Slow Days

Excuse me while I turn this blog around. I’ve unlinked the blog from social media sites, so if you’re reading this I guess I must still be in your reader feed back from years ago when I posted with somewhat more regularity or I’ve made a horrible mistake and am publicizing my innermost concerns to the entire world.

Anyway, I’ve got some shit to work out, and I need to work it out in writing (or as my students might say, in typing; why do they think “writing” means “handwritten”? They are mysterious to me, this alien generation), and journals seem very emo ninth grade to me, and to be frank, Word kind of scares the hell out of me these days unless it’s something for work. So blog it is. /end disclaimer/

Today is one of my “slow days.” Slow days are days when I feel like shit because of the adrenal fatigue (or whatever the fuck it is, as most of the established medical community doesn’t recognize adrenal fatigue). What is a slow day like, you might ask? Well, I’m sure you’ve experienced all of the symptoms yourself at one time or another, but they have a particular configuration with adrenal fatigue. Yesterday, I was too tired to pack my bags and thus my return trip home was delayed until today. Today, I powered through it. Yes, I’m saying I powered through packing half a dozen tiny bags and putting them in my car and driving three hours, and that this was something I felt like I wasn’t entirely capable of doing yesterday. Just writing that makes me want to cry. But the delay in making the trip and the tears are more effects than symptoms (those are different, right?).

I guess by symptom I mean: what does it feel like? Often I have that feeling you get right before you get sick: the brain is fuzzy, the body doesn’t want to move and kind of aches all over, and I have a headache: run down. Everything feels monumental. It takes at least a couple of hours after waking to drink enough caffeine to feel capable of anything. On teaching days, once I get in the groove, I do get a surge of energy that mostly lasts long enough to teach my classes. (Lesson: sometimes getting off your ass and moving can help generate energy. Or as my book says, exercise is a necessary component of keeping the adrenal cascade flowing.) I may even feel a bit peppy into the evening. But after my long teaching days (four classes) I basically have a hangover, and need most of the following day to recuperate  I thought everyone had this. Or maybe they do. Maybe everyone has adrenal fatigue.

And that’s the other thing it feels like: a hangover. Again kind of tired achey body, an intense desire to stay in bed and sleep through it, and a headache.

The theory is that when I feel like this, my cortisol levels are probably pretty low. In my limited but growing understanding, cortisol is necessary to the energy process. I feel like I’m talking about chi and eastern philosophy now. Wait–metabolism–that’s the word. So my energy levels are way, way down. I feel like I have to eat every few hours or I’ll pass out. (I get dizzy and my skin goes clammy, etc.) And, as cortisol is related to the natural anti-inflammatory hormone hydrocortisone, it’s sort of like my entire body is slightly inflamed, which is why I feel generally achy.

With the little knowledge that I have, I’d venture to guess that when you’re body is starting to get sick (or is recovering from a drinking binge), your cortisol levels dip because they’re being used up to deal with that stress. Cortisol is known as the stress hormone, and our stupid cave-man endocrine system responds to all stress–emotional, physical, mental–in the same way, prepping us for whatever kind of emergency we might have, whether or not that particular stress response is actually helpful.

Hmm. I’m also conflating my readings about adrenal fatigue with the book How Children Succeed, which argues that extensive early childhood stress (particularly from poverty) shapes the brain and body in such a way that the child grows up to have behaviors that are not conducive to academic success, regardless of the child’s innate intelligence. It is really fucking fascinating. Seriously. The repeated stresses of poverty physically change the brain.

But enough about poor kids and their struggles, back to me.

I started calling these “slow days” even before the adrenal fatigue diagnosis, when I thought maybe I was just making it up or maybe it was related to my thyroid or maybe this is just what 37 feels like, motherfucker. Last semester I taught four classes on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Remarkably, I usually felt relatively okay on those days. Not much more than the usual tiredness that comes from being constitutionally incapable of going to bed on time. Tuesdays and Thursdays were supposed to be my easy days: I only had to teach one class and that at 1pm. And yet Tuesdays and Thursdays (more often Tuesdays), I would feel like I was dying. There were days when I’d be walking across campus from my office to the classroom, and I’d wonder if I’d make it. I’m definitely chubby, but for a chubby girl I walk fast. For a chubby girl in Alabama, I walk really fast. But on these days, I’d feel like Charlotte Gainsbourg carrying her son in the opening and closing sequences of Melancholia. Like my feet were sinking into the ground with every step I took. On these days, I’d often end up with killer headaches and/or feel a bit nauseous. As the semester plowed on, my slow day headaches and nausea got progressively worse. I think I canceled classes twice last semester either because I had a headache I couldn’t work through or I just needed to rest. Even though I was getting plenty of sleep, it was like I never felt fully rested. Well, there was one day, when I felt fine, and I was ecstatic. But it was just the one day.

I started taking a whole bunch of supplements. A few months back, my chiropractor made me hold a series of vials, each containing a different substance. I was supposed to hold them with my arm extended straight out and not let him push my arm down. Apparently, when I held two particular vials he was able to push my arm down almost effortlessly, and he gave me pills made of cow adrenal and thyroid glands. He told me that when I first took them that I could expect to feel even worse for a few days. He described it as if my adrenal system were Atlas holding all of me up and together. And my adrenal Atlas was exhausted, so as soon as these pills stepped in to help it carry the load, it was probably going to collapse before it could get back up again. Maybe that’s my Greek mythology metaphor. I can’t remember precisely. My brain and memory have been pretty fuzzy of late.

Which is another thing that makes me teary. When I was an adolescent, it felt like my brain was on fire, was electric, was sparking all over the place. I thought I could physically feel my brain zooming through thoughts.

I haven’t felt like that in a while. Quite the opposite, it takes a considerable amount of effort to work my way through particular kinds of mental tasks. Forget creativity. There just isn’t any brain juice left for that. And this cuts to the quick because it slices through my idea of who I am, which since I was about ten or so was my brain, which was usually able to do whatever I asked of it fairly easily, and since I was in my mid to late teens, my creativity. There are so many ways I’m not creative: decorating, hair care, clothing selection–the general girl arts. But when I’d sit down to write, I could make my brain zoom. I could find ways of expressing myself that felt like me, like things only I could say. The process was exhilarating. Finishing a first draft of a poem that’s singing its way out of my brain on fire is not only a special kind of high, it was in some ways how I defined myself. Not that my poems were ever as clever or lovely as I first perceived them, but it was a special kind of thinking that I was capable of.

I haven’t felt that sensation in quite a long while. Once or twice a year I write something that seems valuable. And with much effort. It no longer feels like a gift, but like a very small prize I fought dearly for.

I’m reading Haruki Murakami’s What I Talk about When I Talk about Running, which so far is brilliant. There’s a moment where he talks about turning fifty, about realizing that he can no longer improve his running times, that no matter how hard he works, his body is just slowing down when it comes to running. He something like–and I’m paraphrasing here–“I’m turning fifty for the very first time. It is unlike anything I’ve ever felt before.” I’m turning middle aged for the very first time, and I keep comparing it to adolescence in my mind. There was an itching, a burning a knowing my life was ahead of me but also knowing that I had no idea what that life would be like. From my arrogant teenage perspective, my teenager years were obviously the most important years of my life. I was turning into a teenager for the first and only time of my life. I knew because television and movies were chock full of teenagers that this was a special time that I should savor. And as much as an outcast as I was, as much as I often felt alienated from my family, I did try to savor the sensation of changing into a new person.

And I feel like I’m going through that again now. Ah, this is what it feels like to be middle aged. These are the things I’ve ascertained about being middle aged–and I think that just as I was an odd, idiosyncratic teenager, that I’m now an odd, idiosyncratic middleager, so I don’t pretend that my observations about about adulthood extend to anyone else’s adulthood except my own. 1) Being an adult means being tired all the time. 2) Being an adult means adjusting expectations. 3) Being an adult means you have to spend money whether you want to or not. 4) Being an adult means work. (I just added those last two right now!)

Long list, I know, but I’m still new at being a middleager. (I like the coinage, but wonder if it makes me sound like I’m from the Middle Ages. Probably.) I also think that being an adult means finding a kind of quiet contentment with small things that would probably seem really boring to a teenager. Being an adult means not giving a fuck about stuff I used to anxietize over. I know there’s another word, but I don’t know what it is. Anxietize is the best I can do write now. Yet being an adult also means being anxious about a whole new set of fears. While I’m free of many of the superficial concerns that haunted me as a teenager, I have a whole new set of things to worry over that seem, at least right now, much deeper. I.e., I’m entirely more aware of my pending death. The further along you go, the fewer chances I have to change my life. I will never be a scientist now. I think of how at the end of my days, when I tally them, will I be pleased with how I spent most of them. This is the kind of awareness that can invoke the kind of existential terror I haven’t felt since I was a teenager trying to figure out who I was.

It makes me year for that buzzing brain, that body that did not tire so easily, that almost newborn fascination with myself and the world, when everything, every feeling was more vivid and intense.

And with that, I think I’m done for the night. I know all of this sounds whiny and depressing, but I think there’s also some beauty in it. I’m hopeful that now that I know what my adrenal fatigue is that I can make changes in my life that will make me feel better, more energetic, more zippy in the brains area, even if it takes months. I am determined to turn so many things around.

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