It all started with one, tiny little pill. It was the first pill I was prescribed when my pediatrician suspected that I had Crohn’s Disease; it was called Prednisone. I still remember the date on the pill bottle, May 23, 1997. I was 12 years old. I knew nothing about the medication I was taking, as I was really too young to understand. Within 24 hours, the side effects started to set in. At first, it’s a welcome relief, after hardly being able to eat anything for so long. My appetite was huge, so much so that my mom told my doctor that feeding me was a full-time job. She wasn’t exaggerating. I would be dreaming of lunch while eating breakfast. I was never, ever full. Suddenly my energy also increased, which was also a great feeling, after being so exhausted for so long. Prednisone kept me up all night long, which wasn’t really a change considering I’d already been running to the bathroom 10-15 times every night, clenching my stomach and praying for the pain to stop.
Prednisone is no doubt a miracle drug, as it saves lives daily (mine included), but it can also come at a very high price. If you do a quick internet search, you’ll find that Prednisone has nearly 100 listed side effects. These include an appetite that’s impossible to satisfy (in my opinion), insomnia, anxiety, high blood sugar, increased pressure in the eyes, acne, headaches, increased hair growth, depression, mood swings, and my least favorite, what’s called the “moon face.” I experienced them all, some are worse than others. It gets even more serious, as Prednisone can also cause issues like osteoporosis and diabetes. Compared to the other side effects, most would think that a round “moon face” would be the least of my concerns, but it wasn’t. It’s not easy when a medication changes the way you look, especially as a child. Prednisone made it impossible to hide my disease, something that I wanted so desperately to be able to do. With Prednisone, everyone could see that something was different about me. I didn’t want to be different; I wanted to be “normal.” Whatever that is.
Prednisone also causes something that I’d never once been told about, the side effect that would haunt me long after I stopped taking it. It’s the incredibly high price I’ve paid for taking such a “miracle” medication.
Adrenal, what? If you’re like I was, I honestly had no clue what the adrenals were, or what they did, until they stopped working. To keep it short, Prednisone is synthetic cortisol, which is the hormone that your adrenals produce. When you take high doses of Prednisone for extended periods of time, your body recognizes that you’re getting cortisol from somewhere else, and your adrenals stop producing it. It is with hope that when you taper off of Prednisone, your body will recognize this, and start producing cortisol again. I never had an issue with this before. I’ve taken Prednisone countless times during the past 17 years. I had never been warned that this could even happen.
During my last surgery, I was placed on 100mg of Prednisone, an extremely high dose. About a week after tapering off of the Prednisone, I started to become very sick, out of nowhere. I didn’t consume much more than a sip of a smoothie everyday for about a month, as I would become extremely nauseous when I tried to eat. I knew something wasn’t right, but I wasn’t ready to admit it. So I waited for a month, as I got worse and worse, and finally got to the point where I could hardly walk up the stairs in my house. I knew at that point that something was terribly wrong.
After a few (super not fun) tests, my Gastroenterologist still couldn’t figure out what was wrong. Another doctor (resident) happened to look at my file, noticed the pattern of Prednisone use, and suspected that my adrenal glands weren’t functioning. Her suspicions were confirmed after a few more blood tests.
I was admitted to the hospital, and also found out that I had yet another infection in my blood. It was the lowest of the low points in my life. Now I’m so thankful for how far I’ve come. Not producing proper cortisol levels caused the deepest, darkest depression I have ever experienced in my life. It had been two months since my surgery, and I was back in the hospital, incredibly sick. It was the first time I really questioned if my immune system would ever rebound, or if I would ever find true health. I regretted having surgery more than anything. I had surgery to get better, to save my own life, and yet my life only felt like it was getting much worse.
Slowly but surely, life started improving again. Changing my diet has helped my adrenals considerably, as I’m no longer “taxing” them with food that my body cannot handle. My Adrenal Insufficiency was caused by Prednisone, and is also only treated with Prednisone, which is pretty interesting when you really think about it. When someone with functioning adrenals becomes stressed for any reason (physical, emotional or just getting sick) their body will produce more cortisol to compensate. My body isn’t currently able to do this, so I have to work incredibly hard to control my stress. It’s a constant learning lesson!
Over three years later, I now know the real course of Adrenal Insufficiency. I’m still learning to take it easy, as I’m someone who wants everything “done yesterday.” It’s not in my nature to slow down, and I’m still learning to take it easy on myself when I don’t get as many things accomplished, as I had wanted to. I never realized just how important my adrenals were, until they stopped working. It’s funny how life seems to work this way, as we sometimes don’t know how much we “have,” until we no longer have it.
My adrenal insufficiency has been a constant learning experience, and it has taught me some deep lessons that will stick with me for the rest of my life. One of my greatest lessons was learning about and experiencing the serious consequences that prescription medications can come with. Medications have destroyed my immune system, and then they destroyed my adrenals. One of the biggest lies I’ve ever been told is that I have no control over my disease, and that I couldn’t heal my immune system. Well, I have healed my immune system through real food, and I have no doubt that I will heal my adrenals as well. Never again will I simply take a medication just because a doctor says that it is okay.
My story is long and has so many layers. Although I have found incredible healing through real food, I am also well aware that my body has deeper healing to do. I didn’t get “here” overnight, and I’m well aware that healing is a process that takes time. Just a few years ago, I wanted to completely give up while lying in a hospital bed, because I was so exhausted due to the constant fight for my life, and at this point, I wasn’t even sure that I would ever get better. Yet, something deep inside of me kept me going, and deep down I knew that I would find true health again. This was my last hospital stay to date, and now I’m full of strength and hope! I have so much to be thankful for! I’ve been told many times that my adrenals will most likely never heal. All I have to say is, watch me!