My name is Madison. I’m eighteen years old. I’ve been gluten free since I was sixteen.
When I was younger, probably around ten to twelve, I remember never feeling “good”. I wasn’t sure what the problem was, I just knew that I never felt good. I can remember worrying that I had some disease or cancer or something because I just never felt healthy and energetic.
When I was thirteen, my family moved 7 hours away from where we had lived since I was seven. It was a really stressful transition for me. I had a headache every day for a couple of months, and I started getting frequent stomach aches. I was desperate to make friends, so at first I thought I was just working myself up SO much in social situations that I was making myself feel sick. It always seemed worse to me when we were out of the house.
However, as I got older, the stomach aches got more severe and frequent. I would eat a moderate amount of food, and an hour or more later would feel SO full that I couldn’t stand it. Sometimes I would be starving, but I could only eat a tiny amount of food before feeling like I had stuffed myself. I remember several occasions where I woke up in the middle of the night and was up for an hour or more because I felt like I might throw up, but I never did.
The first thing I thought of was a milk allergy. I tried first eliminating dairy, and then taking lactase pills with milk products. I thought it worked at first, but as time passed, my symptoms kept occurring at frequent random intervals. I went on and off of the non-dairy/lactase tablet thing for a while, and eventually gave it up.
Then I became convinced that it was all in my head. If I could just stop thinking about my stomach all the time, I told myself, then I wouldn’t feel it any more. I put a huge amount of mental effort into telling myself that I was OK, but that didn’t help either.
I started complaining about my stomach problems. Every day. I rarely had a day where I didn’t have a stomach ache after dinner. Finally, my mom suggested that I try a gluten free diet. I googled it, tried it for one day, and decided that it was too hard and didn’t help me, so I ditched it.
Until one day, when I was 16, I felt bad enough to have my mom take me home from school. I spent all day laying around and feeling miserable and decided to give this whole gluten-free thing another shot. I did some more research and discovered that it can take weeks or months to clear the gluten out of your system, so I planned to try it for a month and see what happened. It was right before thanksgiving.
Throughout the end of November and beginning of December, I noticed a little difference, but not too much. I was slightly disappointed that I hadn’t experienced a sudden dramatic change in health like I had read about from some other celiacs, but I decided to give it a little more time.
Near Christmas, I was invited to my youth group’s annual Christmas party. I decided to make cookies to take with me, and ended up eating some of the dough while baking. I also didn’t have any options for a gluten-free dinner, so I just scraped the filling out of a burrito and ate that. I had a horrible stomach ache for three days afterwards. This experience made me realize that I hadn’t understood how much better I had been feeling until I went back to what I’d been like a month before.
That was a year and a half ago, and I have never purposely eaten anything containing gluten since. I have not been officially diagnosed with celiac by a doctor because the test requires people to go BACK to eating gluten-containing foods for a period of time so that the doctor can examine the effects on the digestive system. Um, no thanks.
Sometimes people ask me if I’m tempted to “cheat” and take the consequences, but honestly, I never am. The symptoms of eating gluten are so severe for me that it’s a no-brainer. Not only does it cause a stomach ache, but it will actually damage my digestive tract, which will require weeks or months of healing to get back to normal. No cookie is worth that to me.
So, that’s where I’m at right now. I’ve started this blog to provide encouragement and tips to other gluten-free children and teens. Living a normal active teen’s life while maintaining a gluten free diet presents many unique challenges, but over the last eighteen months, I’ve accumulated some tips and tricks that help me to be a “normal” kid. Hopefully I can use these to help some others out along my journey.