Finding out you are allergic to gluten is NOT the end of the world. Ignoring the fact could be. Sometimes, you just want to sit down with friends and enjoy that juicy messy cheese burger. It’s even worse when you are going through things. My mother was admitted into the hospital and must undergo surgery. Oddly enough, the café and cafeteria does not offer “gluten free” menu items. After 12 hours of running on adrenaline, you are going to crash. That’s what happened to me. I crashed hard. I just needed to eat something. Anything. So I had a coffee, which was horrible but that is another story, and a breakfast sandwich for $7.75. I sat and ate slowly as the doctors came in and out of my mom’s room. Here is the kicker guys. I did NOT get sick. I don’t know, maybe there was something but my mind was so fixed on what my mom is going through that I did not notice. She is experiencing a great deal of pain. There was not time to think about me and my problems. Now that I am home I am thinking about the events of the week. Still, tomorrow is another day and I might have some pains tomorrow or some itching but sometimes, there are more important things to worry about. Life happens.
Please do not misunderstand me. I did not just jump on the “gluten free” without any problems. For about a month I continued with watching what I eat and “trying” really hard to do the right thing. I read all the ingredients of anything I purchased. I even started preparing my own lunch for work. No one is perfect. On one of the family’s many gatherings, I decided not to be gluten free. Can you imagine? I mean this is obviously not something you can just “decide” you no longer want to do. But I did. I ate whatever I wanted and for a little while it was great. I had pizza and OMG it was so good. I felt like it had been years since I last had a good pizza. Any pizza. Well, if you do something “bad” you must pay/suffer the consequences. Yes, I had consequences. I enjoyed myself momentarily but when the time came to pay the price, I was not so sure it was what I wanted. The first symptom was the itching. Yes, no nausea, no abdominal pain but itching. I did not think it was even relevant. I thought it was just an itch. Of course it became hives. Now this was the next day so what was the hives from. I had no clue, Yes I was clueless. Maybe I was in denial but whatever. Then by lunchtime I had stomach pains. So naturally I thought the coffee was making me suffer. I mean what else could it be? That same day I continued to press my luck. I had a meat sub. It was packed with all kinds of meats and vegetables, Italian style. It was so good and it was on a wheat roll. As far as I was concerned I was not gluten intolerant. That night the itching became more intense and it spread. Now it was my hands, face, neck and back. I had hives on my legs, I was tired like I had not slept in days and my stomach was so bloated. Still I refused to acknowledge the real issue. I refused until I had no choice. The following morning I was so exhausted. My stomach was in knots and I was so nauseous I just wished I could vomit and get it over with. Nothing happened. The nausea persisted all day and the hives and itching got worse. Now my eyes were itching and red. I went home and showered and washed my hair. I drank some hot green tea and just laid in bed. I started thinking about the several days prior. Then I began to recall the foods I had eaten. The next morning was Saturday. I stayed in bed most of the day. I drank water and tea until the hunger became unbearable and I had a spinach salad no croutons. Just spinach and vegetables. I continued to eat on the salad for the rest of the night. The next morning, the hives were completely gone and so was the nausea. As I laid in bed I decided I would finally start a journal. A bullet journal or something. Just something to keep track of what I eat and when and what my symptoms or reactions are. Of course it will not matter if I am going to eat what I already know I should not be eating. As much as I hate to admit it, this is a part of my life now. I am allergic to gluten and I can not run from this.
They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. I am so lucky I am not a dog. I learned how to cook at an early age. My mom was a single mother and I was the oldest of three girls. I had to help out around the house. When my mom was at work I cooked for me and my sisters. Our family gatherings used to be pretty big. Family was almost always together for dinners and barbecues. Once the elation was gone the dread set in. I can no longer buy macaroni and cheese in the box. I must now prepare everything from scratch. This could be a good thing. You know, healthier. Oh My Goodness. Now I have to cook healthy. I kid you not. There was some serious mixed emotions going on in my head. I was happy then I was sad. To those who didn’t know me, they would have sworn I was going through depression or bi-polar. Now I am not trying to say what I went through was anything like what someone with bi-polar disease or depression may be experiencing but people, think about this. When your world is suddenly changing, sometimes it sends you through a whirlwind. I can’t be the only one who thinks the world is ending because something I believed in all my life turns out to be different. Am I? Getting back to the story. I was finally getting through to my family about the issue I was having. In their crazy way, I think they wanted to help. My mom would always say, “I’m gonna cook dinner. Clarissa I will make you a salad.” Ugh! I know she means well but I can eat meat too you know. I just have to be careful how the meat is prepared. The worse part was when my sisters would be going out for dinner and drinks. Me not wanting to be the outsider who can’t eat here or there, I just stopped participating. Life got really lonely. Real quick. I was home all the time now. But if I want to eat I have to cook, right? So I hit the internet again. I started looking up recipes and learning how to make substitutions. I’m not gonna lie to you, initially I was scared. What if it tasted like crap? I did try a few things here or there. First thing I tried was gluten free bread. YUCK! It was horrible. I have to eat this? No way! Of course my daughter thought I was insane. There was no way she was going to eat gluten free “crap,” as she so eloquently put it. I had to come up with something. I was starving. I went to the grocery store with a new list found on the internet. WOW! They really make it hard for someone to be healthy. I mean I can buy the affordable pasta at $.99 or the gluten free pasta at $1.99 – 2.99. The affordable flour at $1.99 or the gluten free flour at $9.99. What’s a person to do? Well, I lost weight.
Once the realization set in, I am not itching and I have not taken any medication, everything just felt surreal. I cooked dinner and just avoided what I thought was gluten. Initially I was ok. One day I made homemade chicken soup. Chicken, chicken stock and vegetables with rice. I used cornstarch to thicken the juice to make it like a gravy. No gluten. So I thought, Bam! Intense abdominal pain. No vomiting but major nausea. I was so confused. I went over the ingredients I used and I just could not figure out what I did wrong. After several hours and a lot of water I was able to get out of the bed. I went back to the kitchen and tried to eat a little of the soup. I just did not believe that was it. Bam! The pain was even more intense. Now I started to think maybe the chicken was bad. The next day I was weak and my abs felt like I had done a thousand crunches. I went online and started researching my symptoms. Then I found my lifeline. A list of items to stay away from and places gluten hide. Amazing. There could be gluten, not only in the food we eat, but toothpaste, shampoo, etc. I was amazed. This is huge. After further review I found the problem. The seasoning I used, chicken bouillon cubes, contained yeast. I knew yeast was gluten but I was careless and did not check out the seasonings. I will not make that mistake again. I went through all my cabinets and boxed everything containing yeast, flour or anything gluten related. I donated it. Still, the nausea persisted. Now what? Turns out, I still had to “clean my kitchen.” Anything previously used to cook anything with gluten or anything that previously touched gluten had to go. I used this as a good excuse to go shopping. Retail therapy. After all this, I felt like I deserved it. I still have a long way to go but today I am not nauseous.
Remember when your only care in life was getting to the park and home before dark? Do you remember? Remember when your favorite TV show was the best cartoon and it was ok to get dirty building that sand dune? Do you remember? Remember when going to school was your job and boy was that hard? Do you remember? Those days are gone and now it’s our children turn. I pray they will not let the days pass them by. So one day they too will have something good to remember.
Imagine someone coming up to you. You are expecting a hug and instead they punch you in the gut really hard. That is what I felt like when I learned I was allergic to gluten. Let me explain. I am 43 years old and I am a single mom. I LOVE LOVE LOVE bread and pasta. I can eat spaghetti tonight and lasagna tomorrow. It never gets old. 19 years ago I began breaking out in hives. So my doctor put me on allergy meds. The allergist did test but his response was, and yes this is a direct quote, “There is no explanation. It’s just something your people get. I wrote a book about it you should read it. Maybe you should try working on your belly fat…” I swear to you this truly was his words. Needless to say I never went back and my doctor continued to prescribe the allergy medicine. At least the itching stopped. Then a new symptom appeared. Suddenly I began vomiting everything I ate and drank. Even water. I could not keep anything down. So my doctor put me on acid reflux medicine. Ok, so I can eat without vomiting and I no longer itch. As long as I take my meds. Then the weight gain began. I can hardly keep food down yet I am gaining weight faster than I did when I was pregnant with my daughter. There is nothing worse then trying to explain to your doctor how you do not eat and they are looking at you like you are not telling the truth because you are now 15 to 20 pounds heavier then you were three months prior. I was told to drink more water and go on a diet. No one would listen to me. I felt alone. I even felt like my family did not believe me. At my heaviest I was close to 300 pounds. So I found a third doctor. Yes I went for multiple opinions. This time I went to an Internist doctor. She ran multiple test and came back with a diagnosis of Hashimotos disease. An autoimmune disease. My body had began attacking my thyroid and it may have been brought on by my pregnancy. I was told my thyroid stopped working because of this and that is why I was experiencing the hair loss, weight gain, acne, and acid reflux. I had gained so much weight that I now had a whole in my esophagus where my stomach was protruding and my stomach had begun to twist. A hiatal hernia. Ok. Is this why some days I felt famished and others I had no appetite at all? No answer. I accepted the diagnosis and began taking thyroid medications. After three years there was no change. In fact things got worse. Remember I LOVE LOVE LOVE pasta and breads. One day the abdominal pain was so bad I was bent over in pain. I was home alone and could not move. The pain was so bad I just wanted to die. After several hours of pain and vomiting I was weak so I went to the kitchen for something to eat. Leftover pasta. BAM! It did not take long after I had eaten for the pain to hit. What the hell. I took my acid reflux so I should not be vomiting and now this pain. It felt like someone was twisting my intestines and wrestling with them. After 24 hours I was up. I drank some water and ate plain rice. I was afraid. I returned to work that following Monday and called the pharmacy to get a refill of my acid reflux. They called me back to tell me the co-pay would now be $250.00. That was my breaking point. I hung up the phone closed my office door and began to cry. I prayed to God for an answer. I received an email with the subtitle, “Are you allergic to gluten?” I began reading the email and every symptom I have listed above was listed in this email. I could not believe it. So, I had taken my last pill that morning. I decided I would stay away from all things gluten for a week and see what happens. 24 hours after my last meal with gluten, I noticed I did not take my allergy medication and I was not itching or breaking out in hives. 48 hours later, still nothing and I did not take a acid reflux but I have not vomited. At the end of the week, I swore off all things gluten and completely removed myself from meds. I finally diagnosed myself as being allergic to gluten and I have not looked back. Needless to say, I feel like I am better now than I was before I became pregnant with my daughter. I am not trying to promote self diagnosis. All I am saying is if you have any of the above symptoms and your doctor has not considered a gluten allergy, don’t wait as long as I did.