The Place Beyond Exhaustion

If there is a place beyond exhaustion, I think I have discovered it. For the time being, I can probably have my mail forwarded here.

Have you ever reached a point in life where no matter how much sleep you get, no matter the amount of caffeine you consume, or the amount of pleasurable activities you engage in, you are just tired? You’re spent. You’ve had it. I’m there. I find myself physically, emotionally, and spiritually burned out.

Any one situation or a combination of factors can trigger such events, but what can you do when the constant bombardment finally breaches your defenses? You find yourself trying to rebuild the stronghold while simultaneously fighting off a never ending horde. The physicality of the fight consumes you and everything you do is done through a sheer act of will power. The simplest tasks-getting out of bed, going to work, and the rest of your daily activities are chores of epic proportions. You become like a slower version of the Energizer Bunny- you keep going, but the battery finally runs flat.

It would be great if life had a mercy rule, where a referee stops the fight and says, “He’s had enough. No more trials.” Speaking of mercy, I often ask where is God in all this? I try to connect with Him through His word, prayer, and try to live the best life I can-nothing. As a Christian, I have heard frequently of God’s will and God’s plan, but He doesn’t seem forthcoming with how everything fits into His will and plan. Life seems like a jigsaw puzzle with critical pieces gone or other pieces belonging to an unrelated puzzle.

I know it could be worse. I know there are people out there, maybe some of you, that have been through worse situations, but for my fight, this is exhausting! I have spoken about this in other blogs, but I believe this is one continuous narrative of how the last two years have been one setback after another. Just when I think I know the opponent’s plan, something changes. Anemia; Laid off and unemployed for four months; Starting back to work for less money;Celiac disease; The suicide of my nephew and the family turmoil that followed; Start another job; Go back to school while working six days a week at forty-years-old; A complication of Celiac disease- osteopenia, or loss of bone density; My parents are experiencing health problems in their early retirement years;My wife’s health and our infertility struggles; Frequent relapses into depression and anxiety- no wonder I’m exhausted!

Christians say that God’s working it out. The Stoics say to control what you can control and to be content with your lot. “God wouldn’t give you more than you can handle.” However, I’m starting to think that me and God have a difference of opinion on how much I can handle. In boxing, they call it “a puncher’s chance,” all it takes is the right punch at the right time can knock out the most formidable foe. I have survived darker days and I know that I will get through this. I might come out a little more jaded or more pragmatic, but I will get through this. There are positives to focus on, as I have graduated and I am working a new job related to my field for better pay, so I can start there.

Whatever it is that you are facing, keep swinging, keep punching. Thank you for taking the time to read my rant. I normally don’t write this way, but I felt the need to get this off of my chest. God bless you.


Tips for a Gluten Free Thanksgiving

As I write this, we are a little over a week away from celebrating Thanksgiving in the United States. Thanksgiving is the holiday of the “Four F’s”- faith, family, food, and football. For anyone with Celiac disease, filling up your Thanksgiving plate means avoiding certain foods, even foods you’ve eaten your entire life.

This will be my second Thanksgiving since my Celiac disease diagnosis, and I would like to encourage and inform others who may be wondering how they can enjoy the holiday. Celiac disease, like other conditions, requires a drastic lifestyle change. Depending on the severity of your gluten allergy, it’s not wise to “have a cheat day,” as it could make you sick.

It’s easy to dwell on what you can’t eat if there is no gluten-free alternative. As in my case, Thanksgiving now means no dumplings, no macaroni and cheese, no rolls, no stuffing, no gravy, no green bean casserole if it’s made with cream of mushroom soup (cream of mushroom soup, like many other soups contains wheat flour). Desserts made with wheat flour can take many pies, cakes, and cookies off the table (pardon the pun).

All is not lost, however. If your family is anything like mine, there will be other food options. The key is not to dwell on what you can’t eat, but to enjoy what you can eat. Turkey and ham are naturally gluten-free (however, the broth may not be gluten free, so please insist on a gluten-free broth), mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, corn, peas, sweet potatoes (candied yams if you prefer), traditional green beans, and other fruits and vegetable dishes are naturally gluten free. As I have learned over the last year-and-a-half, there are many gluten-free alternatives, which include breads, pastas, pie crusts, desserts, soups. If you know that there will be a lot of the traditional gluten-filled food, you do have the option to bring something you can eat, or ask someone to prepare a side dish if cooking is not your forte. For example, I didn’t miss out on dessert because my wife and sister both prepared gluten-free pies and cakes. There are plenty of gluten-free recipes on the Internet and in various cookbooks. I have listed some links below if you would like more information for yourself or a loved one who has Celiac disease and want to enjoy Thanksgiving. God bless.–14916/

Gluten and Communion

It is estimated that one percent of the world’s population, like myself, has Celiac disease. As with any type of sickness people can have varying degrees of gluten sensitivity. For some people, a trace amount of gluten can adversely affect their health, while others may be okay if they ingest a tiny amount. However, people with Celiac disease must continue to be diligent to read food labels and be aware of presumably “safe” foods that are cooked, prepared, or processed in the same facilities or on the same surfaces as foods which contain gluten.

I went to church last Sunday and experienced an intersection of my faith and Celiac disease. I didn’t have an existential crisis or question God’s reasoning for my having this disease, but it was over communion.

Communion is a sacrament in both the Protestant and Catholic Churches which serves as a reminder of Jesus’ sacrifice for us. The bread (or wafer), represents the broken body of Christ on the cross. The wine (or grape juice) represents the blood shed for our sins. There is no guideline as to when the church should have communion, as I have been to churches where communion was on the first Sunday of the month, every Sunday, or when the church felt the need for it.

This was not the first time I’ve had communion since my diagnosis, but it gave me pause before I partook of that tiny wafer smaller than an oyster cracker. I said my prayer before eating the wafer and didn’t experience any ill effects, but you see where this poses a problem for a lot of believers?

I am not demanding that churches go gluten-free or change two thousand years of tradition, I just want to raise awareness for those believers who have Celiac disease. Prior to writing this post, I learned that there are gluten-free communion wafers that can be purchased. The simple fix would be to bring my own wafer as the church partakes of communion, as I do when I bring my gluten-free alternatives to family gatherings.

I’m Protestant, but for those of the Catholic faith, the issue is slightly more complicated, as Vatican directives state that communion wafers must contain wheat. (A simple Google search will lead to numerous secular and religious news site concerning the Vatican directive). I would also like hear back from any readers who have encountered this struggle or how you deal with Celiac disease in general. Thanks and God bless.




Celiac Disease: One Year Later

This week marked a rather dubious anniversary- it has been a year since my diagnosis of Celiac disease. What is Celiac disease? I had the same question when my gastroenterologist asked me if I had ever been tested for it. Celiac disease is an allergy to gluten, a binding protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. My diagnosis was confirmed through blood work and an endoscopy.

People who are allergic to gluten can suffer from a host of health problems- anemia, inflammation, intestinal issues, fatigue, vitamin, mineral, and calcium deficiencies, among others. Celiac disease can also interact with and complicate other autoimmune disorders, which can make diagnosis tricky. For a more in-depth study of Celiac disease, I recommend the book Celiac Disease: A Hidden Epidemic by Peter H.R. Green and Rory Jones.

My diagnosis was an immediate lifestyle changer. After thirty-nine years of eating what I wanted to, I was forced to give up a lot of the food I enjoyed. Eating out became challenging because I could not order any type of pizza, pasta, pancakes, breaded food, soups, deep fried food, no pies with crust or cakes. Celiac disease forces you to read food labels even closer than before. When you read food labels look for such words as “wheat flour,” “barley,” “rye,” “glutamate,” and the phrase “may contain traces of wheat.” Although you may think a certain food is clear of gluten, it may have been made in a facility where gluten products are made. To be on the safe side, look for “certified gluten free” on the label.

Celiac disease not  only affects you, it affects those around you. When my wife and I are trying to decide where to go for dinner (one of the longest discussions a couple can have), she has to ask “What can you eat there?” When work orders pizza for everyone, you may have to explain why you’re not eating pizza. (You ever notice how people look at you if you aren’t eating pizza?). At certain family meals, the gluten-free food is in a separate dish, which is made known to me and those in attendance.  One of the unexpected upsides is that family members specially bake gluten-free desserts for me, even when it’s not my birthday!

My diagnosis is not all gloom and doom. I still enjoy meats, fruit, vegetables, some cereals, coffee, and dairy products. I have learned to cook with gluten-free flour, which means pancakes and waffles. I can enjoy pizza, it just has to be a gluten free crust. Though I may long for a gluten-filled meal, I just think of the consequences and how I will feel later (tried that already). I just have to think back to my struggle with anemia and it deters me from eating gluten. (For more information on my struggle with anemia, I invite you to read my post, “How Blood Loss Lead to New Life.”)

As I reflect on this past year and learning to live with Celiac disease, I do not mourn over the foods I cannot eat, but rejoice at the foods I can eat. I am thankful to be making good progress in my health and I have educated myself much more. In fact, I would consider Celiac disease to be a mixed blessing of sorts because most of the foods I cannot eat were not good for me in the first place. Though this diagnosis changed my life, it will not stop me from living a full life. In my personal journal on this topic, I came across this quote from my favorite philosopher, Epictetus:

“Nothing truly stops you. Nothing truly holds you back. For your own will is always within your control. Sickness may challenge your body. But are you merely your body? Lameness may impede your legs. But you are not merely your legs.? Your will is bigger than your legs. Your will needn’t be affected by an incident unless you let it. Remember this with everything that happens to you.”1

God bless you all.

1Epictetus The Art of Living: The Classical Manual on Virtue Happiness, and Effectiveness, Translated by Sharon Lebell. San Francisco: Harper Collins (1995): 16.