Easter weekend marked the one-year anniversary of me eating gluten-free and discovering I had a gluten allergy. The past year of experimenting with different foods has been challenging at some points, but I am very grateful to have figured out what has been causing me so much pain.
To make more sense of my struggles with my health, I need to go back a few years to my freshman year of high school. I had always had some sort of stomach pain in the middle of my stomach from my freshman year of high school to October of my freshman year of college. The only change in pain location was the ovarian cyst I got in May of my senior year of high school.
Doctors, both in my hometown and in Lubbock, had no idea what caused the pain. I tried cutting dairy, not eating French fries and even tried to lower my stress levels. Nothing worked.
Then, in mid-October of 2018, the pain moved to my upper right side. And it was so much worse. I couldn’t eat without pain rippling across the upper right side. I was sent to a gastrointestinal doctor, and she determined the pain was my gallbladder. Each time I went to get an ultrasound or got blood work done, everything came back as normal. Even when I went to the ER by myself, my pancreas enzymes were fine, and my organs looked normal.
But, everything was not fine. I was in pain, and it was affecting both my job at the DT and my schoolwork. Something was not normal.
Finally, after a test to determine if my gallbladder was releasing enough bile, I got a call from the doctor on my way back home for Thanksgiving at a gas station outside of Sweetwater. My gallbladder was not releasing enough bile, so I would need it removed. So, I stayed an extra week after Thanksgiving to get my gallbladder removed on Nov. 30, 2018. Turns out, it was inflamed, and I likely passed two microscopic gallstones which caused the pain I was feeling. I was relieved my pain was over, and I could be healthy again.
Unfortunately for me, I still wasn’t feeling better. All through Christmas break, I felt fatigued and still had a sensitive stomach. I brushed it off as still recovering from losing an organ. I got back to Tech for the spring semester to start the year with a sinus infection. Just my luck, I thought to myself. I got over it within the week. I was ready to be fully healthy again.
And then I had a headache that went on for four straight months. Every morning when I would wake up, a headache. Every time I ate anything, I mean anything, stomach cramps. Every night, I could not fall asleep. Every day, constant fatigue. I felt like I was walking around in a fog
Once again, something was wrong with me, so back to the doctor I went. I got prescribed all sorts of medications, and most, if not all of them, made me feel worse. I took multiple blood tests, and even went back to the ER, luckily not by myself, and all the results were the same. Normal.
I felt like I was going crazy. I felt so horrible all the time, but every single test said I was perfectly fine. Was I overreacting and faking it like a few people had accused me of? Was this all in my head? Most of me knew there was something wrong, but another small part of me thought I was being irrational.
I remember crying to my parents, my boyfriend, one of my advisers at the The Daily Toreador and even a therapist at the Student Counseling Center about how I was feeling. I just wanted to know what was wrong, so I could fix it.
The pain dragged on until April 2019 when I had gotten another negative on a test. My doctor said any more testing beyond this point would have to be done at the ER. I remember getting the results and feeling utterly defeated. I sat down at my desk at Murdough and ate my lunch of oatmeal, that wasn’t gluten free, and felt awful.
I was then reminded of an article I had read in a swimming magazine back in high school. Dana Vollmer, an Olympic butterflier, had felt the same fatigue I was feeling, and she ended up being diagnosed with both Celiac disease and an egg allergy. Since I had already cut dairy out in the past and nothing worked, I wanted to see if a gluten issue may have been causing my pain before I went to do more testing. I looked up the symptoms for both Celiac and gluten allergies and they matched my own, so I scheduled a blood test.
I cut gluten out of my diet after I took the blood test for Celiac and within days felt nearly 100 percent better. It was as if something flipped a switch in my body, and I suddenly was able to function again. Not even just functioning but thriving.
While the test came back as negative for Celiac disease, my doctor agreed I did have an allergy to gluten, so she told me to keep eating gluten-free since I felt so much better.
I am beyond grateful I was able to figure out what was causing me an incredible amount of pain. I am also so thankful to my coworkers and advisers at The Daily Toreador, my professors, friends, boyfriend and family for being so supportive and understanding of me.
I also would like to give a thank you to my news editors for the fall and spring semester when I was a freshman news reporter, Matthew Setzekorn and Adán Rubio, for being so patient and understanding while I was going through both health issues.
I will say, I was very lucky to have figured out what was wrong with me. I know getting doctors to listen is very difficult for many, especially women and people of color who have chronic illnesses or other disabilities and mental illnesses.
If I have learned anything during the past year, it is to be assertive and advocate for you and your health. The pain you are facing is not all in your head. It is real. Speak up for yourself and advocate for your body and your health.