When I woke up this morning, I couldn’t get out of bed. My limbs felt like they were made of the iron that I lacked, and every time I moved I was crushed with a wave of dizziness and nausea. I feel a little better after eating, sure. But I’m leaving the country on Friday, so I’m a little nervous. This isn’t a surprise, though, due to the fact that I ate too little yesterday and my iron levels, which are supposed to be 13-150, are less than 5.
I’ve been tinkering with the idea of writing this post for a long time now, and it’s ironic that this has given me the space I need to write it. I talk to very few people about it, so this should be part confession and part discussion.
I can’t ever remember being truly healthy. We’ve been trying to solve my health issues – stomach problems, low immune system, occasional anemia – for a lifetime. Sometimes, it was fine. Until last year, really, it was under control, and I didn’t really think about it. But there would be days when I would wake up in the middle of the night so ill that I could not sleep. I felt so frustrated, as though I was trying to calm my body like a crying child. I would take the shaking and the pain and throw medicines and food at it. I would throw up my dinner involuntarily at five in the morning, not understanding, and weep into my hands in anger as I watched the pale, blank sky and listened to the premature chirping of the birds outside my window.
I realized just recently the effect that my body’s had on my understanding of the relationship between the body and the soul. I’ve always put such a heavy emphasis on the soul over the body, regarding the latter as broken. This past year, I’ve getting pretty tired of my physicality. It’s only in the past year or two that I’ve realized that there will be a resurrection of the body as well – John Donne’s helped me broaden my understanding immensely. I’m trying to bypass the hatred and betrayal that I’ve felt to my corporeal form for so long.
This summer, I was finally diagnosed with celiac disease.
There was a week in between the autoimmune test’s positivity and the diagnosis where I thought a lot about what it would mean to know, and what it would mean to actually start getting better. I thought I would have a sort of identity crisis. Not in a basic theological way, of course, but in the details. Celiac is genetic; I’ve had it for my entire life. I broke out in eczema, one of its symptoms, when I was three days old. Before I had a name, I had been identified by this disorder. Did I sleep so much because it was part of my personality, or because of the fatigue? How much of me has been shaped by this? And who would I be without it?
I shouldn’t have worried so much. Not much has changed. In part, I’ve realized that celiac’s diagnosis makes a lot of sense. All of the symptoms I’d been experiencing over the years stemmed from this one disorder. Here’s how it works: people with celiac can’t digest any sort of gluten, which is a key part of foods like wheat, rye, and barley. Because we can’t digest it, it slowly wears away at the digestive tract, causing inflammation, pain, and malabsorption. This malabsorption leads to fatigue and deficiency in things like B-12 and iron.
When I was diagnosed, I was upset. Having celiac means devoting constant attention to what you eat, because even a little bit of gluten sneaking in can wreak havoc on my whole system. Gluten comes from the Latin word for glue, and so sometimes, it feels a little bit like I’m coming apart without it, but I’m learning to navigate it. I may put up a page on this blog with a few tips for the newly diagnosed, or make a separate post on celiac advice. The strangest part was this: the worse I got, the more wheat I ate. I thought it was making me better – I saw it as the one thing that was ‘safe’.
For twenty years, I poisoned myself, thinking it was the cure. If that doesn’t have theological implications, I’m not sure what does. As humans, we crave the thing that kills us, and we turn for comfort to the very thing that will ultimately destroy us. Even sin can be beautiful to us, drawing us into a comfortable dependence and our ultimate demise. The things that are good for us are painful at first. However, the more I eat the foods I can, the more disgusting the others seem. The more we live with God, the more repulsive sin will become to us, and the healthier we will become.
So here’s to figuring out painful things, and moving in the direction of getting well.
p.s. I’m fine, guys. Haha. This was a little dramatic. Do not worry.