My Celiac Story: Jennifer Harris
By Jennifer Harris, GF Go-To Guide
My journey and diagnosis with celiac disease began with headaches. As far back as I can remember I always had a headache. To be more specific, migraines started at age seven accompanied by a number of other puzzling symptoms that would come and go, such as muscle pain, bouts of fatigue and depression, stomach aches, nausea, pins and needles in my hands and feet, and frequent trips to the bathroom. I was 20 – 25 pounds underweight my whole life, but doctors weren’t concerned because I was very active.
I grew up thinking it was normal to have daily stomach pain, headaches, and a bloated abdomen. Prior to being diagnosed, a day in my life consisted of going to and from work. That’s it. That is all I had the energy to do and most nights I fell asleep in my clothes without eating dinner. Not knowing how my body would react, I had become afraid of food. I existed on a diet of jello, chicken broth, crackers, and ginger ale because they didn’t make me sick, or so I thought.
Stomach problems ran in my family, but no one felt as miserable as I did on a daily basis. My father and sister were both diagnosed with Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease, so naturally I thought I had it. I stayed away from the ‘trigger’ foods and didn’t notice any improvement. Thinking things couldn’t get any worse, a new symptom appeared – mental fogginess.
Medically speaking, mental fogginess is a form of impairment that can encompass disorientation, problems with staying focused and paying attention, and lapses in short-term memory. I feared I was seriously ill. It isn’t normal to all of a sudden be incapable of forming a sentence, answering a phone, or functioning as a human being. It leaves you feeling helpless until it miraculously lifts and everything goes back to normal. What???
I charged into my doctor’s office with food journal in hand and sobbed for about an hour. The journal showed my reactions to the same foods had no rhyme or reason. The journal, combined with my deteriorating physical state, and myriad symptoms led the way to my celiac disease diagnosis way back in 1997 at the age of 27.
When I was finally diagnosed with celiac disease, I had barely enough energy to get up off the couch to feed and bathe myself. I had to wear clothing that was many sizes too big because zipping up my pants caused shooting pain from my giant abdomen. I was also afraid I would be fired from my job because of frequently going home sick after lunch.
Being diagnosed with this disease left me feeling lost, depressed, and very alone. No one had heard of celiac disease, or gluten, so I was on my own with no one to turn to for support. I went to a dietitian looking for help and ended up knowing more about celiac disease than she did
After the initial shock of having an autoimmune disease subsided, I learned how to safely feed myself through extensive label reading and endless trips to the grocery store. There were no food labeling safe guards and no one seemed concerned, or even knew that cross contact was an issue. Many phone calls to manufacturers were made to ensure a product was free of gluten.
Conducting research, plus lots of trial and error helped me find my confidence and many products that are still my favorites. Although a lot of these products had to be ordered direct from the manufacturers (outside of the United States) because there were no online ordering sites for gluten-free products at that time.
Today, I spend my time consulting with clients, working on projects, and researching gluten-free products, trends, events, etc. Through my consulting company, Gluten Free Go-To Guide, I get to be that person I desperately needed to “hold my hand” and guide me as I negotiated the transition to a gluten-free lifestyle. I provide product consulting services for businesses seeking to expand their gluten-free options safely and with confidence.
Being diagnosed with an autoimmune disease saved my life in more ways than one. Now I am thriving, living a gluten-free lifestyle, and I have a rewarding career that benefits others who eat gluten free.
Want to learn more about Jennifer and her story? Follow her on Twitter: @gfgotoguide