The “Not Okay” Moment
“I’m not okay right now.” Why is this so hard to admit? It seems like we have to reach rock bottom before saying we need help.
Growing up, most people aren’t told, “you must be perfect and show no weakness”, at least not directly. But one way or another, it becomes engrained. In our competitive, workaholic society, the people who seem to have it together, who never take a day off, always have a smile on their face, and wouldn’t dare share their problems, are the “successful” ones.
But the reality is that gluten intolerance isn’t all roses and daisies. It takes self-advocacy and serious mental energy to successfully navigate each meal. We can’t pretend we’re able to eat gluten, so we’re clearly not physically perfect. Why, then, do we so often try to pretend we are emotionally perfect?
After being diagnosed with Celiac Disease, I was initially elated to have an answer and felt validated that it wasn’t all in my head. But what took me by surprise was that things didn’t get better overnight, physically or emotionally. In fact, they got worse before they got better.
I thought I was coping with this new diagnosis pretty well. I told people that I was learning to adapt and that I was glad to have an answer (all true things). Still, I would spend an hour at the grocery store staring, dazed, at ingredient lists in the aisles I previously navigated effortlessly. I would come home and fall apart. I often chose not to eat out of fear that I might make a mistake. Taking gluten out helped stop the cause of the problem, but my body was desperately in need of nutrients it had been deprived for years– decades, maybe. And my relationship with food had gone from bad to worse when I realized what I ate really was making me sicker. How could I trust food again? I told myself it would just take time, and I didn’t reach out for help.
My “not okay” moment came out of the blue one day leaving work. It smacked me in the face and forced me to see it in a very physical way. There I was a few weeks after going gluten-free, walking down two flights of stairs. I had reached the landing on the second floor and began to descend the last staircase, when my quad muscle seized up.
Excruciating pain spiked up my thigh, stopping me in mid-step. Shocked, I backed up to the landing and tried stretching it out to relax it. Why would this happen? I had stopped exercising because I felt so tired all the time, so it wasn’t a cramp from over-use by any means. No, this was my body’s way of telling me it was starved for nutrients. I tried taking the first couple steps again, slowly… only for it to seize right back up with each bending motion. I ended up taking the elevator, defeated, to the bottom floor and hobbled back to my car.
I wasn’t even close to okay. I realized I couldn’t pretend anymore, and I couldn’t do it alone. I called a nutritionist that day. That very real pain forced me to realize that I was also seizing up on the inside. I felt isolated, afraid, and depressed. Reaching out to a nutritionist also inspired me to reach out to the gluten-free community and to people closest to me. Some people didn’t know how to respond to my sudden need for support, but others stepped up. Most importantly, I was being honest about the situation.
It’s not a quick fix to cut out gluten. We need to cope with the loss of our old life as we knew it and how to navigate an entirely new lifestyle. Along the way, it is only normal to have moments of being “not okay”. By reaching out to others, educating ourselves, and being patient with the process, the gluten-free lifestyle becomes easier and easier, to the point of – dare I say it?—enjoying food again (or maybe for the first time ever)! In fact, many people are much happier and feel more in control of their lives after becoming comfortable with their new gluten-free life.
Gluten-free life is a journey, and we can learn to enjoy the ride. The first step is to acknowledge that it can be challenging and sometimes pretty miserable. We can build a stronger community by being honest and supportive of one another and the struggles that we will inevitably face. Sometimes we need to admit we’re not perfect in order to reach our healthiest and happiest self.