Sunday, December 14, 2008


I haven’t eaten any gluten in two weeks. And after reading that sentence you’re probably asking yourself, what the heck is gluten?

Let’s begin at the beginning. After I met the massage therapist who said she controlled her RA with diet, I started looking into what kinds of diets are supposed to help with RA. There are all kinds of theories out there: vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, casein-free, etc. I couldn’t decide where to even start. So, amidst the chaos of my last Remicade infusion, I asked the rheumatologist what he thought about the diet theories. He said that he had seen the most results on a gluten-free diet. So I started looking into that.

As it turns out, pretty much every medical condition or symptom I have ever dealt with in my life is on the list of symptoms for gluten-sensitivity. To name a few:
• Fatigue/weakness
• Vitamin and/or mineral deficiencies
• Headaches, including migraines
• Joint/bone pain (Hello, RA?)
• Irritability
• “Fuzzy brain” or inability to concentrate
• Hashimoto’s disease (my other autoimmune disease!)
• Bruising easily
• Muscle cramping
• Swelling and inflammation

Now, I am totally aware that if you read a list of symptoms you can convince yourself you have any disease in the world. (In college one of my friends went on the internet and convinced herself she had toxic shock syndrome. It took us hours to talk her out of it) But still, I have to admit that there’s something uncanny about finding pretty much every health problem I have ever had on a list of a single syndrome. And if the rheumatologist says it could help with my RA, it seems worth a try to me.

So: two weeks, no gluten. And what is gluten? Gluten is a mixture of proteins found in wheat, rye, and barley. The obvious foods that contain gluten are those with flour in them: bagels, bread, most baked goods, crackers, pasta, pizza, pretzels, etc.

But gluten is also found in slightly less expected things, like: beer, licorice, and soy sauce. In fact, did you know that wheat is the second ingredient in soy sauce? It comes after water and before soy! So, the bad news is that gluten is in almost everything. But the good news is that there are a lot of gluten-free alternatives on the market today. Especially in a hippie town like Boulder! So I don’t really have to go without these food items. I just have to replace them with versions made with potato or rice flour. And my local supermarket has everything labeled with the cute little “no gluten” symbol. It’s awesome.

And, of course, the question that everyone wants to know the answer to (both with this and with my RA drugs): is it helping?

Honestly? I can’t say. I am in the middle of law exams. I took the first one last Monday (eight page fact pattern for a two credit class!!) and I have another this Monday followed by a third on Thursday. And since I’ve been struggling with my work all semester I have a lot of catching up to do before those exams. So I am in a state of so much mental and emotional stress that I really can’t properly evaluate how the changes in my diet are affecting me. So ask me again in another two weeks.

But, I can say two good things. First: I feel like my appetite has improved a bit. I used to feel pretty lethargic and I would just eat because someone reminded me it was time for a meal. But now I find myself hungry. Which is nice.

And, second, APL and RK have been total rock stars of support with my new diet enterprise. They’ve researched gluten-free options, brought me gluten-free snacks to study with, and cooked me delicious gluten-free meals. Tortilla soup and corn tortilla quesadillas. Rice and chicken curry. Chicken cordon blue. Chicken katsu made with rice cearal. Ok, a lot of chicken! But, the point is, the meals have been great and I don’t really miss the gluten at all!

APL and RK are the best. I’d never survive without them. APL even found a local restaurant that labels the gluten-free options on its menu! We’re going there after my exam on Monday, which is also our six-year anniversary (SIX?!?!). I’m really grateful that APL has been so enthusiastic about helping me figure out if this diet is for me. I think he likes being able to help me. And I’m down with that too.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

On Thin Ice

Recently, I’ve been struggling. All semester I put off reading and note taking hoping that maybe next week I would feel better enough to tackle it. But that “better” week never came. And now there’s a deadline. There’s literally only a couple of days until I’ll be faced with three hour law exams on subjects I’ve only barely managed to pay attention to this semester.

And doing the work now isn’t easy either. There isn’t a lot of time and I don’t feel much better. I feel like my motivation has been on thin ice lately, because as soon as I finish studying for one class I don’t get to take a break. I immediately have to start studying for the next class. So, despite the impending doom of the exams, I’m still finding it hard to concentrate. Or care.

But today I got a reminder that (a) there is more to life than law school and (b) I am still a very capable person. And this reminder literally came in the form of thin ice.

I was leaving the dog park this afternoon when I saw another girl calling after her 10-month-old puppy, Scarlet. There is a lake next to our dog park, and Scarlet had run out on to the ice, chasing some geese. But as she got father away from shore, the ice got thinner and eventually she fell through. Then Scarlet was struggling to get back up on the ice, but she couldn’t do it. We tried to get her to swim to a spot where the ice was thicker, but she still couldn’t get back up. If someone didn’t go in after her, Scarlet was going to drown.

So Scarlet’s mommy started in after her, but the ice cracked under her feet immediately. I told her that she should lie down on her stomach and wriggle out to her and she followed my instructions. She made it almost all the way to the struggling puppy, but when she reached out to her the weight on the thin ice was too much and she fell through too. Then she couldn’t get back up on the ice either, and with her chest in the water and the puppy still struggling, she started to panic.

Without a second thought I took my jacket off and went in after them both. Honestly I am amazed at how calm I was. I guess my ancient lifeguard skills took over. I could see that she was panicking but also that she could reach the lake bottom. She wasn’t drowning. So I told her it was going to be ok. I told her I would break a path through the ice so that we could all get out. And I immediately stomped into the freezing lake, breaking through about ten feet of ice to get out to her and her puppy.

I grabbed Scarlet’s collar and pulled her past her mommy and around me, so that she could swim back to shore through the path I had made. Then I grabbed her mommy by the hand, told her again that it would be ok, and hauled us both out of the freezing lake. We all hurried to our cars to get warm and get home. Scarlet’s mommy thanked me for saving their lives.

There may be some things that I physically can’t do anymore, and there may be some times that I feel like less than myself, but today I remembered that I am still me. I am still good in an emergency. I am still capable of keeping a clear head and doing what needs to be done. And while I wouldn’t wish a swim in a freezing lake on anyone, I’m really glad I was there today.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008


I am exhausted (cryiared, more accurately). My jaw still hurts a lot and it is making my ears and head and face hurt and my eyes swim and my head too fuzzy to concentrate. (Though the rheumatologist did prescribe me a muscle relaxant to take before bed, so maybe that will help.) My toes hurt. That makes my legs hurt. Last night my feet cramped so badly it brought me to tears. I’ve been in class all day, but I've had very little luck paying attention. I just turned in a 12-page paper that was supposed to be 15-20 pages. Oops. I have three impending law exams and I’ve barely started outlining for any of them. And APL is sick and I don’t have the energy to take care of him and he doesn’t have the energy to take care of me. Plus, because of my weakened immune system, we have to sleep in separate rooms while he’s sick and that makes me feel lonely too.

All of this makes me grouchy. I think I need a hug. But not one that’s going to give me the flu. ;o(

Monday, December 1, 2008

Pain in the Jaw

About a week ago, my jaw started hurting. I don’t know if I am clenching my teeth in my sleep (anxiety dreams much?) or if the pain is related to my RA (a jaw is a joint, right?) or both. But I do know that my jaw hurts. A lot. And it is making me miserable.

My whole head and face hurts. My ears hurt. I can’t focus. My eyes seem to swim around when I try. It hurts to eat. The headache the jaw pain is inducing is almost unbearable (which says a lot, coming from someone who has suffered from migraines for the last ten years.) I can’t concentrate. And, the worst part is, no amount of pain medication seems to do much about the jaw pain. I called the rheumatologist this morning to ask what the hell I am supposed to do about this, but I haven’t heard back from him yet.

In the meantime: I’m supposed to prepare for law exams how, exactly?