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How I Saved Myself

20 J0000005UTC 2011

Yesterday was Memorial Day, important for its own reasons, and a good marker for me and my health. My husband and I had the day off, so of course he was eager to get out and climb in the awesome Colorado May weather. I, however, have become hesitant on such days to do even my favorite outdoor activities.

Why? Because yesterday, when loading our packs and racking the rack, I was remembering. I recalled one year ago, almost exactly, when we headed out to Eldorado Canyon to do the exact same climb– 5 pitches on the south buttress of Redgarden– and I barely made up the first pitch, then melted in a pile of exhaustion and tears of frustration. I might have screamed.

No one, not the most devoted or selfless athlete, wants to repeat that. It was ugly.

Here’s what happened. I got stressed out. I tweaked out on cortisol, a very sneaky, sometimes-very-harmful, stress hormone produced by the adrenal glands which sit on top of the kidneys. I did this for roughly five years, which might sound okay to you, but if it does, then that just shows how much you know. Cortisol is meant to be a very useful, moderate, short-term hormone used for a nice get-up-and-go right when you need it. It’s meant to wane back down, nice and easy, most of the time. After five years of cortisol, my adrenals were done and so was I. No more climbing, no more walking Arco, no more.

So, how am I back up and climbing 5 pitches and running with my pup? It’s a great question, for me and for you. It’s a great question, especially if you tweak out on stress, or if you drink a lot of coffee or eat a lot of sugar to keep yourself hyped.

Here’s the five best things I did to recover from adrenal fatigue and get up Anthill Direct with a bit of energy to spare to downclimb the East Slabs yesterday:

1. I switched from regular to decaf last October, stuck with it, and have no desire to ever go back. Caffeine, especially the kind found in coffee, squeezes adrenaline out of the adrenal glands, even if there is none to be had. This creates some serious fatigue if you are a stress-wad.

2. I ate a lot more greens. Like a lot more. I eat a big pile of greens pretty much two meals a day. Greens are soothing and amazingly nutrient dense. They even start tasting good if you give them a chance, which I did. I used to hate almost all veggies.

3. I took an adrenal supplement, after getting some professional advice about which one to choose. There are lots of good “adaptogenic herbs” and even some more hefty supplements to address adrenal fatigue. The one I chose helped me so much, even after the first two weeks. After a year I am scarcely using any of it anymore.

4. I did not exercise if I could not exercise. For lots of lethargy, exercise is a great stimulant for creating energy and the desire to exercise. That is not the case with adrenal depletion. I was nice to myself and started only with very small walks, then walking my dog, then maybe a hike, then bouldering at the gym with lots of sitting in-between climbing.

5. Like I said, I was nice to myself, and this is incredibly good for health. I learned to breathe deeply, which is A#1 for stress-reduction in my book.

Saying to myself, “You have permission to take this time to simply eat better, walk slowly, and learn to breathe deeply,” was the best thing I could have done. It’s how I was able to climb and descend roughly 300 feet of amazing rock yesterday.

Amen to taking care of yourself. Let it be done.

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