When I was told I couldn’t do workouts other than walking and light yoga, I had a flurry of conflicting emotions.
Ever since I’ve gone off meds for OCD and Depression, I’ve used two things to manage my chemical imbalance: exercise and coffee. While the latter is a controversial one, it really works for me: I feel like my best self when I drink coffee due to my high caffeine metabolism.
You’re here, which means you probably know my story. Exercise has been my Godsend, my savior, my bright, shiny beacon of hope in what would otherwise be a treacherous haze of depression and anxiety.
When I feel anxious, I run.
When I’m feeling like I don’t have control, I lift something heavy.
When I want to up my joy quotient, I do a dance party HIIT workout (you know what I’m talking about if you’ve ever been to one of my Bootcamp classes).
Being told I couldn’t do any of that was both horrifying and – to be honest – a little exciting.
I hadn’t taken more than a week off from working out since I started working out consistently about 8 years ago. It was a part of my life. I was terrified of what would happen to the strength I’d built, the endurance I’d worked so hard on and the mindset I’d created from consistently medicating with endorphins.
Let’s back up a bit.
In late 2015, I knew something was really wrong with my health.
My face was breaking out like crazy.
My body hurt in weird places for no reason.
I wasn’t recovering from my workouts; it would take me days of soreness and lethargy after workouts that usually would have only affected me for 24 hours.
My energy was low all. the. time.
And because of all of that, you may have guessed the next symptom: my depression was hovering at a low-level hum constantly. I decided to take action.
After talking with multiple Western medical doctors who had confirmed that my hormones were out of whack, I was told that “there was no way to fix them.”
I’ve heard first-hand from friends all over the wellness community that they have indeed set their hormones straight. I decided to leave the negative-nancying to my Western Docs and ask friends for a referral to a local naturopath instead.
When I called the office, they told me she had a 2-month waiting list. *cue heart sinking*
…but when she looked at the calendar, she said an appointment literally just cancelled that morning for the following morning! I thought that maybe it could be a little too serendipitous to be coincidence, but when my husband called later to make an appointment for himself, the soonest they could get him in was indeed 2 months away.
I snagged the appointment and went in the next morning with a bucketload of faith.
After my first session with the naturopath, I knew I could trust her. She was empathetic while being confident and assertive with the tests she recommended. Let’s not talk about how much I spent on said tests, but I did them, and when the tests came back, my symptoms became clearer than ever.
My hormones were still out of whack, but I also had deficiencies, food sensitivities and super-low cortisol levels.
Signs pointed to Stage 2 adrenal fatigue. Boo.
If you’re not familiar with adrenal fatigue, it’s a sensitive topic for a lot of people (a lot just don’t believe in it).
Your adrenal glands are the ones that manage your cortisol levels (aka the stress hormone). Adrenal fatigue happens when you get really stressed and your adrenal glands pump out tons of cortisol to help you cope for a long period of time until they can’t keep up with the demand placed on them. What happens then is that your adrenal glands become insufficient at creating cortisol, so your cortisol levels plummet. That’s where I was.
The naturopath explained that high intensity workouts, dieting, depression and anxiety can all contribute to super-stressed out adrenals.
No workouts other than walking and light yoga for 3 months.
…and now we’re caught up.
The most important thing to me at the time was that I heal my hormones. It had been years, guys. Literally years that my hormones had been giving me trouble.
So I gave it a shot. Along with a hefty load of natural supplements, a required smoothie to start the day and doctor-ordered meditation (I had that down already), I started my journey to balanced hormones and higher energy.
Here’s my rigorously honest timeline of how it went down:
As soon as I started regularly taking the supplements, my energy got a million times better. I didn’t feel wired; I felt good. I was in a really good place mentally and emotionally, and I didn’t feel that black hole of energy in the afternoon like I had been. My naturopath didn’t have me cut coffee which was a huge relief.
After taking the food sensitivity test, it became very clear that I shouldn’t be eating dairy (every kind I got tested for lit up like a Christmas tree). I was really hoping that the main cause of my skin issues were dairy-related because my skin cleared up in the first 2 weeks! But then it started breaking out again. *le sigh*
Because my energy was so much better without it, I determined to keep my commitment of no dairy for 3 months (though my naturopath said grass-fed butter and ghee should be ok). Again, at least I didn’t have to give up coffee.
The first few weeks of walking as my only form of movement were wonderful! It was such a relief to not feel like I “had to” do my regular workouts. It was as if I was given permission to take a break… which I didn’t even know I needed.
As “luck” would have it, my Bootcamp class for YogaSix had come to a close for 3 months the week before I got my non-exercise prescription. You know what else happened that week? My sprained my ankle! If you didn’t believe that everything happens for a reason, let this be proof!
It seemed like my world was conspiring to help me slow down and heal, and I was finally ready to accept the call.
The ankle sprain made for a full week of no movement on it whatsoever which was tough, but when I was able to start walking on it again, I was delighted at the effect it had on my mood.
Most of my walks were taken through Balboa Park here in San Diego. I concentrated on feeling the sun shining on my face, the kids playing with their parents and just plain slowing myself the eff down. To my surprise, the walks were incredibly enjoyable.
I’d never taken so much time to walk before. It seemed like time I could have been taking to do other workouts that would be “more effective” for my endurance or strength. Taking it slow wasn’t something I was used to, but when I got into it, it seemed to be just what the doctor ordered (literally), and I was eating it up.
The walks started to feel forced as the newness wore off, leaving me a bit resentful and, well, bored.
To say it straight, I missed doing bada** sh**. I worked hard to be able to keep up with the fittest of them through HIIT and conditioning. I no longer felt relief from the break; I couldn’t wait to get back into it!
Walking just wasn’t as fun as jumping around to dance music, trampolining into foam pits or practicing handstands. I’d never been one to move slow.
When I do something, I pour myself into it. I attack it. I don’t chill or ease into anything.
…which is probably the reason I ended up here.
My adrenals didn’t get stressed because they suck; they did the best they could to catch up with my go-go-go lifestyle for the last few years. Putting together two international tours, getting married, running two businesses (now one), moving and traveling all over the world are blessings I’m grateful for every day. For my body, however, they were a whirlwind of demands that it couldn’t keep up with.
Going slower is something I was always told to do, but never listened. I guess this was the Universe’s way of opening my ears.
I decided that boredom was something I could deal with if it meant resolving these long-standing issues. I put on my big girl pants and held my parkour-craving horses. There would be plenty of time after I healed to do the crazy stuff I had grown to love so much.
Just to mix it up, I started taking yoga once a week after a long hiatus. While I wanted to do more, I held myself back from the more advanced forms of poses like arm balances and inversions. Man, was it humbling to step back on my mat after months off of it. My flexibility had decreased and – thanks to my ankle – so had my balance.
As always, mantras were there to save the day. I’d use them to remind myself of what was most important during that phase: that I take it slow and heal. I can be pretty competitive in classes (so un-Om of me, I know), but purposefully holding back was a cool experiment. Appreciating my ability to sink into the practice without constantly pushing myself further allowed me to be present with where I physically was that day.
Where was I tight? Why? What emotions came up in class and during which moves? Where did my mind drift during sun salutations? Could I bring it back to focus on this moment?…
Flowing through a Vinyasa class helped bring me back to the present and break up the monotony of walking, but it still wasn’t the life-affirming high I was used to… and that was ok. I was aware of my desire to do other things, but I was in a state of acceptance that they weren’t the best idea for me then.
As far as my energy went, it was still better than it was before I started and my spirits continued to be high. But, I was still drinking 3 coffees per day (which was normal for me). Something in the back of my mind knew that it probably wasn’t helping me much. I resolved to mention it at my next check-in.
When I hopped on the phone with my naturopath for our midway check in, I had a list of things I wanted to talk to her about. At the very end of which was the question of whether I could truly heal all this junk with coffee still in my diet.
Everything else on my list checked out, but when it came to the coffee topic, she advised that I take my coffee consumption way down. While no caffeine was ideal, she said I could have my morning cup Bulletproof-style if I needed it.
She argued that coffee on an empty stomach would work against everything we’re doing to right my adrenals. Basically, I’m starting my day on fumes by loading up my body with caffeine first thing in the A.M. The coconut oil would blunt the effect of the caffeine hit, helping my body absorb it more slowly (instead of forcing my body to sprint out of the gates before it warmed up).
From 3 cups of coffee to 1 with coconut oil, I took on the challenge of cutting caffeine. I was actually eager to try it! I knew it wouldn’t be fun, but I had no idea what I was in for…
I started with coffee with coconut oil in the morning and decaf coffees (Swiss Water Process so that it was real, 99.9% decaf) for the rest of the day.
The first day was a Friday. I felt more tired than usual which was to be expected. Saturday, however, brought with it a whole host of darkness unlike any in recent memory.
I felt like I was hit by a bus… that also broke up with me and told me I was worthless.
I had NO energy whatsoever. I was crying randomly throughout the day. While I was still going on my walks, my entire outlook had shifted to how horrible life was, and my walks did little to change it. All I wanted to do was watch Netflix from under a blanket in a dark room.
I’m not one to ever say “I can’t do this,” but the first 3 days off coffee were enough to make me want to give up.
My naturopath’s office was closed until Tuesday so I told myself I’d call them first thing to let them know that there was no way I could keep doing it.
On Monday, the worst of it broke. My mood evened out, but left me on a much lower level than I’d been before. I figured this was how my body was actually feeling; that the caffeine had been masking what low-cortisol levels really felt like.
I didn’t feel hopeless anymore, but I still felt low. All the energy I was feeling after starting the supplements was gone along with my motivation and any semblance of wanting to be social. Because the depression wasn’t so intense as it was the first few days, I decided to put off the call to my naturopath for at least another week. Maybe the energy would improve in time…
Week 7 didn’t feel any better.
Neither did Week 8.
Without coffee or exercise, my brain was in a constant fog. Negative thoughts were routine and I was isolating like the world was on fire.
For the first time in years, I couldn’t shake this darkness.
Since exercise was off the table, I didn’t know what to do to lift myself up again. I reached out to supporters, I talked about it in therapy, but nothing was as effective as being present in my strength as I did in workouts.
I didn’t reach out to my naturopath even after it didn’t get better for weeks because I thought that my experience was normal. I figured she had to know that this is what I was going through, but that it was to be expected. Maybe I was just weak for handling it so badly.
But I was losing hope rapidly. I was on edge all the time, tears just chomping at the bit to be released. I hardly left the house except for my walks. I’d stopped taking yoga.
Everything I did that brought me joy before wasn’t around. I was off the class schedule for another few weeks, I wasn’t able to move my body in a way that I preferred, I was 2 hours away from my best most supportive friends, and I had a lot of trouble working through ideas for writing because my head was so foggy. To add insult to injury, my face was breaking out more than ever and I was feeling my body change without strength training, fueling body image thoughts that were all too easy to fall into.
I was at a loss. Even worse, I felt like that was just how it had to be to get better.
In Week 9, I had an appointment with my therapist and told her everything. After our session, she recommended that I contact my naturopath about adding exercise back in.
Hearing it from her was the permission I needed to speak up for my wellbeing. She had been a fan of me taking my exercise levels down at first, but seeing how I sank without it entirely was enough to convince her that a little bit would be a good idea.
While part of my argued that I could make it through the whole 3 months as planned, my wise mind finally stood up for everything I’d worked so hard for:
What you are feeling is NOT normal and definitely not required. It was brought on by something you can control, and you deserve to at least find out if you can safely do something about it.
After 3 weeks of shutting the wise mind out, I finally listened.
In Week 9, I wrote my naturopath a heartfelt, brutally honest email detailing everything I was feeling. She thanked me for my honesty and gave me the go-ahead to start adding a couple workouts in per week of light strength training.
I went back to the gym the day after I got the go-ahead.
I took it easy on myself, going way lighter in weights than I used to and sticking to one set of everything. Because my ankle was still healing at this point, I went a bit slower through every move than I was used to as well.
Feeling my body move and my mood elevate during the workout felt like coming home. My strength and endurance had definitely taken a hit, but I was grateful to be able to move like that at all.
For the first time in weeks, I was excited again.
Over the next couple weeks, my mood elevated a half-notch at a time. It went slowly, but I focused on patience (as hard as that is for me) and having things to look forward to.
- After watching Season 2 of Daredevil and being inspired by the mind-blowing fight scenes, I decided to start martial arts classes!
- I planned a weekend trip up to LA to visit with my friends and go to my bestie’s new studio, Speir Pilates.
- I made appointments with people that would be difficult to cancel so that I had reasons to get out of the house.
- When emotions were there, I honored them by being present in them and going deeper when necessary to address the root of them. This one was extra tough because the emotions were really strong at times, but honoring them helped them move through faster.
As I worked the tools of recovery and gently worked in movement, the fog cleared and the darkness lifted.
As many times as it happens in my life, there’s always a part of me that thinks the darkness will never go away. But it always does. Sometimes it takes longer than others, but it always dissipates.
Week 11 (today)
I won’t have results on my adrenals for another couple months, but my energy has come back up with regular exercise. While it’s still not at the level I left off at, taking it slow and being in my body during my workouts is a practice I plan to hold onto even when I do get my strength and endurance back.
I’m still drinking only 1 caffeinated coffee a day with coconut oil, and I’ve grown to love it. My energy is still a work in progress because hormones take a while to set themselves right, but I have faith that it’s getting there.
Unfortunately my skin is still breaking out so my naturopath advised that I take a gut test to see if I have other issues like leaky gut or Candida that could cause acne like mine. I’m crossing that bridge when we come to it. :)
This whole experience has been eye-opening in that I’ve realized how I put professionals up on pedestals. Instead of standing up for myself and my needs when I’m hurting, I fall into “Doctor knows best” and keep my mouth shut.
After years of getting to know myself, I can safely say that no one knows my needs better than me.
It’s easy to go along with what a professional tells you because you think they’re the end-all, be-all and that they may be able to cure you, but they haven’t lived your life. They don’t know unless you tell them how drastically you could be affected by something that doesn’t affect others in the same way.
Standing up for my wellbeing to someone who is also fighting for my wellbeing was a wonderfully corrective experience. It taught me that it doesn’t have to be strictly one-sided; there’s a balance to be found between taking advice from someone who is so knowledgeable and tweaking it to fit your certain needs. It’s a two-sided equation and the really good pros are willing to work with you.
Movement is my medication and I’m pretty sure I’m on it for life.
Being taken off of it for 2 months gave me a chance to miss it and feel what it was like to be off of it. When I put aside the crutch of caffeine, it became all too clear how essential movement is in my daily life. Not just movement, but joy-inspiring movement. Movement that excites me. Movement I choose.
For the next few weeks, I’ll be working on gently getting my body back to where it left off (push ups, I’m coming for you!) and continuing to breathe and slow down in every other area of my life.
I hope beyond hope that this rather lengthy post was helpful for you in some way. I share my experience in hopes that you may resonate with a little bit of it.
Here’s to taking action on your wellbeing, taking it slow and using your voice.