Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Autoimmune Cluster. This is not a cookie.

Overnight I am transformed. I wake to Ever's fat cheeks trembling as she imagines she is nursing- in sleep, she nurses with arms and legs completely still, unlike the wet cat ferris wheel she is awake and in my arms. I wake swollen. My fingers ache and pulse with fluid and are fatted up, slightly shiny in their too tight skin wrappers. My feet are swollen, too, and ankles, and face. I can feel my ankles sloshing as I walk to the bathroom. The muscles in the long smooth of my thigh ache deeply, as do my arms, my ass, and my lower back. A slight headache sounds like a trombone. Low jazz. My eyes burn. My tongue is ridged and hurting. My abdomen is swollen to 5 months pregnant, and painful, painful. I can't think of the names of objects, I can't remember if I am 37 or 38, I am exhausted in a way that I have never felt when well, no matter the lack of sleep or the illness. 

When my autoimmune disease kicks in, I am tired in a helpless, scary, sickening depth that barely responds to water, coffee, vitamins, tears. 

I have endometriosis, last dx at stage four. I have hypothyroidism. Both are autoimmune, although the endometriosis inclusion into the autoimmune cluster of diseases is coming slowly and its wave has not reached all doctors yet. Any specialist will tell you that's what it is. In addition to having its own nasty set of symptoms, endometriosis often parallel plays with another autoimmune disease- my pairing of hypothyroidism is one of the most common. 

I spent the years between 14 and my late twenties in this state of misery, and much of those years I was creating many of my symptoms with the food I put into my mouth. In my early twenties I ate a lot of sugar and white bread, and as I began to grow up and eat better, my symptoms did improve, but in inches. It was not until I was diagnosed with endometriosis and began the long slog of research that I discovered how much food had been affecting me. Strangely enough, my habit of smoking- something I quit at 30- ( yes, I quit for my pregnancies, and I smoked only outside and once I had Dakota, I smoked usually only at night, and once I got into my mid to late twenties, I smoked only a few cigarettes a night ) was probably helping many of my symptoms from endo., because smoking suppresses estrogen and stress hormones. This incredibly human ( only humans can devise an unhealthy way to balance their hormones ) habit ended when I turned 30, and my worst symptoms began.

Only after two years of research and many false starts and leads did I come across a healing program that eventually brought me back to almost full health. For the first time in my adult life I had energy! I could think clearly! I wasn't puffy, or in pain, or swollen. I took a number of very purposeful supplements, each geared toward addressing a different deficiency, and I switched to a diet comprised largely of whole foods. My struggle to get my sugar intake under control went on for over a year and was probably the hardest part of the entire program for me. I am a sugar addict, my body craves it like the drug it is. Eventually, I decided to go gluten free temporarily, and that last step brought me to a freedom I remembered only from early childhood- the freedom of good health. Luckily, at that time we had a plentiful income and I was able to more easily make these changes.

One of the most frustrating things about the rigorously disciplined eating habits and relaxation ( yoga, mediation ) and exercise program I have to do to stay well is that those very things become even harder to do under a great amount of stress, and my life often has a great- sometimes enormous- amount of stress. I am incredibly blessed in many ways and I am very grateful and happy for my family and friends. And, my life has many emotionally exhausting challenges that require great amounts of emotional energy and focus to address. You all know of many of those stressors- my panic disorder ( which has been under control since after Ever's birth when I had a relapse ), general anxiety disorder, Mr. C's Bipolar, the loss of his business years ago and our continuing financial crisis, etc. Trying to keep the stress from overwhelming me is a daily duty, one that consists of strict choices. 

When I look back over the last handful of years, I am proud of myself. I have never given up my choice to eat whole foods, low gluten, to exercise and to do yoga and meditation to reduce stress. I have taken my supplements religiously. I have taken my thyroid and anxiety medication the same. And, I have had periods of time where stress- often lack of sleep from Ever contributing- and finances have ended up getting the best of me and I eat more gluten or sugar than my body can/should process. 

My endometriosis kicking up again is not the result of me 'cheating', because this started before I began splurging. I think that something about my C-Section or breastfeeding or lack of sleep or all of above has caused my system to become unbalanced and gave the disease a foothold to grow. Endometriosis is a notoriously impossible disease to control, and many women end up having hysterectomies. Luckily, I am aware of how powerful diet and lifestyle choices are for my symptoms, and I know that right now my symptoms are triggered very easily. This means I need to dig my heels in and work even harder to put the right things into my body.

As I've been feeling ill again, I've been looking back and thinking over what makes it more likely that I will not make the best choices, that I will give in to eating the easier, cheaper thing ( a sandwich ) over the better thing ( green salad with chicken pieces ) or consume too much sugar. For me, comfort foods ARE comforting! I get a lovely feeling when I eat a big fat sandwich with tons of PB and honey and a big glass of milk. I feel full and happy and almost get a 'buzz' off the pleasure. Or chocolate cookies, or ice cream, or bagels, on and on. There are delicious substitutes for those things but they are not cheap. I cannot afford to buy more than one or two gluten free products. Gluten free bagels for example are three times as much as the store brand regular bagels from Albertsons.  I do buy whole foods that naturally don't have gluten in them, but those are not replacements for bread or bagels that add that filling bulk to a meal. For example, we eat quinoa, brown rice and corn tortillas, but those do not replace pancakes, waffles, bagels, cereal, oatmeal, etc. 

Leading me to my first challenge- to figure out how to eat even better on the less we are working with. As grocery costs have gone up, our needs have not changed. I have done research in the last year on lowering my grocery budget, and I have done so successfully, but I can't find much on how to eat gluten free and whole foods on a tiny budget. Organic strawberries and cream are a great healthier dessert, and that costs three times as much as a pack of cookies. Organic milk cost twice as much as regular, as do the eggs. I've cut out many organic purchases so that I can continue to buy healthy foods for my family, but eggs, milk and thin skinned fruits or veggies are a must buy organic for me. ( to each his own, there is a LOT of research and conflicting information out there, i have done an enormous amount of reading on the subject and feel this is what I need to do for my family. ) 

Even without the organic consideration, food is so much cheaper when it's junk. One banana nut bar and a glass of milk fills for two hours until another meal and costs under $5 for the whole box of bars. A box of mac n cheese is $1.50. Bagels $2.00. To eat whole grains and chicken and nuts and fish and veggies and fruit all the live long day would be amazing. And, I find that when I try to buy as many vegetables and fruits as my family needs to eat to feel full without 'filler' foods, I cannot afford to. I know there isn't a way to have everything we want to eat, but I am sure with the right advice or information I could do a little better than I am now. Room for improvement!

This post has been kind of all over the place! I am basically saying: When I get stressed and hungry it becomes very difficult to follow such a strict dietary routine on our little budget, and I want to work on making sure each choice at the grocery store is the best one for our family and grocery budget.

Talk to me. What challenges are you finding with your families nutritional needs and grocery shopping? How have you addressed them? How do you think you are doing supplying enough vegetables and fatty acids ( fish, avocados, almonds ) in your daily menus? What do you eat that is a comfort food but not terrible for you? Do you have any suggestions for me?

Amelia said...

I am struggling significantly with feeding my family as well. My 3.5 year old daughter is dairy intolerant and significantly delayed when it comes to eating. She still asks for baby food, it's expensive, but it's organic squished spinach that she wants to eat, I'm going to say no?! I don't think so. She's also essentially a vegitarian, through her own choosing. She'll eat chicken nuggets willingly. Everything else is probably not going happen. I try to find the healthiest version I can. No beans, sometimes shrimp. Getting protien into her hurts my brain. Everything else depends on the day. Potatoes, rice, noodles, sometimes, if we're lucky. No whole fruits. She'll eat cauliflower sometimes, corn maybe. My husband is cow intolerant. The whole dang thing makes him sick, especially dairy. We are also discovering evidence of gluten intolerance in him as well. His guts constantly hurt. So tomatoes need to be used sparingly.

I don't even know where to begin when it comes to making menus.

I love fruit snacks. Honestly I love red vines, but I eat fruit snacks as a replacement. Sometimes you can find some not horrible for you versions. I wish I had more for you. :/

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