"All your tests are normal": At least, that's what I heard for years while I was poked, prodded, scanned and drained of hope.
I had been "normal" at one point in my life, though it seemed like a lifetime ago. I had energy to play with my kids and work two jobs as a single mother, and I had hobbies and normal worries. Funny how that all changed.
After major surgery in 2008 I never quite felt "normal." I figured at 31, after a full hysterectomy, I probably shouldn't feel right, but then it never got better.
I was like a stranger in my own body. I couldn't think anymore, like nothing was clear and I was in a haze. I couldn't focus, like the world was going on around me and I wasn't quite in it. I lost weight and every time I ate I felt like my guts were twisted in knots and I would double over. It seemed that every time someone got a cold I would get pneumonia, or if someone had a small stomach bug I would get it so bad I would land in the hospital. Where was my immune system?
So I decided to start eating even healthier than I already did. I bought whole-grain breads and wheat pastas. I was so sick 90 percent of the time I couldn't exercise, couldn't function with what I learned to be called "brain fog" later on. I couldn't go anywhere ever and just enjoy myself -- I had to make certain I knew where the bathroom was first in case I got sick.
Doctors started to tell me it was all in my head, like I was some crazy person looking for attention. I felt very alone and started to feel like maybe I was crazy. I lost my job, my relationship, my sense of wanting to go on as I felt like such a burden to everyone around me. I began falling into depression and having severe anxiety. As time went on I was crippling up with joint pain and inflammation that left me in bed, and sores on my scalp and elbows they said was psoriasis. Through years of being told I have lupus, fibromyalgia, being tested for MS and many other things, I feared that this was the person I would always be and my kids had basically lost their fun, successful young mother.
One day in 2012 I just happened to be watching TV when the popular talk show Dr. Oz came on. I was listening to it in the background while folding laundry and I heard this woman talking about herself as if she was describing me.
I stopped and paid closer attention and she was talking about something called gluten. I spent the next 15 minutes not blinking, not breathing and tears streaming down my face as I felt for the first time in years that this was me! This was what was wrong with me, it has to be!
I went out immediately and bought the book "Gluten Free for Dummies" and began reading and couldn't put it down. I just couldn't believe what wheat, rye and barley could do to your mental and physical health.
I started slow, mostly focused on meat, potatoes, fruits and veggies since I really didn't know quite what to buy yet. It was a matter of a few days I started to notice the difference.
After the first month I was feeling so amazing that I realized it was time to talk to the doctors that misdiagnosed me. I talked to them about gluten-free living and they knew so little about it I felt like I was educating them.
I followed up with a local allergist to truly be tested and find out if I had solved my own mystery.
I had been gluten free for a month so it was out of my system -- so I ended up eating it for a week before being tested to make sure I could get the proper results. Wouldn't you know that every symptom came flooding back like a wave of bad memories and horror stories. I did test at a high level and was diagnosed with celiac disease. I knew from that moment I would never touch gluten again.
I made my mistakes as the months went on. Cross contamination is the worst and many restaurants then had no clue how to properly prepare dishes without using the same tongs or not getting any crumbs near your food. This is called being "glutened" so I had to eat out in public less and less and pack coolers for outdoor events that had vendors and such and yes it took a little more work.
It costs more if you start loading up on crazy products, but sooner or later, you really start getting creative and figuring out how to make things that mirror what you were once allowed to eat.
My daughter last year had a very bad year in school. She missed about 30 days due to illness, anxiety and overwhelming exhaustion. I didn't waste any time putting her on a gluten-free diet as well, and it took only a couple of weeks for her to go from being someone who stopped going to sleepovers for fear of getting sick to my fun-loving, helpful, happy 14-year-old who is now back in sports and living life again.
I may not know everything, and there are definitely people who have been gluten-free much longer than I have. I know that I am back to a successful career, singing in the band Whiskey City and being a mom again. I want to help people from now on. I want to make sure other people don't have to go through all the trials and errors I had to or feel alone. I want to speak at schools and get the staff to understand this situation better. I started a Facebook page called "Gluten Free Gal" to help others with things along the way.
You are going to run into the disbelievers who will say, ‘well, what did they do back in the day, how come this is such a big deal now?' My only answer for that is a simple one: Back then your food wasn't altered or full of chemicals or GMO's or crossbred to be something not good for you anymore.
There are a lot of things you may not know about the food you eat. It's important to learn about these things in order to fight the fight for our health and the food we consume. I made my change and it saved my life. Maybe it will do the same for you, or someone you know.