Tomorrow marks the start of Coeliac Awareness Week and the Gluten Freevolution. This year, Coeliac UK, its members and other supporters are campaigning for more accessible gluten free food options.
Since being diagnosed with coeliac disease in August 2015, I’ve been wary of eating food that I haven’t prepared myself. Out of necessity, I’m now an expert at reading labels. I can spot rogue gluten or cross contamination risks easily. I often feel like a bad dinner guest because friends and family have to prepare food separately and make sure that kitchen surfaces are spotless. I struggle to find suitable food on the go, so I usually pack lunch and always carry snacks with me. To reduce anxiety about eating in unfamiliar places, I research safe options before travelling. Spontaneity is off the menu.
I turn 23 next month. This post may be slightly early, but the thoughts came to me today. I like reading other people’s annual reflections and decided to bring together some of my own, in addition to this Letter to my Teenage Self. In no particular order, here are 23 things I’ve learned so far:
1) Invest in friendships for support, fun, discussion and honest opinions.
2) A little constructive debate is healthy and can help you to form your own views. Spend time with people who hold different perspectives.
3) Parents, grandparents and other relatives have great stories. Ask to hear them.
4) It’s possible to be an introvert and also quite like public speaking.
Coeliac disease is a chronic autoimmune condition affecting roughly one in every hundred people in the UK. It’s passed on genetically – through both sides of the family, in my case – and can be triggered from birth or later on, due to internal and environmental factors. Having dealt with symptoms and complications throughout my life, I was diagnosed in the summer of 2015. I’ve written about that experience on the Student Minds blog.
Travelling as a coeliac can be complicated. I’m particularly prone to flare ups whilst abroad, when a lot of time is spent on the move and gluten contamination is hard to avoid. Before my diagnosis, I suffered from exhaustion in Ecuador, sickness in New York, a migraine in Paris and stomach pains in Copenhagen. Oh, the glamour. I’m fairly good at managing my condition now, but flare ups can happen as a result of tiredness or stress, regardless of whether or not I have accidentally consumed gluten. Still, I don’t want that to stop me from exploring new places.