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Friday, April 25, 2014

Getting my body back

I have a gluten intolerance and a dairy allergy, and last week, I had some beef jerky that had some gluten cross-contamination in it. For about three and a half days, my left leg was weak, my left arm was weak, and I wasn't sleeping well. Now that I have my diet under control, I feel terrific; I go to the gym, play with my kids outside, and work with no weakness nor pain! But those times I accidentally have gluten or dairy, it feels like a tailspin that sends me back to 10 years ago when I was in a wheelchair and in excruciating pain before I ever knew my diet had an effect.

So, that range of emotions seems more of a continuum.

And it ranges from feeling overwhelmed because I know this isn't how my body normally functions, nor how I normally walk, to feeling relieved because walking with the cane is somehow familiar. It almost feels like a relief in knowing that my limp is justified. I can get along well with a cane because I don’t have to use as much mental energy in maintaining myself upright and steady. Did you know that at any given moment, I know where I can steady myself should I start to lose my balance? I take a mental survey of which table, chair, or wall is closest, and I kind of plan my route from one place to the next according to what I might need to steady myself on. The way I stand has changed in order to provide maximum balance should any part of my left leg give out. I know how to monitor my gait so it doesn't look like I’m limping, if indeed, I’m feeling low on energy. What’s unconscious behavior for you is conscious for me. And it’s tiring.

But with my cane, I don’t have to worry so much about that. I have my cane to help me be steady. I have a valid and visible excuse to limp. But, it takes a lot of physical energy to shuffle my leg along and to not simply fall over, even with my cane. I can’t pick up my boys when they ask me because I can’t hold them and keep my balance. I can’t roll around on the floor with them when they ask me. At work, I can’t simply spring up and assist students if they need individual help at their desk; I ask them to come to me. In addition, when my left hand gives out, I have my brace to steady it, but it gets cumbersome, too. And, truthfully, it affects my mood because I'm not really able to roll with the punches.

It’s not that I’m in pain, either. I didn't have dairy, after all. It’s just that my leg is weak, and I can’t really feel it to make sure it’s where it’s supposed to be. I tell ya, it’s a good thing I don’t drive stick shift anymore. Just the older I get, the more I realize I need to drive automatic.

And that’s another point on the continuum—merging reaction with age. Though I’m not super ancient, I’m older than I was 10 years ago when I first got sick, and I’m older than I was when I started working out in 2007 to get healthy after my recovery. Fortunately, I’ve found the two major triggers for my weakness—gluten and dairy. The third—tiredness—is just something I’ll have to work with being a husband, father, and teacher. You know how it goes.

At the start of my reaction, I didn't remember how much longer it would go, but it lasted about three and a half days. With dairy, I know there’s a 2 week recovery period. I wrote to a friend last Thursday, "I don’t remember with gluten, so today may be the last of it, or it may go on for another week. I just don’t remember." By Friday afternoon, I was feeling strong again, like everything came rushing back to the left side of my body. It's always felt like that--like a neurological dam having opened up to my affected limbs. My wife was super supportive because she was getting over a reaction herself, though for her, it could be a wider range of things, as she’s developed a sensitivity to eggs, nuts, and soy in addition to her gluten and dairy reactions. I know, I know, we’re such a pair!

Now you know how to defeat me. Muhahaha.