How the unpleasant phrase “G***** F***” is changing my life
May 4th, 2014
A few years ago I started feeling sick. A lot. I felt nauseated. I felt uncomfortable. I felt exhausted and unable to focus. I began sleeping for at least 10 hours a night. Food often lost its appeal. I had no idea what was happening or how to fix it. So instead of trying to find a solution, I went home from work every day, skipped dinner, drank a beer, and went to sleep. It sounds more self-destructive now than it felt at the time.
About a year ago, my doctor had suggested I try some restricted diets to try to rule out various possibilities, so I begrudgingly tried a couple of things. I cut out alcohol. Little change. I cut out coffee. Little change. I cut out dairy. Little change. That didn’t leave much left to test with, but having grown up with a fast metabolism and no severe food allergies, I was not ready to entertain the thought that I may be unable to consume a nutritional staple. So instead of trying to cut out the next thing the doctor suggested, I loudly proclaimed something I would later come to regret:
“If I ever have to go gluten free, I will hate myself.”
Spoiler alert: At least those words are something I can still eat.
After my symptoms became much worse in recent months, I saw a specialist who suggested that gluten intolerance was one of three possibilities. Upon her suggestion, I finally took the plunge and completely cut gluten from my diet. Lo and behold, most of my symptoms were eliminated or greatly alleviated within days. And just like that, I have been thrust into a foreign world of restricted eating: checking food labels, asking for alternative menus, and shopping expensive specialty aisles. This world also carries with it a high risk of cancer, autoimmune disease, and neurological damage… so I’m taking it pretty seriously.
The strangest part of this experience is what prompted me to write all of this out in the first place, which is the social interactions and stigma around being “one of those gluten free people.” I’ve found that, when I tell people about this part of myself, they react in one of two ways: sympathy or skepticism. I can appreciate the sympathy; it’s the skepticism that concerns me.
I’m amazed at the number of people who try to tell me that I probably don’t actually have a gluten intolerance, because it’s just a trend right now and someone they know was told by a doctor that they were gluten intolerant, but they were WRONG! Okay, I understand that may have been the case for that individual and you may be trying to educate or warn me, but don’t play doctor. I shouldn’t have to tell you all of my symptoms to prove that I’m not lying.
Another reaction that I’ve gotten more than once has been, “Gluten free people piss me off, but at least you have an excuse to be one.” I see this as a weak attempt at sympathy and understanding, but it isn’t reassuring in the least. Seriously. Imagine this statement about any other kind of person: ” [Different] people piss me off, but at least you have an excuse to be one.”
Please remember that everyone else’s situation is equally as valid as that of the individual who you know. Yes, the rates of those with gluten intolerance are much higher now than, say, 20 years ago, but that doesn’t mean that our medical problems are a trend to be looked upon with disdain. You’re judging the individual who is suffering by their annoying dietary needs; we shouldn’t have to validate or prove the reality of our suffering. Not to mention that this reaction is what makes me embarrassed to ask where the “gluten free” aisle is.
For those concerned, I’ll be undergoing more tests in the coming weeks to determine more specific details about my personal case. In the meantime, I’m doing my best to embrace, understand, and educate others about these new restrictions. If you care about someone in a similar situation, I encourage you to do the same.