Redefine Normal // Rediscover Hope

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A Day in the Life of an Adrenal Fatigued High Energy Actress

I will never forget the day I met Sandy Kim, today’s interview in my A Day in the Life of… series. My wife and I drove over an hour with two boys and Nerf guns in tow, so our youngest could be an extra in the pilot for a TV show that combined the best elements of Saving Private Ryan, Codename: Kids Next Door, and every boy’s fantasy of the most epic neighborhood-wide Nerf gun war ever.

Here is the pilot, if you are interested in smiling and enjoying life more. If you still want to smile but only have 93 seconds, here is the preview.

We walked into the community center a little bewildered, and knowing exactly one person…who wasn’t there yet. Then Sandy found us. “You must be the Morrises,” she said with the most welcoming smile I’ve ever met. “Let me show you around.” Her energy and open spirit put us at ease immediately, and made the day a little less intimidating for us.

Sandy and I have talked off and on over the past two years since that day. I have always been impressed with the hustle, effort, and energy she puts toward her acting career, and I feel a little more awesome about myself to say that I know an actress.

The most surprising moment in our friendship was when she told me on Facebook she would really enjoy this series, because she has an invisible illness. Though we don’t know each well, I would have never guessed Sandy was anything but healthy…which is why I wanted to interview her.

Here is Sandy’s description of her complex set of conditions

I have auto immune and metabolic issues that cause chronic inflammation and toxicity within my system. Some of the outcomes are: leaky gut (increased permeability in my intestines), chronic eczema, chronic inflammation.

My body cannot adequately break down the food I eat and the result is that it causes an inflammatory response throughout my body in the form of: hives, itching, burning, stomach pain, joint pain that presents like arthritis in my knees, elbows, fingers. I also have extreme fatigue at times, insomnia and BRAIN FOG.

Because of the issues, my adrenal system has been over burdened leading to another condition often referred to as “adrenal fatigue”. It’s hard to say which came first, and it’s hard to give it all just one name.

(I try to provide external sources to augment each interviewee’s description of their illness, but I am choosing not to do so this time. A Google search on “adrenal fatigue” and “leaky gut” only returned sources that also included simple ways to heal it. I won’t link to these resources, because it diminishes the complexity of Sandy’s conditions. And now…on with the interview)

What are some struggles nobody sees?

I have a high-energy personality. People around me think that I am super-confident and that everything comes easy to me. While all of that is wonderful and I appreciate that people see “strength” when they see me, it can also be a double-edged sword.

Physically every day can be a challenge. I am physically exhausted much of the time, but have a hard time sleeping. I have major food intolerances and allergies, so I have to be careful about what I eat, otherwise my body rebels with pain, inflammation, fatigue, and intense itching.

Sometimes I wish people would see that things just don’t come “easy” for me. I fight like hell for everything that I want to do in life. I work tirelessly at everything important to me – my family, my acting career, my filmmaking career, being a good friend to others.

I tend to be the one that others come to for support, encouragement and the truth. Sometimes I wish others would see that I also need the same.

What are the biggest challenges with your condition?

Being able to maintain the pace of life that I love, which is slightly manic and super productive. I am TYPE A off the charts, and when my body doesn’t want to cooperate with me, it is a huge battle between my BODY and my WILL.

From a practical standpoint, many days I literally have to shut down and sleep midday to recharge my batteries. It isn’t always convenient or practical.

I am an actress and have to memorize lines and dialogue. When my body acts up and it impacts my brain, it makes remembering things very difficult.

I wish I never had to say NO to my family because I was too tired to do something with them.

There are types of clothes I can’t wear because it makes my skin go haywire. My condition has caused one side of my face to sink in, strange hair loss, weight gain and other things that are not fun for anyone, but even worse for someone who lives part of their life on camera.

I usually bring my own food, even when I’m on set. I am so limited by what I can eat that it is simpler and less risky for me to always keep “safe” food with me.  That can be difficult to manage in such a food-centric society.

What are some accomplishments you are proud of?

I would have to say that I am most proud of the fact that I have figured out how to be a mom to my son. He’s 13 going on 40 and has been diagnosed with: ADHD, Autism, and assorted speech delays. Basically, he has an executive functioning issue. He beats to his own drum.

I used to think I was the worst parent on the face of the earth. But I found a way to be the parent that he needs me to be, and not beat myself up every day.

Last September I also got back on stage and did live theater after a 3-year hiatus. I was terrified to do it, because at that time my memory had been so badly impacted by my illness that I could barely memorize a paragraph of dialogue.

When things started getting really bad I went to order tickets for a concert and when the woman taking my order asked what my address was…I could NOT remember! I was like “hold on a second, please” and had to find a bill with my address! A couple of days later I had a production meeting in downtown Phoenix and left my car running while I walked away.

So the thought of doing live theater, where there are no “CUTS” and you don’t get any do-overs was terrifying! My acting coach gave me a doozy of a scene too – from Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. But I did it.

I had a HUGE and crazy monologue and then a long scene. It took me 10 times as much rehearsal to get it down and the night of the show, right before I was supposed to go on stage, I freaked out and literally could not remember one single line! But…I forged on and did the show.

Sandy’s Will & Determination: 1, Sandy’s Lame-Ass Body: 0.

What are the biggest misconceptions people have about your illness?

Hmmm…this is an interesting question. Since I don’t have a condition that people can see, and it isn’t “mainstream”, I just wish that people would ask questions about whatever it is they are curious about.

Often people think it doesn’t exist. Because traditional Western medicine hasn’t quite caught up yet with these kinds of illnesses, the information out there is rare. I come from a family of doctors – my father and sister are both physicians – so I have high respect for the profession. Nobody is teaching medical students about these ailments though.

Similar to when fibromyalgia, IBS, or IBD first entered the vocabulary of the medical world, people thought it was just BS. Now everyone pretty much knows about them, so there is hope for helping people.

What do you wish people knew about your condition?
This is a picture of Sandy's actual medication. She confided in me she worries that some day the TSA will confiscate them as she goes through security!

This is a picture of Sandy’s actual medication. She confided in me she worries that some day the TSA will confiscate them as she goes through security!

That it is a complex condition! I can’t stand when people try to simplify it and tell me about something that their uncle, brother, cousin, neighbor, or co-worker did to cure them of their ailment. “My neighbor had that and he took cactus leaves and it went away. You should try that!”

Honestly, I love people’s earnest attempts to offer relief and I will always listen. I have tried almost everything anyway (western medicine, acupuncture, yoga, medical qui-jong, supplements, anti inflammation diet, even anti-candida diet). But when people listen to one snippet of my condition and swear that there is a simple cure, it drives me nuts.

How do you reconcile your faith with your condition not going away?

I am a reformed Catholic and have major spirituality but not a traditional faith. I believe that there is a reason for everything. You can either ask “why” and feel sorry for yourself, or you can be grateful for every opportunity life gives you. I choose to be grateful.

What is something you absolutely love and want to share with the world?

I just started teaching acting workshops for children along with my acting coach. I figured I would combine two of my loves – acting and kids and make that happen!

There was an amazing 6-year-old girl that came to two of the workshops that inspired me to try to write a script about a character that I can see her playing, along with a character for me to play (a child psychiatrist).

I guess that’s the point. I am NOT a writer, but I am going to try to write a script or two.

I started writing a comedy script about a woman with a lot of health issues. It starts with her in the bathroom at home getting ready to take a 24-hour urine test. All kinds of crazy things ensue, including her cat jumping on the tub and spilling the jug. I guess I want to find a way to turn my experience into something positive and productive.

So, Sandy has a series of potentially related conditions that impact her life in a major way, yet she chooses daily to push forward into the life she wants to create – as an actor, as a wife, as a mother. She is an inspiration to me, because she refuses to let her health dictate her life.

Please ask any questions you have about adrenal fatigue, auto immune conditions, leaky gut, or even parenting a special needs kid.