Photo: Chelle Photography
I was a junior in college, just turned 21, working on my final days of class and work before heading off to a week of spring break with Habitat for Humanity…It started out like any other day… I got up, had breakfast, checked emails, and worked on some homework. We had a potluck that day at work so I ate a light snack and off I went to the admissions office to give a tour. I sat at the front desk, checked a family in for my tour and as they were getting settled I felt sharp, piercing pains in my stomach. I was caught off guard and then the pain dismissed before I got up and started the tour. The first half of the tour went like every other tour before.. But midway through our tours, we always showed potential students a typical dorm room, as I was approaching the dorm I could feel my face getting hot and my ears became itchy but I didn't know what to think of it. As I walked the student and her parents into the dorm room, on the left side hung a mirror, as I looked into the mirror I saw a red, blotchy, swollen face. My lips were bigger, my ears were red, and my eyes were puffy. I immediately wanted to stop the tour but I knew if I said anything I would just break down and ugly cry. Let’s be honest… I didn't know what was going on… I had never had an allergic reaction in my life. What made it worst was the family didn't say anything either… I don’t think they knew what to say! I quickly moved on and cut the tour short. I ran back up to the office, excused myself out of work and headed home. I got home to find my car parked in by a roommate but luckily she was at the house. It took every bit of courage in me to knock on her door with out breaking down and losing it all together. I knocked, opened the door and Judy could see right away something was wrong. I lost it. The biggest tears streamed down my face. I am pretty sure the only thing I could muster out when she asked if I was ok was, “I don’t think so.” She quickly snapped into mom-mode and called the doctors office. Judy rushed me to the doctor where they checked my oxygen levels in my blood and concluded I was definitely having a reaction to something… but WHAT?! They put me on meds, sent me home to sleep it off and ever since I woke up from that nap... eating has never been the same. The days following the reaction were some of the worst. I am sure you can guess what my symptoms were... You name it, I experienced it. I will spare you the details.... let's just chalk it up to a bad stomach flu(x a million) that won't go away. The symptoms were affecting my daily routine so I decided to go back in to see the doctor.
I have been tested for Celiac Disease(twice... and both times it was negative), fructose intolerance, stomach infections, and parasites… I have had an endoscopy, colonoscopy, gastric emptying study, ultrasound, and stool tests. I have recorded weeks of my dietary eating, been put on crazy restricted diets and in the end it all boiled down to one solution… removing gluten from my diet is the only thing that helps. So the doctors call that a gluten sensitivity. The journey was long, so many doctor's visits, tests, and the waiting game to hear results is truly the worst but now I am one healthy 26 year old, who craves gluten rich food every day but has learned to live without it and YOU CAN TOO! Believe me I know the transition is the hardest part but trust me when I say there is life(and really yummy Gfree food!!!) after being sick! If I can do it, SO CAN YOU!
Here are 5 tips I have for people struggling with digestion issues:
1. Seek help! Go straight to the specialists(unless you need a referral from you GP first)… see a gastroenterologist and don’t self diagnose. Your journey will be long, answers might not come in a timely manner you want them to, BUT they will come and with that, a prognosis of how to move forward.
2. Don’t take yourself off gluten before seeing the doctor… this tip SUCKS, believe me, I know but they might want to run tests based on your symptoms and they CAN’T get accurate tests if you have taken yourself off gluten.
3. Round up your Stomach Defenders… who might those be? People in your life that will help see you through this. My mom, sister, and grandma(and many many more) all supported me through my transition by switching recipes, researching, and changing their cooking and baking habits. It’s because of them I can eat with my family during meals!
4. Once you have seen a doctor and gotten the word that you are infact needing a gluten free diet… become a label reader. Gluten is a sneaky thing and will creep into even the most unlikely foods! Taco seasoning, root beer, licorice, etc! Read labels!!
5. Breathe… you WILL get through this! I promise!!