Everyone knows not to aggravate the pregnant lady for fear of hormonal wrath. And there’s enough memes going round about how women can’t believe they just cried for no reason in the supermarket and then came on their period and it all makes perfect sense. Emotions are psychological but they’re also managed by hormones and vice versa- an emotional response to something triggers a bunch of hormones and hormones can also alter your emotions.
Unsurprisingly, this makes it difficult as a person with adrenal insufficiency because we’re missing one of the big ones- the stress hormone, cortisol. Cortisol pretty much is the boss (or at least the boss which signals to other hormones and glands) of all hormones. And the adrenal gland actually makes about 90 hormones, but we only get to replace one. So bear all this in mind when reading this metaphor!
Hormones have a psychological and physical role. You hear of people seeing a red mist and not being able to control physically beating someone up under extreme stress. If you don’t make cortisol, your body is under constant extreme stress. But I guess it’s a hard one to explain unless you experience it.
Imagine this. You’re at one of those aquariums where you can see the sealions in their tank because there’s a big glass window and the top of the tank is above you. All of the sealions are sat on a rock, barking, and then they suddenly decide to plop into the pool, one by one. As they do that, the water level goes up and you start to get splashed a bit. With a jolt, you realise you know exactly what’s going to happen, you just can’t stop it from happening because it’s out of your control; the water’s going to come over the edge. You get that electrocuted ‘oh crap’ feeling you have when you think you’ve put your phone in the washing machine.
So your heart rate goes up, your stomach has plummeted and you feel like the air has been taken outof you. The last lion bellyflops in, just for good measure, and you’re drenched. You’ve literally been hit by a wall of water, a bit like the ice bucket challenge, and it makes your skin sting and gives you muscle cramps. Plus the little bastards like their water extra cold, so your temperature also changes really fast. Which makes you feel sick and shake a bit, like a shiver on the inside. Plus the water was heavy so you’ve now got a splitting headache and it got in your eyes so you have to keep blinking to try to focus them.
You’re getting over the initial response to the water and you can hear the bloody lions cackling and barking away. And suddenly you feel mad. Like really mad. But there’s no point in shouting at a sealion, you’d look like a right idiot having an emotional outburst so you try to keep your emotions in check. Except this makes your temperature go up because your blood feels like it’s boiling, and then you feel sick and dizzy for a whole different reason. And you suddenly feel like crying because there are people watching and it’s a horrible feeling with your mind racing trying to work out the best way to handle all the physical feelings going on as well as dealing with your emotions
So the best thing to do is to try to remove yourself from the spotlight and walk away. Except they’re still barking and it’s driving you mad and you’re struggling to not turn around and punch one of them in the face. Which is just a bad idea in general, you know that, but you can’t help it. Walk away. But when you start to walk away, you’re wearing jeans, which are now a million sizes too small and won’t move properly so you’ve got another thing to think about- walking away is not as easy when the bloody sealions are still laughing at you and it’s physically hard work. You kind of want to crumple into a heap. But, again, what a stupid reaction. It’s only water! And, your frustration is compounded further knowing you haven’t got any choice but to wait until your jeans dry because you have no other clothes. And that’ll take ages, no matter how many times somebody asks you if they’re dry yet, they’re not just going to miraculously go back to their original state within seconds. And they’ll be out of sorts for the rest of the day anyway, even once they have gotten rid of the water.
You do manage to walk away though and assess the damage. Some things you can stick under the hand dryer and get a bit of an improvement, but other things, like your jeans, are going to take a bit of time. But you don’t really feel like having to explain the humiliating story over and over and bring it all up so you feel it’s best to hide for the rest of the day.
Having an emotional response to something when you have adrenal insufficiency is pretty much exactly how I just described, even something which might seem quite minor. Every physical symptom from having cold water dumped on you happens (minus the cold water), and it happens that quickly and without much ability to control it. Sometimes you can see it coming and apply mindfulness or another technique to try to counteract the physical response which comes with the emotions, but you can’t always do that. Especially if someone picks a fight with you. The worst bit is, you actually can’t let it go or back down once you get to a certain point, like the jeans which are wet- it takes time for things to improve. Once your emotions have been dowsed in water, they don’t just suddenly dry up and you can carry on as normal.
Serious confrontation or arguments, or even constant minor conflict, can be potentially life threatening if not appropriately managed with extra cortisol (steroid). A ‘normal’ person can move on relatively quickly from seemingly minor things, whereas we can’t necessarily. It’s so difficult to manage, and while we appreciate that random hormonal outbursts are not ideal or pleasant to deal with from us, if you’d give the pregnant lady or hormonal PMS female a bit of leeway and compassion, then we almost definitely deserve the same, as there’s a lot going on underneath the surface 🙂