Adrenal Fatigue, Postpartum Depletion, and Self Care in Motherhood.
I wrote this piece over a year ago, when I was grappling with deep exhaustion. I no longer feel so depleted, despairing, or ashamed for having adrenal fatigue, and so I can share this now with the hope and intention of contributing to the conversation around burnout in motherhood.
A lot of healing has happened for me over the last year, and a key component of my recovery has been making friends with ‘self care’. For a long time, I shunned self care, but not any more.
The following is from August 2018.
I have to admit that the term self care unsettles me.
Especially as it relates to women and motherhood.
Ultimately it becomes another thing for us to do as we juggle all the other things. It suggests that the time we take for our well being somehow sits outside of our regular life. That self care is something other than daily acts of living.
When in reality, perhaps the way we live within our lives is a reflection of how we care for ourselves.
Do we only respect and behave with kindness towards ourselves when we go and get a massage, a haircut, some acupuncture? These are wonderful things to do for ourselves but what I’ve been learning in my journey out of the adrenal fatigue fog is that self care is the way I am with myself all of the time. How do I talk to myself? Or how do I react to situations that may bring me down? Do I set boundaries around my energy and respect my needs as a human? Can I be kind to myself? As kind to myself as I am to my children. Can I draw the line when I’ve had enough? Can I even recognise the line when it’s approaching, or it’s been crossed? Can I just rest?
I come across a lot of articles on self care, self love, self compassion. But to be honest, I’ve just been too tired. For years now. And anyway, they are such abstract terms to me. How do I show compassion to myself when I’m sleep deprived and have children whining at me and I have to get out the door and to work on time?
For years now I’ve not prioritised my own well being at all. But I didn’t realise it until recently. Until I started to feel better for having some time alone, and I started to feel not quite so crazy after all.
You see, I’d fallen into such a deep pit of exhaustion and darkness that it seemed normal to me. I felt frustrated with myself all of the time, for feeling so tired all of the time. I was short with my children and grumpy with my partner and it just seemed normal. Until I started to feel better.
Then I realised my short and exhausted temper was a symptom of something else. I’m not naturally short tempered and cross. I recently had a couple of hours alone, in my house, all by myself. Alone. It was amazing. Incredible. I felt the fog lift off my shoulders and a lightness float in. I could breathe. I remembered that this is how I used to feel. Not exhausted. I’d forgotten.
So in my everyday life I started to notice. When the fog crept in, or when the lightness was present. I realised that when I started to feel my brain get hazy, this was the time to rest. Even if I was in the middle of the dishes, getting the children ready to go out, or cooking dinner. If I felt the spinning feeling arriving, then I needed rest.
In the past I might have felt the fog arriving but I didn’t know what it was. I’d keep going with the chores I was doing and push my way blindly on, deeper into the thickness until I was lost and cross and very, very sad.
I honestly hadn’t realised I was ‘allowed’ to stop and rest when I first noticed the fog arriving. I thought I had to keep going. I didn’t realise that that if I rested soon enough and for long enough, the it’d clear and I could return to my activities. Sometimes the rest needs to be several hours and sometimes just one, but it absolutely must be lying down. It’s a strange thing that if I can lie down, I start to feel better. I’ve read something about this with regards to adrenal fatigue, but I’m not quite sure how it relates exactly.
I’ve come to know this creeping fog as signalling an Adrenal Fatigue crash. Which according to Dr Lam, expert on Adrenal Fatigue, is to be avoided at all costs if you want to get better.
So back to self care.
I’ve discovered that I can identify with kindness. Kindness for myself, and of course for others. But in this instance I find that practicing kindness for me, is more accessible than compassion, or love.
So now if I feel the fog coming in I rest. I stop what I’m doing if I can and lie down. If I’m out with the children or at work, then I’m kind to myself. I breathe deeply. I consider how I’d attend to a dear friend who was exhausted. Would I ask them to keep going, to push through? Of course not! I’d ask them to rest, how could I help, suggest they sit down. And so I try to talk to myself this way. Until I can get home, lie down and recover. Because I know now that this exhaustion is symptomatic of Adrenal Exhaustion, of me trying too hard, doing too much, giving too much, it’s not my own personal failing.
It is a cultural failing. One that sees new mothers take on the brunt of the responsibility for babies and children without proper rest and recuperation post birth or proper support as they learn how to mother. A culture that trains women for professional careers and then leaves them to do the majority of domestic work at home unnoticed, unpaid. A culture that disregards normal baby sleep patterns and shames mothers into exhaustion as they cope silently with broken sleep for years on end. A culture that expects children to enter into childcare with strangers with enthusiasm. That doesn’t provide continuity of attachment for children as they learn a new place. A culture that pushes to the limit. All of the time. No pain, no gain. Harder. Faster. Stronger. What a load of bananas!
We all respond to kindness, respect and rest. Those are the threads I’m following for the moment as I recover from this dark exhaustion.
And those are the threads that I and other postpartum doulas will be supporting you to investigate if you choose to join us for the month long self care practice #MAMAvember. We’d love to have you with us. All mothers are welcome, new, old, expectant, grand, tired, weepy. All. Let’s support each other to support ourselves. Because the cultural shift that needs to happen to prioritise the health of mothers is going to take some time. And mothers need help right now.