I turned the Malaysian Labor Day on May 1st into a four day weekend trip to Penang. We ran away to a small resort on Jerejak Island with the sole purpose to relax. However, my cortisol levels were too high.

My medicine dosage has varied greatly since my crisis on April 19th, 2013. Before my crisis, I was on too low of a dose of Qualitest. After the crisis (and getting off of Qualitest), my medicine was increased to help heal my body. I was using the higher dosage and had shown no signs of too much until this trip.

Too Much Cortisol?

Writing about too much cortisol is odd for me. Many of us within the Adrenal Insufficiency Community chronically under-dose ourselves due to the extremely negative connotation of steroids. We receive constant bombardment that all steroids are evil and we must be on the lowest dose possible. Unfortunately, this lowest dose possible barely keeps us breathing and hovering on the edge of an adrenal crisis. This was how I lived my life for many years and it resulted in countless ER visits with much pain and suffering.

I finally changed my philosophy to prove that I am Clearly Alive. My body will let me know when I have too little cortisol or too much cortisol. I must learn to recognize both and respond appropriately with the help of those around me. As I reflect back on our trip to Penang, I see many signs of too much cortisol.

Anxiety + Anger

One of the first signs was my unfounded anxiety coupled with anger. The entire trip to the airport, I was rushing without reason. I followed AirAsia’s travel recommendation to take the bus that left exactly three hours before our departing flight. Yet I was firmly convinced that we were going to miss the flight. I had created an extremely unlikely situation in my mind that I could not move past and no amount of reasoning would calm me.

LCCT airport
At the airport! Photo from May 2014.

I ended up making it to the LCCT in ample time. There was no line for security and the flight was an hour delayed. There was no reason for my anxiety or angst. The logical side of the brain knew this, but the side controlled by cortisol would not release me.

air asia flight
I have my backpack, I have my passport, I have my ticket, I’m ready to go! Photo from May 2014.

Once in Penang, I was picked up by resort staff and taken by boat to the smaller island away from everything with the goal to unwind and relax. Sadly, I felt fidgety and on edge the entire weekend. I was flat out exhausted, yet the elevated cortisol levels prevented me from truly resting.

On the small island. Photo from May 2014.

Inappropriate Appetite

I also had an inappropriate appetite. It never registered in my mind as hunger. Rather, I consumed ever piece of gluten free food that was set before me without even thinking about the amount. No matter how much I ate, I still felt like it wasn’t enough.

My eyes show that I am absolutely exhausted. Photo from May 2014.

We want the right amount of cortisol.

Doctors need not fear those of us living with Adrenal Insufficiency overdosing ourselves long term. No one wants the side effects of too much of our hydrocortisone. I had weight gain, extreme irritability, inappropriate appetite, and an inability to sleep. My body was telling me that my dose was too high and I listened to it.

May I reflect on my past so that my future is better. Photo from May 2014.

Over a month has passed since the trip to Penang and I am now on 10 mg of HC less a day. It also took me that full month to drop down those 10 mg. I can relax more. My sleep has improved. I am eating a more reasonable amount instead of acting like a human vacuum with food. Am I on the right dose for my body? I don’t know yet. What I do know is I shall continue to listen to my body and adjust accordingly.

PS- Despite being on too much HC, I still greatly enjoyed the trip.

I found a kitten! Photo from May 2014.
Amber Nicole is Clearly Alive