This is Ben’s Gluten-Free Love Story…
When I was diagnosed with celiac about 5 years ago, my girlfriend and I had been together for about 5 years, but we had just moved in together a few months before. I’d always had a “sensitive tummy” ever since I can remember; everything I did or considered doing was examined through the lens of my digestive system. There were plenty of times when I committed to something and backed out last minute because my stomach might act up on me. I managed to function well, but I was in a constant battle with my stomach.
Sarah knew about my issues, but she did not know the extent of it — how much my stomach ran my life. I hid it very well. However, at that point 5 years ago, I was having constant horrible acid reflux, which finally drove me to see a doctor. After several failed attempts to control it with medication, my GI doc at the time ordered an endoscopy, the results of which (along with an antibody test) revealed celiac. I had no idea what gluten or celiac were, and my Doc at the time had a less than desirable bedside manner; she basically said, “You have celiac disease, can’t eat gluten for the rest of your life…bye.”
I was relieved, but also petrified — what the hell was celiac anyways? Sarah, who is an ICU nurse, helped me understand what I’d been doing to my body all these years (I have a PhD, but it’s in social psych; no help in this case!). But maybe more strikingly, Sarah immediately, without my prompting, told me that our entire house would now (and forevermore) be gluten free. What a proposition! Literally the day I find out that this will be my — our — life for the next (hopefully many, many) years, she says “I support your health so much that I don’t care about giving up all of these things we’ve eaten for our whole lives.”
That night, we began the slow, sometimes painful process of learning how to read labels, at first online and then at Whole Foods. We purged everything that had gluten in it from our house, made a grocery list, and went to the store — where we probably spent two hours and $500+. I have been fortunate to receive a tremendous amount of support in my life, from my parents, graduate school advisors, and many others. But Sarah’s unconditional acceptance of our “new normal” was the most supportive thing anyone has ever done for me. Her support has changed our relationship for the better; we will celebrate our 10th anniversary in March, and plan on marrying next year.
Every day presents new challenges, but the support that Sarah as given me, from the day of diagnosis onward, has prompted me to make many changes in my relationship with food and my digestive system. I have been in acupuncture and cognitive behavioral therapy for over two years; I feel more “normal” now than I have in many years. I still have shitty days (don’t we all, especially celiacs?), but there are a helluva lot more good ones than bad. The way in which Sarah supported me is something that I will cherish and remember forever. I get teary writing about it now.