I honestly can’t tell you how long I was sick. Every time I think about it I realize that something else I lived with was probably another symptom. I was so used to feeling crappy all the time that I didn’t even know I was feeling crappy. I just soldiered on, living day to day, only taking breaks when it was unbearable.
I remember taking so many days off during 2009 that I used up all of my sick leave. And there were oh so many days that I dragged myself to work, stumbling through the day, barely keeping down breakfast. I got to know the staff at the local Japanese restaurant (terribly overpriced, not particularly good, but walking distance from my office) by face if not name, because all I could stand to eat when I was feeling sick was teriyaki chicken, or chicken soup (which is surprisingly difficult to find at lunchtime). I found temporary relief – sometimes – using fresh pineapple, or pineapple enzyme pills, to help break down the food I was eating (the enzymes in pineapple and papaya are excellent for digestion, something I found out in my rounds of trial-and-error).
I cut out various foods from my diet. Reintroduced them. Bought boxes of Lactaid and Breathe Right strips. Used steroids on my fingers where they’d break out in allergy-related fluid-filled hives. Took innumerable doses of Aleve and Glucosamine for aching joints. Shopped for larger pants when mine got too uncomfortable to button. I just figured I was gaining weight.
I knew I felt best when I ate lots of fruits and veggies. But beyond that? I couldn’t tell right from left with my eating habits, which were actually generally better than most of my friends’, and my (very slender) husband’s. And it didn’t seem like I was allergic to any one thing.
Of course now I know that I was mainly allergic to two. That, together, are found in so very many foods in our country that I’m surprised I didn’t feel miserable every single day of my life. I guess the fact that I love cooking saved me, somewhat, since I haven’t eaten many processed foods since I first moved out on my own after college. But I was obviously hurting myself. Poisoning myself. Not on purpose, of course, but that didn’t lessen the severity.
During the months of June and July of this year, I didn’t have a single day where my “tummy troubles” didn’t happen. I had days where I felt better than others, of course. But “normal” became, for me, rushing to the bathroom when I woke up, and perhaps once before I left the house for work, and when I got home from work, and before I went to bed. Awful cramping and dehydration, despite drinking a gallon or more of water each day. I kept looking at myself in the mirror and thinking I needed new pants. I’d unbutton the top of my jeans at my desk, so they didn’t dig in to me. I woke up sore every day. I laid awake for hours, even when I was using Breathe Right strips to help with my breathing, and was always tired. I was at a job I loved, and loving my business. But I felt increasingly awful.
Because it sort of happened gradually, over the course of months and years, I didn’t really pay it much attention. I mean, I’d complain about it. But that was it.
Until it wasn’t it. Until I got fed up and got over the idea of not having “real” bread anymore and decided that I needed to do a gluten free trial.
It took me less than a week to realize that “normal” could mean not feeling like I was spending my life in the bathroom, or wincing in pain when I walked up stairs. “Normal” could mean sleeping like a baby through the night. It could mean a day free of cramping and the bloating I had no idea was even happening.
I’m obviously still getting used to this. I had some major setbacks earlier this week. But I knew immediately that they were not normal. In fact, I was able to pinpoint the gums as another source of irritation for my digestive system because I had realized that there could be another “normal.” Going gluten-free means retraining myself about what I can and can’t eat. It means telling myself that, no matter how good that bagel looks, the way it makes me feel is not worth it (Trust me, I’m not a huge fan of self-deprivation, and I think doing so simply for weight loss purposes is setting yourself up for failure… But in this case, it’s the only option for a healthy body, so it’s a matter of retraining myself to recognize and accept that).
But it also means resetting what it feels like to be me. My “normal.” My baseline. In my energy levels (off the charts), the food I want to eat (lately, a ton of greens and fruit, but it’s ok for me to reach for baked goods or snack foods as long as they’re GF), the way my clothes fit (holy cow I am SWIMMING in my pants right now; the same ones I was unbuttoning before), and the way my body – stomach, acid reflux, joints, sinuses, etc. – feels. It seems a bit cliche to say it but I feel like a completely new person. A new and improved me. And I can tell when I’ve deviated from what’s good for me because I’ve got a super-sensitive gauge now. A super-sensitive measurement of my new baseline. My new “normal.”
I’ll just say this for things: my new “normal” is amazing.