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The Emotional Side Part 9: Who Am I?
Mourning The Me I Didn't Get To Be
Discovering a new and improved me after removing gluten in September of 2000 was amazing. All focus was on the fact that I now had an answer. And focus was on incorporating this answer into my much appreciated new life. Eventually, however, I started to wonder, Who am I? Or more, who would I be now if I was healthy through those decades that I had lived with undiagnosed celiac?
Who Am I?
I don’t know about you, but I am always learning something new about myself. Sometimes those revelations follow a period of grieving. But so many personal life changes, (personal changes that I connect to having lived with un-diagnosed celiac) often have me asking that silent question, Who am I?
We don’t always have to seek counseling to discover our inner-self. Sometimes those ah-ha moments just pop up out of nowhere. I had one of those experiences last month. An emotion that I didn’t even realize was hiding within me emerged from some distant corner. I suddenly found myself grieving over the loss of the me I never had a chance to be.
The Spark That Ignited That Emotion
I chose to rewatch the documentary The Celiac Project one afternoon. Towards the end, one of the interviewees said something that hit me. She commented on her sorrow over the fact that her mom never had the chance to get to know her gluten free.
Wow did that hit me. It hit hard. It’s not that I hadn’t felt this pain before. But it was an emotional moment that had me thinking. My mom never got to know the me gluten free. And it suddenly hurt deeply.
For the most part, I had been focused on the gratitude of having an answer, (after a lifetime of living with un-diagnosed celiac). I had been focused on learning how to eat. I was focused on becoming healthy.
The most important thing for me was to create the best me I could be for the most important people in my world. My family. That was my focus. And eventually, moving forward through some very big life changes, (divorce, heading back to school, and developing a career) required my focus in other ways. I didn’t have time to dig into anything deeper; I was knee-deep in life.
Life was simply too busy for me to recognize the fact that a big piece of my life had been taken from me.
*Please know. This is NOT about self pity. This is about being able to move forward. A little self-reflection.
Recognizing The Need To Grieve
Life presents us many gifts. Life presents us with many challenges. Often times, those challenges can turn into gifts. And this is the case with my celiac journey. I appreciate my passion for advocacy. This has been a phenomenal gift.
It’s important to build ourselves up rather than lament over the what could have beens. But that single comment at the end of that film suddenly brought me sadness. And it had me reflecting over the very fact that I didn’t truly mourn over a life I was cheated of.
Through the tears that I allowed myself with this sudden grief over the fact that my mom never knew me gluten free, I also allowed myself the recognition of another grief. The fact that my total life experience would most likely have been different. I would have been a better me. I would have been a healthier me. And I would have been a happier me.
I had been so busy being grateful for the gift I was given (life) as well as feeling sorry for myself (over the challenges this gift created) that I didn’t realize I’d been neglecting to allow myself to acknowledge the loss of the me that I didn’t have a chance to be.
A big part of me feels guilty even thinking I have a right to this sense of loss. After all, it’s been 18 years.
But, as I tell my daughters, guilt is just part of being a mom, unfortunately. We really do need to cut ourselves some slack.
We Have A Right To Our Emotions
Too often we tuck things under the surface. Too often we don’t feel we have a right to feel. But just because someone else has it worse doesn’t diminish the facts when we go through something traumatic or experience a chronic illness or the loss of a loved one — or the loss of self. We are human and we feel.
Many of us who’d been sick for years, with this symptom and that, have heard over and over that there is nothing wrong. Or maybe you heard, “It’s all in your head.” Many of us have felt (at least at times) that others viewed us as hypochondriacs. We often learned to ignore and minimize our own daily health struggles, wondering, Is it in my head?
For those of us who lived for years (and DECADES) with the effects (and consequences) of un-diagnosed and un-treated celiac, we have the right to feel that a part of our lives was taken from us.
Because if we can acknowledge that, we can let it go and move forward from it.
Hindsight Is 20/20
It can be hard to realize there is something better if we don’t experience it. Pizza without cheese is pizza for the person who never had cheese. How do we know we are missing out on something we never knew existed? And this is how life was for me. I didn’t know a healthier life existed.
It wasn’t until I went gluten free that I learned that my pizza was missing its cheese. I certainly never felt I was living in a state of trauma, of course. It was the retrospect. It was the realization of how I felt post diet change that allowed me to realize how sick I actually was.
And through that lifetime of less than healthy experiences, it is easy to see that I missed out on the healthy life. Not just physically healthy life, but the emotionally healthy life. I most likely would have experienced a physically and emotionally healthier life had I been gluten free.
When You Hear Something Enough You Believe It
Living with varying (unnecessary) health issues, without answers from the medical professionals we trust, can turn their statements into self belief: There’s nothing wrong, or, It’s in my head. And it can add to that wonderment of, Who am I?
Hearing, You need to _______(exercise more, eat better, sleep more, relax, take yoga, etc) increases a person’s sense of being not enough, because I’m not doing enough for myself.
Recognize The Emotion But Don't Live There
I don’t think I’m unusual in my occasional insecurities and in my occasional sense of diminished self-worth. This is NOT a constant state, I can assure you. This isn’t a bowl of self-pity I’m serving up. Most of us surely have these issues at some time or another. It’s recognizing this state that re-emerges from time to time that means we need to ask ourselves, What’s behind this?
For those of us who lived in a state of diminished quality of life, believing there was something wrong but having it unrecognized, has got to be a contributing ingredient to this state. Getting that answer, celiac, was an amazing validation for me. But it doesn’t dissolve the years of living in a state of inadequacy.
I’ve spent years working on getting my life on some kind of track since I was diagnosed. As I shared in another post, it has left me wondering just how different life might have been had I been diagnosed as a child, when symptoms began. How different would life be now had I lived my first years gluten free (thus healthier both physically and emotionally)?
Yes, my self-worth has been challenged. Several times.
But then again, I wouldn’t be the person I am now. And I like the person I am now. I like being able to reach out and connect with you and with others like you. I like being able to let you know that you are not alone in your feelings. We may not experience the same emotions, but it is OK to have emotions connected to this whole celiac and gluten-free journey.
You Are Not Alone
Grieving has a purpose. Grieving allows us to feel and to move forward. Be sure to respect yourself enough to acknowledge your feelings. And be sure to love yourself enough to move forward.
Maybe, subconsciously, this has been my purpose for writing this whole Emotional Side series. Maybe I’m working through my own emotions. It didn’t start that way. It started with phases I recognized having gone through and moved through and learned to live with. My hope had been to help others recognize these phases and possibly use some of this information for their own personal healing.
The more I write, however, the more I learn about myself. More emotions have emerged, allowing me to recognize them in order to heal even more. And maybe through this, you might find yourself recognizing some of yourself. Please know this. You are not alone.
Helping Others Understand More Deeply
My effort and purpose with this series includes the hope that these posts will reach not just those who NEED to be gluten free, but those who don’t need to be gluten free. I hope to reach those who are connected in some way to someone who has to follow a strict diet. And my hope is to help them understand the many emotions their loved one or friend experiences.
Emotions that come with this whole 100% need to be gluten free are real and include a real effort to have to learn to manage.
It is NOT just about the food.
Who Am I? Mourning vs Self Pity
Through the progression of these monthly posts, writing and sharing the Emotional Side of Gluten Free, I have been able to discover an emotion I never completely faced. Mourning the wonderment of, Who Am I?
I never allowed myself the mourning of a childhood that was not what it could have been. And I never allowed myself the mourning of 40 years that were not what they could have been. I felt sorry for myself from time to time, but I didn’t mourn the loss.
And I didn’t truly mourn the sad fact that my mom never lived long enough to see and to know the me at my healthiest. I didn’t mourn the fact that my kids didn’t get their mom at her healthiest until they were in their double digits.
The nice thing is, this process was short. I recognized it, I cried over it, and then I felt oh-so-much better. And for me, that was that.