Everyone’s gluten-free story is different, but I have found strength in my lifestyle by learning the struggles and successes of others like me. With that said, I wanted to share my story with you in hopes that you can feel a little less alone.
Before gluten-free, I was an overachiever, runner, and lover of all things gluten. As cliche as it may sound, my life was like this until a day in January 2010. Everything changed.
At that time, I worked in a coal combustion laboratory as a secretary. My desk was within the lab, as were offices of research assistants. It was the Friday before MLK, JR., Day, so many people in my lab left early to begin their long weekend events. My roommate was driving home to southern California and had invited me to ride along, but I kindly turned down the offer because I had committed to be to work that day.
When I began my shift, a research assistant informed me that he would be running some tests, so if I smelled anything funny not to worry. Within a short time, I started smelling something really strange. If any of you have been to Yellowstone, you remember the stench that comes from the beautiful geysers? That is the closest scent I can compare what I smelled that day.
Research assistants would walk in to their offices, take a few breaths, and quickly leave because the stench was so strong. I wanted to leave but did not because I was committed to working at that time.
When I finished my shift, I felt different. I drove home, walked downstairs, and sat in a large cushioned chair. I remained there until Tuesday. I felt so empty, sad, and hopeless. I was in pain, but I could not describe what was happening.
When I went to work on Tuesday, there were two research assistants waiting at my desk. They had both seen me in the lab on Friday, and they told me that a chemical had been spilled on Friday. The whole lab had been evacuated that day, but my desk was forgotten. It turns out I had been exposed for over two hours.
I will stop my storytelling there, for the events that happened thereafter are irrelevant; however, after that experience, I noticed that every time I ate gluten I would have flu symptoms and major depression. After months of doctors and researchers studying me, no one could explain the connection between what happened to me and how my body was reacting. When no one could explain it, I knew I had to discover the reason myself.
After almost two years of searching, I came across an article of a young girl that had been in a horrific water ski accident. As she was recovering from the accident, she discovered she had celiac disease. Her doctors concluded that she had a genetic disposition to gluten, and the horrific accident had caused her body enough stress to “push” her genetics to become a celiac. Suddenly, my incident made sense.
Since then, I have learned of others in my family that have celiac disease. Because celiac runs in my family, it is very likely that the stress caused by my accident did to my body the same thing the girl with the ski accident experienced.
I sometimes think how life would have been so different if I had taken my roommate’s offer to go to southern California that day, or if I had left when I first smelled the chemicals. As great as it could be to get in a time machine, I cannot fix the past. I can only accept my present and work forwards.
As hard as a gluten-free lifestyle has been, I have realized some blessings, too. By eating gluten-free, I have to watch everything I eat, but I get to really choose if I want to eat unhealthy foods or not. I also have become a great cook because I create foods from scratch A LOT. I have also been able to find others in a similar situation that have helped me learn and cope. Through the tragedy, I have really learned that what happened to me has been one of my greatest struggles but will be one of my greatest accomplishments.