One Celiac’s Journey through the Emotional and Psychological Consequences of Gluten Intolerance Â
Celiac Disease is an autoimmune disorder.Â Individuals cannot tolerate the gluten protein found in wheat, barley, (most oats) and rye.Â Reactions vary from nausea, bloating, diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal pain, to constipation and no symptoms at all. Â
Those with pronounced symptoms often suffer emotionally as well as physically.Â This often overlooked side effect should be addressed at diagnosis so that psychological healing can begin with physical healing.Â Counseling should certainly be considered.Â Simply having someone name, understand, and sympathize with the celiac’s condition can make a marked difference in the person’s life. Â
A petite young lady, weighing less than 95 lbs., enjoyed the warm bread served each evening at her college campus dining room.Â Within half an hour of dinner, she would begin to feel nauseated, and her abdomen would be completely distended with gas and extreme pain.Â She would try to ignore the bloating and carry on with the evening’s routine whether that meant study, socializing with friends or a date.Â
Long stays in the restroom, pain that brought sweats and chills, diarrhea 6 to 8 times a day did not stop this determined young woman from living as “normally” as possible.Â Mornings were the least painful times of the day.Â She had stopped eating breakfast so the swelling and pain did not begin until after lunch.Â Little did she know that this cycle would continue for 10 more years. Â
Her body became more and more emaciated as time passed.Â Other strange pains developed, such as aching in the upper arms.Â Medical doctors dismissed the arm pain as strained muscles, the diarrhea as Irritable Bowel Syndrome or the result of stress.Â Â
At the age of 23, her waist line measured 21 to 22 inches in the mornings, but expanded by evening so that she could no longer wear the same clothes.Â Instead she chose sizes that were 2 to 3 times larger than her body size required.Â She had even been told by a boyfriend that she was fat; yet her body appeared to be anorexic.Â She enjoyed eating and could eat as much as she wanted and never gain a pound.Â In fact, quite the opposite occurred, she lost weight.Â Outwardly she was envied for her body size; however, the silent ache was not satisfying. Â
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I was that young woman, 17 years ago.Â I am a celiac.Â Like many others, I suffered with some of the worst symptoms of celiac disease:Â daily nausea, diarrhea, painful bloating, anemia, fatigue, early onset osteoporosis and also emotional pain.Â I began to believe that I was fat.Â I had the misconception that my daily distended abdomen was fat, instead of gas.Â The mirror showed a bloated belly which looked overweight; the scales showed a skeleton.Â In my twenties, this caused a lot of heartache for me.Â Â
I began to exercise every day for long periods of time and then I would go home and walk for miles in hope of changing my body.Â Silently my body was being destroyed by an unknown disease.Â This disease was in turn causing osteoporosis, liver damage and anemia which resulted in chronic fatigue, illness, and depression.Â I ignored it and pushed myself harder. Â
Finally, through circumstances that I believe were providential, I had a bone density screening and learned that I had porous bones.Â This led to some testing.Â Two more years would pass before a doctor correctly diagnosed me with gluten intolerance. Â
In the meantime, I suffered.Â My misery went well beyond the physical pain.Â My emotions were damaged as well. Â How many other celiacs have endured cruel jokes or mockery because of the undiagnosed disease factor?Â How many still suffer from the effects of body image misconceptions?Â Parents, counselors, spouses, and physicians need to be aware of damage that goes beyond the physical realm, particularly in women.Â Scars of Celiac Disease may go much deeper than many acknowledge.
Copyright 2009 Becky Eernisse
Becky Eernisse was diagnosed with Celiac Disease in 2001. She has become an expert on the gluten free diet from personal experience, as well as extensive research. Mrs. Eernisse has helped many others master the gluten free diet and has prepared a free online mini-course, available at http://www.EnjoyTheGlutenFreeLife.com
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