It's funny how timing works out.
I've had my head in my thesis pretty steadily (and intensely) since February -- and in the midst of concentrating on the project with so much of my brain, I had to let a lot of other things on my radar remain, at best, peripheral. Which included some aspects of my health. Nothing debilitating: some skin irritation, nerve wonkiness in my hands and feet, intermittent GI protests. The last issue has been ongoing since the middle of 2009 (despite the work-up a year ago), and after so long, I'd practically gotten used to it.
But about two days before I turned in my thesis to my committee, things started to get noticeably worse. Fortunately, I had a follow-up appointment with my doctor (the new one) the day after my draft was due, and her advice, after hearing everything that had been going on for so long, was to consider a food sensitivity as the culprit.
"Gluten and dairy," she said -- these were the most likely suspects. So she suggested an elimination diet followed by an allergen challenge. "Just try going gluten-free for three weeks then dairy-free for three weeks," she said, "and see what happens."
What else is a girl to do with all her newly available time?
I took the news back to my dietitian, who happens to specialize in this kind of testing, and she printed up the protocols. I figured the process wouldn't be fun, but it would be short-lived. Then I looked at the instructions.
"To make this kind of testing accurate and meaningful, you'll want to do more than eliminate gluten and dairy," she told me, pointing to a greatly expanded list of foods and food additives. "Sensitivities can occur in groups. So ideally, you'll want to test all of them."
I won't reproduce the whole catalog here. But let me name a few choice items besides gluten and dairy. Corn. Soy. Eggs. Peanuts. Tomatoes. Peppers. White potatoes. Processed and/or non-organic meats. Shellfish. Strawberries. All citruses. Caffeine. Alcohol. Refined sugars and artificial sweeteners. Processed oils. The list is, even for someone who already has experience with dietary restrictions, more than daunting. And the diet has to be followed for nine weeks, four to allow the body to get rid of residual allergens, then five that cycle in -- very carefully -- each group of potential irritants, one set at a time every third day.
Let's just say this isn't how I envisioned I'd be spending most of the summer.
There is an upside: if I can get this done by mid-September, I will potentially know exactly what's making me feel less than terrific -- and, after getting rid of the little menace(s), be able to go to Hawaii feeling better.
So. After the thesis is officially finished, I'll be looking into the logistics of this new project. It wouldn't be quite so intimidating if I lived on my own and had no one else to answer to. But we've been looking forward to being more social, inviting people over for potluck, taking an extended bike trip with a few friends, visiting and being visited by family. All of that suddenly seems incompatible with the trial because it's inconvenient for the people around me. Imagine subjecting visitors to all of those restrictions when we eat at home or outside the house. Or, in the opposite vein, consider the culinary acrobatics of preparing dual meals so guests can eat "normally," hosting a potluck but not eating what your friends have prepared, going to restaurants but not ordering anything and packing my own food to consume before or after. (Seriously, what are the chances a mainstream eatery will have something, besides a naked lettuce leaf, free of refined sugar, processed oil, corn, soy, eggs ...)
And then there are those looks. The ones you get from people who don't understand your limits and, once they realize just how many there are, back away warily. I shouldn't have to apologize for my circumstances but I often feel like it's warranted -- for the relatively few restrictions I have now, which already make some people uncomfortable.
I know -- those instances are occasional and I shouldn't expect to run into them all the time, but they reduce me to a sense of profound and irrational loneliness. I can't let that prevent me from doing the testing and I can't let the testing keep me from having a life. But how?
Well, if there's anything I'll learn from this experiment, it will be some kind of answer to that question.
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