Tag Archives: anxiety

Stress Test

By now, I think just about everyone I know has shared this New Yorker comic with me:

david-sipress-it-s-a-simple-stress-test-i-do-your-blood-work-send-it-to-the-lab-and-nOkay, fine, it was only about five people, but I still find that significant. Of all the New Yorker comics that exist and of all the neurotic people that could jump to mind upon seeing them, this comic puts my friends and family in mind of me.


Recently, I watched the movie Romantics Anonymous (Les émotifs anonymes) with a friend. (The movie is very sweet, and French, and available on Netflix, so if you’re into romances about socially anxious people and chocolate, check it out.) In it, a character claimed that the three most stressful situations in life are moving, weddings, and exams.

My friend wondered, “Are exams really that stressful?”

I said, “Maybe he means medical exams.”

She replied, “You would say that.”

Also fair.

Recently I underwent a new medical exam of my own, and alongside it my usual trio of Stressing, Obsessing, and Second-guessing (yes, that’s SOS for short).

In advance: I stressed over whether I was following the preparation diet properly. I went online the day before—never wise—and found prep instructions from other doctors that included instructions mine hadn’t, all of which it was too late to implement. I stressed over how my change in routine for the day of the test would affect me for the rest of the week. I stressed over getting another diagnosis. I stressed over not getting another diagnosis.

On the day of: I stressed about whether my doctor’s office was properly handling the referral and billing process for my insurance (with good reason, turns out). I stressed about whether I was blowing the right way into the breath tester thingamabob. I stressed about the fact that midway into the test the receptionist realized she’d overlooked a detail about my insurance.

Properly dealing with this detail, I learned, would involve time travel. I stressed about not knowing how to time travel.

For the rest of the week: I continued to stress about the insurance, making phone calls to two different doctor’s offices and to the insurance company and not knowing what to say once I got on the phone with any of them.

To one, I said, helplessly, “I feel like the middleman here; I don’t know what I’m talking about,” to which she replied, “You are the middleman. You’re the patient!” I also said, to the same receptionist, “I’m only twenty-three!” Poor thing, she had no idea she was in for an impromptu counseling session, but she handled it well. Maybe twenty-three isn’t that young, considering in some places and times I’d have several children by now and be managing a household. Be that as it may, it’s true: I had no idea what I was doing. And it was stressful.

When I got the results: I compared my chart to others online and stressed over whether my doctor had gotten the diagnosis right. Those graphs don’t look the same! I thought. The peaks aren’t right! I stressed about taking a potentially unnecessary antibiotic. I stressed about my insurance’s prescription coverage. I read studies, second-guessed my doctor’s choice of antibiotic, then worried that I wouldn’t hear back from the pharmaceutical company before the weekend to learn whether my new tablets were gluten-free.

Now: The test is over! All I have left to stress about is whether I’m taking my antibiotics with enough time before and after meals and between doses and with enough water and without lying down within the next 10 minutes—why is that?—and without forgetting a dose. I’ve woken up several mornings convinced I’d forgotten to take it the day before (no wonder I’m having nightmares).

Oh, and if all that’s not enough and I feel myself entering stress withdrawal, I can always stress about whether or not any of this will do me any good.

Or about how stressed I am.

Tell me how you deal with stress, and your thoughts on the top three most stressful situations in life. Do you too Stress, Obsess, and Second-guess?

If you’re looking for more on medical stress tests, the fine ladies behind Breaking Up With Captain Crunch and Sassy Celiac have both written hilariously about their colonoscopies—fun!

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Gluten nightmares (plus gratuitous cute baby photos!)

Do you dream in gluten?

If so, maybe you’re familiar with this nightmare: Someone presents you with a plate of cookies and tells you they’re gluten-free, then after you’ve eaten several…


Original photo © tgilbers | Flickr


Original photo © Lesley Show | Flickr


Original photo © Kris Krüg | Flickr

My first-ever gluten nightmare was like that (but without the adorable baby photos). I think in the dream it was my mom who gave me the cookies—sorry, Mom, I know you’d never really do that!

Last night I had a new one: I dreamed I ate a box of Triscuits. When someone pointed out Triscuits aren’t gluten-free, my dream self was baffled. “I just…forgot!” she said.

Ha, ha, dream self. No forgetting allowed.

And, of course, there’s the ever-recurring waking nightmare of the newly diagnosed: It’s a year from now, and my doctor is showing me my chart and saying, “Turns out, you’re an asymptomatic celiac who just happens to have lots of other stuff wrong with you!”


Luckily, even after a sleepless night, cute photos of children eating cookies always cheer me up.

Tell me your gluten nightmares! And if you’re dozing off at your desk this Monday morning, here’s wishing you sweet but gluten-free dreams.

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Sprue stories: The Bedbug Edition

Photo © Bloody Marty

Photo © Bloody Marty

Last summer, I had a bit of a scare. As I lay in bed one night, my leg became oddly . . . itchy. I scratched, but the itch returned. My hand crept down again and again, even though I told myself I was making it worse. Finally, I yanked off the covers and took a peek. There, on my leg—on MY leg—were three small bumps, all in a row.

My heart seized.

Google, which I raced to check, confirmed that the three-bump pattern was linked to bedbugs. I stripped my sheets, flipped over my mattress, and found, around the edges, small black bits that I was certain resembled the Google images of bug-infested beds.

Google also told me it was not recommended to vacate the premises or sleep in a different room, which risks spreading an infestation. In a rare instance of disobedience to Google, I refused to return to my room. Instead, I sat huddled and horror-stricken in my dining room at my computer late into the night.

The following days were bleak. I’m not proud to say I threw out a whole lot of things, washed and dried everything else several times and then kept it all in trash bags, getting dressed at my front door because I was so scared I might spread the bugs. I dragged my roommate out to buy an expensive vacuum from Manhattan’s only 24-hour hardware store, I thought about nothing but bedbugs, I told several people we had bedbugs, and I even canceled a visit to Buffalo to see my sister because—again—I feared spreading the bugs. I slept little and cried a lot. In short, I completely lost it.

And then we didn’t have bedbugs after all. The inspector came, looked at the “samples” I’d been collecting, looked at my mattress, and laughed. The “infestation” on my mattress was dust, collected over a year of not vacuuming the mattress. The samples were of, well, baby beetles and cockroaches, which is still gross but better than the alternative. The panic I’d undergone was just that: panic. So . . . phew. Embarrassing, but . . . phew.

Good things that came out of my bedbug scare include:

– I threw out some old clothes that I had no business wearing in public anyway.
– I bought a vacuum.
– I learned a valuable lesson about finding out before freaking out.

I also learned a lot about bedbugs. Now that I’ve learned a lot about gluten, too, I want to talk about how much they have in common.

First, a few differences.

Bedbugs are not found in wheat, rye, barley, and oats (though look out for grain weevils).
– Gluten cannot move around of its own volition (though flour particles can drift around in the air for a while, according to some sources).
– Bedbugs do not give bread its characteristic elasticity and stretch.
– Gluten does not suck your blood.

On to the fun part: the similarities.

Both are very small.

But it’s a myth that bedbugs are microscopic. They are more like the size of that single crumb that can take someone with severe gluten sensitivity out of action for days or weeks.

Both affect some people and not others.

Bedbugs are picky creatures. Monogamous, even. A couple can sleep together in the same bed every night and the bugs might attack one of them but not the other. Relatedly, bedbugs cause reactions in some people and not in others, and the range of response severity is wide (some rare people are even allergic to the point of anaphylaxis). Gluten, too, affects some people and not others; a couple might eat the same pasta dinner every night and the gluten might destroy one set of intestines but not the other. And for those lucky affected individuals, symptoms range from minimal to life-threatening.

Both disproportionately affect travelers.

Bedbugs can be spread through staying in hotel rooms and taking buses and other modes of transit, where they are dislodged from luggage or traveler’s clothing and hide out awaiting you. Brooklyn writer John Hodgman claims that the first thing he does upon returning home after a trip is strip naked and wash the clothes off his back—and that this is what every careful human should do to avoid bedbugs. Similarly, as we all know, traveling is difficult for those with gluten issues. You need to pack safe food to bring with you or locate gluten-free dining establishments, or else risk encountering gluten along the way. There has been some concern about the bedbug epidemic’s effect on New York City tourism, and in my opinion the small number of gluten-free-only establishments per capita here in the Big Apple should scare away tourists, too.

Both can cause an itchy, painful skin rash.


Rash caused by bedbug bites

Dermatitis herpetiformis (triggered by gluten)

Dermatitis herpetiformis (triggered by gluten)

Yes, I chose less severe images than I could have.

Both hide in cracks and crevices.

According to the University of Kentuckybedbugs camp out “along and under the edge of wall-to-wall carpeting, especially behind beds and sofas; cracks in wood molding; ceiling-wall junctures; behind wall-mounted pictures, mirrors, outlets and switch plates; under loose wallpaper; clothing and clutter within closets; and inside clocks, phones, televisions and smoke detectors.” According to Jane Anderson at About.comgluten hides in the crevices of your toaster, scratches in nonstick pans, pores of cast iron pans, scrapes in cutting boards, and minuscule cracks in spatulas, spoons, and rolling pins. And yes, people do have concerns that both gluten and bed bugs are in your computer (bugs in the warm hard-drive-y area, gluten in the keyboard and mouse, and both, of course, swarming the internets).

Both attract online sensationalizing.

I discovered a whole world I never knew existed (and sort of wish I still didn’t): bedbugger forums. These are places where the afflicted gather to share horror stories about the extent of their infestation, botched exterminations, and quixotic home control methods. They are zones of intense fear and fear-mongering, stoked to ever greater levels, and they are not a good way to avoid the whole stress thing. Your life is over!, many of the posters trumpet. You can run, but you’ll take them with you! Buy a PackTite or all is lost! Similarly, although celiac disease forums often feature reasonable, supportive posts, they also have plenty of hopelessness to go around. If you want to send yourself into a downward spiral of obsessing over your illness, you can manage it by poking around celiac.com. Actually, a very thoughtful and perceptive post on one of those bedbugger forums made the connection quite well:

“I just wanted to say that I have a chronic, potentially debilitating illness and when I was first diagnosed I went to some internet forums and after reading story after story, thought my life was over. But it turns out most people with this illness actually end up living full and painless lives (these days, anyway) but these were not the people posting on the forums! . . . people come together in these support forums when they are not having success solving their problem, or when they need understanding or advice, not when the problem is under control and they aren’t thinking about it anymore. So we are not getting an accurate picture of success and failure here.”

Both also attract media sensationalizing.*

Bedbugs are everywhere! Bedbugs are spreading! Bedbugs are in your local public library! Bedbugs are (ironically) in the Health Department! Bedbugs are in your lingerie! Bedbugs are at home, at work, and at school! Similarly, gluten is everywhere! 50 percent of Americans are sensitive to gluten! Gluten is at home, at work, and at school! Gluten is in envelopes (maybe)! Gluten is in ketchup (maybe)! Gluten is in imitation crab (well, yes, but it’s gross anyway)! Gluten may not be in your lingerie but I wouldn’t count on it! *Some of this is sensationalizing; some of it is just true. But it’s comforting to call it sensationalizing.

Both have the capacity to drive you completely and utterly bonkers. . .

Especially if you’re me. Both are linked to stress, anxiety, and depression. The mechanisms are not completely clear from research in either case, but from a common-sense standpoint, it makes perfect sense. Bedbugs and gluten cause physical pain and are hard to eradicate, a bit disturbing, and potentially thought-consuming. Having them around is stressful? Um, obviously. It’s easy to become anxious that either might be present at any time and in any place, especially with all the hype surrounding both.

. . . but not if you deal with the problem correctly, in about the same way.

Step 1 is to make sure you actually have a problem (by inspection or by diagnosis).
Step 2 is to do your research carefully, not believing everything Google tells you.
Step 3 is to learn to love cleaning.
Step 4 is to put into practice all the necessary cautionary measures you can.
Step 5 is to be patient.
– And Step 6, though really you should be doing this all along if you can, is, as in many things, to stay calm and avoid catastrophizing. Life will go on, even if you do come across bedbugs or gluten.

Remember: Bedbugs bite, gluten bites, but don’t let your life bite.

Now that I’ve finished grossing you out, are there any similarities or differences I’m missing? Have you had any experience with bedbugs? If so, I’m so sorry! Any other tips for handling it?

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When life gives you lemons (or limes)…

Photo © CasaDeQueso | Flickr

Photo © CasaDeQueso | Flickr

Citrus fruit—from lemons to limes to grapefruit to the mystical Sumo orange—is naturally gluten-free. So, in fact, is every kind of fruit, even breadfruit. It’s still citrus season, and there are all kinds of citrus-heavy gluten-free recipes that you should probably make now, while the blood oranges are still sanguine and the limes are seven for a dollar (like polenta cake, or lime bars, or gelato—let me know if you do make any of the above, with recipes, please).

But here’s the thing. Those lemon and lime wedges and sad little slices of orange that the bartender adds to your cocktails are usually the dirtiest thing at the bar. This little factoid has always tickled me; I’m especially fond of sharing it just after one of my friends has squeezed out the juices and plopped the entire desiccated rind into his or her beverage, when it’s too late to turn back. It’s funnier that way.

As karma would have it, on Saturday I went out to a bar with friends and ordered a club soda with lime—that is, the preferred beverage of hard-core dieters and recovered alcoholics everywhere. I didn’t dunk the lime, but I did keep it on the rim, and I did squeeze it into my soda and lick the juice off of my fingers afterwards (which was in itself gross, considering I’d just come from the subway—what is wrong with me?).

It wasn’t until later that I started wondering whether that lime could be a cross-contamination risk. After all, if a bartender fills a pint glass with beer and the foam spills onto his hand, then he reaches that hand into the garnish caddy to rummage for a hunk of lime, isn’t drinking a soda with one of those wedges just as bad as eating from the same bag of chips contaminated by a friend’s pizzaed hand (which I avoid doing, puritanically)? Isn’t it at least as risky as, or riskier than, using a clean-looking spoon from a possibly crumby drawer without washing it first?

I’m not really at a point where I can tell when I’ve been “glutened,” because overall I still feel the same as ever (which is to say bad). I did, though, have a canker sore on the inside of my lip the next day. Of course, canker sores can be caused by approximately a billion triggers, but one of them is celiac disease. (In fact, for about 5 percent of people with celiac disease, it’s the only noticeable symptom. Learning this made me wonder whether it would be worth giving up gluten if canker sores were the only noticeable symptom…until I looked up some Google images of severe cases and answered that question for myself: yes, a thousand times yes.) Anyway, perhaps that canker sore appeared because of my lime, or perhaps I am simply female (another leading cause of canker sores and other woes).

Either way, I worried. And once I’d started down the worry road, I also worried about the glass—what if it wasn’t well cleaned after holding beer? I’ve seen the old bartender rag-swipe cleaning job before. And what about the soda itself—was the tap definitely clean?

That a simple glass of bubbly water with a hint of lime should be the source of such anxiety sort of makes me want to curl up in a little gluten-free ball in the middle of my gluten-free bedroom on my gluten-free floor and never, ever eat anything anywhere else again. Except, just how gluten-free is my bedroom floor? We all know I’ve been known to snack there—have I vacuumed up all the gluten crumbs? Have I vacuumed at all? Does a vacuum even pick up gluten? Must I go somewhere that gluten has never been?


Yes, every day I sympathize just a little bit more with Julianne Moore’s character in Safe. (Have you seen it? What do you think? It was recommended to me by a favorite college professor and it’s worth a watch, though it’s almost as disturbing as the Google image results you get by searching for “canker sores.”)

Since the curling-up-and-hiding option is neither possible nor desirable, I’ll instead conclude, “When life (or the bartender) gives you lemons (or limes)…politely decline.”

After all, that lemon or lime has probably been sitting out for days, and even if it is gluten-free, it’s most likely as flavorless as it is bacteria-ridden. It’s not worth the anxiety. All things considered, I’d rather have the gelato.

What’s your favorite drink garnish (or do you go naked)? Do you accept the lemon or lime at bars? What’s your favorite citrus recipe? Do you get canker sores/have yours gone away on a gluten-free diet?

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