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Consuela's Story

 
8/17/2011

I always thought my problems surrounding my health issues started in 2008. Now that I know that I am gluten intolerant, I realize there were signs way before my body began to break down.

When I was a child, I was never able to get enough rest. My mother would joke that I was the incarnation of Rip Van Winkle. I would rather sleep then wake up to watch Saturday morning cartoons. Or, I would ask if I could go to bed early instead of staying up late. What normal kid does that?

I was, however, your stereotypical tomboy and played a lot of sports. Not so atypical though was the pain I would experience from exercising. No one ever told me that the pain I constantly dealt with was not normal. Then again, I just figured everyone else felt the same way I did, and if I complained I was just being a wimp, so I never said anything to anyone.

So how bad could the pain be, and what did it feel like? Imagine how your body feels like after a really hard work out. All your muscles are on fire, burning and tight. That's how I would feel, but I would barely have to exert myself to get that sensation.  The pain would last for days, sometimes a week. Over the years, this sensation and pain magnified.

On many occasions, I suffered from what seemed like allergic breakouts, rashes that looked like hives. My mother deduced that I must be allergic to garlic. Her conclusion seemed plausible since I broke out into hives every time I ate fish sticks, Doritos, pizza, garlic bread, and some pastas.

At school, I would suffer from brain fog, especially after lunch. One doctor guessed I was probably hypoglycemic, but it didn't really matter whether or not I ate a balanced low glycemic diet, because I still had to fight the urge not to fall asleep afterwards. I was a complete zombie and could not concentrate. It was also hard for me to gain weight, and I got sick quite often.

My senior year of high school, I stopped growing and topped out at 5'5", but barely weighed 100 lbs. You would have thought I was anorexic, except for the fact that I was constantly hungry and was a virtual bottomless pit. As my mom would say, “You must have two hollow legs, because I don’t understand where you’re putting it all.” The truth was I did have an almost insatiable appetite. It was like I could never get enough food and yet, I was stick thin.

Out of high school and into my 20s, I took up new sports and new adventures. In October of 2004, I completed my first marathon at the inaugural Nike Women's Marathon in San Francisco. Two weeks later, I ran the Santa Barbara Half Marathon, which solidified that I had caught the marathon bug. My whole life became a series of planning vacations around marathon races and fundraising for my favorite charities.

Within 4 consecutive years, I managed to complete 10 marathons and countless road races. My body finally decided it had enough in July 2008, and I was treated for an H. pylori bacterial infection. After the antibiotics regimen, I felt great...for about 2 days. Then my whole world changed.

I remember waking up to intense pain and cramping in both my legs, arms, shoulders, stomach and back. I gingerly slid out of bed, only to have my legs buckle out from under me and fall to my knees. I got back up on my feet and struggled to hold up my now, 125 lb. frame. I knew something was wrong, something had changed. I could barely move my legs and I did what I call "the granny shuffle" to get room to room. You know when you see an elderly woman pushing a walker, shuffling her feet? That was me, minus the walker. I had gone from being able to run 20 miles without batting an eye, to struggling to stand and walk. I was scared, embarrassed, and later just plain mad my body was failing me.

Fast forward 2 years, and I had seen countless specialists (neurologists and rheumatologists) only to be told that all my tests came back normal, and it was "all in my head." Finally, one rheumatologist decided I must have Fibromyalgia. So I continued to live my life, but in constant pain. It wasn't until I had to see another doctor for a kidney infection, that the nephrologist heard my story and thought to test me for celiac disease.

Now armed with a proper diagnosis and the knowledge that all I needed to do was avoid gluten to feel better, I did what probably most newly diagnosed patients do. I went gluten-free for a couple of weeks or a month, and then cheated.  By December of 2010, I had enough. I was sick and tired...of being sick and tired! I've been gluten-free ever since.

I'm happy to report that I'm no longer in constant pain. The gluten really did mess up my nervous system though, because the left side of my body, especially my leg, is still a little slower to react. I can walk pretty normal and no one is the wiser, but I still have to make an effort to walk normal. If I don't pay attention to my gait, I will start to limp and drag my left leg a little. Even now, I am still unable to exercise a lot with my legs. Low impact sports like swimming, cycling and walking are the most I can do, but in small increments, otherwise the pain returns. I'm hoping that by the summer of 2012, my body will have healed enough to allow me to resume some if not all the activities I used to enjoy.

I am healthier and stronger now than I have ever been, and continue to see improvements. I've learned to slow down, appreciate the simpler things in life and the mere fact that I can walk. I haven't given up hope on my athletic goals, like doing a triathlon before I turn 40, but it’s baby steps for me now. Guess that's better than granny steps, eh?

Read more from Consuela at www.gflivingla.com.

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