Guest Post: Carrie’s Story

16 May

One of the big feature’s for me this week has been reading people’s diagnosis stories.  There have been some amazing accounts both powerful and emotional.  They all end on a positive note though which is very uplifting.  There is a round up of many of these posts on the coeliac.me.uk blog.  Fellow coeliac Carrie Squair has been inspired to write her own diagnosis story for Gut Feeling week after reading these, and it’s a privilege to host something so personal on Gluten Free by the Sea.  It’s another great account, and I know from writing my own story how tough these are to write.  A lot of these stories have made me realise that my own story was relatively straight forward and there is still much work to do raising awareness of coeliac disease.  Huge thanks to Carrie for sharing her story:

My name is Carrie, and I have coeliac disease. Mix in some dairy intolerance and a serious problem with pineapple and you have a long list of food to avoid. Or so I thought at first anyway!

People always ask how long it took to get diagnosed- officially it took me 5 or 6 years, but looking back the signs were there a long time before that. I don’t have any family with Coeliac Disease, but my mum’s side of the family has a lot of allergies (including peanuts), intolerances and auto immune diseases (diabetes and thyroid problems).

When I was a baby I had soya milk as I was allergic to cow’s milk. I was also allergic to eggs. I grew out of that eventually but always had stomach problems if I overdid it on the cheese.

I was a vegetarian as a teenager (after an incident with corned beef hash, a painful memory to this day!), and very pale, tired and emotional. I had incredibly heavy periods, until eventually, age 16 and the day of our year 11 prom, I collapsed at school. I went on holiday to Spain with my family that summer and by the time I came home I was struggling to eat. Every time I ate more than a few mouthfuls I felt sick. I virtually gave up food, only eating when I didn’t have any choice in the matter. I couldn’t see the point of eating something that made me sick. I lost weight.

It only lasted a few months- once I realised size 8 clothes were falling off me I made myself start eating properly. My body didn’t react too well to that though, and I started taking laxatives to help. It felt like the only way to deal with my problem. I knew it was bad but I didn’t see the doctor. I stopped taking them eventually then the bouts of diarrhoea started.  It didn’t occur to me to go to the doctors in spite of all the (sometimes very) emergency trips to bathrooms!

When I was pregnant in 2003 blood tests showed I was anaemic. In 2005 I was tested for glandular fever, that was negative but I was anaemic again. At no point did I raise my stomach problems.

Carrie1

Paragliding in turkey during one of my “healthy” phases

Eventually I went to the doctors in 2007. I didn’t go into as much detail as I should have- I was scared it was my fault for everything I’d put my body through in my late teens/early 20s. I was told that yes, I probably did have IBS but they’d do a couple of tests just to rule out anything more serious. A couple of weeks later IBS was confirmed. I was also anaemic – again.

I became depressed. I was fed up of feeling ill, always being tired but never being able to sleep, aching all the time and suffering with headaches. I hated my body and how it didn’t work how it was supposed to. I was given anti-depressants, sleeping tablets and iron tablets (well I was anaemic – again!) and sent on my way. The GP told me I obviously didn’t absorb iron properly and said I’d have to start eating meat. He didn’t spot this as a symptom of coeliac disease. So I gave up on my vegetarian diet in the hope I’d get better. I never got better, I just had periods of time where I was less ill than others, usually when I was on a “diet” and eating mostly naturally gluten free food, I just didn’t know it at the time.

Then summer 2012 happened.

I travel a lot for work so have a lot of time on trains living on packet sandwiches. I didn’t have the energy for exercise or eating properly- when I wasn’t at work I was asleep. My stomach was huge and it hurt to do anything other than lie in bed. I cried a lot then too. I had IBS, it was my fault, and I knew my bad diet and lack of routine was causing the attack.  Nobody knew how bad things had got for me even though there were times I bolted out the office or a meeting for the toilet.

A friend with IBD was worried though- she was adamant there was more to my bad summer than an IBS attack. I spent a couple of days in Manchester at a conference. The train journey home was agony and all I wanted to do was be sick. I made it home, just, and threw my bags in the house and literally crawled to bed in tears. By that point I couldn’t stand anymore, I couldn’t explain to anyone what was happening to me because I’d lost the ability to string a sentence together. I passed out on top of my bed then woke shortly afterwards crying in pain. I spent the next few hours locked in the bathroom.

My boyfriend persuaded me to go to the doctors. He looked back over my history and said there was no record of a test for coeliac disease and wanted me to have a blood test. I agreed and a week later I went back in to be told he was 99% certain I had it as he’d never seen such strong results before. I laughed and said thank you- I sort of knew what it was and knew it wasn’t my fault. It also meant there was a solution. I was really happy! I left with some leaflets and spent the next few days researching.

The next 6 weeks were awful. I couldn’t bare the fact I was poisoning myself at every meal. I worked short days because the urge to sleep was so strong and I was terrified it would hit on my hour drive home from the office. I couldn’t make decisions- choosing between beans or egg on toast had me in tears! I had constant headaches, back ache, nausea, bloating and was forever running to the bathroom.

The biopsy scared me, and when it was over they gave me a cup of tea and a biscuit. Good one NHS- a biscuit for someone with coeliac disease?!? I didn’t eat it, and haven’t knowingly eaten gluten since.

I was diagnosed on Friday 7th September 2012. I’ll never forget that day- I was desperate for the confirmation letter but it hadn’t arrived. I went to the doctors and they were able to confirm I had coeliac disease. I would be referred to a dietician and could now get gluten free food on prescription. I went home and cried. All weekend. Once I’d been gluten free for a few weeks dairy became my nemesis. It only affected my stomach but that was enough. I cut it all out on my dietician’s advice.

Carrie2

Me and my daughter Gemma- I need to look at getting her tested as she’s at high risk of coeliac disease

Then I got better. I don’t fall asleep all the time, I don’t have headaches (unless you count listening to arguing children!!), and I don’t have back ache or emergency bathroom trips. I finally feel like that big black cloud of depression, anxiety and panic attacks is gone. I’m…dare I say it…normal? I’m still struggling with bloating occasionally and haven’t worked out what it is that triggers it. I don’t see the dietician now (my local NHS trust only give you 2 appointments) so I’m a bit on my own trying to find solutions. The GP thinks it might “just be a bit of IBS” and that might be true, or it might be my body still recovering.

The biggest support for me has been the twitter community. There are no local coeliac support groups I could go to (the one I’ve been allocated is over an hour away) and coeliac UK say there isn’t the demand for one where I live. I have no “real” friends with coeliac disease so I turn to the twitter group when I have questions, or when I feel down about it all. There’s always someone there to help, offer advice based on their experience and generally make you feel like you’re not alone. So thank you to everyone who has helped me over the last six months!
I’m still learning, but I’m so much happier and healthier now. Turns out there’s more food I CAN eat than food I can’t!

Carrie

@CarrieSquair

5 Responses to “Guest Post: Carrie’s Story”

  1. Debra Samuel May 16, 2013 at 10:03 am #

    Hi Carrie,

    What a long journey you have had to get to where you are now. I’d like to say that your journey was unique and that most Coeliacs don’t have this struggle but we both know that is untrue!

    If you would like to chat with others with cd or gluten intolerance, come and join our Facebook group – Gluten Free and Me – where we offer free virtual advice, free virtual recipes and free virtual hugs by the score! Kevin will vouch for us – We don’t bite (well, hardly ever and even then, only gluten free!) -we’re a very friendly lot!

    If you do decide to get your daughter tested (which, btw, I would heartily recommend), make sure that they also test for her HLADQ2 and HLADQ8 levels. These are the genetic markers which determine if she can ever get cd. She could be fine now and go on to develop cd later in life but if her HLADQ results are negative, it means that she can NEVER get cd. This has been such a relief to me with my younger son.

    I wish you well with the rest of your journey.

    Debra

    • Carrie Squair May 16, 2013 at 2:32 pm #

      Thanks Debra, especially for the advice re my daughter. She’s scared of having a blood test let alone a biopsy- not surprising at 9 years old, but I think it’s something we need to do 🙂

      • greenmumsblog May 19, 2013 at 8:08 am #

        Hi carrie, thanks for sharing your story. Just to let you know I have had both my children tested at 4 years old and they were fine, I was probably more affected by it that them! If you ask the doctor/hospital they should prescribe you an anaesthetic cream which you put on an hour before the blood test. This really helps x

  2. Jane May 18, 2013 at 8:24 pm #

    Thank you for your story…. I have taken 2 years so far to recover & still don’t feel completely ‘normal’. My insides react differently to foods now & are intolerant it seems to too much fibre in the form of fruit, veg & brown bread. I got to a point at diagnosis of having terrible difficulty travelling to work, lost 2stone, was in pain & could hardly bear to move from tenderness in my abdoman. Still get anxious at times travelling & suffer if walking around for a long time strangely. So more of a journey yet or maybe this will be as good as it gets. Good luck with your continued recovery.

    • Carrie Squair May 19, 2013 at 7:23 pm #

      Thanks everyone for your kind comments and advice, it’s so nice to know I’m not the only one 🙂

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