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Figuring It Out (Part 1)

So I’ve been thinking about blogging for a little while. Should I, shouldn’t I? Being unable to eat gluten for the past 7 months has already been a journey full of ups and downs, so I thought why not document it in someway? It always helps me to read about other people’s experiences (whether it be celiac related or about how to clean a tub without chemicals) so I thought maybe this could eventually help other people as well.

As a starting point I thought I should probably tell the story of how I realized I was gluten intolerant. It ended up being kind of a long story, so it’ll be a two-parter. Get comfy, because even the first part is a bit of a novel:

In the past few years, I’ve become more and more health-conscious. For a while I focused more on the exercise aspect of it, first by running, then by doing random cardio and light weights at the gym, then by doing yoga at the gym, then by taking yoga classes outside the gym, then by lifting heavy weights. Last November when came time to renew my monthly gym membership, I happened to not so much as have two pennies to rub together (this is before they stopped producing pennies in Canada, mind you) so I figured I’d take a break, especially with the holidays coming up.

Around the same time I wasn’t feeling too well. Earlier in the fall work had been extremely busy and stressful, and that combined with with my regular rotation of days shifts and overnight shifts left me feeling burnt out. My work rotation is four shifts on and then you get five shifts off. All twelve-hour shifts, that is.

I assumed I must just not have recovered fully from the busy time and took a little extra rest when I needed it and started taking more naps. Try as I may, however, the exhaustion I was feeling would not go away. By December I was sleeping at least twelve hours every night and despite that still having a very hard time getting out of bed. I’d get up, around 10 or 11 in the morning (on my days off), have breakfast, get washed and maybe do a couple other things, but by early afternoon I just couldn’t force myself to stay awake any more. I’d lay on the couch or get back in bed and take an afternoon nap that lasted 2 to 3 hours. Wake up, still groggy, maybe eat something, keep myself busy until I would be right back to bed by 8 or 9 pm.

I had always loved my work rotation because, hello, five days off! But at this point I would literally sleep away all five of them. I wasn’t living anymore. What was the point of having five days off if you couldn’t enjoy them?

It got to the point that I started to realize that I wasn’t just still tired from having worked overnights. This wasn’t your average I-didn’t-sleep-enough-last-night kind of fatigue. It was crushing and consuming. I had been on this work rotation for months, and it had never taken me more than a day or so to recover from working nights. I had to take some kind of action.

I made an appointment to see my doctor sometime in mid-December and explained the situation to him. He sent me for blood and urine tests, but told me that he honestly didn’t think they would find anything; he thought I was just feeling this way because of overnight shifts.

I came back for a follow up appointment at the end of December and it turned out he was right. All my tests were fine. He pretty much left it at that and I left, feeling disappointed. I started contemplating what I could do next. If overnights were the problem, I would have to find a way to not work them anymore, which was much easier said than done. I was barely a year into a career in healthcare; people working in the field for much longer than me were still doing their share of overnights. I felt defeated.

The holidays were in full swing and, like most North Americans, my diet wasn’t looking all that great. At work there was an endless stream of junk food, and it looked pretty much the same at home and at family and friend’s. I was feeling horrible and bloated all the time and to make matters worst I could no longer get my go-to jeans up past my thighs and so, also like most North Americans, I decided that come New Year’s, I was going ultra-healthy.

Like,¬†really healthy. Healthier than I had ever gone before. By that time I was hearing a lot about the whole gluten-free trend and decided, why not? We all know that loaves of white bread, pies and cakes aren’t that healthy to begin with, so why not go all the way and eliminate¬†all gluten? I actually took the plunge a few days before New Year’s, around the 27th I think, to the chagrin of my boyfriend, Jeff. We still had days of pigging-out to do!

Nonetheless I hit the grocery store and bought a cartful of fruits, vegetables, meats and nuts as well as other naturally gluten-free foods. After a bit of research about juicing and blending, I also bought myself a Nutribullet and started making smoothies. Now I love cooking, and love being healthy, so January was awesome. I loved having delicious green smoothies in the morning and plates of veggies and meats in the evening.

I started feeling amazing. I couldn’t believe it. I had my five days off again! When I opened my eyes in the morning, I didn’t immediately want to shut them tightly again and sleep for another four hours. I was AWAKE, simply. Energized. I was myself again, if not better than before. I could put my jeans on again! So the tiredness and brain fog was just because of bad holiday eating, I thought. How silly of me not to have realized.

Then one Saturday night near the end of January, we decided to treat ourselves. (After partaking in the holiday feasts with me, Jeff had eaten healthily with me all through the month. He had no reason to eliminate gluten but he had no problems with joining me on this experiment, despite his love of sandwiches.) So we had a few drinks and ordered pizza and garlic fingers and ate all night. After nursing a mild hangover on Sunday, Monday arrived. Oh, Monday.

I slept for three days. The exact same crushing, exhausting fatigue and brain fog that had plagued me for months was back, worst than ever. A light bulb finally went off in my head: GLUTEN.

I began researching celiac online. I couldn’t believe all the symptoms that matched! This was it, I finally had an answer. I was beyond relieved. Celiac and gluten intolerances can be so difficult to diagnose because often the symptoms only appear days after having ingested celiac. So if you’re eating bread every day, everything overlaps and it becomes almost impossible to pinpoint which food is making you sick. Generally I find I have some bloating and a mild to moderate stomach ache an hour or two after I have gluten but the fatigue only comes a day or two after. For me personally, it seems that the neurological symptoms are much worst than the gastrointestinal ones. I know some people suffer from very severe diarrhea right after a meal of gluten; thankfully that isn’t the case with me. I learned that joint pain is also a symptom. I had recurring shoulder pain for years; nothing was wrong according to an x-ray and a bone scan. it wasn’t a very severe pain, more like an annoying ache that would come and go. This shoulder pain disappeared completely with the elimination of gluten and reappeared hours after I had some. This was all such a revelation for me!

My birthday this year was the last time I intentionally had gluten. My mom was making me spaghetti with her amazing homemade sauce and chocolate cake with boiled icing. I had just days prior come to the conclusion that gluten was the culprit but it seemed like too short a notice to get her to change the whole menu so I went and ate everything and enjoyed it. I ended up paying for it, of course, but that was it. My final farewell to gluten.