Celiac Awareness Month

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In March 2008, I stopped eating gluten for medical reasons, and (with a few transgressions) haven’t looked back. OK, I’ve looked back in anger — like the play, not the Oasis song — but for the most part, I am very grateful to have had such a straightforward and relatively easy way to address my myriad health problems.

May is Celiac Awareness Month, so here are some related links. I won’t proselytize, I promise. If I didn’t have to give up gluten, I wouldn’t have, believe me. I miss croissants and wake up from intricate croissant-eating dreams. Often.

I meant to post this a week ago, but then classes began again, and Lord of Ultima happened, and the month is already two weeks over. Oops. Also another thing that happened is potential accidental glutenation, which isn’t really a word but describes well enough that you know what I mean. Takeout food is tough for me now. I like to pretend it isn’t because it is fast and requires no effort on my part and also it tastes good. But there are so many places for gluten to hide, and my (few) efforts communicating over the phone with restaurants before ordering haven’t inspired much confidence.

So what I really need to do is exhaustion-proof my kitchen. I sense another Avoid, Embrace coming on …

the state of the gut

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Since I am currently struggling with a stomach bug, and quickly approaching my first gluten-free anniversary, a “state of the gut” address seemed appropriate. On 23 March 2008, I began a gluten-free diet to alleviate gluten intolerance, possibly Celiac Disease. (I say “possibly” because I have not yet been able to go back on gluten so I can be formally tested.  Ingesting gluten for a month would certainly mean more sick days than I can take right now.)

Due to my diet, I have rediscovered my love of cooking, though grocery shopping — while less confusing and overwhelming — is still frustrating. I have lost the taste for cookies and cakes, but still yearn for dishes like biscuits and gravy from Boogaloo’s and focaccia from Arizmendi. Despite how much I disliked Whole Foods before this whole thing started, it has been a place of gluten-free miracles.  Trader Joe’s has been excellent as well; tonight, FunkyPlaid stopped by one on his way home and brought me all sorts of gluten-free goodies.

While in Scotland last autumn, I feasted on Sainsbury’s “Freefrom” line of breads, and am baffled that no American grocery stores carry a line of gluten-free baguettes, naan, and English muffins. Bob’s Red Mill has a tasty line of bread mixes, however, many of which I have baked and enjoyed. Amy’s Kitchen has some tasty gluten-free frozen pizzas, and Mariposa Baking makes the best biscotti I have ever eaten.  Nothing comes close to Freefrom, though.

Dining out is still enjoyable, but not the experience it once was. Everything on each menu must be scrutinized, and at first I was fairly embarrassed about being That Kind of diner, asking all sorts of questions about what I used to regard as magicians’ secrets.  No longer can I glimpse an ingredient or a sauce and order solely on whim.  Brunch is a particular wheat-laden obstacle I avoid whenever possible.

Now to the good news: with the exception of a compromised immune system, I am physically and emotionally healthier than I have been in years.  While I still have headaches from time to time, I no longer have migraines.  My moods swing normally … or as normal as I get, anyway.  Insomnia is the exception instead of the rule.  The gluten-free diet is not the only source of my newfound health: each day, I take a multivitamin, a calcium supplement, and an iron tonic called Floravital recommended to me by my friend Kirsten that has done wonders.  Just today I started taking PhytoPharmica’s Probiotic Pearls in order to boost the useful bacteria in my gut. I feel great when I exercise, but struggle to keep a routine when I fall ill.

I have a ways to go with this new life, but as I write this I realize how far I have come.  Luckily, I have an incredibly supportive partner, family, friends, and coworkers, so I know I am not doing this all alone. The Internet has been a great resource for me over the past year, not only to educate myself on medical issues but also to learn from people living with Celiac Disease. I owe a great deal to Shauna of Gluten-Free Girl and Kelly of The Spunky Coconut, whose positivity and innovation inspire me to rise above the day-to-day setbacks.  I aspire to gain grace and peace about this part of my life.

grateful for health

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This morning, I succumbed to the summer cold that’s traipsing around, so it might seem strange to write about being grateful for my health. The fact remains that my health is better than it has been in years, and all because I traced the source of most of my nagging problems to ingesting gluten.  (This is why, for those of you who are starting to read my journal now, I am on a gluten-free diet; it is not a fad diet, but a diet required by an autoimmune disorder of the small intestine called Celiac Disease. Read up on this before lecturing me about how diets are bad for me.)

Despite making such a huge breakthrough recently, I have much more work to go on my health. I need to find a daily exercise regimen that I will stick to, unlike going to the gym or jogging.  I might return to tai chi chuan, as that had the double benefit of improving my fitness as well as my state of mind.

(This entry is part of one month of gratitude.)

three months of salad

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After three months of a gluten-free diet, I can safely say that I am tired of this brave new salad-riddled world and want to go home, my fluffy pastry home with the doughnut doorknob.

Initially, I was more than happy to give up gluten if it meant feeling good again. There is no question that even my bad days now are better than my best days were back then. I won’t go back to how it was before, no matter how bleak it seems right now.

And right now it seems very bleak.

I suppose this is merely a slump, an expected one since I jumped into a gluten-free life without real consideration to how my eating habits — ALL of my eating habits — would have to change. Today I am mourning the ability to be the effortless dining companion I once was. Some cuisines are easier for me than others because of the variety of options their menus provide. Other cuisines daunt and depress me. When once I would order anything (aside from squid) depending on my whim, now I have to scour and study each menu item, ask servers endless, nitpicking questions, and ruin my friends’ good time because I can’t eat most dishes that people like to share.

It’s not that I miss any particular food; I love so many different foods, plus there are viable gluten-free options for many things now. I miss my easy-going glutenated self. I miss being able to say “whatever, whenever” to food with friends. I miss being able to focus on the company rather than the components. When I have to mention my dietary restrictions to anyone, I feel high-maintenance and lame. Food used to be such a vast pleasure for me, but now I am constantly self-conscious about it. I do not like the dynamic of requesting special treatment, but the alternative is a plethora of horrible side-effects.

I know it has only been three months. It has been a long three months.

sick feels me

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I awoke to the shaky, bad-gut feeling of my days with gluten: each stretch of intestine its own serpent, stick-poked and salivating and wanting out.   Slamming behind my left eyesocket was the quickened tattoo of my blood: dah-duh-tump, dah-duh-tump.  “I feel sick” doesn’t cover it on these days, that tepid stain of a phrase.  Sick feels me, pinches my larynx, bends back my elbows, kicks my shins.  Sick is the subject and I its weakened, palpated object.

This is why I must remain humble: just when I think I have beaten it, fooled it, run around the block on it and sneaked into its end-zone, I do the classic horror-film turn and it is closer than ever, my cute little ailment, my snack of a disease.  I scream; it gapes its maw.  I stumble backwards to flee; it prowls forward in no hurry.

Names have power, but this one is a mouthful of chalk.  I found it and called it what I thought it was and hit it with a sword turned to foam. Today is one long Möbius twist of the guts.

RSSless: day 7

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This will be brief, because I am extremely ill today due to accidentally ingesting gluten in last night’s dinner. The worst part is that I dread eating the next day so much I tend to avoid it until I can’t anymore, and then scarf something vaguely disgusting down just to have some nutrition.

Clearly I am new at managing this disease, and have a lot to learn.

My experiment in giving up my RSS reader for a week is complete. I’ve made my point to myself: I don’t need to keep up with 269 RSS feeds to lead a complete, informed, happy life. Also, I prefer getting my news from communities that encourage participation instead of from one-way news blasts. The exception to this is Twitter, which is eminently useful to me as a means to keeping up with my friends and certain web tools (especially world news and daily weather reports).

That’s all from here tonight. It’s raining, which is a pleasant change from the blustery gray un-springtime. FunkyPlaid is at GAMA; these are my last days living alone. Should I be living it up? And if so, what does “living it up” entail? I sense there might be illicit activities involved, but watching the people wandering my neighborhood in various states of stupors and loss is an excellent deterrent. Sleep, then.

symptomatic

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The last thing I want to write about is the first thing on my mind these days. For the past couple of years, I have suffered from a ghost illness I self-diagnosed as “stress-related”, with symptoms that include gastrointestinal distress, severe headaches, extreme fatigue, and inexplicable mood-swings. Though my two major sources of stress (my last relationship, and my last job) are no more, my symptoms have recently intensified, sometimes to the point of incapacitation.

A researcher by heart, I started reading up on my symptoms, which were compounded a few months ago by a troublesome rash not unlike chicken pox. “Celiac Disease” kept coming up, so I read more and spoke with two friends who have it. With their information, and with my beloved‘s encouragement and support, I decided to go on an elimination diet, attempting to avoid all wheat, barley, and rye.

I immediately felt better. Immediately. I’ve been living with these symptoms for so long that I forgot what it was like not to feel sick after eating, to be my usual cheerful self, to be able to stay awake after work, and to go 48 hours without an eyeball-searing headache. Not everything has been perfect — eating at restaurants is particularly tricky — but the past two weeks have been amazing. So the next step has been taken: I have an appointment with an allergist next week.

Today is a not-so-good day, because I ate something at a restaurant last night that I should have guessed was thickened with wheat flour. It is also a not-so-good day because I am new at this, and feeling more than a little overwhelmed by the reality of a lifetime change in diet. But since the cloud is lifting, and since I have loving and supportive people all around me, I know I can do this. For the first time in a long time, I have hope for my health.