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.