A Very Real Experience with Celiac Disease: Gluten Exposure

I’ve been diagnosed with celiac disease for two years. I can’t have gluten and when I do my body starts attacking itself and it causes a few days of autoimmune issues. I basically feel like I have the flu AND a stomach virus. It’s not fun. I’m on a strict gluten-free diet that I never break. No, I don’t really miss gluten, I don’t even remember what real bread tastes like. I miss more of the convenience of not having to explain I’m not on a fad diet and I actually need to live this way. I’ve only had accidental gluten exposure a couple times, and it was more like a smidgen of soy sauce in a recipe that I wasn’t aware of until the symptoms hit me the next day. Definitely nothing major but enough to feel awful for a couple days. I never really had a huge issue until this past week.

It was my boyfriend’s birthday a couple weeks ago, my mom decided to make him a chicken riggie dinner (an upstate NY thing). Of course she made the usual gluten-free version for her and myself, along with assorted cheesecake bites that were both gluten-free and not. After a great dinner I aimlessly started eating cheesecake bites. Big mistake. I mixed up which side was gluten-free and not. When she brought this to my attention I immediately ran upstairs and made myself vomit until I couldn’t anymore. This is definitely what you shouldn’t do but I was at least 8 mini cheesecakes in and panicked. I went home to my house 45 mins away and for some reason thought I was in the clear.

That night was my friend’s birthday and I didn’t want to miss it so I assumed I was okay and went out anyways. I knew to keep the drinking to a minimum so I made a mixed drink and eventually started on another when I got to the bar. Midnight hit and as I was bopping around to the music of an unexpected 90’s themed night at the bar I started to feel sick to my stomach. I knew I wasn’t drunk so it had to be something else. I grabbed the boyfriend, an uber and as I went home, hell hit.

That night and the next day was a fun mix of feeling like I was getting repeatedly stabbed in the abdomen and having the arthritis pains of a senior citizen. I expected it was the gluten and just rolled with it. My first line of defense was a strong probiotic, water and assorted vitamins. I had a very important Monday and Tuesday at work that I couldn’t miss and a business trip to Ottawa coming up that Friday so Monday I felt pretty awful but went to work and grinded it out until Wednesday. Wednesday morning after my two busy days I had to stay home, I felt like I had gotten hit by a train. This had already surpassed my normal feelings of sickness that come with gluten exposure and the length. I started to worry, especially about my business trip. I went to work Thursday but left a little early.

I started to worry it was something more, started googling every sort of bowel disease or complication. My stomach and small intestine were legitimately in pain that I did not think was possible. I woke up Friday the day I was supposed to leave for Canada and had to go to urgent care, from there the doctor sent me to the ER because I was really dehydrated. I sat in that ER for hours getting poked and prodded at for any hint at what could be wrong. At the end- nothing, just a notion that it was inflammation from who knows what. Six days after gluten exposure I finally started to look more in celiac and what it can entail.

I found out that really no matter what you do, gluten stays in your body for 14 days. And I had a lot of gluten. I started reading into the experiences of other people and learned that it is not uncommon to be bedridden for two weeks. Everything started to make sense so I knew I had to finally let myself rest. I started off loading up on antioxidants, adopted a grain-free, vegan diet for the next few days and let my digestive system rest. I stuck with the probiotics, added slippery elm supplements in and started taking epsom salt baths (the best thing to ever exist, the magnesium calms you and detoxes your body). I didn’t leave bed for two whole days, not like I felt like I could. Monday I felt crappy still but significantly better. I was able to go to work and take it easy. I’m now on day 11 since gluten exposure and I’m not 100% but I’m getting back to where I was. The hardest thing to kick was the depression related symptoms, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve cried these past two weeks for reasons unknown.

Overall, I’m sad I missed my trip to Ottawa. Travel is by far the most important thing to me usually and I’m lucky I work in a job that supports it (woo destination marketing) but I really needed the time to rest and heal. I hope that this post finds anyone who might be insane googling their symptoms like I did. It can take forever to feel better, especially if you have a fast-paced life like I do. In the end, I’ve learned that celiac disease can be a b*tch but I need to focus on putting my health first more often. There will be days when I accidentally put myself in bed for two weeks and it sucks but that’s the hand I was dealt. I am eternally grateful for the people in my life that were so eager to help and send me well wishes. I wouldn’t want to relive it for a second but it puts in perspective that people do care about me even when my faux depression induced by celiac convinces me they don’t.

There is always something to take away from these misfortunes and I’m glad I’m starting to feel better. If anyone ever needs any advice on how to deal with this annoying disease, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me. It is a lot better when you’re not alone.

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