I have spent a good portion of this summer enjoying my time with my family, traveling, and not obsessing about celiac disease (which has led me to not write about it either!) Overall, I am comfortable with my gluten free household and life and have accepted my diagnosis. But, the other day, in part due to fatigue and in part due to accidentally eating a KIND bar with soy protein (soy is one of my other food intolerances and I feel like total garbage after eating it), I totally lost my calm. I found my 4-year-old, Gabby, eating a bag of Goldfish crackers when I picked her up from day camp. Instead of hugging and kissing her, and asking her about her day, like I should have, I began to obsess about celiac disease. Thoughts like, “Now I have to clean all of the gluten off of her face and I don’t have any napkins or wet wipes,” and, “Why the heck is she getting Goldfish crackers as a ‘healthy’ snack’?” and, “I cannot afford to get ‘glutened’ this week because I have to be able to work and function as a mom!” went through my mind. The encounter of picking up Gabby from camp quickly became “all about me,” which is one thing that I truly despise about this disease.
That very night I came across a timely article entitled “Everyday Life for Women with Celiac Disease” in which 16 Swedish women with celiac disease share their experiences. Amazingly, there has not been much published on this topic over the years, so I read it with much interest.
Here are some of the common themes that came up in the discussions in the study:
1. Celiac Disease affects a person’s entire life.
2. The experience of persistent fatigue, even after years on the gluten free diet.
3. Many women reported new signs and symptoms in other areas of the body, such as headaches, after starting the gluten free diet.
4. Anxiety about always having to plan ahead to have food to be able to safely eat and frustration at the lack of spontaneity associated with eating outside of the home.
5. Reluctance to attend parties and social events due to fears of gluten contamination.
6. Feelings of sadness, vulnerability, anger, and hopelessness surrounding having to follow the gluten free diet. Many women felt lonely in their struggles.
I have experienced #1-6 more times than I can count, and although it has gotten easier with time, I continue to struggle to explain to others how careful I need to be with eating food that is not prepared in my own kitchen. Many of my friends and family members have had no idea how careful I need to be about cross contamination, and that I have to avoid foods that not only contain gluten, but that are prepared on surfaces and in equipment where cross contamination might occur.
Reading about the experience of these women with celiac disease made me feel much less alone, much less “crazy,” and I realized that my reaction to Gabby’s Goldfish crackers was probably not as severe as I had initially thought. I have decided to be a little easier on myself and move on as I know that Gabby definitely already has. Also, when I pick her up today I’ll be better prepared with some wet wipes and paper towels to clean up the gluten crumbs!
Roos, Suzanne, Hellstrom, Ingrid, Hallert, Claes, and Wilhelmsson, Susan. Everyday Life for Women with Celiac Disease. Gastroenterology Nursing. 2013. 36(4), p. 266-273.