When I was forced to go gluten-free, my doc didn’t mention I would have to also become free of anything that tasted delicious. Friends say, “Going gluten-free is such a fad.” My family was like: “Eat the damn pizza.”
When I moved from New York to Philadelphia in 2010, it was a very stressful time in my life.
In the two years I was married, my husband had spent most of the money I had earned — and even more of the money I had yet to earn by purchasing items on credit without any self control. So I was broke. I filed for divorce, was laid off from my job, and found bed bugs all within a three-week time period. All signs pointing to me having to move back home and live with my parents—at age 30.
I found a job and started to pay off the very large debt that my soon-to-be ex-husband had left me with. I tried to de-stress my life, exercising more and taking care of myself.
But I started having extreme stomach issues. Not only that, I was lethargic, I was waking up with numbness in my arms and legs, and I was gaining weight, even though I had been training and running semi-long-distance races for almost nine months. None of these things made sense.
In New York, not having insurance made it very easy to differentiate between being REALLY sick and “I don’t technically need my right arm because I am left handed” sick. But now, with this new job, I finally had some insurance, and way less rent to pay, so I decided it was time to go to the doctor to have a check up.
It was a whole new world. Seeing a doctor just to have a conversation was never really in the cards before, because the cost was so high. But when I was finally able to, it went something like this:
Doc: How long has your stomach been bothering you, Val?
Me: Oh, I don’t know … Nine, maybe 10 … years.
A few days later I got the diagnosis: Celiac.
Apparently at some point in my life — and mostly because of the stress of the prior six months — I became intolerant of gluten. I was just a big ol’ wheat racist. With just one phone call, I became trendy and had to totally, like, order from the, like, Gluten-Free Menu.
When I was forced to go gluten-free, my doc didn’t mention I would have to also become free of anything that tasted delicious.
I’m Italian-American. I was raised on a steady diet of pasta, bread, chicken cutlets, breaded fried cheese, breaded fried vegetables, cannolis, “The Godfather,” Mario Lanza, judgment and a hearty side of Catholic guilt.
Celiac meant: Steer clear of all of the delicious stuff on that list. It was as if I was deliberately ignoring Clemenza’s advice. I was taking the gun; leaving the cannolis.
Desperately seeking support
They don’t tell you that being free from stomach pain isn’t a good enough justification for most people around you. My friends, and even strangers, would say, “Going gluten-free is such a fad.”
And I would without fail reply, “Oh, really? Well — it is a much better fad than that whole ‘almost always pooping in my pants’ fad that was happening up until yesterday.”
My family was like: “Forget about it. Eat the damn pizza.”
My grandmother would just look at me with disappointment and threaten me with guilt. “Just eat the macaronis. I could be dead tomorrow.”
I’m not saying my refusal of glutens killed my grandmother. I’m only saying she just happened to die one month after I told her I could no longer eat her raviolis. Her doctor’s called it cancer. I called it: “Point, Grandma.”
I honestly believe my family thought about having me exorcised, because demonic possession seemed more logical to them than a perfectly reasonable autoimmune disorder.
Tick, tick … boom!
I’ve basically turned back into an infant with my hunger indicators. It’s either “not hungry” or “CRYING FOR FOOD NOW!” When I reach that point, you have about 30 seconds before I do become possessed and my head starts to spin. I’ll be freaking out and I don’t even get comfort foods! All I want is chicken fingers and onion rings. And all this place has that I can eat is house salad. And God forbid that salad come to me with one freakin’ crouton on it. I will take the waiter’s face off.
I don’t need everyone’s constant reminders that everything I eat tastes fantastically disgusting. I know this. I’m eating it. All. The. Time.
What did I do in a past life to be punished with fake cake? People wonder why I don’t smoke weed. What would I eat when I get the munchies? Carrots? Apples? Lame!
Free from gluten? More like free from flavor. More like free from joy.
Yeah, yeah … I know: Free from pooping my pants, too.
But still, pooping my pants seems like a really small price to pay for a really good slice of pizza.
Valerie DiMambro is a stand-up comedian and storyteller who lives in Philadelphia and performs anywhere they’ll hand her the mic. Watch her co-host the comedy show “The Sunday Funnies” upstairs at Buffalo Billiards in Old City.