Yep, I’m sorry: chances are Cher is now stuck in your head. Don’t worry, it’s a great background theme for the remainder of this post 🙂
Last weekend I had a big moment in my allergy journey. I arrived at a social event with my own snacks, situated my bag in a corner of the kitchen, and started filling a plate with my veggies, hummus, and chips before heading into the other room to join in the festivities. There, not only did most guests not even notice since my plate looked oddly similar to theirs (minus the croissant sandwiches of course) but one person happened to walk into the kitchen as I was refilling my plate later and she said something that nearly brought a tear to my eye, “Let me guess: food allergies? Gluten? I have two friends who do the same thing”. I smiled an appreciative grin and responded with affirmation but added in my dairy, soy, and corn issues and she just shook her head.We talked for a few minutes about her friends and the trials and tribulations of people with food issues…and then she asked me an interesting question. She said: “If you could go back in time for just one day to before you had food issues, what would you eat?”. Well you might as well ask a 5-year-old what they would choose in a toy store if money were no obstacle. But as I thought about the answer to her question, I realized that it’s something I don’t often think about…or really don’t let myself think about anymore. Of course, after her prompting, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Here is what I think:
I would wake up and eat a bagel sandwich. A real one from a bagel store…not one of those chains like Dunkin Donuts…but an authentic bagel. It would be sausage and egg on an everything bagel. No cheese, I never liked that on my sandwiches anyway. I’d attend 8:30 mass and I would stroll in the door at 8:28 and slide right into my pew. I would receive the Eucharist in the regular line at the regular time and wouldn’t be a burden to a priest or a spectacle to my fellow parishioners. Then I’d stop at Dunkin Donuts and get the largest size coffee they have filled with creamer and pumpkin syrup. Of course, if they didn’t have that I’d settle for cream and sugar. I’d head back to school to teach my morning classes and then take a trip at lunchtime to anywhere that served giant, warm soft pretzels and crab dip. That would be lunch. I’d return to school, finish out the afternoon and eat one of the chocolate chip cookies left in the faculty room by a generous parent. And I’d even do it without Purell-ing first (I know, I know: living on the edge). I’d leave school and head straight for Starbucks where I’d order a grande mocha with 2% milk, no whip…and I’d savor every sip. I’d apply chapstick without obsessively reading the ingredient list and I might even treat myself to a manicure (since that’s forever off the table). Then I’d go out for pizza with friends. Real pizza. With delicious, fluffy crust and lots of cheese. We’d finish our pizza and I’d accept a piece of gum from a friend without asking to see the package first. We’d head to the movies where I’d order a giant bag of popcorn…or better yet, I’d bring my own bag of kettle corn. In a perfect world, I’d go for a stroll after the movie with a potential “co-pilot”. (I mean if we’re living in a dream world here, why not?? :-)) He’d order ice cream and I’d just ask for a piece of his waffle cone (ice cream and I were never the best of friends even in the best of times) and we would enjoy a walk in which I wouldn’t have to inquire about the brand of chapstick in his pocket or the foods he’d chosen to consume in the past 2 hours. I’d arrive home and brush my teeth without thinking about the brand of toothpaste in the cabinet. I’d put on lotion without scrutinizing for hydrolyzed wheat protein. I’d settle into bed with a contented smile and say a prayer of thanksgiving for an absolutely perfect day.
Unfortunately, reality is nothing like my dream day…though let’s be honest, anyone who consumed all of those things in a single day would be violently ill, celiac/food intolerant or not! Yes, I don’t like to admit it but I have my bitter days. I have days when I find myself craving the life I once knew…when every item in the grocery store was mine for the tasting and every restaurant posed a new, exciting adventure rather than a new terrifying encounter. But alas, life is what it is now and I can either dream wistfully about the past or live gratefully in the present. Those of you without food allergies might be thinking this all sounds a little crazy, but it’s true: none of the things in the paragraph above are things I can do anymore. Minus the teaching and the prayer of thanksgiving. And those of you with food issues are probably thinking “Great, Katie, I come to you for encouragement and advice and this is what I get??” Well, to you I say don’t worry, I’m getting there.
So how can I possibly be grateful for celiac and my autoimmune trifecta when it’s taken away all of those things? I’ll be honest and say that some days I’m not. However, when I sit down and think about it, I know that I am for many reasons: because I’m not filling my body with processed chemicals all day long; because my insulin resistance has improved enough that my blood sugar drops are now few and far between; because the pages of my planner are no longer filled with doctor appointments and lab visits; because I can make plans for something months ahead and not worry that I won’t feel well enough to go by then; and most of all, because of something one of my kids said today. The tornado watch forced us inside for recess and at one point in a conversation, he laughed and said, “Miss Burke, you are just so funny this year”. To which I responded (somewhat sarcastically), “Just this year?” (remember we moved up together so I had these same kids last school year). He immediately answered, “Well, I mean you were funny sometimes but you were always so tired last year. Or leaving to get more bloodwork. This year you have so much energy all the time. Must be the coffee”. At which point someone else captured his attention and he skipped off. However, what he said stuck with me…just as the question above did last weekend.
So in short, yes, my life has drastically changed in the past 3 years…but even in just the past year. And sometimes I do miss my “old life” so much that it almost hurts. However, I know that my new life is a much happier, richer, and (most importantly) healthier one. So to those of you who don’t have any restrictions, I say splurge and treat yourself every once in awhile. And to all of you who are dealing with food restrictions, both new and old, remember you’re never alone. We’re all struggling together…but it’s ALWAYS worth it in the end.
And if you need something to make you feel better about being an adult with these issues, watch this. 2026: I believe in you 🙂