My purse, my mobile pharmacy, my love.

Common knowledge says that you can usually tell a lot about a woman by the contents of her purse, however if someone were to successfully empty all pockets, baggies and hidden compartments of my purse, they would think I was a pharmacist running some sketchy side business. As a woman with various medical conditions- Celiac Disease, Asthma and Hypermobility syndrome (to name a few), when I am actually able to leave the house, I do so with literally everything I might need.

Unluckily for me, the other day while unloading all my stuff from my car, coffee, keys, bags and sunglasses in hand, I dropped my purse, spilling its contents out all on the driveway. I’m sure the neighbors didn’t appreciate the language that came with this hassle as I dove to collect the pill bottles that were now rolling towards the street. This moment was when it really hit me- how much I rely on meds to get me through my daily life, and how terrible the contents of my purse must look to passersby who know nothing of my conditions and daily pain levels. We’ve all seen those television shows where the housewife pops 2 Adavan while sighing as the kids rush in after school… thoughts? “What a pill popper!” well folks, some of us have to be and trust me, it isn’t fun. Between the asthma inhalers, NSAIDS, antihistamines and various other prescriptions, my purse holds my life and health inside. Oh, and I forgot to mention my trusty TENS machine that I use when the other pills don’t seem to help with the pain.

My life, whether it’s work or play, requires constant monitoring and preparation to make sure that I always have what I need on hand. It’s hard enough holding down a job and social life with chronic illness, could you imagine forgetting the purse that holds all of your medications at home? I don’t have to imagine because I’ve done it, and trust me my friend, it’s terrible. So yes, my purse resembles a mini pharmacy and yes, there’s definitely more pills than cash or makeup in there, but that’s the life of a spoonie. My purse, my pharmacy and the way I keep my life on track.

6 easy ways to stay contamination-free in a shared kitchen

Living with Celiac disease can be tricky, especially when you share living spaces with others who don’t have to eat gluten-free…especially the kitchen. The following is a list of ways that you can avoid contamination when sharing the kitchen with fellow gluten-lovers. Yes, some of these may seem obvious, but there’s surprisingly lots of people who don’t bother and then can’t figure out why their symptoms are so persistent.

  1. Toast Temptation– Maybe this one has occurred to you but you’d be surprised how many people don’t bother with it. If you’re sharing a toaster to toast your gluten free bread, bagels and other goodies…..don’t. You’re already making the effort to prepare your own food at home so don’t be set back by all the crumbs of gluten lurking in the bottom. Just because you don’t see them, doesn’t mean they aren’t there. (That may be a good motto for other situations but not here) Ditch that toast you just made and head to the nearest department store to pick yourself up a shiny new toaster. Yes, I AM giving you permission to spend money in a department store (maybe I’m the only one who loves department stores though…awkward)
  2. Better Butter– You use the knife to rub butter on your bread and then go back for more so why wouldn’t somebody else? I have become the butter ninja in my house… impressive, I know. Always call first dibs and scoop yourself some butter to be kept in an air-tight container just for you throughout the week. Hint: I always take way too much but since going gluten-free I eat way less bread than before so take only a little at first to avoid it going bad before consumption. You could always buy your own butter stick of course but we can’t ALL be that fancy…big spender.
  3. Fixing Fixings– Okay, same with the butter people. Just because we might not see crumbs, we all live with at least one shameless double-dipper. You have a few options. Either be the first to all of your favourite condiments and scoop into separate containers for future use, or buy separate condiments all together. DON’T FORGET TO LABEL. My cupboards scream “possession issues” with everything labeled “GF-keep out” but it’s a matter of health here and I can’t be worried that someone’s been dipping in my jam jar. Another option is picking up lids (from any grocery store or Walmart) and attach them to all your shared condiments, so that you can squirt them (jams, peanut butter, mayonnaise) instead of spreading it!
  4. Oven Lovin’– One product that I am constantly running out of since beginning life gluten-free is foil. Ahh, magical life-saving foil. Place whatever you’re cooking on a piece of foil and there you go (I like to fold mine so it’s stronger and doesn’t tear). This is great for heating up pizza, bruschetta or anything that you don’t want to put on a tray. I also find that trays are really hard to clean and thus, more likely to have remaining gluten, even after a wash. Save yourself and just use foil, or at least line your trays with foil just in case.
  5. Dishes for Days– This one is a tricky one because unfortunately, we can’t see tiny gluten particles but that doesn’t make them too small to make us sick. When washing dishes, make sure you’re using hot water and a rough cloth for scrubbing. I’m lazy so I usually just use the dishwasher, best. invention. EVER. But remember that it’s best to keep a separate wash cloth for your dishes to avoid scrubbing gluten particles onto the plates you will be eating on.
  6. Storing Safely– I may be repeating myself but this is probably the tip I use the most. Clear yourself a shelf in your kitchen designated to gluten-free foods, and ONLY these foods. I’m talking crackers, brownies, pancake mix, and any other goodies you’ve gotten your hands on. This keeps them out of sight therefore less temptation for others who don’t actually need to eat it. Am I the only one or is everyone always saying they feel bad that you’re gluten-free and then end up stealing your food to eat? I keep it tucked away to avoid being mixed up with other foods or contaminated and on top of that I LABEL it. Write “Gluten-free” on everything, even shared items like mustard to ensure that others remember to keep it as contamination-free as possible.

There’s more than just calories on the label, you know.

Maybe it takes something big. Maybe it takes something so big and life altering to make you open your eyes to what the word “health” really means. For me, I think that is exactly what it took. Part of having a disease like Celiac Disease is having to be on a constant look out and to become a constant nag about what you consume and how it is prepared. I never really thought much about what I ate, nor did I really care, prior to being diagnosed of course. I mean, who else LOVES checking each label thoroughly in the grocery store, taking twice as long to go though the isles, pissing off just about everyone else trying to pick up their items in the same section? ME! Not to mention getting to the checkout and feeling nauseated at the sight of the receipt and swearing “I really want a coffee but I need to cut back. I WILL cut back on my Tim Hortons, starting today” to only find yourself in the drive thru a mere 45 minutes later (once the shock has worn off of course). I mean, forgetting the cost for a while (or at least try really hard, like me after a trip to the grocery store), it really does make you think. I stand in the isle reading through each ingredient carefully, thrown off every once in a while by a suspicious ingredient or two (What the hell is “caramel colour” anyways and why is it in literally everything?!) and then the last line…. “May Contain: peanuts, tree nuts, mustard, Wheat”…. WHAT? Did I seriously read through all the ingredients and start to get excited for the last line to say WHEAT? Really? Disappointment? sure it’s disappointing but then once, this guy behind me said “Miss, a half cup has 150 calories in it, isn’t that all you really need to know?”. Need I say more? So now the dilemma begins; do I correct him and start to lecture about my disease and why it is so important to read the label? Or, do I get offended by the fact that he assumes I count/have to count my calories? There’s also the slightly more cinematic option of slapping him in the face (obviously like a strong and independent woman would do….I mean duh) but I mean, I attempt to be slightly more classy than that as I flash a sarcastic smile and pass him the box of gluten-packed Granola Bars he’s reaching for.

Any seasoned Celiac will tell you, eventually you get a hang of the grocery shopping and you learn what to buy, what not to buy, and I’ve been learning this, but it seems as though every time I grocery shop, it’s some kind of adventure. I don’t mean the kind of adventure where while strolling through the Gluten-free isle, I bump into a stranger only to look up and realize it’s a handsome (do people even use that word anymore?) man who chuckles and says “have you tried these organic, gluten-free, sugar-free, lactose-free cookies? They’re to die for” and then whisks me away to his condo where he cooks delicious gluten-free pasta and we kiss without worrying and fall madly in gluten-free love (I have clearly put too much thought into that one). But no, not that kind of adventure, I’m talking about the sweatpants, 2 days unwashed hair trip to the store where you go in for a few gluten free items, run into that girl you never really liked and end up in a conversation about what celiac disease is and if you think that’s why you “gained all that weight last year”. Yes. Not as much thought went into that adventure as unfortunately, it was not only a figment of my imagination, I don’t happen to be that lucky.

I have to admit, the gluten-free food isn’t nearly as bad as it was in the beginning. I’ve adapted pretty well to the point that believe it or not, I actually like the taste of GF bread more than I liked the taste of the regular stuff. Shocking, I know. I just find the ignorance of some people to be too much to take some days. It could be because I typically grocery shop on an empty stomach (bad idea, I know) so I’m just a hungry, oily haired, sweat pant wearing mess with no money in the bank when I finally get the chance to pick up groceries. Hey, at least I no longer pick up a lot of the junk food I use to eat, but that doesn’t mean I miss it from time to time.

I guess the moral of my rant is that putting this much thought into what you are going to be eating really changes the way you think about food over time. I started to think of food as actual fuel for my body rather than blindly picking up a bunch of junk off the shelves because it looked like it might taste good. Sure, I still do that sometimes while in the GF dedicated isle, but it’s almost as if it doesn’t have the same effect on me anymore. When you realize that Celiac Disease is actually keeping your body from absorbing a lot of the nutrients that you need, it’s kind of like “OH YEAH, my body actually needs those things called vitamins and minerals, who knew?!”. So, now I spend even more time reading labels because I also want to check all this mystery stuff like protein and fiber… I DON’T EVEN RECOGNIZE MYSELF ANYMORE! But I guess that’s a good thing, actually caring about what you eat and what it does to your body; it can only mean good things, right? Maybe for you, but for others, not so much. The struggle is real when all your friends want to go out to McDonalds and all you can think about is the 500 calorie fries (containing hardly any protein or fiber by the way) and the fact that that’s pretty much all you can eat there (unless you have a sudden hankering for relish, that’s A-Okay gluten-wise). Maybe even though celiac disease is just as it sounds (a disease) it will actually lead me to a healthier life. I have already lost about 45lbs (much of this I gained in the last couple months before my diagnosis due to debilitating pain and hardly leaving my bed for weeks) but it’s definitely a start. You can’t stay I don’t try to look at the bright side now can you? I’ve always been more of a glass-half-irrelevant kind of girl, but I guess it’s never too late to start…. or maybe it is, who knows, I’m not saying I’m an expert or anything. Funny how weirdly optimistic I sound right now, as I prepare to leave for my grocery shopping for the week. See? I knew something was up, I will soon be back to my normal self when I unwind with a glass of wine after my voyage to the gluten-free isle.