An essay on stress

Breathing in and out, this deep exhaustion. Source unknown. A sudden, deep, unexpected broken. Your body is amazing. It will do as you say. When one part is broken, it will commit any part or limb at its disposal to bridge the gap. But sometimes, it just keeps compensating until there is nowhere left to go but a cliff. 

Addison’s is a fascinating illness. Cortisol is what wakes and motivates you. It tells you to metabolize and tells your heart to raise and lower pressure in times of stress or emergency. It tells you to hold on to salt when the sun barrels down on you. It is the warrior at the gate, the defensive linebacker, the bodyguard. It’s not the hero on the front lines dripping sweat and blood to save the army in fight or flight — that’s adrenaline. 

I feel I know stress better now than I ever did before Addison’s destroyed my ability to make cortisol five years ago. Better than when I got a name for the tanning skin, nausea, fatigue, lightheadedness, urgent peeing, cloudy concentration, salt cravings, and unquenchable thirst that plagued me for a year before I got diagnosed. 

I feel the impact of stress on the body in such an unusual way. The sun stresses your body, you just may not notice the full effects, depending on how well your body compensates. Driving for an hour stresses your body. It compensates with cortisol. Emotions can turn to physical stress. So can not sleeping enough or drinking enough or taking time to meditate or rest your swirling thoughts. Starting a new workout. Changing your eating habits. Losing weight. Losing a loved one. Drinking coffee. Catching a cold. Getting rearended. Food poisoning. Dental surgery. Giving birth. 

I have to pay solid attention to what has a physical stress attached to it. I have to note if it’s a familiar stressor, a new and permanent one, or a temporary visitor. 

If I’m used to it, I take my regular dose of cortisol. If it’s new and permanent, like starting a new workout routine for the umpteenth time, I take a little extra cortisol the first couple times, and then my body says “Check! I’ve got this! I know what to do.” If it’s temporary, I take a little extra, or double, or triple, depending on how bad. 

The problem comes when I don’t acknowledge stress. If the new stress is subtle, but real, like the commute I added a year ago, it can creep up on me. Slowly, day by day, I start to feel a little sicker, like before I was diagnosed. It can feel like morning sickness or just fatigue and lightheadedness. My body may compensate by sending out Thor, God of adrenaline, or whatever else it can do. If I say keep going, it’ll keep going. It’ll just metabolize slower or lower my blood pressure or turn off some electrolyte management. I have no idea how it decides. 

If it goes too long, eventually that cliff comes and I’m out sick and calling my endocrinologist for blood work. 

If it’s a sudden thing, like whatever happened last week. Maybe food poisoning? I didn’t stress dose. Instead, my entire body slowed to a stop. I could barely think. It hurt to move or look at my phone or the tv. So I laid there, my body spending every ounce of cortisol I gave it on whatever virus or bug was plaguing my system, for 36 hours. All the symptoms of crisis were there, but it took me an hour and a half to conjure up the will and energy to look for my phone and call my parents to rescue me. Three emergency doses of cortisol later and I was human again. 

Someday I was to write a book about stress. We all live with it. We let it torture our system and weaken us silently from inside. Some people let it drive them to great things. Others let it drive them into the ground. Some people meditate to reduce their cortisol. Some people workout to expend it. 

But the better I become intimate friends with stress, the better I become my own defensive linebacker and read the game in front of me, the more likely I will be to survive. 

I’ll do my best Aria. I want to see your kids graduate from college after all. I want to be there to answer the phone as you achieve your dreams and face your sorrows. I want to be there to help like my dad and stepmom do when I really need them. 


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