine! But I wasn’t fine and was running myself further and further into the ground trying to keep up and the more I struggled the more I really started to doubt myself. It became a really perpetuating cycle!

In December an Adrenal and Baseline Hormone Saliva test confirmed what I felt I had known for some time now that I was in Stage 2 of Adrenal Fatigue and on top of this, my other hormones had become very unbalanced as well. The test revealed that my morning cortisol was relatively normal but by Midday it had bottomed out to where it is supposed to be at 10pm at night and stayed at that level all day, no wonder I felt so tired! The normal pattern that cortisol should follow throughout the day is that it is high first thing in the morning (which helps us get out of bed with energy) and then it gradually declines throughout the day and reaches its lowest point by 10pm which is what allows us to fall asleep easily. Many other hormone imbalances were also picked up, because my cortisol was so low my other hormones stepped in to help out, the problem is that this creates further imbalance which causes further issues.  My DHEA was almost twice the high end of the normal range, testosterone was almost 4 times the high end of the normal range and E1 (a form of Oestrogen) was also high. Its crazy to think that only 9 months ago my testosterone was below the normal range and now it has swung completely the other way (when I was on the contraceptive pill it completely bottomed out and now upon stopping it, it has skyrocketed… what an upheaval for my body! And it didn’t matter which end of the scale it was on, I felt horrible the whole time because it was out of balance along with many other things).  These results also bought to light that there were issues with my liver and Phase 2 Liver Detoxification, the liver is responsible for processing and excreting excess hormones from the body but when the load is too high it starts to recycle hormones back into the body as it simply cannot keep up, the problem is that these hormones are not intended to be recycled back into the body and they create havoc.  Since I have started to work on this issue I have noticed some improvement with my bloating which is great, it seems to have been caused by the liver.

After seeing a dietician in Sydney who specialises in issues such as Adrenal Fatigue late last month, further testing was done on my Thyroid as I appeared to have many symptoms of Hypothyroidism on top of my Adrenal Fatigue symptoms. All of my Thyroid results came back normal but we were still waiting on the Reverse T3 (RT3) results to come back. When these tests came back last week it revealed that my Reverse T3 was very high.  What does this mean? Reverse T3 has the same molecular structure as the Thyroid hormone T3 except that it is upside down.  The issue is that RT3 binds to the same cell receptors as T3 but it is inactive and as a result blocks T3 from binding to the receptors and becoming active. T3 along with T4 is responsible for regulating cell metabolism in every cell in our bodies. They promote optimal growth, development, function and maintenance of all body tissues. They are also critical for nervous, skeletal and reproductive tissue as well as regulating body temperature, heart rate, body weight and cholesterol. When RT3 is high and T3 is being blocked symptoms of Hypothyroidism are present but it is different to typical hypothyroidism where T3 is usually not being produced efficiently, my T3 is being produced but it is being blocked by the RT3. This certainly explains a lot of my symptoms further.

Looking back now I feel that at the end of 2013 I was very much on the road to Adrenal Fatigue, all the signs were there in hindsight I just had no idea what I was dealing with and what impact stress was having on my life back then.  The acne which appeared for the first time in my life at 31 makes sense to me now, when our adrenals become taxed from producing too much or too little cortisol, all of our other hormones can also become off kilter which I believe caused the acne along with all of my injuries and other symptoms from back then. Unfortunately I feel that I went down the wrong path initially by accepting prescriptions for the pill and antibiotics, they worked for a while with the acne but I felt even worse when taking them. As soon as I stopped taking them the acne came back because the problem was still there, the medication merely managed the symptoms without solving the problem and caused me a whole new set of issues which I am still also trying to overcome.  Long term antibiotic use is very dangerous and can cause major health issues in the gut and to our immune system, if only I knew this before I took them. I am still yet to have the tests done to find out exactly what I am dealing with in terms of my gut. Gut issues and a low immune system also place a great deal of stress on the body which certainly has not helped with my Adrenal Fatigue.

It’s been 3 months now since I have ran and I honestly still don’t feel I have the strength or energy to run. Body Balance classes at Cityfit, Yoga and walking my dog have kept me sane while I have taken a break from running. I am feeling really positive now in knowing what I am dealing with and the fact that it is totally fixable. Once I work through the process of getting my health back, I will run again and will take a much more balanced approach to my running… I just need to be patient as the process is going to take some time to work through. I need to look at all the reasons why I started running and why I found it so enjoyable and go back to the basics. However, there is a big part of me that is terrified to start running again, I don’t want to start too soon and compromise any progress I am making but at the same time I am keen to refuel that love of running that I once had. I guess my body will tell me when its time to return. I was lucky enough to chat with Katee from Holistic Endurance and Author of Healing The Grumpy Athlete a couple of months back who has been through a similar journey to mine and works with athletes in this position, she gave me some great advice which has helped me find more answers and I will be seeking some coaching from her when I am ready to return, not for performance reasons but just to get me back into the game in a safe manner so that I can find balance and enjoy running again without falling apart like I did.  I love the principles of Holistic Endurance and the fact that they look at so many other factors outside of running and triathlon, because as I have learned there is so much more that affects our running than just running, I don’t just want to run, I want to live as well and run a bit for enjoyment and I need to be healthy and maintain the right balance to do that. I am not too sure exactly when I will return, I feel like I will know when its time, lets see what the year brings… One thing I do know is that for the first time in 2 years things are really starting to look up, finally having answers changes my whole outlook and I now have a total new respect for my body. Our bodies truly are amazing, they pretty much tell us when things aren’t right, we just need to be able to listen.  I feel like I have had to fight so hard to get these answers, 2 years of being pushed out of Dr’s doors again and again being told I was fine when I knew that I wasn’t was like torture. I am glad I never gave up and stuck with it and kept searching and digging for answers and practitioners who would listen and who would run the tests I was seeking. I was never scared of a diagnosis, I wanted it so badly so that I could work towards getting better… I couldn’t be happier to finally have that… because health is everything, its hard to enjoy anything else without it and I look forward to finally getting mine back this year!

some of my favourite photos from 2013 when I was running healthy and happy

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