Monday, June 2, 2008


"Our strength grows out of our weakness."
Ralph Waldo Emerson

I am 27 years old and every day, I take 22 pills and one liquid medication. Since I have to take my medications on a schedule, I have them organized (except for the ones that require refrigeration and the liquid) in the pill box pictured above…like I’m an old lady on heart medication. That pill box goes with me everywhere now, since I need to get something from it almost every hour.

How did I get here? Apparently, I have been poisoning my body for the last 27 years with bread. That’s the short version of it anyway. I am gluten-intolerant, which means that the protein found in the grains wheat, rye, barley, and their cousins are toxic to my body and thus my immune system has been identifying foods containing these proteins as toxic intruders, staging a war in my gut for years. As a result, my immune system is so damaged the poor thing has nothing left to give. The bacteria and yeast running rampant in my body has been no match for the little bit of anti-bodies I could produce and I spent the last couple of years growing weaker and sicker until this past winter when I finally decided I had had enough and sought medical assistance.

Not that seeking medical assistance was that easy, or effective. Being a student with no health insurance, I was limited in my options. I was subjected to every blood test the student clinic could reasonably perform (within my dollar-amount allotment) and I was deemed to be in pristine health. I finally decided to give the gluten-free diet a serious try, to see if I ended up feeling better without that protein in my diet.

Actually, I have the Gluten Free Girl to thank in pushing me to truly accept gluten intolerance/celiac disease as the potential cause of my sickened body. Well, that and I didn’t want to think about things like cancer. Her story sounded eerily similar to mine; though I grew up in a household where my mother cooked nutritious meals and taught us how to eat well, I dealt with bouts of chronic digestive issues my whole life, along with constantly feeling tired, strange changes in appetite, anxiety, craving sugar, headaches, and a constant clearing of my throat that never seemed to go away. It was easy in high school and college to blame these symptoms on stress. But, I was beginning to not accept that as an explanation as things grew worse in graduate school.

I read her book and cried. In fact, I read the first few pages while in Powells Books and had to choke back tears. Part of me knew, and had known for some time. The rest of me did not want to accept it.

I think I also needed to understand that being gluten intolerant (or having celiac disease) didn’t mean that you didn’t have periods of feeling well. I could think back to plenty of times when I felt great. When I was studying abroad in Germany, for example, during my junior year of college, where bread and cheese were staple parts of my diet, I felt better than I had in years. These thoughts made me initially resistant to the idea that I had celiac disease, even though my mom was diagnosed years ago. I also had no idea that the other symptoms I was experiencing would be tied to gluten; seeing how my other symptoms had all been found to be related to gluten was certainly an eye-opener.

So, I cleaned out my cupboards, gave away gluten-containing foods and contaminated cooking utensils. I spent many hours online reading about where gluten “hides” in food and shampoo and cosmetics. I was horrified to learn that things like shampoo, toothpaste, and hand lotions needed to be investigated. After many hours, I created a pile of those things too, which I began to treat like poisons; I didn’t want to touch them and washed my hands after touching just the bottles.

About 2 weeks after being 100% gluten-free, I felt amazingly better. And I didn’t feel deprived, either, because I knew what I was doing was good for my health. Would you eat poison knowing it would make you sick? No. That’s how I have come to think about gluteny (gluten-containing) foods.

Unfortunately, I quickly took a nose-dive. I began to feel worse than ever. I kept a food journal to keep track of what I was eating, to potentially draw out what was making me sick again. I knew I would have to go through a healing process, as many have written about in the online forums I was reading, but I didn’t want to risk the chance that it was something more serious plaguing me.

Though I really couldn’t afford it, I went to a Naturopathic clinic. Through more tests, they discovered that I was indeed gluten intolerant and I needed to do a lot of work to restore balance to my body. Hence the plethora of medications I am taking. Besides these medications, I am also on a restricted diet to reduce inflammation. It isn’t entirely easy to maintain, but I do what I can and accept what I cannot.

Acceptance has become another life mantra.

Gluten-free, 22 pills a day, careful eating, and, most importantly, acceptance: this is my path to healing.

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