The phone rings…it’s my friend calling to see if I would like to come over to dinner. Little does she know that I have just been diagnosed with Celiac disease and I’m now nervous about eating at other people’s homes…
I’m still learning what to eat and how to read labels. I feel my heart beat increase, and my palms start to sweat. “What is this weird feeling,” I ask myself. I feel like I’m going to panic…and all over a social invitation. “What’s wrong with me, this shouldn’t be a big deal. It never was before, I’ve always just done what I wanted.” Oh yeah, I remind myself, it’s because I don’t know if I will be able to eat if I go over. Maybe I just shouldn’t go. Maybe I should just stay home and eat the few foods I know are “safe.” But, I miss my friends. They are important to me. I really want to go. So, now what do I do?
Does this situation seem familiar to you? It does to me because I had this happen on numerous occassions, especially when newly diagnosed. Every once-in-a-while, it still happens, but I’m no longer afraid of it.
Let’s take the above scenario and layout an example conversation of what to say and do to overcome the social anxiety that has arisen.
First, take a deep breath. Maybe, take three…and try to clear your mind. Remember, a good friend will generally do their best to understand and help you out…as you would likely do the same for them.
Next, thank your friend for the invitation. Ask, if they have a moment, for you to explain your current situation. Then you can say something like this, “Remember when I told you I was having some tests done due to digestive issues.” Response, “Yes.” You, “Well, I got my results back and I found out that I have an autoimmune disease called Celiac. I had no idea what this was until my Dr. explained that it means my body cannot tolerate the protein gluten, which is found in wheat, rye and barley. There are significant health consequences that can occur if I continue to eat these foods, so I am having to change my entire diet and can’t eat the same foods I always have. So, while I would love to accept your invitation, I would need to have a bit more involvement in the dinner plan, or at least need to know if you are preparing something that I can’t eat, so that I can bring something with me and still come. Can we talk about what you will be serving for dinner? ”
Friend, “Sure…” possibly with some other questions and curiosity. “We were planning on having spaghetti. This is the sauce we are using and the spices we have.”
You, “Spaghetti will be fine. I can prepare my own noodles and bring them with me. I looked up the sauce you are using, and it will be fine, however the garlic seasoning that you have is not okay. Would it be okay if I brought over a substitute garlic salt that is on my safe list?”
Friend, “Sure, that will be great.”
You, “Also, since I am still learning myself, would it be okay with you if I helped out in the kitchen that day, just to help make sure that we keep gluten containing foods seperate from gluten free foods. It will be fun to cook together and you will be helping me learn how to eat. I can also bring over a couple of gluten free items so you can taste them too. It would be fun for me to share my new experiences with you.”
Friend, “Sounds good! I look forward to having dinner together.”
You, “Great! See you on Friday!”
Of course there may be more conversation about other parts of the dinner and the disease, but you get the gist. Once you start talking about it openly, you will be amazed at how receptive most people are. Don’t expect them to know or understand unless you tell them. Also, be patient with them, as they will have to learn just as you are having to learn. But, the most important thing to remember is, if you don’t face it and get out there. it will never get easier. Practice and communication are the keys to empowering yourself and others to help you on your journey to a healthier, happier you.
Author Information: Jennifer Leeson, Denver, CO
Denver Gluten-free Examiner at Examiner.com
Jennifer is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and an expert on changing negative emotions, thoughts, and behaviors. After being diagnosed with Celiac Disease last October, she learned there was more to transforming her life around food beyond knowing what to eat and what not to eat. There were unexpected social, emotional, and behavioral challenges that arose. Since learning how to cope with these obstacles herself, she has begun teaching others how to cope effectively with the barriers that interfere with successfully changing one’s entire lifestyle around food. You can reach Jennifer at her e-mail address.