It's been a tough winter for me and I haven't felt much like posting anything here until now. Even now I don't feel much inclined to write, but perhaps once I begin the words will flow. It's a bright, sunny day here, which is a mood-lifter, even if the temperature outside is below freezing.
Back to the gluten-free diet, first I need to point out that I've nearly always tried to eat healthy foods, falling short only during periods of extreme stress or depression. Most of the time I have chosen whole grain and unprocessed foods. For seven years, long ago, I was a vegetarian and worked at eating a balanced diet. I had no problems at that time with digesting the foods I ate. As I began to get older, as in passing the half-century mark, I took extra notice of my nutrition. When Toad and I got together we made great efforts to eat whole grains and legumes, fruits and vegetables. I was eating too much, though, and gaining weight, in response to stress, anxiety and depression, and so in early 2009 I started tracking my nutrition online. My tracking was hampered within a few weeks by the trips I made house-hunting and the move we made, but I continued to drink a lot more water than I did before tracking.
In March of 2010 I renewed my efforts to track my nutrition online. Two months later I began working as a home care provider and took healthy lunches with me to work. I tried hard to get recommended amounts of fiber in my diet, hoping that doing so would ease the chronic constipation I've had for as long as I can remember. I began making lots of bean soups, vegetable soups and lentil loaves (as I used to eat during my vegetarian days), eating Toad-made (and some store-bought) hummus on ancient grain bread, taking granola bars to snack on, things like that. Tracking all the calories and grams of fiber, protein, carbohydrates, fat, and sodium on the nutrition tracker, as well as my water intake and, later, my walking and other exercise efforts. I was quite proud of myself for trying to improve my health. All the while I continued to have a lot of back spasms, for which I took ibuprofen. The spasms, the stiffness, the pain, were (and still are) worse when I lie down, so mornings were, and are, excruciating. I began taking more and more ibuprofen in order to be able to even get dressed for work, let alone do the work.
I began having problems with my upper digestive system in the fall of 2010, starting with pain in my lower esophagus. I had been feeling very stressed with my job/client and, all of a sudden, I started having chest pain, a dull ache like something was stuck there under my breastbone. I took ibuprofen for the pain but it worsened. Normal ECG. Diagnosis: reflux. So since that time I've been on medicine to treat reflux, but still have problems with it, even as I write this post. I'm wondering if the reflux was caused, or at least exacerbated, by the ibuprofen.
Also, around that time (fall of 2010) I began having a marked increase in lower gastrointestinal problems, with lots of bloating and discomfort. My clothes got tighter and tighter, even though I wasn't gaining weight, and I had to move up a size in work smocks and pants and give up wearing nearly all of my regular clothes. I'm still in that situation. My body shape shifted from pear to apple, or maybe, to put it more accurately, a fat, pregnant-appearing pear shape. It is very difficult for me to bend. I am reminded so much of how it felt to be 9 months pregnant, all the discomfort and awkwardness.
Part of my GI problem seems to be slow emptying of my stomach. Over the course of a few months I went from drinking at least ten glasses of water per day, usually more than that, with no problem, to forcing myself to sip water from time to time. I used to fill my water bottle several times a day and drink at least half a bottle at a time, but something happened so that I could only sip water because I was so full that it made me nauseated to drink 8 ounces, even over half an hour's time. In the summer of 2011 I went again to the doctor, who had me get a few tests done over the course of a year, to rule out ovarian cancer (abdominal & pelvic ultrasound & blood test in October 2011) and to have a general evaluation via gastroscopy and colonoscopy in May of 2012. I had a very difficult time drinking the 4 glasses of water in the half hour preceding the ultrasound in October due to nausea and painful distention of my stomach. I had to have the test repeated because there was so much air (the French-Canadian technician said "hair", ha ha) in my stomach that she couldn't see one of my ovaries at all. Nothing definitive was found from all the tests, other than a few polyps which were removed, and scarring of my lower esophagus, and that I have a fatty liver even though I'm not a drinker. It's good that I don't have some horrible cancer, but also frustrating in that there is nothing treatable that shows up. There is little recourse for me medically. Sorry, now go away.
My own research pointed to the possibility of a gluten allergy causing my abdominal distress, and so for the last year I've toyed with the idea of going gluten-free. I just didn't have the willpower to do it until now. Every time that I think back to the best I've felt in the last two years I have to say that it was the day of the cleanse in preparation for my gastroscopy & colonoscopy last May. Despite the unpleasantness of it, I felt a whole lot better having had only clear liquids and then purging my system. I've thought about trying an elimination diet or a clear liquid diet but haven't had the willpower. The gluten aspect also kept bobbing up often in my dim mental fog. I did switch from whole grain products, bread in particular, a year ago. It was strange to not be able to eat the foods I love and thought were helping my body stay healthy: no more whole grain bread, no beans, no sweet potatoes, no onions, no broccoli or other cruciferous vegetables. Eating white bread, in smaller and smaller quantities. It helped somewhat, though, with the amount of distention and discomfort being reduced a bit. I was able to accomplish some painting at home during the summer--one living room wall, nearly half of the upper kitchen cabinets, all of the verandah (2 coats on the floor, 3 on the rails!). I was still working at the time, too. But my hip pain increased and it was all I could do to finish the verandah. I was unable to finish the kitchen cabinets or living room walls. They are still waiting for me to be well enough to forge ahead.
Over the winter the combination of back pain/spasms/stiffness and GI problems, along with increasing hip joint pain that makes it nearly unbearable to sleep on either side for more than a little while, so that I find myself tossing and turning, not resting well, has made my life very difficult and depressing. Add to that a bout of horrible sinus pain for several weeks, the first since we've moved here--and I am thankful for those three sinus pain-free years--and it's pretty obvious that life has sucked for me lately. Once in a while I have a 'good' day, with a smidgeon of energy. I spend that bit of energy cleaning, usually, although sometimes I reorganize the pantry or move a few boxes around. Afterward I can't do much for a few days. I read a lot. I worry a lot.
A few days ago I decided to have a go at trying to help myself by embarking on a gluten-free diet for a while. I'm not really prepared, as I haven't been anywhere to buy various flours (rice, potato) to use instead of wheat flour, but I'm giving it a shot. I've been eating white rice mixed with soups and bits of meat, chicken or fish; homemade chicken vegetable soup; gluten-free crackers with cheddar cheese; baked potato; rice with milk & brown sugar; scrambled eggs with cheese (this morning); frozen vanilla yogurt (no cone). Two meals per day, usually: breakfast and a late lunch/early dinner. A snack in the evening, including some Lay's wavy chips that may not be a good idea but do satisfy my craving for them. It's still early days. And I do feel a bit better. I've been continuing to put onion in my soups, and do feel pressure almost immediately from them, but taking an over-the-counter gas relief capsule helps with that. It was not enough to help with the pressure when I was eating gluten.
My hope is to eliminate the bloating and abdominal distress enough by eliminating gluten that I can add back into my diet beans and sweet potatoes and broccoli, and to not have to give up onions. I also hope to get rice and potato flours so that I can cook with them. Gluten-free foods at the grocery are very expensive. I did find some very tasty gluten-free macaroons the other day and am rationing them, since they cost nearly 90 cents each. A very small loaf of gluten-free bread costs $6.50, which I can't afford. I don't mind giving up the bread so much for now, even though I've always loved bread (mustn't think about that now!), but I would like to be able to make dumplings and pierogies using the gluten-free flours. My main goal, of course, is to get relief, to feel better, to be able to be more active and to fit into my clothes once again. To be able to paint my walls and rearrange my furniture, to do routine housework without it being a major feat.
Last week I finally made an appointment with my doctor to discuss my hip situation, because it is keeping me from walking. This time last year I began walking at a local indoor arena and was making great progress, going three or four times a week and walking for 1.5 to 2 miles each time. And then my work schedule changed and I stopped for a while. When I tried to resume walking in the fall I could barely walk due to the hip pain. I want to see what I can do about reducing that pain so that I can get out and walk, either in the arena or in the great outdoors when the weather gets warmer. I bought an mp3 player recently in order to provide myself with an incentive to keep walking by being able to listen to audiobooks. Now I just need to be able to walk. I'm already on a NSAID and I can't tolerate narcotics, so I don't know what the doctor can or will do. I know that I have some osteoarthritis in my hips, but am hoping that my problem is not that the osteoarthritis is worse but that I've had a flare-up of inflammation that has settled in my hips. I've been taking regular aspirin for several weeks and that seems to help a little bit; I have to be careful about how much I take because of the effect on my stomach, though. It's discouraging. Here I go, sinking into depression just thinking about how messed up my body and mind are. Focus on something positive. 'Accentuate the positive. Eliminate the negative.' Nod head and tap foot to the tune.
That's it for now. More than enough, perhaps, even though I've left out so much of the mental anguish, brain fog, memory loss. Focus. Look at the sun shining in the windows. Think of the tasty chicken vegetable soup for lunch, the books to finish before Thursday's bookmobile visit. Life is what it is. Sometimes it is good. See, I'm smiling. :)