Tag Archives: stress

Insomnia: A Sob Story (with Gluten?)

Yawwwwwwn. If I’ve seen you lately, I’ve probably graced you with one of those. It’s not that I’m bored or being rude. It’s just that sleep . . . hasn’t been happening lately.

I’ve written before about such light, possibly celiac-related topics as bloating and hair loss. After several low-sleep months, I felt it was time to address this new one. I’ve tried writing this post many times already but kept falling asleep in the middle of a

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just kidding. Honestly, if I could fall asleep so readily, I’d welcome it (and then complain about it). But, I can’t. So, with all of us alert, let’s talk insomnia.

In the past, I’ve occasionally gone up to a few days having trouble falling asleep. Lately, though, it’s been constant.

Insomnia, among other sleep disorders, is on the laundry list of conditions associated with celiac disease. Jane Anderson has written it up for About.com. That said, like bloating and hair loss, it’s also associated with a million other conditions and sometimes exists on its own. (The NIH can tell you all about it.)

So, where’d mine come from?

Because my insomnia started long after I went gluten-free, I have a feeling, for once, celiac’s not to blame. However, in the past, I did wonder if occasional insomnia meant I’d been glutened. (I’ve never “caught someone in the act” of glutening me, so it’s hard to be sure. Still, certain blech patterns appear.)

Thus, my first thought was: have I been eating something new and contaminated that I didn’t properly check? I don’t think so . . . though I did eat too much gluten-free junk this winter. A dietary spring cleaning is underway, and way needed.

Insomnia cookies

Not gluten-free. Probably for the best.
Photo © Robyn Lee | Flickr

My next thought was to blame a new medication. Insomnia’s not a known side effect, but I wouldn’t put it past my body to react in a unique, idiotic way. It’s slimly possible that the medication was contaminated; though I checked with the manufacturer, I received the standard “We can’t guarantee it” response, since they don’t test their final product. Having stopped taking it, I’m waiting for changes. So far, zilch.

Or maybe it’s stress? It is a possible trigger for roughly 75 percent of bad things. A colleague gave notice and I got promoted right around the time this started. Not bad, except that I feel even more buried than usual underneath a mound of work that never shrinks.

At night, as I try to make myself a willing vessel to oblivion, my mind jumps to multiple unchecked to-do list items. I’m not going to do any of them in the middle of the night, but I do shift position, refluff my pillow, and worry about it. (Mindfulness gurus would say to keep a notebook on my nightstand to jot these things down. Setting this up is something else I never manage to check off my list.)

Sprue Jr says labeling it “insomnia” is the problem: that by expecting it, I perpetuate it. But I disagree. It is . . . what it is. And insomnia by any other name would still suck.

While I’m not sure what is causing my insomnia, I can tell you one thing my insomnia has caused. Sleeplessness, you see, leads to bloglessness. For some time now, I’ve been down to one post a week. And it’s not for lack of ideas or time, I swear. It’s lack of sleep.

insomnia digital clock

Watching the clock is another insomnia no-no. Seriously. Don’t do it.
Photo © Fairy Heart | Flickr

Sleeplessness spawns laziness in more ways than one. It saps your energy, motivation, and attention. Sleep is incredibly (though still largely inexplicably) valuable to humankind’s ability to think, learn, and generally function.

Staying awake too late the night before encourages endless snoozing sessions (a horrible habit, and not actually restful at all, but tell that to my half-conscious brain) and skipped morning workouts. Bummer, because “regular exercise” is another top tip for insomnia prevention.

After feeling tired all day, it’s inescapably appealing to go to bed as early as possible. Plus, standard anti-insomnia advice preaches not to stare at backlit screens at night, so I’ve been trying to power down earlier, even if it means no post the next day—and even if I’m likely enough to simply lie in bed, unable to nod off, for hours, wishing I’d just stayed up to write.

Sluggishness and sleeplessness: two miserable conditions that reinforce one another nightly.

I’ve tried melatonin, chamomile tea, and valerian root, which I must tell you smells like death. None worked.

Still, I’m hopeful this’ll be the last time I complain to you about sleep. It’s spring: time for regeneration, spending time outdoors, being active, and maybe less stress at work. Somehow, I feel this must get better.

But for the time being, at least, my posts will continue to come about once a week, possibly sporadically, and I hope you’ll keep checking in despite that (subscribe, even—make my day!). At heart, this blog is about health; and right now, for me, that means getting back to zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz . . .

Do you struggle with insomnia, or have you ever? Does it seem to be linked to gluten? What works or doesn’t work for you? 

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Scientists say: schedule gluten, save babies.

Hey new moms and moms-to-be, great news! Scientists have pinpointed the precise moment in your baby’s life when it’s acceptable to introduce gluten to his or her diet.

As long as you administer just the right dose of gluten no earlier or later than 3:42:18 a.m. exactly 126 days after your baby is born, he/she can’t possibly get celiac disease. (We don’t know yet about gluten sensitivity, sorry.) On the other hand, if you jump the gun or miss your cue, Baby is almost guaranteed to develop an autoimmune response to gluten, so get it right.

Don't mess up, now. Photo © Donnie Ray Jones | Flickr

Don’t mess up, now.
Photo © Donnie Ray Jones | Flickr

Sure, feeding gluten at that time goes against the World Health Organization (WHO)’s suggestion to breastfeed exclusively for six months to protect against gastrointestinal infections, decrease your baby’s chances of becoming obese, increase your baby’s likelihood of school success, and reduce your own risk of ovarian and breast cancer. But WHO are they to tell you what to do? You need to look at the big picture, and introduce gluten while you still can!

Oh, and should you follow the WHO’s other recommendation to continue to breastfeed for up to two years, then you’ll really seal the deal: the study demonstrates that babies who still latch on at age one may also be more likely to come down with a case of the celiac. Bummer!

The point I’m making, ladies, is that it’s up to you to prevent the spread of this celiac epidemic. So whatever you do, don’t focus on what seems right for your child’s and your own individual well-being. Your son wants to gum on a crust before the precise moment when it’s acceptable for him to do so? Tell him no! It’s how kids learn. Your eleven-month-old daughter still thinks breast is best? Wean her fast! Keep in mind that mother knows best, except when science does.

It’s too late to avoid passing your child the celiac genes. But you can make it right by timing it right. When it comes to introducing gluten, you must delay, delay, delay, and then ACT FAST. Keep that bread box stocked, and don’t be caught sleeping at the appointed time. In fact, set your alarm now.

Don't let Baby be caught sleeping, either. Photo © Yoshihide Nomura | Flickr

Don’t let Baby be caught sleeping, either.
Photo © Yoshihide Nomura | Flickr

The fate of your child is in your hands (and breasts). Celiac disease prevalence is increasing, and it seems mothers are to blame. Don’t become part of the problem.

If today marks day 127 of Baby’s life, then sorry, you’ve already flubbed it. You can always try again on your next child; science is all about learning from mistakes. Then again, having a sib with celiac disease will pretty much doom any future offspring, too, so you’d better not worry about it too much. After all, when it comes to ruining Baby’s life, getting stressed out is another surefire way.

For more totally-not-overstated headlines about the latest too-small-sample-sized study of a possible celiac risk factor by not-even-completely-convinced-themselves researchers, check out:

I’m glad research on causes of celiac disease continues. Still, I think sometimes we get so excited that science is paying attention to us that we give studies more weight than they deserve (even more than the researchers tell us to give them).

Confusing, isn't it? Photo © Alpha | Flickr

Confusing, isn’t it?
Photo © Alpha | Flickr

This was the latest in a patchwork of conflicting, insufficient studies on celiac disease triggers (and on breastfeeding). Most of the articles do include cautions about study limitations and conflicting existing research. But the headlines are pure mommy (sorry, “parent”) guilt.

Don’t you just love journalism?

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The big 6

On Monday, July 29th, I intended to write about a momentous milestone in my life. But I wasn’t sure what to say that I haven’t said already before.

Finally, at the end of the day, feeling the need to mark the date, I went with, in the manner of all aspiring and procrastinating writers today, a Tweet: “As of today I’ve been gluten-free for 6 months. That calls for cake.”

If you’re into brevity, you might want to stop there. (But if that’s the case, I’m not sure why you put up with my blog in general.)

In response to my proclamation, probably picking up on the mention of cake, one Twitter buddy asked me if I ever cheat. We’ll come back to that one.

Another response came from Wendy of Palm Trees and Gluten Free, who wrote to congratulate me. She said, “It’s amazing how that date becomes as important as a birthday!”

I hadn’t thought of it that way, but it’s true. As on a birthday, I had that uneasy sense that I should feel different but don’t. Despite the importance we give to the occasion, a birthday usually doesn’t, in itself, represent a step forward. Sure, a few do grant you special privileges, like your 21st or 18th or 13th (if your parents truly didn’t allow PG-13 movies before then, that is). But by now, the majority of that kind of birthday is already behind me.

Instead, I’ve entered into that vast, undifferentiated stretch of road called adulthood, where birthdays are just markers of another year’s worth of life experience, thought of so rarely that I often can’t remember how old I am right away when asked. A birthday just means another year has passed. Not all at once, but second by second by second until 31,556,926 have fled.

Similarly, although six months’ worth of gluten freedom is a milestone of sorts, there was no reason to think that on the morning of July 29th I would wake up a changed person. Any change between the 28th and the 29th would have been so incremental as to be unremarkable. What’s important is the accumulation of improvements (however piddling) and experience over the course of those six months. Just like a birthday, this day meant no more than that I had made it a certain unknown percentage of the way through my gluten-free life.

As with a birthday, the amount of time the 29th marked seems simultaneously much shorter and much longer than it had really been. Shorter because, as has been observed again and again by writers more eloquent than I, it is in the nature of time to appear shorter when viewed backward than forward.

Longer because January 29th, the day of my official celiac diagnosis, wasn’t the first time I ditched wheat, barley, and rye. Almost three years before, I’d experimented with a diet low in pretty much everything thought to be tough on the gut (that’d be FODMAPs, and includes wheat, rye, and barley); I’d dabbled in “low-gluten” eating (which is basically a joke); and I’d done a whole-hog six-week gluten-free diet trial half a year before. Although it’s been six months of celiac-induced GFdom, gluten has been on my mind for longer.

Also because it’s been an intense six months. “I’m not sick because I’m stressed; I’m stressed because I’m sick”—how many times have I made that response? I still think it’s true, but it turns out not to be true that a diagnosis and prescription could take my stress away (hum that to the tune of the Berlin song). The certainty has eased some worries but added others: that the healing isn’t moving fast or far enough, that XY, or Z might have gluten in it, that I’m driving everyone crazy by talking about it all the time.

In honor of this date, I originally thought I might reveal all of my celiac symptoms on this blog (which you may or may not have noticed I’ve been quiet about, even as I bemoan our collective inability to talk about some of them). This wasn’t because you likely have any desire to know them but because I felt it would be terribly satisfying to cross off all those that had gone away.

But, after the sixth month, the truth is that few of what I believe to be celiac symptoms have actually resolved themselves. The gastro stuff is getting better, a little, but I still don’t know if the rest even are celiac symptoms. All I’ve gotten so far are “maybe”s and “we’ll see”s. To list what remains would be to jinx it.

So instead, dear readers, on this belated half-anniversary of my gluten-free rebirth, I leave you with only a promise: that six months, or twelve, or eighteen, or however many it takes from now, I will have crossed off more of that list. That I will not again succumb to the kind of complacency about my own well being that led to three years without a diagnosis. That I will beat this thing.

And—to answer my friend on Twitter—that no matter how long it takes, and how long it seems to take, under no circumstances and for no reason will I ever “cheat.”

Not even for cake.

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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.

Fair.

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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