Yesterday, I received some news that is both good and bad, and in the complex amalgam of emotional responses that I experienced upon hearing said news, I realized that my life would never again be the same. I’ve learned that there are all different kinds of loss—some big, some small, some real, and some imagined. I suppose this one is rather small on the scale of life, but it sent me reeling nonetheless.
I’ve been pretty vocal about my lifelong insomnia, especially here on this blog, because consistently getting only two hours of sleep a night is pretty tough to ignore; sleep deprivation is no joke, my friends. Aside from feeling exhausted, nauseated, dizzy, unfocused, and creatively impotent, I noticed that in a really bad bout of insomnia, my body often issued it’s own form of protest by succumbing to a malady of ailments. My immune system tends to shut down pretty significantly after about eight days of insomnia.
Of course, I have tried just about every homeopathic and homespun remedy, have humored every well-intending piece of advice, all to no lasting avail. In the end, I had resigned myself to the fact that if I want to sleep like a normal human being (i.e. more than two hours each night) I would have to take sleeping pills every single night for the rest of my life. This all seemed pretty standard practice according to my doctors, and I really had adjusted to the routine of taking my pill every night (a non-addictive, low dose medication—totally safe) and waiting for it to kick in.
My cousin, Jeff, who is a chiropractor and nutritionist as well as the founder of North Suburban Wellness in Illinois (and my new hero!), suspected that there might be an identifiable, underlying cause of this long-running insomnia. After discussing my sleeping habits with Jeff during my last visit home, he ordered some tests for me. Just as he so skillfully suspected, it turns out that I have a cortisol imbalance, wherein my cortisol levels shoot up between 9 pm and 1 am every night, with great consistency; just when my awake-time chemicals should be dipping down for the night, I have this crazy second surge of them, which is why I am always my most productive and creative self during those vampire hours, and why I have trouble falling and staying asleep. Sounds alarming, but this is actually great news because I finally have an answer–all those sleepless nights and fruitless visits to every doctor under the sun might very well be behind me. This cortisol imbalance can be treated and monitored, which will hopefully resolve some or most of my sleep issues (nightmares and such are another matter entirely). Essentially, my circadian rhythm needs to be manually controlled with medication, and this is—to my great delight—entirely achievable.
However, the underlying cause for my adrenal glands to be doing releasing the cortisol hormones so unnaturally is, lo and behold, a rare kind of allergy to gluten. Gluten?! I. Am. Devastated. All my favorite foods! In the long run, of course I know that this is good news because I will likely feel a whole lot better, sleep like a normal person, and loose some weight if I cut out gluten as best as I can. Still, I can’t deny how saddened I am to have to significantly decrease the intake of basically everything I like to eat. Once I complete an expanded food allergy test to determine the exact severity of my gluten intolerance, I’ll know a little more clearly just how strict I’ll need to be in my new lifestyle. For now, I am willing to embrace this gluten-free lifestyle, and am indeed enthusiastic about giving it an earnest go. To be able to put a label of an actual medical condition on something so mysterious and elusive feels incredibly validating, and the thought of getting a full night of sleep without narcotic sleeping aids certainly has me feeling motivated.
The downside of this diagnosis, however, is quiet steep. Anyone who knows me can attest to my love of all-things carbohydrate. Bread products of all kinds? Yes please. Pasta? Buckets of it. Can’t get enough. I told my friends at work that I feel as if I’m losing a lifelong friend by cutting gluten out of my diet. Perhaps this speaks to some degree of dysfunction in regards to my relationship with food, but I don’t care. So many of my favorite comfort foods and time-tested, fan-favorite recipes are no longer viable options. Since I don’t have anything as serious as celiac disease and my gluten intolerance is relatively manageable, I don’t have to worry about trace elements of gluten or cross-contamination. But knowledge is power, and knowing that a bowl of pasta keeps me from sleeping and living my life as I’d like to makes it pretty hard to indulge in such a craving. I’m trying to think of gluten items as a “sometimes treat.” We’ll see how that goes.
Sure, it’s far easier to be gluten-free these days than it was even five or so years ago, and if there is one good place to be gluten-free, it’sSeattle. I don’t have to give up everything I like, but I do have to find new ways to cook it. Maybe more tricky ways, and ways that may not always work well the first go-around, but I don’t have to abandon good things like gnocchi for life! My dearest supporter and culinary wiz, Kelly, told me to think of this as a something like an episode of Iron Chef, in which I have things I *can* use rather than things I can’t. It’ll suck for a while until I sort out what I can and can’t do, but I think I will eventually find the balance that helps me eat well AND sleep well.
I’ve cleared out my pantry and refrigerator, quickly become an expert label-reader, and am working on saying goodbye to some treasured friends: soft, mushy bread, heaping piles of pasta, my favorite cereal, flour tortillas, baked goods like mom’s pie crust and chocolate croissants. I realize that pretty much everything getting slashed from my diet is the processed, bad-for-you stuff anyhow, and that this new lifestyle will be a far healthier one. I guess I shouldn’t complain, but I can’t help ranting just a bit.
I’m going to continue educating myself and will hopefully find good replacements for my favorite stuff. In the meantime, I’m busy mourning the loss of real spaghetti, Frosted Mini-Wheats Fruit in the Middle, Tats Sandwiches, and my mom’s pie crust. I’m feeling the sting of grief just a little bit here, so if any gluten-free folks out there have alternative products and recipes that aren’t sawdust-awful, please share to ease my suffering.