For nearly eighteen years I suffered from a host of disparate health issues that went undiagnosed. When I shared my symptoms and everything I was experiencing (with my doctor), I was told that none of it made any sense. I was given sleeping pills for my insomnia, and anxiety medication for my panic attacks. Panic attacks, by the way, that kept me from fully functioning “normally” or participating with my family. The psychological impact of that was devastating. I became a mother who felt as if she were constantly letting her children, and her family, down. It was strongly recommended by some family members and my doctor that I seek out the help of a therapist. The suggestion being that what I was feeling was all in my head.
So I went to a therapist. I even tried hypnotherapy. They were both wonderful, but years later they were still unable to help me cure myself of any of the symptoms.
Sometimes I had unnaturally high blood pressure, which I’d never had before. I was told the heart palpitations were probably related to the insomnia or hormones. And I won’t even go into all the awful digestive issues I was having. I was tested for an ulcer, parasites, candida, and cancer and everything came back negative. Finally, it was determined that I had IBS (Irritable bowel syndrome). Evidently that diagnosis meant I was just going to have to live with it. I would never get any better. And in fact, that was true. I got worse. Some days I was so sick I could barely drag myself out of bed. I practically lived in my pajamas.
Then, a friend of a friend mentioned her own health struggles. Most of them weren’t the same as mine, but like me, she had gone undiagnosed for nearly as long as I had. Until stunningly, she discovered she had a developed a sensitivity to wheat and gluten.
As I describe in my daughter’s and my first recipe eBook, the very moment I heard this, I was eating a seitan (vegetarian meat) sandwich on wheat bread – which is quite literally gluten on wheat! Seriously, if wheat and gluten was an issue for me too, I couldn’t have been eating anything worse.
But how could something we’re told to regard as healthy for us, be causing her problems, I asked? And could they be causing mine? I wondered. Honestly, I was elated by the mere possibility, but I tempered my excitement. I’d gotten my hopes up so many times before, that I would finally figure out what was messing with my health, but it was always for naught. I’m sure many of you know what I’m talking about. You’re so eager for an answer to the dreadful way you’re feeling, but you’ve felt unwell for so long, without any positive results, it becomes a way of life. A pretty miserable life sometimes, but you learn to live with it the best way that you can. You almost begin to forget that there’s any other way of being. You’re simply destined to feel terrible most of the time.
So…figuring I had nothing to lose, I decided to see what would happen if I simply cut out all wheat and gluten for just a day or two. It was certainly the least invasive thing I’d been through. But would I notice any difference? To be perfectly frank, I wasn’t expecting much. Then the strangest thing happened. By the end of the first day the almost constant lightheadedness I normally felt was gone! So too was the terrible aching I’d get in my neck and head. On the second day my thinking became clearer. Amazingly, I had no more (what they call) brain fog. Which had kept me from focusing or concentrating on things very well. The brain fog also impacted my memory. That was particularly strange for me because I’d always had an excellent memory. My husband said ‘too good’ sometimes. And my stomach, and frankly my entire intestinal tract, was quieter than usual. I also didn’t have any of those unnerving heart flutters. It was incredible. However, it was nothing compared to what I experienced that night!
Yes, I actually slept a whole eight hours…all the way through…without waking up in a panic, feeling sick and jittery, wanting to tear my skin open so I could escape my own body. And no, that is NOT an exaggeration. I remembered reading how panic attacks are among the number one reason for people rushing to the emergency room. And sometimes, okay a lot of times, I feared I was actually having a heart attack. And I’d get up and pace the room, veering from hot and sweaty one moment to cold and clammy the next. But on this one night I wasn’t up pacing the floors, pressing cold cloths to the back of my neck to keep myself from feeling faint…or sick. The room wasn’t tilting crazily. I wasn’t talking to myself, telling myself everything was going to be okay and that I wasn’t going to throw up. Or die. I wasn’t thinking of calling 911, because honestly sometimes I felt so awful I thought surely I had to be dying. And I’d have to remind myself to breathe and to calm down. Then I’d force myself back to my bed, where I’d lie there for hours, listening to the clock ticking, or the swooshing sound of blood in my ear as my heart raced. Until my sick stomach had me running for the bathroom yet again. Some nights I’d go downstairs and make myself a piece of dry toast to try and settle my stomach. I know! I couldn’t have been doing anything worse for myself. But I didn’t know that then. Eventually, I took to sleeping downstairs on the couch, where I could be close to both the kitchen and the bathroom. It was an incredibly scary and lonely time.
But on this one singular night I didn’t experience any of that! I was blissfully unaware of the hours that lapsed while the rest of my family slept. Because I was sleeping too!
Now…that may not sound so remarkable to many of you, but for me it was the first peaceful, solid night’s sleep I’d had since my son was born 18 years before! I was practically giddy the next morning. I couldn’t believe it. I actually felt rested. And it seemed so simple as to be ridiculous. Surely it was too good to be true? All I had to do was stop eating something that was evidently making me sick and I’d feel better? Imagine that? Why hadn’t anyone thought of that before? Why hadn’t I?
Needless to say, I immediately cut out all of the obvious sources of wheat and gluten, and my symptoms diminished (though it did take many months to heal the damage I’d done to my gut). But over the next few weeks and months I was sleeping better and didn’t have nearly as many headaches, bouts of dizziness, or digestive issues as before.
But perhaps most incredible of all was that those horrendously debilitating panic attacks I’d been having for years, often numerous times a day, had stopped! Literally, seriously stopped. Not a single one! And I don’t know if I can even begin to express the relief and joy I felt over that. Unless you’ve suffered a panic attack, it’s difficult to explain what they’re even like. But if you are one of the unlucky ones who’ve had them on occasion, you’ll know what I’m talking about. And I was experiencing upwards of 4 or 5 of them a day!
I was so grateful, I promptly sent the biggest bouquet I could afford to that friend of a friend, for saving my life! Perhaps not in the literal sense, but she had, by sharing her own experience, saved me. She gave me back my health, and that feels like everything when you haven’t had that for a very long time. And since then I’ve felt an almost desperate need to ‘save’ others from their suffering, as she did me. So here I am, encouraged by my daughter, to do just that with all of you now.
And I hope anyone who is reading this, and perhaps recognizing some of the symptoms either in themselves or someone they know, will let them know that there IS a reason for the way they feel. They’re NOT crazy, and they can and will feel better again!