Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Power of Word

"It's positive? ...Are you sure?... Man..."

I am fairly sure that this was my rather anti-theatrical reply to Mom's voice on the phone-- "Positive. You have celiac disease... sorry, hon. Welcome to the party. "

"Positive" is the word of the day, and let me just tell you--that word is not just one end of the magnet anymore. I was diagnosed just less than two months ago, so the wound is fresh enough to consider the implications that the diagnosis has had in my small existence.


I hear there are several stages of grief--denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.


In the first few weeks of being labeled with that hateful word, I went from acceptance to bargaining to anger, then to depression to anger to denial to anger to bargaining to acceptance and back to anger.

Lots of anger. Not that I ask, "Why me?" or "How could this happen?" No, my thoughts focus on more pressing matters, like "SO NOW IT'S FUNNY TO LEAVE THE BREAD IN PLAIN VIEW, RIGHT ON THE COUNTER?!" and, "IF I SEE ANOTHER FLOUR TORTILLA, SOMEONE'S GONNA BE SEEING FLOUR TORTILLAS INTO NEXT WEEK." These examples are, erm, mild, compared to the pure frustration that occurs when your whole schema of "things that are edible" has been turned upside down (and shaken, and then blended on the "puree" setting for two days).

I never really went through Denial, because I have known for a while that there was a chance I'd be labeled with that terrible word, positive. The Bargaining phase again, is not much of an issue, because even an accidental slip in my absolutely gluten-free diet takes me down-and-out, so why on earth would I bring it on by cheating on purpose?

Depression, though. Wow.

This disease makes every meal a trial, every snack is a challenge and even opening the pantry cupboard is hard. I've spent time sitting on the grocery store floor bawling and clutching a package of Saltines to my chest. Afterward I felt refreshed and very silly and I dry my tears, and began anew--crying that is, as I spy the packaged cake mix and cereal shelves.

My mom has been diagnosed (again with that word, "positive") for a few years, so celiac disease was never a foreign idea to me, but some aspects of this disease have been... surprising. Not the good, happy-birthday-we-got-you-balloons kind of surprise, more like the horrible, the-birthday-clown-is-hiding-in-the-closet-with-a-chainsaw kind of surprise.

I never expected, for instance, the social isolation. It's amazing how connecting food is, and how divisive a food allergy be. No more pizza night, lunch with the girls, or dinner-and-a-movie. Food has a leveling capacity, a connective comaraderie and not being able to share the taste experience is akin to social starvation.

I also never considered that food is really a part of your identity. "Positive," and never again can you honestly tell someone your favorite ice cream flavor--because your favorite is now off-limits. "Positive," and your favorite restaurants are, similarly, history, as are your favorite snacks, dishes, ethnic foods, and desserts. "Positive," and suddenly, your every thought has to center around what you can and cannot eat and how to get more of one and reduce your proximity to the other.

Most of all, I hate that celiac disease forces me to act against my inate nature. Relaxed, anti-confrontational, service-oriented Dia has to worry about contamination, whine about crumbs, and first and foremost, take care of me --and it's driving me crazy. I can't be easygoing and share freely and let others use my food or utensils-- I have to be picky and obsessive, I have to scrub down counters before I cook, I have to scrutinize label after label after label. It seems like my care-free nature is being taken over by this needy, whiny, worrying MONSTER that was created, again, by that word "Positive."

Just one word. One word with all the implications, complications, and power in the world.

One word that had me actually considering, at a recent family party, how terrible it really could be if I were to snatch that barely tasted piece of gluten-free carrot cake off the pile of plates that was headed to the trash... Obviously some philistine does not recognize this priceless treasure, and they have decided that it was a bit too dry or dense or sweet for their taste, and they chucked it without a second thought!! The temptation was strong--

but I'm proud to say that I did not go dumpster diving that day (athough if I had, it would have been worth it).

To end on a "positive" note (I swear the pun was unintentional), I'm learning to deal with this new part of me. I am trying new things, bettering my cooking skills, and experiencing a new challenge. I am growing in my struggles and refusing to give up.

I'm learning how to be positive.


QUEEN TEAM D said...

I cried, I laughed, I smiled ruefully, you nailed it. Mum
Happy October...National Celiac Awareness Month

Anonymous said...

Wow Dia, this one was amazing. It's interesting how much one single word can mean.

Leanna said...

it's interesting to see how the word "positive" can actually have a negative effect. I'm sorry that you have to go through this trial, but keep strong and you can still be happy!


Anonymous said...

Wow, this was really well written. You definitely used pathos in it, and had me feeling all kinds of things for you.