As most of you know, May ushered in a month of opportunities for individuals and companies to raise awareness for Celiac Disease and gluten intolerance. And as this month comes to a close, I am taking a moment to reflect on my own journey into the unknown, which started just over two years ago.
What I have taken away from these two years is how isolating having Celiac Disease can be. You have to take so much into considerations. Trips to the grocery store are never quick. Restaurants can be overwhelming and tricky to navigate. Cross-contamination is very real…and it can make you very sick. Some people, even your closest family members, may never quite understand the reasoning behind going gluten-free. Others, usually the uninformed, will treat it as that new fad diet…that all the rockstars and hollywood starlets are doing.
Even with a strong support group, going gluten-free, being gluten-free, and living every day of your life gluten-free can tear you down. Sometimes, just knowing that you’re not alone out there is enough to help bring you back up.
Back when my journey as a Celiac began, I felt so lost. I had no one really to turn to for advice or assistance. I still remember numerous occassions where I would be standing in the grocery store, just bawling my eyes out over my new, much more expensive, food budget, stressing over products, trying not to have a panic attack because everything was just so overwhelming. Everything I was discovering about Celiac Disease was coming from the Internet and web blogs.
And yet…some of my closest friends and family still didn’t understand. And that, I believe, was the hardest part of my diagnosis. Where I needed support and encouragement…I wasn’t finding it. I was lost, and despite having a roommate who was attempting to help me through this, I did feel very lost and very alone.
One of my biggest supporters on this journey, however, has been my mom. I still remember the first Christmas I was home after my diagnosis…she had stocked up the pantry and the fridge with gluten-free items for me. She would always cook food that I could eat (and being a gluten-free vegetarian…that was sometimes harder than it sounds). I still remember being home this past year and she wanted to make her imitation Red Lobster biscuits, but wanted to do them so I could eat them too. So with Gluten-Free Bisquik in hand, she followed her recipe…and they came out, according to my dad, “chewy.” I will never forget it. So, she left them for me to eat…and then made regular ones for everyone else. I had made the same error when doing the biscuits myself so I was okay with eating them. I gave her so much praise for attempting and thanked her quite often for her effort.
Here I was…the only gluten-free member of my household, and she was doing everything in her power to make me feel like I wasn’t in it alone.
Fast forward to a week ago. My cell phone rang one night and it was my mom. She had some test results come back from her doctor’s office. She wanted me to know…I was no longer on my gluten-free journey alone. She had to go gluten-free as well.
Being that Celiac is hereditary, I often sort of wondered why I was all alone in this journey. My mom now assures me that I must have gotten it from her. When her doctor gave her the news, he started to list off places where she could get information. She immediately informed him that her eldest daughter was going to be an amazing resource for her as she made the transition and then…beyond that. We are already talking menues and baking and cooking. While I wish she didn’t have to alter her diet, she is just happy to have some answers for the problems she’s been having with her body.
So, in the midst of Celiac Awareness Month, my mom joined the ranks of the thousands of Celiacs in this world. I only hope that I can help her navigate her new path in life so that she doesn’t feel isolated and lost like I did.
And, of course, I’m always happy to pass on what I have learned, what I felt after my diagnosis, and, naturally, what products I have come to love and enjoy.
Gluten-free is sometimes a lifestyle choice…for me…it’s just my lifestyle.
As May comes to an end, I encourage everyone to continue to keep Celiac Disease on the radar. Continue to raise awareness of this disease and maybe, just maybe, it won’t seem as scary to people who are newly diagnosed or just don’t quite understand how gluten-free works. Share the knowledge you have whenever you can. If I can educate a waitress or a restaurant on cross-contamination, I do it right away, and they can usually meet my needs with a few simple changes. It’s amazing what people can do when they are made more aware of the needs of those who have to be completely gluten-free. This isn’t a fad diet. I never would have chosen to live life in this manner. But this is me…this is my life. And instead of fearing the unknown, I learned to embrace this lifestyle. I learned to try new things. I learned how to cook things differently. Every day is still a learning experience. But since my diagnosis, since I never hid it, I have had so many friends from high school who have had to change their diets turn to me for advice and help. And just like with my mom…I am happy to start them on their journey.
Karen Bradyhas been vegetarian since early 2010 and went gluten-free for medical reasons in February 2011. She is an avid runner in training for her upcoming first marathon. Other loves include cooking, traveling and writing, which she combines into her blog at http://veggiefoodlover.wordpress.com. She resides in Southern Indiana and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.