Things Fall Apart, Part II

//If you’re just popping in, check out Things Fall Apart, Part I. Or don’t and be sort of confused//

In the course of four months, I went from a pretty boring medical history to chart that included a miscarriage, a hormone imbalance, an MRI, a VNG and now suggested allergy testing. I know, these aren’t life threatening things. But when you’re typically in superb health, you start to feel like you’re falling apart. We were in the midst of the most stressful time in our lives and I just couldn’t add one more thing to my plate at that moment. So allergy testing had to wait.

From what I’ve learned, allergens cause inflammation and in folks with Meniere’s, that inflammation also occurs in the inner ear and can exacerbate their symptoms. I knew I was probably allergic to something but couldn’t find a pattern. In recent years, I developed a fun party trick where I would begin sneezing uncontrollably within moments of sipping certain craft beers – but not others. Sometimes my feet and hands would get warm and red after meals but it was inconsistent. And yet, I stuck my fingers in my ringing ears and played ignorant.

It was evident from the first time I visited our corporate rental that I was allergic to something in the apartment. With tenants moving in and out every few months, I’d wager the apartment hadn’t had a thorough, deep clean in…. ever. Both Emery and I developed itchy eyes and blurry vision along with sniffles and sneezing minutes after entering the apartment. The problems cleared when we returned to Savannah but would come back on our next visit. When we shifted toward living in North Carolina full time, the sinus pressure and infections, headaches, hives and itching arrived. Guys, this was miserable. As bad as I felt, it was so much worse seeing my sweet Emmie girl constantly blinking her eyes and complaining about her head hurting. So I scheduled appointments with an allergist.

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//Aside, do you know how much fun it is to have a million needles stuck in your back while your two children fight over an electronic device?//

It’s never reassuring when the doctor reads your results and says, “Wow, this is weird.”

I reacted positively to:

  • Barley
  • Dust mites
  • Malt
  • Cockroach dust
  • Mold (1 variety)
  • Maple trees
  • Grass (1 variety)
  • Wheat
  • Sunflower

Guys, I’ve never had so much as a seasonal sniffle prior to this.

But – that beer sneezing thing. Barley, malt, wheat. You guys. I love a creamy witbier and a dark kolsch. The carpet in our apartment? Dust mites, cockroach dust, mold. Our Savannah home had hardwood floors throughout. Hives and sneezing when I ran? Mold, trees, grass.

It was far past lunch when we finally left the doctors office so I stopped to get the girls a bite to eat. I was starving but completely at a loss as to what would be safe. When Blair was diagnosed with her dairy allergy years ago, I researched everything.  I was empowered to be her advocate. And there I was, sitting dumbfounded in the drive thru incapable of figuring out how to feed myself.  What do you do when you’re allergic to everything? If you are me, you do nothing. You don’t think, don’t process.  I was miserably allergic to things found in nearly all commercial food and environmental allergens that were all throughout my living space – indoor and out.

I was overwhelmed and had questions no one could answer. Was I allergic to all malt or just barley malt? Could gluten-free foods still contain other parts of the wheat and barley plant? Was the severity of my reaction due to our temporary apartment and would it improve somewhere with clean carpets and a better air filter? Would an air filter help or should I encase my pillow and mattress? What about clothes in my closet? Our fabric furniture? Would medication help? Was I a candidate for allergy shots?

We moved into our new rental and things improved until we began unpacking boxes. Moving materials are notorious for containing cockroach dust and dust mites and I broke out in hives every time I opened a box. My ears rang louder than ever and I had more vertigo attacks in two months than I’ve ever had before. I tried countless nasal sprays, antihistamines, different antihistamines, homepathic alternatives and herbal tinctures. I was needing medications to deal with the side effects of these medicines. I’d vacuum and dust and wash our sheets every other day. And I was continuing to hive and deal with red, burning sensations in my hands and face.

I decided early on that eating gluten-free was the safest option but I was surprised at how few people took my request seriously. We’ve all seen the Jimmy Kimmel clip asking people about gluten. It’s funny, I know. Sure, some people are idiots and never educate themselves on why they make drastic health choices. But for some of us, it isn’t a choice. I wish I could tell you how many servers smirked when I asked for a gluten-free menu. Or, make suggestions that I knew were questionable. In fact, I had a bartender recommend Omission Pale Ale as a great gluten-free beer. After I drank half, I felt my feet started to itch and so I did some dinnertime research. It turns out Omission is a “gluten-removed” beer and is fermented with barley malt and may contain traces of wheat. I’m thankful every day that my reactions are not anaphylactic and I’ve never needed an Epi-Pen.

Allergy-related anxiety is a very real thing and yet so few people talk about it. Every time I developed a new hive, I went crazy. Did I eat something different? Use a new lotion? Did I touch anything unusual at the grocery store? I spent hours researching my make up and lotions.  Now I know why they mark these random products as gluten-free – because wheat is hidden every and people with allergies are insane.

I was a wreck by the time my follow up appointment with the allergist rolled around. I laid it all out on the table – patterns to the reactions, when and where the hives most commonly occurred, that I was waking up at night to itch, wondering if natural fibers could be allergens because I was sure I was reacting to my wool dryer balls and oh… by the way, do a lot of people with allergies have anxiety? By the look on her face, I know I sounded insane. She prescribed me two doses of 24-hour Allegra each day in addition to atarax as needed for hiving and anxiety. Last year, I hated to take ibuprofen for a headache and there I was taking enough antihistamines for a small army. And yet, I was still hiving and my hands showed no improvement. She ran blood work to rule out other conditions and everything came back normal with the exception of a high level of histamines hanging around my body – causing the hives – and that it was most likely due do high levels of stress for a duration of time.

What stress? Really. No Big Life Things happening here, at all.

I cried. I prayed. I medicated. I eliminated. I medicated more. I did everything I was supposed to do and I was more miserable than ever. I felt worse eating gluten-free than I did eating quality, homemade gluten-filled foods.

And then I saw a new doctor, who made a suggestion and empowered me to fix myself.

I know – what a cliffhanger! But this post is terribly long as it is and if you’ve made it to the end, you are a ROCKSTAR and probably a blood relative (hi, mom!). I’ll promise I’ll be back next week and will tell you all about the detox that has helped me solve the my most puzzling medical issue.

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Gluten-Free Goodies.

When I found out last October that B’s diet needed to be gluten-free, I was devastated. I know that seems like a dramatic reaction but after being dairy-free for the year prior, removing another food group seemed overwhelming. We were eating a pretty solid vegetarian diet and wheat was kind of a big part of that. Eating out became a nightmare. Playdates were a guaranteed avenue to throw down tantrums.

You see, I love to cook and bake for my family. It’s my favorite way to demonstrate love. And I’m concerned about the fifty unpronounceable ingredients in pretty much every packaged goody. I can imagine no better way to spend my afternoons than mixing and blending and measuring away the minutes to create something delicious, filling and healthy for the girls. But our definition of “healthy” had to change to accommodate poor B’s gut and allergies. And in the process, I had to accommodate, too.

I learned to cook and bake without dairy. I found substitutes for milk, cream, butter and yogurt that often made recipes tastier and healthier. But learning to cook without gluten has been harder. Many of our staples are rely heavily on wheat and life was sad without the loaves and loaves of homemade, crunchy, crusty breads. I went through a sort of mourning period for gluten. Not just for the delicious foods I made but for the joy this baking brought to me. How will they see I love them if I can’t bake? Again, I know that sounds dramatic but all mothers can acknowledge that feelings often aren’t rational.

It has gotten easier. Seeing the incredible improvements to B’s skin and health is a boost. I didn’t notice any difference in how I felt until we were GF for about 8 weeks and I ate a brownie – big mistake. Hello belly aches, cramps and bloating. No fun. So, gluten-free isn’t so bad for all of us.

I’m trying to learn the lay of the land in this new adventure of gluten-free baking. I’ve had a lot of failed attempts over the past few weeks but also a few successes. I have a lot to learn but I hope to have some tasty lessons to share with you over the coming months. So here are a few of my “yay!” moments of success in gluten-free baking.

Gluten-Free Banana Bread

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It’s a rare occurrence that bananas last long enough in this house to get overly ripe. I bought two large bunches with the intent of making banana chips but time got away from me. I love a good banana bread – it’s healthy enough for a quick breakfast and sweet enough to satiate a craving.

I adapted it from a Taste of Home recipe by substituting the canola oil with coconut oil, omitted the walnuts and sprinkled with Enjoy Life chocolate chips (dairy-, nut-, soy-, gluten-free). This banana bread was awesome. I haven’t graduated past pre-mixed, all-purpose, gluten-free flour to making my own just yet but I hope to have a mixture down in time to make cupcakes for B’s second birthday at the end of March (eep!).

It makes two loaves and kept really well in the refrigerator. The texture was fantastic and really moist. It was a huge hit with the girls and E requests it in her preschool snack every day. Once I plan well enough ahead to stock up on bananas, I will definitely be making it again.

Blueberry Lemon Muffins

do not mind my burnt edges. learning curve.

do not mind my burnt edges. learning curve.

My mom and sisters started following the Paleo diet a few months ago and when I was flipping through their cookbooks, this recipe caught my eye. This recipe is so good, I ordered my own copy of the cookbook to try her other concoctions. I’m a big fan of a lemon/blueberry combination and since it’s Paleo, it’s automatically dairy-, soy- and gluten-free. The coconut flour is very light and they despite the six eggs, they don’t taste eggy in the slightest bit.

J and I first made them on Christmas Eve and they were a huge success. I’ve made it probably four or five times since then and even tried a lime/blackberry combination (good but not as good as the original). This is my new go-to breakfast meal for the girls. Each batch makes 12 decently-sized muffins and the girls can eat these one-handed since they’re usually wielding pirate swords in the other. I recommend using foil muffin liners because they have a tendency to stick to paper.

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Any gluten-free baking tips? What are your favorite gluten-free – and dairy-free! – baked goods?