The following story is very personal to me but I feel that it is important to share my journey. My life has drastically changed over the past few years and it helped inspire me to create recipes and start my blog. I have learned so much about the human body and how important proper nutrition is. I am not a doctor, nutritionist, etc but I do have personal experience and know how diet changes have worked for my family.
My story starts back in 2008. My life changed for the better – my son was born. I was barely 20 years old but I had always been a little “older” for my age so I was ready. He was perfect. I also married my best friend and soul mate. Life was great – for about two years. It wasn’t until the summer of 2010 that I noticed a change in myself. I was pretty stressed; we were buying a new house, I was switching jobs, my husband and I just graduated college, I was getting into my Master’s degree and had normal daily stresses. I’ve always been able to handle stress well – at least I thought I was.
Slowly my life got more hectic and I started feeling poorly. At first it was just once in a while – maybe a few times a month. For the first couple months I just thought I couldn’t get rid of a nasty stomach bug. This continued off and on for the next several months, just gradually getting worse. I was getting more anxious at school and work and my social life was becoming non-existent. I had a busy toddler, practically a full-time job and was trying to finish my Master’s a semester early. In 2011, my symptoms were occurring daily. Every time I ate I felt sick or got sick. I’ll spare you the nasty details but food quickly became my enemy. I wasn’t ever a sick person. When all of this started happening so often I didn’t know what to do. I do not like bringing attention upon myself so I struggled within and just kept my outside appearance as normal as possible.
One of my worst and best memories occurred every Sunday afternoon. My mom is Catholic and I was raised Catholic – so are my children. Our priest reverends over 3 other parishes so we have options when we want to go to mass. Every Sunday, my mom, my husband (not Catholic), my son and I would load up and drive about 20 minutes to 10:30am mass. Our local mass is on Saturday evening but my mom didn’t feel it was “right” to go on Saturdays. Right after mass we drove another 10 minutes or so to a local town that had better options for dining. We would pick a place to eat lunch and just enjoy each other’s company for a little while. It was my favorite time of the week – until 2011. I didn’t have the heart to tell my mom or my husband that every time we went out to eat after mass, I immediately got sick to my stomach. I wanted to continue to enjoy our time together and didn’t want to inconvenience anyone. This continued for a few months until I started encouraging my family to go to mass on Saturday evenings (mornings were the worst for me). One of my downfalls is that I have always worried about everyone else but me. I tried to suck it up and just do whatever they wanted. It wasn’t just my mom or my husband at church – it was any event with any person. I literally hated to go anywhere.
Fast-forward a couple months and we are at the end of 2011. By now I have lost about 30 pounds. It wasn’t that I developed an eating disorder but kind of. Basically, every time I ate, I got sick. So my easiest solution was just to not eat so I wouldn’t get sick. Now I ate every day. Did I always eat breakfast? No. Did I always eat three meals a day? No. Should I have eaten more? Yes. Did I do the right thing? No. I didn’t know what to do; I was lost and didn’t know where to turn. My family is supportive and helpful, but I am a private person. I do not like people fussing over me. I do not like talking about getting sick all the time – and this was a personal discussion that I refused to have.
Finally at the end of 2011 I couldn’t hide it anymore. Obviously my husband noticed and slowly more of my family and friends started noticing. Then the comments began – some very hurtful and hateful. “Why don’t you eat?” “Why are you trying to lose weight?” “Are you one of those skinny people who thinks they are fat?” and then the worst (many times said with the impression that I was out of hearing distance) “Is she on drugs?”. I have no control over what other people will think or say for that matter. God made me who I am and I’m happy with that. I am not confrontational or argumentative. Did these comments hurt? Yes, very much so.
In December I proudly graduated with my Master’s degree and started my full-time job. In January of 2012, I began some testing to figure out what was wrong. I had made it through what I thought was the busiest part of my life and figured I would get better soon. My family doctor thought my problems were due to a faulty gallbladder. So I began testing for that. On January 7th, I got even more startling news – I was pregnant (barely far enough along to make a positive test). Regardless – my doctor insisted on no more testing until I saw my OB. For a moment, I was extremely happy. We had always wanted more children and I felt that financially we were in the right place (compared to last time).
Upon my first OB doctor visit, we learned that NOTHING would be done to remove my gallbladder during pregnancy unless absolutely necessary. I was put on a pretty strict, bland, low-fat diet. Looking back, my pregnancy was the best I had felt in so many months. I think part of it had to do with the fact that I couldn’t allow myself to not eat or not try my best as I was growing a human. I couldn’t give up because I had another person counting on me. In September, my healthy baby girl was born. She completed our family and is absolutely perfect. Unfortunately, her birth only seemed to worsen my problems.
I gained 12 pounds while I was pregnant. I was back to my pre-pregnancy weight the day I got home from the hospital. I never wore maternity jeans (just lots of leggings!) At 6 months after, I was down another 10 pounds. My wonderful husband went to stealth weight gain mode. He was like a calorie ninja. We tried smoothies, trail mix, more snacks, 6 mini meals a day, protein shakes – anything to add a few calories. I learned something through this – it is just as hard to gain weight sometimes as it is to lose weight. I was eating all of the time but still getting sick.
Back to the doctor I went – he was surprised I was still losing and referred me to a gastroenterologist and I had my first scope done. Here’s where it gets ugly. Long story short I became a lab rat. After my first scope, that GI doc wasn’t going to be able to see me for 2 more months. That wasn’t acceptable. The only information I received from that doctor was “Do you know if you have gluten intolerance? Because that’s what it sounds like.” So I gave up gluten and I referred myself to a new GI doctor. He was better and wanted to help. He quickly scheduled more tests. At this point I was searching for every possible motive to keep me going.
Some may say “well isn’t your kids motive enough?” Yes. They should be. What no one seemed to understand (and still doesn’t) was that I saw myself as a failure as a mother. I couldn’t take my son to the park because I was scared I’d get sick. I could hardly hold my hefty daughter when she cried for me because I simply did not have the strength to pick her up. I felt like a bad wife because I know I was not a fun person to be around anymore. My husband never quit. He tried to give me what strength and encouragement he could. He really is a godsend. He went to my appointments with me. He picked up my trial prescriptions. After 3 months of various tests and numerous prescription meds to try, my GI doctor had pretty much done what he thought he could. At that time I was on 7 different medications, I wasn’t sleeping; I didn’t have any energy and worse yet was I wasn’t feeling much better. I had been tested for Celiac (negative), Crohn’s, ulcers, cancers, Lyme disease, rheumatoid arthritis, etc. I had no real substantial information to go off of. What I did find was that I may have a gluten sensitivity and that my intestines were faulty. My doctor prescribed medications off of hunches as there are so many different types of intestinal issues – many of which are hard to diagnose I’ve learned.
There I was, 25 years old with a great husband and 2 healthy children and I hated my life. I didn’t hate them, I hated myself and I hated the situation. I knew a lot of things that I didn’t have, which is nice. However, I still had nothing to help me feel better and was popping 7 pills day with the false hopes of feeling better. I spent thousands of dollars on tests for no results that could help. I had drained our finances and still weighed less than 100 pounds with zero energy and was completely depressed. I finally decided I could not be that person anymore. I did not want my children to have a mother who as my son says “is always sick.” I did not want to be the wife that my husband can’t go on a date with (even if we have a babysitter) because I will get sick. If doctors couldn’t help me, I figured I’d might as well try myself.
After I pretty much hit rock bottom, I looked into a program offered at KU Medical Center. I found the doctor I am currently seeing along with a nutritionist there. I could not believe all of the information I was able to get there. They ran their own tests (along with reviewing my previous test results) and found out all sorts of things. I have Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity. My parents are both have the genetic background that was passed to me. Because I did not know what was going on with my body, I was literally destroying it. My doctor ran my nutrient levels and found that I was severely deficient in almost all of them. My intestines were not working (due to a “leaky” gut) and my body was not absorbing anything. I was a little shocked to see all of the results but very thankful that I at least had information to start making a plan. Nutrition counseling and supplements were the first priority for me at this point. It was all overwhelming but I have learned so much.
I’ve done a LOT of reading on different things. Every time my doctors “diagnosed” me with what they thought I had, I read up on it. I researched the diets, the symptoms, the medications, etc. I also turned to God. If anything good has come of this little problem I’ve had, it is that our faith has grown immensely. My husband was even baptized! I’ve always had God in my life but just not enough. I went to church but I wasn’t really “there” all of the time. I prayed but again, I wasn’t really paying enough attention, just going through the motions. I know that I am fortunate in many ways, but I didn’t really appreciate it. No doctor, book or medication can give me hope and patience. These were two of the things that I needed most.
Our family is much closer; we appreciate each other so much more and try to help each other. A lot of social interactions and family rewards are centered on food. That has changed for us. We have special treat nights – we just stay home and make our own. We don’t go out to eat much – but we do go to the grocery store and buy stuff to make our own ice cream sundaes, or “happy meals”. My husband and I now have date night on Saturdays. We wait until the kids go to sleep and we have a nice, quiet dinner at our kitchen table and then watch a movie. Is it always ideal? No. Are there days when I’m worn out and want to just go to McDonald’s for the sake of convenience? Yes. Our priorities have changed. Some say I have turned into a “health nut” or I’m the “weird” mom. I mean what mom doesn’t give their kids fast food and donuts or candy to eat occasionally? This one and I’m fine with it. My daughter probably won’t know what she’s missing out on. My son on the other hand used to get all of those things and now he doesn’t. It’s a struggle but I believe it is important to teach your children healthy habits. He has started to come around. I really don’t think he will ever like asparagus or kale. He does ask for eggs, spinach, carrots, etc. This makes me happy and hopeful for our future. Our approach to eating is not to lose weight; it is to heal my body and also keep us healthy. We are a team and that is most important; we do things as a family. We are still learning every day and I imagine that will be an ongoing process.
I am not writing this to seek attention or to make anyone feel bad for me. I do not want any of that. I am writing this for those who feel the way that I do. I am writing this for those that know me and are curious. I am writing this for those who do not know me but speculate. I started this blog because I needed a way to keep my thoughts. I also needed something to help take my mind off of my pain and problems. I have to keep food journals anyway so I figured this was a more creative approach. My favorite hobby is cooking. I have shelves of cookbooks that I love to read. I have many that came from my grandmother and mother. I love going back through my grandma’s cookbooks and finding her handwritten notes about a recipe. I was devastated when I had to give up the kind of cooking I was raised on and knew about. However, eventually I became more proactive about it and decided I could still cook recipes I learned from my family; I just had to modify them a little. I basically had to start over as gluten-free cooking is different from traditional cooking. It’s definitely a trial-and-error process but I’m learning. So now I have two hobbies – I love cooking and I love writing recipes (either blogging or just writing). While I know that my struggles are far from over and it may be a while before I have two consecutive days that I feel good, I also know that I can have happiness and a positive outlook. I just needed a little love from my family, patience from God, hope for a better tomorrow and that has brought joy back into my life.