Sunday, November 24, 2013

Three (Gluten free!) Peas in a Pod

They say opposites attract and after an eventful first semester as a college freshman, I can say that meeting people totally different from me definitely keeps life interesting. Sometimes, though, it's nice to find someone like me to befriend. Cue the gluten free gal pals!

My friends, who I shall call K and P, found each other through strange twists of fate and circumstance. K is my yoga instructor, and after we stretched and worked our abs, our whole class likes to go eat lunch together in the cafeteria. And, considering that I always wait in the corner, eat food that isn't on the cafeteria counters, and usually take longer to wrangle my meal than the average pizza-eating Joe, celiac disease isn't easily hidden. So I didn't try and K opened up about her own food intolerance - a mouthful that I won't even try to remember.

Yoga class started it all...

I met P., on the other hand, through my usual routine of waiting in the corner for my food. By this time, I'm a veteran of the Casey-versus-Gluten war, and usually I'll just scroll through gluten free goodies on Instagram (check out my Instagram to see what I eat everyday!) on my phone to keep me occupied as I wait and show the regular-eaters that I'm not in line. One day, I saw another girl standing in my spot: P, waiting for her own gluten free, soy free, vegan meal. The way I view our meeting? Friends that wait together, stay together!

Now, I'm not saying that we are exactly the same. We have different hobbies (I'm certainly no body builder, like K!), are in different stages of life, and have distinct health issues (I'm the Chosen One with soy in this trio). Yet, our food limitations connect us in a way that people who have always eaten normally may not understand. I have been so blessed to find gluten-eating friends who love me despite my eating habits and health problems, and I love them to death, but it's nice to complain about indigestion, glutening, or the lack of options in the cafeteria and hear, "Me too!" in response.

There's also one extra bonus: we can cook together in the kitchen in K's dorm. Score! I appreciate every container of gluten free food that the cafeteria rolls out with "Casey :)" written on the front, and, even when I'm bored of the options or tired of the waiting, I try to stay grateful. But, on Wednesday night when K, P, and I cooked salmon and veggies together, I loved being in control. I loved buying my own cut of salmon, knowing exactly what spices we rubbed into the fish, and how much oil we put on our veggies before sliding them into the oven. No worries about accidental contamination. No questions over exactly what I was allowing into my body.

Our delicious cuts of salmon, personally seasoned

Even better, I loved expanding my palate. My family has never been extremely adventurous with our meals - in fact, I'm a self-proclaimed meat-and-potatoes kind of gal. As I've mentioned in some of my other posts, though, celiac disease has pushed me out of my comfort zone and into the world of savory exploration. While I've been learning about theatre and creative writing in my classes, I've learned from my cafeteria that I like avocados, olives are great on pizza, and cucumbers, and celery can be eaten alone. K and P stretched my knowledge even further of Wednesday, however, by suggesting sides of spaghetti squash, roasted Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and asparagus.

I'll admit, when I walked into the kitchen, I didn't have too high of hopes. I knew I'd devour the salmon, but the veggies - squash named after a wheat dish? wasn't that asking for trouble? - sounded more foreign than appetizing. As I watched how big to cut the broccoli, how much olive oil to bathe the vegetables, and how to pit the squash, though, my stomach began to betray me. Those brussel sprouts, the food that my parents have defamed for years - were starting to smell pretty tasty.

Our DELICIOUS product - brussel sprouts and all

And when I took my first bite of our finished product, my taste buds threw a party. We rocked that dish and I can't wait to rock it with my own family. As great as the food tasted, though, the conversation was even better. We talked diagnoses, symptoms and side effects; we shared our favorite gluten free (soy free) meals and our struggles with college eating; we even discussed the hardships of trying to gain weight in a society where skinny equals healthy. With those two, I know that any of my celiac complaints or food issues will be heard with understanding and without judgement.

And really, isn't this the best part of suffering from any food intolerance/allergies/diseases? Knowing that, no matter one's ethnicity, background, age, status or other identifying factors, there is a community of people with identical issues. Support by friends and family is priceless, but the realization that I am - and you are - not alone in food struggles is worth savoring. Just like our salmon on Wednesday night.

You aren't ever alone with this crew!

Do you find yourself drawn to others with food issues? What is your favorite gluten free/allergen free meal? Comment below!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Ghouls and Glutening

Halloween. Jack-o-lanterns, pumpkins and, for one night, no limit on amount of candy kids can stuff down their fake-blood-covered mouths. Despite the new limitations celiac threw into my Halloween plans, I wasn't too scared. Until the Milky Way monster exploded in my stomach.

Even as I painted on whiskers and put on my cat ears, I knew the risks of trick-or-treating. With every ring of a doorbell, gluten-filled and gluten free treats inbred within my pillowcase, M&M's and twizzlers kissing in the corner. Yet, I couldn't force myself to sit in my dorm, a gluten free only package of purchased candy in hand, while my hall of girls not up the houses. 

My costume this year - here, kitty kitty!

Because celiac disease may get my twisters and my kitkats, but the giggling in the dark, the weight of a pound of sugar pulling on my arm and the memories of running through the streets, a band of crazy-costumed geeks, is all mine

And, honestly, I didn't mind giving up all my gluten-filled candy. Until I missed one: Milky Way, original. The others are safe, I later learned, my glutened eyes fighting to stay open as scanned my computer screen. Just the mini original - whose allergy info didn't include wheat - that uses barley

When I saw that ingredient, I cried. I cried a lot actually this whole week of recovery. I cried that my friends were able to devour every one of their candies without worry, while I combed through mine - but not enough. I cried that one six letter word from a chocolate the size of my pinkie could steal every ounce of energy, clear thought and emotional stability I once had. 

Curse you Milky Way!
The recovery was hard. Dragging myself to class felt like a marathon, gluten fog translated my homework to Greek and the littlest challenge had me calling Mom in hysterics. The worst part, though, was no one understood. How could they? Being glutened isn't something they can catch, like the flu or a cold. 

Now, a week later, I can finally say I survived. It wasn't fun. It wasn't easy. But I excelled as a college student even when I didn't feel human. I learned I could get by without my parents supporting me on either side. And, most importantly, I learned the true meaning of tired.

Before this episode, being tired was my ultimate excuse. "I'd love to go to that club meeting," I'd say, "But class really wore me out." The daily fatigue that accompanies my disease was my shield against trying to break into the club members that bonded while I was glued to a hospital IV pole

No more. If I functioned as a zombie, I can thrive as my down-beaten self. So, when my hall decided to go to a fancy dinner together at Olive Garden on Friday, a few days after I regained most of my humanity, I said yes despite my yawns. And you know what? I had a great time. We ate (salad, minus the croutons, for me), we laughed and we flirted with the waiter like a usual bunch of college gals. 

My hall looking cute for Halloween

Halloween scared me good this year, but this black cat has nine lives. Even better, though, I have this life. And I am determined - despite any obstacle - to live it to the fullest

What happens to you after being glutened? How was your Halloween? Comment below!