Friday, August 21, 2009

Unexpected Surprises

I had such an unexpectedly good week.

Last weekend, I released my first blog out into the world, and still cannot believe all the warm welcomes and words of encouragement I received from complete strangers. Thank you all so much - you have no idea how much that means to me, especially coming from the gluten-free community... Oh my, what big hearts you all have!

Truth be told, I expected this week to kinda suck.

Now that I am feeling better, it's time to get back to work with a new job and start putting a dent in all these lovely medical bills (don't even get me started about how inept insurance companies are). Being an actor, of course “a new job” means “a new restaurant gig” (such a cliche I know)...

I was at least able to find a job with a restaurant that is GREAT about food restrictions, especially gluten. There are 12 people in my training group (out of 175 that applied…how crazy is that?) Anyway, part of the training process is sampling every item on the menu. Everyday the chef comes in with a number of dishes to try, and on the first day I sat there full of dread. “Here we go...”, I thought, “time to embrace the freak.”

Naturally, there were lots of questions about my diet from my new comrades, all of which I was happy to answer - but there always seems to be that first moment where everyone in the room stops, and suddenly all eyes are on you. I am not a fan of that moment.

The incredible thing was that by Day 3, this group of former strangers totally had my back. They would ask the chef if something was gluten-free before I could. They would dig around and make sure there were no stray croutons in the salads before I tried them. When something we thought might be gluten-free turned out to have hidden sources of gluten, I swear they looked more bummed about it than me. And then, when there was a gluten-free dish to try, they made sure I got the first serving.

There are no words for how touched I was by their kindness.

After a long week, I had the incredible good fortune to spend Saturday with one of my most favorite people in the world, my friend Micah. We went to the movie “Julie & Julia”, which I've been dying to see - I’ll spare you my boring review - followed by an incredibly happy Happy Hour at BoHo in Hollywood.

I hadn't seen Micah since before I got sick, so there was a lot of catching up to do. Like most people, he had never heard of celiac disease. After explaining what it was, he grabbed the menu and led the way in helping me navigate the gluten- free options. But, the first matter of business.... DRINKS!

Let me tell you, there is a new sheriff in town, and his name is St. Germain - yum, yum and frickin' yum! It’s an Elderflower liqueur that rocked my little world. It was mixed with vodka and fresh apple juice - I am drooling just thinking about it. But you know what I really wanted? That's right, A BEER!. Yes, I'm still harping on the fact that I can't have beer (oooh that just made me think of the lovely Irish beer Harp... dammit!). That is the point of happy hour... $3 beer!!! Instead I had to pony up $7(!) for my cocktail. At least it was really good. Ok, onto a happy hour nibble...

Everything had gluten.

However, they had a beautiful fresh hummus with boquerones (I don't even know what that is, but after watching “Julie & Julia”, I felt super fancy and French), green olives and roast peppers, BUT, served with TOAST!!! Argh!. I hoped it would be simple to substitute veggies instead of said evil toast, and luckily it was…for just a few dollars more of course - but well worth it. Delish!

And I must mention how incredible our server was at BoHo, really patient and nice - if only they were all like that!

So the moral of my happy hour story is, learn to think outside the gluten box. I'm sure that's obvious to my fellow gluten-free freaks - but for those of us that are new to this, it's still uncharted waters. I'm still learning how to make sure I'm safe, without being a total pain in the ass. It's a fine line.

Until next time... may the gluten-free force be with you!

Love your,

p.s. I don't recommend expecting your week to suck... that's just stinkin' thinkin' - don't do it!

Friday, August 7, 2009

Hello my name is...

Hello my name is Heather, and I am a gluten-free freak.

A couple of things you should know about me upfront:

1. I recently found out I have celiac disease.

2. I am SO not a writer and usually seize up in sheer panic at the thought of having to write something (especially about myself) - but nonetheless... here I am doing a blog!

3. I'm a bit of a hypocrite... I eat only organic produce, but I will down a handful of Hot Tamales Candy without a batting an eye.

4. I refuse to live in a bubble and am determined to strike a balance in this new gluten-free world of mine.

Now the back story:

A few years ago, my best friend was diagnosed with celiac. We both had never heard of such a thing and we had gone through every health phase/fad imaginable. Once she started to do her homework, she realized I fit the profile to a "T". I had a history of tummy troubles that of course doctors just dubbed "IBS" - I'm ridiculously short (and as an actor, I once got sent on an audition for a Hallmark Elf... yes, really) - started having some skin issues - (rosacea and eczema) - and just something always didn't feel good... (and yes, I know what you're thinking, my husband is a lucky man!)

I was in complete denial and I thought my friend might just be on a "misery loves company" crusade ... yet she had planted a seed. I flirted with the idea that gluten was the root of all of my many issues and I tried to cut it out from time to time - but I am from Milwaukee and really, truly LOVE beer! Not to mention, I love to bake... this felt like a cruel joke I wanted no part of. So, I was a big old waffler for a year or two.

Then things got really ugly.

Let's just say my body had finally had enough and made sure that I knew it. Pardon me for getting all philosophical for a moment -- but it's pretty funny that if you don't take the hints life is sending you, pretty soon it just throws a brick at your head.

So, long story short (sort of)... I underwent some really lovely procedures and damage was found. Luckily, I had googled every thing under the sun and tried to educate myself as much as possible. Because of that, I knew to INSIST that my doctor order a celiac panel. Sure enough, I found out I have not one, but TWO of the main celiac genes (DQ2/DQ8).

There was no more denying it. By that time I was so sick, I was grateful that all I had to do was go gluten-free. Naturally, there was a massive mourning period. To have to give up so many things that held emotional attachments to me (birthday cakes, christmas cookies, and for the love of god -- BEER!) was really hard (aside from the fact that they were just plain delicious) and truth be told, the whole thing pissed me off.

Thank goodness for the author/blogger known as "Gluten-Free Girl". Her book of the same name inspired a major paradigm shift for me. Instead of focusing on what I couldn't have, I started to explore all the new and exciting things that I COULD have.

I became obsessed with all things gluten-free, but there was something missing in all the reading/research I was doing. It was all about food - but what about healing the damage done? What about ways to help speed recovery from accidental "glutening"? (cuz no matter how hard we try, it's bound to happen). What were some of the other ways to support a healthy gluten-free lifestyle other than food? And most importantly... how do I still go out and enjoy happy hours with friends, instead of sitting home in a little gluten-free bubble?

So the gist of my blog will be about the trials and tribulations of achieving a BALANCED gluten-free life. I understand this is a very serious disease, and I do not take it lightly... but in some regards I refuse to sit home and play it safe - to me, that is just giving up. I'm not saying that my way is what's right for everyone to do. Celiac disease is a slippery slope and everyone has different degrees of sensitivity. The goal is for you and me to find the balance that is right for us individually.

And I have to give props to the beautiful and talented photographer Olivia Bee, whose incredible photo perfectly encapsulates how I feel these days. It's only been a few months, and I'm starting to heal and feel better physically, but sometimes you feel like the "big gorilla" in the room the second you tell someone you can't eat gluten. To me, this photo represents embracing all that you are -- gorilla included! I chose to call it "Gluten-Free Freak" because I like the play on the word "freak" - it's true, you feel like a freak at times, but I like the duality of the word -- "freak" also means "an ardent enthusiast"!

One last thing, in case you didn't notice -- I really have no idea what I'm doing... I'm just trying to find my gluten-free way...

Love your,