The Brave New World: Living Gluten Free

Gluten was one of the first things to be eliminated from my diet when I started working with my Nutritional Therapy Practitioner.  I have a nephew with Celiac, so I was not foreign to the concept; but, that does not make it less difficult either.  In fact, I gave up gluten, soy, dairy, corn and beef.  What does that leave me to eat?  That was the same question I had! It turned out that I had plenty of edible choices.  It’s just that none of those included anything that came in a box, carton or package.  And it definitely meant that my shopping had to expand beyond the Neighborhood Walmart store.  The change was a challenge, but the results were apparent as well.  I took an 80/20- Better-Than attitude (eating clean and sticking to the restrictions at least 80% of the time and choosing options that were “better than” other options).  I plowed forward with my new lifestyle dragging my family with me.  I had the idea that I could still have gluten or corn or dairy sometimes as long as I didn’t eat it too often.

Eventually, I came to understand that gluten had a bigger impact on my body than I first thought.  Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis was showing up in my bloodwork and gluten is believed to trigger the autoimmune response similar to Celiac Disease, but the body attacks the thyroid gland vs. the digestive system.  So, I doubled down and began to really focus on removing all gluten from my diet.  I didn’t realize how critical this was until I caved in a moment of hurry and hunger and the overwhelming desire for a hamburger.  A few hours later my heart was racing, my anxiety spiked, and I was more irritable than a swarm of wasps knocked from their nest.   It took me three days to recover.  It was at that moment I truly understood food allergies and the severity.  I began to ask waiters about gluten in meals and having them double check with the chef.  I became that annoying person with the food sensitivity that we laugh at in YouTube videos (which I find more humorous now than ever before).  My mistake now was trusting the servers.

Even when the server says that a meal is “gluten free” or “gluten sensitive”, when the menu has those cute little “gf” indicators next to the items, it is still not a guarantee that it is not contaminated with gluten.  There are a couple of places that I have learned to trust in my experience: El Chico and Spring Creek BBQ–minus the hot bread ;-(.  But, eating the same thing every time we go out can be pretty boring, so occasionally we will try out a new place.  So far, I’m batting 1000 at new places claiming gf options and finding out the hard way that their claims were false.  Last week I had the worst reaction so far.   We tried a new Mexican restaurant and both the server and the manager assured me that I could eat the enchiladas espinaca.  At 2am they were proved wrong.  I didn’t sleep for the next 36 hours.  When I finally did sleep for four hours I woke up unable to move, my limbs feeling like they were filled with cement.  My sweet Angela became my nurse and gave me the supplements I needed to support my body through the reaction.  What started as a wonderful date on Thursday evening, would lead to the next 5 days in bed.

I am not happy about it.  Eating out and getting the break from planning and cooking a meal is a huge treat form me.  At the same time, playing Russian Roulette with my body is just not worth the risk.  So, I face another change of attitude.  It is a new reality that when I travel I will have to prepare my own food in advance for the length of my trip.  I will probably be packing my griddle and Instant Pot to cook in the hotel room.  And family gatherings will not mean a day of munchies and treats that I didn’t have to prepare.  It will mean extra preparation and planning to make sure that I have food to eat that is safe for me.  But, I’m no different than anyone else with special needs.  It is part of the reality and the struggle.  I’m puttin’ on my big girl pants and taking this challenge head on.  Last night we had our first date night since the incident.  I planned the meal, my kids cooked it and served my husband and I in our bedroom.  We ate at a card table with a candle.  The kids kept popping in out of newfound curiosity.  It was such a great learning opportunity for them.  It is important for kids to see their parents in love and on dates.  It was an opportunity for us to receive their service of love as well.  After dinner, we snuck out the back door and went for a swim undetected by the kids.  It was refreshing and relaxing and the first swim in years where kids weren’t on top of me in the pool.  I guess that is exactly what it means to make lemonade out of lemons.  And I’m happy to do just that.  After all, lemons are naturally gluten free.

The Healing Journey

I’m still climbing that mountain, y’all. It is actually getting a little easier to climb with each day. In fact, I’ve been doing so much climbing I failed to share my journey with you and for that I am sorry! Even if my story can touch one heart and encourage that person to keep going, well, I feel like I should share it. I left off last Fall and the new year brought lots of changes to my life.

My faithful friend who came daily from 9am-2pm to help with the kids was ready to move on to a new chapter in her life as her youngest began school. So, I hired two young women to replace her. The change of helpers from day-to-day and the struggle to keep everyone on the same page with homeschooling and kids’ schedules and needs was real. My helpers were great, but then one of them got a better job offer in January and the other was having a baby. At this same time, my oldest daughter went into super-achiever mode and graduated from high school 9 months early and started her new phase of life as a…wait for it…Nanny.  For other families.  And that was a great move for her, but it was another huge blow for me.  God was telling me that it was time to take the training wheels off and ride this bike on my own. I was scared. I just didn’t think I could do it.  Taking one day at a time, and sometimes one hour at a time we  somehow, someway (spelled G-R-A-C-E) made it. I was riding the bike all on my own again, a little wobbly and lots of huffing and puffing. It was very challenging.  And it was Lent.

One of the most fascinating aspects of my journey has been how it seems to follow the liturgical calendar and this Lent was no exception. The first week of lent was my first week without those training wheels.  And just to prove His point, all six kids and I caught a cold that week, so I didn’t have the option of bringing in help even if I could find someone to hire.  That first Sunday in Lent we went to Mass and Fr. Luke offered the Sacrament of the anointing of the Sick. My son looked up at me, his eyes locking with mine and the message came across loud and clear, “Mom, you better go up and receive this Sacrament or I will pull you to Father myself.” He didn’t even say a word and I knew what he was thinking–I was thinking it too. As I waited patiently for the lines to form and move forward, I felt that I would be healed. It was an interior message and my heart and my mind recognized it at the same instant.  After receiving the anointing of oil on my forehead and hands, I was instantly free from the emotional torment, the struggle with anxiety, depression, guilt was all gone. It was incredible.  I told Patrick when we got home, but I was reluctant to share with others.  I still had doubts and didn’t want to be disappointed if I fell ill again.  My body was still weak from the fight. Lent proved to be a time of rebuilding my muscles and my thought process. It was a time of re-learning who God created me to be. It was a time to rise again, pick up my cross and continue to move forward.  And it was a time to learn to trust the Lord.  To trust that He can and did heal me.  To trust that whether I fell ill again or regained 100% health, the Lord was, is and always will be in control–He created me, He loves me and He will never abandon me.

On Good Friday, we went up to Larryland (affectionately named by my children, Larryland is 70 raw acres of natural Texas beauty land belonging to my brother). I had mentioned to Larry that we wanted to spend Good Friday out there and hike while reflecting on the Stations of the Cross. Well, he and Julie arrived ahead of us and marked off the “Stations” with white tape.  The hike would take us down and through a deep ravine, climbing the hill at the 14th station, marked with a six-foot cross they had made from some cleared cedar wood. It was incredibly moving. It also marked the first mile-long hike I was able to walk in several years. Easter Saturday was at my sister’s ranch in East Texas with family, fishing, a pot luck lunch and the big Egg Hunt. Sunday was the highlight with Mass, followed by 8 of our 9 children and Patrick’s parents joining us for lunch and a day of relaxation and games. And I was still standing on Monday morning, praise God!  It was a true blessing and a small miracle for me when one considers that the March before I was unable to even leave my bedroom due to paralyzing anxiety.  Easter is truly the greatest miracle of all as Christ rose from the dead and promising us all new life in Him.  It is an incredible gift to share in even a fraction of His suffering and the experience of His resurrection.  Alleluia!  He is Risen Indeed.