Sunday, October 20, 2013

Accepting the New Normal

Normal has a lot of definitions these days. The high school boy who gets steady B's while playing football. The mother who works all day before cooking dinner for the family that night. For me, though, I'm finally a "normal celiac," healthy as long as I avoid gluten. I'm living the dream! Except, not.

As I've shared with you all in my blog post, my celiac experience hasn't exactly followed the rules. Instead of transforming into Superwoman days after quitting gluten, I canoodled with a liquid diet, nose tube and hospital bed at my lowest point. 

Me and the trusty Nose Tube
A few weeks back into college, life is definitely looking up. I can eat (how simple and amazing is that!). I'm above the 90 lb mark. I'm even starting to run again. And yet, as wonderful as it is to finally be a healthy, fully-functioning celiac, I'm still a celiac. And that fact keeps slapping me in the face. 

I never understood "cheating" in terms of celiac disease. What slice of pizza is worth the insomnia, exhaustion, lack of appetite and general stomach combustion that turns a hard work week into a week from hell? Yet, when I walked through my cafeteria this week, I wanted that slice of pizza. And that chocolate chip muffin and a regular taco and a bowl of the pasta everyone said tasted like plastic. I could picture myself grabbing that last slice of pepperoni pie, fingers burning on melted cheese, and sinking my teeth into crust that has the fluffy, crunchy texture no gluten free option can beat. 

Pizza Hut, how I dream of you!
I've had cravings before, but purposely ingesting gluten had never looked, smelled, and sounded like so delicious! When I called my mom, close to tears about it later, she asked what I wanted, what she could make a gluten free version of, but I couldn't answer. Because I didn't want those foods, per se. I wanted the options, the convenience, the oblivious ease of going to dinner without worrying about a breadcrumb ghosting over my plate. 

Most celiacs goes through the grieving process, progressing from sadness to denial to anger to acceptance. Mine just went in a different order, scrambled by health problems. I realized I would never eat gluten-filled foods again, that I'd always need to pack my pockets with snacks, and that social eating involves more talking than food. Yet, I had this dream in my head that after I became a healthy celiac, living gluten free would be easier. It isn't.

That isn't always a bad thing, though. Because of my limited diet, I take more risks with my palate than ever before. I've learned salads aren't complete without avocado, sunflower seeds and cauliflower; I love all kinds of fish now that I avoid red meat; and olives and crunchy lettuce compliment gluten free pizza perfectly. 

Chicken, avocado, and sunflower seeds - YUM!

Because of my health issues, I am dedicated to watching what I eat and my activity level, skills I will use the rest of my life. And because of my struggles, I've shown my teachers, my dorm mates, and myself that I am much stronger than I appear

Even in perfect health, living with celiac disease in college is about as easy as acing a 6 credit course with a grade based on two exams. Every time a friend offers food without thinking, a club boasts about its "free treats" or the caf whips up a delicious smelling stir fry, I wince inside. Yet, I know I'll win in the endIf I survived being a college celiac as an 88 lb malnourished anemic plagued with constant stomach pain, I can thrive during it as a healthy teen gorging on GF goodies. 

Me after my first run! 

How do you deal with gluten cravings? What was your journey to celiac acceptance like? Comment below!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Celiac Disease: The Inevitable Bungee Jump

Now, I think most of the human population can be separated into two categories: the bungee-jump-loving adrenaline junkies, and those who pee their pants just thinking of falling down twenty feet. I've shifted in my bungee identity throughout my life, but in the past week I've come to accept that there are some up-and-downs that can't be avoided. Like returning to school after missing a week because of celiac disease complications.

I'm a Type-A personality, so I had already kept up with most of my class work all I while I sat like a couch potato with a nose tube in my house. As I drove up to PLNU on Saturday afternoon, however, butterflies were practicing the tango inside my stomach. As soon as I saw Hendricks Hall, though, I sighed. Because I know I belong here. My dorm mates immediately smothered me in hugs when they saw me and we formed a moving band as we dragged my bags of food and books up the hill, up the stairs, and into my dorm room. It wasn't until I saw my room - Hendricks 234 - that I started to tear up, though. 

My loving poster!

Displayed proudly on the door was a sign that reads, "We Miss You Casey!" with dozens of personal messages written on it from girls in the hall. One of my biggest fears as I bonded with an IV and nose tube two weeks ago was that I'd be forgotten. That bonds would form from activities I didn't join, jokes I didn't hear, and talks I didn't participate in. In the hospital, as well as in my house, I felt trapped inside a celiac bubble of IV's, medicine, and homework that drew a line in the beach sand between my hall mates and I. That sign changed everything. After seeing that, I knew I had never left PLNU, if only existing in the thoughts of my friends. Nothing is more powerful than support that destroys the motto "out of sight, out of mind."

I'm not going to lie and say I danced through my first week back. Basically, I crawled through the make-up tests, the regular tests, class work, and social commitments like a turtle with four broken legs and a lazy attitude. Now into my second week, though, I can look back and pat myself on the back. I could've self imploded. I could've given up. But I didn't, with the help of my family, friends, and thousands of motivational messages left on my blog, and now my college experience is taking a turn for the better.

The second day back, I met with the head cook of my school's main cafeteria, Urs. Now, Urs and I had already talked briefly at the start of school, going over my dietary needs and going on a tour of the gluten free areas of the cafe. After living off of salads and minimal protein, though, I knew I needed to change up my routine if my second chance at college would work. That meant switching from eating whatever gluten free trimmings were left to ordering my own specially made, gluten free meals.

My first meal - and they've only gotten better!

Compared to grazing, this definitely is the road less traveled by. I email Urs with my food requests the night before and give him the time I will be there to pick it up. Now, I'm also allowed to take food out of the cafeteria, which is usually "illegal" by the school rules. When I grabbed my first pre-ordered meal - baked tilapia with rice and a side salad - multiple feelings battled for supremacy. Relief that I didn't have to scrounge or worry about contamination. Excitement 'cause I got fish while everyone else is stuck with chicken. Hope that these protein-packed meals would act as garlic to the vampire IV's of a future hospital stay. 

As I've continued on this plan, though, there have definitely been a few bumps. I can't always eat with my friends because the time my meal will be ready differs from their hunger patterns. I have to choose all my meals, resulting in a slightly repetitive and bland diet. And, I must awkwardly stand in the corner of the caf waiting for my "special" meal - I've become one of "those" people! Yet, I can't complain too much. The food is delicious, I feel safe eating it, and I'm slowly gaining weight. So, two thumbs up from me!

Another fave - gluten free pizza! Holla!
The simplest, best part about this whole journey, though, has been re-finding myself. I'm enjoying food again - savoring the different flavors, treasuring my morning Nutella and nightly treats - but, even more than that, I'm enjoying life again. Two days ago, I ran for the first time since celiac disease stole the reins out of my hands. I was slow and limited on my distance, but free. Yesterday, I applied for a Semester Abroad in London next year. Even if I'm not accepted (which, fingers crossed, won't be the case!), at least I know my health isn't to blame.

I'm back. Right where I'm supposed to be.

Bungee jumping is scary. Putting all your trust in one wire as you experience the highs and the lows, the adrenaline and the fear. I still have my struggles. Sometimes, my stomach still throws a fit, or the workload seems to heavy, and I don't know what I'm going to do. For the first time in months, though, I have moments where I'm completely, absolutely, purely happy.

There's no better high than that.

What keeps you going with celiac disease? What is your "high?" Comment below!