This Holiday Season I am especially thankful for the health I now enjoy... it's been a long journey these past 10 years or so...but I am so thankful for the knowledge I've gained about living a Gluten-Free lifestyle...the benefits that have come from it, and that after 10 years, I can finally say that I feel like "me" again. :) I've never really shared my entire experience, and normally don't write posts that are too personal... but perhaps this can help someone out there who is wondering if they might have Gluten Intolerance or Celiac Disease... or someone who has been diagnosed and wonders if it is really a "big deal" if they HAVE to go gluten-free or not. I can tell you from personal experience that it WILL CHANGE YOUR LIFE!!! It changed mine... and here's how:
It all started back in junior high and high school. I just felt "tired" all the time. I can't even tell you how many times a day someone would come up to me and say, "What's wrong? You look tired." I even remember someone saying to me once, "You look dead." (ouch!) It seemed like maybe I was just depressed or going through normal teenage challenges... but when I looked around at all of my energetic friends...I wondered at times why they all had so much more energy than me. I assumed I'd grow out of it...and didn't think too much of it during those years. It was "just me."
After high school, I really started to wonder if something was wrong. Not only was still tired all the time... but now my heart was racing up to 90 beats per minute, even at rest. I had trouble sleeping for several years. It even felt like I wasn't breathing well anymore. The whites of my eyes were turning yellow. And I began to wake up every day with a swollen nose, eyes and face, looking like this:
I went to my doctor first about the racing pulse. I assumed something was wrong with my heart that was messing up my whole body. I remember my doctor doing a blood test on me for hyperthyroidism, iron deficiency anemia, or other treatable problems... but everything came back negative. So I got hooked up to a heart monitor I wore for an entire day... and the results came back "normal." My doctor said it was just anxiety and depression...and that I needed to be on medication for that. I had always refused to take any kind of anti-depressants because I felt like that wasn't the problem. Even if I DID have anxiety... was it normal that my heart was beating at 90 BPM even when I was trying to "relax" and sleep? Deep down I KNEW something was wrong and it was beyond my control.
So I figured if it wasn't my heart, it must be my breathing. And maybe my heart was pounding so fast because I wasn't breathing right! I mean, here I would wake up with a swollen nose every morning (by night time it would be little again) and so obviously something was going wrong up there. I saw an allergist who gave me 6 months of allergy shots because he claimed that all of my problems were due to the pollen, grass, trees, and dust in the Central Valley. The shots didn't change one thing. I was then referred me to an ENT doctor... who did CAT scans on my sinuses, decided they were too small, and gave me two sinus surgeries. Those didn't change a thing either. I did, however, go through one of the most terrifying experiences of my life after one of the surgeries... which I now realize was due to the fact that the anesthetic contained gluten... It put me into a violent reaction coming out of the surgery, and two months after that I was still withdrawing from medications given to me after surgery. Not fun at all. I was starting to lose my mind, and had lost all faith in doctors!!!
I was about 22 at this point... and while my friends were enjoying college life and dating, my self-esteem continued to plummet. Sure, I had fun here and there, and even dated a little, but it constantly went through my mind that I would probably never have the life I wanted. Besides, who would want to wake up to me looking like that everyday!? On top of feeling socially disconnected, I felt more disconnected from the world in General. The best word to describe the way I felt almost 24/7 was "disoriented." My fatigue just kept getting worse and worse...which greatly affected my social life. I know I lost friends over what I was going through. I became more reclusive, and was surely "talked about" by a lot of people. I know a lot of people were thinking, "Geez.. what's wrong with her?" In reality, I was silently suffering with something that was beyond my control, and that seemed to effect every aspect of every day of my life. I hit my lowest point when I looked in the mirror one day and saw that I had 4 huge yellow growths on each side of the whites of my eyes. I looked horrible. My eyes were always bloodshot, my tongue became swollen and white, and I didn't see how anything would ever get better.
At about age 25, I remember praying my heart out and telling God that I KNEW something was wrong...but I needed Him to somehow show me where the problem was. I may have given up on doctors... (they didn't have any answers for me anyways...) but I wasn't going to give up on myself, or on God. Within a couple of months, I started looking like this after meals:
So I went back to doing research on the internet when the thought came into my mind one day... "maybe you have food allergies." Hmmm...."Maybe I do," I thought. I looked up the most common food allergies... dairy and wheat... and decided to try to go a week without each and see what kind of results I got. Sure enough... I was no change when I gave up dairy, but when I stopped eating wheat, I suddenly lost the "prego-belly."
I was walking with my mom one sunny afternoon by a canal next our house... and after years of her having to listen to my problems, and me diagnosing myself with every condition imaginable, I said to her... "Mom, I know you're gonna think I'm crazy, but I know I've finally figured it out.... I can't eat bread." I told her what I had read about Celiac Disease... and she was very intrigued. She told me to get right to a doctor and be tested. I proudly walked into my new doctor's office the next week, not to ask her to find out what was wrong, but to TELL HER that I had figured out what was wrong. I asked her to give me the blood test for celiac / gluten intolerance. Sure enough, after 10 years of no answers, I finally got some.
I had never been so happy in my life than I was that day, because I knew then, that I could finally begin to heal. I hadn't given up, even after many doctors had given up on me.. and it had all paid off.
I learned that the reason I had felt so horrible for that many years was because my body wasn't absorbing nutrients the way it should! Every time I ate anything with gluten (bread, pasta, donuts, pizza, graham crackers, cereals, and the list goes on....) I was damaging my body and just becoming weaker and weaker. I learned that Celiac effects EVERY part of a person's body, so no wonder I had gone from doctor to doctor all those years with some many varying symptoms. I was deficient in all the B-Vitamins, especially B12 and Folic Acid, All the fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K) many minerals, protein, and my body wasn't even absorbing water correctly! I was relived to know that I wasn't crazy after all... that I was in fact, a very strong person for going through what I did, and not giving up on finding out the cause.
The GI doc I was then referred to, did an intestinal biopsy on me and a more extensive genetic blood test. I was given a "half positive diagnosis" for Celiac and a "positive" diagnosis for gluten intolerance. Either way, doctors orders were to go on a gluten-free diet for the rest of my life. She said... "Instead of bread, you'll be eating rice." And that was about all she told me.
Next came the most important lesson I had to learn... and the reason for WHY I write this blog. I learned that it's not about what you DON'T eat... it's about what you DO eat. My health is still fragile some days.... I am on the road to healing, which for most of us, takes up to five years or so. The things we DO eat will determine how fast we heal and how well we feel from this point on! As I've learned to live Gluten-Free, I've also learned to live more healthfully. My daily regimen now consists of something like this:
*A delicious veggie omelet with orange juice for breakfast *A chicken salad with honey mustard sauce for lunch *Protein-packed snacks like celery with peanut butter *Fresh red and green peppers....I eat these like apples :) *Steamed veggies with brown rice pasta and marinara sauce for dinner (sprinkled with my favorite Parmesan cheese) *Gluten-Free Vitamins and Probiotic Supplements *A nightly run at the gym or a brisk walk!!
If I miss one or more of these things too many days in a row... I begin to slip back a little. I'm working on being consistent in my quest for optimal health....and I know a key factor in that is GIVING THANKS for the knowledge I have... and USING IT! :)
I'm now 29 years old. Each year, I continue to feel a little better. My heart has calmed down to 70 BPM, I now sleep great... my eyes are clear again (I had the growths removed by an awesome surgeon who put some very nice grafts on.) My stomach no longer blows up after I eat meals... I have much more energy...and best of all, I finally feel good about myself again. I feel hope for my life...and I love life!! I know that God has blessed me in so many ways... and that he has even taken the past 10 years of my life and turned it into something wonderful...because now I appreciate health so much more. Shortly after my diagnosis, I was given an opportunity to work with a company who helps people deal with gluten problems every day! And for me, that makes it all worth it....to be able to connect with others who have also been dealing with this, so we can help and support each other!