Thursday, December 25, 2008

I want to take a moment to thank everyone for their support. I'm still dealing with a reaction, and some lingering depression; but I know that it's going to be short lived. (Okay, so I don't know. But I really, really hope it is...) And that helps.

Now, for the actual blog entry. The reason I've decided to leave my earlier ramble up is so that I can refer back to it; also so that others who deal with reactions can possibly relate. Any kind of GI trouble is so socially taboo that it feels isolating, it's not something we talk about. And when we feel better; we try not to think about it. Don't know about you, but I try really hard not to relive moments of physical pain.

Through the e-mails and message boards I frequent, I've been given a lot to consider regarding the relationship between depression and reactions; though I'm not a doctor and I haven't put it all together yet I'd like to start listing it here. I'm not writing at my best, so you'll have to bear with me.

First, and foremost, it's depressing not to feel well. It's even more frustrating when you feel as if you go above and beyond to isolate yourself, to be "different" and still you end up getting sick. Why not give in, live cheap and easy? You're just going to get sick anyways.

This is an "in-your-head" type reaction, but it's human and a valid response. I'm past the isolation, mostly. While I miss the idea of restaurants, I don't miss eating out because I did make the connection that they "hurt" me. And I think that a daily grind would drain me, even if it didn't make me collapse. But it is depressing to spend twice as much on food than a "normal" variation and then have trouble keeping it down.

On the physical level, it's worth noting that the gut is responsible for the production of seratonin. Seratonin is a hormone that affects mood. Most antidepressants work by increasing seratonin levels in the body.

GI reactions cause inflammation in the lining of the gut. In the case of celiac disease, actual physical damage is caused when the immune system kicks in and attacks the lining of the small intestine. Theoretically, this damage could (and would) affect the production of seratonin. Lowered levels of seratonin=depression.

Also of note, researchers recently found that people who are under a lot of stress at the onslaught of a reaction typically have longer or re-curring symptoms which do not respond effectively to medication (antihistamines). These reactions may be caused by increased levels of cytokines like IL-6 or stress hormones called catecholamines. This study was limited to participants experiencing typical environmental allergies---runny nose, watery eyes etc. However, since mild food allergies are treated with anti-histamines as well, one would think the theory should cross into the realm of food allergies.

This supports the frustrating fact that I, at least, find myself reacting worst when it's least convenient. (Like I volunteered to do yard duty or drive the carpool.) The incidents when I end up berating myself because it must be in my head may actually be in my cytokines. :P

I found more discussion on the connection between allergies and depression in an article from Ron Hoggan, MA and James Braly MD here:
...celiac disease would probably be found in a relatively small, but significant percentage, of those afflicted. The prior two conditions of enzyme deficiency and intestinal permeability are abundantly found when sought, and it is these features which, we suspect, dominate the segment of the population which is chronically depressed.
Enzyme deficiency would cause insufficient digestion of cereal grains, which then convert to morphine-like substances that can then pass through the permeable intestinal wall. Causing depression and other side effects.

Then there is the theory put forth by Dr. Theron Randolph; that some food induced reactions can cause "brain allergy". Dr. Abram Hoffer reports that depression and allergy often co-exist in his patients.

Lastly, but not least, a GI reaction causes inflammation. This inflammation affects the functioning of the GI tract, possibly for a long time after the original antibodies have subsided. As I was one told...If you scrape your knee, it doesn't matter what kind of knee-socks you wear. The fabric rubbing over it is going to keep the scrape raw. And it's difficult to rest your digestive tract. And if you do choose to fast, there's a recovery period. And when you're already at least 10 pounds underweight, then your recovery period is going to be longer. The prospect is daunting and a long recovery period can be likened to chronic illness, the stress of long periods of not feeling well coupled with a sense of "when is this going to hit again" would take a toll on anyone.

So, there it is. I'm not lying in bed letting the depression overtake me, I'm reading and learning more. Now, if only the medical personnel weren't trained to look at all the symptoms, shrug and say with a confident, sympathetic smile..."Hon, I think you're just under too much stress."

Sure, stress is a piece of the puzzle. But it isn't the only one.

Monday, December 22, 2008

It's beginning to feel a lot like Christmas...

Despite my aforementioned physical issues at the moment, I did want to include a happy post today.

It's beginning to feel a lot like Christmas! Baking has rejoined our Christmas routine, and there is just something about my youngest helping me in the kitchen that makes things brighter. She takes great pleasure out of baking, and the stress involved is generally worth it.

Our latest creation is sugar cookies. We took a regular recipe, adapted it to suit our needs (with oil and rice flours), chilled it and broke out the cutting board and rolling pin. This was my first time using this rolling pin...bought brand new so that I could have the pleasure of baking again, but I haven't been motivated enough. (See, I'm not really depressed...)

I warned her in advance that new recipes don't usually come out that great the first time. That there would be some tweaking involved. That she should not dissolve into tears or throw anything if it wasn't working out the way she imagined. I shot my oldest a "look" and informed her that gluten cut out cookies are just as frustrating, the only difference being that "normal" flour has many more experimenters and is, well, a lot cheaper to fail with!

She huffed at me. My youngest opened her eyes very wide, nodded solemnly and promised not to get upset if we could only experiment. And we did!!!!They're just as nummy as they look...even better; since they don't hurt my tummy and my husband claims they're better than regular sugar cookies. (With the caveat that he only eats regular sugar cookies because the snickerdoodles or oatmeal ones are gone.) We did lose a few angels to pan-sticking and other breakage...but I was very impressed and walking-on-air happy. You might need to try a few gluten free, er, "goodies" to fully appreciate the sensation.

Now, if only they'd lasted long enough to decorate with mini chocolate chips...Or, something else uncorny...

Depression, perhaps?

Although I've had this blog for some time, I don't think I've ever formally defined it's purpose.
I'm not sure anyone formally defines their blogs, so hopefully that isn't a problem!

Is it here to detail highlights of my life? To inform others of the trials of allergy free living? Perhaps it's an attempt to connect and say "you aren't alone" to strangers who are in their own "Can it really be just stress?" quandry. Or maybe it's a bit of everything. I know there are a few friends who follow faithfully, a few family members who drop by occassionally, and fellow allergy sufferers who pop by just to nod and agree...or shake their heads and say to themselves that they're glad they aren't THAT bad off. :P

I think today's post is directed at the latter.

I've been dealing with some sort of reaction for nearly a month now. I got a good dose of...something...just around Thanksgiving, vomiting and all that good stuff. It hit at a particularly poignant moment since I was dreading leaving the house and then conveniently ill.
Maybe it was stress?
But why hasn't it gone away? And why is it getting worse at moments when I want, very much, for it to get better?

I've found myself wondering which comes first, the reaction or depression. Because while it's much harder to deal with a reaction while depressed, the fact is that it's pretty depressing to feel like there's a shattered disco ball being used like a pin-ball machine in your abdomen, especially when the muscles are also feeling very sore and bruised. And then the chills set in, ironically I feel like it's a hundred degrees in here while my teeth are chattering loudly enough to accompany the CD player and I'm sweating. Ick.

The only difference between now and the days before I'd identified triggers are that I harbor hope. There's hope that I'll track the reaction down. I know what normal is, sort of. At least...I know this isn't it. And it isn't a constant tide of pain vs discomfort. There's bits of normalcy in there. There never used to be.

I'm hopeful, but I'm scared too. I don't want to deal with this on a regular basis. I don't like not knowing when it's going to hit. Whenever it DOES hit I get so skittish. I shun company, I hide out at home. I want to ignore the phone and the door and the call of the grocery store (It's not like I'm that hungry, after all.) I used to get the stomach flu, and it was a distant memory within the week.

Now, it's long and drawn out and there's very unnecessary weight loss involved...especially when it ISN'T the flu.

To be honest, the discomfort and embarrassing nature of this malady isn't the only thing I'm afraid of. I know I ought to slip into the doctor's office, recite my list of complaints along with their severity and wait for prognosis. And I know that it's not serious...I'm not even concerned that it might be serious. What scares me is the thought that there's nothing more to do.

I know I don't have something scary like Cancer. I'm lucky, very lucky! I also don't have something scary but treatable like diabetes. Again...I'm lucky. I can eat chocolate now and then! But the mystery digestive ailment that responds violently to comfort drugs and pops up mysteriously; tracked to triggers such as minute amounts of corn in the new tube of my usual toothpaste or helping the kids to decorate "real" gingerbread houses is getting to me. I wish I had something to say other than "I'm just not feeling well today," I feel so whiny. And I'm whining about whining which simply makes it worse!

At any rate, I go back to my checklist. Foods haven't changed drastically, or even that subtly. All the same ingredients, all the same brands, all the same labels (even on eggs). Maybe it isn't food. I'm more prone to reactions this time of year, usually tracked to a trigger but maybe I'm wrong? Maybe I'm crazy? (Wait, blind tests have proven there's SOMETHING physical occurring beyond the state of my psyche)

What about stress?
It's my official diagnosis, one I've been given countless times. Maybe I'm depressed, something I've considered as well.
The thing is, I'm more mad at my body than I am "stressed". And I feel too happy to really be "depressed", if that makes sense. I may not feel like going to a downtown museum and walking through the crowds of the Christmas displays but lying down and listening to my kids play with their nativity set makes me grin. And I enjoy the Christmas displays when there aren't elbows in my ribs and strangers feet tripping me. When I awaken beside a bedtime invader ("It's cold in my room!") I just lay and savor the weight of her body and the sound of her breathing. Candles burning in the menorah filled me with peace. I missed reading together when a child fell asleep before her bedtime book.

Would I feel that way if I were depressed?
The landlord stopped by unexpectedly, and caught me with the living room a mess and my baking unfinished. (At least the kids were dressed...) And I laughed, even at the gentle critique ( yard's a disaster, it's worse than the living room. It's cold out there for cleaning, though!). If stress were the issue, wouldn't that have tied my stomach in knots? Or wouldn't I lose my calm when I discover that there are beads, scissors and a flurry of paper snowflake-makings filling my now-recently vacuumed living room?

Okay, so I did think "why even bother"? But then the snowflakes made me smile. And if I were depressed, I wouldn't keep re-cleaning...would I?

I'm starting to wonder how many other allergy/digestive sufferers go through this process during a reaction. If you struggle with depression in conjunction with a reaction (but don't know if it's really depression) let me know I'm not alone! You can let me know if I'm crazy too...everyone else does :P And if you know of a good way to get through the emotional aspects of a reaction cycle, post that, too. It's the most frustrating part. Because sometimes it leads to not caring anymore. Whats the point if its not going to permanently cure me?

I know that eventually I'll be fine again. I know that it isn't just stress. I also know that it stresses me out, and that stress exacerbates maybe it is stress to a degree. At any rate, I have to get better. I want to enjoy playing with the kids. We've got playgrounds to explore, and games to play, and recipes to adapt. Not to mention holidays to celebrate...

Saturday, December 20, 2008


Last night, I half awoke to find myself...looking at myself. My child-self, laying there on my pillow. I smiled, and wondered to myself what was wrong with the nose, because you see--my nose looked wrong, it was too pretty. And, I never had freckles.
As I was coming awake to ponder the mysterious appearance of freckles on my child-face; the form beside me sighed, stretched, and the shadow of my husband briefly graced it's features (Ah! It's his nose. Sort of.)
And sleepy eyes blinked open, smiling sheepishly (now that's my husband's grin) and said, in my daughter's voice "I had a bad dream..."

Sometimes I forget they inherited more from me than allergies.

There's love of books, they both got that. And my oldest hates math as much as I did. The youngest is shy to an extreme at times. (Although, my husband claims a bit of responsibility for that) They're dreamers, and thinkers, and plotters and planners. Their imagination is vast and their dreams are big.

For all that they inherited, they are simply themselves, and I'm amazed each day that I was lucky enough to become their mother.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Giving Thanks

This Thanksgiving was far from stressful.

We decided to ignore the fact that we live near virtually all of our family, ignore our friends and just relax (Sorry guys!). I didn't have to worry about timing dinner, or about how it would taste to tastebuds other than our own. The house didn't have to be spotless. And we didn't have to go sit on anyone else's couch and pray that gluten crumbs avoided our safe dishes :P

It's funny how large a part food really plays in our life.

We had a relaxed morning, other than the fighting kids. (She's looking at me! "She looked at me first!" But, Mommy, I was just looking like this, not like THIS!) We quickly dragged those fussbudgets out on a Playground parade, but that's a different blog. Found a new letterbox, planted by a new letterboxing family. A new cool park, near a generic but fun one.

The unique excitement of the day was when we spotted 3 turkeys (or were they vultures?) eating an opossum by the side of the road.

Not the kind of thing you see very often in CA! Well, in our urban-esque neck of the woods, anyways. Opossums are in zoos. So are vultures. Turkeys live on farms and sometimes in Disneyland.

Our home cooked meal consisted of a mess of Sweet Potatoes peeled, chopped and roasted with onions and a bit of oil. Another attempt at stuffing (It's getting closer all the time!) Some Green Beans with margarine for the girls and turkey breast for the husband. Oldest ate a bit and said it was good...but not good enough to give up being vegetarian. (Whatever that means, she did choose to eat turkey...) I scrambled a few eggs for my own protein source, and told youngest she had to stare at the turkey on the table real hard, and look at my eggs without screaming. In exchange, she didn't even have to put it on her plate. I'm just grateful she tasted the sweet potatoes and stuffing. And gobbled down her green beans.

Dessert was pumpkin pie-scicles (courtesy of an adapted Family Fun recipe...the kids want more sugar and spice next time) and apple slices baked in chebe bread pockets. Wow! It was a veritable feast!

Now that it's over, we're left counting our blessings.
Like my youngest, I'm grateful for trees, and air.
Like my oldest, I'm grateful for allergy free food, and for the Warrior's series of books (or at least, that she's actually finishing books)

I'm also grateful that we have a roof over our heads.
I'm grateful for the nights the kids spend asleep in their own beds.
I'm thankful for dh's new job (and that for many months, our biggest worry was simply getting a new job.)
I'm thankful for my husband, even when I'm mad at him.
I'm thankful for my kids, even when I threaten to sell them to the gypsies.
I'm thankful for the few precious moments I steal to myself at bedtime, soaking in a warm hot bath. And I'm thankful for the voices that shatter my peace (although I'd rather they stayed in bed, quietly)
I'm thankful we have toys to strew across the floor, and that the kids still want us parents to play, too.
I'm thankful for the mornings I wake up with an elbow in my eye and pins and needles in my leg from a child draping themselves uncomfortably over me in the night.

As hard as it gets sometimes, the rough spots remind us how good the good can be.
The past year or so has been filled with a lot of hurt, and I'm grateful for that too. Because now I can see the light that lays ahead.

If you're reading this, may your holiday season and all your days be filled with light and blessings.