Gluten, Mental Health, Broken Bones.

Just over four years ago I was diagnosed as coeliac, which meant from that moment forward I couldn’t eat gluten containing food. The first three years of eating gluten free were incredibly hard, but I’d gotten myself into a great routine and only cheated on the diet several times.

Then I turned 23 and my mental health took a turn for the worse. I had just begun a new job, I was coming to the end of an unhealthy relationship and I was due to move flats. For most people these are normal things to happen but for me it turned my life upside down.

Too much was changing and my mind couldn’t keep up. I begun hating myself more than I had ever before. I wanted to punish myself by hurting my body without anyone noticing or knowing the extent of the damage. At first it was just a Big Mac here and a pie there while still keeping the other meals gluten free. This quickly snowballed and before long I was eating anything I wanted. Nobody noticed as all the people in my day to day life were relatively new, and I didn’t tell them the severe consequences if I continued to eat gluten.

My mental health continued to spiral, especially as I was feeding myself poison. I knew my body was suffering, which brought me joy, because I didn’t feel I deserved good health. I wanted to suffer. When I eat gluten it’s as if a cloud descends on my brain and I can’t see anything clearly. This was the state I was in for the year. There was always a headache looming, my joints were always sore and even after sleeping 8 hours a night I was exhausted.

Fast forward a year. Eating gluten was just normal for me now, no one flinched if I didn’t ask for the gluten free menu, and I’d even confessed to some close family members. (I never told my dad though as this revelation would break his heart, but I need to hold myself accountable and come clean. Sorry Dad) Everything had come to a new normal for me, I could feel and see the obvious symptoms but I had no intention of stopping.

Until one day in bed I touched the top of my foot with the other foot and I realised it was kinda sore. Didn’t think to much more of it until I was at work and the pain became severe after I’d been running around. For three weeks I was rushing around work with a horrendous limp as the pain had become unbearable. I told colleagues, family and friends that I thought my foot was broken, but they all insisted that if it was broken I couldn’t walk at all. What none of them saw though was me crying myself to sleep because the pain was to overwhelming. Because I was still in a state of absolutely hating myself I chose to believe everyone else and not pursue it further. It got to the point though where I was shedding tears at work over the pain which is when I took myself to the doctor.

The doctor looked at it and said that it was extremely likely that it’s fractured, but I was sent on my way with a X-ray referral and a prescription for panadol. I had taken my pain so lightly that she had to. So I had to return to work the next day and continue working until I could get the X-ray. At the X-ray the lady said “yep I can see a stress fracture that’s beginning to heal, your doctor will be in touch with you”. So again I walked out of the office with no treatment.

Several days passed and I finally got a call from the doctor, it was a stress fracture, I needed to go and collect a moon boot from after hours and wear it for the next four weeks. She also informed me that my blood test results had come back and that I needed to stop eating gluten. My iron was incredibly low, which with the amount of meat I eat is unbelievable, my vitamin D was also insanely low. The thing that broke me and made me cry at work was the revelation that eating gluten broke my foot. My bones are thinning as a response to my malnourishment.

I knew that eating gluten could cause long term effects such as cancers but I never thought that eating gluten for just a year would impact my body so much that my bones are loosing density. That news pretty quickly snapped me out of the year long struggle I had been going through. I had wanted to hurt myself but knowing that I was the only reason this had happened, hurt me more than I could ever anticipate.

Being in the moon boot for the past four weeks hasn’t been as hard physically as it has mentally. The moon boot has been a constant reminder of how much I fucked up, how stupid I’ve been, and just how much I have let my mental well-being slip.

Everyone around me has been so supportive and constantly asking how my foot is and making up affectionate nicknames for me. For a normal injury this would be fine but it has been so hard to keep a smile on my face and talk to people about it when the whole thing is my own fault. People ask how it happened and I can’t exactly say “I was in an incredibly dark place, my depression was the worst it’s ever been, so I ate gluten to harm myself. The gluten prevented my brain from getting the nutrients it needed to function, which just fed the depression. Over time because my bones weren’t getting the nutrients they needed to stay strong and healthy either they began to loose density, and here we are, my foot broke because I walked on it.” So there has been many awkward conversations where instead I say “It’s a stress fracture, I’ve just been working to hard” with a cheeky laugh at the end. Then with a confused look on their faces they move conversation along.

I haven’t touched gluten since and haven’t been in the slight bit tempted. While the savouries, cream buns, sandwiches, burgers, cakes all smell delicious and would normally taunt me. The smell now makes my tummy turn, I feel physically ill just smelling the food that I know kept me spiraling out of control.

Yesterday I had my appointment with the hospital to catch up with a doctor and see how my foot had progressed. Sitting in The Bone Shop took me back to when I was 10, sitting there waiting with my mum when I had broken my arm. I thought of how distraught she was when she collected me from school to take me to the hospital. She was hysterical because she couldn’t stand to see me in so much pain. It made me realise how absolutely destroyed she would have been if she was here to see me today, to see how much pain I have put myself through. It was a hard place to be remembering her but it’s helped with my clarity on how to grow from this.

I had gone in the hospital expecting that I’d be leaving my boot behind, I’d taken a shoe for that foot in anticipation. The doctor however said that I need to wean myself from the moon boot as my whole leg has weakened over the last four weeks. This wasn’t the news I had wanted, but I’ve accepted it. Today I woke up with so much motivation, I wanted to go for a walk around hagley park without the moon boot then come home and have it on for the rest of the day. I didn’t make it to the park before I realised that it just wasn’t going to be possible to walk that far without the boot just yet. My foot was filled with pins and needles and where the fracture was felt sharp pains. I swiftly returned home.

Just like weaning off the moon boot my mental health isn’t going to get better over night either. However I am incredibly lucky that the majority of people in my life are understanding and will never tell me to “stop complaining”.

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