We haven’t had Honest Tuesday here in a while and it’s about time. There’s been some stuff going on that I haven’t wanted to mention on here (although several of you have noticed and e-mailed me about it for which I am very grateful for your concern) until I knew what exactly I was dealing with. So prepare for a long, rambling, and not-funny story (or just skip to the end if you’d rather – I’ll never know).
A couple of months ago I started noticing some troubling symptoms: being chronically cold (it’s 70 degrees here right now and I’m wearing yoga pants, a long-sleeve t, a hoodie and socks), depression, irritability, sudden weight gain, excessive fatigue & muscle soreness and a mental “fogginess” that is just not like me. (I want to apologize here to any of you that I left rude or snippy comments on your site – I’m telling you, irritable is my middle name these days.) I went to see my doc and after much scanning, prodding and blood sucking, she informed me that my thyroid seems to be under-functioning.
Now, hypothyroidism is a fairly common malady, especially in women and does run in my family but I was confused – why now would I suddenly have a problem? I have none of the risk factors for it (over 50, pregnant or lactating) and have not had problems with it in the past.
And then she mentioned something interesting – hypothyroidism in younger people is linked to overtraining syndrome. For those of you uninitiated in the die-hard fitness parlance, overtraining syndrome is “Training too hard and too long, with insufficient rest, which leads to burnout and decreased performance” There are two types of OT: sympathetic, which mainly affects power athletes like lifters and sprinters and parasympathetic, which mainly affects endurance athletes.
“But Charlotte, you are not an athlete!” ‘Tis true but I am dumb enough to train hard like one. Well, like an uneducated one at any rate. The sorry truth is that it is us wannabe athletes that are the most susceptible to this syndrome. Real athletes have coaches and doctors and water boys and what have you monitoring their every vital sign to nip this kind of thing in the bud. I just have denial.
Bodybuilding.com has a fabulous table that lists the physical, mental and cardiovascular symptoms of overtraining. It’s very comprehensive so if you are a hypochondriac or just play one on TV, I highly suggest reading their whole article. But basically the symptoms include an elevated morning/resting heart rate (check), chronic fatigue & muscle soreness (check), listlessness (yup), irritability (triple check), confusion (wha…?), depression (yeppers), apathy (check) and anxiety (check).
The symptoms that stood out most to me though were those related to exercise performance. Over the past six weeks I’ve been noticing some changes in my workouts that I have been unable to explain in relation to the experiments. I’ve been complaining to the Gym Buddies (sorry guys!) for weeks now that I feel like I’m working way harder than what my heart rate monitor shows and that despite giving it my all, I just can’t manage to get my heart rate up to where it should be. This became most obvious to me in Spin class last week when the instructor told us to check our heart rates against the exertion scale on the wall. According to that, I’m working out like a 50-year-old. And getting my butt kicked. I’ve become increasingly more reliant on caffeine just to get through my workouts. And then I’m wiped the rest of the day. The other thing I’ve noticed is that I am always sore. Every day. All of that? Classic overtraining.
But the number one symptom of overtraining? Loss of motivation. Almost every morning starts out with Gym Buddy Allison and I looking at each other and saying, “I’m just not feeling this today.” Which is so unlike me! I live for this kind of thing! I dream about different fitness experiments. I devour books on exercise. This is my favorite thing to do. Except that now it isn’t so much. I’m just tired.
My instinct when something isn’t working for me is to push harder and go farther. My instincts suck. According to, well, all the sites I read, you are supposed to take one week off of exercise for every 12 weeks of intense training. I haven’t taken a week off in years. I’ve barely taken a day off since my last baby was born. If I’m being totally honest, I’m a bit of a compulsive exerciser (something that I’d like to do a whole post about but maybe when it’s not such a touchy subject for me).
The only thing for it is rest, rest, rest. And the longer you have overtrained, the more rest you need. One Olympic hopeful ended up so fatigued that she required six months of rest. Hopefully one week will do it for me. I am, after all, not Olympic in any sense of the word.
What This All Means
I literally cried about this all weekend. My eyes are still swollen and my husband’s shoulder still soggy from my last outburst. But the fact is that if I don’t do something about this, it’s only going to get worse until I get injured or so sick that I’m forced to take a break. I’m cortisol city. My endocrine system is messed up from it. I’ve gained weight (nine heart-wrenching pounds in three weeks). My shin splints are back. My periods are completely screwed up. I can never seem to get enough sleep. And worst of all I’m snapping at my kids and friends all the time.
I’m not sure what it says about me that it is this hard to just take a break for a week (seriously, I spent 20 minutes this morning rocking in a little ball on the floor and sobbing). I think I traded compulsive food control for compulsive exercise. Which is totally my personality so I don’t know why I am so surprised by this.
I’m still going to blog – it’s my adrenals that are worn out, not my fingers- and I still have plenty of opinions about things that I have no business spouting off about. Besides, you people are my lifeline most days. I’ll pick back up with the Jillian Michaels experiment after my rest.
Please somebody out there tell me they’ve overtrained & how long it took them to recover. I just feel really scared. What if I take a week off and gain even more weight? What if I never make it back to exercising again? What if I go crazy without exercise to burn off my anxiety? What if little blue smurfs eat all my socks and I have to wear flip flops the rest of my life? I worry a lot. I might go cry some more.