5 Ways Celiac Disease Has Shaped Who I Am Today

When I was diagnosed with celiac disease around age 16, I had no idea that one simple word in my medical file would change a lot of my life. But as years have passed, I've realized that my celiac disease diagnosis transformed way more than just what I ate. It also, well, shaped a lot of who I am today - partially, perhaps, because I was diagnosed right at a typical coming-of-age point in my life. But also because celiac disease simply affects way more than just people's diets.

5 Ways Celiac Disease Has Shaped Who I Am Today

So in honor of living with celiac disease for over six years, I thought I'd share five ways that celiac disease has shaped who I am today. So if you're newly diagnosed and feel like a lot is changing...know that a lot of these changes are positive in the end. And if you're a veteran celiac and haven't taken time to reflect how celiac disease has changed your life, maybe now is the time.

1. Celiac disease helped me discover that I love trying new foods and cooking. 

Like I've talked about before, I actually eat a waaaaaay more varied diet now than I did before being diagnosed with celiac disease. When gluten left the picture, it forced me to explore tons of (naturally) gluten free foods I had never tried. Avocado. Japanese sweet potato. Jasmine rice. Quinoa. Kimchi. The list seriously goes on and on, considering that I was a pretty plain eater before celiac disease.

And once I moved to college and eventually couldn't eat at my college cafeteria...I had some pretty dang good motivation to learn how to cook: this girl had to eat! So I soon went from barely knowing how to make a baked potato to whipping up homemade gluten free pizza and vegan mac and cheese. Now that I'm in grad school, I don't have much time to whip up creative - or even just different - meals each day. But that doesn't mean I'm not grateful for how comfortable celiac disease has made me feel in the kitchen.

5 Ways Celiac Disease Has Shaped Who I Am Today
Find the recipe for these delicous vegan and gluten free cupcakes on Instagram!

2. Celiac disease motivated me to start this blog...which has connected me to thousands of people and several jobs. 

I pretty much started this blog on a whim...and sometimes it's hard to believe that I'm still here, six years later. It's equally hard to believe how many people I've connected with through this blog or on social media channels over the years. I know that when I was diagnosed with celiac disease and about to leave for college in a few months, I was desperate to find someone who had already been through the same situation. At that time, I couldn't. And my biggest hope is that I can be that someone for people with celiac disease about to start college now. So if you read this blog regularly, thank you. And if you've ever messaged me to ask a question, say I've helped you in some way or just share your own experience...you're the reason why I'm still here.

And on a less emotional note...starting this blog has also helped me, career-wise. In fact, I've gotten several jobs partly due to my experience with blogging. I don't know what the future holds for me after I graduate with a Masters in Fine Arts this coming May. But I think my experience with - and discovered passion for - blogging and connecting with people online will definitely have helped pave my way.

5 Ways Celiac Disease Has Shaped Who I Am Today

3. Celiac disease changed my college experience, for better and for worse. 

To be completely honest, my freshman year of college kinda sucked. I was struggling from celiac complications and was eventually hospitalized for malnutrition and vitamin deficiencies when my weight plummeted to 83 lbs. I was sickly skinny, drinking a liquid diet instead of eating food at one point, and I was soon known as "that gluten free girl" on campus.

But as hard as that year was...the rest of college was pretty good. I fell in love and got my heart broken. I picked a major and a minor, changed the minor, and took classes that I still think about today, and ones that I purged from my mind as soon as I finished my final exam. And I made friends with other students with dietary restrictions...and with people who knew about my "special diet" and just saw it as a minor personality quirk.

5 Ways Celiac Disease Has Shaped Who I Am Today

I don't know what college would've been like if I'd never been diagnosed with celiac disease. I would've been able to go to pizza parties without feeling awkward about bringing my own food, and I definitely would've had more free time without needing to cook my own food. But I walked across that graduation stage with a decent amount of good memories, a whole lotta new knowledge, and way more strength and determination than I would've thought possible. And I think that's all anyone can ask for from their college experience.

4. Celiac disease triggered changes in my family's diet too. 

I wouldn't say that my family ate an unhealthy diet before I was diagnosed with celiac disease, but in the years that have passed since my diagnosis, our weekly family dinners have changed a ton. First of all, my mom went gluten free with me and discovered that a gluten free diet drastically improved her fibromyalgia pain. As time has gone by, though, my family has also started experimenting with less beef, more vegetables, more farm-raised sources of meat and less processed foods overall.

I'm not saying that my family eats perfectly - or even that there is a "perfect" or "best" or "healthiest" way to eat. But it has been pretty dang cool to see how my celiac diagnosis has helped my family think a bit more about their own diets and find foods that make them feel their best.

5 Ways Celiac Disease Has Shaped Who I Am Today

5. Celiac disease makes me grateful for every day that I do feel healthy and for all the people who helped me get there. 

The biggest way celiac disease has shaped who I am today? It has shaped my mindset. I still have days when I get frustrated with my body (especially when my stomach starts to suddenly act up and I have a food baby, 24/7) and wonder if life would feel a lot easier with a "normal" body. But I try to remember...

....how lucky I am to have a disease that can be treated by the food I choose to eat, and how fortunate I was to be diagnosed quickly by my very thorough family doctor.
...how people who know me very well - like my parents and family - and people who didn't know me at all - like countless peers in college and strangers met online - all played a role in helping me find my version of healthy with celiac disease.
...and how far my body has taken me. I've lost a fourth of my body weight, and gained it back. I've gone from being so weak, I could barely walk up hills to class, to lifting almost half my body weight at the gym.

5 Ways Celiac Disease Has Shaped Who I Am Today

The Biggest Way Celiac Disease Has Made Me Who I Am Today

Honestly, I sometimes wonder who I would be if I didn't have celiac disease and fibromyalgia. Would I eat fast food more often and not enjoy cooking? Would I still be a blogger, albeit with a different focus? How would my relationships be different - if at all?

At the end of the day, I'll never know the answer to those questions. And I'm learning to be OK with that. Life is full of quick moments and small decisions that end up changing our whole lives...and my celiac disease diagnosis is just one of many.

So I'm going to treat it like any other stepping stone that sets me up for what I was truly meant to do, whatever that ends up being. This is me. This version of me happens to have celiac disease. And I'm gonna rock life with celiac disease and all the quirks it's given me.


How has your chronic illness shaped who you are today? I'd love to hear in the comments!

Comments

  1. Another great post, Casey. I think it has been four years since my celiac diagnosis. This disease has shrunk my world because of the dangers of cross-contamination and my discomfort with asserting myself. Probably celiac disease doesn't need to narrow our horizons, but it has in my case.

    I definitely hear you about becoming more comfortable with cooking, because there isn't any way around it. I enjoy the new foods, too (hello, quinoa), but rather resent the restrictions. It sounds as though you did great overall with celiac disease at college -- I shudder to think how I might have handled it decades ago.

    (P.S. If that's your mom with the cake, she's hella cute!)

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