Now that I'm back at school and rockin' a schedule with classes right when I typically eat breakfast and lunch, that's a question I'm used to hearing. In this case, the girl is referring to my oatless zoats in a mason jar with homemade granola in a doggy bag on the side.
As usual, I say: "Oatmeal." I don't bother explaining that it's buckwheat and rice flakes instead of oats. I don't bother explaining I couldn't stop in the Caf for breakfast like everyone else thanks to a little thing called celiac disease.
I just mumble the answer that she most expects to hear, and turn back to my Politics: Feminist Development lecture.
Is there anything wrong with my duck and cover? The fact that I don't just put a big "celiac" sticker on my jar (though I do rock a couple on my backpack) and pass out Casey the College business cards? No. Just like there isn't anything wrong with explaining what celiac disease is when people ask why I eat like I do.
What is wrong? The way I feel doing it. How my cheeks burn slightly red, and I wish my food could look like everyone else's - though, I'm (egotistical or not) sure mine tastes better. The fact that, nearly three years after my celiac diagnosis, I'm still self conscious about my disease with strangers.
In some ways, I know I'm lucky. I have a disease that's invisible. People may look at me and think I'm skinny. They could look at my plate and think I'm a health freak. Or they could not assume anything at all. Compared to, for instance, someone with facial burns, cerebral palsy or a lisp who can't take their "dirty laundry" off the public clothes line.
Yet, having an invisible disease also means I have the freedom - and the quandary - to choose. When I tell someone. If I tell someone. How much - on a scale of "I can't eat gluten" to "kissing someone who just ate gluten will leave me in the bathroom with X, Y, and Z."
I've always considered myself open with my disease. I have GF buttons and bags, typically decline offered food with a mini "celiac" spiel, and I do run a blog with my name and "celiac" as the title. Yet, the butterflies in my stomach at fellow students' questions make me wonder if I'm kidding myself.
Does not explaining my disease in every awareness-raising opportunity make me a bad advocate? Or, just like with religious beliefs or political opinions, should celiac disease observe the restraints of time and tactfulness?
Honestly, right now I don't know the "right" answer. But two and a half years of gluten free adventures has taught me a few things:
That it's OK to be embarrassed about being "different." That doesn't make your difference - or you - bad.
Those who really care or are interested will wait to learn the whole celiac story. (And/or turn to trusty Google.)
Time and confidence do not have a direct correlation of growth; instead, confidence has its random peaks, plateaus and dives.
You can be a proud celiac in one context and a shy one in another.
People don't care about your perceived "weirdness" nearly as much as you do.
And if they do care...their problems are bigger than yours could ever be!
Tomorrow, I'll probably lug my usual breakfast to class. I'll probably get one of the usual questions about it. I'll give some kind of answer - vague, celiac specific, or in between.
And, as usual, my "celiac-safe," "unusual," "Why is it green?" breakfast will taste delicious.
*Also found at RunningwithSpoon's Link party!*
How do you deal with celiac self consciousness? Do you walk the line between celiac advocacy and shyness? Comment below!