Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Nausea is the worst

I feel bad for saying this, even for thinking it.  But truly, some days nausea feels like the worst symptom.
I know there are people who have it worse.  I count my blessings nightly, kiss my kids and walk the dog, I say a silent prayer of thanks for what I have.
But I can't help but think that nausea is still just...miserable.

I have my allergies relatively under control.  My symptoms are new and probably "functional" which means, while I by no means am fully functional, my body technically has nothing wrong that needs treatment.

Whether your diagnosis is functional abdominal something, or IBS, or something more specific, the queasies are never fun.  They impact every area of your life, from baking to eating to socializing.  They may even impact your ability to work normally.

If you, like me, are struggling with stomach woes this year, just know that you aren't alone. The episodes are (hopefully) transient and short lived.  I won't say it could be worse because that doesn't help me.  But at least it isn't the end of the world.

For anyone else out there who is struggling, you probably have already had a list of recommendations that don't work.
I'm not going to say that there is an easy fix, or a one size fits all solution.  There isn't.  But, here are a few (corn free, gluten free as always) options that help take the edge off for me:

Ice water:  Something about really cold water makes it stay down better.  Small sips.  Sometimes pressing the glass to your wrists between sips helps, too.

Cold compress:  A cool compress on the wrists, inside the elbows or at the nape of the neck can be soothing.  And of course, if you're having those awful hot flash false fever things that sometimes accompany nausea, a cool cloth on the forehead never hurts.

Hot tea:  Depending on the day, hot tea can be soothing.  Small pieces of ginger can be simmered in water for 10-20 minutes to make ginger tea, or you can steep anise seeds for a licoricey taste.  Stir in a touch of sugar.  If you have a safe milk product to stir in, ginger tea tastes better with some creamy texture.  But if you don't, that's perfectly okay too.

Motion Sickness Bands:  Those little gray bracelets with a marble in them?  They work.  Not like magic, exactly, but they definitely help take the edge off.  The only trouble is that they can get stretched out and then they don't work nearly so well.

A brisk walk:  Yeah, I know, that seems counter intuitive.  But I find that a bit of fresh air (especially cold air) can really help calm things down.  Our hyperactive dog helps with this one a lot.

Dry food:  You know how pregnant women snack on saltines all day long?  And little kids get bits of dry toast when they're recovering from the flu?  Neither of those work with Celiac Disease.  But slightly toasted day-old rice or rice flour pancakes seem to settle much better than the fresh version.  I think it's a combination of the texture and the blandness.  Not appealing when you're well, but there are times when you would rather a few calories slip past your sensory network.

Broth: A perennial favorite, homemade broth gets a few precious calories in alongside some important nutrients.  Chicken broth, veggie broth, bone broth...whatever you prefer, get the ingredients into your crockpot before bed, and you'll have hot broth at your fingertips all day long.

Calm music, or a favorite movie:  There's comfort food, and there's comfort food for the soul.  Whatever your spiritual comfort food is...plug it in, curl up with a warm blanket and put your brain on autopilot.  If you can close your eyes to appreciate it, all the better.

You'll note that I don't mention books.  I love books.  I'm a voracious reader.  You can tell I haven't been feeling "normal" by the number of books I go through, just as you can guess my state of mind by the number of items I bring home from the library.  But I have to be careful, reading too much can exacerbate stomach issues.  Someday I'll get a smarter device and listen to recorded books...Occasionally I'll pick up a recording of Jane Austen, and while I find it hard to follow the story when I'm not feeling great, I do appreciate the soothing tone of the narrator.

I wish there was a miracle cure I could offer.  I'd love to wave a magical wand and cure us all of persistent stomach "issues".  But until then, the best I can do is tell you that you aren't alone.  And hope that I'm not alone either!  :P

It's especially challenging to deal with health issues during the holidays.  Try and focus on what you can do, not what you want to be able to do.  The holidays are a time of love and well as forgiveness and understanding.  The people who matter will understand.  The people who try and hold it against you don't matter.

Enjoy your holiday, embrace the calm moments and accept the queasy ones.  You only get one today, don't put it entirely on hold.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Potluck Power: Corn allergy edition

Life with a corn allergy leads to a lot of obstacles.  Food is everywhere.  Most people don't even realize how often they snack, or accept a drink, munch on food that isn't homemade.  But where there is socializing, there is food.  And for those of us with food allergies; there is tempatation and risk.
For some people with food restrictions, the risk is minimal.  For others, it's big.
And then there are those who are just beginning...they don't know how big the risk really is, and that makes it seem like a looming obstacle.
Luckily, you don't have to eat food that you don't provide.  Really, it is that simple.  There is no reason whatsoever that you would be forced to eat a meal that you don't have control over, so let that risk go.  You get to choose what goes into your body.
Once I learned that trick, social situations became infinitely easier.  (Especially once I figured out that I didn't need to explain to every single person at a party exactly why I wasn't eating.)

The next obstacle was just as hard if not harder:  What to share.
Obviously, I'm not talking about words.  I've already stated that I learned not to overshare.  Oversharing is bad, it loses friends and creates judgement.  It leads to a nasty neverending cycle of self consciousness, negative self talk and isolation.

Once I started to be social again, I didn't like showing up at parties, especially pot lucks, empty handed.  But what could I share?  My diet was/is so limited.  I was used to friends and strangers' appalled faces, and questions like "what do you eat?"
Food.  The answer, dear reader:  I eat food.  I just tend to know what, exactly, is in it.
This is a rarity in some circles.  And the lack of unpronouncables in the ingredient list is a distinct turn off to some individuals.  It was definitely a deterrent to me.  What if they miss the polysorbate 80?  What if they notice there's no MSG?  And, potentially the most unforgiveable of all, how will it possibly look appealing without the aid of yellow #6?

My fears were misplaced.  I started slow.  I ensured there were no known nut allergies and brought my old fashioned peanut butter cookies.  The recipe calls for 1 jar, 2 eggs, and 2 cups of sugar.  I add chocolate chunks and a touch of rice flour.  It's rich, creamy, and I've had folk ask if they can bring a few home wrapped in a napkin.  This, as you can imagine, was the ultimate compliment.

For a more savory dish, I've had success with roasted sweet potatoes.  It's a simple recipe involving sweet potatoes, onions and sometimes carrots, beets, parsnips and/or garlic.  I've roasted brussel sprouts, too, but people are still suspicious of their green-ness.  (Those brave souls who try a few always take seconds or thirds, but the first bite seems to take an awful lot of courage.  After all, they're brussel sprouts.  They've had a bad rap every since the Beaver's days.)  Of course, with this recipe you need to be careful where your dish is placed and that serving utensils don't get mixed up.  Cross contamination is a concern, and I sometimes find myself hovering protectively over the food...totally negating the normalcy of sharing food.

Then I wanted something sweet, but not too sweet.  Something that could pass as a brunchy food.  I wanted to bring carrot cake...but I don't have a good frosting.  Besides, frosting would turn it into a real dessert.
Solution?  Carrot cake baked into loaf pans.  I get lots of positive feedback, and the sugar content is significantly lowered.  Plus, I can turn the leftovers into peanut butter sandwiches.  If there are any leftovers.  Which is rarely.

Final risk taken?  Chebe bread.  It's made from a mix.  I sometimes add garlic and  spinach or diced bell peppers.  I roll it into small rolls to make it less intimidating to potluck snackers.  It gets rave reviews and lots of questions about ingredients and what I do to make it taste so much like "real food".

Potlucks are no longer terrifying.
I still have to worry about cross contamination, and environmental sources of corn (Did someone recently pop corn, is there cornstarch in the air?) but I've managed to feel successful at the end of several potluck type situations.
There's just something satisfying about being able to share what I eat, and finding out that other people don't find it nearly as bland and depressing as they seem to think they will.
I won't pretend I don't feel awkward about my dietary limitations, because I do.  And the point of this blog is to be honest and support anyone else in the same boat.  But I realized that the only way to help others accept my restrictions and see past them is to act normal.  Which means pretending that it really isn't a big deal either way if I can eat the food they offer, or if they taste my offerings.

Once I started pretending, I realized it was true.  Especially once I discovered that I had perfectly respectable dishes to offer.  My diet is different, but not inferior.  What we eat while we talk is really irrelevant.  The fact that we're talking, and the contents of our conversation, that's what matters.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

I wish I knew then...

When I was just starting out, my allergies were all consuming.  At least, learning to live with these food restrictions felt all consuming.  I had to relearn how to shop, how to cook, how to maneuver social situations.  I had to change my taste buds, adjust what tasted "good" according to what was "safe".  I had to learn self control in ways I'd never really had to learn it before.
And I had to do it all without going crazy.

I started out by apologizing.  A lot.  I felt guilty for turning down food.  I felt guilty for being served a dish of something if I couldn't eat it, knowing it would be thrown away.  I felt guilty when people spent money on gifts like cookies or (evil) popcorn tins that I wouldn't be able to use.  I was so focused on not poisoning myself that it became almost a mantra.
"I can't eat that, or that, or that"  "I have food allergies"  And then the details.  Long explanations about corn and symptoms and weight loss and drs and answers.
It became all about me, when ironically, my goal was to NOT cause a scene.  I never was fond of throwing up in public, even in public restrooms, and avoiding food that triggered that type of behavior seemed like a good way to keep attention off of myself.
And I had to explain why I wasn't eating...didn't I?
I mean, if I didn't apologize and make sure that the host understood just how bad my reactions were, wouldn't they think I was crazy?  Or at the very least, very rude?

Like most of us, I was raised to be polite.  Take a taste.  Take just a little and finish your plate.  You don't want to offend the cook.  In some cultures it's the utmost reproach to turn down food.
But it's pretty rude to empty your stomach midmeal, too.
And it's more than a little distracting to stop breathing in the middle of a party.  Ambulances are known to put a damper on festivities.  Besides, medical attention is expensive.  And whether you eat the food and risk dying, or don't eat the risk offending the host.  So you might as well stay safe.

Like many food allergy sufferers, I let myself over compensate by over explaining.  I didn't realize that no one cared about my stomach, or my symptoms, or why I wasn't at the last few parties.  While people would ask why I wasn't eating, or comment on my weight loss, they didn't really *care*.  (And I mean that in the best possible way)  This was a party, after all.  The comments weren't meant to trigger a heart to heart between strangers.
But, being self conscious, I'd start to explain.  And then I'd clarify.  And when I saw the glazed over look, I explained some more.
I might as well have been screaming "Don't judge me!  Don't think I'm crazy!  Forgive me!  I'm really not crazy!"  Unfortunately, when someone starts claiming they aren't crazy, that's the one word everyone around them latches onto.

I know now that when I was talking frankly about diagnosis and symptoms and our broken food supply, many of those around me were only hearing one thing:  Eating disorder.
I was under a hundred pounds, and refusing to eat, and going off on a tangent about corn in salad greens.  Or whole wheat crackers.  Or candy.  Or whatever was in front of me.  I was poisoned by bottled water once, it didn't make social situations any easier.
But it did make me look...paranoid.

I know now that it doesn't actually matter whether we eat party food or not.  There are a thousand reasons to say "No, thank you." to a meal or a snack.  We don't need excuses to validate our choices.  Our choice is valid in itself.
I know now that it's okay to just not eat something.
It's also okay to change the subject quickly.  We aren't there to eat; we don't need to submit to a third degree.  We're there to enjoy the company.  And we can't do that while we're busy justifying our choice to take care of our bodies and protect our health.

If I had it to do over again, I'd smack myself on the back of the head (not literally...that would get me labeled crazy in a whole different manner), and tell myself to stop talking.  Say "No, thanks," and leave it at that.
People ask questions to be polite, and once they start it's hard to stop.  The idea of food as an enemy is foreign to most people, they can't wrap their brains around it and are stuck asking questions they don't necessarily want more information about.  No one needs a history of health problems, other than your doctor.
No one needs to know exactly why you're saying no to a piece of cake or pizza.  A choice is a valid choice as long as it isn't infringing on someone else's health issues.  And it doesn't hurt anyone when you choose an empty plate.  Social situations are for filling your heart with friends and love.  For building up relationships, not passing judgement.
Forget the guilt, say "no thanks" to allergen-questionable treats, and keep your hands free for the important things, like hugs and high fives.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Understanding Anxiety

My facebook page has been alive with pictures and shared articles and general discourse about the Late Great Robin Williams and his struggles with depression and anxiety.  Everyone wants to understand, to comprehend what went wrong so we can fix it.  So we can prevent any more suicides.  Ever.  They want to understand, to place blame, insert solutions, and move on.
The truth is, most people know someone who has struggled with a mental health issue at some time or another.  Depression is not uncommon, nor is anxiety.  What is uncommon is a true understanding of the dynamics behind either disorder (not to mention the plethora of other labels available.)

These hit home for me for a couple of reasons.  First, I used to believe I struggled with some sort of mysterious anxiety issue. I never felt unreasonably anxious, really, but my stomach was never "right".  And when the symptoms would get out of control; the doctors' answers were always "stress" or "anxiety" so I worked hard to ignore the symptoms, breathe deeply and move on.  My biggest fear was not making it to the bathroom on time.  In retrospect, it wasn't an irrational concern.
Fast forward several years.  Now I've seen what anxiety can do to a person.  I've struggled to find help for a loved one.  I've argued with school personnel, tried my best to advocate for rights and appropriate treatment and in general mucked about in a lot of things I didn't understand while trying my best to find a solution.

What have I learned?  That there isn't any one single solution.  There are no real answers.
Anxiety and Depression (they often go hand in hand) Don't Make Sense.  I capitalize intentionally, because there is no other way for me to impress upon you, my reader, how important that phrase is.

Trying to validate the situation, or explain away how ridiculous the fear really is, does not work in extreme cases.  But in our society, we want to scrutinize the symptoms and solve them.  Unfortunately, for some folks this doesn't help.  The more we focused on reassuring my daughter that school was a safe environment, the harder it was for her to go.

And I can't tell you how many times the teachers, administrators and even therapists assured me that school couldn't be a trigger because they'd explained to her already that she was safe.  And she'd agreed that it made sense and she liked school.

However, at 7 o'clock in the morning, time to get ready and out the door, none of that rationalization helped.  In only made her feel much worse about her irrational terror of going.  Which triggered more depression.  Which in turn grew out of control.

I find it fascinating to read comments from adult sufferers of both anxiety and depression.  They describe a dark presence that was there even in their childhood, a shadow over their normal activity that was dismissed by parents and teachers.  They were told to get over it.  They learned to hide it.  They learned to be ashamed and that, in turn, led to more trouble seeking help when they finally decided that help was the only real solution.

Maybe the real key to understanding and successfully treating both Anxiety and Depression is a better way to accept the feelings, without judging, and finding ways to work with people who suffer.  Protect jobs.  Provide better school support.  Stop trying to cure and move on, because from what I see, reading comment after comment after comment from adults who have dealt with mental health issues for most of their lives, and sought help (or been burned seeking help), the hardest part about getting help and moving on is the expectation that this is something that can be cured.

For whatever reason, anxiety is a permanent condition.  It can be managed.  It can even go dormant.  But it isn't a permanent cure.  People with true Anxiety Disorder may struggle off and on for their entire lives.  That's a lot of years of trying to explain to others that they were "better" but now they aren't.  A lot of time to feel guilty for not being normal.

If you're reading this and struggling; it's okay.  It's okay to be scared, or upset.  Those feelings are totally valid.  What isn't okay is that those feelings are impacting your life, and there are limited ways to deal with it.  Talk to a friend...and if they don't get it, talk to another friend.  Keep talking.  We need people to hear so that they can know.  We need people to talk so that others know they aren't alone.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Whenever I'm depressed or overwhelmed by financial frustration; I go to the library.
I run my fingers over the spines of the books.  I fill my arms with books on whatever strikes my fancy.  Often YA fantasy for an escapist read; but I'm also a fan of nonfiction.  (My daughter calls these "end of the world books")  I read classics.  (I should read more classics than I do...)  I look for something decadent, and something weighty to balance things out.  I seek out well loved authors and unknowns.  I choose them based on cover or because they've been on my To Be Read list or because I recognize the author.  I snag books with interesting titles.
When I have a comforting load, I skim through movies.
I don't restrict myself.  I choose something I've seen before...a lighthearted, feel good movie like Big or Fools Rush In.  Or a feel good tearjerker like Titanic or just a plain old tearjerker like "My Sister's Keeper".  Or something tense.  Or something I haven't seen before.
The options are endless.

I come home, my soul somewhat soothed.  And then I curl up surrounded by words and stories, snuggle my dog and/or the kids and I read.

And feel insanely rich.

I have an ereader.  But as nice as it is to bring a library with me everywhere I go, nothing seems to compare to visiting the library and bringing a small selection home.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Some days,  I wish I'd never learned to read.  That I could unknow the stories, the facts, the questions...and the nonanswers to those questions.

I want to pull the wool over my eyes and focus on a small aspect of the world.  Or maybe I want to hug my kids and hide on a deserted island, far away from the knowledge of global warming, GMOs and mandatory vaccination schedules (regardless of religious beliefs, and eliminating any questions from parents regarding safety and appropriateness).

What I really want to hide from, though, are the people discussing these items.  Rather than a whole picture image, I see people discussing small aspects.  I see severe judgements made based on tiny portions of information taken out of context.

We need to remember that all parents are parents.  Regardless of income level, or education achieved, or time and effort they've put into researching the latest in parenting techniques, they area still parents.  As such, most have their child's best interest in mind when they are making decisions.

What's more, each child is an individual and will respond differently or require different parenting tactics.  Each child needs a different medical approach.  A unique education based on their individual needs and learning styles and ability.  There is no "one size fits all" approach to life.  Neither is there a single approach to parenting, or health care, or lifestyles in general.

Whatever happened to mistakes being learning lessons?  How does one grow as an individual if they aren't free to explore their personal beliefs, and to act on them?  Presuming, of course, that the consequences of their actions are less likely to impact others than themselves.

We're so busy attacking the trees; we miss the forest.  And then it's gone.

Come on, folks.  Think.  Respect.  Trust.
Is that really so much to ask?

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Sometimes I have to laugh...

I was advised that I should probably cut back on the red meat and soda.
Done...I don't eat red meat and haven't had a soda in 20 years.
The next suggestion was that maybe I should entirely cut out fast food and soda.
Again...done.  I literally have not had a soda in 20 years or more.
"Or it could just be stress..."

Yup.  That ubiquitous stress.

Honestly, I think it's all that chocolate I eat when I don't have time for a proper dinner.  :-)   I need to be nicer to my pancreas.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Sometimes the road you think you're on takes you places you never expected to go.

When I had kids; I expected to send them off to school and go back to work...get a degree and do something "meaningful" in that time they were safely ensconced in learning.  But one way or another, that didn't quite happen.

Slowly I pushed my aspirations back.  I could go back to school; or get a good job, once they reached jr high...a stage where my presence would not be requested for parties or volunteer work; and where most kids are finding their own ways home or at least carpooling.

But some things don't work out the way you expect.  'The best laid plans' and all that jazz.  Sometimes you find yourself living life backwards.

I never set out to be a homeschooler.  I have great respect for homeschoolers.  I loved the thought of homeschooling young kids.  But, we had a phenomenal elementary school.  A good middle school.  A decent high school.  We live in a fairly safe neighborhood.  Test scores are great, and our kids are above average.  Gifted, even.

 There was no need to homeschool.

Until there was.  And then there was no more debate, no more options.  We tried everything, we ran into a lot of brick walls, and finally...clarity.  Give up.  Homeschool.

If I'd ever considered myself a homeschooler, I would have seen myself sending the kids back to school at the middle or high school level.  Instead, I find myself scrambling to find lesson plans that meet both the state standards and unique needs.

I never meant to be a homeschooler.  But here I am.
And it's paying off.  I fear for the education my daughter is getting, but only because I feel inadequate in the face of her potential.  And that fear is far outweighed by the shadows left by the public school system.  It's not that I don't trust's just that they were woefully unprepared for the beautiful disaster that is my child.

High test scores contrasted by emotional outbursts.  Mature outlooks balanced by immature attitudes.  The independence countered by tearful clinging long after her peers had let go.  It didn't add up, it doesn't add doesn't need to add up any more.

She simply is.

And I never imagined that by walking away from what should be, from the traditional road, would we finally start to find things that do make sense.  Truths that were shrouded from us before as we were searching for answers.

Gifted kids are quirky.  It's not a problem, or a question, or even a concern.  It's just a fact.

The only question left is...why didn't anyone clue us in sooner?  We'd have saved so much heartbreak and sleepless nights if we knew that these were normal aspects of gifted kids.

Gifted sometimes doesn't feel like a gift.  But understanding is.