I've sumo-wrestled this issue before: celiac and body image, the struggle for self love. I even thought I vanquished it from my mind - as much as a teenage girl can in this society, anyway. But, during my family vacation to Houston, it's popped up again. Even after a day full of city exploration, thrift store shipping and simple conversation, I can't stop picturing me - the weirdo with celiac disease - as a burden.
I've been dreaming of my summer vacation to Houston ever since I incinerated the last final of my freshman year. As a marine brat, I grew up on wheels instead of in grandma's kitchen. So, underneath the skyscrapers and freeway exhaust, Houston has always felt like my one stable home. Hot (Hellfire hot) as it may be.
So, I walked out of the Houston airport feeling confident about living gluten free in the Lonestar State. Heck, I thought, I survived a road trip from Cali to Colorado. I survived a gluten-oblivious Outback at Utah! I can survive anything!
Except, I didn't account for the memories stamped on every street corner from my summer visits as a child. The BBQ stop with the best brisket in town. Sweet Tomatoes, where we'd binge on salad, flat bread and a brownie with soft serve. I started drooling before I even saw the sign for Lenny's, home to my favorite (gluten-filled) chicken salad sandwich.
And then there's the stress of planning. Like with the roadtrip, I came fully loaded. Restaurant list? Check. Find me Gluten Free App? Got it. And a suitcase full of special food? Yep, we snuck that through security. And yet, as successful as my eats have been (full reviews of which are coming soon!), some nights I just wanted to curl up and cry because I couldn't have Whataburger with the rest of the family.
I know my family loves all of me, even the celiac. They've told me multiple times that they'll take me wherever I need to go to get safe, good food. No questions, no complaints, no worries. Just love. But, I hate forcing them to face the crowds of Chipotle during rush hour because that's all I can eat. I hate cracking open the piggy bank to pay for my special grub.
What I hate most, though, is the jealousy that can fill me when I glance at my younger sister. Not only because she can devour fried shrimp and chicken fingers with nary a stomach rumble, but also because I see Hannah growing into such an interesting, intelligent young woman whose life is dominated by random facts, animal obsessions and more books that a retired librarian. A woman whose life doesn't depend on checking the box: "gluten free."
So far, my trip to Houston has been an astounding mix of contrasts. A careful (hungry) child to a planning college student. My pre-diagnosis dining adventures vs my deliberate (and still terrified) gluten free eats. Even my sister and I.
Yet, one thing hasn't changed: my reflection in the mirror. Staring back at me is the same skinny yet slightly toned, determined girl that I've watched emerge for 18 years. When celiac jumbled my diet, it jumbled my identity as well. Now, food isn't my life, but it's a big part of it. It's my hobby. My health. My hope for healing. And, yes, it is also a rock that can weigh me down.
But as I lay here in bed near midnight after a day of feasting, family, and fun, I nod to myself. Because, celiac or not, I am unique and interesting and unlimited in my own way. Celiac or not, I have the right to eat without worry and the permission to accept others' flexibility when offered.
Simply put, I am enough. And so are you.
Do you ever feel like a burden because of your dietary needs? Do you ever think that celiac/food allergies hold you back from your full potential? Comment below!