In my current English class, one of my students is doing a 30-day challenge to quit smoking. The toll it is taking on him is clearly visible — the fidgeting, the irritability, the need for candy to dull the pulsating physical need for nicotine. When I see struggles like these, I always feel a profound sense of gratefulness that I never had to fight a powerful addiction. My new 30-day challenge is a humbling exercise in empathy.
Steadily over the years, I have made increasingly healthy choices when it comes to breads, abandoning white bread for whole grain breads, and recently only eating the 35-calorie breads. I eat the low-carb versions of flour tortillas and healthier versions of pasta as well. So, honestly, I thought doing a gluten-free challenge would be a nuisance more than anything, a restaurant inconvenience.
This morning I woke up at 5 a.m. paralyzed with anxiety about the policy changes at my children’s daycare. Yes, childcare is a good reason to stress, but usually I can control my worries and focus on the task at hand, in this case sleep. I’m notoriously easygoing, at least I am when I am pumped fuel of gluten.
As I shopped in the morning for my healthy substitutes and emergency microwavable meals, I was reminded of those late night runs to Meijer’s in college, when the bars closed and suddenly someone wanted a bag of combos. A somnambulant haze descended on me, and I had to constantly remind myself to focus. At the time, I blamed on the hunger. For breakfast, I scooped slices of bananas out of a peanut butter jar, which had the appetite-suppressing shelf life of two hours.
However, later, after I gorged myself on Indian cuisine, leftover tofu, and lime flavored corn chips, the mental fog remained. The issue was larger than my appetite, which is saying quite a lot.
In addition, I found it more difficult than usual to deal with the sibling squabbles and general shenanigans of my children. I estimate I used the word “hush” approximately 108 times tonight. Everything bothered me. My son was tipping a water bottle back and forth, making a slight swooshing sound. The repetitious low noise nearly drove me from the house. Luckily I am a rational person who could recognize the abnormal signs of crazy.
When I searched for answers on Google, I was not surprised to find an array of articles discussing gluten withdrawal. However, I was surprised to read that there are gliadin-derived optiates in wheat. I had no idea the depth of physiological changes that could happen just from removing this one ingredient from my diet. I mean, come on, it is not like I am cutting out sugar. The associated withdrawal symptoms are numerous: fatigue, moodiness, constipation, joint pain, headaches, etc. Often, the symptoms a gluten-free diet is suppose to cure get worse before they get better. While I am comforted to know that my crazy is temporary, I am less comforted to know the temporary state varies from several days to several weeks. Let’s hope it is several days.