Looking back, I believe my celiac disease symptoms started around high school. It began as seemingly simple heart burn that very gradually became more and more frequent as the years ticked by. Heartburn was common in our family, so I readily explained away my increasingly heavy antacid use as a trait of my “magnificent” family.
As time went on, I began experiencing stomach upset and aches that increased, again, very gradually over time.
In my case, the gradual nature of this disease seems to be the most damaging, as it slowly, over the course of several years, transformed me from the athletic, high energy, incredibly positive and unsinkable person that I was growing up, to a slow, weak, sluggish, very bitter and miserable person. My lack of energy was incredible.
At 28 years old, I woke up and realized how depressed, angry and - due to this attitude and outlook on life - newly single and lonely I had become. Had these changes come on overnight, I would have gone straight to the doctors and insisted upon resolution. But the slow crawl of the symptoms caused me to change little by little until my life was strangled by this condition.
I realized that I had two realistic options: No. 1 was to die, or wish to for the rest of my life. No. 2 was to figure it out what was causing this misery. Though I felt that I didn't even have the energy to walk to the mailbox, I decided to give it an honest try and reclaim some form of life.
I began going to doctors. Each one tested me for something different, from exotic forms of leukemia, to lupus, to chronic fatigue syndrome. They all wound up telling me I was lazy, out of shape and depressed. Soon, I had exhausted all of the doctors in town and was starting to entertain the idea that I had lost my mind and there was nothing wrong with me. Maybe I was just out of shape. Maybe I had a sleep disorder or was simply clinically depressed or crazy.
Out of sheer desperation, I went to an acupuncturist. After a few treatments, he said that there was something "big" going on with me, as he was unable to relieve my symptoms for more than a very short time. He asked me several peculiar questions, then announced, "Doug, you have a food allergy. It is either corn, milk or wheat that you are allergic to, and it’s killing you. Pick one, eliminate it from your diet for a week and then try another one."
That is exactly what I did. I tried corn first to no avail. Then wheat. Bingo. In 3 days, I could not believe the difference. The acupuncturist told me to go to the doctor’s office and insist on a blood test, which I did. [Note: It is important to continue eating a normal, gluten-containing diet before being tested for celiac disease. Avoiding gluten prior to testing could alter results and mask the presence of celiac disease.] The rest has been a roller coaster ride of rediscovering myself, my athleticism and my dreams. I received a second chance at life, and I’m living it at a pace that will make up for the years (literally, at least 4) spent on the couch at the mercy of life.
If living a gluten-free lifestyle is daunting to you in any way, you must be strong, detach yourself from your wheat bread and beer (both are replaceable by gluten-free alternatives, by the way) and get back to life. [Remember, it's best to get tested before going gluten-free!]