Mind-Body Health

From Celiac to the Soul: How I Embrace My Journey of Chronic Illness

A woman floating in the pool

I was a freshman at my dream school, feeling decisive and motivated to pursue a career in finance, and had even landed an exciting internship at a hedge fund in New York City. My life felt comfortable and in control. I grew up learning that if you work hard and go to a good school, you will get a good job and live a good life. I was far from knowing that true well-being is an internal state of being rather than an external circumstance. Little did I know that I was about to embark on a journey of chronic illness that reshaped my identity and purpose.

Nine years ago, to the month, I began shedding immense amounts of hair. At various points in my life, I had been anemic and experienced mild hair loss. I assumed I was experiencing a slightly worse bout of anemia, so I made some diet changes and continued iron supplements. Within two weeks, it became apparent that this wasn’t just anemia. The shedding progressively worsened and I started seeing doctors.

Soon thereafter, I started experiencing severe fatigue, hot flashes, heart palpitations, urinary tract infections, and weight loss. I continued seeking answers from medical professionals, sometimes seeing up to 10 doctors in a week for the wide range of symptoms I experienced. After three long months and a few misdiagnoses, I was diagnosed with Celiac Disease—an autoimmune condition of the small intestine that is triggered by the consumption of gluten. I didn’t have a stomachache or the typical gastrointestinal symptoms that made the diagnosis hard, even as a privileged woman with health insurance in New York.

Embracing New Ways of Being

A part of me was relieved to have an answer, a reason for feeling this way, and a positive prognosis. However, I was overwhelmed at the thought of never being able to eat wheat, rye, barley, or gluten again. There was a period of mourning in which I missed using familiar recipes and the effortlessness of walking to any restaurant and being able to eat there.

At the same time, I leaned into the gift of being able to strengthen my body through what I consume. I felt thankful for the fact that I didn’t have to take medication with possible side effects, or receive invasive treatments. Although I felt vulnerable, I also opened up to receiving support from family and friends. They tested recipes, taught me how to cook, and tried gluten-free foods. Early in the recovery, I revealed to myself that I don’t have to dodge life’s curveballs, but rather I can catch them. We all have the ability to learn new ways of being and adapt to change.

Embracing the New Normal

I was told that as I remove all traces of gluten from my diet, I would quickly recover, gain weight, and feel healthier than ever before. For some, recovery from Celiac Disease does look that way but for others it’s far more complicated.

Nine years later, I can say that my body never returned to “normal.” I healed from numerous symptoms and conditions, but I am far from symptom-free. At times, I blamed my body for its sensitivity, which often felt like its shortcoming. But those symptoms are also how my body communicates with me. When I am overworked, my shallow breath informs me that it’s time to take a break. When I indulge in too much sugar or dairy and, consequently, have a flare of acne, I am reminded to nourish myself from the inside out. When I am around a person who doesn’t have my best interest, my body tells me that with anxiety, a racing heart, and sweating.

I could ignore these whispers from my body but the more I embrace them, the more I honor my entire being. I now wonder, “What would happen if I never experienced any symptoms?” Although it may feel freeing, I would never understand the wisdom and intuition of the body.

Embracing the Divine Plan

Looking back, I can wholeheartedly say that my resistance to what the universe presented me with has made the experience more difficult than it needed to be. At the time, I thought I should work harder and harder to better my health until I felt 100%. I thought I should fight to stay in school and never give up until I had all of the answers. However, I wasn’t tuning into my intuition to see if staying in school, never-ending doctor's appointments, and countless supplements were what I actually needed.

The true healing came when I surrendered to the process. I allowed myself to not have all of the answers immediately and to learn as I went. I left my dream school to move back home and receive the support from my family that I needed. I took a year-and-half break from school, and upon graduating college, I worked part-time for years in order to prioritize the needs of my body.

Had I met my body’s requests with guilt, blame, and judgement, which I did at times, I would have created an extra layer of internal struggle, on top of the physical challenges that I was facing. To this day, it is a challenging practice to tune into and heed the requests of my body, especially when they are changing on a moment-to-moment basis. Nonetheless, I have learned that it’s even more challenging when I try to push my body past its limits. When I allow myself to be held by family, and trust in the universe’s plan for me, I am able to be present for my body. I am able to listen to its needs and provide it the most supportive environment.

Embracing the Reason We Are Here

With many manifesting theories floating around the internet, social media, and even books, I questioned why I was being tested, and whether I called in suffering to my life with my thoughts and feelings. At my lowest points, a misunderstood definition of karma left me wondering if I had caused suffering to others, which in turn led to my situation. I contemplated and allowed myself to explore various ideas before accepting the belief that my soul called in my life’s circumstances to help me grow. They are opportunities for the evolution of my consciousness, building emotional intelligence and spiritual connection to all beings.

Although I wouldn’t wish this journey with chronic illness on anyone, it has also been an opportunity to discover my purpose as a Reiki healer and writer. I developed heartwarming faith and a relationship with the universe, my guides, and my intuition. The finance student and intern at a hedge fund that I was nine years ago perhaps wouldn’t have ever developed that richness to her soul.

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