4 Secrets Moving Across the Country Taught Me About Thriving with Celiac Disease

For many people, the New Year is equivalent to change. A new date to write on their papers. Some new goals and dreams for the blank slate that is 365 new days. For this college celiac, though, the "newness" of 2017 began a few weeks early when I flew into Colorado.

Let's just say that as soon as I stepped into the terminal and saw my breath, I knew I wasn't in California anymore. 

While I've definitely loved getting to see my family and being "home" (though it's a different one for me), adjusting to Colorado hasn't been without its challenges. And as I was freezing at the local zoo a few nights ago, I realized: I could say the same about celiac disease

casey the college celiac

In fact, the more I thought about it, the harder it hit me: moving across the country actually taught me four secrets that make thriving with celiac disease - or any chronic illness - more possible than ever in 2017.

1. Prepare for success or prepare to despair.

Okay, this tip may sound a little corny and dramatic at first glance. However, when preparation can make the difference between happiness and pain - even life or death - I think a little exaggeration is warranted

The truth is, when I landed in Denver airport, I wasn't prepared for the -10 degree weather. All I had were San Diego clothes that I layered as much as possible...so, when I stood outside for five minutes waiting for my shuttle, it's no surprise that my glove-less fingers started to go numb and I started crying from pain. 

casey the college celiac
The most pathetic of all selfies...
Living with celiac disease is similar in a lot of ways. If you don't eat beforehand or bring your own food, the pizza party with friends will probably feel more torturous than fun. If you don't have a list of easy recipes or frozen meals for when time gets rough, you may end up crossing your fingers and eating out at a less-than-celiac-safe restaurant instead. 

It's now been over three years since my celiac diagnosis, and I've come embrace the fact that while I'm low-maintenance in many ways, food isn't one of them. I always have a bar in my purse, food prep whenever possible and call restaurants ahead of time to ask about their gluten free protocol

I can survive weather in the negatives with the right amount of coats, gloves and layers. In the same spirit, I  - and anyone - can thrive with celiac disease as long as we've curved our c's and dotted our i's.

2. Keep trying new things.

Maybe you're a preparation ninja. Your purse mimics Mary Poppins' (if she had celiac disease or an addiction to gluten free snacks and meds, anyway) and you never forget to read your ingredient labels. Even after you find a routine that works for you, though, you should keep experimenting

A few days after I got home, I felt like I was doing purty dang well at building up a winter wardrobe. Long underwear? Check. Thick fuzzy socks? Check. Scarf, hat, gloves and so many layers, I lose count? Check, check and check. Yet, when we went to see the Christmas lights at our local zoo one night, I felt like I was naked. The bitter cold seeped right through my four layers - and it freakin' hurt

The lesson I learned? Well, first of all, always put on one more layer than you think you need. But more importantly, keep looking for new ways to improve your life - like fleece leggings and a winter shirt specially designed for insulation. 

casey the college celiac
My face almost froze like that (bonus points if you realized it was an animal eye)
In the past years, I've similarly kept tweaking my gluten free diet to see what works for me. Yes to probiotics, no to tomatoes. Yes to small amounts of sweet potatoes but definitely no to butternut squash. I'm extremely fortunate to get to partner with companies and try new products that way. However, experimenting as a celiac can also be as simple as buying the new GF cereal that's on sale one week or trying a restaurant with raving reviews on the Find Me Gluten Free app.  

Celiac disease, by nature, is restrictive. It limits what we can eat, what products we can use and, many times, how we choose to socialize or live our lives. Through experimentation, you can take back a little of your control - and possibly make your life even more awesome than before. 

3. Accept - even embrace - moments of discomfort.

Sometimes, though, discomfort is unavoidable. Even once I get some crazy warm clothing, there will still be days I'm cold. That's just a fact created by my cold-blooded nature (my sister inherited my dad's natural furnace abilities) and Colorado's cold weather. But that's not going to stop me from enjoying myself and the beautiful Colorado scenery

Because, honestly, the discomfort is minimal when compared to the joy I get from exploring the outdoors. I get to see huge groups of deer chillin' in a yard across our street. I can revisit the nearby river I loved to walk to this past summer and see the icy designs winter has drawn on the water. My cheeks become frozen in a smile - only partly because of the brittle wind. 

casey the college celiac
A bit chillier of backgrounds!
The longer I've been diagnosed, the easier it is to apply the same mindset to celiac disease. Sometimes, I'm going to attend parties and feel left out, even though I've brought my own food to enjoy. Sometimes I'll even choose to avoid social events (like I did with Thanksgiving) because I don't want to deal with the food offers, my polite rejections and the resulting questions. And sometimes my stomach will freak out for absolutely no reason, and I'll hate that celiac disease keeps me from eating anything like a "normal" 20-something. 

But these bittersweet moment are becoming fewer and farther in between. I've surrounded myself with people who care about me and not about my dietary differences. I've educated my friends so they know what to expect, from my food to my finicky stomach. I've learned that celiac disease, for better or for worse, is part of my identity...and that needing to eat gluten free doesn't make me any less of a bad ass

4. Know that practice makes progress - not perfect.

You've heard the cliche before, whether about your fifth grade math worksheet or challenges at your new job: Practice makes perfect. I'm sorry to ruin your fairytale ending, but I've discovered that advice isn't entirely accurate. My parents have lived in Colorado Springs since July, and they're still discovering plenty of challenges about living in a snowy environment. Like: ice may not melt for weeks, so you need shoes that won't slide. Like: stock up on food before a snow storm because you may not leave the house for a few days. 

casey the college ceilac
Our family photo this year
Even after years of practice, I'm 100% not the "perfect" celiac. I recently discovered the probiotic I used for months contains gluten; since it was gluten free the first time I bought it, I never bothered to check the ingredient list again. The truth is, I'm human. I make mistakes - and while mistakes should be avoided as much as possible when it comes to eating gluten free, I also won't beat myself up for it. 

Because with every misstep comes a lesson. I nearly froze at the zoo; I need to buy clothes specifically designed for winter. I glutened myself with a product I "trusted"; I need to not take GF for granted and always scan the ingredient list. My goal isn't to be perfect - as a celiac or a snow survivalist. Instead, it's to be and do better than before

This New Year, you may have a lot of worthwhile goals you want to check off your list. Maybe it's losing or gaining weight, or maybe you want to spend more time with family and less on your phone. Whatever you're striving for in 2017, just remember: the secrets to thriving in life often emerge from (even seemingly unrelated) challenges. 

casey the college celiac
Walking in a winter wonderland...
Or, in my case, the secrets to thriving with celiac disease may emerge from some very cold, Colorado-livin' feet!

*Also found at What'd You Do This Weekend, Wine'd Down Wednesday, Dare to Share!*

Have you ever moved? What lessons did you learn? Comment below!


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