It’s ninety sixty whatever year, and some woman in a third world country complains about constant stomach aches and dizzy spells. Every doctor under the sun tells her that she’s fine, yet nothing’s fine with her and her health. In fact, it only gets worse! Eventually, few years down the line, her health deteriorates and she gets gastrointestinal cancer. She is then told by her family “It’s just how it was meant to be.You have to follow through and hold on.”
Unfortunately, it’s too late for her and soon enough she dies. Her family all believe that “It was just part of God’s plan and that he always takes the good ones first” – perhaps to numb their pain or else they’d lose themselves grieving over the loss and tormenting themselves by constantly asking God “why her?”
However, her ultimate demise could have been prevented. In other words, the blame for this poor woman’s health issues lay in the food that she ate. It was the gluten found in bread that was making her sick, eventually damaging her gut to the point of no return; suffering from dementia and neuropathy. Had she or her doctors been aware of that, she could have lived on for years to come. So maybe it isn’t all just part of God’s plan? Or maybe there’s no God to begin with?
It’s the start of the year 2017 and some guy from a remote place suddenly undergoes dizzy spells, nausea and an appetite loss that lasts for 2-3 weeks. At first he doesn’t think much of it, but later on he starts having episodes of night sweats, and understandably he gets worried. A quick, innocent search on the interwebz says that although night sweats are not a reason to get alarmed (unless accompanied by fever), they need keeping a close eye on – should they persist for a longer period of time, for they may be an early indication of blood cancer.
Few weeks later, not only that the night sweats haven’t stopped, but also he starts having itchy skin all over his body and pain under his rib-cage on both sides of the flank that isn’t kidney pain. Echo tests show nothing, but now he starts experiencing bouts of exhaustion/extreme fatigue that make him unable to get out of bed despite sleeping for up to 13 hours – leaving him terrified, knowing that ‘extreme fatigue’ is one of the most common ‘red flag’ warning signs of cancer.
He prays to God every night before he goes to bed, wishing he would not wake up covered in sweat the following morning (or the middle of the night, as he usually did) but to no avail. The new day would come and he’d wake up with a damp shirt round his chest area. It’s a tough pill to swallow and leaves him feeling afraid and also bitter, knowing that there is no escaping from his soon-to-follow diagnosis. God is of no use to him and completely irrelevant in this case. He’s on his own.
The situation keeps getting worse as the itchy skin starts to become so severe that the sole of his foot itches constantly for up to 2 weeks. Doctors wouldn’t listen. They don’t suspect anything and play the “it’s just anxiety”card, although he fears the worst. The symptoms just seem to pile up and now his lymph nodes in the groin and under the armpit seem to ache from time to time. He is convinced for real that one of them is going to pop up any minute and he will then finally get diagnosed with lymphoma.
Another few months and his itchy skin, itchy scalp of head and constant fatigue don’t seem to stop. He soon develops huge hives on his left elbow and his mind can’t take it anymore. He uses sleep as a remedy to his tormented mind. His diagnosis is imminent and he’s not far from the truth as his node on the neck and the clavicle have now become tender to the touch and feel more prominent. This time he knows that this is it. There’s nowhere else to run and his worst case scenario has become true – as he previously suspected.
He isn’t even surprised because he saw it coming all along and now he curses God (if there’s one) while thinking about all the things he never had the chance to do, nor will he ever be able to. He is strolling by the river, trying to be out in the open so he would not go crazy staying inside the house on his own, since his parents had just gone to Australia to visit his brother and his family for 3 months. (You couldn’t make it up if you tried, right?) Since he’s still too young, he inevitably thinks about the girls he used to be in love with in the past, and the one he currently loved, yet, because of many different factors never had the chance to be with.
After a while, he gets in a state of denial and tells himself that maybe, just maybe, there’s another reason about why his lymph nodes have become tender. He’s been monitoring his body for almost a year now, so he knows that there are too many symptoms that tick all the boxes and therefore his diagnosis being all but confirmed, but it’s in the human nature not to give up. However, he is aware that he’s only lying to himself; and despite wishing it was all just another health scare like the one from a year ago, he knows that it’s the end of the road for him now.
Surprisingly, one of the reasons for swollen lymph nodes, according to an online article, could be due to harmful substances clogging up the lymphatic system. And since the lymphatic system itself works as a filter, the inability to get rid of the harmful substances causes the lymph nodes to swell. Therefore, in order to get rid of them, a detox containing lots of fruits/vegetables and fibers is needed.
The guy, although not believing a word of it, reads that fiber can be found in cereal, most notably Cheerios, so he buys a box of Cheerios Cinnamon Oat Crisp – the only flavor available , which is a total rarity given how we are talking about a market that is situated in the countryside and this product is not that popular there.
So once he gets home, he gets a bowl and eats some Cheerios with milk. It’s his first time trying them, so somehow the sweet taste of the honey coating makes him forget about the whole situation. Besides, now that he finally knows he’s dying, the feelings of constant anxiety and dread start to subside.
Quickly upon eating them, it’s the “daily itchy forearms” that he starts to experience, as well as the familiar pain under his right side of the rib-cage. He’s already accepted his fate, so he just goes to sleep so he can rest his body and mind from all the stress he has been put under. After only a few hours of sleep, he wakes up scratching his chin. Then he falls asleep back again but wakes up after a few minutes, now scratching his torso. He keeps falling asleep and waking up feeling itchy every 10 minutes, leaving him exhausted and almost like he hasn’t slept at all.
Eventually he gives up. The itching seems to have subsided once that he’s got up, so then he decides to have some Christmas cookies. The itching returns again as soon as he has eaten one, so he throws a quick glance at the ingredients. He reads with bold letters on the tin “Contains GLUTEN, EGGS, DAIRY”. Another quick glance, this time at the ingredients on the Cheerios box, and he discovers that same word in bold letters again – the word which his whole world will revolve around from that moment on until the rest of his life – “GLUTEN.”
“Could it be?”, he thought to himself. He knew a girl that was sensitive to gluten, but he’s always thought that it was just one in a million type of conditions, therefore he had never even bothered to look it up. To him, it was something that was simply blown out of proportion by celebrities and probably not that serious. Clearly confused, he then googles what kind of symptoms can gluten causes and he can’t believe his luck! His face lights as if someone has just told him he’s won the jackpot. Every symptom matches with the one that he has been experiencing for the last 12 months and it’s like a weight was lifted.
Eventually he decides to switch to whole grain bread and to avoid pasta for a week or two in order to see if the symptoms should persist. To his surprise, he has never scratched his arms since! The itchy skin problem has completely disappeared for the time being! He is now fully convinced that he will live to see another day and that his health nightmare is over for good. How wrong he was…
He may have been wrong to think he potentially had lymphoma, but he wasn’t wrong to think that his symptoms were connected to the disease. In other words, once he was certain that it was the gluten that had caused him all the problems, thanks to the method of re-introducing gluten to his diet to see if his old symptoms would return, he had then decided to dedicate his nights to reading as much as he could about the condition.
That’s when he discovered the bitter truth: If he kept on eating products that contain wheat flour, he would actually get lymphoma some day in the future, or have some other serious complications. In a way, he was right since the very first beginning.
Despite fighting his battle alone, without the help of doctors, in order to get to the root of the problem and actually coming out as a winner in the end by preserving his own life, the victory was a Pyrrhic one. Yes, he did remain alive but he was now forever indebted and a slave to his new diet.
For two years, while most of his peers were out and about, chasing love or opportunities, he found himself sucked up into reading about all sorts of diseases, people’s experiences with symptoms that led to cancer, etc. just to be able to help himself, since doctors wouldn’t.
Not like they doctors could do much if he actually did potentially have what he thought he did, but we talk about a guy in his twenties here that had no previous medical knowledge whatsoever, being able to successfully diagnose himself with a serious auto-immune disease within a year and thus putting to shame every doctor that had brushed him off or dared to even make fun of him during the process. On top of that, never even receiving an apology from either of them. To those doctors, he was just another hypochondriac.
That guy, as you could have probably guessed, was me. I’m writing this post just one night before I officially enroll back in university after taking the previous year off. Having thought that I was going to get diagnosed with a deadly disease, I had decided to take a break, since I would not have been able to focus on my studies anyway and because I thought that that was it, therefore it was not important to me whether I graduate or not. Here I am now, though. All well, just very hungry and feeling all sorts of emotions in the aftermath of the event, having to live every day with a short attention span, not being able to focus on anything because I’m too busy resisting the urge not to eat what I shouldn’t.
I am writing this in order to highlight how important it was for me to be my own advocate and also rely on myself when God wouldn’t. I know many people will disagree with my beliefs or tell me otherwise, but had I not battled my own way out through the hell and took things into my own hands, I could have followed the same path that many people who have been silent Celiacs throughout their life did. It was not praying, but my own research that helped me save myself. Had I not done that, I could have been another guy about which people would say “That’s how it was meant to be, you can’t argue with God”.
I know it is really selfish because you might say that God has played his part here by preventing I had lymphoma, so in a way he did save me, but it’s hard to look at it from that way when you find yourself being diagnosed with another life-threatening disease from which you can never get cured. It can only get worse, but never better.
Throughout my one year journey without getting a diagnosis, I’ve heard stories about students like me who did not have my luck and actually didn’t get a second chance to live. I was grateful that I was going to live, but felt it’d be hypocritical to thank God when there are other kids out there who were going to float out into the Ether at such tender age. I found this quote that depicts what my thoughts at that time:
“Only the atheist recognizes the boundless narcissism and self-deceit of the saved. Only the atheist realizes how morally objectionable it is for survivors of a catastrophe to believe themselves spared by a loving God, while this same God drowned infants in their cribs. Because he refuses to cloak the reality of the world’s suffering in a cloying fantasy of eternal life, the atheist feels in his bones just how precious life is — and, indeed, how unfortunate it is that millions of human beings suffer the most harrowing abridgements of their happiness for no good reason at all.”
To make things even more complicated, the key to whether you live longer or not is in your own hands, well… partially. You have to rise above HUNGER, which is one of our primary sensations, so good luck with that and try not to go crazy. It’s a never ending battle, and you have to adhere to your diet for the rest of your life, which is extremely hard given the few items of food that you’re only allowed to eat from now on and how impossible it seems to give up every dessert out there and rely solely on fruit and honey if you want to eat something sweet.
I’ve heard it many times from people who believe in God that it can be worse, or that other people have it much worse and must only eat vegetables and no meat, (usually said as to encourage me not to feel so down about this whole situation) and in a way I understand them because it’s true. I do have compassion for people who have it worse, but as the saying goes “you don’t always have to be thankful that it isn’t worse.”
The reason why I’m bitter about my disease is because this happened while I’m still so young and haven’t experienced many things that I wish I could. If this happened while I was happily married and in my late thirties, I would have accepted it as a normal part of life, but while I’m at this stage of my life, having to bear such a big baggage with me when I haven’t even gone out into the real world just isn’t fair. Not to mention about how inconvenient it is to go anywhere, from a person’s house to the city when there are so many aromas of freshly baked goods or pizza everywhere around you, and all you can eat is a banana or hazelnuts/chickpeas/whatever is convenient to you to carry with you. It goes to the point where you feel like you don’t belong to this world anymore, just like young kids probably do when they can’t find another kid to play with because they stand out.
I have the experience of knowing what it’s like to feel knowing you’re going to die soon and actually “dying” by feeling an immense amount of pain in my lower stomach when I tried gluten for the first time after being on a gluten-free diet for a month. In all of those cases, God was the last thing on my mind, or maybe he was the first one, since he’s the help we all call out to when in dangerous situation, but he wasn’t of much help.
Don’t get me wrong, I still believe there’s someone pulling the strings up there, but I do not think it’s in a certain way that we or anyone else claims to know.
It’s the 21st century and doctors still haven’t figured what causes or how to reverse an auto-immune disease (that thing when your body doesn’t recognize its own self and attacks itself), yet people, who are just ordinary mortals, think they know how God works or that he’s got a plan for them? We all tell ourselves that we should keep on keeping on when things go wrong, and that perhaps there is a light at the end of the tunnel, but being Celiac it’s one of those things where you are forever stuck in the tunnel! You can feel better tomorrow, but once you realize that you will never be over your condition, you’re going to go into a meltdown.
Getting over an ex is somewhat manageable because eventually you’ll find another girl, but you can never find a substitute to food. You can replace bread, but not the rest of the items. Almost everything contains wheat, soy, yeast and/or milk. Also, you might resist the temptation not to eat what is bad for you for a few days or a week up to two, but eventually you would still want to reach for some candy bar, a cookie, piece of cake, a bagel, or anything really, since you’re literally not allowed to eat anything you can find in a store. It’s a very complicated and absurd situation.
It would have been wonderful if we could abstain from eating what we shouldn’t, but have at least one day every two weeks when we could eat anything we wanted, but that’s not possible. Being a Celiac means you need to learn how to live with the hunger and accept your new diet, day by day, because if you think that you need to adhere to your new diet for the rest of your life you’re going to have a fit. And you don’t want that.
Being Celiac makes you realize how idiotic it is when religious people voluntarily strip themselves off certain pleasures in life because it is ‘sinful’. To me, that’s the fastest way to slowly kill your spirit and kill yourself, as a human being. If you are religious and reading this, I want to ask you one thing: “Are you doing that because you are afraid of God; because your preacher told you to (he probably doesn’t believe in that either), because the Bible says so, or because you feel like it helps you grow spiritually?”
Does it come to you naturally, or are you trying with every fiber of your being to suppress your urges? Unless you do it for your own good, suppressing your urges and denying yourself to enjoy, whether to you that is in the way of gambling or making love to another human being, it’s only going to make you more preoccupied with your urges and will most likely manifest itself through something more drastic.
I mention religion because it’s very similar to Celiac disease. No one forbids you to stop eating products that contain gluten, milk, or soy, but you enjoy them at your own risk because you know that sooner or later you will most certainly develop another auto-immune illness and meet your fate, or as in the example of religious people – God.
But at the same time, you can try to suppress your urges for tasty goods such as pizza/chocolate/cookies/cake etc., but in the end they will always come out and you’ll most likely cheat on your diet because hunger will always prevail. Yes, potentially having cancer is scary but that’s in the far future and the hunger is now!
That’s why I say it’s similar to religion. Religious people feel guilty when they indulge in the above mentioned activities, but at the same time they can’t abandon those activities. Same with Celiacs. Eat it, but don’t complain if your health deteriorates after.
Wonderful, isn’t it?
If religious people feel God is going to reward them in the afterlife for being obedient and not doing what’s forbidden, then Celiacs must believe that they are going to be rewarded even more for their diligence and not submitting to hunger. After all, they are stripping themselves off food; food that helps every living thing survive. And what do religious people do? At most they try not to have sex, unless they’re married, gamble or smoke. Big deal! Try living without bread for a week and your only dessert being fruit.
So if anything, Celiacs should be the ones getting first row in Heaven, right? It’s what should they be entitled to since they are constantly being torn between eating in order to function normally, or not eating in order to persevere their life? But guess what, Celiacs, and me in particular don’t feel like that at all. I believe I speak on behalf of many Celiacs that there are times when we’re so over with this type of life that the first thing we think is that God either:
1. Does not exist.
2 He must certainly hates us since out of nowhere we are forced to give up on food and satisfying our hunger, just so we can remain alive here.
Throughout this year, I have been gluten-free for weeks, but the moment I tasted a chocolate chip cookie after adhering to the diet for so long I felt such an immense pleasure that for a few minutes it felt like my whole body was floating and I was the most relaxed person in the world. I felt like my brain activity has just stopped and all I could feel was the sensation of calmness and delight. You can try it on your own. Don’t eat anything apart from fruit for a week or two and then eat a bar of chocolate. The next best thing is probably drinking water after running in the sun or participating in some sports.
Auto-immune diseases are the place where God goes to die. He’s absolutely powerless and since this is an incurable condition that potentially leads to other auto-immune diseases, or worst case scenario – cancer, relying on God seems futile and empty. It just doesn’t cut it anymore. Your brain is too preoccupied thinking about food anyway.
You can act all smart and say or think that God does not exist (based on your bad luck), but eventually every skeptic will find himself faced with the inevitability of death, and in that moment every logic is defied. Whether you believe in God or not, you just want to save your butt then – as it’s the human instinct. So no, you’re not that dumb. You want to be on God’s good cards for the future just in case you happen to face something more tragic, not having to feel as if you brought it upon yourself. What if celiac disease happened cause you ate too much cheese as a kid, your immune system couldn’t handle it, and has now built up an intolerance not only to the protein in milk, but also gluten. What if this was your fault all along?
At the same time, you also don’t think much of God either, so you just let your life roll without stressing too much over God and religion – if that’s possible during this day and age. From one side, you already have it bad so if there’s God and he makes your life harder by blessing you with another disease, then fine, but he’s not worth your attention anymore (although this does not matter much once you’re in this situation. Taking God on guilt trips is to no avail). But since Celiac disease is a life-long condition and affecting you in many ways, then you will most likely always resent God for it every now and then, even though you are probably aware that it’s got nothing to do with him, since auto-immune diseases are still relatively new. A switch goes off in your body and suddenly your body rejects itself, your own cells start attacking themselves and you really think God’s responsible for that?
It’s ridiculous to even think so, but since the cause behind auto-immune diseases still can’t be found for sure, I can just throw the toys out of my pram and blame God for everything 🙂
This is why I have accepted that if there’s God, he probably knows where I stand. He knows why I feel the way I do, why I feel bitter when I do, and why I no longer feel as drawn to him. I have no reasons to fear hell because I’ve already lived mine here on Earth for almost a year. Certain people, like me, had to live in hell before they died, to make up for missing out on it after death, since they didn’t believe in life after death.
For all I know, whoever wrote the Bible probably just used it as a big distraction, something to control the people with, so of course I could never follow a book that restricts me from living my life according to my needs when on top of everything that life is already limited when it comes to the food that I eat. And for what? For a promise of an eternal life that no one has the faintest idea if it even exists.
Of course, I will always feel a connection to a higher power, but I know that it’s not up to God whether we live or not, whether we get what we want from life or not, or whether the people we love will stay with us for long or not. There’s so many things that we, as a humankind still don’t have a clue about, and whoever is trying to tell you that they have the answers to that, are most likely just manipulating with you and you’re buying it all because you can’t or are too scared/lazy to think for yourself.
We are here. On this Earth. As long as we are here the chances of good things as well as bad things happening to us always exist; and that’s the harsh reality.
Here’s a message that a dear friend of mine has sent me. Apparently she’s always been a fellow Celiac, not just a fellow music fan, but she never told me about it since she had already got used to her condition:
” I wish I’d enjoyed it so much more when I still could, had I known that pleasures that once seemed so natural and simple, had an expiration date all this time, well hidden underneath my ignorance. To lose those things is a loss so severe that it resembles death; the death of the person you used to be and will never be again, and even though we’re all changing constantly, this is a change so brutal and absurd and doesn’t even have the benefit of a certain wisdom (like the changes caused by experience.)
You are brave and I don’t have to tell you how proud I am of you.”
To sum it up, next time you tell someone “It’s part of God’s plan” just try and be more considerate of your words. Bad experiences that teach you something are one thing, but needless suffering like the loss of a child or a life-long disease are completely different things. It isn’t, and should not be part of any God’s plan. If it is, then He’s not My God.