I have some wonderful good news that I still can't hardly believe! Instead of just blurting out the news, I want to share some background information for anyone else who may be in a similar situation.
First some context...
I have had serious disruptive and painful GI issues for as long as I can remember, at least since age 5. That means I have been dealing with it all for 30 years now! My symptoms have progressed and gotten worse over the last 10 years. I had a CT scan and some blood work done two weeks ago. All the results came back completely normal. Basically the tests showed that all of my abdominal organs are perfectly normal and there are no markers of inflammation in my blood, even though I was still having a terrible "flare-up" at the time. This is all good news that I don't have an inflammatory bowel disease or any kind of obstruction. But that Friday night when I got the news of my results, I could not see it for the good news that it was because I had hit my breaking point of dealing with the pain for so long. I was a mess that Friday and felt so discouraged that I would continue to have this pain and there be no way to control it.
After I had my little meltdown that night, I was finally able to see the good and think more clearly. Since I did not have any obstructions or inflammatory bowel disease then I had to accept that all my symptoms must truly be from my irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). I realized that perhaps I AM more stressed than I realize. After all, I am a Type A personality, a recovering perfectionist, and high energy. Not exactly the recipe for calmness and low stress! :D
A moment of clarity
I pushed and pushed the doctors for answers to my problems because I was afraid that without a proper diagnosis they would think it was all in my head when that could not be further from the truth! But in light of these latest test results, I realized that I have to accept that my symptoms are truly from IBS. That was when it hit me. Although my symptoms are not IN my head, perhaps there are cause BY my head! Ding-ding-ding!!!! I have functioned at such a high-level of stress during numerous times in my life that I have missed the cues when I am moderately stressed. And stress plays a HUGH role in IBS symptoms.
All this got me to thinking that if stress is truly the cause of my increasing symptoms then maybe that is the only cause. About 3 and a half years ago during one of my many visits to my doctor, looking for answers and at the point of exasperation, the question of celiac disease and gluten intolerance came up. I was tested for celiac disease and that came back negative, but at that same time I went on a gluten free diet and began to feel remarkably better! Because of the drastic relief of symptoms that eating gluten free did for me, my doctor said that I probably did have celiac disease even though I had a negative test result, which does happen in a large number of cases he said. Either way, he said it was clear that I should not eat gluten. Since then I have changed family doctors and my current doctor has my diagnosis listed as gluten intolerance. He wasn't as quick about throwing around the celiac diagnosis without the positive test results.
Now back to two weeks ago. In light of my new acceptance that all my problems are probably related to IBS and stress, I began to question if I was truly gluten intolerant too. So two days later I began a gluten experiment on myself. Prior to this I classified myself as being highly sensitive to gluten because my symptoms were so pronounced. All my symptoms, which had improved after eliminating gluten completely in July 2012, were back again even though I was 100% GF. And the symptoms were just as bad as before I went gluten free.
So that Sunday morning I ate a small graham cracker and nothing else for 3 hours while I monitored for symptoms and waited. Nothing. No spike in symptoms. By Sunday afternoon I was feeling more brave and ate an entire (amazing!) slice of regular pizza and half of a turkey sub. Oh, yeah! I was going all in at this point of my gluten experiment. :D My local pizza shop is authentic Italian cuisine and they know how to make their rolls! Yum!! I ate all that Sunday evening and was completely fine!! I have challenged myself more since then and I am still fine!!
I cannot hardly believe it but it seems that I'm not gluten intolerant!! This is such good news and life-altering news that I am still having trouble wrapping my head around it. Also, I am a little afraid that I will suddenly get really sick and find out that I can't eat gluten after all. It just seems too good to be true. But it is true and for now I am fine, so I will be happy with the here and now and try to not worry about the future.
But why did it help before?
I believe my symptoms were relieved when I went gluten free in 2012 because at that time my stress was really bad and my symptoms were getting worse. By taking action to try to control my symptoms by going GF, I had control over my life again and was no longer powerless. The sense of control reduced my stress and made my symptoms decrease. That would also explain why my symptoms have gradually come back to the point where they were prior to going gluten free. I've been under a tremendous amount of stress with nursing school, then beginning my career as a nurse, working odd shifts and night shift, and having my children begin school. I think it all just built up again to be too much and that is why I have been so sick again.
Does that make any sense? As my life felt like it was spiraling more and more out of my control, my symptoms increased. Then once I was forced to look at the test results with an open mind, I realized how stressed I am most of the time and had to accept that my symptoms are my body's way of reacting to the stress. I don't think I was ever gluten intolerant. I was just desperate for answers and to solve my symptoms and feel better. And that was why I felt better when I went GF. It wasn't because of the gluten, it was because I felt powerless with my symptoms and pain and I wanted a way to fix it. I am not saying that this is the answer for everyone with gluten intolerance or IBS. I am simply relating my experience and my realization of the amount of stress I was under and what that stress was doing to my body. Maybe your thing is not gluten or IBS, but we all would do well to take stock every now and then and evaluate the stress on us and its affect on our lives.
So where do I go from here?
The big thing is I need to do is to work harder on realizing when I am feeling stress, doing things to relieve the stress, and putting structure in place to prevent some of the stress in the first place. For me, the answer lies in consistent yoga practice, practicing mindfulness, living with intention, and creating structure in my life. Also I should really add that I need to cultivate respect from myself for the boundaries and organization I create. Too many times in the past I have organized my time to get the important things done when I have a lot going on then I completely ignore that schedule and run around taking on way too many things and not accomplishing half of what I truly wanted to accomplish. I know I can't be the only person who does this. Why do we do this? Why does the adult side of me recognize the need for a schedule then as soon as the schedule is created, the kid in me tears it up and runs around screaming? :D The key is to practice mindfulness in all areas of my life and to allow what I have learned through my yoga practice to spread even further through my life.
I am excited for the future and all the wonderful possibilities of 2016! There are some exciting things in the works for next year that I will share with you when the time is right. For now, I can't wait to get back into the kitchen and create even more recipes redesigned to be healthier!