Part 1 of 2 Finding out that I was allergic or intolerant to certain food groups didn’t feel much like freedom. I first had to remove wheat from my diet about 12 years ago and free from food at the time was particularly awful. Sandwiches had once been a staple lunch for me, but suddenly the bread was small, odd looking and often crumbled before you could assemble the sandwich! Thankfully, free from foods have improved vastly over the years and there are now many wonderful, delicious options to choose from.
No matter how you look at it, the reality of these allergies and intolerances is that I will always experience times when managing a meal is a bit harder or I may have to miss out on the birthday cake; free from options aren’t always provided. I’ve learned to pack snack bars or flapjacks in my handbag before going to someone’s house for dinner, partly in case I am hungry and can’t eat anything there, but also to ease the burden on others when they struggle to cater for my dietary requirements.
It has been a strange experience for me that many people treat my dietary requirements as optional. They respond as though I’m being fussy and awkward, they plead with me to just indulge in these foods as a “one off” or to give up on being free from entirely. They treat my dietary restrictions as the problem; but for me, it’s a very different story.
I was a healthy child, rarely getting sick. In my teens I began to face ill health, beginning with Tonsilitis when I was 13, Glandular Fever when I was 14, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome at age 15, a diagnosis that was replaced by Fibromyalgia when that started at age 17. They told me #Fibromyalgia was lifelong with no known cure, lacking even in treatment. The various medications they tried me on all failed. Like many others with Fibromyalgia, I seemed to develop allergies to everything: medication allergies, respiratory allergies, allergies to I-don’t-know-what and #FoodAllergies.
I first gave up wheat in the hope it would ease my irritable bowel syndrome (yet another illness, symptomatic of fibromyalgia). While my stomach did settle with the change, I also noticed a decrease in my pain levels. Over the years I discovered that when I ate wheat, my pain became so great that I was often confined to my bed, unable to move and struggling to stifle the screams of agony. I also seemed to have a weaker immune system and was forever getting sick with colds and flu-like illnesses, which hit me ten times harder than the average person.
People don’t like to talk about it, but the suicide rate among people with Fibromyalgia is awfully high. Pushing through pain every minute of every day is exhausting, but when it becomes so debilitating that you can hardly live your life, it often begins to feel like life just isn’t worth it. I was missing out on my university classes, unable to hang out with friends, cancelling last minute on people’s birthdays and eventually out of sight became out of mind. It’s a sad fact of chronic illness that we often seem to fade away; nobody ever intends to forget us, but eventually the invites stop coming and we become quite forgotten.
Giving up wheat didn’t fix my #Fibromyalgia, but it drastically reduced my pain levels. When I stopped eating wheat, I had less days confined to my bed and a greater ability to be present with my friends. Over time, various aspects of my chronic illness have fluctuated in intensity, largely improving as I have learned more about nutrition and worked to understand my body’s needs and respond accordingly.
My wheat intolerance seemed to develop into more of an allergy as even skin contact seems to cause a rash. I’ve given up gluten entirely and dairy. I also work with including certain foods and supplements in my diet; using ginger or peppermint to treat nausea, apple cider vinegar for acid reflux and all manner of other natural remedies. I have grown to have a deep love for my body and I’m on a journey of discovery, learning to recognise what my body needs and regaining a vibrant life where I can live in harmony with my body, instead of feeling at war with it.
Food restrictions and other dietary changes are not the whole answer, but they are a huge piece of the puzzle. I’ve spent much time working through alternative remedies and seeking lifestyle changes that support my health and somehow, the impossible seems to have happened: I am getting my life back.
Other people see the missed pieces of birthday cake, they get annoyed when I don’t eat the “gluten free” food they prepared and then laid out touching the gluten containing foods, they moan that I’m just being awkward and plead with me to just eat regular food; th