I am your broken friend.
I am your friend with the unseen disease; the chronic condition that's not apparent; the illness that no one fundraises for.
I am your friend whose smile masks inner turmoil, unthinkable fatigue, or incessant pain. Or all three.
I am your friend who pauses and struggles to lie when asked how she is, because no one wants to hear the truth. Not even her.
I am your friend who serves as a warning that all that glitters is not gold.
People ask how they can help someone with adrenal fatigue (note: not necessarily any other chronic illnesses). That list is short. Nothing fixes this except rest and time, the two things no one can give me except myself. The better way to phrase it might be, what do I need you to NOT do right now.
- I need you not to push me to come to things or "get out of the house." I need to be left alone. Seriously alone. I need to not have ANY commitments for an extended period of time. I need you to trust me when I tell you I can't. I didn't say I won't or I don't want to. I said I can't. That includes church. And that doesn't mean I'm backsliding. It means I'm sick.
- I need you not to ask me when I'll be back or able to resume my duties or finish work I left undone. I do not know, and thinking about it will only make it worse. I need you to trust that I didn't want to leave it undone, that I want me to get back to work even more than you do. But for every week I shave off my recovery time on this end, I will pay for with a month when it happens again. I need you to realize that this condition didn't come on in a year and it won't be gone in a week. This will always be there, right under the surface, for the rest of my life.
- I need you to understand this is not just a matter of overcoming anxiety. My body is under a continual "fight or flight" response all day and all night, and that is not in my head, it's in my adrenal gland and cortisol levels, which are seriously out of balance and will not be fixed by "telling myself" to calm down. If I could have calmed down on my own, I would have.
- I need you not to call. I will not answer. I have never liked the phone and I finally pinpointed why; every one who calls wants a piece of me, pieces I do not have to give. It's not your fault. I freely gave pieces of myself all over the place for years and years. That's why I am where I am now. If you have to call, leave a message. If it's not important enough to leave a message, then it's not important and right now I need you not to call me with things that aren't important.
- I need you not to pressure me about your miracle whatever pill or drink. I need you to take me at my word when I say I'm in competent, professional hands. I need you to understand that even a private message or an email feels like pressure. I know you mean well, but I need you to know that I will unfriend or block anyone or anything I have to in order to be left alone to rest.
- I need you not to tell me about your own experience, unless you have the exact same diagnosis. Many people think they understand because they had some sort of burnout or a panic attack in the past. This is beyond burnout. This is near-constant, knife's-edge panic all day long and even waking you up at night. This is my life, ground to a halt. It is not the same as that one time you had to stay in bed all day.
- I need you to give me time to answer. About every third day, the brain fog is so intense, the fatigue so phenomenal, it literally takes me a couple of heartbeats to answer even a simple question. There is a gap between comprehending what was asked and formulating the sentence to answer. It's freaky to experience and probably quite freaky to watch, too. The next day will be better, but on that bad day, I need you to ask as few questions as possible and to understand that my answer may be different when my brain is back in gear.
- I need you to pray for me. Satan attacks where we are weak, and his weapons of choice for long-term illness are depression, hopelessness, bitterness and grief. My mind is tired and while the root cause is physical, I do not battle only against flesh and blood. The prince of darkness seeks whom he may devour, and someone going through major health issues has a big red target on their back. I need you to share Scripture, to encourage me to keep my eyes on Christ, and I need you not to quit lifting me up with the same determination and energy that the paralyzed man's friends had when found a way around the pressing crowds and lowered him down from the roof to see Jesus. Those are the kinds of friends we need, eh?
- I need you to pray for my husband and my kids. I need you to ask my husband if there's anything you can take from his shoulders, because he is carrying both our loads right now. I need you to pray for wisdom as we struggle to know what to share and what not to say in front of the children. I need you to understand that I won't spill my guts where they can hear. I need you to not judge when you see that they need a haircut, that we're paying for school lunch again, that their new pants STILL need hemming.
This may sound like an incredibly self-centered post. But here's the kicker: I didn't write it for me. I can share these things freely.
I wrote it for her; your broken friend. She may not be able to verbalize it like I can. We must always speak up for the voiceless, whether it is the unborn, the elderly, the refugee, the enslaved, or the abused.
PS: For a more complete overview of what happens during adrenal fatigue, click here. It's long but it's in layman's terms and will give you a clearer picture of how all-encompassing this disease can be and how crucial it is to treat it.