Monday, August 09, 2010


It's funny how the mind works.
Some deep seated memory can float to the surface, and pieces of a mystery will fall into place, leaving you chuckling to yourself (or smacking yourself in the forehead) but helpless to do anything to change the past.  A memory is simply a memory.
Today's trigger was a family reunion, and my mind quickly drifted back several years, to the same family reunion (with more relatives I was excited about seeing.)  my brother had an earache or some such not-bad, but not-sociable illness, and my dad volunteered to take me.  Afterall, it was his family and he really wanted to visit with them.
We stopped at Subway on the way.  Purchased sandwiches, and I got away with ordering my preferred salad-on-bread...although he insisted on the bread.  We got to the picnic, and he wanted me to sit down and eat.
This made no sense to me.
I was 13 or 14 at the time.  I could not understand why he didn't "get" that eating came at the end of fun.  For me, eating was an End.  I didn't like the beginning it signified.  I'd eat, because I was hungry.  But then I'd feel clothes would hurt.  My stomach would whine.  I'd feel itchy, and hot, and nauseous.  Eating was a "Now you curl up in a chair, close your eyes and listen to people tell stories" activity.
Eating meant time to get in the car, and go home, and curl up in bed with the trash can in easy reach.
Eating was social...but it came at the end of socializing for me.  It was the start of a game called "How long can we be civil before giving in to misery this time?"
Looking back, this was the timeframe my Celiac symptoms started kicking in.  That 'healthy' whole wheat bread packed a whollop of gluten.  And it made me cringe because my instincts said bread was bad.  Salad was good.  However, I was losing weight which made my parents want to stuff me full of carbs and ice cream.  It all makes perfect sense, looking back now.
But this memory took place then, before we knew that food could bite back.  So my dad and I arrived, he told me to sit and eat, and I refused.  He was frustrated, disappointed, I knew my behavior was embarrassing him.  But still, I put it off, trying to be polite and feeling utterly confused and frustrated.  To me, everyone had to know what eating felt like and I wanted to go exploring.  Greet some people.  Commune with nature.  Go on an expedition with my cousin.  (I was just barely young enough to pretend we were lost in a forest...we'd both read My Side of the Mountain...and the reunion took place in a campground area so no one had to put up overnight guests.)  Eating would have ruined it all.
It was bad enough they'd made me choke down breakfast. 

My dad was smart.  He didn't get into a big blow out fight with me.  He didn't turn it into a battle of wills, or let this disagreement turn into a showdown in front of his entire family.  He simply let go and said if I wanted to go hungry I could go hungry.
And as I recall I was perfectly happy until I got hungry.
At which point I learned that my beloved salad-on-bread had been disposed of because mayo doesn't keep.  And food time was over, so most was packed up and put away.  You don't get dessert until you eat lunch...and my lunch was gone. 

I remember feeling confused, betrayed, hungry.  And the look I got from my dad confused me further.  He'd won, he was right.  But so was I, in my mind.  Eating would have destroyed the afternoon of fun.  Why on Earth were people chatting it up after eating?  How could they stomach a game of volleyball with a whirlwind in their bellies?  Were grownups some sort of masochists who thrived on abdominal discontent or did they have some magic spell I didn't know about?

I'm sure I was rotten to me dad for the rest of the afternoon, and pouted all the way home.  I know I was tired and cranky.  Now I know that I was missing a piece of the puzzle...the piece that says you aren't supposed to feel like you're exploding two bites into dinner.  A satisfying meal shouldn't leave you wanting to curl up and sleep it off so you don't have to pay attention to each step of digestion.  But then...then I thought I was normal.
My parents were missing the piece of how food made me feel.  They assumed I simply didn't want to sit still long enough to swallow.  They thought I might be concerned about calories (hence the bread, and the bowls of ice cream I consumed under watchful eyes).  They thought it was a teenage rebel thing.  And probably there was some teenage attitude.  I'm certain I was a handful.
But now I know that it wasn't all teenage angst.  I had Celiac Disease.  I have Celiac Disease.  I still hesitate to eat before socializing, it's just an ingrained, learned behavior.  I'm still startled to notice when I don't feel rotten after eating.  I still think "Oh, rats, I just ate!" when the kids or my husband want to go out on the spur of a moment.  There's so much more to food intolerances than we know.  And when they begin early, there's this added dimension of not having a normal baseline to guide symptoms by.
I found an old diary from when I was 9.  It had all of 5 entries in it.  One read "Got my allergy shots today.  Read a book.  Threw up in kitchen and went to bed early.  Wrote in diary.  Going to sleep."
Hmmm.  Another said I felt sick after dinner and went to bed.  I wish I'd kept a better record of how often those allergy shots made me sick, because that seems like another piece of the puzzle. 

Meanwhile, memories will continue to arise...revealing more of how undiagnosed food intolerances have affected my life and who I am.  And Dad...I'm really sorry I was so rotten to you that day.  I wanted what you wanted, to enjoy the picnic and the company.  We just had different ideas on how to make that happen.

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