That time I didn’t have anorexia

June 19, 2015

I was horrified when I looked in the full-length mirror and saw how thin I was. I forget why I was looking in the mirror while I was naked in the first place. I usually only looked it in to check my outfit, but that day, I was naked, and I was shocked. I immediately went to my mother and showed her. She took me to the doctor. I was diagnosed with anorexia. I insisted I wasn’t trying to lose weight. They assured me they believed me, that this was a different type of anorexia, that they knew it wasn’t intentional. If I’d only understood then what I understand now, I’d have recognized the bullshit.

I hadn’t thought about that in a long time, but I’ve been reading this book on Celiac Disease and it’s really opened my eyes to a lot of misdiagnoses in my past. As I read about eating disorders, this memory came flooding back to me. I remember being weighed; I was 89 pounds (and about 5’0″ tall.) I was told to drink high protein shakes. The nutritionist wanted me to gain 11 pounds in the next two weeks. I gained a lot, but not that much. I had to continue with the high protein shakes and eat more at every meal. She wanted me to eat more high calorie foods, too. That was my treatment.

Now I wonder how different my life might have been if they’d asked me questions about my health. Instead of assuming this underweight teenage girl was anorexic because she was underweight and a teenage girl, what if they’d probed more? What if they’d recognized my own fear – after all, I was the one who told my mother I needed to see a doctor to find out why I was so thin – and considered other options? What if, when I told them I sometimes skipped meals, they had let me explain why? (I tried to explain but they wouldn’t listen.) Maybe they would have learned about my digestive problems, about how often I was doubled over in pain, about how frequently I had diarrhea. Maybe it would have occurred to them that I wasn’t absorbing nutrients properly.

The doctor and nutritionist terrified me. I’d never had an eating disorder, and suddenly I became anxious about food for the first time in my life. They insisted I had to eat three meals every day. This meant that if I slept in and ate brunch at 11am, I needed to squeeze in another meal before dinner. In college, I would get out of bed early on Saturday to eat breakfast before heading to brunch with my friends an hour later. It didn’t stop the diarrhea, and it certainly made me worry about food constantly, but it did keep me from being quite so thin. I maintained a weight of around 100-105 for a long time. It was better, but still too low.

I don’t remember when my perspective changed, but it did. At 22 I insisted on seeing a gastroenterologist and was diagnosed with IBS for the first time. The appointment was 10 minutes long, with no physical examination, just a recital of my symptoms and then a diagnosis. I wasn’t told there was a diet to follow. I learned that on my own a year later when I accidentally found a pamphlet in a doctor’s waiting room. My first colonoscopy and endoscopy were years later. They ruled out Crohn’s disease and cancer. Then I was on my own again with the IBS diagnosis. I was still constantly sick. My next endoscopy with a different doctor didn’t give me any more information, but it changed the diagnosis to IBS, reflux, and some mystery ailment. The doctor said she wasn’t sure what it was, but that IBS and reflux alone didn’t explain my symptoms. Then she said she couldn’t do anything else for me. I have no idea if either endoscopy checked for Celiac. Maybe they did and the damage to my intestine wasn’t visible yet. Maybe they didn’t look.

It wasn’t until age 32 that I tried going gluten free. My primary care doctor didn’t want to test me for Celiac or send me to a nutritionist. I pushed on seeing a nutritionist and she gave me a referral to someone who was very nice but who, as it turned out, had absolutely no experience with gluten free diets. No wonder it took me another TWO AND A HALF YEARS to eliminate all of the gluten contamination in my diet!!!

I assume that I don’t have hidden gluten in my diet anymore because, for the first time in 20 years, I don’t have nausea, diarrhea, constipation, and abdominal pain on a regular basis! The feeling is miraculous and I am constantly thankful to be free of it all.

Still, I have to wonder, how might my life have been different if, instead of assuming that every underweight teenage girl was anorexic, that doctor had actually examined me and maybe figured out that I had Celiac Disease or gluten intolerance? (Note: I don’t know which I have because I was never tested and the only way to test for Celiac disease is to eat gluten again, which I can’t do. My doctor should have tested me before I started the diet.) Ok, gluten intolerance wasn’t known 20 years ago, but Celiac Disease was, and they never even considered it. For that, I may never forgive them. I’m just so grateful that I finally took things into my own hands, did my own research, and got better. And next month, for the first time ever, I’m seeing a Celiac specialist! I can hardly wait!


Gaslighting’s toll

December 17, 2019

If you had asked me a few weeks ago if I had ever been the victim of gaslighting by doctors, I would have said no. Which is sort of funny, because this blog is full of examples, written over the past 8 years. Somehow, I didn’t see it.

Sure, I knew that doctors had told me that it was all in my head. Or that I was making it up in order to get attention. But that’s not the same thing. Except as it turns out, it is.

My therapist used the word last week as we discussed this topic. As soon as she said “gaslighting” it clicked that yes, that’s what had been happening. A few days later, someone used the word again as they talked about medical professionals. And it all fell into place.

I have dealt with gaslighting by doctors for almost 30 years, so no wonder I get nervous about appointments. No wonder I have an inherent distrust of doctors. It makes sense that on dating apps, I avoid doctors and other medical professionals. It all fits.

The problem is, I still need doctors. I need them to order tests and to write prescriptions. Sometimes, I even need them to help me figure things out. The problem is, I don’t trust them. That’s why I was so surprised by a simple suggestion several weeks ago. I was debating whether or not to take a prescription. My symptoms had gone away before I had been able to start it, and I didn’t want to take it unnecessarily. Talking to my therapist about this conundrum, she suggested that I ask the prescribing doctor for his advice. Wow, I hadn’t thought of that! She wasn’t surprised. I learned a long time ago not to trust doctors. I figure things out for myself as much as possible. Still, in this case it made sense to ask, and I’m glad that I did.

I know there are good doctors out there. Some have them have been incredibly helpful. Not all of them subjected me to gaslighting. But just like I clearly remember the time I backed into a telephone poll while parking last month but have completely forgotten the dozen other times I parked in that same spot without hitting the poll, it’s the doctors who treated me badly who stand out most in my mind. They are the ones that scare me, that put me on edge, even when I know I still never see them again.

Sadly, I am not alone. There are many of us who have been subjected to this horrible treatment. It is no wonder so many of us distrust doctors and the overall medical system. I am now working on this with my therapist. I will never undo the damage that was done to me physically by ignoring my symptoms, but maybe one day I will have just a bit more trust in medical professionals? Maybe. Until then, if you have been, or are currently being, gaslit by your doctor, know that you’re not alone. And if you can, find someone better.


Was it all Celiac to begin with?

November 16, 2019

The earliest potential Celiac symptoms I remember began when I was 12. The first time a doctor suggested that I go gluten-free I was 32. Hmm. A bit of a problem there?

I went to the doctor for the extreme constipation I had as a child. I drank a lot of disgusting prune juice and still had rare, difficult, painful poops. Eventually that seemed to resolve itself. End of discussion.

A year or so later I had unexplained joint pain. I was told it was tendonitis for a long time but even the doctors had to admit that didn’t seem to fit the type of pain I had. I was told to wear braces on my wrists. The pain came and went. They didn’t know what else to do. I spent many years trying to figure out this pain but as far as they were concerned, the discussion was over.

As a teen I had horrible stomach pains, nausea, and diarrhea but had no idea how abnormal this was and told no one for several years. Eventually I did talk to a doctor. I asked to be tested for lactose intolerance. I was told there was no such test (a lie!) Instead, the doctor told me to keep a food and symptom journal. After a few weeks I gave him my notes. He told me that he showed it to a nutritionist and that it wasn’t lactose intolerance. End of discussion. No further examination of my obvious problems. A few years after that I was diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome. I did some research and saw that my symptoms didn’t quite align with IBS, but it was the only diagnosis I was given, so I went with it.

Later in my teens I was far too thin. I occasionally skipped dinner. I was diagnosed with anorexia despite the fact that I ate breakfast, lunch, and snacks every day, I only skipped dinner 2-3 times per week at most, I had digestive problems, and I was so alarmed by my own weight loss that was the one who went to my parents with a concern that something was wrong and asked to see a doctor. The doctor put me on a high calorie diet. I eventually gained a little weight. End of discussion.

Around this time I was diagnosed with depression. I was sent to therapy that did nothing. I was put on anti-depressants with horrible side effects. After less than a year I was taken off of the medications. The depression was magically gone. End of discussion.

And lest anyone think that my medical history fell through the cracks, all of this occurred at one medical facility, where all of the doctors could see all of my records. How did they all miss this?!?

Was this necessarily Celiac disease? No, of course not. But when a child has constipation, diarrhea, weight loss (I was down to 89 pounds! I’m short, but I should never have lost that much weight – I should have been at least 100-105 at that point), joint pain, depression, nausea, stomach pain, and more, how did they not at least consider this possibility?!? This was the 1990s and while Celiac wasn’t as well known then as it is today, there was plenty of awareness. The doctors should have known.

An interesting thing has happened in recent weeks. After some time on hydrocortisone, my brain fog has been lifting and I am thinking more clearly. I have less fatigue. With that layer of haze lifted, I can better feel and understand what is happening with my body. I can think it through more clearly. And I wonder if maybe all of my problems actually stem from Celiac disease.

As regular readers of this blog know, I have a long list of diagnoses. But the thing is, a lot of them are comorbidities with Celiac. Many others are known to be secondary or tertiary issues. For example, I have polycystic ovary syndrome, but after many years of struggling with PCOS symptoms, they finally went away once I was on a proper dose of the right thyroid medication and fully gluten free. I now get my period at least every other month and I rarely have super heavy bleeding. I was recently diagnosed with SIBO, but it’s known that small intestinal bacterial overgrowth is more common in folks with Celiac. My digestive issues, aside from some SIBO symptoms, have all completely resolved now that I am 100% gluten free. I still have constant joint pain, but it has improved greatly thanks to treatments and, I suspect, being gluten free. My adrenal fatigue, one of my most disabling conditions, was caused by long term chronic illness. My Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is a comorbidity with Celiac.

All of this makes me wonder, what if I had been diagnosed with Celiac at age 12 (or younger)? If I had gone gluten free back then, could this have been avoided? Maybe the joint pain would have resolved. Maybe Hashimoto’s would never have developed? Mostly likely, if the Celiac and Hashimoto’s (if I even had it) had been treated properly to begin with, adrenal fatigue would have never begun. That means I would have never become too disabled to work.

That’s hard to think about. This was avoidable. Somewhat. I would still have had problems, of course. I would still have had to avoid gluten, which would have probably been a lot harder as a child in the 1990s than as an adult in the 2010s. I would have still gotten glutened and had to deal with the fallout. I would still have had autoimmune disease and would likely have had some fallout from that; some folks with Celiac feel fine, but others don’t. My health would not have necessarily been perfect. But it would have been a lot better.

This is only speculation of course. I can’t be sure that all of my health issues stem from Celiac. Over the years I have had several other theories about how my health issues all connect. Each one has felt closer to the truth, and this one does as well. I don’t know if I’m right, but I suspect that I’m at least close.

We need better screening here in the U.S. and around the world. Estimates of folks with undiagnosed Celiac are high, as much as 90%. I don’t want to see others live with what I have had to live with if it can be avoided. And I’m one of the lucky ones; some folks die from undiagnosed or late diagnosis of Celiac. If you or someone you know has several of the 300+ Celiac symptoms, please consider testing. You can see a shorter list here, but it is missing a lot of categories. And if you have experienced something similar to what I have described, please comment below. It is important to gather these stories in order  to highlight the need for more testing and awareness.


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