I knew something was wrong beginning in the sixth grade when I asked my mom to write a note to my teacher. I was constantly having stomach aches and I was in the bathroom more times than I was practicing fractions and multiplication; it got so bad that even though I was known as a “good” kid, my teachers were beginning to think I was smoking pot or doing drugs during my countless trips to the bathroom.
So, my mom wrote a note.
In fact, she wrote a note to every teacher I had in middle school and by the time I got to high school, I managed to sneak in the bathroom between classes – it somehow seemed easier to hide it that way. When I was in college, it was more of the same. I didn’t need my mom to write my professors a note, but I was still learning how to survive with my atomic stomach.
I saw numerous physicians over the course of several years and I was constantly told time and time again that I had a combination of two things: IBS better known as “Irritable Bowel Syndrome” and I suffered from “nerves.” In my mind, this was a gently way of saying I was always teetering on the brink of a breakdown and my stomach aches were a manifestation of that. Nice.
However, the IBS seemed to occur more and more from the different combinations of foods I was eating at a particular time, or so that’s what I was lead to believe. For example, my stomach couldn’t bear to withstand a pasta dish covered in globs of red sauce followed by a cup of coffee or ice-cream. Sometimes I found out the hard way, like the time I ate pancakes stuffed with warm apples on an airplane. Yeah, that didn’t go over too well.
Over time, I learned the different foods I knew I couldn’t eat together since my body couldn’t digest it properly, or so I was told, and although my symptoms would go away from time to time, I was still in the bathroom more than I care to admit.
During my college graduation, one of the most exciting times in my life – I wasn’t stressing about my hair or what I was going to wear that day, I was stressing over the idea that a bathroom would not be close. What will I do if I have to go? We’ll be in the middle of the football field, in front of thousands of people, what will I doooooo?
Well, I stood up during the middle of a compelling speech (you know, the kind of speech where you could hear a pin drop in a stadium filled by thousands) and kindly asked each graduate sitting in my row to excuse me as I quickly trampled over their feet trying to reach the end of the row. I then trekked across the entire length of the football field in the blazing sun to beg a security officer to open the bathroom for me.
I missed a huge part of my college graduation because I was in the bathroom. I feel like I missed out on a lot of things – because I was always in the bathroom.
Directly out of college, I started teaching full-time so you would think by now I would have this stomach thing all straightened out. But again, I heard more of the same. Stay away from dairy products after a heavy meal, especially anything acidic such as red sauce. Don’t drink coffee on an empty stomach. Blah blah blah.
Fast forward nearly 17 years later and I was still living with my atomic stomach. But this time, it was different.
About two months ago, I had an important meeting scheduled for 9am. About 8am, atomic stomach showed up right on schedule. I was in and out of the bathroom for roughly twenty minutes. At 8:45am, I needed to go back in one more time before the meeting and the bathroom was out of service – the cleaning ladies were in.
And then the fear struck me – just as it always has for all of these years. What will I doooooo? What am I supposed to say, “Ummmm, excuse me, I know we just started the meeting, but I need to leave and use the bathroom.”
At that very moment, staring down the corridor to witness the bathroom out of service and knowing atomic stomach could erupt at any moment was more than I could handle.
I had enough.
This just can’t be IBS. It can’t be nerves. There’s GOT to be something more to this.
So, I made an appointment with a specialist and after several weeks of pretty invasive testing, my doctor sat me down. For the first time in twenty-five years, the mystery was solved.
My doctor told me I have Celiac Disease. And I cried – not out of discomfort, or worry, or nerves – but I cried in relief.
For the first time in over two decades, someone finally got it right. And ever since, I’ve been reading and learning everything I can about gluten, what gluten does to my body, why I need to rid gluten from my diet, and how to live a gluten-free life.
I’m not going to get all technical on you and I don’t have plans on posting g-free recipes or begin a g-free blog. So you’re probably wondering why I even wrote this post.
I shared this because everyone has a story. And this is my story.
You may not suffer from atomic stomach like I have (in fact, you might not suffer at all) but you may have a gluten sensitivity. Or you may know someone with the disease who can relate this post. If only one person connected to this post, I’m glad to have shared my story.
I want to learn as much as I can about this disease, especially because I’m living with it. The problem is, we’re not doing enough about it in this country. Dr. Peter Green, Professor of Clinical Medicine and The Director of the Celiac Disease Center at Columbia University, says that only 5% of those living with the disease are diagnosed in America. In countries such as Finland, Italy, and Ireland, that percentage is much greater, since those countries have a great awareness about the disease.
Why aren’t we receiving this diagnosis in United States? Mainly because the pharmaceutical industry hasn’t supported medical research or education about this disease. Why? The simple answer – because they can’t make money off of it. There’s no therapy, pill, or costly remedy to fix this disease. The only thing you have to do is remove gluten from your diet!
I am not a doctor, but if you know in your gut something just isn’t right, go get checked and request blood tests that actually test for this disease. Educate yourself and try to find the cause of what’s giving you pain. Don’t wait twenty-five years like I did to accept prior diagnoses that simply are not true.
I hope in time, we begin to spread awareness about this disease in the United States since it affects so many people who don’t even know they have it.
I was one of them, until now.
Everyone has a story – what’s yours?